The Art-Music, Literature and Linguistics Forum
December 09, 2023, 08:54:21 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  

15: Into a Blue Sky

Pages: [1]   Go Down
Author Topic: 15: Into a Blue Sky  (Read 100 times)
Level 8

Times thanked: 53
Offline Offline

Posts: 3394

View Profile
« on: September 24, 2023, 09:14:14 am »

“I’VE A NUMBER of apologies to offer you, Peter, and some information to impart. An unofficial talk for a change. I thought this arrangement would be suitable.”

This arrangement involved Peter sitting in the Jaguar while Colonel Manton drove him home from school, and had come about after an unexpected summons to the headmaster’s study as classes were ending for the day. It was nearly a fortnight since the body of Mrs. Trevelyan, with five self-inflicted stab-wounds in it, had been found caught against a bush in the river half a mile from where she had lived.

“But first of all,” pursued the colonel as they drove along the Embankment, “let me say I hope you’re well and that Clacton-on-Sea was a success.”

“Oh yes, sir, thank you. We had a very nice week. Lots of sun.”

“Excellent. You can face discussing the obvious questions?”

“I want to get it all cleared up in my mind.”

“Better still. The apologies, then. Chiefly for what I did to your father, and through him to your mother and yourself---harassing him, trumping up false evidence against him, arresting him. I didn’t dare tell him the arrest was a fake---I couldn’t rely on his powers as an actor.”

“Just as well. No, he understands all that, sir . . .”

“But he still feels a little aggrieved, and being arrested for murder, even when clearly innocent, doesn’t much advance one’s reputation. I may be able to alleviate that. A Sunday newspaper has invited me to write an account of the whole affair. In it, I intend to lay some stress on your father’s contribution. It’s true he had no choice, but I shan’t say that.”

Cutting through the traffic, the car swung left on to Waterloo Bridge. The sun shone brightly on the water, on the shipping, the quays and cranes and warehouses. It all looked not only busy but tremendously varied and complicated, just the bits that showed, the bits you could see, of a whole world all working smoothly away under its own mysterious laws. Across the river, the colonel slipped the Jaguar past a tram on its near side and continued, “Now the apologies to you. Making you do that infernal floating act. It was designed purely and simply to put moral pressure on the criminal, which it succeeded in doing, as we saw, but of course the----”

“And as she told me that night.”

“Oh. Interesting. In a way. But, as I was saying, the godsend was your finding the weapon for us. You recognized it at once, didn’t you?---even though she’d removed the wing and thrown the rudder and tail-plane away afterwards. It took us some time and thought.”

“I didn’t only recognize it, sir. As the fuselage of a sixpenny Condor glider, I mean. It told me who the murderer was. Because I’d explained a little about gliders and catapults and aeroplane elastic to her ten days before the murder. I hadn’t thought she was listening.”

“But she was. Ah-ha. Hence your fit of the shivers. I see. Do you like cigarettes? You’ve been through more than most grown-up people have to in a lifetime, so I don’t see why you shouldn’t have a little grown-up consolation, so to speak. I’ll put my case and lighter here, and you can jolly well light up whenever you feel like it.”

Peter took a cigarette. It turned out to be called a Three Castles, which he had never even heard of. As smoked by the crowned heads of Europe and Colonel Manton, D.S.O., M.C. They probably cost about half-a-crown for twenty.

“What was the point of the glider business, sir? Wouldn’t lots of other ways have been simpler?”

“Indeed they would. Poison was the obvious way, especially in her situation, but she’d just been reminded of how poison virtually always gets traced to its user by reading---a great reader, that one---by reading about the recent conviction of one Charlotte Bryant for the----”

“I know about her, sir.”

“Do you? Let me expound. A great slab. Ask questions if desired. From the beginning, then. She’d been having an affair with Inman---a good idea to begin with, less good when her husband was about to be given more money and moved elsewhere. It had all been very discreet, no excursions round the pubs and so on. That must have been her idea: Inman wasn’t discreet by nature, as we’re aware. Those threats at the dance weren’t really malicious; I see them as the expression of a childish love of telling secrets. Anyway, in time he threatened to turn very indiscreet indeed. He was going to tell Trevelyan his big secret, perhaps start divorces going. In fact, his mind was on that while he was dying. As you reported---he had to tell him, a man has a right to know, all that. Yes, let’s clear up those dying words, shall we? He heard it. You would hear a thing like that coming at you. In addition, probably, to the noise made by its launching. And then all that hello business. What was he trying to say? What must that projectile have looked like to him in that instant? You have ten seconds.”

Peter needed only three. “Arrow.”

“Correct. More exposition. It was obvious we were dealing with a very learned, thoughtful criminal. Her object was to kill her victim in a way that was possible only for a very strong person, a category that excludes women. Therefore a tremendous blow must be delivered in the least vulnerable part of the body. That was the key to the whole case. Why an apparent stab in the cranium? I saw the answer to that straight away, so I had two suspects, her and your unfortunate father, whom she’d overlooked, and whose lack of alibi was a huge snag, the cause of so many of her subsequent difficulties and mistakes---the abortive attack on him and so on. Hodgson, by the way, was never a serious candidate. He could have done it, physically, so he couldn’t have done it. And that telephone call from Evans---not Hodgson’s style. He’s intelligent, but not learned or thoughtful. She had nothing against him: it was just misdirection, a tactic she was too fond of.

“We’d better keep to strict chronology from now on. She’d assembled her contraption and made her missile, but would it penetrate a human skull? No sort of practice target or dummy would throw any light on that question. The answer was to steal Boris Karloff from the museum, leaving as many false clues as possible, and try it on him. Evidently it worked---I should say that some of this is surmise, but it fits the facts, of which there are several to come. She had some days for practice shoots in her garden, secure from observation. On the Tuesday, Inman was coming to see her as usual. She went to the road-bridge, broke the fence, dropped a handkerchief of his, and planted a false weapon with one of his hairs stuck in it. (More confirmation: handkerchiefs and hairs are easy to obtain in intimate circumstances, not otherwise.) Inman would notice nothing on his way from his car to his rendezvous.

“When he reached her back garden, she shot him with her arrow and pushed him into the river; not difficult with a small man. Seemingly, he had drifted down there or thereabouts after a supposed struggle upstream. But he got out of the river again and found you. A terrible moment for her. She had to hide the weapon quickly, and found what must have seemed an excellent place. She was probably dismantling the launcher when she heard you call.

Now most of this was guessed by accident, in a fit of sarcasm, by that fearful subordinate of mine, Cox. In the course of it he produced one virtually insuperable objection. What could have induced the victim to keep still long enough to have trained on him such a clumsy weapon? Was it a lucky shot? She wouldn’t have depended on luck to such a degree. I can’t explain it.”

“Perhaps I can,” said Peter. “I noticed the bolt on that back gate was very stiff. You’d naturally stay in the same position while you worked it into place. And it would tend to be the same position each time, so if he went there often . . .”

“My boy, you’ve saved my reason,” said the colonel with metallic emphasis. “A chalk-mark on the gate---the tube itself would do as a sight---at that distance, with that power, the trajectory would be almost flat. What elegance.”

They were coming through Brixton, past the Marks & Spencer’s and the Woolworth’s that must be about the grandest anywhere, up the long straight hill at fifty miles an hour, in sight of the huge Booth’s Dry Gin sign that was lit up after dark. Peter took another Three Castles.

“Wasn’t it tampering with justice to let her escape and commit suicide?”

“Certainly. We should have had a very poor chance against her in court.”

“I want to tell you I was listening at the french window when you forced her to confess.”

“Oh. Were you? I hadn’t allowed for that.” Momentarily, Colonel Manton sounded almost disconcerted. “In that case there’s a great deal I needn’t explain.”

“You can’t have known about her and me just from the dance.”

“No. There were two more things. One of them depends on the fact that, if the light falls just so, the glass on a picture is a most efficient looking-glass. The other is that, as I remarked in a different connection, Inman resembled you physically. I found that suggestive in more than one way. Anyhow, I was right. Let me return to and complete my apologies. At our tea-party, I asked you some misleading questions and made one grossly misleading remark. I had to: it would never have done for you to find the answer before we could make our move. Your friend Mr. Langdon was the first person I dismissed from consideration. The murderer was Evans, who, as you must have heard, telephoned Hodgson in a voice that struck Hodgson as disguised. Langdon is an accomplished mimic. No such person would . . . but I need say no more.

“Let me just finish with Langdon, in case you hear malicious talk. Cox was very keen on him as a suspect as soon as I told him I thought I remembered some scandal involving a man called Langdon---as you and I agreed, it’s a name that sticks in the mind. We looked up the newspapers of that period. He was brought before a magistrates’ court on a charge of indecency with a pupil. A boy. Having heard the police evidence, the Bench found that there was no case to answer and Langdon was discharged. But, naturally, he had to resign his post. That was enough for me, or rather not nearly enough to revive my interest. Cox, however, liked it. You’ve seen the man and will have formed your own estimate of him and his outlook. He persevered. At one stage he thought he’d found a suggestive incident in the neighbourhood, but Langdon was proved to have been elsewhere when it took place, if it did. And it would have been impossible to establish that Inman had known of the original case, let alone threatened Langdon with exposure.

“This affair would make me write a short monograph on alibis if I were the right kind of person. On one kind of alibi, the kind involving married couples in the same house. Collusion, or, over a very short period of time, honest mistake is so easy. Mrs. Langdon could have said her husband was at home when he was really murdering Inman. Trevelyan did say his wife was at home when we know she slipped out and attacked your father. And each of that couple said the other was at home on the night Boris Karloff was purloined. How was that managed? A sleeping draught for the husband? Risky. A quarrel, the wife locking herself in the spare room? I should have asked her, but there wasn’t time.

“Any questions, Peter?”

“What happened at Christchurch, sir?”

“Ah. That was Mrs. Rattenbury last year, tried with her lover for the murder of her husband. The lover was sentenced to death; she was found not guilty and set free, but committed suicide by stabbing herself at the side of a stream. Some men cutting reeds nearby offered to help her, but she asked them to leave her alone. One who was fascinated by crime would have remembered the case well. And she---she was such a one. So much so that her situation with Inman was perhaps no more than the first she’d met with in which murder was . . . what? Plausible. Congruous. Apposite.”

They reached Norbury, where the trams ended and the buildings began to thin out. After a left fork at Thornton Heath Pond, fields appeared: this was Surrey now, not London. Nearly home. Peter’s main feeling, for the moment, was relief that somebody else knew everything that had happened, was not shocked by the shocking part, and would never tell anyone.

The colonel stopped the Jaguar some yards short of Riverside Villas, produced a pigskin wallet and took from it a folded piece of white paper with a little printing on it.

“A five-pound note. Take it. It’s a reward for your intelligence and discretion. An unofficial reward, because much of what you did is not part of history. Spend it unwisely.”

“Thank you very much, sir. I suppose, I don’t suppose we . . .”

“No. How sound your instincts are. I now know you know what I am, or what I used to be: a small enough part of my life at any time, but the smallest part is too much. That---thing in me enabled me to understand her and to predict how she would behave, with a result I expect could be called socially useful. But friendship between us has become impossible, I’m afraid. It’s the sort of penalty one pays for---well, for existing, really. Still, there’s always youth. Isn’t there? We’ll see each other again and perhaps talk these matters over. But not yet. Good luck, Peter. You’re a sane human being and you’ll survive all this.”

The rasp remained in Colonel Manton’s voice throughout. He drove his car away. Peter let himself into Montrose---his mother was learning bridge under a powerful female authority somewhere in the neighbourhood---and, after tea and some rather nasty music by Frank Biffo’s Brass Quintet on the wireless, settled down to his homework. He was just finishing the required pages of Les Oberlé when his father came in.

“How elderly is that brew?”

“Getting on for an hour, Dad.”

“I think I’ll make myself some fresh.”

Evidently in no hurry to do as he said, Captain Furneaux moved to the window and made some remark about gaol-birds always liking to see the sun, at which Peter did his best to laugh. Gaol-birds, old lags, blokes who had done time came up in every conversation these days; it was called getting it out of his system. After a pause, his father said without turning round,

“There’s something I want to say to you, old boy, now I’ve got the chance.”

Peter heard this with variegated alarm: had his hoard of horn been broken into, or were the birds and the bees about to make their tardy appearance? “Yes, Dad?”

“I’m a conceited man, Peter. Or vain, I don’t know the right word. And it’s made me dishonest. I don’t mean over money, but I wasn’t straight with you about . . . that police business, and Inman and so on. He did know something I didn’t want noised abroad. What it was, I was never an airman; that’s to say I never went up in an aeroplane. I was in what they call Administration---a respectable enough job, and somebody had to do it, but it wasn’t flying. It was a car crash that did for this arm of mine. Then one day after the War a fellow said something about, R.F.C., eh? Game arm; bad landing or something? I’d had a few, and I said, just for fun, yes, engine conked as I was coming in to land. I didn’t say it was in a dog-fight, I didn’t go that far. Well, the word sort of got round, and I had to keep up the deception. I reckoned I was safe, with nearly all my mates at the bottom of the sea, poor devils. Then, when Inman met a chap who’d been in the hospital with me, and started . . . Well, believe it or not, just for a minute I wanted to kill him. What have you got to say to that?”

“Not much,” said Peter calmly. “Anybody might have felt like that for a minute. But thank you for telling me, because you’ve cleared up something that worried me a bit.”

“Which is?”

“Why you were so bothered about Charlotte Bryant and that doctor man.”

“You noticed that, did you? You’re a sharp lad. Yes, I felt I was no better than they were.”

“Don’t talk tripe, Dad.”

“It was silly, I suppose. But the other thing, the conceit and the dishonesty. I lied to the police about the height of . . . well, we know who it was. I couldn’t admit I’d been attacked and knocked over by somebody so much smaller and lighter than me. Too conceited.”

“It didn’t make any difference in the end.”

“That’s not the point. And you haven’t heard the worst yet. That photograph of me in the hall, with my arm across my . . . bloody chest. That was to hide the fact I wasn’t wearing wings, because I wasn’t entitled to them. I didn’t actually have a pair sewn on for the occasion, I jibbed at that. Huh. What integrity. And the damn thing was taken just after I got out of hospital. I must have been subconsciously preparing my story about the aeroplane crash even then. Preparing it in my subconscious mind. Captain Furneaux, war hero. Mentioned in despatches for conceit and dishonesty.”

After a moment, Peter said, “You mind about it, Dad, but I don’t. The way I look at it, you’re so unconceited that you tell me some things that are very damaging to your pride, and you don’t like telling them, but you’re so undishonest that you tell them because they’re true, not because anybody’s making you, but because you want me to know, and that must be because you want me to know you. I think that makes you a good father.”

Captain Furneaux, still looking out of the window, drew in his breath slowly and deeply, like a diver getting ready to go off the top board, then let it out all at once. “And you’re the best son . . .”

“Well . . . I think I’ll pop out for a minute, Dad.”

It was going to be a beautiful evening, he decided as he walked briskly across the Meadow. The grass had been recently cut and was springy to tread on. All that rain had not been wasted: it had been put into the greenness of the greenery, of which there seemed to be a surprising amount. Daphne Hodgson sat in her deck-chair in the front garden of her house, reading a book. He opened the gate and went up to her.

“Hello, Daphne.”

“Oh, hello.”

“Put your book down, there’s a good girl. Are you free this evening?”

“Don’t know.”

“Fine, that means you’re free. I’ll be over to fetch you about seven. You put on something nice and we’ll go out somewhere.”


“I haven’t decided yet. I’ll think about it in the meantime.”


“To hell with oh, Daph. Oh or no oh, I’m coming back at seven, and you be ready, okay?”

“What if I’m not?”

“Then I’ll sit around until you are, but that would just be wasting time.”

“Big he-man,” she sneered, though without conviction.

“Big, not very, I agree; still, it’s early days yet. He, certainly. As for man, I might surprise you. See you at seven or so.”

He walked back more slowly. There might well be, probably would be, difficulties later, but they would only be difficulties, like the rocky slopes of a mountain, not the sheer smooth cliffs he had thought would never change.

Nearing his own front gate, he heard the telephone ring in number 21, outside which a For Sale board stood. Mr. Trevelyan had gone away and would never be back, had gone nobody knew where, could be communicated with, if at all, only through his firm. And Mrs. Trevelyan had gone away too, in one sense as far as possible, in another not so far. Peter came to a halt. Mrs. Trevelyan was somebody and something that would never not be there as far as he was concerned, but not just like any other deep memory. She was going to stay in his mind without any way of his looking squarely at her. Whereas she herself was bound to become a more distant figure as time passed, in a different way those two things that were already hard to separate, what she had done with him and what she had done to Inman, would run into one and draw nearer, like a double cloud coming over the horizon into a blue sky.

The telephone stopped ringing. Peter’s mother emerged into view at the far end of the Meadow. She saw him and waved. He ran towards her.

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