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Our Library => Freeman Wills Crofts - The Hog's Back Mystery (1933) => Topic started by: Admin on August 08, 2023, 09:10:16 am

Title: 9: Farnham Again
Post by: Admin on August 08, 2023, 09:10:16 am
FRENCH was tired as, after a call at the Yard to see if anything had come in, he made his way home. The last two days had seen real progress in his case, and he was correspondingly pleased. Though he did not fail to note that his results were chiefly due to his own skill and pertinacity, he had also to admit to a certain element of luck. Certainly his clues had worked out well. Without finding that bit of the parking ticket he did not see how he could ever have traced the nurse. Again, had she not taken a taxi from Paddington he might have lost the trail. Had he known that she was a nurse, he could no doubt have got on her track, but he had not known this important fact. French indeed felt very well satisfied as to the ways things were going.

There could be little doubt, he thought, that Earle and this woman had decided to throw in their lot together and start life anew in fresh surroundings. The doctor’s decision to do so he could readily understand. His professional career was over, and what he probably most desired was peace and a congenial companion, neither of which he appeared to have at his home. The woman’s motives also were fairly obvious. She would doubtless want security. A nurse’s life is both hard and precarious. If she were to fall ill she would have nothing to look forward to. The settlement of a reasonable sum on her by Earle---an almost certain condition of any agreement between them---would mean security, or as much security as is obtainable in this life. And in the nature of things she was unlikely to lose very many years of her freedom. At the longest, Earle could scarcely survive her own middle age. She had, in fact, much to gain and little to lose by the arrangement.

But likely as this theory was, it had not been proved, and until either it or some other had been placed beyond question, the case was not over for French. However, a very few more enquiries and he believed it would be complete.

Next morning accordingly he was early at work. His first call was to the house in Bryanston Square, where he asked to see Lady Hazzard.

He did not expect to learn much from her, and his anticipation was justified. In fact, she told him practically nothing. She had liked Nurse Nankivel, finding her efficient as a nurse, pleasant to speak to, and but little trouble in the house. Her husband, the General, had also liked her.

When the nurse had failed to turn up on the Sunday evening they supposed she had missed a train. Lady Hazzard sat with her husband till the night nurse came on duty. They fully expected that next morning the truant would return. When she did not do so they telephoned to the home and another nurse was immediately sent. They understood that the matron had reported the affair to the police.

All the information Tanner had obtained had apparently come from Gladys, the maid, who had evidently hated the nurse and jealously watched her every movement. French had a long interview with Gladys, but without adding to what he had already learned. He also had a look at the room which Miss Nankivel had occupied, but as Tanner had already searched it, he did not give it much time.

From Bryanston Square French betook himself to the nursing-home in Chelsea. Here Sister Austin, the head of the home, saw him at once. As Tanner had reported, she seemed an efficient and kindly woman. Certainly she was genuinely upset about her missing nurse and asked French anxiously if the Yard had learned anything about her. When French tentatively mentioned the theory that she had gone off with a doctor, the sister ridiculed it. Nurse Nankivel, she said, was not that kind of woman. It was much more likely that some accident had happened to her; in fact, that was the only way Sister Austin could account for her absence.

The sister then repeated what she had told to Tanner. It was what French had expected to hear, and he would not have been disappointed if her testimony had ended there. But as it happened, his systematic enquiries produced something entirely unlooked for. Without in the least appreciating the importance of the question, he asked for a list of the recent cases on which Nurse Nankivel had been engaged.

“Her last case,” the sister replied, “was rather a long one; she was at it for twelve weeks. A very nice place it was, at Compton, near Guildford. That was with a Mr. Frazer. He died.”

A sudden thrill shot through French. Compton! Frazer! This was a bit of all right! Things were working in better than he could have hoped. In his enquiries at St. Kilda he had learnt that Earle had been called in as consultant in this very case. This was how he and the nurse had met. Doubtless they had been attracted to one another, and doubtless had had more interviews than at their patient’s bedside. No more suitable country for clandestine assignations could have been conceived than that in which these two people found themselves, with its thick, almost impenetrable woods and its comparatively sparse population.

“That interests me a good deal,” French remarked. “It happens that the doctor with whom it is suggested she went away was a consultant in that case.”

The sister was shocked. She had not believed there could be anything in the police theory, and now here was something very like confirmation.

“I couldn’t have believed it,” she declared. “It just shows. You never know”; with which rather cryptic remark the interview closed.

It would now be necessary to try for evidence that Earle and the nurse had been in secret communication during Frazer’s illness. That meant a return to Farnham. But French decided that before he left Town he would do what he could to trace the two messages, telephone and telegraph, which Nurse Nankivel had received.

He began with a visit to one of the Post Office departmental offices, where he asked for Mr. Jordan. Jordan was a little man whom French had got to know over a case of burglary in which the tracing of a certain message had become an essential feature of the prosecution. It had turned out that he lived near French, and they had kept up the acquaintance, dropping in to see one another occasionally in the evenings. Before taking on his present job Jordan had spent some years in the postal service of India, and French loved to hear him describing his Eastern experiences.

“Hullo, French,” said the little man. “Haven’t seen you for a month of Sundays. What have you been doing with yourself?”

“What do you think?” French returned, taking the one chair available in the tiny office. “As usual working myself to death.”

“I know,” Jordan chuckled, “killing yourself careering round the best bits of the Continent on the pretence of following up some poor devil that you’ve got your knife into. How’s Miriam?”

Miriam was French’s ancient and feeble fox terrier, whose decease from senile decay was believed to be impending.

“Fine,” said French; “but as a matter of fact I didn’t come in to talk dogs. I want you to do me a favour, Jordan.”

Jordan rose and made a little bow. “Honoured, I’m sure,” he declared. “Whence this unusual politeness?”

“Pearls before swine, I know,” French admitted. “What I want is to trace a telegram delivered to a certain nurse in Bryanston Square,” and he gave the details. “Also a telephone message to the same lady. It occurred to me that you might be able to help me.”

“Marvellous!” cried the little man, throwing up his hands. “These Scotland Yard men at work! How sound their methods! How subtle their proceedings! They succeed every time, if only they can find the man who knows and get him to do the work.”

“Naturally; that’s what people like you are for.”

“I know. For the public the work: for you the sitting back and taking the credit.” The little man continued making jibing remarks as he ran rapidly through a book of reference. Then he picked up his telephone and gave some cabalistic direction. A pause, then: “Could you put me through to Mr. Hinckston? . . . Oh, Hinckston, I recognise your voice. Jordan speaking. No; Jordan. . . . Yes. Look here, Hinckston. . . . No, don’t cut me off. Curse it, they’ve cut me o---- Oh, Hinckston, I’ve got an inspector here from Scotland Yard making confidential enquiries. He wants to trace a telegram,” and the details followed. “Thanks very much. No, I’ll hold on if you can get it soon. You can’t? Well, you’ll ring up? . . . In a few minutes? Good. Thanks very much.”

“You’ll have time to talk about Miriam after all,” Jordan remarked, turning to French. “What’s this new tale of blood and horror you’re on to now? I never knew anyone with such morbid tastes.”

“It’s what I call a ‘thin air’ case,” said French. “At 8.40 on a Sunday evening a peaceable elderly gentleman is seated over his drawing-room fire, all settled down comfy for the evening and deep in his Observer. Three minutes later he has gone.”

“Gone where?”

“Not gone where. Just gone. Vanished. Become thin air, whatever that is. Never heard of from that day to this.”

Jordan whistled. “Earle?” he suggested, with a knowing look. “I read about it?”

French nodded.

“Skedaddled with the nurse, eh?”

French shrugged. This was putting two and two together too rapidly even for him.

“Nothing doing?” Jordan went on. “But I bet you know all about it all the same, you slippery old humbug. Why, I wouldn’t mind betting----” The telephone bell cut short his remark.

“Yes; speaking. Oh, you’ve got it, have you? Good man. Then repeat, will you, Hinckston, and I’ll take it down. Will you confirm to Inspector French, the Yard? Good.”

He began writing. French, looking over his shoulder, grew better pleased with every word that came into being.

“Bless you, my son,” he apostrophised. “You’re the goods.”

The message had been handed in at Seale Post Office and ran:

“To Nurse Helen Nankivel, 129b Bryanston Square, W.1.
“Reference our conversation. Very urgent. Be at new by-pass bridge, Hog’s Back, at six to-morrow, Sunday. Will meet you there. Don’t fail. James Earle.”

“I said you knew all about it,” Jordan declared, ringing off.

“I’m learning,” French admitted, once again hiding his satisfaction. “Now what about that telephone call?”

This did not seem to be so attractive a proposition. Jordan hemmed and hawed, apparently unwilling to admit there was anything he couldn’t do. At last, however, he came down to brass tacks.

“Unless you know the exchange from which the message was sent, I’m afraid you’ll not get it. If you’ve any hint of the sender, try the exchange he’d be likely to use. You might get it there, but I’ll not answer for it.”

With this French had to be content. He got up. “You did that well, Jordan. I do like to come here and learn how business really ought to be carried on. When are you looking in?”

“I’ll wait till Miriam goes the way of all flesh, I think. You come to me instead.”

French departed with genial blasphemy, and after lunch and a visit to the Yard, he took an afternoon train to Farnham.

That evening he invited Superintendent Sheaf to dine with him at his hotel, and during the meal he reported the results of his London activities. Sheaf was obviously impressed, though he said but little. Indeed, his final question, “What are you going on with now?” was his longest single contribution to the conversation.

French had noted several lines of enquiry, and next morning he set to work on the first. He went to the post office at Seale, and showing the postmistress the copy of the Earle-Nankivel telegram, he asked if she remembered its transmission.

The postmistress remembered it very well, partly because she knew Dr. Earle, but also because of the unusual way in which she had received the message. It had not, she explained, been handed in over the counter in the customary manner. The postman had brought it. He had found it in a pillar-box near the Hampton Common cross-roads when making the usual five-o’clock collection. The message, written on the proper form, was in the box, together with the money for its despatch. This method of sending telegrams was not unknown, but it was unusual enough to fix the matter in her mind.

French saw, however, that it was reasonable enough under the circumstances. From Earle’s house to the post office was a matter of perhaps two miles, while the pillar-box was within five minutes’ walk of his gates. Theoretically, of course, there was no absolute proof that Earle was the sender, for the simple reason that he had not actually been seen putting the paper into the box. But the thing had to be judged in harmony with the other factors of the case, and French had no doubt that Earle was his man.

It was easy also to understand why Earle should have sent a telegram in this way rather than telephone the message to the post office or even direct to the nurse. Earle’s telephone was situated in his hall, and if any of the members of his household were about, he could not have kept his message secret.

From the post office French rode to the telephone exchange. Here his rather wonderful luck held. When he showed his authority and gave the Hazzards’ number in Bryanston Square, the operator was able immediately to turn up the number from which the call had come. A note of the trunk call had been kept for revenue purposes, and the bill on which it would eventually find a place would be sent to St. Kilda. The operator, moreover, had recognised Earle’s voice, he having attended her during a long illness.

Here, then, was the desired proof that the message had come from Earle. The discovery conveyed no fresh information---French had not doubted the call was Earle’s, but its proof was a step further in the case he was so satisfactorily building up.

French looked at his watch. Quarter-past eleven. Campion’s was the next name on his list and he wondered whether he would find the doctor if he were to ride over to the Red Cottage. He put through a call from the exchange, and the answer being that Campion was out, but was expected home for lunch, he once again mounted the sergeant’s bicycle.

He enjoyed the ride. It took him through Shackleford and almost into Farncombe, a suburb of Godalming---or indeed an adjoining town. Then turning back in the Compton direction, he reached the village of Binscombe. Here he slackened down, examining the names on the various gates.

Presently he found the Red Cottage. It stood on one of the few plots of quite level ground in that undulating country. This was a much less characteristic district than that in which Earle had lived. Here the land was agricultural and there were many more houses to the square mile. Campion’s looked as if it had been built about the end of the last century. Its great feature was its gables, which jutted out in all directions from the main roof. The garden and grounds were tidy but commonplace.

French turned back into Godalming and had his own lunch, then when he thought Campion would have finished his, he rode out again. Campion was in his workshop.

“Come in,” the doctor called in answer to his knock. “Oh, it’s the inspector. Good afternoon, inspector. You want to see me?”

“If you please, sir,” French answered, looking round with admiration at the beautifully appointed little shop. “You have a wonderful place here.”

“Yes, it’s not so bad. Can’t get time to work in it though. Would you like to come in to the consulting-room, or will this place do?”

“This will do, sir, perfectly, so far as I’m concerned. It’s just a few questions arising out of this matter of Dr. Earle’s disappearance. I won’t keep you long.”

“It’s all right. I’m not in any special hurry. What is it you want to know?”

“It’s a rather delicate matter, sir,” French went on. “It’s about a nurse named Nankivel. I understand she was nursing a patient of yours?”

Campion seemed to stiffen slightly. French noticed it with some misgivings. He hoped professional etiquette was not going to come in to make his task more difficult. The man, however, did not hesitate. He nodded, answering, “Yes, she nursed the late Mr. Frazer.”

“So I had heard. Would you tell me, doctor, what you thought of her?”

“As a nurse?”

“In every way, please.”

Campion shrugged slightly. “That’s a largish order,” he answered. “As a nurse I thought highly of her. She was careful and attentive and got on well with her patient. I had certainly no fault to find with her. As to other information, I don’t know that I can tell you much. She seemed a quite ordinary nice sort of woman, but I saw nothing of her otherwise than professionally. Why do you ask?”

French bent forward. “You didn’t know, sir, that she has disappeared?”

Campion stared. “Good Lord!” he exclaimed; “you don’t say so? Disappeared! When did that happen?”

“On Sunday.” French lowered his voice and spoke more impressively. “I’ll tell you what I know, but please regard it as confidential.” Campion nodded impatiently. “On Saturday evening Nurse Nankivel got a telegram from Dr. Earle, asking her to meet him on Sunday on the Hog’s Back. Whether she did so or not I don’t know, but after lunch she left the house in Bryanston Square, where she was employed, and has never been heard of since.”

Campion swore. He stood looking at French with amazement in his eyes, which rapidly turned to a question.

“I can tell you, inspector, that’s a surprise,” he said at last. “Earle! You’re not suggesting, I suppose . . .?” He hesitated.

“I’m not suggesting anything, doctor. What I want to know, and what I’m going to ask if you can tell me, is whether Dr. Earle and this lady were acquainted down here?”

Campion whistled beneath his breath. “They were acquainted of course,” he answered, “if you mean by acquainted twice seeing each other while professionally engaged in the sick man’s room. If you mean socially acquainted, I don’t know. I never suspected or imagined such a thing, but of course I can’t say definitely.”

“You never observed anything between them of which at the time you thought nothing, but which now, in the light of what I have said, appears to you significant?”

“Absolutely nothing.”

“I understand, doctor. Tell me, during what hours was this lady free?”

“She was on day duty. She had a couple of hours in the afternoon. We had a second nurse for the night.”

“The name of the other nurse, please, doctor. She might have seen something.”

“Most unlikely, I should say: however, it was Henderson.”

“From the same home?”


“Can you say how often Dr. Earle visited the case?”

“Yes, I said so: twice.”

“And perhaps you’d tell me the circumstances which led to his being called in?”

Campion seemed a little unwilling, but his hesitation was only momentary.

“I’ve no objection to telling you, inspector, though I don’t fancy many medical men would do so. You probably know that Dr. Earle and I are partners?”

“I’ve heard so, sir.”

“The practice was Dr. Earle’s. It’s a fairly good practice in Godalming and the surrounding districts. Some six years ago Dr. Earle came into a little money. He never cared for general practice, but wanted to do research work. He had a theory connected with germ cultures about which he wanted to write. He therefore advertised for a partner, and I answered and we came to terms. He moved out into the country and I took over the work. But he did not entirely give up the practice. Certain of the older patients preferred him and he always attended those. Also, in serious or important cases I asked him to come in to check my opinion. This case of Mr. Frazer was a serious case---the man, as a matter of fact, was dying---and I asked him to come in: not that I had the slightest doubt as to the treatment, but simply as a satisfaction to the members of the family.”

“Thank you, doctor, that’s all very clear. It doesn’t affect my case exactly, but out of curiosity, would you tell me what the old gentleman died of?”

“Well, he had gastro-enteritis. But it was really old age and a weak heart that finished him off. He was sixty-nine.”

French made a move to go, then stopped. “By the way,” he said, “you told me that Dr. Earle had intended to write a book on his germ theory. You don’t know if he ever did so?”

“He had begun it: in fact, he had written a considerable part of it. I’ve seen his manuscript and we’ve talked it over.”

“It’s a funny thing that when I was looking over his things I never came across any papers connected with it. Where did he keep them, do you know?”

Campion shook his head. “I’ve no idea. When I saw the manuscript it was on the table in his study, but where he put it I don’t know.”

“This book and this theory of his meant a good deal to him, I suppose?”

“They did,” Campion answered. “He was very keen.” Then his face changed and he favoured his visitor with a swift, questioning look.

French saw that the doctor had divined his own thought. If at the time of Earle’s disappearance this beloved manuscript had vanished also, was it not the final proof that that disappearance had been voluntary?

The more French thought of this, the stronger the argument appeared. If the man had been so keen on his theory and his book, he would never have left the manuscript behind. On the other hand, if he had been murdered, the manuscript should be at St. Kilda. The fact that it had gone undoubtedly settled this extremely knotty point.

This, then, was all that was required from Campion. French slowly made a move to go. Then suddenly he started as an entirely new idea flashed into his mind. Did this matter of the manuscript not mean something very different?