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 on: November 29, 2023, 09:20:26 am 
Started by Admin - Last post by Admin
“NO. NO ARREST,” said Grant to Superintendent Barker over the telephone in the early evening. “But I don’t think there’s any doubt about its being murder. The surgeon’s sure of it. The button in her hair might be accident---although if you saw it you’d be convinced it wasn’t---but her fingernails were broken with clawing at something. What was under the nails has gone to the analyst, but there wasn’t much after an hour’s immersion in salt water. . . . ’M? . . . Well, indications point one way certainly, but they cancel each other out, somehow. Going to be difficult, I think. I’m leaving Williams here on routine enquiry, and coming back to town tonight. I want to see her lawyer---Erskine. He arrived just in time for the inquest, and afterwards I had Tisdall on my hands so I missed him. Would you find out for me when I can talk to him tonight. They’ve fixed the funeral for Monday. Golders Green. Yes, cremation. I’d like to be there, I think. I’d like to look over the intimates. Yes, I may look in for a drink, but it depends how late I am. Thanks.”

Grant hung up and went to join Williams for a high tea, it being too early for dinner and Williams having a passion for bacon and eggs garnished with large pieces of fried bread.

“Tomorrow being Sunday may hold up the button enquiries,” Grant said as they sat down. “Well, what did Mrs. Pitts say?”

“She says she couldn’t say whether he was wearing a coat or not. All she saw was the top of his head over her hedge as he went past. But whether he wore it or not doesn’t much matter, because she says the coat habitually lay in the back of the car along with that coat that Miss Clay wore. She doesn’t remember when she saw Tisdall’s dark coat last. He wore it a fair amount, it seems. Mornings and evenings. He was a ‘chilly mortal,’ she said. Owing to his having come back from foreign parts, she thought. She hasn’t much of an opinion of him.”

“You mean she thinks he’s a wrong ’un?”

“No. Just no account. You know, sir, has it occurred to you that it was a clever man who did this job?”


“Well, but for that button coming off no one would ever have suspected anything. She’d have been found drowned after going to bathe in the early morning---all quite natural. No footsteps, no weapon, no signs of violence. Very neat.”

“Yes. It’s neat.”

“You don’t sound very enthusiastic about it.”

“It’s the coat. If you were going to drown a woman in the sea, would you wear an overcoat to do it?”

“I don’t know. ’Pends how I meant to drown her.”

“How would you drown her?”

“Go swimming with her and keep her head under.”

“You’d have scratches that way, ten to one. Evidence.”

“Not me. I’d catch her by the heels in shallow water and upend her. Just stand there and hold her till she drowned.”

“Williams! What resource. And what ferocity.”

“Well, how would you do it, sir?”

“I hadn’t thought of aquatic methods. I mightn’t be able to swim, or I mightn’t like early-morning dips, or I might want to make a quick get-away from a stretch of water containing a body. No, I think I’d stand on a rock in deep water, wait till she came to talk to me, grip her head and keep it under. The only part of me that she could scratch that way would be my hands. And I’d wear leather gloves. It takes only a few seconds before she is unconscious.”

“Very nice, sir. But you couldn’t use that method anywhere within miles of the Gap.”

“Why not?”

“There aren’t any rocks.”

“No. Good man. But there are the equivalent. There are stone groynes.”

“Yes. Yes, so there are! Think that was how it was done, sir?”

“Who knows? It’s a theory. But the coat still worries me.”

“I don’t see why it need, sir. It was a misty morning, a bit chilly at six. Anyone might have worn a coat.”

“Y-es,” Grant said doubtfully, and let the matter drop, this being one of those unreasonable things which occasionally worried his otherwise logical mind (and had more than once been the means of bringing success to his efforts when his logic failed).

He gave Williams instructions for his further enquiries, when he himself should be in town. “I’ve just had another few minutes with Tisdall,” he finished. “He has got himself a waiter’s job at the Marine. I don’t think he’ll bolt, but you’d better plant a man. Sanger will do. That’s Tisdall’s car route on Thursday morning, according to himself.” He handed a paper to the sergeant. “Check up on it. It was very early but someone may remember him. Did he wear a coat or not? That’s the main thing. I think, myself, there’s no doubt of his taking the car as he said. Though not for the reason he gave.”

“I thought it a silly reason myself, when I read that statement. I just thought: ‘Well, he might have made up a better one!’ What’s your theory, sir?”

“I think that when he had drowned her his one idea was to get away. With a car he could be at the other end of England, or out of the country, before they found her body! He drove away. And then something made him realise what a fool he was. Perhaps he missed the button from his cuff. Anyhow, he realised that he had only to stay where he was and look innocent. He got rid of the tell-tale coat---even if he hadn’t missed the button the sleeve almost up to the elbow must have been soaking with salt water---came back to replace the car, found that the body had been discovered thanks to an incoming tide, and put on a very good act on the beach. It wouldn’t have been difficult. The very thought of how nearly he had made a fool of himself would have been enough to make him burst into tears.”

“So you think he did it?”

“I don’t know. There seems to me to be a lack of motive. He was penniless and she was a liberal woman. There was every reason for keeping her alive. He was greatly interested in her, certainly. He says he wasn’t in love with her, but we have only his word for it. I think he’s telling the truth when he says there was nothing between them. He may have suffered from frustration, but if that were so he would be much more likely to beat her up. It was a queerly cold-blooded murder, Williams.”

“It was certainly that, sir. Turns my stomach.” Williams laid a large forkful of best Wiltshire lovingly on a pink tongue.

Grant smiled at him: the smile that made Grant’s subordinates “work their fingers to the bone for him.” He and Williams had worked together often, and always in amity and mutual admiration. Perhaps, in a large measure because Williams, bless him, coveted no one’s shoes. He was much more the contented husband of a pretty and devoted wife than the ambitious detective-sergeant.

“I wish I hadn’t missed her lawyer after the inquest. There’s a lot I want to ask him, and heaven knows where he’ll be for the week-end. I’ve asked the Yard for her dossier, but her lawyer would be much more helpful. Must find out whom her death benefits. It was a misfortune for Tisdall, but it must have been lucky for a lot of people. Being an American, I suppose her will’s in the States somewhere. The Yard will know by the time I get up.”

“Christine Clay was no American, sir!” Williams said in a well-I-am-surprised-at-you voice.

“No? What then?”

“Born in Nottingham.”

“But everyone refers to her as an American.”

“Can’t help that. She was born in Nottingham and went to school there. They do say she worked in a lace factory, but no one knows the truth of that.”

“I forgot you were a film fan, Williams. Tell me more.”

“Well, of course, what I know is just by reading Screenland and Photoplay and magazines like that. A lot of what they write is hooey, but on the other hand they’ll never stop at truth as long as it makes a good story. She wasn’t fond of being interviewed. And she used to tell a different story each time. When someone pointed out that that wasn’t what she had said last time, she said: ‘But that’s so dull! I’ve thought of a much better one.’ No one ever knew where they were with her. Temperament, they called it, of course.”

“And don’t you call it that?” asked Grant, always sensitive to an inflexion.

“Well, I don’t know. It always seemed to me more like---well, like protection, if you know what I mean. People can only get at you if they know what you’re like---what matters to you. If you keep them guessing, they’re the victims, not you.”

“A girl who’d pushed her way from a lace factory in Nottingham to the top of the film world couldn’t be very vulnerable.”

“It’s because she was from a lace factory that she was what-d’you-call-it. Every six months she was in a different social sphere, she went up at such a rate. That takes a lot of living up to---like a diver coming up from a long way below. You’re continually adjusting yourself to the pressure. No, I think she needed a shell to get into, and keeping people guessing was her shell.”

“So you were a Clay fan, Williams.”

“Sure I was,” said Williams in the appropriate idiom. His pink cheeks grew a shade pinker. He slapped marmalade with venom onto his slab of toast. “And before this affair’s finished I’m going to put bracelets on the chap that did it. It’s a comforting thought.”

“Got any theories yourself?”

“Well, sir, if you don’t mind my saying so, you’ve passed over the person with the obvious motive.”


“Jason Harmer. What was he doing snooping round at half past eight of a morning?”

“He’d come over from Sandwich. Spent the night at the pub there.”

“So he said. Did the County people verify that?”

Grant consulted his notes.

“Perhaps they haven’t. The statement was volunteered before they found the button, and so they weren’t suspicious. And since then everyone has concentrated on Tisdall.”

“Plenty of motive, Harmer has. Clay walks out on him, and he runs her to earth in a country cottage, alone with a man.”

“Yes, very plausible. Well, you can add Harmer to your list of chores. Find out about his wardrobe. There’s an S.O.S. out for a discarded coat. I hope it brings in something. A coat’s a much easier clue than a button. Tisdall, by the way, says he sold his wardrobe complete (except for his evening things) to a man called---appropriately enough---Togger, but doesn’t know where his place of business is. Is that the chap who used to be in Craven Road?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Where is he now?”

“Westbourne Grove. The far end.”

“Thanks. I don’t doubt Tisdall’s statement. But there’s just a chance there’s the duplicate of that button on another coat. It might lead us to something.” He got to his feet. “Well, on with the job of making bricks without straw! And talking of that Israelitish occupation, here’s a grand sample of it to flavour your third cup.” He pulled from his pocket the afternoon edition of the Sentinel, the Clarion’s evening representative, and laid it, with its staring headlines, “Was Clay’s Death an Accident?” upward, by Williams’s plate.

“Jammy Hopkins!” Williams said, with feeling, and flung sugar violently into his black tea.

 on: November 29, 2023, 06:20:58 am 
Started by Admin - Last post by Admin
BUT FIRST there was the inquest. And it was at the inquest that the first faint stirring of a much greater sensation began to appear. It was Jammy Hopkins who noted the quiver on the smooth surface. He had earned his nickname because of his glad cry of “Jam! Jam!” when a good story broke, and his philosophical reflection when times were thin that “all was jam that came to the rollers.” Hopkins had an excellent nose for jam, and so it was that he stopped suddenly in the middle of analysing for Bartholomew’s benefit the various sensation seekers crowding the little Kentish village hall. Stopped dead and stared. Because, between the fly-away hats of two bright sensationalists, he could see a man’s calm face which was much more sensational than anything in that building.

“Seen something?” Bart asked.

“Have I seen something!” Hopkins slid from the end of the form, just as the coroner sat down and tapped for silence. “Keep my place,” he whispered, and disappeared out of the building. He entered it again at the back door, expertly pushed his way to the place he wanted, and sat down. The man turned his head to view this gate-crasher.

“Morning, Inspector,” said Hopkins.

The Inspector looked his disgust.

“I wouldn’t do it if I didn’t need the money,” Hopkins said, vox humana.

The coroner tapped again for silence, but the Inspector’s face relaxed.

Presently, under cover of the bustle of Potticary’s arrival to give evidence, Hopkins said, “What is Scotland Yard doing here, Inspector?”

“Looking on.”

“I see. Just studying inquests as an institution. Crime slack these days?” As the Inspector showed no sign of being drawn: “Oh, have a heart, Inspector. What’s in the wind? Is there something phoney about the death? Suspicions, eh? If you don’t want to talk for publication I’m the original locked casket.”

“You’re the original camel-fly.”

“Oh, well, look at the hides I have to get through!” This produced a grin and nothing else. “Look here. Just tell me one thing, Inspector. Is this inquest going to be adjourned?”

“I shouldn’t be surprised.”

“Thank you. That tells me everything,” Hopkins said, half sarcastic, half serious, as he made his way out again. He prised Mrs. Pitts’ Albert away from the wall where he clung limpet-like by the window, persuaded him that two shillings was better than a partial view of dull proceedings, and sent him to Liddlestone with a telegram which set the Clarion office buzzing. Then he went back to Bart.

“Something wrong,” he said out of the corner of his mouth in answer to Bart’s eyebrows. “The Yard’s here. That’s Grant, behind the scarlet hat. Inquest going to be adjourned. Spot the murderer!”

“Not here,” Bart said, having considered the gathering.

“No,” agreed Jammy. “Who’s the chap in the flannel bags?”

“Boy friend.”

“Thought the boy friend was Jay Harmer.”

“Was. This one newer.”

“ ‘Love nest killing’?”

“Wouldn’t mind betting.”

“Supposed to be cold, I thought?”

“Yes. So they say. Fooled them, seemingly. Good enough reason for murder, I should think.”

The evidence was of the most formal kind---the finding and identification of the body---and as soon as that had been offered the coroner brought the proceedings to an end, and fixed no date for resumption.

Hopkins had decided that, the Clay death being apparently no accident, and Scotland Yard not being able so far to make any arrest, the person to cultivate was undoubtedly the man in the flannel bags. Tisdall, his name was. Bart said that every newspaper man in England had tried to interview him the previous day (Hopkins being then en route from the poker murder) but that he had been exceptionally tough. Called them ghouls, and vultures, and rats, and other things less easy of specification, and had altogether seemed unaware of the standing of the Press. No one was rude to the Press any more---not with impunity, that was.

But Hopkins had great faith in his power to seduce the human mind.

“Your name Tisdall, by any chance?” he asked casually, “finding” himself alongside the young man in the crowded procession to the door.

The man’s face hardened into instant enmity.

“Yes, it is,” he said aggressively.

“Not old Tom Tisdall’s nephew?”

The face cleared swiftly.

“Yes. Did you know Uncle Tom?”

“A little,” admitted Hopkins, no whit dismayed to find that there really was a Tom Tisdall.

“You seem to know about my giving up the Stannaway?”

“Yes, someone told me,” Hopkins said, wondering if the Stannaway was a house, or what? “What are you doing now?”

By the time they had reached the door, Hopkins had established himself. “Can I give you a lift somewhere? Come and have lunch with me?”

A pip! In half an hour he’d have a front-page story. And this was the baby they said was difficult! No, there was no doubt of it: he, James Brooke Hopkins, was the greatest newspaper man in the business.

“Sorry, Mr. Hopkins,” said Grant’s pleasant voice at his shoulder. “I don’t want to spoil your party, but Mr. Tisdall has an appointment with me.” And, since Tisdall betrayed his astonishment and Hopkins his instant putting two and two together, he added, “We’re hoping he can help us.”

“I don’t understand,” Tisdall was beginning. And Hopkins, seeing that Tisdall was unaware of Grant’s identity, rushed in with glad maliciousness.

“That is Scotland Yard,” he said. “Inspector Grant. Never had an unsolved crime to his name.”

“I hope you write my obituary,” Grant said.

“I hope I do!” the journalist said, with fervour.

And then they noticed Tisdall. His face was like parchment, dry and old and expressionless. Only the pulse beating hard at his temple suggested a living being. Journalist and detective stood looking in mutual astonishment at so unexpected a result of Hopkins’ announcement. And then, seeing the man’s knees beginning to sag, Grant took him hastily by the arm.

“Here! Come and sit down. My car is just here.”

He edged the apparently blind Tisdall through the dawdling, chattering crowd, and pushed him into the rear seat of a dark touring car.

“Westover,” he said to the chauffeur, and got in beside Tisdall.

As they went at snail’s pace towards the high-road, Grant saw Hopkins still standing where they had left him. That Jammy Hopkins should stay without moving for more than three consecutive minutes argued that he was being given furiously to think. From now on---the Inspector sighed---the camel-fly would be a blood-hound.

And the Inspector, too, had food for his wits. He had been called in the previous night by a worried County Constabulary who had no desire to make themselves ridiculous by making mountains out of molehills, but who found themselves unable to explain away satisfactorily one very small, very puzzling obstacle to their path. They had all viewed the obstacle, from the Chief Constable down to the sergeant who had taken charge on the beach, had been rude about each other’s theories, and had in the end agreed on only one thing: that they wanted to push the responsibility on to someone else’s shoulders. It was all very well to hang on to your own crime, and the kudos of a solution, when there was a crime. But to decide in cold blood to announce a crime, on the doubtful evidence of that common little object on the table; to risk, not the disgrace of failure, but the much worse slings of ridicule, was something they could not find it in their hearts to do. And so Grant had cancelled his seat at the Criterion and had journeyed down to Westover. He had inspected the stumbling block, listened with patience to their theories and with respect to the police surgeon’s story, and had gone to bed in the small hours with a great desire to interview Robert Tisdall. And now here was Tisdall, beside him, still speechless and half fainting because he had been confronted without warning by Scotland Yard. Yes, there was a case; no doubt of it. Well, there couldn’t be any questioning with Cork in the driving seat, so until they got back to Westover Tisdall might be left to recover. Grant took a flask from the car pocket and offered it to him. Tisdall took it shakily but made good use of it. Presently he apologised for his weakness.

“I don’t know what went wrong. This affair has been an awful shock to me. I haven’t been sleeping. Keep going over things in my mind. Or rather, my mind keeps doing it; I can’t stop it. And then, at the inquest it seemed---I say, is something not right? I mean, was it not a simple drowning? Why did they postpone the end of the inquest?”

“There are one or two things that the police find puzzling.”

“As what, for instance?”

“I think we won’t discuss it until we get to Westover.”

“Is anything I say to be used in evidence against me?” The smile was wry but the intention was good.

“You took the words out of my mouth,” the Inspector said lightly, and silence fell between them.

By the time they reached the Chief Constable’s room in the County Police offices, Tisdall was looking normal if a little worn. In fact, so normal did he look that when Grant said, “This is Mr. Tisdall,” the Chief Constable, who was a genial soul except when someone jumped in his pocket out hunting, almost shook hands with him, but recollected himself before any harm was done.

“How dyu do. Harrump!” He cleared his throat to give himself time. Couldn’t do that, of course. My goodness, no. Fellow suspected of murder. Didn’t look it, no, upon his soul he didn’t. But there was no telling these days. The most charming people were---well, things he hadn’t known till lately existed. Very sad. But couldn’t shake hands, of course. No, definitely not. “Harrump! Fine morning! Bad for racing, of course. Going very hard. But good for the holiday makers. Mustn’t be selfish in our pleasures. You a racing man? Going to Goodwood? Oh, well, perhaps---No. Well, I expect you and---and our friend here----” somehow one didn’t want to rub in the fact of Grant’s inspectorship. Nice-looking chap. Well brought up, and all that---“would like to talk in peace. I’m going to lunch. The Ship,” he added, for Grant’s benefit, in case the Inspector wanted him. “Not that the food’s very good there, but it’s a self-respecting house. Not like these Marine things. Like to get steak and potatoes without going through sun lounges for them.” And the Chief Constable took himself out.

“A Freedy Lloyd part,” Tisdall said.

Grant looked up appreciatively from pulling forward a chair.

“You’re a theatre fan.”

“I was a fan of most things.”

Grant’s mind focused on the peculiarity of the phrase. “Why ‘was’?” he asked.

“Because I’m broke. You need money to be a fan.”

“You won’t forget that formula about ‘anything you say,’ will you?”

“No. Thanks. But it doesn’t make any difference. I can only tell you the truth. If you draw wrong deductions from it then that’s your fault, not mine.”

“So it’s I who am on trial. A nice point. I appreciate it. Well, try me out. I want to know how you were living in the same house with a woman whose name you didn’t know? You did tell the County Police that, didn’t you?”

“Yes. I expect it sounds incredible. Silly, too. But it’s quite simple. You see, I was standing on the pavement opposite the Gaiety one night, very late, wondering what to do. I had fivepence in my pocket, and that was fivepence too much, because I had aimed at having nothing at all. And I was wondering whether to have a last go at spending the fivepence (there isn’t much one can do with fivepence) or to cheat, and forget about the odd pennies. So----”

“Just a moment. You might explain to a dullard just why these five pennies should have been important.”

“They were the end of a fortune, you see. Thirty thousand. I inherited it from my uncle. My mother’s brother. My real name is Stannaway, but Uncle Tom asked that I should take his name with the money. I didn’t mind. The Tisdalls were a much better lot than the Stannaways, anyhow. Stamina and ballast and all that. If I’d been a Tisdall I wouldn’t be broke now, but I’m nearly all Stannaway. I’ve been the perfect fool, the complete Awful Warning. I was in an architect’s office when I inherited the money, living in rooms and just making do; and it went to my head to have what seemed more than I could ever spend. I gave up my job and went to see all the places I’d wanted to see and never hoped to. New York and Hollywood and Budapest and Rome and Capri and God knows where else. I came back to London with about two thousand, meaning to bank it and get a job. It would have been easy enough two years before---I mean, to bank the money. I hadn’t anyone to help spend it then. But in those two years I had gathered a lot of friends all over the world, and there were never less than a dozen of them in London at the same time. So I woke up one morning to find that I was down to my last hundred. It was a bit of a shock. Like cold water. I sat down and thought for the first time for two years. I had the choice of two things: sponging---you can live in luxury anywhere in the world’s capitals for six months if you’re a good sponger: I know; I supported dozens of that sort---and disappearing. Disappearing seemed easier. I could drop out quite easily. People would just say, ‘Where’s Bobby Tisdall these days?’ and they’d just take it for granted that I was in some of the other corners of the world where their sort went, and that they’d run into me one of these days. I was supposed to be suffocatingly rich, you see, and it was easier to drop out and leave them thinking of me like that than to stay and be laughed at when the truth began to dawn on them. I paid my bills, and that left me with fifty-seven pounds. I thought I’d have one last gamble then, and see if I could pick up enough to start me off on the new level. So I had thirty pounds---fifteen each way; that’s the bit of Tisdall in me---on Red Rowan in the Eclipse. He finished fifth. Twenty-odd pounds isn’t enough to start anything except a barrow. There was nothing for it but tramping. I wasn’t much put out at the thought of tramping---it would be a change---but you can’t tramp with twenty-seven pounds in the bank, so I decided to blue it all in one grand last night. I promised myself that I’d finish up without a penny in my pocket. Then I’d pawn my evening things for some suitable clothes and hit the road. What I hadn’t reckoned with was that you can’t pawn things in the west-end on a Saturday midnight. And you can’t take to the road in evening things without being conspicuous. So I was standing there, as I said, feeling resentful about these five pennies and wondering what I was to do about my clothes and a place to sleep. I was standing by the traffic lights at the Aldwych, just before you turn round into Lancaster Place, when a car was pulled up by the red lights. Chris was in it, alone----”


“I didn’t know her name, then. She looked at me for a little. The street was very quiet. Just us two. And we were so close that it seemed natural when she smiled and said, ‘Take you anywhere, mister?’ I said: ‘Yes. Land’s End.’ She said: ‘A bit off my route. Chatham, Faversham, Canterbury, and points east?’ Well, it was one solution. I couldn’t go on standing there, and I couldn’t think of a water-tight tale that would get me a bed in a friend’s house. Besides, I felt far away from all that crowd already. So I got in without thinking much about it. She was charming to me. I didn’t tell her all I’m telling you, but she soon found out I was broke to the wide. I began to explain, but she said: ‘All right, I don’t want to know. Let’s accept each other on face value. You’re Robin and I’m Chris.’ I’d told her my name was Robert Stannaway, and without knowing it she used my family pet name. The crowd called me Bobby. It was sort of comforting to hear someone call me Robin again.”

“Why did you say your name was Stannaway?”

“I don’t know. A sort of desire to get away from the fortune side of things. I hadn’t been much ornament to the name, anyhow. And in my mind I always thought of myself as Stannaway.”

“All right. Go on.”

“There isn’t much more to tell. She offered me hospitality. Told me she was alone, but that---well, that I’d be just a guest. I said wasn’t she taking a chance. She said, ‘Yes, but I’ve taken them all my life and it’s worked out pretty well, so far.’ It seemed an awkward arrangement to me, but it turned out just the opposite. She was right about it. It made things very easy, just accepting each other. In a way (it was queer, but it was like that) it was as if we had known each other for years. If we had had to start at scratch and work up, it would have taken us weeks to get to the same stage. We liked each other a lot. I don’t mean sentimentally, although she was stunning to look at; I mean I thought her grand. I had no clothes for the next morning, but I spent that day in a bathing suit and a dressing-gown that someone had left. And on Monday Mrs. Pitts came in to my room and said, ‘Your suit-case, sir,’ and dumped a case I’d never seen before in the middle of the floor. It had a complete new outfit in it---tweed coat and flannels, socks, shirts, everything. From a place in Canterbury. The suit-case was old, and had a label with my name on it. She had even remembered my name. Well, I can’t describe to you what I felt about these things. You see, it was the first time for years that anyone had given me anything. With the crowd it was take, take, all the time. ‘Bobby’ll pay.’ ‘Bobby’ll lend his car.’ They never thought of me at all. I don’t think they ever stopped to look at me. Anyhow, those clothes sort of broke me up. I’d have died for her. She laughed when she saw me in them---they were reach-me-downs, of course, but they fitted quite well---and said: ‘Not exactly Bruton Street, but they’ll do. Don’t say I can’t size a man up.’ So we settled down to having a good time together, just lazing around, reading, talking, swimming, cooking when Mrs. Pitts wasn’t there. I put out of my head what was going to happen after. She had said that in about ten days she’d have to leave the cottage. I tried to go after the first day, out of politeness, but she wouldn’t let me. And after that I didn’t try. That’s how I came to be staying there, and that’s how I didn’t know her name.” He drew in his breath in a sharp sigh as he sat back. “Now I know how these psycho-analysts make money. It’s a long time since I enjoyed anything like telling you all about myself.”

Grant smiled involuntarily. There was an engaging childlikeness about the boy.

Then he shook himself mentally, like a dog coming out of water.

Charm. The most insidious weapon in all the human armoury. And here it was, being exploited under his nose. He considered the good-natured feckless face dispassionately. He had known at least one murderer who had had that type of good looks; blue-eyed, amiable, harmless; and he had buried his dismembered fiancée in an ash-pit. Tisdall’s eyes were of that particular warm opaque blue which Grant had noted so often in men to whom the society of women was a necessity of existence. Mother’s darlings had those eyes; so, sometimes, had womanizers.

Well, presently he would check up on Tisdall. Meanwhile----

“Do you ask me to believe that in your four days together you had no suspicion at all of Miss Clay’s identity?” he asked, marking time until he could bring Tisdall unsuspecting to the crucial matter.

“I suspected that she was an actress. Partly from things she said, but mostly because there were such a lot of stage and film magazines in the house. I asked her about it once, but she said: ‘No names, no pack drill. It’s a good motto, Robin. Don’t forget.’ ”

“I see. Did the outfit Miss Clay bought for you include an overcoat?”

“No. A mackintosh. I had a coat.”

“You were wearing a coat over your evening things?”

“Yes. It had been drizzling when we set out for dinner---the crowd and I, I mean.”

“And you still have that coat?”

“No. It was stolen from the car one day when we were over at Dymchurch.” His eyes grew alarmed suddenly. “Why? What has the coat got to do with it?”

“Was it dark- or light-coloured?”

“Dark, of course. A sort of grey-black. Why?”

“Did you report its loss?”

“No, neither of us wanted attention called to us. What has it----”

“Just tell me about Thursday morning, will you?” The face opposite him was steadily losing its ingenuousness and becoming wary and inimical again. “I understand that you didn’t go with Miss Clay to swim. Is that right?”

“Yes. But I awoke almost as soon as she had gone----”

“How do you know when she went if you were asleep?”

“Because it was still only six. She couldn’t have been gone long. And Mrs. Pitts said afterwards that I had followed down the road on her heels.”

“I see. And in the hour and a half---roughly---between your getting up and the finding of Miss Clay’s body you walked to the Gap, stole the car, drove it in the direction of Canterbury, regretted what you had done, came back, and found that Miss Clay had been drowned. Is that a complete record of your actions?”

“Yes, I think so.”

“If you felt so grateful to Miss Clay, it was surely an extraordinary thing to do.”

“Extraordinary isn’t the word at all. Even yet I can’t believe I did it.”

“You are quite sure that you didn’t enter the water that morning?”

“Of course I’m sure. Why?”

“When was your last swim? Previous to Thursday morning, I mean?”

“Noon on Wednesday.”

“And yet your swimming suit was soaking wet on Thursday morning.”

“How do you know that! Yes, it was. But not with salt water. It had been spread to dry on the roof below my window, and when I was dressing on Thursday morning I noticed that the birds in the tree---an apple tree hangs over that gable---had made too free with it. So I washed it in the water I had been washing in.”

“You didn’t put it out to dry again, though, apparently?”

“After what happened the last time? No! I put it on the towel rail. For God’s sake, Inspector, tell me what all this has to do with Chris’s death? Can’t you see that questions you can’t see the reason of are torture? I’ve had about all I can stand. The inquest this morning was the last straw. Everyone describing how they found her. Talking about ‘the body,’ when all the time it was Chris. Chris! And now all this mystery and suspicion. If there was anything not straightforward about her drowning, what has my coat got to do with it, anyway?”

“Because this was found entangled in her hair.”

Grant opened a cardboard box on the table and exhibited a black button of the kind used for men’s coats. It had been torn from its proper place, the worn threads of its attachment still forming a ragged “neck.” And round the neck, close to the button, was twined a thin strand of bright hair.

Tisdall was on his feet, both hands on the table edge, staring down at the object.

“You think someone drowned her? I mean---like that! But that isn’t mine. There are thousands of buttons like that. What makes you think it is mine?”

“I don’t think anything, Mr. Tisdall. I am only eliminating possibilities. All I wanted you to do was to account for any garment owned by you which had buttons like that. You say you had one but that it was stolen.”

Tisdall stared at the Inspector, his mouth opening and shutting helplessly.

The door breezed open, after the sketchiest of knocks, and in the middle of the floor stood a small, skinny child of sixteen in shabby tweeds, her dark head hatless and very untidy.

“Oh, sorry,” she said. “I thought my father was here. Sorry.”

Tisdall slumped to the floor with a crash.

Grant, who was sitting on the other side of the large table sprang to action, but the skinny child, with no sign of haste or dismay, was there first.

“Dear me!” she said, getting the slumped body under the shoulders from behind and turning it over.

Grant took a cushion from a chair.

“I shouldn’t do that,” she said. “You let their heads stay back unless it’s apoplexy. And he’s a bit young for that, isn’t he?”

She was loosening collar and tie and shirt-band with the expert detachment of a cook paring pastry from a pie edge. Grant noticed that her sunburnt wrists were covered with small scars and scratches of varying age, and that they stuck too far out of her out-grown sleeves.

“You’ll find brandy in the cupboard, I think. Father isn’t allowed it, but he has no self-control.”

Grant found the brandy and came back to find her slapping Tisdall’s unconscious face with a light insistent tapotement.

“You seem to be good at this sort of thing,” Grant said.

“Oh, I ran the Guides at school.” She had a voice at once precise and friendly. “A ve-ry silly institution. But it varied the routine. That is the main thing, to vary the routine.”

“Did you learn this from the Guides?” he asked, nodding at her occupation.

“Oh, no. They burn paper and smell salts and things. I learned this in Bradford Pete’s dressing-room.”


“You know. The welter-weight. I used to have great faith in Pete, but I think he’s lost his speed lately. Don’t you? At least, I hope it’s his speed. He’s coming to nicely.” This last referred to Tisdall. “I think he’d swallow the brandy now.”

While Grant was administering the brandy, she said: “Have you been giving him third degree, or something? You’re police aren’t you?”

“My dear young lady---I don’t know your name?”

“Erica. I’m Erica Burgoyne.”

“My dear Miss Burgoyne, as the Chief Constable’s daughter you must be aware that the only people in Britain who are subjected to the third degree are the police.”

“Well, what did he faint for? Is he guilty?”

“I don’t know,” Grant said, before he thought.

“I shouldn’t think so.” She was considering the now spluttering Tisdall. “He doesn’t look capable of much.” This with the same grave detachment as she used to everything she did.

“Don’t let looks influence your judgment, Miss Burgoyne.”

“I don’t. Not the way you mean. Anyhow, he isn’t at all my type. But it’s quite right to judge on looks if you know enough. You wouldn’t buy a washy chestnut narrow across the eyes, would you?”

This, thought Grant, is quite the most amazing conversation.

She was standing up now, her hands pushed into her jacket pockets so that the much-tried garment sagged to two bulging points. The tweed she wore was rubbed at the cuffs and covered all over with “pulled” ends of thread where briars had caught. Her skirt was too short and one stocking was violently twisted on its stick of leg. Only her shoes---scarred like her hands, but thick, well-shaped and expensive---betrayed the fact that she was not a charity child.

And then Grant’s eyes went back to her face. Except her face. The calm sureness of that sallow little triangular visage was not bred in any charity school.

“There!” she said encouragingly, as Grant helped Tisdall to his feet and guided him into a chair. “You’ll be all right. Have a little more of Father’s brandy. It’s a much better end for it than Father’s arteries. I’m going now. Where is Father, do you know?” This to Grant.

“He has gone to lunch at The Ship.”

“Thank you.” Turning to the still dazed Tisdall, she said, “That shirt collar of yours is far too tight.” As Grant moved to open the door for her, she said, “You haven’t told me your name?”

“Grant. At your service.” He gave her a little bow.

“I don’t need anything just now, but I might some day.” She considered him. Grant found himself hoping with a fervour which surprised him that he was not being placed in the same category as “washy chestnuts.” “You’re much more my type. I like people broad across the cheekbones. Goodbye, Mr. Grant.”

“Who was that?” Tisdall asked, in the indifferent tones of the newly conscious.

“Colonel Burgoyne’s daughter.”

“She was right about my shirt.”

“One of the reach-me-downs?”

“Yes. Am I being arrested?”

“Oh, no. Nothing like that.”

“It mightn’t be a bad idea.”

“Oh? Why?”

“It would settle my immediate future. I left the cottage this morning and now I’m on the road.”

“You mean you’re serious about tramping.”

“As soon as I have got suitable clothes.”

“I’d rather you stayed where I could get information from you if I wanted.”

“I see the point. But how?”

“What about that architect’s office? Why not try for a job?”

“I’m never going back to an office. Not an architect’s anyhow. I was shoved there only because I could draw.”

“Do I understand that you consider yourself permanently incapacitated from earning your bread?”

“Phew! That’s nasty. No, of course not. I’ll have to work. But what kind of job am I fit for?”

“Two years of hitting the high spots must have educated you to something. Even if it is only driving a car.”

There came a tentative tap at the door, and the sergeant put his head in.

“I’m very sorry indeed to disturb you, Inspector, but I’d like something from the Chief’s files. It’s rather urgent.”

Permission given, he came in.

“This coast’s lively in the season, sir,” he said, as he ran through the files. “Positively continental. Here’s the chef at the Marine---it’s just outside the town, so it’s our affair---the chef at the Marine’s stabbed a waiter because he had dandruff, it seems. The waiter, I mean, sir. Chef on the way to prison and waiter on the way to hospital. They think may be his lung’s touched. Well, thank you, sir. Sorry to disturb you.”

Grant eyed Tisdall, who was achieving the knot in his tie with a melancholy abstraction. Tisdall caught the look, appeared puzzled by it, and then, comprehension dawning, leaped into action.

“I say, Sergeant, have they a fellow to take the waiter’s place, do you know?”

“That they haven’t. Mr. Toselli---he’s the manager---he’s tearing his hair.”

“Have you finished with me?” he asked Grant.

“For today,” Grant said. “Good luck.”

 on: November 29, 2023, 03:51:31 am 
Started by Admin - Last post by Admin
“CHRISTINE CLAY! Christine Clay!” yelled the mid-day posters.

“Christine Clay!” screamed the headlines.

“Christine Clay!” chattered the wireless.

“Christine Clay!” said neighbour to neighbour.

All over the world people paused to speak the words. Christine Clay was drowned! And in all civilisation only one person said, “Who is Christine Clay?”---a bright young man at a Bloomsbury party. And he was merely being “bright.”

All over the world things happened because one woman had lost her life. In California a man telephoned a summons to a girl in Greenwich Village. A Texas airplane pilot did an extra night flight carrying Clay films for rush showing. A New York firm cancelled an order. An Italian nobleman went bankrupt: he had hoped to sell her his yacht. A man in Philadelphia ate his first square meal in months, thanks to an “I knew her when” story. A woman in Le Touquet sang because now her chance had come. And in an English cathedral town a man thanked God on his knees.

The Press, becalmed in the doldrums of the silly season, leaped to movement at so unhoped-for a wind. The Clarion recalled Bart Bartholomew, their “descriptive” man, from a beauty contest in Brighton (much to Bart’s thankfulness---he came back loudly wondering how butchers ate meat), and “Jammy” Hopkins, their “crime and passion” star, from a very dull and low-class poker killing in Bradford. (So far had the Clarion sunk.) News photographers deserted motor race tracks, reviews, society weddings, cricket, and the man who was going to Mars in a balloon, and swarmed like beetles over the cottage in Kent, the maisonette in South Street, and the furnished manor in Hampshire. That, having rented so charming a country retreat as this last, Christine Clay had yet run away to an unknown and inconvenient cottage without the knowledge of her friends made a very pleasant appendage to the main sensation of her death. Photographs of the manor (garden front, because of the yews) appeared labelled, “The place Christine Clay owned” (she had only rented it for the season, but there was no emotion in renting a place); and next to these impressive pictures were placed photographs of the rose-embowered home of the people, with the caption, “The place she preferred.”

Her press agent shed tears over that. Something like that would break when it was too late.

It might have been observed by any student of nature not too actively engaged in the consequences of it that Christine Clay’s death, while it gave rise to pity, dismay, horror, regret, and half a dozen other emotions in varying degrees, yet seemed to move no one to grief. The only outburst of real feeling had been that hysterical crisis of Robert Tisdall’s over her body. And who should say how much of that was self-pity? Christine was too international a figure to belong to anything so small as a “set.” But among her immediate acquaintances dismay was the most marked reaction of the dreadful news. And not always that. Coyne, who was due to direct her third and final picture in England, might be at the point of despair, but Lejeune (late Tomkins), who had been engaged to play opposite her, was greatly relieved; a picture with Clay might be a feather in your cap but it was a jinx in your box-office. The Duchess of Trent, who had arranged a Clay luncheon which was to rehabilitate her as a hostess in the eyes of London, might be gnashing her teeth, but Lydia Keats was openly jubilant. She had prophesied the death, and even for a successful society seer that was a good guess. “Darling, how wonderful of you!” fluttered her friends. “Darling how wonderful of you!” On and on. Until Lydia so lost her head with delight that she spent all her days going from one gathering to another so that she might make that delicious entrance all over again, hear them say: “Here’s Lydia! Darling how----” and bask in the radiance of their wonder. No, as far as anyone could see, no hearts were breaking because Christine Clay was no more. The world dusted off its blacks and hoped for invitations to the funeral.

 on: November 29, 2023, 02:53:46 am 
Started by Admin - Last post by Admin
THEY STOOD round the body in a solemn little group: Potticary, Bill, the sergeant, a constable, and the two ambulance men. The younger ambulance man was worried about his stomach, and the possibility of its disgracing him, but the others had nothing but business in their minds.

“Know her?” the sergeant asked.

“No,” said Potticary. “Never seen her before.”

None of them had seen her before.

“Can’t be from Westover. No one would come out from town with a perfectly good beach at their doors. Must have come from inland somewhere.”

“Maybe she went into the water at Westover and was washed up here,” the constable suggested.

“Not time for that,” Potticary objected. “She hadn’t been that long in the water. Must have been drowned hereabouts.”

“Then how did she get here?” the sergeant asked.

“By car, of course,” Bill said.

“And where is the car now?”

“Where everyone leaves their car: where the track ends at the trees.”

“Yes?” said the sergeant. “Well, there’s no car there.”

The ambulance men agreed with him. They had come up that way with the police---the ambulance was waiting there now---but there was no sign of any other car.

“That’s funny,” Potticary said. “There’s nowhere near enough to be inside walking distance. Not at this time in the morning.”

“Shouldn’t think she’d walk anyhow,” the older ambulance man observed. “Expensive,” he added, as they seemed to question him.

They considered the body for a moment in silence. Yes, the ambulance man was right; it was a body expensively cared for.

“And where are her clothes, anyhow?” The sergeant was worried.

Potticary explained his theory about the clothes; that she had left them below high-water mark and that they were now somewhere at sea.

“Yes, that’s possible,” said the sergeant. “But how did she get here?”

“Funny she should be bathing alone, isn’t it?” ventured the young ambulance man, trying out his stomach.

“Nothing’s funny, nowadays,” Bill rumbled. “It’s a wonder she wasn’t playing jumping off the cliff with a glider. Swimming on an empty stomach, all alone, is just too ordinary. The young fools make me tired.”

“Is that a bracelet round her ankle, or what?” the constable asked.

Yes, it was a bracelet. A chain of platinum links. Curious links, they were. Each one shaped like a C.

“Well,” the sergeant straightened himself, “I suppose there’s nothing to be done but to remove the body to the mortuary, and then find out who she is. Judging by appearances that shouldn’t be difficult. Nothing ‘lost, stolen or strayed’ about that one.”

“No,” agreed the ambulance man. “The butler is probably telephoning the station now in great agitation.”

“Yes.” The sergeant was thoughtful. “I still wonder how she came here, and what----”

His eyes had lifted to the cliff face, and he paused.

“So! We have company!” he said.

They turned to see a man’s figure on the cliff-top at the Gap. He was standing in an attitude of intense eagerness, watching them. As they turned towards him he did a swift right-about and disappeared.

“A bit early for strollers,” the sergeant said. “And what’s he running away for? We’d better have a talk with him.”

But before he and the constable had moved more than a pace or two it became evident that the man, far from running away, had been merely making for the entrance to the Gap. His thin dark figure shot now from the mouth of the Gap and came towards them at a shambling run, slipping and stumbling, and giving the little group watching his advent an impression of craziness. They could hear the breath panting through his open mouth as he drew near, although the distance from the Gap was not long and he was young.

He stumbled into their compact circle without looking at them, pushing aside the two policemen who had unconsciously interposed their bulk between him and the body.

“Oh, yes, it is! Oh, it is, it is!” he cried, and without warning sat down and burst into loud tears.

Six flabbergasted men watched him in silence for a moment. Then the sergeant patted him kindly on the back and said, idiotically, “It’s all right, son!”

But the young man only rocked himself to and fro and wept the more.

“Come on, come on,” rallied the constable, coaxing. (Really, a dreadful exhibition on a nice bright morning.) “That won’t do anyone any good, you know. Best pull yourself together---sir,” he added, noting the quality of the handkerchief which the young man had produced.

“A relation of yours?” the sergeant inquired, his voice suitably modulated from its former businesslike pitch.

The young man shook his head.

“Oh, just a friend?”

“She was so good to me, so good!”

“Well, at least you’ll be able to help us. We were beginning to wonder about her. You can tell us who she is.”

“She’s my---hostess.”

“Yes, but I meant, what is her name?”

“I don’t know.”

“You---don’t---know! Look here, sir, pull yourself together. You’re the only one that can help us. You must know the name of the lady you were staying with.”

“No, no; I don’t.”

“What did you call her, then?”


“Chris, what?”

“Just Chris.”

“And what did she call you?”


“Is that your name?”

“Yes, my name’s Robert Stannaway. No, Tisdall. It used to be Stannaway,” he added, catching the sergeant’s eye and feeling apparently that explanation was needed.

What the sergeant’s eye said was, “God give me patience!” What his tongue said was, “It all sounds a bit strange to me, Mr.---er----”


“Tisdall. Can you tell me how the lady got here this morning?”

“Oh, yes. By car.”

“By car, eh? Know what became of the car?”

“Yes. I stole it.”

“You what?”

“I stole it. I’ve just brought it back. It was a swinish thing to do. I felt a cad so I came back. When I found she wasn’t anywhere on the road, I thought I’d find her stamping about here. Then I saw you all standing round something---oh, dear, oh dear!” He began to rock himself again.

“Where were you staying with this lady?” asked the sergeant, in exceedingly businesslike tones. “In Westover?”

“Oh, no. She has---had, I mean---oh dear!---a cottage. Briars, it’s called. Just outside Medley.”

“ ’Bout a mile and a half inland,” supplemented Potticary, as the sergeant, who was not a native, looked a question.

“Were you alone, or is there a staff there?”

“There’s just a woman from the village---Mrs. Pitts---who comes in and cooks.”

“I see.”

There was a slight pause.

“All right, boys.” The sergeant nodded to the ambulance men, and they bent to their work with the stretcher. The young man drew in his breath sharply and once more covered his face with his hands.

“To the mortuary, Sergeant?”


The man’s hands came away from his face abruptly.

“Oh, no! Surely not! She had a home. Don’t they take people home?”

“We can’t take the body of an unknown woman to an uninhabited bungalow.”

“It isn’t a bungalow,” the man automatically corrected. “No. No, I suppose not. But it seems dreadful---the mortuary. Oh, God in heaven above!” he burst out, “why did this have to happen!”

“Davis,” the sergeant said to the constable, “you go back with the others and report. I’m going over to---what is it?---Briars? with Mr. Tisdall.”

The two ambulance men crunched their heavy way over the pebbles, followed by Potticary and Bill. The noise of their progress had become distant before the sergeant spoke again.

“I suppose it didn’t occur to you to go swimming with your hostess?”

A spasm of something like embarrassment ran across Tisdall’s face. He hesitated.

“No. I---not much in my line, I’m afraid: swimming before breakfast. I---I’ve always been a rabbit at games and things like that.”

The sergeant nodded, noncommittal. “When did she leave for a swim?”

“I don’t know. She told me last night that she was going to the Gap for a swim if she woke early. I woke early myself, but she was gone.”

“I see. Well, Mr. Tisdall, if you’ve recovered I think we’ll be getting along.”

“Yes. Yes, certainly. I’m all right.” He got to his feet and together and in silence they traversed the beach, climbed the steps at the Gap, and came on the car where Tisdall said he had left it: in the shade of the trees where the track ended. It was a beautiful car, if a little too opulent. A cream-coloured two-seater with a space between the seats and the hood for parcels, or, at a pinch, for an extra passenger. From this space, the sergeant, exploring, produced a woman’s coat and a pair of the sheepskin boots popular with women at winter race-meetings.

“That’s what she wore to go down to the beach. Just the coat and boots over her bathing things. There’s a towel, too.”

There was. The sergeant produced it: a brilliant object in green and orange.

“Funny she didn’t take it to the beach with her,” he said.

“She liked to dry herself in the sun usually.”

“You seem to know a lot about the habits of a lady whose name you didn’t know.” The sergeant inserted himself into the second seat. “How long have you been living with her?”

“Staying with her,” amended Tisdall, his voice for the first time showing an edge. “Get this straight, Sergeant, and it may save you a lot of bother: Chris was my hostess. Not anything else. We stayed in her cottage unchaperoned, but a regiment of servants couldn’t have made our relations more correct. Does that strike you as so very peculiar?”

“Very,” said the sergeant frankly. “What are these doing here?”

He was peering into a paper bag which held two rather jaded buns.

“Oh, I took these along for her to eat. They were all I could find. We always had a bun when we came out of the water when we were kids. I thought maybe she’d be glad of something.”

The car was slipping down the steep track to the main Westover-Stonegate road. They crossed the high-road and entered a deep lane on the other side. A signpost said “Medley 1, Liddlestone 3.”

“So you had no intention of stealing the car when you set off to follow her to the beach?”

“Certainly not!” Tisdall said, as indignantly as if it made a difference. “It didn’t even cross my mind till I came up the hill and saw the car waiting there. Even now I can’t believe I really did it. I’ve been a fool, but I’ve never done anything like that before.”

“Was she in the sea then?”

“I don’t know. I didn’t go to look. If I had seen her even in the distance I couldn’t have done it. I just slung the buns in and beat it. When I came to I was halfway to Canterbury. I just turned her round without stopping, and came straight back.”

The sergeant made no comment.

“You still haven’t told me how long you’ve been staying at the cottage?”

“Since Saturday midnight.”

It was now Thursday.

“And you still ask me to believe that you don’t know your hostess’s last name?”

“No. It’s a bit queer, I know. I thought so, myself, at first. I had a conventional upbringing. But she made it seem natural. After the first day we simply accepted each other. It was as if I had known her for years.” As the sergeant said nothing, but sat radiating doubt as a stove radiates heat, he added with a hint of temper, “Why shouldn’t I tell you her name if I knew it!”

“How should I know?” said the sergeant, unhelpfully. He considered out of the corner of his eye the young man’s pale, if composed, face. He seemed to have recovered remarkably quickly from his exhibition of nerves and grief. Light-weights, these moderns. No real emotion about anything. Just hysteria. What they called love was just a barn-yard exercise; they thought anything else “sentimental.” No discipline. No putting up with things. Every time something got difficult, they ran away. Not slapped enough in their youth. All this modern idea about giving children their own way. Look what it led to. Howling on the beach one minute and as cool as a cucumber the next.

And then the sergeant noticed the trembling of the too fine hands on the wheel. No, whatever else Robert Tisdall was he wasn’t cool.

“This is the place?” the sergeant asked, as they slowed down by a hedged garden.

“This is the place.”

It was a half-timbered cottage of about five rooms; shut in from the road by a seven-foot hedge of briar and honeysuckle, and dripping with roses. A godsend for Americans, week-enders, and photographers. The little windows yawned in the quiet, and the bright blue door stood hospitably open, disclosing in the shadow the gleam of a brass warming pan on the wall. The cottage had been “discovered.”

As they walked up the brick path, a thin small woman appeared on the doorstep, brilliant in a white apron; her scanty hair drawn to a knob at the back of her head, and a round bird’s-nest affair of black satin set insecurely at the very top of her arched, shining poll.

Tisdall lagged as he caught sight of her, so that the sergeant’s large official elevation should announce trouble to her with the clarity of a sandwich board.

But Mrs. Pitts was a policeman’s widow, and no apprehension showed on her tight little face. Buttons coming up the path meant for her a meal in demand; her mind acted accordingly.

“I’ve been making some griddle cakes for breakfast. It’s going to be hot later on. Best to let the stove out. Tell Miss Robinson when she comes in, will you, sir?” Then, realising that buttons were a badge of office, “Don’t tell me you’ve been driving without a license, sir!”

“Miss---Robinson, is it? Has met with an accident,” the sergeant said.

“The car! Oh, dear! She was always that reckless with it. Is she bad?”

“It wasn’t the car. An accident in the water.”

“Oh,” she said slowly. “That bad!”

“How do you mean: that bad?”

“Accidents in the water only mean one thing.”

“Yes,” agreed the sergeant.

“Well, well,” she said, sadly contemplative. Then, her manner changing abruptly, “And where were you?” she snapped, eyeing the drooping Tisdall as she eyed Saturday-night fish on a Westover fishmonger’s slab. Her superficial deference to “gentry” had vanished in the presence of catastrophe. Tisdall appeared as the “bundle of uselessness” she had privately considered him.

The sergeant was interested but snubbing. “The gentleman wasn’t there.”

“He ought to have been there. He left just after her.”

“How do you know that?”

“I saw him. I live in the cottage down the road.”

“Do you know Miss Robinson’s other address? I take it for granted this isn’t her permanent home.”

“No, of course it isn’t. She only has this place for a month. It belongs to Owen Hughes.” She paused, impressively, to let the importance of the name sink in. “But he’s doing a film in Hollywood. About a Spanish count, it was to be, so he told me. He said he’s done Italian counts and French counts and he thought it would be a new experience for him to be a Spanish count. Very nice, Mr. Hughes is. Not a bit spoilt in spite of all the fuss they make of him. You wouldn’t believe it, but a girl came to me once and offered me five pounds if I’d give her the sheets he had slept in. What I gave her was a piece of my mind. But she wasn’t a bit ashamed. Offered me twenty-five shillings for a pillow-slip. I don’t know what the world is coming to, that I don’t, what with----”

“What other address had Miss Robinson?”

“I don’t know any of her addresses but this one.”

“Didn’t she write and tell you when she was coming?”

“Write! No! She sent telegrams. I suppose she could write, but I’ll take my alfred davy she never did. About six telegrams a day used to go to the post office in Liddlestone. My Albert used to take them, mostly; between school. Some of them used three or four forms, they were that long.”

“Do you know any of the people she had down here, then?”

“She didn’t have any folks here. ’Cept Mr. Stannaway, that is.”

“No one!”

“Not a one. Once---it was when I was showing her the trick of flushing the W.C.; you have to pull hard and then let go smart-like---once she said: ‘Do you ever, Mrs. Pitts,’ she said, ‘get sick of the sight of people’s faces?’ I said I got a bit tired of some. She said: ‘Not some, Mrs. Pitts. All of them. Just sick of people.’ I said when I felt like that I took a dose of castor oil. She laughed and said it wasn’t a bad idea. Only everyone should have one and what a good new world it would be in two days. ‘Mussolini never thought of that one,’ she said.”

“Was it London she came from?”

“Yes. She went up just once or twice in the three weeks she’s been here. Last time was last week-end, when she brought Mr. Stannaway back.” Again her glance dismissed Tisdall as something less than human. “Doesn’t he know her address?” she asked.

“No one does,” the sergeant said. “I’ll look through her papers and see what I can find.”

Mrs. Pitts led the way into the living-room; cool, low-beamed, and smelling of sweet-peas.

“What have you done with her---with the body, I mean?” she asked.

“At the mortuary.”

This seemed to bring home tragedy for the first time.

“Oh, deary me.” She moved the end of her apron over a polished table, slowly. “And me making griddle cakes.”

This was not a lament for wasted griddle cakes, but her salute to the strangeness of life.

“I expect you’ll need breakfast,” she said to Tisdall, softened by her unconscious recognition of the fact that the best are but puppets.

But Tisdall wanted no breakfast. He shook his head and turned away to the window, while the sergeant searched in the desk.

“I wouldn’t mind one of those griddle cakes,” the sergeant said, turning over papers.

“You won’t get better in Kent, though it’s me that’s saying it. And perhaps Mr. Stannaway will swallow some tea.”

She went away to the kitchen.

“So you didn’t know her name was Robinson?” said the sergeant, glancing up.

“Mrs. Pitts always addressed her as ‘miss.’ And anyhow, did she look as if her name was Robinson?”

The sergeant, too, did not believe for a moment that her name was Robinson, so he let the subject drop.

Presently Tisdall said: “If you don’t need me, I think I’ll go into the garden. It---it’s stuffy in here.”

“All right. You won’t forget I need the car to get back to Westover.”

“I’ve told you. It was a sudden impulse. Anyhow, I couldn’t very well steal it now and hope to get away with it.”

Not so dumb, decided the sergeant. Quite a bit of temper, too. Not just a nonentity, by any means.

The desk was littered with magazines, newspapers, half finished cartons of cigarettes, bits of a jigsaw puzzle, a nail file and polish, patterns of silk, and a dozen more odds and ends; everything, in fact, except note paper. The only documents were bills from the local tradesmen, most of them receipted. If the woman had been untidy and unmethodical, she had at least had a streak of caution. The receipts might be crumpled and difficult to find if wanted, but they had never been thrown away.

The sergeant, soothed by the quiet of the early morning, the cheerful sounds of Mrs. Pitts making tea in the kitchen, and the prospect of griddle cakes to come, began as he worked at the desk to indulge in his one vice. He whistled. Very low and round and sweet, the sergeant’s whistling was, but, still---whistling. “Sing to me sometimes” he warbled, not forgetting the grace notes, and his subconscious derived great satisfaction from the performance. His wife had once shown him a bit in the Mail that said that whistling was the sign of an empty mind. But it hadn’t cured him.

And then, abruptly, the even tenor of the moment was shattered. Without warning there came a mock tattoo on the half open sitting-room door---tum-te-ta-tum-tumta-TA! A man’s voice said, “So this is where you’re hiding out!” The door was flung wide with a flourish and in the opening stood a short dark stranger.

We-e-ell,” he said, making several syllables of it. He stood staring at the sergeant, amused and smiling broadly. “I thought you were Chris! What is the Force doing here? Been a burglary?”

“No, no burglary.” The sergeant was trying to collect his thoughts.

“Don’t tell me Chris has been throwing a wild party! I thought she gave that up years ago. They don’t go with all those high-brow rôles.”

“No, as a matter of fact, there’s----”

“Where is she, anyway?” He raised his voice in a cheerful shout directed at the upper storey. “Yo-hoo! Chris. Come on down, you old so-and-so! Hiding out on me!” To the sergeant: “Gave us all the slip for nearly three weeks now. Too much Kleig, I guess. Gives them all the jitters sooner or later. But then, the last one was such a success they naturally want to cash in on it.” He hummed a bar of “Sing to me sometimes,” with mock solemnity. “That’s why I thought you were Chris: you were whistling her song. Whistling darned good, too.”

“Her---her song?” Presently, the sergeant hoped, a gleam of light would be vouchsafed him.

“Yes, her song. Who else’s? You didn’t think it was mine, my dear good chap, did you? Not on your life. I wrote the thing, sure. But that doesn’t count. It’s her song. And perhaps she didn’t put it across! Eh? Wasn’t that a performance?”

“I couldn’t really say.” If the man would stop talking, he might sort things out.

“Perhaps you haven’t seen Bars of Iron yet?”

“No, I can’t say I have.”

“That’s the worst of wireless and gramophone records and what not: they take all the pep out of a film. Probably by the time you hear Chris sing that song you’ll be so sick of the sound of it that you’ll retch at the ad lib. It’s not fair to a film. All right for songwriters and that sort of cattle, but rough on a film, very rough. There ought to be some sort of agreement. Hey, Chris! Isn’t she here, after all my trouble in catching up on her?” His face drooped like a disappointed baby’s. “Having her walk in and find me isn’t half such a good one as walking in on her. Do you think----”

“Just a minute, Mr.---er---I don’t know your name.”

“I’m Jay Harmer. Jason on the birth certificate. I wrote ‘If it can’t be in June.’ You probably whistle that as----”

“Mr. Harmer. Do I understand that the lady who is---was---staying here is a film actress?”

“Is she a film actress!” Slow amazement deprived Mr. Harmer for once of speech. Then it began to dawn on him that he must have made a mistake. “Say, Chris is staying here, isn’t she?”

“The lady’s name is Chris, yes. But---well, perhaps you’ll be able to help us. There’s been some trouble---very unfortunate---and apparently she said her name was Robinson.”

The man laughed in rich amusement. “Robinson! That’s a good one. I always said she had no imagination. Couldn’t write a gag. Did you believe she was a Robinson?”

“Well, no; it seemed unlikely.”

“What did I tell you! Well, just to pay her out for treating me like bits on the cutting-room floor, I’m going to split on her. She’ll probably put me in the ice-box for twenty-four hours, but it’ll be worth it. I’m no gentleman, anyhow, so I won’t damage myself in the telling. The lady’s name, Sergeant, is Christine Clay.”

“Christine Clay!” said the sergeant. His jaw slackened and dropped, quite beyond his control.

“Christine Clay!” breathed Mrs. Pitts, standing in the doorway, a forgotten tray of griddle cakes in her hands.

 on: November 28, 2023, 09:38:42 am 
Started by Admin - Last post by Admin
IT WAS a little after seven on a summer morning, and William Potticary was taking his accustomed way over the short down grass of the cliff-top. Beyond his elbow, two hundred feet below, lay the Channel, very still and shining, like a milky opal. All roundabout him hung the bright air, empty as yet of larks. In all the sunlit world no sound except for the screaming of some sea-gulls on the distant beach; no human activity except for the small lonely figure of Potticary himself, square and dark and uncompromising. A million dewdrops sparkling on the virgin grass suggested a world new-come from its Creator’s hand. Not to Potticary, of course. What the dew suggested to Potticary was that the ground fog of the early hours had not begun to disperse until well after sunrise. His subconscious noted the fact and tucked it away, while his conscious mind debated whether, having raised an appetite for breakfast, he should turn at the Gap and go back to the Coastguard Station, or whether, in view of the fineness of the morning, he should walk into Westover for the morning paper, and so hear about the latest murder two hours earlier than he would otherwise. Of course, what with wireless, the edge was off the morning paper, as you might say. But it was an objective. War or peace, a man had to have an objective. You couldn’t go into Westover just to look at the front. And going back to breakfast with the paper under your arm made you feel fine, somehow. Yes, perhaps he would walk into the town.

The pace of his black, square-toed boots quickened slightly, their shining surface winking in the sunlight. Proper service, these boots were. One might have thought that Potticary, having spent his best years in brushing his boots to order, would have asserted his individuality, or expressed his personality, or otherwise shaken the dust of a meaningless discipline off his feet by leaving the dust on his boots. But no, Potticary, poor fool, brushed his boots for love of it. He probably had a slave mentality, but had never read enough for it to worry him. As for expressing one’s personality, if you described the symptoms to him he would, of course, recognise them. But not by name. In the Service they call that “contrariness.”

A sea-gull flashed suddenly above the cliff-top, and dropped screaming from sight to join its wheeling comrades below. A dreadful row these gulls were making. Potticary moved over to the cliff edge to see what jetsam the tide, now beginning to ebb, had left for them to quarrel over.

The white line of the gently creaming surf was broken by a patch of verdigris green. A bit of cloth. Baize, or something. Funny it should stay so bright a colour after being in the water so----

Potticary’s blue eyes widened suddenly, his body becoming strangely still. Then the square black boots began to run. Thud, thud, thud, on the thick turf, like a heart beating. The Gap was two hundred yards away, but Potticary’s time would not have disgraced a track performer. He clattered down the rough steps hewn in the chalk of the gap, gasping; indignation welling through his excitement. That was what came of going into cold water before breakfast! Lunacy, so help him. Spoiling other people’s breakfasts, too. Schaefer’s best, except where ribs broken. Not likely to be ribs broken. Perhaps only a faint after all. Assure the patient in a loud voice that he is safe. Her arms and legs were as brown as the sand. That was why he had thought the green thing a piece of cloth. Lunacy, so help him. Who wanted cold water in the dawn unless they had to swim for it? He’d had to swim for it in his time. In that Red Sea port. Taking in a landing party to help the Arabs. Though why anyone wanted to help the lousy bastards---That was the time to swim. When you had to. Orange juice and thin toast, too. No stamina. Lunacy, so help him.

It was difficult going on the beach. The large white pebbles slid maliciously under his feet, and the rare patches of sand, being about tide level, were soft and yielding. But presently he was within the cloud of gulls, enveloped by their beating wings and their wild crying.

There was no need for Schaefer’s, nor for any other method. He saw that at a glance. The girl was past all help. And Potticary, who had picked bodies unemotionally from the Red Sea surf, was strangely moved. It was all wrong that someone so young should be lying there when all the world was waking up to a brilliant day; when so much of life lay in front of her. A pretty girl, too, she must have been. Her hair had a dyed look, but the rest of her was all right.

A wave washed over her feet and sucked itself away, derisively, through the scarlet-tipped toes. Potticary, although the tide in another minute would be yards away, pulled the inanimate heap a little higher up the beach, beyond reach of the sea’s impudence.

Then his mind turned to telephones. He looked around for some garment which the girl might have left behind when she went in to swim. But there seemed to be nothing. Perhaps she had left whatever she was wearing below high-water level and the tide had taken it. Or perhaps it wasn’t here that she had gone into the water. Anyhow, there was nothing now with which to cover her body, and Potticary turned away and began his hurried plodding along the beach again, and so back to the Coastguard Station and the nearest telephone.

“Body on the beach,” he said to Bill Gunter as he took the receiver from the hook and called the police.

Bill clicked his tongue against his front teeth, and jerked his head back. A gesture which expressed with eloquence and economy the tiresomeness of circumstances, the unreasonableness of human beings who get themselves drowned, and his own satisfaction in expecting the worst of life and being right. “If they want to commit suicide,” he said in his subterranean voice, “why do they have to pick on us? Isn’t there the whole of the south coast?”

“Not a suicide,” Potticary gasped in the intervals of hulloing.

Bill took no notice of him. “Just because the fare to the south coast is more than to here! You’d think when a fellow was tired of life he’d stop being mean about the fare and bump himself off in style. But no! They take the cheapest ticket they can get and strew themselves over our doorstep!”

“Beachy Head get a lot,” gasped the fair-minded Potticary. “Not a suicide, anyhow.”

“Course it’s a suicide. What do we have cliffs for? Bulwark of England? No. Just as a convenience to suicides. That makes four this year. And there’ll be more when they get their income tax demands.”

He paused, his ear caught by what Potticary was saying.

“---a girl. Well, a woman. In a bright green bathing-dress.” (Potticary belonged to a generation which did not know swim-suits.) “Just south of the Gap. ’Bout a hundred yards. No, no one there. I had to come away to telephone. But I’m going back right away. Yes, I’ll meet you there. Oh, hullo, Sergeant, is that you? Yes, not the best beginning of a day, but we’re getting used to it. Oh, no, just a bathing fatality. Ambulance? Oh, yes, you can bring it practically to the Gap. The track goes off the main Westover road just past the third milestone, and finishes in those trees just inland from the Gap. All right, I’ll be seeing you.”

“How can you tell it’s just a bathing fatality,” Bill said.

“She had a bathing-dress on, didn’t you hear?”

“Nothing to hinder her putting on a bathing-dress to throw herself into the water. Make it look like accident.”

“You can’t throw yourself into the water this time of year. You land on the beach. And there isn’t any doubt what you’ve done.”

“Might have walked into the water till she drowned,” said Bill, who was a last-ditcher by nature.

“Yeh? Might have died of an overdose of bull’s-eyes,” said Potticary, who approved of last-ditchery in Arabia but found it boring to live with.

 on: November 28, 2023, 09:25:01 am 
Started by Admin - Last post by Admin
Elizabeth MacKintosh was born in Inverness in 1896, and educated at the Inverness Royal Academy.

She used two pen-names in her work: Gordon Daviot and Josephine Tey.

The present volume - "A Shilling for Candles" (1936) - has twenty-seven chapters.

List of her completed novels:

Kif: An Unvarnished History (1929)
The Man in the Queue (1929)
The Expensive Halo: A Fable without Moral (1931)
A Shilling for Candles (1936)
Miss Pym Disposes (1946)
The Franchise Affair (1948)
Brat Farrar (or Come and Kill Me) (1949)
To Love and Be Wise (1950)
The Daughter of Time (1951)

 on: November 28, 2023, 05:26:46 am 
Started by Admin - Last post by Admin
THE READING lamp on the desk in Eustace’s study cast a small bright pool of light on the polished wood, and the reflected glow struck upwards on the faces of the earnest men who stood round it looking down at Mrs. Broome, who sat in the writing chair.

Luke was there and Campion, Munday, and Stockwell, a solid bunch of human heads intent and silent save for the occasional murmur of assent.

For once Nanny Broome had no illusions. She was frightened and completely in the picture. She had no time to be self-conscious.

“We were nearly an hour I should think, me and Mr. Tim, getting him off.” Her voice was very quiet, almost a whisper, but she was keeping to the point remarkably well and they were all too experienced to distract her. “He’d been up and down, up and down, until he drove you crazy. But he dropped off at last and we tiptoed out into the passage and Mr. Tim went off downstairs, and I waited about for a bit in case Mr. Basil woke again. I did one or two little jobs. I turned Mr. Tim’s bed down and looked in on Mr. Eustace to see if he’d got everything. He was reading; he always does. Miss Alison had finished her bath; I could hear the waste running. And so I went across the hall to the other three rooms and saw Miss Julia’s bed was all right. Mrs. Telpher wanted me to help her close her window which was stuck, and I did that and went next door to Miss Aich but I didn’t go in.”

“Did you attempt to?” Luke’s tone was carefully lowered to match her own so that there was no physical interruption, as it were, to the flow of her thought.

“Not really. I knocked and she said, ‘All right, all right’ in her way, so I thought: ‘very well.’ And I didn’t disturb her. Then I came back and listened to Mr. Basil’s door. He was snoring quite regularly so I went and sat down on the window bench at the end of the passage and looked out into the street. I sat there for a long time. I often do. It’s my seat. I’m not in the way because I’m behind the velvet curtains and the light is up the other end of the passage and doesn’t really reach to where I am. I sat looking out at the police for a long time. I thought the plain-clothes chaps were just ordinary men hanging about for a while but presently, when they kept speaking to the copper in uniform and looking about as if they weren’t doing it, I guessed who they were and I wondered if Miss Julia could have telephoned them after all.”

“Why should she?”

“Because I’d had my coat cut when I came in after seeing you, Mr. Luke. I told her we’d report it in the morning.”

“Very well.” Luke was holding himself on a tight rein. “Then what happened?”

“Nothing for a long time. I was wondering if I dare go to bed and leave those two young monkeys up downstairs. You can’t really trust anybody at that age. It’s not right to ask it of them. Then I heard someone and I peeked out through the curtains and saw a woman come along and go into Mr. Basil’s room. I was so angry I could have smacked her because we’d only just got him to sleep, but there was no noise and after quite a few minutes she came out again and went back to her room, and I sat listening with my heart in my mouth because, I thought, ‘Well, if he’s going to start all his tricks again it will be now that he’ll begin.’ There was no sound, though, and presently I got up and listened at his door and he was snoring.”

“Did you go in?”

“No. I only opened the door a foot and put my head in. The street lamps shine into that room. I could see him. He was all right. Sleeping like a great grampus. Poor, poor chap.”

“Don’t think of that now. What did you do?”

“I went back to my seat and watched the detectives fidgeting about across the road. A police car came crawling by and one of them went off after it down the side street. To make his report I expect. There was no one else at all about. We don’t have many people pass at night although it’s so crowded in the day time. I might easily have gone to bed then but I didn’t. I waited to see the detective come back and that was why I was still there when the person came again. I could hardly believe it when I saw her, but she went straight into Mr. Basil’s room and she was there five or six minutes. Then she came out again.”

“The same woman as before?”

“Oh, yes.”

“Are you sure you could identify her?” In his effort to keep his voice level and in tone Luke exerted so much strength that he set the entire group trembling.

“Well, one never is absolutely sure, not at night, is one? I wasn’t sure who it was. I had to satisfy myself. That was why I spoke to her.”

Munday made a little strangled sound deep in his throat and turned it into a cough whilst everybody else held his breath.

“I said, ‘Is he all right?’ I couldn’t think of anything else to say. She didn’t jump, she just turned round and came up to me. ‘There are lights on downstairs,’ she said. I said, ‘I know: it’s all right. How is Mr. Basil?’ ” Miraculously Mrs. Broome’s urgent whisper had never faltered but, now, remembered indignation interfered with her clear picture. “She said, ‘I never went in.’ The cheek of it! ‘Tim put him to bed,’ she said. ‘I never went in.’ Of course I didn’t know then what she’d been up to or I’d have given her something to go on with! . . .”

“Wait.” Luke dropped a hand on her shoulder. “Take a deep breath.” He was treating her as he treated child witnesses and she responded, obeying him literally.

“I’ve done that.”

“Right. Now go back. You spoke to her. She answered you. You were sure who it was. When she said she had not been in, what did you do?”

“I stared. ‘I thought you had,’ I said. ‘Goodnight.’ Then I sat down again and looked out of the window. She stood there waiting for a second and I thought she was going to explain, but she didn’t. She just turned round and went straight back to her room and I stayed where I was, never dreaming he was in that thing.”

“How long before you looked at him?”

“Several minutes.” It was an appalled whisper. “I sat behind the curtains getting warmer and warmer. My mind was easy, you see. She hadn’t woken him the first time and I didn’t expect her to do it on the second. I sat wondering why she’d gone in and why she’d been so silly as to try to pretend she hadn’t with me actually sitting there, and I almost dozed!”

“Never mind. Keep on the ball. When did you look?”

“After about ten minutes. I’d meant to go down and call the children because they’re only young and enough is enough. When I got up I listened at Mr. Basil’s door and I couldn’t hear him. It was as silent as the grave in there. I didn’t think much about it but it did strike me as extraordinary and I wondered if he was lying awake. I opened the door very softly and looked in. The reading lamp was on and there he was, shining like a great pool of water in the bed. I told one of you, didn’t I? I lost my head and began to scream and because I knew you were all there outside the window I shouted to you.”

“Because you thought it was a crime?”

“No. Because I wanted help. I don’t think of policemen as always having to do with crime.”

“The trusting public,” murmured Mr. Campion under his breath as Luke spoke.

“You’ll have to give us her name,” Luke said gently. “Loyalty and long service and the respectability of the house, all those things are important, but not important enough at this point. Who was it Mrs. Broome? Just the name?”

“It was that old girl who was shouting when I came into the bedroom, wasn’t it?” Stockwell could contain himself no longer. “What’s her name? Aicheson? She’s pretending to be absorbed by the attack on the old sister of the householder.”

Nanny Broome stared at him.

“Oh no,” she said. “Miss Aich wouldn’t hurt a fly and couldn’t without it getting away! No. It was Mrs. Telpher. I should have guessed that without seeing her, once I’d noticed the likeness between Mr. Basil’s colour and Miss Saxon’s.”

“Mrs. Telpher? Who’s she? I haven’t even heard of her!” Stockwell was already halfway to the door and Mrs. Broome’s unnaturally quiet voice arrested him.

“When you first came over the road who let you in, young man?” she demanded. “I’ve been wondering that ever since I came in here. There wasn’t anybody else. She must have been going out as you came in. She’s bolted. As soon as I spoke she knew she was found out, see? Even if she had been able to get back for the bag before I found him I’d have known she was to blame in the morning when it came out he was dead!”

In the moment of silence while her meaning became clear, there was an abrupt tap on the door and the little doctor came hurrying in, brusque and important.

“I’ve an announcement,” he said to nobody in particular. “He’ll do. He’s just spoken. I don’t think the brain is impaired. The last thing he remembers is Miss Alison Kinnit bringing him a drink in bed.”

There was a long silence broken by a deep intake of breath by the Chief Inspector.

Luke shrugged his shoulders. “That has torn it every which way,” he said. “Now what? I’m glad he’s alive but I wish he’d stopped talking.”

“But it was Mrs. Telpher who gave him the drink. That was the first thing I noticed.” Nanny Broome was so excited that she was on the verge of incoherence. “Miss Julia was with me when we saw her bring the glass upstairs and I mentioned it. I said, ‘She must have half a tumbler of neat spirit there.’ ” She paused and turned to Luke again with one of the sudden outbursts of utter frankness which were her most alarming characteristics. “That was the real reason why I went to her room when she caught me to help with the window. She was taking a long woolly dress out of a plastic bag then. I wanted to see if she really had drunk all that stuff. It’s not only that I’m inquisitive, but if I’m to look after the house I must know what’s going on.”

“And she hadn’t?” Luke pounced on the thread before it got away.

“No. There it was untouched on the dressing table. She’d put a tissue over it but you couldn’t miss it, it was smelling the place out. Later on, when I saw her taking it in to Mr. Basil, I guessed what she was up to. ‘You’re going to make sure he passes right out so there won’t be any more disturbances tonight,’ I thought. ‘You selfish thing! Serve you right if he gets delirium and the whole place turns into a madhouse.’ I remember his Papa, you see.”

Luke ignored the historical reference.

“Can you swear on oath it was Mrs. Telpher you saw in the passage and not Miss Alison Kinnit? They’re very alike.”

“Of course they’re alike! That’s what muddled Mr. Basil in the state he was in. All the Kinnits are alike; the family flavour is very strong. Their natures are alike. When she tried to put the whole thing on to Mr. Tim she was exactly like any other Kinnit. I thought that at the time.”

“When?” Luke leapt on the flaw. “When you were speaking to Mrs. Telpher in the passage you didn’t know that anything had happened to Mr. Toberman.”

Nanny Broome’s innate honesty shone through the clouds of wool.

“No, but as soon as I saw Mr. Basil all glistening like that I realised that whatever had happened to him it must be Mrs. Telpher who’d done it, and that she’d clearly meant to put the blame on Tim. That’s why I screamed and called the police. I’m not very easily upset, you know. I don’t scream for nothing. I usually know what I’m doing. Where would Tim and I be now, let me ask you, if I hadn’t screamed and you weren’t all here but it had been left to the family to decide what story to tell? I knew she’d have to run because I’d spoken to her and she knew I knew who’d been into Mr. Basil’s room. She’s got away. Good riddance! I’ve been thinking she would if I gave her time enough.”

“You be careful what you’re saying, missus!” Munday intervened despite himself. “The lady hasn’t a chance of getting far. Meanwhile, have you ever heard of an Accessory after the Fact?”

“Only in tales,” said Mrs. Broome contemptuously. “Catch her if you think you can, but don’t bring her here near my kiddiewiddies!”

“Who are they?” Munday was beginning with interest, but Luke signalled to him hastily.

“Forget it,” he muttered. “We’ve only got one life. Sergeant Stockwell, you ought to have noticed the lady at the door. You put out the call. Wait a minute. She has a child at St. Joseph’s. You might try there first. I think we can take it that she’s not normal. It’s the old psychiatric stuff. There’ll be no very definite motive. I mean, and . . .”

“I rather think there is, you know.” Mr. Campion, who had taken no part in the proceedings and who had been forgotten by everybody, now ventured to intervene a trifle apologetically.

“She was the only person who had sufficient motive, or so it seemed to me. Fear is the only adequate spur for that sort of semi-impulsive act, don’t you think? Fear of loss. Fear of trouble. Fear of unbearable discovery. Especially when backed by the glimpse of definite gain.”

Luke stared at him.

“ ‘Oh my prophetic soul,’ your telegram!” he said. “I might have known! She is not Mrs. Telpher, I suppose?”

“Oh, but she is.” Mr. Campion appeared unhappy. “That is her true name and she is the Kinnit niece. The telegram was a reply to a routine enquiry I made about her through the Petersen agency in Jo’burg.” He paused, looking awkward. “It’s one of those sad, silly, ordinary explanations which lie behind most criminal acts,” he went on at last. “I suppose her secret is the most usual one in the world and she hid it successfully from everybody except Basil Toberman, who is the kind of man who spends his life making sure he is not deceived on that particular point.”

Luke’s eyebrows rose to peaks.


Mr. Campion nodded. “I’m afraid so. She simply isn’t rich. It is as easy as that. She isn’t even badly off, hard up or in straitened circumstances. She is simply not rich. She never has been rich. The deceased Telpher was an accountant but not a financier.”

“But the Kinnit family must have known this?”

“Why should they? There are people who make a habit of keeping an eye on the financial positions of their various relatives, but with others, you know, complete ignorance on the subject is almost a cult. Mrs. Telpher was a distant relative. Distant in miles. The Kinnits were aware of her but not at all curious about her. How the idea that she was extremely wealthy was implanted in their minds originally I do not know. It may have started with some trifling mistake, or be based merely on the simple fact that they are extremely wealthy and she had never let them know that she was not. At any rate, when she had to come to London she found it very easy to make use of them. Her success lay in the fact that she understood them so well. They are all alike. Cold, incurious, comfort-loving, and deeply respectful towards money, and yet in an odd inhuman way hospitable and aware of the duties of hospitality.”

“That woman only lives for one thing and that’s cash,” said Mrs. Broome unexpectedly. “If she hasn’t got a fortune already her main reason for coming here was to make sure of an inheritance when the time came. You can be sure of that! Don’t forget she’s the only Kinnit relative except for Mr. Tim and she probably thought he ought not to count, being merely adopted. Her idea was to oust him, take it from me. Meantime, here she got her living free, and Miss Saxon’s.”

This prosaic thought, which had been in the minds of everybody present, passed entirely without comment.

Luke was still waiting for Mr. Campion, who finished his interrupted statement.

“The one great risk she took never materialised,” he said. “No one insisted on visiting the child. Knowing the family she did not think they would.”

“I insisted and was soon told where I got off!” the irrepressible Mrs. Broome put in tartly. “The poor little mite was ‘far too ill to see strangers! Doctors’ orders.’ As if a visit from me would hurt a kiddie!”

Luke flapped a silencing hand at her and continued to watch his friend. “Isn’t there a child?”

“Oh, yes, there’s a child.” Mr. Campion spoke sadly. “And its condition is just as she said---silent, incurable, unconscious. A heart-rending sight, too terrible for anyone very close to sit and watch for long. Mrs. Telpher is not very close. She is the governess. She was driving when the accident occurred. She was sent by her employers to London with the child and her nurse, Miss Saxon, when every other hope of cure had failed. The child’s name is Maria Van der Graff. She is registered under it at the hospital. Anyone could have discovered it had they thought to ask.”

The story struck the depressingly familiar note with which true stories ring in the tired ears of experienced policemen. No one queried it. It was in the classic pattern of human weakness, mean and embarrassing and sad. The second note, the high alarum, not so familiar and always important since it indicates the paramount sin in Man’s private calendar, took most of them by surprise although they had been well prepared.

“Attempted murder,” said Luke. “She did it to avoid discovery and the failure of her plans, and when she saw she was caught she made a definite attempt to incriminate the young man who stood between her and an inheritance. That covers the present charge.” He hesitated and they waited, the same thought in every mind.

Mrs. Broome’s eyes met Luke’s.

“If Miss Saxon was the nursie, that was why she was so fond of the kiddie and why she tried to tell me about the diamonds.”

“The diamonds?” He was as amazed as if she had attempted to introduce elephants.

“The diamonds in the safe deposit,” said Mrs. Broome placidly. “In the beginning, when Mr. Eustace wrote in his fussy way and told Mrs. Telpher not to bring a lot of jewellery to the house but to put it in a safe deposit, he put an idea in her head. She invented some diamonds because she saw that he expected her to have some with her, and pretended she’d put them under lock and key. When she mentioned them in front of me Miss Saxon told me---in front of her---that they were so big that she wouldn’t have believed they were real if she hadn’t known. Well, she did know, didn’t she? If they were in service together she’d have known Mrs. Telpher wasn’t wealthy. She knew the diamonds weren’t real and probably weren’t even there. She was on the verge of telling me the joke. We were getting far too friendly, Miss Saxon and me; that was why she had to have her head put in a bag! It was aspirin, not drink, that was used that time I expect!”

“Quiet!” Luke’s big hand thumping on the desk silenced her. “You open your mouth once more, my girl, and it’s you and no one else who’ll be inside! Doctor, suppose the gentleman upstairs had died what would the autopsy have shown?”

The doctor glanced over at him in astonishment.

“Oh, I don’t think there would have been any need for an autopsy, Superintendent. It was perfectly clear what had happened to him.”

“Yes, I know, sir. It’s a hypothetical question. What would have been the finding if the man had died and the bag been removed and hidden?”

“If I hadn’t known? If I had simply been presented with the corpse and not told about the bag?”

“That’s it, sir.”

The little man hesitated. “Well, I don’t know,” he said irritably. “How can I know? There might be any sort of condition which could account for death. We’re a bit more complex inside even than a television set, Superintendent. I certainly shouldn’t be able to tell that he had suffocated, if that’s what you mean.”

“You wouldn’t?”

“No. There might be a slight increase in the carbon monoxide in the blood but---no, I couldn’t be expected to diagnose suffocation. There’d be no foreign matter in the mouth or windpipe, no bruising, no marks of any kind. No, I should not have thought of suffocation. Fortunately it doesn’t arise.”

“Exactly,” said Luke and scowled at Mrs. Broome. “And it mustn’t,” he said, “or we’ll all be in the bag! Don’t you forget it! Chief Inspector, has your sergeant gone to put out that call? Where will you take Leach?”

“Ebbfield, I think,” Munday said seriously. “We’ll sort out the charges down there on the home ground, don’t you agree?”

Luke’s reply was forestalled by a knock on the door, and the Chief Inspector, who was nearest it, pulled it open to reveal a sleepy-eyed, yet harassed looking young man whom he welcomed with relief. There was a hasty conference on the mat whilst the noises from the excited house swept in to them from the well of the staircase. After a moment or so the Chief Inspector turned back into the room and leant across the table to Luke.

“There’s a question of a glove which Leach was thought to have with him. It’s missing.”

The doctor snorted with impatience but the Superintendent was very interested. He turned to Mrs. Broome.

“You said you had your coat cut tonight. What did you mean?”

She caught her breath. “Oh, I wasn’t going to think about that until the morning!”

Luke’s bright teeth flashed in his dark face and the look he gave her was positively affectionate.

“In case you got frightened of the dark, I suppose? You’ll do! Run along with the gentleman at the door. He’s not a policeman, he’s a probation officer. Tell him everything he wants to know. He’s trying to help someone before they break his heart for him, poor chap.”

Mrs. Broome had the final word. She was bustling to the doorway when it occurred to her and she looked back.

“You could have a very nice nature if you weren’t so cheeky,” she said and went out, Munday after her.

Charlie Luke, reduced to half-pint size, flushed and turned sharply on the doctor, who was making noises. “Now, sir?”

“I want to get that man in a nursing home.” The statement was aggressive. “He won’t die now but he’s still ill. He’s still confused. Some of it may be alcohol, you understand. Professional nursing at this stage is essential.”

Luke stepped back.

“Excellent idea,” he said briskly. “As soon as possible. You make the arrangements and as soon as the Chief Inspector returns he will make provision for a preliminary statement. Nothing detailed. Just enough to take us through the next phase. We’ve got to charge the lady when we find her, you see.”

“Of course.” The doctor was satisfied and busy. “Fortunately there’s a telephone in Mr. Eustace Kinnit’s bedroom.”

Luke smiled at him without irony. “Fortunate indeed, sir,” he said cheerfully and turned to Mr. Campion as the man hurried off leaving the door open.

“It could be a long trial, you know,” he said presently. “She might get away with it on the medico’s evidence of Toberman’s first waking words. I can just hear Sir Cunningham cross-examining Mrs. Broome about what she saw on the landing, can’t you? That’ll be murder, if you like!”

Mr. Campion was still standing by the table, looking into the limpid mahogany.

“The world is certainly going to hear about the Kinnit family and their governesses, alas!” he said at last. “No one on earth can prevent that now, I’m afraid. There’ll be no more hushing up Miss Thyrza. She’s out of the grave. She wins after all.”

“Murder doesn’t hush,” Luke had moved over to the doorway. “My old copy-book was dead right. Murder will out. There’s something damn funny about it. The desire to pinpoint the blame gets out of the intellect and into the blood. I’ve known murderers give themselves away rather than leave it a mystery!”

Mr. Campion was thinking along other lines.

“It’s very odd how the word ‘governess’ is a guilty one in this particular history,” he remarked. “Just before we came in here I had an account from Julia of the row in the kitchen tonight. Apparently Eustace Kinnit’s father tried to suppress the truth about a governess. Eustace himself went to considerable lengths to prevent the word ‘Kinnit’ and the word ‘governess’ appearing together. Mrs. Telpher was responsible for a fearful accident whilst acting as governess and she came over here, deceiving her relatives and bringing an assistant whom she said, quite unnecessarily, was a governess. To the Kinnits it has become an evil word which is always accompanied by trouble. Miss Thyrza is not so much a ghost as their minds playing the goat.”

Luke laughed briefly. “I know which one frightens me the most!” he said. “Mr. Eustace and Miss Alison are going to need their adopted boy’s support. It’s a merciful thing he has a sound young woman.”

He went out into the corridor and when Mr. Campion joined him he was standing in the shadow by the balustrade.

They paused together, looking down at the curious scene which the old house presented with its open doors and lighted alcoves. It was strongly reminiscent of one of the early Netherlandish mystery paintings; little bright unrelated groups were set about in the dark and tortuous background of the carved staircase, and its several stages and galleries.

From where they stood they had a foreshortened view of a knot of men below in the hall. Munday was speaking to a constable and a plain-clothes man down there while a dejected black wand, bent like a question mark, wavered between them like some spineless overgrown plant.

On the next floor, through the open doorway of the drawing room, they could see Julia talking to Eustace. She appeared to be comforting or reassuring him, for he was leaning back in one of the pink sofas looking up at her while she talked, emphasising her words with little gestures. It was a very clear scene, the colours as vivid as if they were painted on glass.

On the upper floor, in the corridor to their right, Mrs. Broome was showing her coat to the probation officer. She had carried it to the baluster rail to catch the light from the candelabra, and the purple folds gleamed rich and warm out of the shadow. Miss Aicheson, wearing a plaid dressing gown and carrying a tray with a white jug and a cup upon it, was coming up the kitchen staircase, and opposite them, across the well, the doctor, stepping out of Eustace’s bedroom, paused a moment to look across at Luke and give an affirmative sign.

Mr. Campion was comforted. It was a picture of beginnings, he thought. Half a dozen startings: new chapters, new ties, new associations. They were all springing out of the story he had been following, like a spray of plumes in a renaissance pattern springs up from a complete and apparently final feather.

The murmur of voices from the corridor directly below them caught his attention. Luke was already listening. Councillor Cornish was talking to Timothy.

“It was very good of you and I know how you felt,” he was saying earnestly. “But if you do happen to know where this glove weapon is I think we’d better go and pick it up and let the police have it. We’re not the judges, you see. That’s one of the very few things I’ve learned in the last twenty years. We’re simply not omniscient. That seems to me to be the whole difficulty. We haven’t got all the data, any of us. When we do gang up and make a concerted effort to try to get it, and in a trial of justice, that’s the thing which becomes most apparent. As I see it now, anything we suppress may turn out to be the one thing absolutely vital to the lad’s safety or salvation. We have absolutely no sure way of telling, that I can see. Life is not predictable.”

“I wasn’t trying to hide anything.” Timothy’s young voice, which possessed so much the timbre of the other, was vehement. “I was merely not rushing at them with it. I didn’t want to be the one who damned him, that was all.”

“Oh, my boy, don’t I know!” The older voice was heartfelt. “That state of mind has dogged me all my life!”

There was a long pause before a laugh, curiously happy, floated up to the two men by the banisters.

“We may not see much of each other,” the Councillor was saying as he and his companion began to move away towards the lower floor, and his voice grew fainter and fainter. “You’re going to have your hands full with your commitments here, I can see that. But now that we have an opportunity there is just one thing I wanted to say to you. It---er---it concerns my first wife. She was just an ordinary London girl, you know. Very sweet, very brave, very gay, but when she smiled suddenly, when you caught her unawares, she was so beautiful . . .”

The sound faded into a murmur and was lost in the general noises of the busy household.


 on: November 28, 2023, 04:52:15 am 
Started by Admin - Last post by Admin
WHEN TIMOTHY and Julia hurried up the staircase to the bedroom floor, where a considerable commotion was taking place, Tim took Barry Leach with him. He had him gripped firmly by the arm, since he felt that it was not safe to let him loose, and he had no immediate idea what to do with him. The captive made no resistance and came not only quietly but in a series of eager little rushes like a timid dog on a choke chain.

The only lights left on in the house were two of the lamps in the candelabra which hung in the stairwell, so that all round them the building seemed ghostly and enormous, a great creaking barn, as they stumbled up the shallow steps among its shadows. Besides the noise from above there was a terrific draught and the night air of the city swept down upon them in a tide.

“It’s Nanny Broome,” Julia said breathlessly. “Shouting out of a window I think. What on earth is happening?”

Eustace asked the same question as he appeared suddenly at his door, the first in the passage down the right wing. He was wrapped in a splendid silk robe and had paused to brush his hair, so that he loomed up neat and pink in the gloom.

“What is all this?” he demanded. “Is someone ill? Tim, what are you doing?” He caught sight of Barry Leach. “Good Heavens! Who is that?”

A sudden gust of violent protest in a deep yet unexpectedly familiar voice reached them from the open doorway of a room on the opposite side of the corridor. It was Miss Aicheson. She sounded frightened.

“Be quiet, Mrs. Broome! Hold your damned tongue, woman, and come and help me with him. He’s dead, I think.”

“Isn’t that Basil’s room?” Eustace did not move but spoke to Timothy. “Isn’t it?”

“Of course it is. Shut up!” The final admonition was addressed to his captive, who had reared up suddenly like a frightened animal. “Keep quiet!”

Julia was the first to reach the doorway and she turned on the light switch just inside the room. It had been in partial darkness, only the small bedside reading lamp alight. It was the main spare room and a big one, furnished with Tudor elegance, but now the wall tapestries and the long silk curtains were blowing out across the room like banners and Nanny Broome, fully dressed but white-faced and dishevelled, drew her head in through the window.

“They’re coming. I’d been watching them, so I called. The police are coming.”

“Good God, women, that’s no good!” Miss Aicheson was struggling to lift something in the bed, her clumsy hands plucking at it ineffectually. “Look at this! Come here, somebody. Somebody come at once.”

The new arrivals swept forward in a group and for a dizzy moment stood staring uncomprehendingly.

Something huge and shining lay among the pillows. It was a pool of glistening colour, pink and blue and iridescent in the newly blazing light. At least half of those who came up on it so suddenly were reminded absurdly of flowers, a parcelled bouquet freshly delivered from a florist, until in another instant the evidence of their eyes could be denied no longer and the appalling truth came home to them. They were looking at Basil Toberman’s face, flushed pinkish purple and with froth upon his lips, lying inside a plastic bag.

Miss Aicheson was both frantic and embarrassed and for the first time appeared an old maid. She had been trying to tear the bag and now, giving up the struggle suddenly, she pulled down the bedclothes and threw them aside. The heavy polythene sack designed to store a long dress had been pulled down over Toberman’s head. The surplus length bunched into folds, had been tucked tightly about his neck and shoulders and covered by the blankets. Although he had rolled over, and his knees were drawn up, he was still held securely.

Julia reacted instantly with Timothy a quarter second behind her.

“He’s not breathing!” she said. “Quick.”

He leapt forward and struggled to get an arm behind the heavy shoulders. “I’ll lift him. You pull the bag.”

In the emergency he forgot his captive completely and as his grip on the leather sleeve loosened the stranger slid away like a shadow. He made no sudden rush but melted through the little group and shot out into the passage. No one noticed him go; the entire attention of everybody present was focussed on the bed. It was proving a little difficult to get Toberman out. The damp plastic over his mouth and nostrils tended to cling and the material was exasperatingly strong and would not tear. It was several seconds before they had him freed.

“I want to get him on the floor,” Tim said, exerting all his strength to lift the limp figure out on to the carpet. “If I get above him I can work on his arms. He’s got to be made to breathe somehow.”

His authoritative tone pulled Nanny Broome together. Her dramatics ceased and she dropped on to the floor, helping to pull the heavy body straight. Tim took off his own coat and prepared to give artificial respiration. Both she and Timothy were sitting on their heels and the light which hung from the centre of the ceiling shone down directly on the flushed face of the man between them. Presently she bent forward to look at him more closely and, putting out her hand, pulled the lower eyelid down for a moment.

“He’s just like she was,” she said to Timothy, but speaking distinctly and clearly enough for everyone to hear. “I mean that Miss Saxon. She looked just like this but without that froth.”

“My God, woman, what will you say next!” Eustace’s voice rose in horror and then ceased abruptly, as from just outside the door and very close to them there was a scream, apparently of pain. At the same moment they all became aware of heavy footsteps flying up the staircase, while from somewhere far below an unfamiliar male voice was shouting instructions.

Meanwhile Miss Aicheson had recognised the voice.

“Alison!” She scrambled round the bed and went blundering across the room to the doorway while everyone else save Tim, who was fully occupied, turned to watch her.

Alison reeled into the room and collapsed in her friend’s clumsy arms. She was clad in a little-girl dressing gown splattered with pink roses, and with her hands held over her face and her sleek silver head bowed she looked pathetic.

“He hit me!” Although her voice was tearful her tone was principally astounded. “He hit me, Aich! I was just coming out of my room and there he was before me in the passage. I said, ‘Who are you?’ and he hit me and ran away.”

“Who dear, who?”

“Him! He’s got away!” The words escaped Julia, and Eustace, who was dithering midway between both casualties, seized on them.

“Who? Who?” he demanded. “Who was that man in here? What is going on? How did you all get here fully dressed? What is all this about and who---Good Heavens! Who are you, sir?”

The final question was addressed to a square man in a tight suit who had just stepped daintily into the room.

Sergeant Stockwell gave the scene a single comprehensive glance. He was delighted with himself and confidence oozed from him. He was also sufficiently human to be rather excited.

“I’m the police, sir,” he said to Eustace. “The lady called to us out of the window. It’s all right, we’ve got him. Somebody called out up here just as we came in and he came streaking down right into our arms. It’s all right, he’s in custody.”

“Who? Who are you talking about? A burglar?” Eustace was roaring suddenly. His smooth face was damp and he was trembling.

“His name is Leach, sir. At least that is what he’s called. But it’s all right. You just sit down for a minute while I see the damage.” He thrust Eustace firmly into the armchair under the window, turned towards the group on the floor, and dropped down gingerly on one knee. “That’s good work, son,” he said. “Carry on. I’ll get you some relief first thing.” He looked at Julia. “I wonder if you’d mind, miss? Slip along and tell the uniformed man that he’s needed up here urgently. Is there a telephone on this floor?”

“Yes, in my bedroom, just here.” Eustace bounced up again and seized the sergeant by the arm. “I want an explanation. This is my house and I haven’t the faintest idea what is going on. I want information from you.”

“Yes, sir.” Stockwell was experienced. His manner though gentle was remarkably firm. “But what you want most, you know, whether you realise it or not, is a doctor, and if I can catch our police surgeon before he goes to bed he’ll be here in a couple of minutes or so. He only lives round the corner. We must do everything we can, mustn’t we? Even if it doesn’t look very hopeful. Just lead the way to the telephone sir, please.”

As soon as Julia returned with a constable, Timothy, who was on the point of exhaustion, prepared to give over to him gratefully. The newcomer turned out to be a powerful youngster, fully trained and eager to help, and he stripped off his tunic at once. Meanwhile Nanny Broome was recovering from her initial panic and now seemed anxious to make up for any kudos she might have lost, by exerting her personality to the utmost. She took the policeman’s helmet and placed it on a chair, and unfolded his tunic to shake it and fold it up again for him.

“It was lack of air, that’s what did it for him poor man,” she said unnecessarily. “As soon as I saw him I threw up the window and shouted to you. I’d been watching you all from the landing. You were on my mind.”

The constable was not listening to her. One look at the patient had convinced him of the seriousness of the situation and now he went round behind Tim, rolling up his sleeves, and set about making a careful take-over without upsetting the rhythm.

Tim extricated himself and got up wearily, to stand holding on to the bedpost.

He was grey with mingled fatigue and dismay and his forehead was wrinkled like a hound’s. “He’s like a log,” he said, glancing over at Julia who was watching them helplessly. “How did he do it?” He bent down and touched the limp body and drew back again. “Someone has sent for a doctor, I suppose?”

“I think so. They were telephoning from Eustace’s room as I came past.” She paused for a moment and the room was quiet save for the steady pumping. “It’s that dreadful colour. It’s not quite like anything I’ve ever seen.”

“He’s poisoned himself with his own breath, I think. Something like that. Keep at it for a minute or two, Constable. I’ll take over when you want me to.” The constable nodded and continued his exercise, forcing the air in and out of the clogged lungs. Basil Toberman had ceased to be a person. His body had a new and terrible personality of its own, filling the room with its oppressive presence.

The night air streaming through the wide window brought all the far-off street noises which they had not noticed before, and its chill was mixed with a different cold which was settling into them as the first shock passed and they began to think again.

“It’s not possible,” Julia was beginning and was interrupted by Miss Aicheson who spoke with sudden petulance from the other side of the room.

“Mrs. Broome, do come here a moment. Miss Alison’s face is marked, see? Can you help me to take her to her room so we can at least bathe it?”

The new emergency seemed to have driven Basil Toberman completely out of her mind and she was both tenderly maternal and yet hopelessly shy and ineffectual in her concern for Alison, who might have been mortally wounded, she was making such a fuss. The realisation that she had no idea that anyone else was hurt occurred to both the young people as Nanny Broome bustled over to help her. She herself had recovered, almost, and her consequential little wriggle as she walked had returned. On the other hand Miss Aicheson appeared to be on the verge of going to pieces; she was at the stage of having to explain.

“I was passing the door on my way to Alison’s room with her book when I heard you shouting,” she said hoarsely as Mrs. Broome came up. “Why did you do that? Why did you call out of the window instead of trying to get the wretched man out of his damned bag?”

Mrs. Broome stared at her and they could see the question presenting itself for the first time. Her answer was spontaneous and clearly perfectly true.

“I didn’t know it was a bag,” she said frankly. “I didn’t know what it was. There wasn’t a lot of light and I wasn’t wearing glasses because I don’t need them except for reading, and I thought he’d somehow gone like that after all that drink. All liquid and awful.”

It was one of those frank statements of a familiar if idiotic state of mind. “He didn’t look human and I lost my head and screamed the place down. I knew there were police outside and they were real so I called them.”

Julia ceased to listen to her and turned abruptly to Timothy. Her face was pale and her eyes enormous.

“Somebody must have done it to him,” she said. “I’ve only just realised it. He couldn’t have tucked the bedclothes round his own neck after----” She left the rest of the sentence in the air.

“It’s all right, miss. The man has been taken. We got him downstairs.” The constable spoke without relaxing his steady work. He was breathless and the words came out explosively.

Timothy and Julia exchanged startled glances and Timothy protested.

“If you mean that chap we brought up here with us, that’s utterly impossible.” The constable said nothing but he smiled, and Timothy looked blank.

“I suppose they’ll assume he did it,” he began.

“If they do we can alibi him.” Julia dismissed the suggestion. “Tim! Basil mustn’t die!

The young man did not speak at once but looked down at the limp bundle and away again.

“My God, I hope not,” he said earnestly. “Now we’ll know.”

Sergeant Stockwell had returned bringing the doctor, who proved to be a slight man who was remarkably self-important.

He walked over to the group on the floor and after a cursory glance went over to the dressing table to find a suitable resting place for his splendid leather box.

“Very well,” he said over his shoulder as he unlocked it. “Now I want everybody out of the room at once please, except the constable. I don’t care where you go, madam.” He threw the information at Miss Aicheson, who had opened her mouth but not yet spoken and had been about to ask him to look at Alison. “Downstairs, upstairs, wherever you like as long as it’s out of here. I want to try to save this man’s life and what I need is space and air. You too!” he added to Julia, who was waiting her turn to move. “Outside everybody. As quickly as you can. Send me up another man, Sergeant, please, and when your inspector arrives tell him where I am.”

“Yes sir.” Stockwell glanced at Timothy and his left eyelid flickered. “I’d like everybody to come downstairs to the big room on the floor below this one. You lead the way, miss.” They trooped out and the doctor called after them. “Don’t forget my second constable, Sergeant. This man is nearly all in.”

“Very well, sir.” Stockwell spoke heartily, adding under his breath as they reached the passage, “I’ll take one out of the box. They come in dozens.”

“Alison must have her face bathed. He hit her, you see.”

Miss Aicheson turned in her path to appeal to authority and Nanny Broome, who was supporting Miss Kinnit, paused hopefully.

Stockwell was interested and as Tim and Julia went on alone they heard him talking eagerly behind them.

“You mean the man who broke in? He went for her, did he? Did he actually touch her?”

“He did, dear, didn’t he?”

“Oh yes Aich, of course, I told you. He saw me and hit out. He was frightened, I think.”

“I expect you were frightened too, miss.” The sergeant aimed to comfort. “He’s an ugly young brute. Just show me where you were and tell me exactly what he did.”

Tim and Julia passed out of earshot. The drawing-room door stood open and the pink light streamed out into the gloom.

“Are you worrying about him?” Julia drew the boy aside for a moment and they stood close together whispering, leaning over the heavy oak balustrade which ran round the stairwell.

“No, but they can’t charge him for something he hasn’t done. He’s broken in and he’s almost certainly responsible for Nan’s coat and for socking Alison, but they can’t say that he’s to blame for poor old Basil’s condition. Whatever that may be.”

“No, of course not. I wasn’t accusing you. I was just asking.”

“Oh! blast everybody. What did you do with that horror glove?”

“Hid it. It’s in the oven at the back of the mock fireplace. Aren’t you going to tell them about it?”

“I’m not going to rush at them with it.”

“Tim! Oh! You can’t feel responsible for him.”

“Why not? He’s our age and I caught him.”

“I see.” She was silent for a moment or two and then turned to face him. “Did you hear Nanny Broome say that Miss Saxon looked like Basil does?”

“Yes I did.”

“What are we going to do?”

“What can we do? Nothing. We’re not in that at all. The Basil business appears to be entirely the older generation’s headache. That’s the only thing we do know about it. Come along, sweetie.”

They went on into the drawing room to find Eustace standing on the hearthrug before the cacti collection. Councillor Cornish was in a chair on the opposite side of the room, his back was bent, and his long arms were drooping. He still wore his hideous raincoat and his black hat was on the floor beside him.

Eustace nailed Tim with relief. “Oh, there you are, my boy!” he said heartily. “How is Basil? It’s not as bad as it looks, is it? He’ll come round, I mean? Please God! What a frightful accident to happen! Where were you when all this was going on?”

“Julia and I were in the well cellar catching that chap who came in through the broken window. He took the glass out this afternoon, apparently.”

Eustace’s kindly face became amazed. He had recovered from his initial shock and his wits were about him again.

“Be discreet, Tim,” he murmured and glanced down the room towards the Councillor, who was rising as Julia crossed over to him. “I don’t think it could have occurred quite like that, you know. No human being could get through those bars for one thing. Doubtless he was about the house before you found him.”

“He wasn’t.” Tim was gentle but adamant. “We were in the kitchen and he couldn’t have reached the cellar from the house without disturbing us. He could get through the bars all right. He could get through a keyhole. Have you seen him?”

“Yes, I have. He and a plain-clothes detective and a pleasant young man who seems to be some sort of welfare officer are all in the dining room.” Eustace hesitated and presently led the younger man into the window alcove. “It’s Cornish’s boy, apparently,” he said softly. “There’s been trouble before, I understand.” He sighed. “An extraordinary coincidence, don’t you think? Just after he was able to help us this morning? I don’t mind telling you I’m wondering about that fire. Let’s go over. I don’t know what your little Julia is telling him about the cellar. We don’t want to raise his hopes, poor man.”

As they came up to the two they caught the tail end of an earnest and intimate conversation.

“I hoped so hard you’d go to Mr. Luke.” Julia’s voice was as clear as a bird’s. “I’m so relieved. As soon as I heard he’d sent for Nanny Broome I knew that you must have.”

“My dear, be quiet,” said the Councillor. He was a gaunt figure in agony. There was no mistaking his helpless misery. He turned to Timothy and spoke doggedly.

“You didn’t hurt him,” he said. “I’m most grateful you didn’t hurt him. Do I understand that he is responsible for something quite terrible upstairs?”

“No, sir. He has done nothing at all since he got into the house except talk to me.”

With exactly the same doggedness Tim was disregarding Eustace’s frantic pressure on his arm. “Julia and I saw the light from his torch when he got into the well cellar and after that we didn’t let him out of our sight. When we heard the commotion and came up to investigate I brought him with me. We went into Basil Toberman’s room together.”

“Basil Toberman? Is that the man who was murdered?”

As the question escaped the Councillor, Eustace made an ineffectual gesture of rejection and drew a long whistling breath. It was as if he had been listening for the word and when it came he had no resistance to offer. He dropped into the nearest chair and sat there like a sack. “Is he dead?” he demanded.

“I don’t know, Uncle.”

“I didn’t realise there was any doubt of that.” Cornish was both apologetic and deeply relieved. “I was misled by something I heard one plain-clothes man tell the other.”

Eustace looked up at Timothy. “It’ll be the end of us if he does die and there’s any sort of mystery about it,” he said gravely. “That scene at supper tonight and everything the stupid fellow has been saying to God knows who on the aeroplane, it’ll all come out. All over the newspapers, everywhere, and that will be a quarter of the damage. Once the old stag goes down, you know, the hounds are on him in a pack!” In his mouth the florid simile sounded natural enough but Tim, who was hypersensitive concerning the old man’s dignity, snapped at him.

“Then we’ll have to dig in and live it down, because there’s nothing else we can do.”

“My boy, that’s easy enough to say.” Eustace was an odd mixture of despair and a sort of relish. “Wait until you see Julia’s father’s reaction. Wait until it touches you personally.”

“But how is Tim concerned? What is it to do with him? He’s not a Kinnit.”

Julia’s intervention cut clean across everybody’s private reservation. She made a terrifying picture of innocent recklessness, interested only in her love. Both older men turned to her beseechingly but Tim was not sidetracked. “You be quiet,” he said. “We can’t be bothered with all that any more. We know all we need to know about me. Consider all that settled and done with. Now, if your father says you’re to wait until you’re twenty-one we’ll have to wait and that’s an end of it.”

Councillor Cornish hesitated. He seemed relieved to have found somebody of his own weight with whom to deal.

“Do I understand that you can give Barry a complete alibi for the---the happening, whatever it is, upstairs?”

“I am not giving him anything.” Tim had never looked more exactly a younger edition of the man before him. “I am simply confirming that I was with him while he was in this house tonight. He will confirm that he was with Julia and me. We alibi each other. On this occasion his word is as good as mine. He has an identity. He told me so.”

The Councillor’s eyes flickered under his fierce brows.

“You know about that, do you? I was wondering what I was going to say to you and this young lady about that.” He hesitated. “Or if I was going to say anything at all.” There was a pause and presently he spoke with a rush. “He takes his papers very seriously,” he said, and it was as if he was speaking of some strange animal for which he was responsible but which he could never hope to understand. “They are the only aspect of Law and Order for which he seems to have any respect at all.”

“He takes his identity seriously,” Tim said. “Naturally. It appears to be all he has.”

It was an extraordinary piece of conversation, momentous and completely enlightening to each participant and yet, to everybody else, almost casual.

Cornish looked at Tim anxiously.

“How about yourself, Son?”

Timothy’s glance fell on Julia’s head and wandered over to Eustace still sitting hunched and old in his chair. At length he met the Councillor’s gaze.

“I’ve got responsibilities,” he said seriously. “I’m all right.”

“Mr. Timothy Kinnit?” Stockwell, appearing in the doorway, put the question sharply. He was excited and his habit of swinging on his light feet had never been more evident.

“Here, Sergeant.”

“I see.” Stockwell appraised him. He was behaving as if he felt the situation was a little too good to be true. “I have the Superintendent and my Chief Inspector coming along. They’ll be here in a moment. Meanwhile I wonder if I could ask you to clear up a little question which has come up. I understand from my constable upstairs that you admitted in his presence that it was you who took the man Leach into Mr. Toberman’s room?”

“That’s right. My fiancée and I took him upstairs with us when we heard the rumpus. We didn’t know what else to do with him.”

“I see, sir.” Stockwell was approaching a conclusion as it were on tiptoe. “Then when you took him into Mr. Toberman’s room it was the first time he’d been there, in your opinion.”

“Of course. Doesn’t he say so?”

“That’s exactly what he does say.”

Tim stood looking at the broad face with the half-triumphant grin on it.

“What’s the matter?” he demanded. “What are you getting at?”

“You’ve given yourself away, young man, haven’t you?” Stockwell, still a little disbelieving at such good fortune, took the plunge squarely, nevertheless. “It was you who put Mr. Toberman to bed, wasn’t it? When he was too drunk to get there himself, let alone into a bag? That’s the truth, isn’t it?”

The inference, so direct and simple that its enormity became a matter for complicated investigation and endless legal argument before their very eyes, burst in the room like a bomb.

There was a long moment of appalled silence, broken in the end by a voice from the doorway behind the sergeant.

“Oh well, if you’re going to be silly and imagine Mr. Tim did it,” said Nanny Broome, irritably, “I suppose I shall have to tell the truth.”

As the sergeant turned slowly round to stare at her, Superintendent Luke’s voice speaking to the constable on duty at the front door floated up to them from the hall below.

 on: November 28, 2023, 04:09:49 am 
Started by Admin - Last post by Admin
“VERY NICE,” said Luke, settling back in Mr. Campion’s most comfortable chair. A glass was in his hand, the telephone was on his knee to save him having to get up when it should ring again, and his feet were on the fender. “This is how I like waiting. We’ll give them another half hour. O.K.?”

His host glanced up from the message he was reading. He had found it on his desk when they had come in to the Bottle Street flat some little time before, and his anxiety to see if it had arrived had been one of the reasons why he had asked Luke in for a night cap instead of being persuaded to go elsewhere after they had left the dining room of the Eagle Tavern. It was a long dispatch, written in Mr. Lugg’s schoolboyish hand, and had been taken down from the telephone which in England is now so often used for the relaying of telegrams. Mr. Campion had read it without astonishment and now there was a curiously regretful smile on his pale face as he put it into his pocket.

Luke cocked an eye at him. “Secrets?” he suggested. “You don’t tell us more than you have to, do you, you old sinner? I don’t blame you, we’ve got no finer feelings. Lugg has gone to bed on principle, I suppose? What does he do, a forty-hour week?”

“He says it’s nearer a hundred and forty and that if he had a union he’d complain to it, ruin me, and be deprived of the little bit of comfort he has got! I could hardly help overhearing you on the telephone just now. They’ve got Mrs. Leach, then?”

Luke’s grin appeared widely, as it only did when he was truly amused. His eyes shone with tears of laughter and his mouth looked like a cat’s. “I don’t know why these gormless habituals tickle me so,” he said. “It’s not a nice trait. They do, though. Do you know where she was all the time? In custody at the Harold Dene nick.”

“The cemetery Harold Dene?”

He nodded. “On a charge of pinching flowers and trying to sell them to the little shop opposite the main gates. The startled proprietor had only just handed an expensive and distinctive sheaf of arum lilies to a regular customer, who hadn’t left the shop above fifteen minutes so he could hardly ignore it, when she brought them in. He asked Agnes to wait while he got some money and nipped out of the back door to find a policeman. While he was away she helped herself to a telephone call and was just hanging up as he returned with a copper. We find ’em, don’t we!” He was silent for a moment and sat sipping his drink and looking into the gas fire as if he saw castles there.

“That boy Timothy was lucky,” he observed at last. “That was his Mum’s last throw turned that number up. Some guardian angel looked after him all right.”

He appeared to be very serious, the long waving lines deep on his forehead. “Remember that tale we heard tonight about the headscarf? I thought at the time it had the true outlandish ring about it. Little white lambs dancing on a blue field and ‘Happy and Gay’---Happy and Gay!---written all over it in flowers. I ask you, Campion! Think of that poor girl, dying in a hospital which everyone confidently expected to be bombed in a couple of hours. She was married to a nervy, overconscientious nut who didn’t even know he was a father and was away on active service anyhow. Her only relative was helpless and there was no one to mother the baby. So what did she do? She caused the kid to be wrapped in a shawl marked ‘Happy and Gay’ and then dropped off uncomplaining into Eternity. What happened? What you’d think? Not on your nellie! A bird turned up out of the air, a wayward nit, who scooped up the kid as a pink ticket to safety and flapped off with it, to drop it neatly into the empty cradle of the one kind of woman who wouldn’t see anything extraordinary about its arrival and who found the message perfectly comprehensible. There you are, a straight answer to a straight prayer.”

Mr. Campion regarded his friend dubiously.

“It’s one way of looking at it,” he said. “There are others.”

“Not if you take her viewpoint.” Luke was unrepentant. “Locate the true protagonist of each story and straight away you’re living in an age of miracles. That’s my serious and considered opinion. I see no other reasonable explanation for the stuff I come across.” He laughed and dismissed the whole stupendous subject. “Munday is wild, I understand,” he remarked. “There’ll be some ruffled plumage to be smoothed down there, I shouldn’t wonder.”

“Hadn’t he realised that Barry Leach was anything to do with Cornish?”

“He didn’t know Barry Leach or Barry Cornish existed. Why should he?” Luke was mildly ferocious. “One Charles Luke, Superintendent, might have pulled a finger out and recollected something about a small-time problem brat in a totally different manor when the flat wrecking case first came up, but did he? No, of course he didn’t. He’d never heard of the silly twit until this afternoon when he put a query through to records. It’s my fault. Cornish is somebody in Munday’s area. It might have helped him had he known about this skeleton in his cupboard before. Munday has a grievance.”

“Will he show it?”

“I don’t know. It’ll be interesting to see, won’t it?” As if in answer to his question the telephone upon his knee began to ring and he lifted the receiver.

“Luke,” he said, and brightened visibly. “Ah. Hello. Your name was on my lips, Chief. How goes it? What? Here? Why not? Mr. Campion won’t mind, he may even give you a drink. Right away then. O.K.”

He hung up and made one of his comic faces.

“He’d like to have a direct word with me, if I don’t mind. Very proper and correct. That’ll teach me!”

He was still mildly apprehensive when Munday appeared ten minutes later; and when Mr. Campion, who had not met him before, let him in the thin man was surprised by the newcomer’s attitude, which was not at all what he had been led to expect. The correct pink-faced official was neither reproachful towards Luke nor packed with secret satisfaction at the new advantage he had suddenly acquired over the Councillor. Instead he came in with the unmistakable air of a man determined to put a delicate piece of tactics across. His light eyes were cautious and his prim mouth smiling.

“I must apologise for intruding on your hospitality at this time of night, Mr. Campion,” he said with an effusiveness which was obviously foreign to him. “I’ve always hoped to meet you but this is an imposition.”

Luke, who listened to him with astonishment, relaxed openly.

“He won’t mind,” he said cheerfully. “Even if he won’t tell me what’s in his telegram. Now then Chief, what’s happening? Have you got the boy?”

“Not yet, Superintendent. But he was noticed by a uniformed man in Scribbenfields this afternoon before the call went out, so he’s about there as you supposed. He hasn’t been seen since it got dark but the building is being watched and I’ve had a word myself with the woman Leach.” He shook his fair head. “A poor type,” he said. “Not imbecilic you understand, but a distressingly poor type. She admits telephoning the cobbler’s shop and leaving a message for Barry Leach with Miss Tray. Just the name and address of the person she thinks was responsible for hiring the Stalkeys, that’s all.”

“Did she say how she got it?”

“She got the surname and the address from a label on a wreath, and the first name she learned from something said by a woman she saw by the grave, and whom she thought she recognised as someone she’d met years ago in the country, she doesn’t know where.”

“Ah,” said Luke. “So Mrs. B. did speak. I thought that story of uncharacteristic silence was too good to be true.”

“Probably she spoke to herself, don’t you think?” ventured Mr. Campion, who had appreciated Mrs. Broome in his own way. “Having picked up the habit from Alice in Wonderland, no doubt.”

“Alice? That’s just about what she is!” Luke was hearty. “Classic and intended for children. What about this watch on the Well House, Bob? We don’t want any more tricks with firelighters; that place is full of antique curiosities.”

“So I understand. Some of them human.” Munday could have been joking but his expression of complete seriousness was unchanged. “I don’t think there’s any fear of that. I have two good men on it and the uniformed branch is cooperating. We haven’t alarmed the occupants yet.” He hesitated and they realised that he was coming to the purpose of his visit. “I’ve taken an unusual step which I hope you will approve, Superintendent.”

“Oh yes, what is it?” Luke was highly intrigued by the entire approach. “What’s the matter with you, Munday?”

“Nothing, sir, but I don’t know if you quite appreciate the peculiar position of a fellow like Councillor Cornish in a place like Ebbfield.” He took the bull by the horns. “I’ve taken the liberty of informing him and he’ll be present when we make the arrest. I’d like it. I’d be happier.”

“Do what you like, old boy. It’s your baby.”

Luke was sitting up like a cat, his eyes bright as jet bugles. “I didn’t know the local governments had such powers. He can make you a lot of trouble if not buttered, can he?”

For the first time Munday smiled, his thin lips parted in a frosty smirk.

“It’s not that,” he said. “But he has a position to keep up, you understand, and he’s at a great disadvantage in being a man of remarkable conscience. Such people are more common in Scotland than they are here.”

“I don’t get this at all,” said Luke frankly, “but it fascinates me. What are you frightened of?”

Munday sighed. “Well,” he said, “let me put it to you this way. Suppose he comes to his son’s rescue as he has before, I understand, and he sees him in custody with one or two abrasions on him, perhaps.”

Luke ducked his chin. “I like ‘abrasions,’ ” he murmured. “Then what?”

“Then the father has a great fight with his terrible conscience,” said Munday with granite seriousness. “Should he make a row with the police who may have done their duty a little overconscientiously, thereby calling attention to himself? Or should he say nothing about it and condone brutality for fear of appearing in the newspapers?” He paused. “I know him. In the ordinary way I have dealings with him once or twice a week. He’s an awful nuisance but a good man. Every devil in Hell would drive him to sacrifice himself and we’d all be smeared over the London press, let alone the local journal, when we could save ourselves a scandal in a nice suburb with a splendid building estate.”

Charles Luke thrust a long hand through his hair.

“I haven’t fully appreciated you all these years, Chief,” he said. “I didn’t know you had it in you. So he’s coming to see the arrest? That’s very sensible. That’ll do it, will it?”

“Very possibly.” Munday was wooden-faced. “But to make perfectly certain of the desired effect I have suggested to him that he bring the probation officer with whom he’s had dealings once or twice before, and I myself have taken the precaution of borrowing a C.I.D. sergeant from over on the Essex side. He’s a man who knows Barry Leach well and has, in fact, arrested him on two previous occasions.”

“Without abrasions?”

“Without abrasions.”

Luke leant back, his dark face alight with amusement.

“Carry on. It’s all in your safe hands, Chief. We’ll stay here and leave it to you. It’s been a long day!” The telephone bell interrupted him once more and he took up the receiver. “Luke here.”

He sat listening while the voice at the other end chattered like a starling just out of earshot. Gradually his face grew more grave and there was an unnatural stiffness about his wide shoulders.

“Right,” he said at last. “The Chief Inspector’s here. I’ll tell him and we’ll come along. Goodbye.”

He hung up, pushed the instrument across the table and rose to his feet.

“Come along, chaps,” he said. “The balloon has gone up at the Well House. There’s no fire but they seem to have had a murder. I’m afraid, Chief, you’re going to get publicity after all.”

 on: November 27, 2023, 11:14:48 am 
Started by Admin - Last post by Admin
THE KITCHEN smelled warm and airless and the only light came from the small glowing rope across the bright shield of the electric heater which Mrs. Broome had put in the mock fireplace to make it look “like home” for the sweethearts.

The door into the house opened cautiously and Tim put his head in. “Julia?”

“I’m here in the chair.” They were both whispering and he came round the table, feeling his way cautiously.

“Is he quiet now?” she murmured as he bent over the chair.

“I think so. He keeps dropping off, snoring like a donkey-engine and waking himself up again. Then he thinks he’ll go and find a short one for his dry throat! However, forget him. I think he’s about had it tonight. Where are you? Oh my God, where are you?”

“Here. Come on, there’s plenty of room.”

He scrambled into the protesting basket.

“Damn this chair! How like Nan to expect us to.” Julia was laughing, shaking the noisy contraption, and he joined her.

“She’s keeping the party light,” she gasped.

He began to titter. “We might as well try to go to bed in an accordion! Don’t laugh, don’t laugh.”

Julia stiffened. “Listen.”

The boy craned his neck and they held their breath.

All round them the house creaked and breathed but was still an oasis of partial quiet amid the vast city’s endless noise. Yet the only recognisable sounds which came in to them were far-off ones, tugs hooting on the river, the rumble of hidden trains.

“I’m sorry,” Julia whispered. “I thought I heard him on the stairs.”

“He wouldn’t come down here. If he is up again he’s streaked off to the dining room tantalus, in which case there’ll be an almighty crash in a minute as he falls flat on his face. He only needs another shot to put him out cold. He’s got me down this time. Put him out of your mind.” Timothy settled himself again but the moment had passed. She controlled the thrill of panic but it was not easy and she shivered.

“What’s the matter now?”

“Nothing. It was only a sort of feeling. Don’t you get them? You feel you’re waiting, watching for the exact moment when something new is about to begin.”


“No, I wasn’t thinking about us for once. I didn’t mean an act so much as a turn in the road. You feel that one curl of the pattern is nearly finished and another is just about to spring out of it, and all the people involved are converging to the right spot whether they like it or not. Don’t you know what I mean?”

“No,” he said honestly. “No I don’t dig that sort of thing myself but I don’t mind you doing it. In fact I rather like it. I’m a bit shaken tonight, though. All that stuff of Basil’s in here just now. That was new, you know.”

“About Miss Thyrza? I wondered.”

He moved restlessly. “It was true, you see.” The whispering seemed to lend importance to the confidence. “We all recognised it as soon as he said it. Did you notice? It was like suddenly seeing something awful and unmistakable, like blood on the road. The penny simply dropped. Everything one had ever heard or noticed fitted in. I remembered at once, for instance, that there was some mystery long ago about a book being suppressed. A master at school referred to it with an odd inflection in his voice but I never heard the story and it had remained a mystery all my life.”

“But does it matter? Miss Thyrza died well over a hundred years ago.”

“Oh, we shan’t have the police in because of Basil’s discovery! Now it’s you being obtuse. It’s rather worse than that, in my opinion, because one spots the basic living sin which the original crime exposed. The Kinnit family is what Basil said it was. They do tend to capitalise their charitable acts since they do them for the wrong purpose. They don’t keep helping folk for the warm silly reason that they like the people concerned, but for the cold practical one that they hope to see themselves as nice people doing kind things. Alison and Eustace are particularly unfortunate. They know all about this and don’t like themselves very much because of it. Basil hurt them horribly. They know they’re missing something by being so cold but they don’t know what it is. The rest of us recognised that suddenly. Blast Basil.”

“But Eustace is fond of you. Really fond.”

“He is, isn’t he?” It was an eager whisper. “I was thinking that. He’s a cold old fish but there is a warmish patch there.” This has been a night of revelation for me. I should have hated it alone.”

“I don’t think it’s over yet,” she said. “Anyone who is loved as much as Eustace is by you must be thawed a bit.” She heard her own jealousy and hurried to disarm it. “If you’re responsible for the thawing you mustn’t ever stop. You know that, don’t you?”

“Yes,” he said. “I know that.”

“You owe her a lot.”

“Nan? Twice as much as everything! She’s balmy. She goes through the world like an old butterfly clinging to its wings in a bombardment. They’re all she’s got so you can’t blame her. I say, did you see her coat? She showed it to me just now up on the landing.”

“I noticed it first. It’s terrifying. I didn’t realize this district was as tough as that. She wouldn’t let me telephone the police.”

“I know. She told me. She was still playing the whole thing down just now upstairs on the landing. That means she takes it very seriously indeed. If Nan thinks something is merely naughty she points to it and screams the place down, but once she perceives what she feels is Evil, she hides. She’s a type and they drive some people round the bend, but I remember as a kid thinking that God must be fond of her because she took such inordinate delight in ‘His Minor Works.’ ”

“She’s very taken with Superintendent Luke just now.”

“So I gathered. How does he come into the picture? Does that mean underground assistance from your influential Papa?”

“No. I’m afraid that was me. I told Councillor Cornish that if he had any idea who had started the Stalkey fire he ought to tell Mr. Luke and I think he may have done so, but from what Mrs. Broome reports of her interview they don’t seem to have talked entirely about the fire. Tim? I’ve been thinking about Councillor Cornish.”

“So have I. That’s my true old man, isn’t it?”

“Do you think so?” She turned her head quickly, her voice sibilant in the darkness. “I’m sure you belong to the same family.”

“I think it’s a bit more than that. So does he.”

They were silent for a while.

“When did you decide about this?”

“I didn’t decide at all. It’s been sort of seeping into certainty all day. The cobbler was the first person to put the thought into my head. As soon as he heard that I had been evacuated from Ebbfield as a baby he became vehement that I should go to see Cornish. He didn’t commit himself but he was extraordinarily insistent. ‘Let Cornish have a look at yer,’ he kept saying. ‘Go and let him ’ave a look!’ ” He hesitated. “The likeness really is phenomenal, I suppose? I saw Aich eyeing us very oddly this morning.”

“It’s pretty strong. It lies in movements and personal tricks of behaviour as much as in anything else. When you’re nervous you clutch your ear in the way he does.”

He caught his breath. “Do you know I noticed that! He did it when I first saw him and it made me furious. This is horribly dangerous emotional ground, I feel, don’t you? I don’t like it very much.”

“Are you going to mind if it does turn out to be him?”

“No, I don’t think so. I’ll be rather relieved, I think. I mean I am rather relieved. He’s the sort of person I know best, anyway. He’s an intellectual trying to be practical. He could easily have been a don or a boffin if his training had turned that way. As it is, a lot of that drive of his is being spent on being indignant. I feel I know him frightfully well which is what I resent about him.”

“You’re annoyed that you are like him?”

“No. Of course not. I’m very grateful. I do want to belong to someone’s line.”


“I told you. When at last I realised that I really was not a Kinnit I felt utterly lost. I felt I didn’t know what was coming next and that when it did I might be entirely unable to cope. It wasn’t ordinary windiness at all but something subterranean.”

“But you had me.”

“Bless you! Of course I had and thank God for it, but this wasn’t loneliness. You can see what I mean if you think of this latest business of Eustace and Alison and poor Miss Thyrza. That story has taken over a hundred years already and they aren’t at the end of it yet. Our days appear to be ‘longer in the land’ than we are---that’s about the essence of it.” He was silent for a time. “I don’t know how he’s going to react,” he said at last. “He has a new wife who is not my Mum. It may be that.”

“Which makes him so determined that it shan’t be true?”

“Hell! Why did you say that?”

“I don’t know. I just thought that he did have some reason. But I don’t think it’s a low one. It’s something he feels rather tragic about.”

“What an extraordinary thing to say! How do you know?”

“Because you sometimes have very strong reasons for not doing something you want to do very much, and when you have you feel tragic about them, and when that happens you look and act as he did today.”

“Poppycock! Sorry, but that’s nonsense. I never feel tragic. Shut up. You’re talking rubbish.”

“My arm has gone to sleep.”

“Oh, my dear, I’m so sorry! Is that better? Julia? What’s the matter?”

She had become rigid at his side and he caught her alarm and copied her so that there was no sound at all save the thumping of their hearts.

“A light.” She formed the words with her lips and breathed so softly that they came to him like ghosts.

“On the stairs?”

“No. The other way. Look.”

“What?” It was a moment of superstitious alarm for there was no through way on that side, only the narrow passage and the cellar where the well was.

Julia was holding Timothy, restraining him, her eyes held by the shadows which were black round the inner door. As they waited, their bodies stiff, their necks craned, a clean thin angle of light, wide under the door and narrow as it slid past the ill-fitting jamb, stabbed across the floor, wavered, and vanished.

“It’s a bobby who’s found the broken window and is shining his torch in,” he said softly. “I’ll go and have a word with him or he may come round to the front and ring. You wait here.”

“No: the light was too near for that. The torch was just outside the door.”

“Impossible. Stay there.”

He stepped softly across the room, opened the inner door a few inches, and stood looking in. Now that the shaft of light was wider it appeared less strong but it still fluctuated, weaving backwards and forwards. There was still no sound whatever.

Timothy remained motionless and after a while an odd quality in his stillness conjured sudden panic in Julia.

She rose to her feet very quietly but the chair creaked and a whisper which was so strained that she hardly recognised it came back to her across the dark. “Keep still.”

Timothy was too late. She had come up beside him and together they stood staring down the short passage to the open cellar door.

Something black and sinuous was moving above a torch beam directed downwards on the stone with the iron ring in it which marked the well. The figure itself was rooted to a single spot but the pool of light ran round the crevice busily, probing, darting, resting, moving again, while, thrown by the diffused upward glow, a writhing shadow reared across the white wall and ceiling.

As an unexpected confrontation it was shocking because the mind registered it as an impossibility, something appearing in an empty room without an entrance. Julia’s little gulp deep in her throat jerked Timothy out of his frozen astonishment. The light switches for the passage and the well cellar were on the wall just outside the door and he brushed his hand over them.

The cellar was lit by a single swinging bulb which gave a hard yellow light and now the full scene sprang into sight.

There was a harsh slither of rubber on the gritty stone and a soft high whimpering noise, very thin and bright, as the figure scurried back under the high window through which he must have entered. He stood there facing them, still swinging on his strangely rooted feet. Even in full light he was horrific, and that despite his own terror which came across to them like an odour. He was tall and phenomenally slender but bent now like a foetus, seated in the air, knees and one forearm raised very slightly and the whole of him swaying as if he were threaded on wires. He was dressed in black from head to foot in jacket and jeans so tight that they did not permit a wrinkle, let alone a fold, and also---an item which gave him a deliberate element of nightmare---his head and face were covered with a tight black nylon stocking which flattened his features out of human likeness without hiding them altogether. The other factor which was dismaying was that even at a distance he appeared deeply and evenly dirty, his entire surface covered with that dull iridescence which old black cloth lying about in city gutters alone appears to achieve.

Timothy recovered himself first and reacted in the only way left to this century’s youth, which has had its fill of terrors. He proceeded to laugh it off. He pointed to the well-head with an expressive gesture, rather as if he did not expect the newcomer to understand words.

“Are you going down or coming up?”

The figure giggled. It was a little snuffling sound, very soft and ingratiating. Also he relaxed and straightened so that the horrible bent quality induced by his sudden alarm was almost lost. He remained on wires however, still rooted to the single spot under the window, still swinging.

“Do you know what’s down there? Have you ever had it open?”

It was a soft, lisping voice, very quiet indeed and by no means ill-educated but muffled by the nylon mask. Neither Julia nor Timothy spoke and their silence appeared to worry him. His black stocking mask was open at the top and now he pulled it down, using his left hand. His right was either useless or hidden behind him.

The face which emerged was not reassuring. It was blunt and grey, the nose springing thick and flat from high on the frontal bone of the forehead, whilst his eyes were narrow slits of dark in a tight bandage of tissue. He was not a Mongol but there was deficiency of a sort there, and it was not made more pretty by a latter-day haircut which involved eccentrically long elf-locks and oiled black curls.

Experimentally, his right hand still behind him, he edged forward until he reached the well-stone again and presently he touched it with a long shoe; it appeared to fascinate him.

“There could be thousands of pounds down there. Treasure and stuff like that.” The soft little voice was still offhand. He was boasting, but in an uncertain way which made the statement half a question.

“What makes you think that?” Tim spoke cautiously, aware of Julia behind him. He could feel her shaking and guessed that the narrowness of the bars across the window above the intruder was causing most of her horror. The fact that the visitor must have squeezed between them was obtrusive and unnerving since it underlined his reptilian quality, which was deliberately accentuated anyway, to a degree which was unbearable.

“It’s old, you see?” The lisping, tooth-sucking accent was very slight but the arrogance was there. “The house is called after it. I mean to say, that’s the address, isn’t it? The Well House. That means it’s old, and old wells in the City have been used for more things than water and not only for what you’d think. There’s been plagues, you know, and people have been put down quickly with no time to go over them properly. Everything rots but metal. I see you don’t read, yourself.”

Elementary academic snobbery was the last thing his listeners expected and it almost touched off hysteria.

“Do you?” Tim asked. He had not smiled but the newcomer took offence. His sensitivity was psychopathetically acute and was almost telepathy.

“Do you mind?” he enquired, rearing backwards but without moving his feet. “I do as a matter of fact and I’ve had access to some very remarkable books. You’d be surprised what you can find out in a library. If you’ve got all the time in the world.” There was no mistaking his meaning or his pride in it and again they were silent and out of their depth. He looked them over consideringly.

“You two work here I suppose, waiting on them upstairs. I should have thought in a house like this they’d make you wear uniforms but that’s old-fashioned, isn’t it? ‘Au pair,’ that’s what you are now. That’s what they call you. Well, shut up and you won’t come to any harm I think. I want to see Basil and I want to see him alone.”


“Basil. You know who I mean. I know he’s here. I saw him come in. He’s drunk but that won’t matter. He’ll understand what I’ve got to say to him if he’s paralysed. The girl can slip me up to his room and I shan’t touch either of you two. Basil Kinnit. That’s who I want.”

“But there’s no such person!” The words escaped Julia for the second time that day and the superstitious element surrounding them flared suddenly in her mind, and she put her hand over her mouth because she was afraid of screaming.

Her alarm seemed to reach the newcomer physically as if he had heard or smelled it, for he retreated a yard or so and stood swaying again, not quite weaving but horribly near it. He was also angry.

“You’re lying, you’re in love with him, you’re hiding him.”

He was spitting and whispering and the short syllables were like grit in the fluff of sound.

“Nonsense.” Tim took over. He was puzzled, curious rather than frightened, and his tone was soothing. “Who is it exactly that you want? Let’s get it quite clear. There is no Basil Kinnit. Are you sure you have the name right?”

“Well, yes. As a matter of fact I am.” The newcomer relaxed again and the confidential lisp, soft and ingratiating, returned to his voice. “I’ve known his name was Kinnit for a long time, see? But I only got the Basil today. I had to wait for a telephone call.” He conveyed that he considered the use of the instrument to be important and romantic. “I put a friend of mine on to find out and she telephoned from outside the cemetery and left a message for me at a shop we use for that sort of thing. ‘His name is Mr. Basil and the address is The Well House.’ That was the message I got. When I heard that, well, I mean to say it was waiting for me, wasn’t it? There was no point in me messing about any longer. So I came round right away.”

“But you must have been here some time. When did you take the glass out of the window?”

He seemed to have no objection to answering questions. His answers were glib and at least partially truthful.

“This afternoon. I’ve been round here all the time. There’s a lot of perching places round here, see. It’s made for it and you don’t see a bogie. I smoked twenty sitting in a ventilator next door. Twenty.” It was a boast. “Twenty in an afternoon.”

“Why did you wait so long?”

“I always wait. I like to look round. I like to know who comes in and out. It’s my business. I’m interested, see? Mr. Basil Kinnit, that’s who I want to talk to.”

“What do you want to say to him?”

“I want to warn him to lay off me. I want to teach him not to interfere, see? I don’t like private dicks making enquiries into my birth, see? I’m not having no prying, see? And nor is Ag. I’ve given his bloodhounds a warning and now I’m going to warn him. And you two can keep your mouths shut or you’ll learn the same song. . . . Words and music.” The final phrase had no meaning but was a threatening series of sounds only, and he repeated them with satisfaction. “Words and music!”

“Why should he want to know about your birth?” Tim’s quiet question was yet so forceful that it captured his wayward intelligence and held it on course.

“Because he wants to stop Ag getting the money, see? My Dad slips her a bit, see? As soon as Ag heard about this Kinnit lark it came to her what it was about, see? Ag’s not a great intelligence. She’s got no mind. She’s not with it, really, but she’s bright enough over money. She knew what he was after and so she came to me and told me and of course I took it up. Tonight will put a stop to his mucking about round us.”

“Is Ag your mother?”

“No, she’s not. She’s not. She’s not. She never said so and she isn’t. She’s a friend; she’s interested. She does what I say. Like today. She went to the graveyard, see? I told her she’d find the address on a wreath when we couldn’t find it in the paper but she went right away. Then she used the telephone.”

“All right. I understand.”

“You don’t. You don’t understand. You’ve got no idea. I’m not ordinary, see? Ag rescued me when I was born. I wasn’t born normally, see? A lot of famous people aren’t as a matter of fact, if you read history and all that. I wasn’t quite in the world when a bomb hit the hospital I was in. On the first day of war this was, and my Mum was killed and Ag rushed in and picked me up like a kitten and carried me off all bloody to the rescue buses. Then she had to look after me, she was months going round the camps, until she found my papers and the nuns took over for her and found my Dad.”

“But there were no bombs on the first day of the war. There were no bombs for a year.” Julia made the protest and got the full repercussion.

“That’s a lie!”

It was an objection which he appeared to have heard before.

“People say anything but they’re wrong and I’m here to prove it anyway, aren’t I? I’m not ordinary. I’ve got certificates. I’m legal. I’ve got rights. My Dad and Mum were legally married. In a mucking church. It was a white wedding. Five hundred guests, I believe. Fancy spending all that on a do. It’s amazing!”

“What is your name?” Tim was trying to distract his attention from Julia.

“You’ve got a nerve! What’s my name? I’m not sure I shan’t pay you for that. That’s cheek, that is. That’s what they call it in the posh schools. Cheek. What’s my name? Do me a favour! You must think I’m bonkers.”

“Is it Cornish?” Julia spoke as Timothy thrust her behind him.

He was just in time. The figure made a dart at her and for the first time brought out his right hand. The sight of it sent them both back on their heels and their reaction satisfied him. He paused to enjoy the sensation he was making. Up to the elbow his arm was a paw furnished with mighty blood-stained talons, fantastic and improbable horror familiar to connoisseurs of certain comic strips and films.

Its realism as far as construction and fit were concerned was quite remarkable and as convincing as moulded and painted rubber, inset with a certain amount of genuine monkey fur, could make it. Only the distinctive convention in which the original designer had worked lent it a merciful artificiality.

Timothy began to laugh. “We had some of those last term,” he said. “Did you get it from the joke shop in Tugwell Street?”

The newcomer forgot his anger and smirked himself. He sat back in the air again, but intentionally this time, and let his forearms swing upwards from the elbows, his hands flapping.

“Child of the Fall-out,” he said and laughed.

The offbeat joke which to any other generation must be indescribably shocking amused them all, albeit a little guiltily, but it was very short-lived. Flushed with his triumph over them, he turned his right hand in its ridiculous glove palm uppermost. The five razor blades appearing through the rubber caught the hard light.

Tim leapt straight for him, caught his upper arm and jerked it backwards. It was a purely instinctive movement so prompt and thorough that it came as a complete surprise. The stranger’s reaction, which was equally spontaneous, almost overbalanced them both. He began to scream in a terrifying, hoarse, but not very loud voice and every joint in his body sagged limply to the ground, so that Tim was left holding his full weight. He let him drop and put his foot on his shoulder while he stripped off the glove. The razor blades were stitched into a webbing bandage inside it and its removal was a major operation with the quivering, yelping creature writhing round his feet on the stones. When he stopped screaming he began to swear and the stream of filth, in the soft lisping voice, had a quality of nastiness which was out of their experience. Tim turned a furious face on Julia.

“Take these damn things out of the way and put them somewhere safe. Don’t cut yourself, for God’s sake. You’ll get tetanus, they’re dirty enough.”

She obeyed him silently, taking both glove and bandage, and disappeared into the dark kitchen.

Left to himself Tim stood back and wiped his hands.

“Shut up and get up,” he said.

The speed with which the creature on the floor leapt to the window high in the wall was as sudden as Tim’s own leap at his arm had been, and had the same instinctive precision. Only the bars prevented him from getting away. Their close spacing, which had required a certain amount of negotiation even from one so slender, effectively prevented him from bolting through and he fell back and lay against the wall, hanging limply, a black streak against the grey.

“Get down and turn round.”

The newcomer obeyed. His subservience was more distasteful than his arrogance. He shuffled into a corner and stood in it, letting it support him. His dirty hands hung limp in front of him. His face was wet with sweat and blubber and he smelled like a sewer.

“What is your name?”

“Barry Leach, Sixty-three Cremorne Street, The Viaduct, E.”

He gave the information in a stream, clearly the result of long experience, and then paused. A new idea passed over his face as visibly as if he were an infant. “That’s the name I arrange with Ag to give. It’s her name. She’s Mrs. Leach. We don’t give my Dad’s name until we have to. It’s part of Ag’s arrangement, see? We keep him quiet and he pays up. It’s Ag’s address too. I live with her when I live anywhere, but you know my real name that’s on my papers so it’s no use hiding it from you. Ag’s got my papers. She doesn’t show them but she’s got them and I read them when I feel like it.”

“Do you ever see your father?”

Timothy was concentrating and much of the youthfulness had left his face so that he looked tired and absorbed. He made a good looking but worried young man, very much a product of the age. “Does he talk to you?”


“How often?”

“Not as often as he wants. Can’t take him, see?”

“Why’s that?”

“Well, he’s old---we’re not the same generation, see. We don’t see things the same way. He’s got no sense of humour. You’ve got more humour than he has. It’s age, see?”

“But he gives you money?”

“He gives Ag money for me.”


“Well, I don’t keep it a day, see. I spend it. I take taxis when I have any money.”

“Taxis? Where to?”

“Oh, I don’t know. Anywhere. I like taxis, they make me feel I’m who I am . . . educated and legitimate and that.”

“I see. Have you ever lived with your father?”

“No. I never wanted to. Ag’s right when she’s against that. Your soul wouldn’t be your own, not with him. He’s very rich but he doesn’t spend it. He’s a do-gooder. It’s because he thinks I ought to be living with him, and he doesn’t want it because he’s got a new wife, that he keeps giving Ag money for me. If you read you keep learning about men like that. Guilty, that’s what he is. It suits me.”

“Where do you do your reading?”

“Inside. I got a job in the library, see, because I’m educated. The screws can’t read at all. They don’t know half the books they’ve got in those libraries. It makes me laugh and it would you too. You’re about my age, aren’t you? The old generation is responsible for the next. That’s what they think. But it’s not true. It’s your own generation, that lives with you, isn’t it? Blaming the bloody old fools doesn’t help. I didn’t read that, you know. I thought it. I think sometimes. What are you going to do with me?”


“Do me a favour! Now, of course. Have you gone soft or something? Push me out, that’s what you’d better do. Push me out. You might lose your job if they found us together. I might say anything and you couldn’t deny it. I’ve got a say same as you have. I’m legal. I’ve got papers, you can’t take those away. Can you?”

“Something is happening upstairs.” Julia’s voice came in to them from the passage. “Tim! Somebody is screaming upstairs.”

“No, I don’t think I want to.” Tim was answering the boy in the corner. He turned and spoke to Julia.

“The house is aroused, is it? I think we’d better take him with us. He’s our pidgin.”

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