The Art-Music, Literature and Linguistics Forum
April 22, 2024, 06:02:24 pm
Welcome, Guest. Please login or register.
Did you miss your activation email?

Login with username, password and session length
News: Here you may discover hundreds of little-known composers, hear thousands of long-forgotten compositions, contribute your own rare recordings, and discuss the Arts, Literature and Linguistics in an erudite and decorous atmosphere full of freedom and delight.
  Home Help Search Gallery Staff List Login Register  

Chapter Five

Pages: [1]   Go Down
Author Topic: Chapter Five  (Read 49 times)
Level 8

Times thanked: 53
Offline Offline

Posts: 4195

View Profile
« on: May 03, 2023, 08:00:51 am »

“COLONEL Wragley suggested I should come and have a talk with you, Chief Inspector. My name’s Wilton, and Nick Vaughan was a friend of mine. I gather you are going to take over that case at the Mallorys.”

“How do you do, Commander. I’m very glad to see you, though I didn’t know---officially---that I was going to take over in the case you mention.”

Chief Inspector Macdonald, C.I.D., stood up to greet his visitor, and the two men took stock of one another. Wilton was a short, squarely built, grizzled fellow, with blue eyes and weather-beaten face: Macdonald was nearly six inches the taller and considerably slimmer, dark haired, grey eyed, with a lean face which had acquired tired lines on it of recent months. According to Macdonald’s own comment to one of his colleagues, “chasing criminals all day and dodging buzz-bombs all night is bound to affect a man’s temper eventually”; the colleague’s reply was worth relating: “If you’d said chasing buzz-bombs all night you’d have been nearer the mark. Never known such an enthusiast for sticky jobs, Jock: rescue squad jobs seem to draw you like a magnet.”

In spite of those same tired lines, Macdonald’s face looked about ten years younger than Wilton’s---they were both close on fifty---so it might be assumed that life on a destroyer detailed for Russian convoys was an even more wearing experience than the London blitz.

Wilton shook hands and added, “Well, I’m not letting any cats out of bags when I tell you that you’ll be proceeding to Devon before many hours are over---and about time too.”

“The delay hasn’t been of my making,” said Macdonald. “The trouble is that the County men haven’t been able to make up their minds if they’ve got a case or not.”

Wilton growled something inarticulate as he lowered himself into his chair, and then asked, “You’ve had a report on the business?”

“Yes,” replied Macdonald, “though not a very full one. I know that Nicholas Vaughan’s body was found in the burnt-out débris of his cottage on May 1st. The cottage was a thatched one and was completely burnt out, the walls collapsing as well as the roof. The local men incline to attribute the outbreak of fire to faulty electric wiring, and the fierceness of the fire to the fact that deceased had a considerable store of paraffin, petrol, and paint on the premises.”

“Quite correct, and the first assumption was that Nick was asleep and was overcome by smoke and never woke up, and that his skull was cracked by a falling beam. I don’t believe that assumption. That’s why I’m here,” said Wilton, and Macdonald nodded.

“Quite---and that’s why I shall be going to Devon. Now I always believe in first-hand evidence. You were not at Little Thatch when the fire occurred, but you knew Nicholas Vaughan, so say if you tell me all you can about him. Nobody knows anything much about him at Mallory Fitzjohn.”

“Right. Now stop me if I wander on too much, but I’d like to give you a clear picture. I first met Nick Vaughan ten years ago. He was a keen sailor, and we met while we were both sailing our own boats up round the Summer Isles. I liked him, though he was only a youngster. He was only twenty then, and he’d the qualities which make a good sailor---endurance, common sense, manual dexterity, and imagination. I add that because it does something to explain why a man chooses the discomforts and hazards of cruising in a small boat entirely by himself for a holiday.”

Macdonald nodded, and held out his tobacco pouch. “I get you,” he said, and Wilton took the pouch and filled his pipe as he continued:

“Nick was born in 1914. His father was the son of a small landowner on the borders of Westmorland and Lancashire---Kirkby Lonsdale way---know it?”

“Aye,” said Macdonald.

“Nick’s father was killed on the Somme, and his mother died in 1918. Nick was brought up by his uncle and aunt in Lannerdale, on their farm. He went to a north-country grammar school and later to Glasgow University, where he read engineering---marine engineering. He was an able fellow and got a first in his finals. I tell you all this to explain the two qualities in him---he cared for two very dissimilar occupations, seafaring and agriculture. He never saw a garden without wanting to dig in it, and he never saw a seafaring craft without wanting to tinker with it. He could scythe and plough and milk and tend beasts, and he loved doing it. In 1939 he was 25: he’d done his engineering course and he had a job on Clydeside, and a year later he volunteered to take small craft over to Dunkirk. You’ll know that story?”

“Aye,” said Macdonald. “It’s my chief grouse this war that I wasn’t on one of those small craft.”

“Oh well---can’t do everything,” said Wilton. “It was a story, though, gad, it was a story!” Wilton puffed away at his pipe and then went on: “Nick made himself useful in that racket: he volunteered as a rating afterwards, and soon found himself in one of those damned-queer shore establishments we improvised to train naval officers. He wrote to me from there, and later he joined my ship. He was one of the most useful chaps I’ve ever had. He got laid out eventually through trouble with one of our own guns. It was the only turret which could still fire---and then it jammed. It was nearly red hot anyway, and the engineers worked like hell to get it going again---we were under fire the whole time. Then something happened---most of the gun crew got their ticket and I thought Nick had got his, but he lived, and the surgeon wallahs saved his eyes. He was invalided out---for months he was blind, and it was unlikely his eyes ’d ever be very useful again. I went and saw him while he was in hospital, and he told me he’d made up his mind to get a small holding and go on the land. I happened to know Colonel St. Cyres---he’s a distant relative of mine---and I got news of Little Thatch from him, and that was that. Nick loved it at sight, and I reckon he had four happy months there. Now some blackguard has done him in, and it’s up to you to find out who.”

“Right,” said Macdonald. “I haven’t had enough opportunity to examine the evidence to tell you whether I shall agree with your assumption eventually, but let’s use it as a working hypothesis. You believe Vaughan was murdered. Can you tell me your grounds for that assumption?”

“Take the police theory and examine it,” replied Wilton. “They suggest the fire started from faulty wiring. If Nick did that wiring you can take it from me it wasn’t faulty. He was not only a skilful mechanic, he was a scrupulously careful one. He wouldn’t have run any risk in that cottage of his: if the fire was caused by the wiring, then somebody tampered with the wiring. Then the next bit is about the petrol and paraffin and paint stored in the cottage. I tell you it’s all wrong. Nick never kept quantities of petrol and paraffin in any place where he had a kitchen range going. He had an allowance of petrol for his pump and plant, I grant you, but he’d have stored it in the outbuildings. If there was petrol to help the cottage burn---well, it was planted there without Nick’s knowledge. Finally, he didn’t wake up when the fire started and was asphyxiated in his sleep. Kindly remember that Nick was a sailor---he had the knack we all get of waking up when anything happens. If he had been a farm labourer and nothing else, I’d have believed he might have slept while his roof burnt over his head, but for a sailor to do that, a man who has been trained to an alertness which smells danger before it occurs---tell me that man stayed asleep to be burnt in his bed---rubbish! He stayed asleep because his skull was cracked before the fire got going, not afterwards.”

“Yes, I can see all the points you’ve made, and they’re good points,” admitted Macdonald. “I could put up a counter-argument if I wanted to, but I’m not out to argue with you at the moment. I’m out to collect information. You say Vaughan was murdered. If so, by whom and for what reason? In other words, do you know if he had any enemies, or was there anybody who had a reason to murder him?”

“Frankly, I don’t know. If I knew of anybody who was out for his blood I should have told you so.”

“Was Vaughan a quarrelsome man?”

“No, certainly not---not in the sense of picking quarrels, but he was a damned difficult beggar if he got a down on anybody. If Nick believed a man was a wrong’un he’d watch out and pin him down somehow---and I’ve never known him mistaken in his judgment. It’s difficult to tell you much about him because he was one of those reserved fellows---never talked about himself or his own affairs. I told you I’ve known him for ten years and been shipmate with him for three, but I know precious little about him. I know he was straight, and he was a man I could rely on, utterly. He was incapable of letting you down.”

“Did he write to you at all? I take it’s some months since you saw him?”

“I saw him last December, when I had a week’s leave. It was then I told him about Little Thatch, and I damn well wish I hadn’t.”

“Where did you meet?”

“At my cousin’s place at Culverton, Okehampton way. I knew Nick was out of hospital and due for discharge, so I got George to ask him along---I’m a bachelor myself. Nick had written telling me that he was looking out for a place in South Devon.”

“Have you any idea why he wanted to live in Devon?”

“No, I don’t think I have. I never questioned it. Seemed a good choice to me---Devon’s my own county. It’s fertile, good climate and that, wonderful pasture, and you’re not too far away from the sea. There’s good sailing around Salcombe, and you can get across to Falmouth and the Cornish ports.”

“Did he mention sailing when he talked about settling in Devon?”

“No, but it wouldn’t have been far from his thoughts. Why do you ask?”

“Only this. You’re a Devonian. I’m of Highland extraction. I like Devon for a holiday, but I could never settle there. Too warm and lush, with those deep sunken lanes and dense vegetation. I happen to know the country where Vaughan was reared---just to the west of the Pennines. It’s grand hill country, where you can see for miles with the limestone hills clear against the skyline. A clean, clear, cold, untrimmed country. I can’t understand anybody reared in sight of Ingleborough going to live in Devon.”

“Then your judgment’s at fault, because Nick did so choose. It wasn’t I who suggested Devon, it was he who asked me about it.”

“Right. Next, did you have any letters from him while he was at Little Thatch?”

“Yes. I had a couple of long screeds---both typewritten. I’ll show them to you sometime. The first was all about his property and the work he was doing. The second mentioned some of the folk at the Mallorys---and there’s a point worth noting in it. He mentioned a chap staying at Hinton Mallory and called him a proper chiser---that for Nick was equivalent to saying a bad lot. He may have spotted some queer goings-on. You’ll be looking round the place yourself, so you can see if there’s anything in it. No names mentioned in his letters.”

“I’ll certainly look around. Now think over this next question carefully. You say Vaughan was a fine engineer, and that he got a first. You also say he had imagination. Do you think it was likely that he was doing any original work which might have been valuable?”

“Designs, patents and that? No, I don’t. To begin with, you need equipment---workshop, lathe, materials: you work on models. Paper work doesn’t get you far. It’s the model which tells you the snags. Then there’s his eyesight to remember. It was still weak---that’s why he typed in preference to writing. And you’ve got to remember the amount of work he put in on the house and land. He worked in the garden till dusk: then he got busy house painting. In addition to all that he cooked his own meals, tended his stock, fetched all the goods he needed in that Heath Robinson car of his, and he’d fitted an old petrol engine to the pump, put up a greenhouse and assembled an electric plant. No. He’d have had no time for anything else.”

Macdonald sat and meditated, then he said: “It comes to this: a peaceful, law-abiding agriculturist is suddenly murdered for no reason that anybody can provide. Before you can convince any jury that the man was murdered you’ve got to provide a reason---a motive---for murdering him. That will be my first job---to look out for a motive. Meantime, since you’re the man who is shouting murder, it’s up to you to give every possible detail to help the enquiry. So far as is known at present, Vaughan hadn’t got anything of value in his cottage. It’s known he kept no cash on the premises---his banker can assure us of that. There were no portable valuables, silver or plate, and the cottage wasn’t really furnished. His bedroom and kitchen had only the minimum of equipment. So far as it’s possible to ascertain, robbery is ruled out. Any comment to make on that?”

“No. Nick had a limited amount of capital----”

“Yes. It’s still intact, barring what he’d spent on equipment for the cottage. He was a methodical soul and his bank statement covers every item of expenditure. His living expenses cost him a pound a week. Other cheques drawn covered his petrol pump, electric plant, and greenhouse---all bought second-hand. He paid cash down for his stock and feed.”

“Gad, you seem to have made a few enquiries,” said Wilton, and his naive expression caused Macdonald to laugh a little.

“Yes, just a few. The Royal Navy isn’t the only competent service on His Majesty’s pay-roll. I’m not being offensive when I say this: I am about as competent to query the manner in which you command your craft as you are competent to criticise police-work. We don’t make a song about it, but the amount of honest conscientious enquiry carried out by every country bumpkin of a police constable is a thing of which I have a right to be proud.”

Wilton’s jaw had dropped a little, and then he laughed too, as he stretched out his hand.

“Shake hands, Chief Inspector. I like that. I’m damned proud of my own ratings. Now, see here. It looks to you as though I’ve made a tidy-sized bloody fool of myself. I sail in and make fast alongside and proceed to teach you your business---a job of which I know nothing. I apologise, but I don’t withdraw. I believe Nick Vaughan was murdered.”

“And you’re perfectly right to say so and to stick to it, and I respect you for it,” said Macdonald. “Now let’s get down to it. At first glance it seems reasonable to dismiss robbery as a motive: no valuable plans or strategic secrets, no portable valuables: no show of wealth---rather the reverse. Vaughan lived like a working man: he paid market rates to anybody he employed, but he didn’t chuck his money about---I recognise his type, a straight, hard-dealing north countryman. He didn’t drink: he looked in at the nearest local occasionally and chatted with the farmers, but he made one pint of cider last a long time. Next, what about his dealings with women? Anything to contribute along those lines?”

Wilton shook his head. “Nix. Never known him to run after a skirt. You know what it’s like when a ship gets to port after a long cruise---the lads are out after the women. I’ve never known Nick to bother his head about a woman. You said he was canny over money---not mean, but careful. That’s true: he hadn’t got it in him to rip or play ducks and drakes. He was often ragged about it in the ward-room. He wasn’t exactly what’s called an ascetic---he enjoyed good living---but he was what I should call selective---critical, and tending to be remote from men who took their pleasures lightly. I suppose what I’m telling you is that Nick was an idealist. He wouldn’t have liked the word, because he hated the high-falutin’, but just as he kept his capital intact, so he kept his emotions intact. Didn’t hold with spreading himself or loose living. I hope I’m not giving you a wrong impression. Nick wasn’t one of those censorious Puritans who’re always blaming other people: he was popular with his fellow-officers and popular with the men, but he just didn’t go out after women. As for getting drunk, I’ve seen him lower enough liquor to lay most men out, and he never batted an eyelid. Told me afterwards it was a damn’ poor way of spending your money.”

“Yes. I know the type: it’s all of a piece with his upbringing,” said Macdonald, “but see here. Nicholas Vaughan was making that cottage into a home any woman might have been happy to live in. Do you believe all that paint and polish was for himself---electric points here and there, negotiations for an electric boiler, a valuable second-hand carpet for the sitting-room and carpet on the stairs. Does that sound like continued bachelorhood to you?”

“Well, no,” agreed Wilton. “The further you go into this the more I realise I’m out of my depth. I’d never have thought about carpets---but how do you know about them, anyway? The place was properly burnt out---I’ve seen it.”

“Yes, you’ve seen it. I haven’t seen it yet, but I’ve got the report of the County men---despise them if you like. Some large-footed constable went into a lot of shops and slowly and painstakingly found out just what Nicholas Vaughan had got for the cheques he’d paid out. He paid £7 10s. at one sale for a tea-set---I’m told it’d have fetched £20 in London.”

“Tea-set?” queried Wilton helplessly. “£7 10s. for a tea-set?”

“Yes, Commander, and Nicholas Vaughan was no spendthrift. Any comments?”

“Well I’m damned!” said Wilton. “It looks as though you’re right, doesn’t it? He must have been meaning to get married, but he never told me anything about it.”

“Does that strike you as odd? You’d been good friends, you say.”

“Yes, confound you, nothing phoney there. Nick was my friend and I was his, and it’s on that account that I’m here, no matter what sort of fool I look.”

“You don’t look any sort of fool to me, Commander,” said Macdonald. “I tell you frankly that I’m as likely to waste time over fools in my department as you are in yours. You’re a man with a hunch. You’ve looked into this business of Vaughan’s death and you believe it was caused by foul play. That belief is strong enough to make you put up with a certain amount of plain speech from me without resenting it. But if anybody walked on to your bridge and told you that some knave was monkeying with the navigation, I take it you’d ask for evidence. This is my bridge, in a manner of speaking.”

“Yes. All right,” growled Wilton. “I’m doing my best, you know.”

Macdonald chuckled. “Right. Let’s try again. You admit that the evidence goes a long way to show that Vaughan intended to get married, but he never mentioned it to you, though you were good friends, and it was due to your good offices that Vaughan got that cottage. Think again: hadn’t the subject of matrimony ever been mentioned between you?”

“Yes, in a manner of speaking. One or two of our ship’s company had got spliced, and in the usual way we gave ’em a wedding present and drank their healths, and the remaining bachelors made a few ribald remarks concerning their own immunity from trouble.”

“In which remarks Vaughan joined?”

“Not particularly. He just sat tight. Nick never told bawdy stories, but neither did he complain when the others did. He had a gift for taciturnity.”

“When you told him about Little Thatch, wasn’t the subject of housekeeping mentioned between you?”

“Yes. Now I come to think of it I did say he’d have to look out for a housekeeper---unless he intended to get married.”

“And he made no comment?”

“Just so. He made no comment.”

“You may think I’m labouring this issue unduly, Commander, but I think the point which emerges is important. Here was a man planning his house with an eye to matrimony, and he’s so secretive about it that he doesn’t give his best friend an inkling of his intentions. It seems odd to me.”

Commander Wilton rubbed his short-cut grey hair, with a puzzled look on his face. “I don’t know about that,” he growled. “You’ve no proof Nick did mean to marry. A man can have carpets on the stairs and buy tea-sets for himself.”

“Admittedly. I’ve taken a circuitous route over this for reasons of my own, because I wanted to be quite certain that Vaughan had never mentioned the subject of marriage to you---but he was going to get married. He told Colonel St. Cyres so in confidence when he first negotiated the property, and St. Cyres, being punctilious about confidences, had not mentioned the matter to anybody. He told the Superintendent about it when the matter of Vaughan’s next-of-kin was raised after his death.”

“All right. I expect Nick had his reasons for not talking about it,” rejoined Wilton testily. “Who’s the lady, anyway?”

“I don’t know, Commander. Neither does anybody else. You see, all his papers and letters were destroyed in the fire, and the lady has not put in an appearance. Now you probably know some of Vaughan’s friends. I think you might try to find out something about his ‘intended,’ as folks used to say.”

“I don’t fancy myself in that rôle,” growled Wilton. “It’s bad enough for the girl to lose her man without being badgered by enquiries.”

Macdonald sat silent for a while. Then he said:

“You’re convinced that a friend of yours has been murdered. You’re so certain of it that you go over the heads of very competent and conscientious police officers to impress your point of view on an old friend---my Assistant Commissioner, Colonel Wragley. It so happens that the Commissioner’s Office had already been consulted, but that is not the point. You’ve put before the authorities your own belief that Vaughan was murdered. In all honesty, you have got to implement that belief to the best of your ability. It’s no use having compunction about badgering people---now. It’s no use saying chivalrously, ‘Leave the women out of it’---now. It won’t do. You’ve come to me, and you have helped to convince me that further enquiry is desirable. The things you don’t know have done as much to convince me as the things you do know. There it is. You’ve urged the necessity for an enquiry. Don’t blame anybody else if the course of the enquiry isn’t palatable.”

There was a moment’s silence again, then Wilton said: “Yes. I suppose I asked for all that. I’ll say this: if I were a murderer I shouldn’t care to have you on my track. I’ll do what I can, and if I get any information you shall have it.”

“Right. Meantime I had better find out from the authorities just where I stand in the matter.”

“You’ll be going down to Mallory Fitzjohn?”

“Presumably---if I’m given the case to investigate.”

“Then may I come down and tell you anything I find out?”

“That’s as you wish, Commander. I can promise you no privileges beyond those shared by the general public, but I do want your co-operation.”

“Right. You’ll see me there before long. I’m not much of a hand at writing reports. I’d rather report in person.”

“As you wish. Good-day to you.”

Commander Wilton left Scotland Yard rather less critical of police procedure than he had been when he arrived. In fact as he left Cannon Row he took out his handkerchief and mopped his forehead. “The hell of a fellow,” he said to himself. It was quite a long time since Commander Wilton had been firmly dealt with by a mere civilian.


WHEN Wilton had left, Macdonald went down to see Colonel Wragley, and the Chief Inspector knew from long experience what the Assistant Commissioner’s gambit would be. Wragley’s “Well, what do you make of it?” was a familiar query in the C.I.D.

“It’s an interesting story, sir. I feel disposed to think further investigation is indicated---though that is in no sense a criticism of the County men. They have done their part of the job well. While I’m by no means prepared to say that I believe Vaughan was murdered, I think there are a few gaps in the evidence which ought to be filled in.”

“Hm . . . cautious as ever, Macdonald,” said Wragley. “I look forward to the day when you’ll commit yourself to a really rash whole-hog and certain opinion---which I shall have the pleasure of disproving later. Carry on, fill in the gaps and don’t be in too much hurry. I doubt if you’ve had a full night’s sleep since you were up in Lunesdale last September. Go and browse in Devon and good luck to you. We shall survive without you for a week or two.”

Macdonald chuckled: he was accustomed to Wragley’s rather ponderous humour, and he was very fond of his old chief, despite the number of occasions they had been at cross-purposes.

“Thank you, sir,” he replied. “I feel that your attitude is an exposition of practical Christianity, whether to me, or to the Department, or to the Royal Navy, I’m not quite sure.”

“Call it all three, you hair-splitting Presbyterian,” chuckled Wragley. Then he sobered down and added: “This Nicholas Vaughan seems to have been a damn’ fine sailor. We owe it to a chap like that to do all we can to . . . er . . . honour his memory.”

“Yes, sir,” agreed Macdonald. “Battle honours from the C.I.D. I’ll do my best to see that nothing’s left undone which should have been done.”

Report Spam   Logged

Share on Facebook Share on Twitter

Pages: [1]   Go Up
Jump to:  

Powered by EzPortal
Bookmark this site! | Upgrade This Forum
SMF For Free - Create your own Forum

Powered by SMF | SMF © 2016, Simple Machines
Privacy Policy