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Our Library => Margery Allingham - Coroner's Pidgin (1945) => Topic started by: Admin on February 01, 2023, 03:49:54 am

Title: Chapter 19
Post by: Admin on February 01, 2023, 03:49:54 am
THE Bishop of Devizes was not amused. He knew he had no business to be there for one thing, and moreover, he expected better manners in officials than Sergeant Dacre in his excitement had displayed. But he stuck to his determination to stand by the persecuted young foreigner, to whom he had taken a liking.

He sat in the visitor's chair, looking graceful and out of place in the Chief's office, and regarded Holly without enthusiasm. It was evident that Don was unhappy. He had refused a chair and now stood, young and splendid before the desk, while Oates and Holly watched him and Mr. Campion hung about unobtrusively in the background.

"I've told the Inspector," he was saying, "I don't want to obstruct you people in any way, and I don't know why you're interested, but I had an idea that if I said anything out of place in my letters home the censor would have taken note of it."

"It's not a question for the censor," Holly began, and Oates suddenly took over.

"The fact is," he said, in his old country bobby voice, "we want help. We can write to America and invite your father to explain, if he will, what you told him in a letter. I have no doubt he'd oblige us, and very likely we will do just that, but if you'd tell us, it'd save a lot of time, you know. Don't you do it if you don't want to, though."

He sounded plaintive as country constables often do, and Don, who expected something a little more impressive from the Chief of the Criminal Investigation Department, looked at him in astonishment.

"I told the Inspector what happened," he said at last. "It's not my tale at all. My father is a man who expects a letter every week; he likes plenty of news and he likes it often. I guess I sometimes get a little short of stories for him."

"So you tell him all the gossip," said Oates. "That's right. That's what I like from my boy. Can you remember what you told him about this lady down in the country?"

"Yes, as I told your Inspector, I came into it through a friend of mine--a guy who's over here in the U.S. Army, too--he was stationed down at this little town--village, you'd call it--named Chessing and he got an introduction to a lady there. You know how it is, you meet someone in town who says, 'Oh, you're stationed at so-and-so, are you? You must go and see my aunt or my cousin or whoever it is, she lives there.' You know how that happens." He was making very heavy weather of it and Campion saw why Holly had queried him. Don was not good at subterfuge.

"Well, this friend of mine," he continued, adding with sudden relief, "you may as well have his name; it's Mark Elder, he's a major in the Artillery. He's a cultured man who used to teach in college before it occurred to him that there was a modern war he might take a little notice of before he got wrapped up with the ancient ones. He and I came over at the same time, and when I saw him last he told me this story in detail. He mentioned the lady's name, and I remember it for the same reason that he did. She was called Miss Dorothy Pork, and that kind of improved the story. He didn't take up the introduction, but she found him when she was helping at a canteen they had in the Town Hall, and he mentioned it then, and she insisted he come up to the house and have tea with her some time. Apparently it was a great honour, for she never had folk to tea, but he said she was everything he'd ever read about in England. She had very thick shoes, and a white underskirt showing under her tweeds at the back, and altogether he wasn't too excited about it to begin with. But he didn't want to hurt her feelings, and after the third time she asked him, he went up there."

His audience was listening to him with sympathy, and a smile curled Oates's thin lips. "This is fine," he said. "This is what we want to know."

"Well," said Don again, "Mark reported the house was just what he'd read about too, until he was taken into the drawing-room, and there he said he'd never seen such fine pictures in his life. He recognized one of them from reproductions, and he thought this must be a copy until he looked at it carefully and realized he was seeing the real thing. He said the old lady had no taste at all, herself, and he mentioned it to me as one of the minor mysteries of this island. I was short of a story to tell Dad in my letter, and I just wrote down what he told me. The picture was a Venus of some sort, I forget what, but I'd made a note of it, and I put it in the letter. There, that's all, sir, that's the best I can do, I'm afraid."

Oates remained looking at him, and his smile was genuine.

"We're very grateful to you," he said. "It's a coincidence, an extraordinary coincidence, unless--Lieutenant Evers, do you know who gave Major Elder the introduction to Miss Pork?"

Don shut his mouth, and to his chagrin blushed violently. The colour rushed up over his face and his eyes grew very fierce. "I'm afraid that's all I can tell you."

Holly would have spoken, but Oates was before him.

"All right," he said easily, "we can't force you, and we don't want to. We'll have to contact the Major, though. Perhaps he won't want to oblige us, and then we'll have to try the lady."

Mr. Campion ventured to interfere. "I take it there's no blame attached to the introduction?" he said to Oates. "I mean, no one who had any special reason for wishing Miss Pork's drawing-room to remain unseen would give anyone on earth an introduction to her, would they? I may be wrong, but the whole thing sounds a little careless to me. Did Mrs. Susan Shering tell your friend to call on Miss Pork, Lieutenant?"

Don's expression betrayed him, and Campion was genuinely regretful. "I'm sorry," he said, "but I couldn't think of anyone else over here whom you would feel in duty bound to protect. She can't be involved in this, you know. This isn't her kind of party at all."

"I think my nephew is right, you know, Lieutenant. Innocence is a remarkably apparent thing." The Bishop, who had been temporarily forgotten, made the remark rather like a judge from the Olympic seclusion of the Bench, and Don threw in his chivalrous hand.

"Very well," he said. "I'm relying on you though, Mr. Campion. I know Mrs. Shering can't have anything serious to hide and I didn't want her to be bothered. It was she who told Mark to look up the lady." He paused and looked round him. "It was the most casual thing you can imagine," he said. "She and I were having dinner together at the Berkeley, and Mark came in. He stood chatting with us for a bit and she asked him where he was stationed, and he said it was a very picturesque but remarkably uncomfortable little hole called Chessing. She said, 'Oh dear, I know it is, but if you need a bath or a glass of gooseberry wine at any time, you ought to call on Dorothy Pork.'" He paused, and a faint smile passed over his worried young face. "She didn't see anything amusing in the name until we laughed, and we said we didn't think there was anybody called 'Dorothy Pork' anyway, and we started fooling, and--well, that's what happened."

It was so obviously exactly what had happened that even Holly was silent. It was the Bishop who asked the question which had come into all their minds.

"Do I understand Miss Pork was a relative of Mrs. Shering?" he enquired.

"Oh no." Don seemed horrified at this suggestion. "No. She said she was a friend of the aunt who brought Susan, I mean Mrs. Shering, up. She just said she was a character."

"The English rose of yesteryear, no doubt," said Mr. Campion absently. "Dear me, yes, that's very clear, isn't it, Mr. Oates?"

The Chief said it was indeed, and with many apologies and expressions of goodwill on the one side, and reserved friendliness on the other, the visitors were escorted downstairs by Tovey and Mr. Campion. As they shook hands Don smiled shyly at Campion.

"What a wine you missed!" he said.

Campion laughed. "Did you drink it?"

"We did," said the Bishop primly. "A very pleasant evening."

As they came back into the Chief's office, Oates looked across the room at Campion. "It's getting very close to Carados," he said.

"It certainly is," said Holly, "there's no getting away from it. It's always just one step away from him every time."

Mr. Campion thrust his hands in his pockets and walked up and down the room.

"Nobleman gives the friend of the aunt of his affianced bride a hundred thousand quids' worth of stolen art treasures, all so well known that the first intelligent visitor spots them," he said. "What a chap, eh?"

Oates frowned. "It sounds absurd when you put it like that," he admitted, but Holly was annoyed.

"It's highly suspicious, Mr. Campion," he said. "I know it sounds an amazing story, but the whole thing is out of the ordinary. We're getting on, though. Do you think we ought to see Mrs. Shering now, Mr. Oates, or...?"

"No." The Chief got up. "No," he said again, "I think the next person we see is Miss Pork. I tell you what, Holly, we'll all go."

"I'm rising forty-four," said Mr. Campion suddenly, "and unless you count the bang on the head I had last night, I've not slept for forty-eight hours."

"Then you can do it in the car. Come on, Holly."

"Now, sir?" The Chief Inspector was startled by this sudden display of youthful zeal. Oates was shaking himself gently like an elderly dog; he felt for his pipe, his money and his matches, settled his coat, and reached for his hat on the desk.

"We'll go now," he said. "We'll go before we've got the report from Pelly, we'll go before Yeo comes back. We'll go before either that man Sloane of yours or this pleasant soldier-boy and his clerical friend have time to breathe a word to a soul. Tovey," he added, "get me a car and a revolver."

Campion began to laugh. "You've forgotten the cigar," he said, "otherwise it's an excellent impersonation. Come on, Holly, now we're going to see how they used to do it in the old days."

The Inspector looked scandalized, but whether at the lèse-majesté or the unprecedented interference of his Chief was not apparent. Oates was smiling faintly.

"We'll take a sergeant," he said, "just for the look of the thing."