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Our Library => E. C. R. Lorac - Fire in the Thatch (1946) => Topic started by: Admin on May 03, 2023, 10:01:12 am

Title: Chapter Seven
Post by: Admin on May 03, 2023, 10:01:12 am
JUST as he was turning to leave Little Thatch, Macdonald came face to face with an elderly gentleman clad in pleasant, comfortable-looking tweeds of faded greyish blue. So sure was Macdonald of the gentleman’s identity that he said, “Colonel St. Cyres?” without much of a question in his voice.

“Yes. You have business here?”

“Yes, sir. My name is Macdonald, and I am an officer of the Criminal Investigation Department. I am here on duty, concerning the enquiry into the death of Nicholas Vaughan. He was your tenant, I understand.”

“Yes, Chief Inspector. I don’t know if there is any way in which I can assist you, but if you want to make any enquiries of me, will you come to my house---it is quite close at hand. Frankly, I find all this”---and he waved his hand in the direction of the desolation which had been Little Thatch---“intolerably distressing.”

“I have every sympathy with you, sir,” responded Macdonald. “I thought I was hardened to the sight of burnt-out ruins, we have had too many such experiences in London, but the sight of this place is enough to depress anybody. I should be glad to talk the case over with you when you can spare the time.”

“Come now---I’m at liberty any time you wish,” said St. Cyres, turning away from the gate. “I can’t tell you how wretched we have felt over it. Vaughan was a man after my own heart, and though I had only known him for a few months I was much attached to him.”

He led Macdonald along the lane behind the cottage, and they continued for about a hundred yards until the gates of the Manor came into view. As St. Cyres opened the big gates he said: “You can see for yourself that although the two houses are only a short distance apart, they are so placed that they have no view of each other. We can’t see Little Thatch from any of the windows---and vice versa.”

He walked on, after closing the gates, along a short stretch of drive edged with irises and flowering shrubs. Lilacs of many colours, laburnums, cherry blossom, crab apples, magnolias, and many another tree made a mass of colour along the drive, and a great wistaria grew along the house covered in cascades of blossom. The short drive widened to a terrace in front of the house, and the borders were gay with Darwin tulips and wallflowers. At the further end of the terrace a chaise longue was stretched in the sunshine, protected by a gay umbrella, and Macdonald’s long-sighted eyes perceived a young woman resting there who did not look at all like a country girl: her dress and hair and make-up were all of the ultra-sophisticated variety. A little sturdy boy came rushing up to Colonel St. Cyres. “Grandy, grandy, my tadpoles have comed, they’ve comed in the night.”

“That’s right, Michael, you run and watch them and tell me if they have legs before lunch,” replied St. Cyres, and motioned Macdonald into the house by a garden door. “This is my study, we shall be quiet in here,” said St. Cyres. “My daughter-in-law and her small boy are living here with us . . . Sit down, Chief Inspector. Now what can I do to help?”

Macdonald studied the kindly, troubled face of his vis-à-vis, and guessed quite a lot from his brief observation of the Colonel: of his house, and of his daughter-in-law. The C.I.D. man replied with a courteous diffidence which set St. Cyres at his ease immediately. “Well, sir, I’ve been given a pretty full report by the County men: they have done their work well, and they do not agree with Commander Wilton’s convictions. Won’t you tell me just what you think yourself? Did any misgiving cross your own mind?”

“Not at first. None at all. It just seemed the most unhappy tragedy---one of those accidents which do occur,” replied St Cyres. “When Wilton came down here and told me his suspicions I was almost angry with him. It seemed just a taradiddle, but I couldn’t get it out of my mind. I talked to the chief constable about it. You see, Wilton is right in this---Vaughan was a careful fellow. He was conscientious in everything he did, and a very good workman. I warned him about the danger of fire and he didn’t pooh-pooh it, as so many young men of to-day would do. He said he was fully aware of it---he’d seen a thatched house burning---and he said he’d take precautions to test every bit of his wiring.”

“You liked Vaughan very much, I gather?” enquired Macdonald, and St. Cyres nodded.

“Yes, very much. I respected him, too. He was an honest hard-working fellow who felt towards the land as I feel towards it myself. He was responsible---I felt that when I first let him the place. I’ve always had a deep affection for that property, and I was particular about whom I let it to.”

Macdonald caught at an implication here: “Was there much competition to get the place, sir? I know houses in the country are at a premium these days.”

“Not exactly competition,” said St. Cyres rather unhappily. He broke off and studied Macdonald a moment before he went on, “Look here, Chief Inspector, can I talk to you in confidence? I know you’re on duty and you’ve got to collect evidence, but I do feel about you as I did when I first talked to Vaughan---you understand the word responsibility too, or I’m much mistaken. Now I don’t want to voice foolish suspicions, and above all I don’t want to cast slurs on my neighbours.”

“I quite follow that, sir, and I know what is implied by the word neighbourliness in the country,” responded Macdonald. “I think you can talk to me without reserve. I shall give weight to all you say, but if it’s irrelevant it will go no further.”

“Very good. About this matter of letting Little Thatch. I had four applications. One can be dismissed---it was a worthy lady from Mallowton who wanted to keep a cat’s home. One was from a young fellow named Benworthy: he’s a farm labourer at Ridd’s farm and wants to get married, but I didn’t fancy him as a tenant---comes of a slovenly family, always in a mess over something. The next applicant was Vaughan, with Wilton’s recommendation behind him. Finally, I was approached indirectly on behalf of a man named Gressingham, a wealthy London business man. I didn’t want this gentleman as tenant, because I don’t like to see country properties treated as playthings by wealthy men who have their real interests elsewhere. Now this man Gressingham . . . Perhaps you’d care to see him yourself. He has taken rooms, more or less permanently, down at Hinton Mallory, and he tells me he’s still hoping to buy property hereabouts.”

“I’ll certainly make a point of seeing him,” said Macdonald. “Have you any idea why he is anxious to settle in this particular part of the country? It’s very little known to Londoners. I have been in Devon a good deal, but I have never heard of the Mallorys before this case was put before me.”

“Quite so, quite so. We’re not in the public eye, thank God,” said St. Cyres, getting rather red in the face. “Gressingham heard about Little Thatch from my daughter-in-law. She was very anxious to have friends of her own down here. Her husband---my boy Denis---was taken prisoner in Burma: very hard on his wife. I suggested she should come and live here: very glad to have her, and the little chap, too, but she finds the country dull, you know.”

“I quite understand that,” replied Macdonald. “Once a Londoner always a Londoner is a well-known saying. If I may say so, I see your difficulty and sympathise with it, sir. You can rest assured I shall be very circumspect in approaching Mr. Gressingham.”

“You’ll find him pleasant enough---a very friendly person in his own way. Not quite our way, y’know, but we’re very conservative folk down here. I don’t want to give you a false impression. I’ve nothing against Gressingham. Nothing at all.”

“Have you any idea if he got on to terms with Vaughan---went to see him or called at the house?”

Again St. Cyres grew rather red in the face. “You might care to talk to my daughter Anne about that---sensible girl and very reliable. I gather from her that Gressingham did . . . er . . . make approaches, but wasn’t exactly encouraged. The fact is, town-bred people aren’t used to country ways and think they can . . . well, make free with land that isn’t their own. I don’t know if you’ve ever lived in the country, Chief Inspector?”

Macdonald smiled. “I’ve lived mainly in London, sir, but my forebears were Highland Scots and I spent my holidays as a boy on a Highland croft, and there I had some country manners instilled into me. I think I can claim enough acquaintance with country life to respect rural customs as well as to like them. I have a very deep respect for the traditional ways which ensure good relations between those who live on and by the land.”

“Very well put, Chief Inspector. If that’s your outlook you’ll be able to understand some aspects of this business. Now I should like to put certain points before you---and if it’s a repetition of what you’ve heard before, you can stop me. I last saw Vaughan on the Saturday afternoon before his death. I went over to Little Thatch to talk about cutting his meadow. Of course, it’s weeks before hay time, but I like to make my plans in advance. That meadow I let him is generally one of the earliest to be fit for cutting---it’s a southward slope, very well watered and gets all the sun. I suggested that he might borrow the cutter and get Dickon and one of my men to help him cart and stack, or I’d get the job done for him on a business-like basis.”

“And if my notion of Nicholas Vaughan is anywhere near right, he told you he wanted to cut it himself,” put in Macdonald, and St. Cyres nodded.

“Quite right, quite right. He was grateful for the offer of my gear, but he was used to haysel and he was just longing to cut his own meadow and build his own stack. I sympathised, of course. I’d have felt the same myself. I told him I’d look in again in the evening after I’d had a talk with Ridd---he’s my foreman---and there we left it. I shall always remember Vaughan that afternoon: he came with me to look at the grasses in the meadow---marvellously well on it was, despite the drought. He was a real land lover---said he’d never seen grass like it up in his own country. Happy as a sandboy, he was, poor chap.”

“And he did not tell you he was expecting to be out that evening?”

“No, he didn’t---but then I didn’t mention a time. Maybe he thought I meant after dusk, as indeed I did, being a busy man myself. As it happened I didn’t go across until half-past nine. When I saw his door was shut and the house locked up I came away. Thought he’d gone to bed early, as we tend to in the country when we’re up betimes. I can’t tell you how much I’ve regretted the fact that I didn’t knock him up. If I had, this tragic business might never have happened.”

“It was getting on for dusk at half-past nine?” queried Macdonald. “It’d be dark in London, but you get an extra twenty minutes of daylight in the evenings in the west country, don’t you?”

“Yes, and correspondingly later mornings, of course. It was dusk when I went over to Little Thatch, but there was light enough to see one’s way. I walked along the front of the house---there are gates at either end of the garden---and I looked at Vaughan’s motor shed. He only locks it at night, before he turns in. When I saw it was padlocked I knew he was in the house, and as there were no lights showing I didn’t knock.”

“Did he keep any ducks or hens?”

Colonel St. Cyres looked surprised. “Yes. He kept ducks. Khaki Campbells.”

“Did you notice if the ducks had been shut up? I suppose they were shut up at night?”

“Of course, or the foxes’d have the lot. Vaughan would have seen they were in the duck-house before he turned in himself.”

“You found the ducks in the duck-house next morning?”

St. Cyres shook his head. He looked worried and puzzled.

“No, no. One of the things we did that night was to open the linhey and duck-house. It was probable they’d catch fire from the sparks. Vaughan had bought a calf a few days back, and he put her inside at night---we always remember the beasts if there’s a fire on farm premises.”

“Yes. I know that,” said Macdonald patiently. “I’d better make my point quite clear, sir. I want to ascertain that Vaughan was perfectly normal---well and sober, if you like---when he got back to Little Thatch about 9.5 that Saturday evening. If he left home before six o’clock---which is four o’clock G.M.T., isn’t it probable he didn’t shut the ducks up before he went out?”

“Quite probable. He’d have left them to forage in the orchard and shut them up when he came back.”

“Exactly---so it’s worth finding out who opened the duck-house during the fire. If the ducks were not in their house, it points to one deviation from the normal, as we say.”

St. Cyres rubbed his white head with his square, stubby fingers. “I see. You want to know who came to Little Thatch on Saturday night. The lad from Dickon’s woke us up, just after three. I’ve no men sleeping in the house, and I told the boy to run down to Hinton Mallory as fast as he could---he’s a good little lad. Before he got back, the constable who had been patrolling across the valley reached here---silly fellow! He thought it was a rick burning, and came over to see instead of ringing up the Fire Service. My phone had gone dead---the wire goes over Little Thatch and the flames from the thatch got it. I was there, the constable, and my daughter. A few minutes later Hesling brought up a couple of men from Hinton Mallory. I think the Dickons’ boy---Alf---opened the duck-house. Hesling got the linhey open, then that caught fire, too.” St. Cyres’s voice broke, and he looked a very old man as he went on, “I’m sorry, Chief Inspector. I can’t bear to think about it. There we were, and it was so hopeless. Hesling’s two men, Fordham and Nympton, got a length of sapling which had been felled, and battered the kitchen door in---perfectly useless, the place was a sheet of flame. Then they tried at the other end of the cottage, and Fordham got inside the dining-room, and we had a job to get him out alive. The place was a furnace, for the beams and floor boards were burning.”

“Yes, sir. I don’t want to distress you by asking you to tell me about the fire, but I do want to know who was there.”

“Very good. Myself and my daughter, the constable, Hesling, Fordham and Nympton, and the boy Alf. The Mallowton Fire Brigade arrived soon after four o’clock, and that man Gressingham and a friend of his named Radcliffe came along shortly after Hesling. They tried to get some of the thatch down---it’s very thick---but it was a useless risk.”

St. Cyres paused a moment and then went on: “You asked just now if Vaughan were normal---well and sober, was the way you put it---that evening. I’m certain he was well; I saw him at four o’clock in the best of health, and as for being sober, I’d give you my word he was that. Apart from an occasional glass of cider, Vaughan didn’t drink. He was as abstemious as I am myself. Then there’s this to it. He drove his car home safely and backed it into that narrow shack he’d built for it---no easy job. If he hadn’t been sober he’d have had the whole thing down. A tipsy man can’t back a car into a doorway which only gives a couple of inches grace on either side.”

“Yes, sir. That’s quite a point. Now when you went over to Little Thatch that evening did you see anybody about?”

“No, Chief Inspector, not at the cottage. I walked on to the post-box---there’s a collection from that box at midday on Sunday: it’s at the junction of the Mallory Fitzjohn and Hinton Mallory turnings. When I reached it I saw Mr. Gressingham in front of me---doubtless he was also posting letters.”

“Did you speak to him?”

“No. Perhaps it’s not quite accurate to say I saw him, it was too dark to recognise anybody. I saw the dark blur of a man’s back and then the white of his collar, and I also smelt the cigarette he was smoking---a Balkan Sobranie. They’re Turkish cigarettes, very expensive, and the aroma is quite distinctive. Gressingham’s the only man who smokes expensive Turkish cigarettes about here.”

“Yes,” said Macdonald. “I know those cigarettes.” He paused, then added, “Now, sir, if I’m not greatly mistaken there’s something else you could add to what you have already said, but you don’t feel happy about putting it into words. Isn’t that true?”

“Perfectly true, Chief Inspector. It’s not evidence of a tangible kind, and it’s not evidence of which you can get any corroboration. There’s only my own word for it, and I don’t feel at all happy about producing it. You said just now that you knew the smell of Balkan Sobranie cigarettes. I smelt the smoke of one of those cigarettes when I walked the length of Little Thatch at nine-thirty that evening---just before I went to the post.”

“You didn’t mention this fact to the Superintendent, sir?”

“No. How could I? A smell . . . the aroma of a Turkish cigarette---it seemed an absurd thing to mention---and there’s something unworthy about casting suspicion when you have no evidence to support it.”

“Did you mention any of this to Mr. Gressingham?”

“I asked him if he’d seen anything of Vaughan that evening, mentioning that I’d seen him---Gressingham---at the post-box. He said no, of course. He told me that he had been for a stroll with my daughter-in-law, had seen her back to this house at twenty minutes past nine, and had then walked through the spinney and by a field-path to the post-box. By that route he would not have gone near Little Thatch.”

“He was quite sure about the time---twenty minutes past nine?”

Colonel St. Cyres grew very red in the face. “The time was vouched for by my daughter-in-law, June. I asked her if she noticed what time it was she came in, and she told me she glanced at her watch and complained to Gressingham that she had missed the nine o’clock news.”

Macdonald was silent for a moment. Then he said, “I realise this is all very difficult for you, sir, and I assure you that I won’t make further difficulties without good reason, but I think you ought to answer this question quite frankly. What degree of enmity existed between these two men---Vaughan and Gressingham?”

“It’s difficult for me to say. Vaughan never mentioned Gressingham to me---Gressingham spoke disparagingly of Vaughan once or twice, and inferred that he was secretive and had something to hide. I gather Vaughan was short with Gressingham when he called at the cottage---but it all seems so preposterous, making mountains out of molehills! If Gressingham did bear a grudge because Vaughan was in possession of a property which the other coveted, is it reasonable to suppose that he would have gone to criminal lengths to express that grudge?”

“I don’t know, sir. Arson has not infrequently been committed to pay off a grudge, and arson may lead to deadly results. Don’t imagine I shall jump to any conclusions on account of what you have told me. All I can say is that it is my duty to investigate all contacts made by deceased. As you can see for yourself, there is no proof at all at present that there was any foul play: accident can explain the whole tragedy, and I think it’s worth while remembering that your local police, who are a most efficient and conscientious body of men, were satisfied with the explanation of accident, as was the Coroner and his jury.”

“Yes,” agreed St Cyres sadly. “If it hadn’t been for Wilton and his insistence, I don’t think any doubt would have arisen in my own mind, but”---he paused and looked at Macdonald---“now you are here, Chief Inspector. I know Wilton is connected with your Assistant Commissioner, but I don’t believe it’s only on that account that an officer of your standing was sent down here to investigate.”

“That’s quite true, sir. I was sent because your acting Chief Constable, having consulted with his own men, was not fully convinced that the Coroner’s verdict was substantiated. Very few members of the public are aware of the full extent of police enquiries in this country. Very often no further evidence is published, and none will be published in this case unless I find very good reason to disagree with the verdict of accident. Now there are a few practical points on which you can help me. It’s important to bear in mind that the verdict of accident rests on two possible explanations---a fault in the electric wiring, or a structural defect in the kitchen chimney. The latter has collapsed too far to show what might have happened. Can you tell me when repairs were last done to that chimney and who did the repairs?”

“That chimney hasn’t been repaired since I left the army in 1924,” replied St Cyres. “My father died in 1922, and I resigned my commission and came back here to live in 1924. I made a point of seeing all my tenants and enquiring about repairs. Timothy Yeo had no complaints beyond a leaky roof, and the cottage was rethatched in 1926---a very good job it was, too, a beautiful piece of work. As for the chimney---it probably hadn’t been touched since the kitchen range was put in when Timothy Yeo got married in 1904.”

“And who put the range in?” enquired Macdonald, and St Cyres held up his hands in despair.

“How should I know? I was at Sandhurst in 1904. Probably old Potts and Bulham of Mallowton did it. They did most of the work for my father’s property. Are you hoping to get evidence of work done forty years ago, Chief Inspector?”

“In the absence of any younger evidence, yes,” replied Macdonald cheerfully. “If the man who worked in that chimney in 1904 is alive now I’m going to try to find him. From my experience of rural builders, you generally get one old man who has the experience, plus one young man who has the muscles. Perhaps I shall find the young man of 1904 who would have been sent up to examine the inside of that chimney---he won’t be much over sixty, and country folk have long memories.”

“And what on earth can he tell you that would be useful in 1944?” asked St Cyres helplessly.

“This, sir. You say there have been no structural alterations at Little Thatch since 1904. If I can get evidence from a reliable workman that no beam impinged on that chimney in 1904, there couldn’t have been a beam to smoulder in 1944. From my knowledge of old buildings---a layman’s knowledge, admittedly---I don’t believe a beam did run through or rest on that chimney. The chimney was a stone one: it was built by itself and big cross beams wouldn’t have gone near it, and the roof tree was independent of it. Obviously I can’t get architect’s plans of Little Thatch---but I can get more information than has been adduced thus far. My function is to worry people, and to that end I am given more leisure than the County men.”

Colonel St. Cyres sighed---an old man’s sigh: “Well, Chief Inspector, I respect your zeal. For my part, I will disinter any of the old estate papers I can find. We keep old bills in the country, despite the salvage drive. I’ve often said that some of the most interesting local histories have been made from old account books.”

“I quite agree, sir. Now, if it’s not inconvenient, may I see your daughter, Miss Anne?”

“By all means. I think she’s about somewhere, I’ll find her. Meantime, a glass of cider or a cup of coffee, Chief Inspector?”

“Thanks very much, sir. A glass of cider. I hope it’s a local brew.”

“It is, and the best in the county in my opinion,” replied St Cyres.


ANNE St Cyres was exactly what Macdonald had anticipated. Neat, self-contained and reliable looking, moreover “a bonnie lassie,” with a fresh skin, pretty hair, and her father’s blue eyes. Macdonald had never admired cosmetics, and he always tended to like a rosy-cheeked young woman who had the courage to ignore the temptations of perming and beauty-parlour experts---but Macdonald was growing into a real old stick in the eyes of those born since he first entered the Metropolitan Police in 1920.

“You know what my job is, Miss St. Cyres,” said the C.I.D. man, “and since I’ve arrived on the scene rather late in the day, I shall need all the help I can get. Your father suggested that Mr. Vaughan didn’t see eye to eye with Mr. Gressingham on the matter of private property.”

Anne flushed, and looked rather distressed. “Yes, that’s true in a way,” she rejoined. “Mr. Vaughan asked me to go over and see Little Thatch after he had finished painting the house---at Easter---and I was there when Mr. Gressingham called. He was quite friendly and asked Mr. Vaughan to make up a four at bridge. Mr. Vaughan said he didn’t play bridge, and then Mr. Gressingham made a few rather condescendingly polite remarks about Little Thatch and said he’d like to walk round the garden. Mr. Vaughan said it wasn’t open for exhibition---but it was all quite trivial. Of course they didn’t like one another, but there was nothing in that. I don’t like Mr. Gressingham myself: he’s much too sure of himself and too disposed to be familiar at short notice---but all this was trivial, as I just said. It never occurred to me to magnify it into anything serious.”

“Would you be willing to state that to the best of your knowledge and belief there was no enmity between the two men?”

Again she flushed, and a frown deepened the lines on her forehead.

“I have said that in my judgment they disliked each other, and I think I could add that they despised each other, but it was a surface matter. Mr. Vaughan didn’t brood over it or get irritable because Mr. Gressingham tried to be superior, and I don’t think Mr. Gressingham had any other feeling than a slight contempt for a man he described as an oaf or a tough.”

“That’s very fairly put,” said Macdonald. “Now I wonder if you can tell me a bit more about the house and the work Vaughan had done on it. I ask you, because it seems that you had seen more of Little Thatch than anyone else. I know your father went over there fairly frequently, but he was more interested in the garden and land than in the house.”

“Yes. He was delighted at the way the place was looked after---the garden cultivated and the orchards pruned and put into order.”

“Quite---every man to his own job. Now about the wiring. It had been connected up with the plant?”

“Oh, yes. He got that done nearly a month ago, and I went in and we turned all the lights on, it was great fun, but I believe he wasn’t satisfied with the way the engine was working. Some of the lights flickered, and he said he was going to disconnect it and examine the engine again. He said if he could only get at somebody’s lathe to make a new connection it would be a hundred per cent more efficient.”

“I see. Do you know if he had turned the current on again?”

“Yes, I passed the cottage fairly late one evening—after sunset, I mean—and the lights in the windows certainly weren’t lamplight.”

“Next, can you tell me just how far the place was furnished?”

“Not exactly, because I haven’t been over it since Easter, but I know he’d bought a good many things in the past month and a lot of wood and old panelling, too—that came from Hartsworthy House. He was building cupboards and putting up book shelves. He had an enormous number of books---well, it seemed enormous to me---crates and crates of them. I expect you mean, was there anything to burn? There was---a whole lot.”

“Now wasn’t it to you that Mr. Vaughan said he’d found some loose bricks in the kitchen chimney?”

“Yes, I asked about that particularly, because if the chimney was faulty it was the landlord’s business to put it right. He said it was perfectly sound: there’s a ledge half-way down the chimney---you often find them in old houses---and there was a jackdaw’s nest on the ledge, and two bricks had fallen in from the chimney stack, which has a brick coping. I did try to explain all this to the Superintendent, but he would keep on saying ‘Yes, yes,’ as though I were a child. That chimney is a stone one, Mr. Macdonald, it’s not built of brick at all, and if Nicholas Vaughan took two bricks out of it, it was because he knew where they’d come from---the coping of the stack. He even put a ladder up and found where the coping had been repaired. He was a thoroughly sensible person, and I won’t agree with anybody who says the fire was due to his own carelessness or stupidity.”

Macdonald nearly said, “Well, well”---he felt he had learnt quite a lot from Anne’s long speech: instead, he said, “That’s very important evidence, Miss St Cyres. You agree with Commander Wilton then in being sure that the fire was not caused by accident due to the work done by Mr. Vaughan.”

“Oh dear.” She uttered the two words wearily, and then made another effort to talk quietly. “I agree with Commander Wilton this far: that Mr. Vaughan knew what he was about, and that he was careful to the verge of caution. I do not agree with him that Mr. Vaughan was murdered. I think it’s a horrible suggestion and there’s nothing to support it. Accidents do happen. Isn’t there some advertisement on the hoardings about fires often being caused by careful people? However careful you are, accidents happen sometimes. You must have known lots of fires which happened quite accidentally.”

“Of course I have,” replied Macdonald. He did not add that he had investigated quite a number of fires whose origin had only appeared to be accidental. “All the same, I wish you would tell me if anything about this accident struck you as suspicious?”

“At the time, nothing,” she said. “Since Commander Wilton came, and there has been all this gossip and enquiry, I admit I caught the suspicion bug for a little while---but I don’t believe it. I think the Superintendent was perfectly right in his argument: why should anybody have wanted to murder Mr. Vaughan? Nearly everybody liked him and respected him, too. He was buried here, you know, in our churchyard, and the farmers came from miles round to his funeral. That may not mean much to you, but in the country people don’t go to funerals out of curiosity. They go because they have respected the man who died, and although Nicholas Vaughan had lived here only a short time, they all respected him, and he’d got to be friends with them, too---and that takes a bit of doing in these parts.”

“I think Vaughan would have been very contented to see the farmers at his funeral,” said Macdonald, and his voice was gentle. “He would have valued their regard.”

Anne flicked away some tears from her eyes impatiently.

“I just can’t help feeling wretched over it,” she said. “He was such a whole-hearted, hard-working, decent-minded fellow, and it was such rotten luck, because, whatever people say, it was not his fault. I’m certain of it.”