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Chapter Thirty-One

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« on: September 30, 2023, 07:16:23 am »

FREDERICK BUSH stood looking down from his spare height upon the two London police officers who had summoned him to this interview. Invited to take a seat he did so, retaining an upright carriage and his habitual air of dignified melancholy. He had removed his cap, and held it now in the hand which rested upon his right knee.

Lamb looked shrewdly at him and said, "Thank you for coming here, Mr. Bush. We are checking up on the events of Tuesday night, and I think perhaps you can help us." He reached across the table with a paper in his hand. "This is a transcript of the evidence you gave at the inquest. Will you look it through and tell me if you agree that it is correct."

Bush took the paper and laid it upon his left knee. He then put down his cap upon the floor, produced a leather spectacle-case from an inside pocket, opened it, and put on the spectacles, all in a very deliberate manner. After which he picked up the paper, read it through without haste, and laid it back upon the table.

Lamb watched him.

"You find that correct?"

Bush was putting away his glasses. When the case was back in his pocket, he said, "Yes."

Sergeant Abbott, writing down that single word, made the mental comment that the interview bore a certain resemblance to a slow-motion picture. Shorthand, he considered, was going to be thrown away on Mr. Bush.

Lamb was speaking.

"Have you anything to add to that statement?"

Bush said, "No." He took his time over saying it.

"You're sure about that?"

"Yes."

"Mr. Bush---it is your habit, is it not, to make the round of the church and churchyard every night?"

With no more hurry and no more hesitation than before, Bush again said, "Yes."

"At what hour?"

Frank Abbott thought, "I'll get something that isn't a yes this time anyhow. I'm about tired of writing it."

The answer came as the other answers had come, and without change of voice.

"Ten o'clock."

"You made this round on Tuesday night?"

"Yes."

"Then why didn't you say so at the inquest?"

"I wasn't asked."

"It didn't occur to you to volunteer a statement?"

"No."

"You answered only what you were asked. If you had been asked, you would have said that you had made this round?"

"Yes."

Frank thought ruefully, "We're off again." His mind played with questions which could not be answered by a mere affirmative.

Lamb said, "Then we'll get back to this round you made on Tuesday night. When did you start out?"

"A little before my usual time."

"Why?"

"I'm not bound to a time. I suit myself."

"And why did it suit you to make an early start on Tuesday night?"

This time there was a definite pause before the answer.

"I don't know that I can say. You don't have to have a reason for everything you do."

"You say you went out before your usual time. How much before?"

"I couldn't rightly say---a matter of ten minutes perhaps."

"Did you hear the shot?"

"No."

"It wasn't because you heard the shot that you started out before your usual time?"

"No."

Lamb looked at him shrewdly. The melancholy calm of look and manner were unimpaired. He had picked up his cap again and was holding it on his knee as at first, but in a closer grip. A knuckle showed bloodless where pressure tightened the skin.

Lamb said in an easy voice, "Very well---you went out on your round. Now tell me just where you went and what you did. And don't leave anything out because you haven't been asked---I want the whole bag of tricks."

Bush put his left hand in his pocket, pulled out a red bandanna handkerchief, and solemnly blew his nose. It was a leisurely affair. So was the return of the handkerchief. So was the measured fall of words which followed.

"I went out of my front door into the street and a bit along till I come to the churchyard gate and in."

"That would be the gate that opens on the village street?"

"Yes. And along the path on the right, and right round the church, and out by the gate where I come in."

"Did you see anyone?"

"No."

"And that was all?"

"I went in, and I did my round, and I come out, and I didn't see no one."

Lamb said sharply, "Nothing to add to that?"

"No."

Lamb made a sudden movement. He leaned forward and thrust out a hand across the table.

"Look here, Bush---you were seen. You didn't see anyone, but two people saw you---a boy and a girl who were under the tree by the Rectory wall. Now what about it? What have you got to say to that?"

All the knuckles of the hand which held the cap showed white as bone. The melancholy face remained calm. Bush said slowly, "I don't know what they saw. I was doing my round."

"They saw you come out of the church."

"They might have seen me come out of the porch."

"They saw you come out of the door, and they saw you lock it after you."

There was a long pause. Then Bush said, "I was doing my round."

"And your round takes you into the church?"

"It might do."

"Did it take you into the church on Tuesday night?"

"I won't say it didn't."

Lamb drew in his hand and sat back. He said, "Look here, Bush, you'd better make a clean breast of it. If you were in the church you knew Mr. Harsch was dead getting on for about two and a half hours before you went in with Miss Meade and found the body. You can see for yourself that gives you something you've got to explain. If you're an innocent man you'll be willing to explain it. If you're not you've got a right to hold your tongue, and a right to be told that anything you say may be taken down and used in evidence against you. Now---are you going to talk?"

There was a prolonged pause. When it had lasted for an indefinite time, Bush said in the same tone that he had used throughout, "Seems I'd better."

Lamb nodded.

"That's right! Well, you went into the church----"

"Yes, I went in to do my round. The Rector, he's careless with the windows."

"Did you see Mr. Harsch's body?"

"Yes, I saw it."

"Just tell me what you did from the time you went into the church---everything."

Bush put up his free hand and rubbed his chin.

"I went in, and when I come round the corner where you can see the organ the curtain was pulled back and Mr. Harsch fallen down off the stool."

"Were the lights on?"

"Only the one he had for playing. And the pistol was fallen down beside him. When I saw he was dead, I didn't know what to do. There wasn't nothing I could do for him, so I thought what I'd better do for myself. Seemed to me it'd be better if it wasn't me that found him when I was by myself at that time of night. Seemed to me he was bound to be missed up at the house and someone 'ud come down to look for him---same like Miss Janice did. So I thought that'd be best, and no getting mixed up with the police."

"Go on," said Lamb. "What did you do?"

Bush appeared to consider.

"I didn't touch him. I knew that wouldn't be right---no more than to put away his key."

There was a sharp exclamation from Lamb. Bush went on.

"Lying aside of where he'd been sitting on the organ stool."

"On the stool?"

"That's where he'd put it. He'd let himself in and come along with the key in his hand and put it down on the stool. I've seen him do it, and I'd say, 'You'll be losing that key one of these days, Mr. Harsch', and he'd shake his head and say 'No', and slip it back into his waistcoat pocket. So when I saw it lie there, that's what I done---I picked it up and put it back in his pocket."

Lamb came in quick and sharp.

"Then why hadn't it got your prints on it?"

Bush looked mildly surprised.

"I took hold of it with my handkerchief."

Both men stared.

"What made you do that?"

"Seemed as if it was the right thing to do."

"Why?" The word came back as sharp as a pistol shot.

Bush put up his hand to his chin again.

"I'd no call to leave my prints on it."

"You thought about that?"

"It come to me." He dropped his hand.

Lamb said, "All right, go on. What did you do next?"

"I put out the light, and I come out and locked the door and off round the church like I said."

"What time was it?"

"Struck ten just as I come to the gate."

"Was the church door locked or unlocked when you came to it?" The Chief Inspector's eyes were intent and shrewd.

Bush made his undisturbed reply.

"It was open. Mr. Harsch didn't use to lock it, not once in a blue moon."

Sergeant Abbott thought, "And there goes our case against Madoc!" He wrote the answer down.

Lamb sat forward in his chair, his jaw hard under heavy muscle and firm flesh.

"You should have said all this before. Holding your tongue like this, you've thrown suspicion on others. When did you see Ezra Pincott last?"

With undiminished calm Bush thought for a moment, and then said, "Last night---in the Bull."

"Did you leave together?"

"No."

"What time did you leave?"

"Seven minutes to ten."

"What did you do?"

"I went my round."

"Did you go into the church?"

"Yes."

"Sure you didn't take Ezra in with you?"

For the first time Bush looked disturbed. He said, "What would I do that for?"

"You know he had been boasting that he knew something about Mr. Harsch's death, and that it would put money in his pocket?"

"Anyone could know that. He was there in the Bull, saying it for all to hear."

The next question came very sharply.

"You keep brandy in your house?"

Bush moved in his chair. A slight frown creased his forehead.

"There's nothing wrong about that. Mrs Bush's aunt, she takes it for her spasms."

"So I've been told. Did you give Ezra some of it last night?"

The frown straightened out. The grave lips moved into a smile.

"Ezra never needed for no one to offer him drink. What makes you think I'd give him my good brandy?"

Lamb brought down his fist on the table.

"Someone gave him brandy, and someone knocked him out and put him in the water to drown."

Bush stared.

"You don't say!"

"Yes, I do."

Bush went on staring.

"Whatever for?"

Lamb gave him back look for look.

"To stop him opening his mouth about who killed Mr. Harsch."

Bush dropped his cap on the floor. It seemed as if it just slipped from his hand and fell. He stooped to pick it up.

"Whoever 'ud do a thing like that?" he said.
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