Previous: A Coded Message
|"I'm not accusing anyone of anything," he said.|
Having scanned all the papers and left them in a ragged heap, he then required my assistance to fold and stack them, a task we had nearly finished when William Hughes knocked on the door. "Lunch is almost ready," he said. "We can eat whenever it suits you."
A few minutes later we joined the family in the dining room, where Hughes introduced us to Gareth's sister Ceri and her husband Chris. Once again we expressed our condolences, and once again family members thanked us for our interest in the case. "We'll talk after lunch," said Holmes, and we sat down to eat.
We had nearly finished dessert when Hughes got up to answer the door and returned with Gareth's former schoolmate, Lloyd Phillips. Ceri and Chris were planning to stay until early evening, so we quickly changed the plan; we took our coffee to the study, and Phillips joined us there.
"According to William Hughes, you and Gareth Williams attended school together," said Holmes. "Is that correct?"
"Yes sir," replied Lloyd Phillips, "we attended secondary school together in Bodedern."
"Was that the extent of your acquaintance?" asked Holmes.
"No, sir. We were friends, too," said Phillips.
"How was Gareth regarded by the other students?" asked Holmes.
"We all knew he was going places, sir," said Lloyd Phillips. "He stood out because at every level at school he was so far ahead of everyone else in the class."
"Apart from his academic prowess," said Holmes, "what sort of classmate was he?"
"He was a very nice lad," said Phillips, "quiet and hard-working."
"That seems to be the image he presented to everyone," said the detective.
"I don't think it was image, sir," said Phillips. "That was him. He was always quiet, not just in class."
"Did you ever glimpse the personality behind the quiet?" asked Holmes.
"Yes, sir, I did," said Lloyd Phillips. "He was a decent, honest person."
"How do you know that?" asked Sherlock Holmes.
"I'll tell you how I know that," said Phillips. "One day we both had some money and a bit of free time, and we decided a treat was in order, so we went to the local sweet shop. Gareth bought some candy, and of course in those days we were paying for everything in cash, sir. When the clerk gave Gareth his change, she didn't count it out for him, she just put it in his hand.
"Gareth looked at the change for a moment, then dumped it onto the counter and said, 'Would you mind counting this again, please?'
"The clerk gave him a bit of a snarl and said, 'What's the matter, lad? Are you accusing me of short-changing you?'
"Gareth smiled and said, 'Oh no, ma'am, I'm not accusing anyone of anything. I'd just like to see you count the change again, if you'd be so kind.'
"He was so polite about it, she couldn't object, sir, and when she counted it again, she saw that she had made a mistake -- in Gareth's favour! Then she turned a bit sheepish, and thanked him for pointing out her error.
"Gareth smiled and took up the change that was rightfully his, and that was the end of it as far as he was concerned, Mr. Holmes."
"Remarkable," said Sherlock Holmes.
"It's not very remarkable at all, sir," said Phillips, "if you'll forgive me for saying so. That was his way. He probably couldn't have done any different.
"He had noticed her mistake immediately, of course, him being Gareth. He never had to think about arithmetic, sir, it just came to him in a snap.
"And he never would have taken more than the correct change. That was always the way with him. He wanted things done right -- even little things. He didn't want to profit from the mistakes of others. He wanted to succeed on his own merit."
"He seems to have had plenty of that," said Holmes.
"Indeed, sir," said Phillips. "He used to get so many perfect scores on tests, I think he lulled some of our teachers to sleep."
"Oh yes?" said the detective. "How so?"
"Not literally, sir," said Lloyd Phillips, "but they were accustomed to giving him full marks, and every now and then he would make a mistake on a test and they wouldn't catch it, sir."
"How do you know?" asked Holmes.
"We used to go over all the questions in class, after every test. We all checked our papers like hawks, trying to spot any potential half-mark which the teacher hadn't awarded. Sometimes you could get an extra mark or two that way.
"Well, most of us, anyway, sir, but not Gareth. He would usually have perfect marks, so he would look over his test to see that he had answered all the questions correctly -- and if he hadn't, and if his incorrect answer hadn't been marked wrong, he would point out his mistake to the teacher."
"He would complain about getting too many marks?" Holmes asked in amazement.
"Oh, no, sir. He wouldn't actually complain," said Phillips. "But he would always point it out, which would cause a bit of laugher in the class. The teachers would never penalize him for errors he'd made that they hadn't caught, and I think that may have frustrated him, Mr. Holmes. He would have preferred a lower mark if he thought it would be more accurate."
"That's amazing," said Holmes.
"But that was Gareth," said Lloyd Phillips. "He was an amazing fellow.
"Gareth had a special feeling for numbers, sir. He always wanted the numbers to be right.
"And he didn't really need the marks, Mr. Holmes. He could have gone anywhere he wanted, with a brain like his, whether his marks were perfect or just slightly below."
"But what about the money?" asked Holmes. "Surely, as a youngster, he could have used any extra change that came his way."
"I suppose he could have used it, sir," replied Phillips. "But he didn't want it unless it belonged to him."
Holmes gave Lloyd Phillips a quizzical look, but did not speak.
"He knew arithmetic was difficult for many people, sir," said Phillips, "and he didn't want to take advantage of them."
"He sounds like an extraordinary young man," said my companion.
"Exactly, sir," said Lloyd Phillips. "He was the sort you might meet once in a lifetime, if you're lucky.
"I don't expect to see his like again. Not in this life, sir."
Next: Chris And Ceri Subbe