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31  Various types of music / Noteworthy Literature for our Composers / Re: Anthony Holden - Tchaikovsky on: May 28, 2023, 07:58:52 am

When it came to music she showed no taste, less appreciation and very little interest. Tchaikovsky's most shattering discovery was that his wife did not know a single note of his own music.

32  Various types of music / Noteworthy Literature for our Composers / Re: Felix Salzer - Structural Hearing on: May 28, 2023, 07:30:20 am

We often hear and read about the motion of music and about a piece of music as an organic whole. But these facts are seldom subjected to analytical. investigation. If, however, a musical phrase is an expression of motion, questions as to the musical meaning of the motion are in order and will have to be answered. Where does the motion begin? What is its goal? And how does the composer reach that goal?

33  Our Library / J. S. Fletcher - Sea Fog (1925) / Chapter 27: The Billiard-Room on: May 27, 2023, 01:18:40 pm
MACPHERSON threw up his hands---in dismay, or in admiration, or in sheer surprise; perhaps in a mixture of all three.

“Man, that’s a powerful sight of money!” he exclaimed in awestruck accents. “But maybe I didn’t hear you aright? Did you say----”

“I said twenty-five thousand pounds!” repeated Parkapple. “At least! And, as the gentleman said he’d give that for them just then, cash down, if they were for sale, I reckon they’re worth more---probably considerably more. For---as most of those chaps who deal in that sort of thing are---the gentleman was of the Jewish persuasion, and, accordingly, sure to know a bargain when he saw one.”

“Aye, no doubt!” agreed Macpherson. “But twenty-five thousand pounds! To think of all that amount of wealth lying there in the ground doing nothing for two-and-forty years! If it had been realised and put out at five per cent., it would ha’ brought in---aye, now, what would it ha’ brought in? I’m no so quick at the mental arithmetic as I was when I was a mere callant back there at Jedburgh----”

“It would have brought in £52,500, Mr. Macpherson,” said I. “Just that!”

“Good lad!” said he. “Aye!---I ga’ed ye a good schooling, Tom, and I’m thankful to see ye can still cast figures in your headpiece wi’out the vain adjuncts o’ pencil and paper! But that’s neither here nor there---what did you do with these valuables, Mr. Parkapple, if one may be so bold?”

“Put them all back in the original package, Mr. Macpherson, which had been very skilfully opened and was just as skilfully closed up again,” answered Parkapple. “And there it is, all safe at the post office, till called for. I’m a bit puzzled,” he went on, “that nobody’s called for it to-day. For I haven’t changed my opinion one whit---somebody stole that receipt from Fewster last night! And I think that somebody would have a pretty good idea what the receipt referred to.”

“That’s arguing that whoever stole it knew that Fewster was in possession of the diamonds,” remarked Trace.

“Oh, undoubtedly!” agreed the detective. “I think Halkin certainly knew, and it may be that Trawlerson knew. I think that, all unsuspected by you people on the spot, there’s been a certain amount of collusion between Halkin and Trawlerson for some time. Possibly Trawlerson, during his wanderings and excursions, nocturnal and otherwise, came across Halkin and got to know so much of his doings that Halkin had to take him into his confidence.”

“Well, there’s no doubt that Halkin settled Trawlerson in the end,” said Preece. “This neckerchief’s a proof of that!”

“Aye, well, it’s a certain amount of evidence,” said Parkapple. “Only a certain amount, though. Halkin, for instance, can easily say that it was stolen from him; his wife, if she finds that it’s being used against him, can easily swear that somebody filched it from her clothes-line on washing-day. However,” he added, seeing Preece’s countenance fall at these throwings of cold water, “it is evidence, and if we catch Halkin, we’ll make the most of it. But what I’d like to know at present---how long had this man Trawlerson been dead when Tom there found him this evening?”

“Kilham said some time, Mr. Parkapple,” I told him. “He thought, from what he saw, several days.”

“And Halkin posted a letter in London yesterday morning, did he?” continued Parkapple musingly. “You made sure about the postmark, Captain Trace?”

“Quite sure!” replied Trace. “There was no address beyond the word ‘London’ in the letter itself---a mere scrawl of a few lines in pencil on a sheet of unusually poor quality paper---the sort of stuff you’d pick up in a poor shop in a poor district. The postmark was ‘London 8 a.m.’; the date, yesterday.”

“Posted at the head office, then, if there were no qualifying district letters,” remarked Parkapple. “Well, Halkin could have been in London yesterday morning before eight o’clock, aye, and right well into the afternoon for that matter, and still have been at Fewster’s last night! It’s only two hours’ run from either London Bridge or Victoria to your district. I think Halkin is the man we want---now that Trawlerson’s out of it. I’m going on the supposition that Halkin called on Fewster last night for some purpose of his own, not clear to me, found him dead, saw that receipt lying around, guessed what it referred to, appropriated it, and cleared out with the intention of calling at Brighton post office to collect any correspondence awaiting demand in the name of J. Foster. I think Halkin would come on to Brighton last night---probably by the last train---and I’m a bit uneasy and surprised that he’s not called at the post office. But according to your accounts of him, Halkin’s a sly sort of man, eh?”

“Sly!” exclaimed Preece. “Deep as they make ’em! He’d circumvent the devil! I should think he is sly! Cunning!---that’s what Halkin is.”

“Then he’ll be cunning to the last,” said Parkapple. “He’s no doubt working on some plan of his own, cleverly conceived. And----” He paused, and then, shaking his head, left his sentence unfinished. Macpherson spoke.

“You said just now---if we catch him?” he suggested anxiously. “Surely you’ve no fear o’ that---if your theory’s right? He’ll be bound to call at yon post office, sooner or later! You’ll ha’ made arrangements?”

“Oh, we’ve made arrangements, Mr. Macpherson!” assented Parkapple, smiling. “Good and thorough ones, I can assure you! From just before eight to-morrow morning, when the post office opens until it closes at night, there’ll never be a moment that would be a safe one for Halkin if he turns up there. And that reminds me---as he knows the whole lot of you, and would have his suspicions aroused if he saw you here in Brighton, what about you? Going to stay here the night, and see what comes of to-morrow?”

Trace replied that we should have to; there were no more trains our way at that late hour of the evening.

“Very good---you may be useful, one way or another,” said Parkapple. “But---you’ll have to lie low in the morning until you get the word from me. Halkin will never suspect the Brighton police, and he’ll have no chance of seeing me here, even if he ever saw me over there. But if he saw as much as the nose-end of any one of you four---all up! So mind that! Doggo!---that’s your game till I give you the office.”

We soon arranged all that. There was plenty of room in the hotel in which we were talking. Trace presently booked accommodation for all four of us, and presently I, at any rate, went to bed. I had gone through some exciting adventures that day and seen things that I could never forget, however long I lived, but I hadn’t a single dream about them. I was asleep within a minute of putting my head on the pillow, and still asleep when Macpherson came into my room, which adjoined his own, and shook my shoulder.

“Past eight o’clock, Tom, my man!” he said. “And the table-doty breakfast is at the half-hour. I’d ha’ wakened you before, but you were sleeping that sound. It’s a braw morning, Tom---losh! I wonder what we’ll see or hear before it’s night again!”

“Halkin!---with the handcuffs on, Mr. Macpherson!” said I, bloodthirstily. “That’s what I want to see. Did you say ’twas past eight?---they may have got him! Likely he’d go to the post office first thing this morning.”

“Aweel, I canna say!” he answered. “Parkapple’s been gone about his business a good hour---he took his breakfast at seven o’clock, by arrangement wi’ the hotel folk. But as for us---we must just bide till we hear from him.”

It was my idea---due, no doubt, to the impatience of youth---that we should hear from Parkapple, if not immediately after breakfast, at least before noon. But the morning wore on, and we heard nothing. It began to seem dull work. We could not go out, lest Halkin should catch sight of us. For the same reason Preece warned me not to stand at the hall door nor look out of the windows. I got bored with the whole thing; so too, I think, did Macpherson. And it had passed noon and nothing had happened when Parkapple came in and found us, the three elder men reading newspapers, myself with my hands in my pockets, loafing around.

“It’s odd!” he said, when we had gathered round him. “Deuced odd!---but up to twelve o’clock nobody’s called about that packet! And yet---somebody’s got the receipt!”

“Are ye so sure o’ that, now?” asked Macpherson. “Ye jumped to that conclusion, Mr. Parkapple, but if ye’ll just cast your mind back to day before yesterday, which, owing to the remarkable nature of intervening events, seems a long way off, ye’ll remember that I said then that you might be mistaken. Fewster may have destroyed that receipt.”

“Why should he destroy it?” demanded Parkapple. “A receipt for a packet containing twenty-five thousand pounds’ worth of diamonds! Come!”

“I’ll grant ye that in the ordinary way o’ business it would ha’ been a foolish thing to do,” said Macpherson, “and one that no business man would ha’ done. But you’ll admit that the circumstances were peculiar. Although you and Preece professed yourselves satisfied with Fewster’s explanations at Chissick’s garden gate, and left him to go his ways to his own home, he may ha’ felt, probably did feel, that he was by no means safe from another visit from you that afternoon or evening; he didn’t know, indeed, that you mightn’t come and search, not only himself, but his house. I think that what we know he did proves that I’m correct, Mr. Parkapple. For he makes up those diamonds into a package, and he goes to the post office and gets rid of it. He’d never think that you’d go making enquiries at the post office, and maybe you wouldn’t if you hadn’t found those wrappings and the sealing-wax on Fewster’s side-table. But, having sent away his package by registered post, Fewster had the office receipt on him! Now, still thinking that you might yet come, and that you might search him and his belongings, and knowing that if you found a receipt for something, evidently valuable, posted that afternoon, you’d certainly want to know what that something was, what in the name of common sense d’ye suppose Fewster would do with his receipt? Man!---as a whole day and half a day has passed without anybody, Halkin or another, calling at yon post office, I think I know what Fewster did wi’ his receipt. He put it in his fire!”

Somebody---Preece, I think---made a grunt of acquiescence in this view of the case.

But Parkapple shook his head.

“I don’t think so, Mr. Macpherson, with all respect to you, I don’t think so!” he declared stoutly. “You put the matter very clearly, Mr. Macpherson, as clearly as a lawyer could, I’m sure. But I still think somebody stole that receipt---nay, I’m as sure of it as a man can be without being able to put forward absolute proof. A---a feeling, sir!”

“Aye!” assented Macpherson. “Ye’ll not be devoid o’ the intuitive faculty, no doubt, Mr. Parkapple. And so you’ll be for continuing your watch?”

“This day out, anyhow,” replied Parkapple. “And, of course, the post office authorities are aware of the nature of the contents of that packet, and whoever calls for it at any time will be detained till the police are communicated with. No!---I’ve not given up hope yet, Mr. Macpherson!”

Then, saying that he trusted to have some news for us before long, he bustled off again, and we prepared ourselves for more waiting. But hours went by and no news came, and it had got to close on eight o’clock at night, and Trace and Macpherson were talking of taking the train home, when suddenly a young man who was clearly a constable in plain clothes entered the hotel, and, having ascertained that we were the people he wanted, asked us if we’d step round to the police-station to see Detective-Sergeant Parkapple at once.

The police-station was not three minutes’ walk from the hotel, but I think we were there in two minutes; even Macpherson hurried. Our guide led us through various passages to a private office, where we found Parkapple, two or three men who, I presumed, were detectives, and an official or two of evident high standing, grouped around---not Halkin, but a young man who sat in a chair in their midst and who was evidently surprised, puzzled, and---I fancied---just a little amused at finding himself where he was. He was certainly not the sort of person I should have expected to see there in that affair, with its background of murder and robbery. A more ordinary individual you could not have met in the street outside. He looked to me like a clerk of some sort, well and respectably dressed in conventional attire; he had a top-hat on his knee, and a neatly rolled umbrella at his side. And though there were so many pairs of interrogating eyes turned on him, he was by no means abashed, but looked frankly and fearlessly from one man to another---and from them to a small, red-sealed package that lay prominently displayed on the table before which he sat.

“Willing to answer any questions you like, of course!” I heard him saying as we filed in. “Why not? Nothing to do with me!”

Parkapple turned to one of the officials as we entered, and whispered something to him; then he turned to the young man of the top-hat and umbrella.

“What we want to know is---how did you come to ask for this package at Brighton post office this evening, and to be in possession of the receipt for its posting?” he asked. “Tell us in your own way---everything! We’ve already told you that this package contains stolen property. Now---your account!”

“As I said before---why not?” responded the interrogated one. “I’ve nothing to do with the thing! Just what might happen to anybody---anybody who’s good-natured, that is. My name’s James Wellings. I’m a bank-clerk; been nine years in the South-Coast Bank here in the town---best of characters too, if you want to know! I live at Rottingdean, three miles along the coast, with my mother and sisters. Well, sometimes of an evening I go along to the hotel, or to one of the hotels, just for a modest drink and a smoke, sometimes for a game of billiards. Last night I was out that way---in the billiard-room of an hotel. There was an elderly man there, well-spoken chap, respectable and all that; I got talking to him while I was waiting for a game. He told me he’d just come there for a week or two for his health---got run down after an illness, or something. Affable chap!---knew a lot about gardening. That was really what made me talk to him; gardening came up somehow, and we have a garden that I put in some of my spare time at. After I’d played a hundred at billiards, I’d another talk to him---he told me all about growing roses. We walked up the street together---he was lodging near where I live. I’d told him what I was, and before parting he asked me, when I came into Brighton to-day, if I’d call at the general post office and collect any letters for him---name of J. Foster. He said there’d be a registered one, a packet, and, so that I shouldn’t forget the name, he’d give me the receipt for it---which he did---you have it there now. I told him I’d do the errand with pleasure, but it would be unusually late when I got home to-night, because we should be balancing at the bank. He said it didn’t matter---he was in no hurry about his letters; they were of no importance; the registered one only contained some article that had just been registered for safety. And---that’s all there’s in it, as far as I’m concerned! I don’t know the man---know nothing but what I’ve told you.”

“Didn’t you think it rather a curious thing that a man who was expecting a registered letter should be in possession of the receipt issued to the sender?” asked Parkapple. “Didn’t that strike you? As a bank-clerk, you must have sent off hundreds of registered letters in your time to customers. You don’t send the receipts you get at the receiving office to customers!”

“To tell you the truth, I never even thought about it!” answered Wellings frankly. “As it was, I nearly forgot to call at the post office. I’d got half-way to my bus, going home, when I suddenly remembered and went back. Then---but you know.”

“Where were you to meet this man?” asked Parkapple.

“In the billiard-room where I met him last night,” said Wellings. “Nine o’clock.”

Parkapple glanced at a clock on the mantelpiece---twenty past eight. He turned to the official to whom he had previously spoken; together they walked away to a corner of the room and engaged in a whispered conversation; eventually they came back to Wellings. The official took him in hand.

“How do you go back to Rottingdean?” he asked.

“By bus, always,” replied Wellings. “You know the Rottingdean buses.”

“And your next is---what?”

“Twenty to nine.”

“And you are to meet this man on your arrival?”

“We arranged to meet where we met last night---in the billiard-room.”

“That billiard-room’s separate from the hotel, isn’t it?” said the official. “You go up steps to it, don’t you---a building somewhat detached from the hotel itself? Just so!---very well, now listen carefully. You’ll go along by the twenty to nine bus, and you’ll take this package in your pocket. From the instant you step out of this room you’ll be followed shadowed!---by two of my men, plain-clothes men, of course. They’ll go in the same bus with you, but they won’t know you, you know, and you won’t know them, and they’ll take good care to show no interest in you. But---they’ll be there! As soon as the bus gets to Rottingdean---it stops at the hotel, of course---you’ll go straight up to the billiard-room, and if the man’s there, you’ll hand him the packet. You’ll also ask him to have a drink, and send the marker for what you order. His appearance at the foot of the stairs on his way to the bar will be the signal for my men to enter. Do you understand all that? Is it quite clear?”

Wellings made a wry face.

“It’s clear enough!” he said unwillingly. “But---I don’t like it! Supposing this chap’s armed? He’ll see there’s been a trap laid for him, and he’ll turn on me! And, you know, when all’s said and done, it’s no business of mine! Can’t you manage it amongst yourselves?”

The man addressed looked at Parkapple. Parkapple, after hesitating a moment, turned to Wellings.

“We want to take this man with that packet actually in his possession,” he said. “We’ve reasons! There’ll be no danger to you---we shall be on him, if you do what you’ve been asked to do, before he realises anything! See?”

“No, I don’t see!” retorted Wellings doggedly. “I don’t like it at all! If he’s got a revolver, or the like of that, on him, it wouldn’t take him the fraction of a second to draw it, and he’d be quick to see I’d given him away. I won’t do it---so there! But I’ll tell you what I will do. I’ll go up to the billiard-room, give him the packet, stay a minute or so with him to have a drink, as you suggest, and as soon as we’ve had it come away. But---mind!---you’re not to go up, any of you, till I come down! I won’t do it otherwise---not for you nor anybody. I’ve got a mother and two sisters partly dependent----”

“That would do!” said Parkapple. “Your coming down from the billiard-room is to be the signal for our entrance? Very good. Now let’s get to work!”

He handed the packet to Wellings, who, still muttering that he didn’t at all like the job and was only doing it to oblige, put it in his inside pocket and went away, followed at once by two very ordinary-looking individuals in plain clothes who had carefully listened to all that had passed. And within a few minutes the rest of us were on our way too, judiciously instructed by Parkapple and the Brighton official, and disposed of in two taxi-cabs, the drivers of which were ordered to convey us to Rottingdean in such wise that each set his load of humanity down at different parts of the village and at about the same time that the bus was due to arrive at the hotel. No detail was left unattended to; it seemed as if we already held Halkin in a halter, and had nothing to do but tighten it at our pleasure. But that, as Macpherson grimly remarked, would come later.

It was dark, quite dark, when stealing upon it from various directions, we gathered in front of the hotel. There were a great many people about---Rottingdean is a favourite resort of Brighton people. We mingled with them; Macpherson and I got a good place opposite the hotel where a crowd awaited an outgoing bus. Behind us, deep down at the foot of the cliffs, I heard the tide roaring as it surged up the shingly beach; in front of us, across the space filled with motor-cars, men, women, children, we saw the lighted windows of the billiard-room. I pictured Halkin sitting there, awaiting the arrival of his cat’s-paw with the packet of diamonds.

The bus came in---a few minutes late. We saw Wellings dismount and go straight up the stairs to the billiard-room. We saw the two plain-clothes men dismount too, and play their parts very well by affecting to lounge and stare about them, close to the foot of the stairs. And near by I saw Parkapple, amongst a group of excursionists, and Trace, and Preece, all carefully disposed.

A boy, carrying a tray, came running down the stairs from the billiard-room and went into the adjacent bar. That, I could see, was crowded with customers; it was five minutes, at least, before he went back again with two glasses of beer on his tray. More minutes elapsed. Wellings ought to have come down at any second. And then . . .

But Wellings did not come. Nobody came. And at the end of ten minutes Parkapple moved towards the two plain-clothes men, so did Preece and Trace; Macpherson and I followed. Before we reached them Parkapple had sent one of the Brighton men upstairs; the next instant the man was calling loudly on all of us to follow him.

The peaceful appearance of that billiard-room was in violent contrast to the emotions which raged in the hearts of us who presently rushed in there. There was not a soul in the place except the boy, who, having nothing else to do, was calmly practising shots on the table; on a stand close by rested his tray with the two glasses of beer on it, untouched. But for any sign of Wellings and Halkin . . .

“Where are those two men who were here just now?” demanded Parkapple. “Quick!”

The boy, without laying down his cue, turned lazily.

“I dunno!” he said. “They sent me for two bottles o’ Bass, and when I come back they was gone! There’s the drinks, a-waiting for ’em.”

“Gone?” snarled Parkapple. “Which---when---how could they go?”

The boy pointed the tip of his cue to a door in the corner of the room.

“There’s a way out through there,” he said unconcernedly. “Down at the back of the bar, and through a yard into the other street. I expect . . .”


As far as it concerned Captain Trace, and Andrew Macpherson, and myself, that was the end of this business. True, we had an exciting time for the rest of that evening, trying to find things out. Nobody knew anything of any bank-clerk in Rottingdean named Wellings; the widowed mother and two dependent sisters did not materialise. Nor had the boy in the billiard-room any recollection whatever of having seen the young man and the elderly one in conversation in that room the night before; he had never seen either, he swore, until a quarter before nine that night, when the elderly man came in and loafed about, evidently waiting, and the younger one came some twenty minutes later. But we learned certain facts. The two men---the elder being Halkin, without the shadow of a doubt, and the younger (as the police subsequently ascertained) a nephew of his who had no very good record in London, where he had been employed as a clerk---arrived in Rottingdean by bus from Newhaven during the afternoon of the critical day, and had tea together at the hotel, and were later seen in its smoking-room. Subsequently the younger was seen boarding a bus for Brighton . . . the rest we knew. But nobody knew which way the pair fled when they cleared out of the billiard-room after sending the boy for beer. It was dusk, past mere dusk---and behind Rottingdean lies the solitude of the South Downs.


34  Our Library / J. S. Fletcher - Sea Fog (1925) / Chapter 26: The Silk Neckerchief on: May 27, 2023, 12:45:48 pm
I TOOK a good and careful look at this man as he went slowly by, and I saw that there was nothing to fear from him. He was a tall, long-legged, elderly man, very alert of movement; a man who, after his day’s work, had cleaned himself up for the evening and changed his working clothes for a decent suit. He had a stout stick under one arm, and an empty sack flung over the other shoulder. Evidently he was going somewhere to fetch something. And he was still singing cheerily:

     “As I was going to Derby
      All on a market day!”

I slipped out of the cave and stopped his melody with a call. No doubt my voice sounded excited, for he turned sharply and, looking at me with wonder in his eyes, came towards me.

“Eh?” he said. “Something wrong, young fellow? You seem----”

I motioned him to the mouth of the cave.

“Look!” I whispered. “There’s a man in there! Dead!”

He made a startled exclamation, dropped the sack from his shoulder, and, walking into the cave, stared at Trawlerson’s dead body.

“Lord ha’ mercy!” he muttered. He stooped, and looked closer; then started and stared at me with a quick catching of his breath. “Why---why!” he exclaimed. “That’s the man as used to wander about!”

“You know him, then?” I asked.

“By sight, young master, yes!” he said. “Seen him a time or two, on the downs and in these woods. Always at a bit of a distance---never close to. But I know him! Never had speech of him, to be sure. Did---did you find him?”

“Just now!” I answered. “I got lost in the woods and wandered down here. And I looked in at this cave and---saw him, just as you see.”

“Do you know him?” he asked.

“I do! He’s a man named Trawlerson, that’s been missing some time---several days, anyhow,” I replied. “The police have been looking for him---everywhere!”

He made no remark on that, but stooped closer and again looked at the dead man.

“Appears to me as if he’d been dead some time,” he observed musingly. “Can’t say, of course, but---I should say so. Well---I never heard anything of any fight, or struggling, and my hut’s not so far off: only just back of the wood there. Of course, it may ha’ taken place in the night, whatever it was, and I’m a good sleeper. However, there ’tis. Dead---right enough! And murdered, too---look at that lump on his forehead---and he’s been strangled as well. Murder!---and close by one! I’ve been up there---oh, two or three weeks. And never heard---nothing!”

I had been sizing him up as he talked, and now I asked a direct question.

“Are you the man that bought a lot of stuff from Scale, the grocer, of Barlaton, a bit since?” I enquired. “Groceries?”

“That’s me, young fellow!” he answered. “Working a steam-roller, I am, up in these hills, and have a hut not a quarter of a mile from this. I’m on my way to Scale’s now,” he went on, indicating the sack. “Stores run out, d’ye see?---or nearly so, and wants replenishing. But this, now---as I say, I’ve seen this here man a time or two. And once I saw him with another man, one night towards dark, near that old mill on the downs.”

“Another man?” I exclaimed. “What was he like?”

“Rather a thick-set chap---about his build,” he replied, indicating the still figure at our feet. “They were talking together, as I say, near that old mill.”

A sudden notion struck me, and I put it into words.

“Was it you that was in the mill last night?” I asked. “With a light?”

He nodded, immediately; it was easy to see that he had nothing to keep back.

“That was me!” he assented. “I often take a walk of an evening round these parts, and I thought I’d like to see what there was in that old place, so I slipped a lantern into my pocket when I came out. Queer old spot, that!---and by what bit I’ve heard, there’s been a good deal of mystery about it of late.”

“Haven’t you heard much, then?” I asked, surprised that anyone in the neighbourhood should be in any way ignorant of the recent happenings. “There’s been plenty of talk, and plenty in the newspapers!”

“Aye, no doubt!” he remarked. “But up there where I’ve been working, I’m not in the way of hearing much talk; and as to newspapers, well, I haven’t set eyes on one for a fortnight.”

“This man was mixed up in it,” I said, “and, as I told you, the police have been searching for him---for him and that other man you mentioned just now. I shall have to hurry down and tell them what I’ve found here. I wish you’d come with me---they’ll want to see you, you know, after what I tell them.”

He nodded and glanced at his sack.

“Aye, that’ll be so,” he agreed. “But---is there a shop, a good shop, in your village, for I want provisions?”

I answered him that there was a shop where he could buy anything he wanted, and he picked up his sack and his stick. But the next instant he put them down again, turning to me with a knowing look.

“This is an out-of-the-way spot!” he said. “But you found it, and others might find it, before the police can get up here. Have---have you looked to see if there’s anything on him?”

He pointed significantly to Trawlerson’s pockets, and I knew what he meant.

“I have!” said I. “There’s nothing! I know for a fact that he carried a fine gold watch and chain, and always had plenty of cash. Well, there isn’t a penny left in his pockets, and the watch and chain are gone!”

“Robbed, as well as murdered, then!” he remarked. “All right!---I’ll go down with you to the police. But first” he paused, pointing to the neckerchief twisted so tightly about the dead man’s throat---“first,” he went on, dropping on his hands and knees at Trawlerson’s side, “we’ll have that off! To take with us!”

“Why?” I demanded.

“Evidence!” he replied. “Evidence! We’ve both seen it---here!---and we can both swear to it. And the police had better have it, at once.”

But it was no easy work to disengage that neckerchief from the dead man’s throat; it had been knotted and double knotted. He worked it loose at last, however, and, putting it in his pocket, signed to me to follow him.

“So you were lost in here?” he remarked as we went away. “Aye, well, I’ve been about here long enough to know that it’s not a difficult matter to get out of your bearings in these woods. You’ve no idea whereabouts we are, then?”

“No very clear idea,” I replied.

“You’ll ha’ been twisting and turning about,” he surmised. “As a matter of fact, we’re within half a mile of that old mill we were talking about---on its west side. But I’ll show you.”

He went ahead, and, presently turning off the narrow path, forced a way through the undergrowth for fifty yards or so, emerging from it on a grass track that I knew well enough as one that cut clean through the woods to a bridle-gate near the mill. In ten minutes we were passing the mill; ten minutes more, and I burst in on Trace and Macpherson with the news. Macpherson hurried away for Preece. The steam-roller man, who gave his name as Kilham, and I, told our story. Kilham produced the neckerchief. Preece took possession of that, and when he had heard all we had to say, he made some remark to Trace and left the house. He was away for half an hour, and we were still discussing the details of my discovery when he returned.

“I’ve soon settled that point!” he said, with an air of triumphant satisfaction. “I’d an idea that it would prove to be his, as soon as I saw it! That silk neckerchief is Halkin’s!”

“You’ve made sure?” asked Trace, almost incredulously.

“Certain!” replied Preece, with a grin. “Mrs. Halkin’s still down in the village, stopping at her mother’s. I took it to her---told her it had been picked up in the woods. She identified it as Halkin’s immediately. Bought it for him herself, she says, at Portsmouth, not so very long ago, and he was wearing it round his neck last time she saw him. So----”

He paused, looking from one to the other of us, either for applause for his cleverness, or for some suggestion as to what was next to be done. But nobody spoke, not even Macpherson, who seemed stricken dumb by the crowding together of these doings, and Preece went on.

“We’d best get to work,” he said. “There’s three of our men in the village now; they’re coming along here as soon as they’ve finished a mouthful of supper. Kilham, you’ll have to show them the way to this cave where you’ve left Trawlerson’s body---they’ll see to everything after that. As for me”---he glanced significantly at Trace and Macpherson---“I’m off to Brighton! We’ve heard no more from Parkapple, but he must know of this at once. There’s just nice time to catch the last train---just time, and no more.”

Within the moment, Trace and Macpherson determined to go with him. They made no objection when I begged not to be left behind---I wanted to be in at the crisis which I felt was coming. And five minutes later Kilham was leading the other three policemen and a couple of labourers with a hand-cart away to the woods, and Preece, Trace, Macpherson, and I were hurrying to the station. It seemed to me as if there was a certain fitness about that hurrying. I had, I suppose, some intuition that everything was tending to a crucial point, and that we, actors in this drama, had just got to move rapidly---were, indeed, being moved rapidly. Of late I had watched Trace and Macpherson playing chess of an evening---something led me to compare that with the game we were now hard at work on. I fancied we were all pawns, being moved by some hand invisible to us. I, for instance, had had no idea when I woke that morning that I was going to find Fewster dead in his parlour, and Trawlerson brutally murdered in that cave; yet I had made both discoveries, and now I was on my way to . . . I scarcely knew what, but I had no doubt it would be no less startling.

It was just half-past ten when we reached Brighton. Preece bundled us all into a cab and told its driver to hasten to the police-station. He hurried inside there as soon as the cab pulled up, and presently emerged again with an official with whom he talked for a while before motioning us to get out.

“Parkapple’s at an hotel close by,” he said as the official turned inside again. “I’ve got the name of it---we’ll go round there. Nobody had called for that packet at the post office up to closing-time,” he went on as we all moved off. “The police here know all about it, of course---Parkapple’s posted them up. Odd---if the receipt really was stolen from Fewster! But we’ll hear more from Parkapple.”

We found Parkapple in a quiet corner of the smoking-room of an hotel on the sea-front, evidently meditating over his pipe. He looked as if all business cares had left him for that day, but he sprang sharply to his feet as he caught sight of us entering the room.

“Something fresh?” he asked quickly. “More news! But you wouldn’t be here----”

“Come back to that corner,” said Preece. “Yes, we’ve news,” he answered as we all seated ourselves round the detective. “That’s why we hurried here. You’d better hear it from the fountain-head,” he continued, nodding at me. “Tell Mr. Parkapple all about it, Tom!”

I told Parkapple the story I had already told the other three. He listened closely, without interrupting me. At the end he only asked a question or two about minor details. Then Preece got in.

“The neckerchief they brought has been identified,” he said triumphantly. “I managed that!---within a few minutes. It’s---Halkin’s!”

Parkapple showed no surprise.

“You’re sure of that?” he asked.

“Positive!” declared Preece. “His wife identified it.” He felt in an inner pocket and drew out the neckerchief. “This is it!” he said. “Mrs. Halkin bought it in Portsmouth---shop in Commercial Road---not so long ago.” Then, as Parkapple took the thing from him, he rubbed his hands, chuckling. “I reckon that’ll hang Halkin!” he went on, nodding at the rest of us. “A settler, that!”

“Ye’ve got to catch him first, man!” muttered Macpherson. “And, so far, Mr. Parkapple there has had no luck, I understand?”

Parkapple handed the neckerchief back to Preece. The news I had given him had evidently roused some new train of thought in him.

“Tell you anything at the police-station?” he asked, glancing at Preece.

“Only that nobody’d called for that registered packet at the post office here up to closing-time,” answered Preece.

“That’s so! There’s been a strict watch ever since I got here,” said Parkapple. “I kept out of the way myself, having been seen at your end, you know. No---no application had been made up to the hour the post office closed. But---an inspector and I have examined the packet.”

“Aye---and what’s inside it, man?” exclaimed Macpherson. “Is it---diamonds?”

“Diamonds, sure enough!” assented Parkapple. “Some cut and polished; most in the rough, like the one picked up this morning. There are seventy-four of them, some a good size. And we did more than examine the packet---when we found what it contained, we got an expert to come round to the postmaster’s private office and look the diamonds over---just to give us a rough idea of what the lot might be worth. A well-known man, you understand---one whose opinion can be trusted. Of course, he only named an approximate figure. But---he said that he’d give it himself.”

“Aye, aye!” said Macpherson eagerly. “And what did he say they were worth, now? A deal o’ money, no doubt?”

“Twenty-five thousand pounds!” replied Parkapple. “At least!”

35  Our Library / J. S. Fletcher - Sea Fog (1925) / Chapter 25: The Package of Cocoa on: May 27, 2023, 12:24:50 pm
MACPHERSON showed his appreciation of Trace’s cleverness in a series of approving grunts.

“Aye---aye---aye!” he said, becoming articulate. “Yon was a smart idea o’ yours, Captain! I was wondering what made you so ready to change the woman’s note for her. Aye---and ye’ll ha’ been ’phoning to the bank-people?”

“To be sure!” agreed Trace. “It struck me, you see, that the ten-pound note which Halkin had sent his wife was probably one of the notes she’d seen him handling that night in their cottage, when he didn’t know she was watching him. Halkin’s a deep, sly man, but the slyest and deepest make mistakes. He no doubt thought---if he ever thought at all!---that nobody would ever think of tracing that note; nobody about here, of course, knows anything of these money matters but ourselves and the police. But we know of Fewster’s drawing £500 out of his bank---eh? And so I just rang up the manager and told him of what had happened here, and of our discovery of the counterfoil in Fewster’s cheque-book---and there you are! This ten-pound note is one of several paid out to Fewster on the Monday on which Chissick’s murder was discovered. Fewster drew the money himself, some of it in gold, most of it in notes, early that Monday afternoon. As far as I can make out---I’ve just seen Mrs. Halkin again---it was on that Monday night that she saw Halkin counting money and putting it in a belt. One thing with another, I think there’s no doubt that Fewster drew that £500 to hand over to Halkin.”

“None, I should say!” declared Macpherson. “And---the reason?”

“Ah! Now you’re asking!” exclaimed Trace. “Reason? I’ve thought of two reasons why Fewster should have paid that money over to Halkin. One---that it was actually paid for those diamonds, in which case it looks as if Halkin murdered Chissick to gain possession of them. That’s possible!---we know that Halkin was working in Fewster’s garden on the Saturday on which Chissick was murdered. Now, from Fewster’s garden to Chissick’s garden---I’m talking about their back gardens and orchards---is only a hundred yards, and between them lies that thick coppice. Halkin, who may have been the man that Tom saw spying about Chissick’s new shed the night before, could easily slip through that coppice to Chissick’s house, perhaps with the original intention of blackmailing him, and, seeing his chance of finding Chissick alone, have murdered him, got the diamonds, and sold them to Fewster. Fewster, I think, wouldn’t ask any inconvenient questions. That’s one thing, anyway.”

“And the other?” questioned Macpherson.

“The other is that what Fewster paid to Halkin was---hush-money!” said Trace. “And it’s extremely likely. Fewster may have known more about Chissick and his doings than he ever confessed to knowing---he may have murdered Chissick, finding him alone, and Halkin, being about, may have known it, or guessed it, and bled him. I think that a very likely theory---very. But I also think something else may be put forward. I’ve an idea, vague enough, but still there, that somehow or other Halkin and Trawlerson are mixed up in all this. It’s a significant fact that both disappeared about the same time. Now, they may both have known about Halkin---each may have got blood-money, hush-money, out of him. That £500 may have been shared between them.”

“I doubt it!” exclaimed Macpherson. “Yon Trawlerson would no ha’ been satisfied with the moiety o’ £500! He’d have an idea o’ the value of the diamonds. Halkin wouldn’t. And there’s the fact---important, if you’re going on the collusion theory---that Halkin was quick to tell that he’d seen Trawlerson and heard his voice in Chissick’s garden the evening o’ the murder.”

“I don’t attach the slightest importance to that, Macpherson,” declared Trace. “Halkin’s as big a liar as ever walked, and he no doubt said that to distract attention from himself. But---if Trawlerson really was in Chissick’s garden that night, and if he spoke to anybody, as Halkin says he did, then I think the man he spoke to was---Fewster!”

“Aye!” agreed Macpherson. “I should no be surprised at that!”

“However,” concluded Trace, “it’s all theorising, this. We shan’t know anything definite until we hear something from Parkapple. I thought Preece would have had a message from him by now.”

Preece did get a message from Parkapple about tea-time. He brought it up to us---a telegram from Brighton. Up to the time of its dispatch, four o’clock, nobody, said Parkapple, had called at the Brighton post office for the registered packet. But it was there---Parkapple and the Brighton police had seen it and were keeping a watch on it. If Preece had any news his end, he was to wire it. Preece had none; nothing had happened since morning. All we could do, as Trace had said, was to wait.

I had a job of my own, of a vastly different sort, to carry out that evening. I have already said that Captain Trace in his retirement devoted a good deal of his time to the keeping of bees and breeding of prize fowls. As regards the fowls, he made it a business speculation as well as a hobby. And on this particular evening, tea being over, he sent me on an errand across the hills at the back of the village, to see a farmer at an outlying hamlet who had some fine Leghorns for sale. With money in my pocket and a commission to buy, I set off about six o’clock on an hour’s walk.

The place to which I went was a lonely farmstead lying in one of the narrow valleys to the northward, behind the deep woods in which I had wandered so much at my first coming to these parts. I had difficulty in finding it, and when I got to it, the man I wanted to see was out on the hill-sides. Altogether, what with waiting for him and bargaining with him, it was past eight o’clock when I set out on my return journey. My thoughts had been concentrated all the time on the recent events, and I was eager to get home and hear the latest news---in my absence, no doubt, Preece would have heard again from Parkapple. And so, instead of sticking to the route by which I had come, I determined on a short cut through the woods. I knew the exact point of the compass at which our village lay, and I decided to make a bee-line for it. But I knew nothing of these particular woods, and before I had been in them half an hour I got hopelessly mixed and bewildered, and began to wander about, searching for any sign of a southward path. Taking other short cuts in this endeavour, I got more mixed up than before, and it was as I stood in a bit of clearing wondering which was east and which west---for the trees and undergrowth were so thick that I could not make out where the fading sunlight came from---that I suddenly caught sight of something, the discovery of which led there and then to revelation which I had certainly never anticipated.

This something was a small, square packet of the sort that you can see by the score in any grocer’s shop. I had handled thousands of such packets in my time. I picked it out of the clump of green stuff into which it had been dropped, and saw at once what it was, a packet of a certain brand of prepared cocoa. The wrapping was damp; the thing had evidently lain there for many nights and days. But the lettering on the green and gilt band around it was legible enough, and these words at the foot of the band immediately caught my attention---Scale, Grocer, Barlaton.

It needed no more than the sight of those words to convince me that I had made a discovery which might be of immense importance. Scale!---that was the man who had told Preece and Trace and me of the visit to his grocer’s shop at Barlaton of a mysterious man who had bought an unusually large supply of provisions from him, and afterwards calling at the village inn, had purchased some bottles of rum. He had said, that man, that he was working a steam-roller somewhere up in the hills, was camping out, and wanted to provide himself. Scale had told us that his neighbours knew of no steam-roller at work in the district, and that he had wondered if the man was Trawlerson. But from his description of the man---a tall, spare-built, elderly man---we knew this was not Trawlerson. So much for what I recalled of Scale’s talk. What was really important now was that this packet of cocoa was undoubtedly part of the purchase made by the unknown man at Scale’s shop and dropped by him out of his sack as he made his way through the woods to---where?

I began to look about me in the dusk, and after a close examination of the little clearing, I found a path going off it from one corner---or, rather, not a path at all, but signs, evidence that somebody, heavy-footed, had gone that way through the undergrowth. And being always keen for any adventure, I went that way myself, there and then, looking about me, and scarcely knowing what I expected to find. What I did find, having pushed my way through the trees for fifty yards or so, was a narrow, defined track, which I unhesitatingly followed. I could see that it was little used; last year’s leaves were thick on its surface. It went deeper and deeper into the heart of the woods. Very soon it descended, and presently I found myself in a sort of ravine, with dark limestone cliffs overhanging the trees and bushes on either side. A black, eerie place, that!---and the silence, when at last I pulled up and stood, looking and listening, was profound.

I was thinking of turning, of going back, and I suddenly realised that, if I did, I should run! There was something about the place that was frightening. I was conscious of fear then, and I had a queer feeling that if I once turned to retreat I should be far more frightened. And, just to brace myself up, instead of retreating, I dared myself, as lads will, to go a bit farther. I went---deeper into the narrowing ravine. The rocks rose more steeply on either side; there was a general atmosphere of decay and damp. I saw that this was one of the places you find in woods like those thick, neglected woods into which the sun scarcely penetrates. The trees, all ancient, were black and impenetrable, and amongst their boughs I heard strange flutterings---birds, doubtless, startled by my presence.

Still, sheer solitude though the spot seemed to be, the bit of a path was there, and I kept following it until it narrowed between two high rocks. And in the face of one of these, that on my left hand, I saw what was evidently the mouth of a cave. After all I was little more than a boy, and I suppose there was never a boy in the world who, seeing a cave, was not tempted to explore it. Indeed, the sight of that black, yawning mouth revived my spirits at the same time that it excited my curiosity, and without more ado I stepped off the path and advanced boldly to the foot of the rock. There was still enough light for me to see into the cave for two or three yards, and I went close up and peered in. The next instant I started back, heart leaping and pulses throbbing. There, just within the cavity, doubled up a queer way, which, somehow, did not convey the impression that he was asleep, lay a man!

I stood where I was for a good minute---motionless. I had made no effort at silence as I approached the cave. If the man was awake, he could not have failed to hear me. But I did not think he was awake---and I did not think he was asleep. I scarcely knew what I thought. His back was towards me, and I could not see his face. The attitude in which he lay was peculiar: he was all bunched together, as it were; knees drawn up, arms in a queer position. And all this time my eyes were growing more accustomed to the light, and I began to feel a vague conviction that the suit of blue serge—which, even in my perturbation, I noticed pretty observantly---was familiar to me, stained with earth and clay though it was, and as if its wearer had been rolling on the damp ground. I knew somebody who always wore such a suit. Who was it, now? But I had not answered that question when, nerving myself to the effort, I suddenly moved into the cave, and to the man’s side, and bent down to his face---to recognise him at the first glance. Trawlerson!

Trawlerson was dead. I knew that before even I put a finger on him. And he was the second dead man I had found that day. But I think I scarcely thought of that, at the moment. I stood staring at him. There was a terrible lump on his left temple---a great, ugly swelling, suffused with blood. But there was more than that. Round his throat was knotted a striped handkerchief, such as sailors wear, only, instead of being all black, it was of gay colours. It was tied so tightly about his throat, and knotted at the back of his neck with such fiendish purpose, that I could not thrust even the top of my little finger between its folds and the skin. And I realised then how Trawlerson had come to his end. He had been lured to this place by somebody, and first stunned by a blow on the temple, and then---strangled. The blow on the temple was an awful one: perhaps that had killed him. But the murderer had left nothing to chance.

If I had been nearer the village, I should have rushed off, there and then, for help. But the village, to my reckoning---for I had certainly got astray in these woods---was some distance off, probably from two to three miles, and I thought it best, my first sensations of fright and horror over, to make some examination of the dead man’s clothing. It looked to me as if he had been dragged into that cave, but I did not go out then to see if I could find any signs of that near by. Instead, I felt in his pockets. And I soon came to the conclusion that he had been robbed. I remembered a few facts about Trawlerson. The landlord of the village inn had spoken of him more than once in my presence as a man who carried plenty of ready money about him. Besides, hadn’t he come to me at Trace’s and offered me a hundred sovereigns for the map, giving me to understand that he had them on him? Well, there was no money on Trawlerson now---except a few coppers, which, to be sure, were not on him at all, but lying on the ground near, as if the murderer and robber had thrown them aside, contemptuous of them. Then, again, I knew that Trawlerson carried a good gold watch and a gold chain, of the heavy cable pattern; there was no watch and no chain there now. Murder and robbery, this. . . .

I had ascertained all these facts within a few minutes of my recognition of the dead man, and as soon as I realised all that had happened, I left him and made for the open. But as I was about to step out of the cave I heard two sounds. Heavy footsteps were coming down the wood, close by, and a man’s voice was singing---some country-side ditty which seemed strangely incongruous. I drew back into the shelter of the cavity, waiting and watching. In another minute the man came in sight.

36  Our Library / J. S. Fletcher - Sea Fog (1925) / Chapter 24: The Uncut Diamond on: May 27, 2023, 12:06:45 pm
IT was easy to see that Parkapple attached some extraordinary importance to the finding of that receipt. Without any delay he went off to the room to which Fewster’s dead body had been carried, and presently came back carrying the suit of clothes of which the woman had just divested him. Laying these garments on the table in the parlour, he began to go through them himself, examining every pocket in coat, waistcoat, and trousers with great care. First he removed and laid in order all the contents; then he literally turned the pockets inside out. There was nothing in the pockets but the things he took from them; he began, then, to examine those. A pocket-book---nothing; a purse---nothing; nothing, at any rate, in the shape of the thing he wanted, which, of course, was a mere scrap of flimsy paper. Parkapple began to look serious, and even perturbed.

“Likely he’d put it away in some drawer when he came home with it,” suggested Macpherson. “He’d no doubt have a place for receipts, and would put it in there at once; he seems to have been a man of methodical and tidy habits. Ye’ll be for considering the finding o’ this bit paper an important thing, Mr. Parkapple?”

Parkapple replied, somewhat testily, that what he was doing showed that he did. Bidding us not to touch the things on the table, he turned to an old-fashioned writing-desk that stood in a corner of the room and began to examine that. In its top drawer he found a lot of papers, and a file of receipts---tradesmen’s bills, and that sort of thing---but not what he wanted. Clearly, the neat arrangement of things in that drawer proved Fewster’s orderliness---but there was no receipt for the registered packet. Still, Parkapple went on looking for it; under his instructions we began to help. We examined every drawer and box in the place; we looked into every ornament on the chance that he might have popped the bit of paper aside in that way; we eventually ransacked every corner of the house, and I, personally, inspected every scrap of torn-up stuff in a waste-paper basket, while Preece even took the coals and wood out of the parlour grate to see if Fewster had thrown the receipt away in there. We were at the job for the better part of three hours, and at the end of that time we had found nothing. And at last Parkapple gave up the search as a bad job, and turned to the rest of us with a shake of his head that had something enigmatical about it.

“Never expected to find it!” he exclaimed suddenly. “I only wanted to make sure. Of course, it’s just what I expected. Stolen!”

We all looked at him in astonishment. He shook his head again, pointing towards the kitchen.

“You know what that woman drew our attention to, Preece, when we came in here this morning?” he said. “That the key of the back door is missing. Well, she’s been coming here for years---ever since Fewster came to live here---and she’s never known that key to be missing before. She’s dead certain it was in the lock, inside, yesterday afternoon---it was her custom, she says, to lock the kitchen door from the inside when she went away, and to leave by the front door. Well, when she comes this morning, after finding her employer dead, she goes to the kitchen door, and finds it locked, but the key not in the lock. She goes outside---the key’s not there. We’ve pretty well tooth-combed this house in searching for that receipt, and we haven’t come across the key. What’s the inference? That somebody came here last night, probably after Fewster’s death, found the receipt for the registered packet lying about, took it, went out by the back door, locked it from outside, and took the key away.”

“For what reason do you think, Mr. Parkapple?” asked Macpherson.

Parkapple shrugged his shoulders.

“Might be with the idea of returning,” he said. “The front door, as you’ll see if you go and look at it, is only secured by a latch-lock. Now, Mrs. Singleton says that there used to be two latch-keys, of which she’d one and Fewster the other. Fewster lost his, some time ago, and never replaced it: he used to go in and out by the back door. Whoever it was that came here last night---and I’m sure somebody did!---he may have had fears of being interrupted, and, noticing that he couldn’t get in again at the front door, have taken the key of the back with him, intending to come back later on. Anyway, I feel sure that somebody was here, and that, whoever he was, he stole that receipt, and there’s only one thing for me to do, and I must do it at once. I must get off to Brighton to see about the packet that Fewster sent there, to be called for. I only hope I’m not too late. How far is it, by road, Preece?”

“Twenty miles!” answered Preece. “And you can get a car here in the village---a good one.”

“All right---that’s the next thing,” said Parkapple. “But first”---he turned to the drawer of the writing-desk and picked up a cheque-book which lay on top of a pile of papers---“I just want to look at this---an idea’s struck me. Look at this!” he continued, after turning the book over. “Here’s a somewhat significant entry! See this counterfoil---it refers to a cheque drawn in favour of self for five hundred pounds! What should Fewster want with cash to that extent---here?”

Preece pointed to the date on the counterfoil.

“That’s the same date, the Monday that Chissick was found murdered!” he said. “Do you think there’s any connection?”

“According to what Captain Trace there heard last night,” observed Parkapple, with a dry smile, “I should say there was! It’s my impression that the money which Fewster drew with the cheque of which this is the counterfoil found its way, there and then, into Halkin’s pockets! That’s about it! Well---I’m going off to Brighton, at once. You must see to everything here, Preece. Now, where do I find the car you spoke of just now?”

While he was putting on his coat, which he had taken off during the search, and Preece was telling him where the man lived who had a car for hire, Mrs. Singleton came into the room. She held out her right hand, in the palm of which lay something the exact like of which I had never seen—an object, about the size of a small bean, which looked, to me, like some sort of pebble, except that within it there seemed to be, deep down, a curious light or radiance. But Parkapple knew what it was, and he seized on it with a sharp exclamation.

“Good Lord!” he muttered. “Where did you get this?”

“It was lying on the floor of the bedroom, sir,” said Mrs. Singleton. “Just in front of the cupboard by the bedside. Mrs. Pilch found it just now, tidying up the room.”

Parkapple held the find out to the rest of us, turning it over with his finger.

“That’s a diamond!” he said. “In the rough! I’ve seen plenty in my time. Unpolished, uncut, you know. You see, there’s an interior radiance in it. That dull film over the outside is called, technically, the ‘Nyf’---a sort of outer skin. Feel how intensely hard it is! And a good size too!---if all the rest of ’em are like that. . . .” He nodded significantly, and put the stone carefully away in his purse. “Well, that’s another reason why I should be off. The rest of those things, my friends, are to be found at Brighton post office---unless I’m too late!”

Macpherson buttonholed him as he was leaving the room.

“Man!” he said solemnly. “Although you’ve no confessed it, you’ve come round to the theory that I put before you in the beginning of our acquaintance---that all this springs out of the black affair of two-and-forty years ago! Is it not so?”

“Something of that sort, Mr. Macpherson, something of that sort!” agreed Parkapple. “I’ll give you all credit, and compliment you too, when we’ve got it over. But time’s precious, so let me go.”

Macpherson let him go, and soon after he had gone, he, Trace, and I left Fewster’s body and house to Preece, and went homeward; my two elders suddenly remembering that, save for the cups of tea and dry biscuits I had taken to them early in the morning, they had not yet broken their fast. Macpherson was full of talk, and of self-appreciation; things were turning out as he had anticipated.

“There’s little doubt in my mind how this affair has worked out,” he said, as we sat over our late breakfast. “When yon young Dan Welgrave was murdered all those years ago, whoever murdered him, Flinch or Charlesworth, or both, placed the diamonds they found on him in yon old Cape Town tobacco-box under the tree on the hill-side up there below the mill. Through many a queer channel, through those channels---twisting and winding and black they were!---that we heard of from Pyker and Cushion, the news came along at last to Chissick. I think Chissick got it, somehow or other, when he was having his deal with Kest for the bit of land. I think Chissick murdered Kest. Tom here is a sound sleeper---it’s me that’s well acquaint with that fact, for hard work have I had to get him out of bed many’s the time in the days when he wore an apron and sold currants and raisins---and I think he never heard Chissick and Kest in talk in that mill, nor saw the beginning of the fracas which ended in Chissick’s sticking a knife in the other man’s throat. Aye, I think Chissick murdered Kest---I do think that!”

“And who murdered Chissick, do you think, Macpherson?” asked Trace. “You’ll have settled that in your mind, no doubt?”

“I’m no so sure about that as I am about the other,” admitted Macpherson. “It may have been Trawlerson. It may have been Fewster. But certain I am of this---Chissick found those diamonds when he did his bit digging in yon new shed, and somebody knew that he’d found them. And I’m assured, too, of another thing---whoever murdered Chissick did it for the diamonds, and---dead sure!---the diamonds found their way, sharp and speedy, into Fewster’s hands. Fewster?---aye, the man’s dead, and, as yon detective said, it’s likely he carried secrets with him---dark ones!”

“One of the queerest things about this business,” remarked Trace, after a pause, “in its latest developments, anyway, is the almost simultaneous disappearance of Halkin and Trawlerson. I’ve wondered, Macpherson, if those two can have been in collusion over this affair?”

“There’s the possibility,” said Macpherson cautiously. “But my idea is that Halkin was in some way privy to these affairs---he may have been in collusion with Fewster; nay, would seem to ha’ been because of the money evidence---and that Trawlerson got to know of it. I think Trawlerson’s dogging Halkin! Halkin’s off, and Trawlerson’s on his track, thinking, no doubt, that Halkin had the diamonds. And, man!---from what I’ve observed o’ the fellow, yon Trawlerson is the sort that would dog and dog and dog and dog a man till he ran him down! Look how he stuck to these parts like a leech after he first came here! Look how he haunted yon hill-side till the mere aspect o’ the place seemed strange without the presence of his figure, perched on a rock, or stravagin’ about under the trees. He’s a sleuth-hound, yon man, and I ha’ no doubt that he’s after Halkin!”

“It may be,” said Trace, “but there’s this seems pretty certain. If Parkapple’s theory is right, Macpherson, and some man entered Fewster’s house yesterday evening and picked up the receipt for the registered packet, that man must be one of two---it’s either been Halkin or it’s been Trawlerson. For---we don’t know of any other person that’s ever come within range of suspicion. But what licks me is---how has Trawlerson, whose description has been very widely circulated, and who has now been missing since the day of Chissick’s death, managed to evade arrest? Where is he? And---for the matter of that, though he hasn’t been so long away---where’s Halkin?”

But we were to hear something about Halkin before afternoon set in. About one o’clock Mrs. Halkin came to Trace’s door; his housekeeper brought her into the parlour, where we were all three still engaged in interminable discussion. She had a dirty-looking envelope in her hand.

“Captain Trace!” she said, without preface. “I’ve had a letter from Halkin. And as there’s talk going on in the village about him, and people are saying this, that, and the other, I’ve just let it be known that I have---he has faults, has Halkin, but he’s not running away from justice, as some are saying. And he’s sent money.”

“Where did he write from?” asked Trace.

Mrs. Halkin drew a sheet of common-looking, very inferior notepaper from the envelope and, extracting something that was folded in it, passed it over.

“I have no objection to anybody seeing it,” she said. “You can read it with pleasure. There’s not much, but it explains.”

Macpherson and I looked over Trace’s shoulder. There was no address. The date was that of the previous day. The letter was short. It merely stated that Halkin was negotiating for a very good job as permanent gardener at a country-house near Chelmsford, and was going to see the place that afternoon: he would write again when he had made his arrangements. In the meantime he sent his wife a ten-pound note, to be going on with.

Trace handed this letter back to Mrs. Halkin, and asked if he might see the envelope. When he got that into his hand, he silently indicated the postmark to Macpherson and me as we leaned over his shoulders. I saw at once what he meant. The letter had been posted in London early the previous morning.

“Perhaps you’d like your ten-pound note changing, Mrs. Halkin?” suggested Trace as he gave her back the envelope. “I can do it for you---I’ve plenty of change in the house.”

When the woman had gone away, Trace turned to us, fingering the ten-pound note. He gave Macpherson a significant glance.

“That’s a damned clever dodge of Halkin’s,” he said, “but not clever enough! Halkin wrote that letter with the idea of being able to prove that he was in London yesterday. No doubt he was---in the morning! But he posted his letter before noon---and he’d plenty of time to come down here, to some wayside station, in the early evening, and to make his way to Fewster’s, after dark. I believe, now, that Halkin and Trawlerson are in partnership in this affair. And now I’m going to find out something else---over the telephone.”

He went out, in the direction of the post office, and was away a considerable time. When at last he came back he still had the ten-pound note in his hand, and he waved it at Macpherson.

“There!” he said triumphantly. “I’ve been on the ’phone with the manager of Fewster’s bank in town. You see this note which I changed for Mrs. Halkin? Well---it’s one of a series of ten-pound notes paid out to Fewster when he drew that £500!”

37  Our Library / J. S. Fletcher - Sea Fog (1925) / Chapter 23: The Registered Packet on: May 27, 2023, 11:37:00 am
PREECE dropped into a chair as soon as I had opened the door to him, and he cocked a longing eye at the kettle.

“Making tea, Tom?” he asked. “Give me a cup, my lad! I’m wanting something of that sort. Parkapple and me, we were with the chief and the inspector over yonder last night till I don’t know what time, discussing things---it was past midnight when we got back here. You were enquiring for me, my missis says. And the Captain too?”

“We were both after you, Mr. Preece,” I replied, handing him a cup of tea. “He was down there once, and I called twice. Did Mrs. Preece tell you what it was about?”

“She said---Halkin,” he answered. “Now he’s off, I understand! Nice game the way they sling their hook, some of ’em! First Trawlerson---now Halkin. But what did the Captain want? My missis, she says he had Mrs. Halkin with him.”

Just then Trace himself came downstairs in his dressing-gown and slippers. He told Preece all about Mrs. Halkin’s story of the money which she had seen in her husband’s possession. Preece, sipping his tea, listened and nodded.

“May have something to do with all the rest of it,” he observed. “I don’t know! I’m sure my poor head got fairly thick with listening last night to the discussion between our bosses and Parkapple! It’s like being in one of those mazes you read about---you don’t know which turning to take. Parkapple---he jawed it all over last night at our headquarters from every standpoint you could think of!”

“Any good come of it?” asked Trace.

“None, so far!” replied Preece. “There’s things going to be done, of course.”

“Fewster?” suggested Trace.

“Fewster,” said Preece, “satisfied Parkapple, before he let him go yesterday afternoon, as to his movements on the day of the murder of Chissick---never left his own house that day, and can prove it. All the same, our people at headquarters want to see Fewster, and that reminds me of one of the two things I came in for. One was to ask you, Captain, what you brought Mrs. Halkin to see me for; and the other was to ask Tom there if he’d go an errand for me---I’m hurried this morning, for I’ve got to shave and dress and be off with Parkapple as soon as we’ve had a bit of breakfast.”

“What is it, Mr. Preece?” I asked.

“Nothing much,” he answered. “Just slip along to Fewster’s, and ask him if he’ll meet me and Parkapple at our station at nine o’clock---say, to go with us into town by the 9.7. He’ll know what it means.”

He talked a few minutes longer about his and Parkapple’s doings of the previous evening, and then went off, and soon after seven o’clock, when I thought I should be sure to find him up, I ran round to Fewster’s house. Fewster, like Chissick, was a bachelor---a single man, anyhow---and, also like Chissick, he had a sort of charwoman-housekeeper, a Mrs. Singleton, who came at eight o’clock every morning and left after tea-time in the afternoon. I knew that Fewster was an earlyish riser. I had often seen him in his garden at seven o’clock of a morning. I expected to find him in it on this occasion. But when I got to his gate, the garden was empty, and all the blinds of the house were drawn. Clearly, Fewster was not up.

I knocked two or three times at the front door and got no answer. I went round to the back and knocked again, more loudly. Nobody came to that door either. And then it flashed upon me that now, most likely, there was another disappearance!---Fewster, once free of Preece and Parkapple the previous afternoon, had made his preparations and run away.

However, I began to prowl about the house, to see if I could find any crevice or loophole through which I could see into the interior. I poked up the slot of the letter-box in the front door and peered into the hall. I saw Fewster’s hats and his overcoats, his umbrellas and his walking-sticks, but no sign of him. At the back door I found an old tub, and, mounting it, looked through the glass transom above the door into the kitchen. There was nothing to see there, except that on the table there was a supper laid out---cold beef, bread, butter, cheese, pickles, and a bottle of whisky and a syphon of mineral water by it. There was a knife and fork laid for one; on the plate between them lay a slice or two of beef, untouched. It looked to me as if Fewster had just carved beef for himself, and then, before picking up his knife and fork to eat it, had been interrupted by somebody or something. But---why had he never resumed his interrupted meal?

I was going away---hurriedly, for it occurred to me that I had better let Preece and Parkapple know of this as soon as possible---when, glancing again at the window of the front room as I passed it on my way through the garden, I noticed that one of the laths of the Venetian blind was out of place. At that I turned aside, and, stepping across the flower-bed under the window, looked into the room. And the morning was gloriously light and sunny, and the light flooded that room, in spite of the blind, and I could see everything in it, and the first thing I saw was Fewster himself---or what had been Fewster. He was sitting in a very big easychair, right opposite me. He lay back in it, his hands and arms dangling over the padded sides; his head drooped towards his left shoulder. And I knew that he was not asleep, but dead!—as dead as Chissick, as dead as Kest . . . dead!

The thing gave me a shock---but instead of running headlong away, I stood with my eyes glued to that window for a full minute, staring into the room. I think I was wondering if Fewster had died as the result of some attack on him. But the room was so tidy---as tidy as Chissick’s. These men who lived all alone, I thought, must have a passion for neatness. No---there were no signs of any disorder there. It looked to me as if Fewster had just sat down in that chair and collapsed---suddenly.

The click of the garden gate made me start. Glancing round, I saw Mrs. Singleton entering. She carried a basket and a sweeping-brush; the difference between the evidence of her peaceful mission and my knowledge of what there was in that house struck me with strange force. At sight of me she opened her mouth and stared, speechlessly. I went towards her.

“Mrs. Singleton!” I whispered, as though we were already in the presence of the still figure in the parlour. “Don’t be frightened, but---there’s something wrong! I came here to see Mr. Fewster, and I couldn’t get any answer at the door, so I looked through the window. He’s sitting there in a chair, in the parlour---and I’m sure he’s dead!”

Her mouth opened wider than ever, and it seemed quite a long time before her lips relaxed and let out something like a sigh.

“You don’t say!” she exclaimed. “Well---he’s been that bad with his heart this some time past that I can’t say as I’m surprised, though, of course, coming so sudden, like . . . but we’ll go in and make sure.”

She fumbled in her pocket, found a latchkey, and made for the front door. But I drew her attention to the lath in the Venetian blind.

“Look through that first,” I said. “See what I saw!”

She stepped up to the window, peered through, stepped back swiftly.

“I’m afraid it’s what you say, Mr. Crowe,” she said. “That peaceful and still, too! Yes, I’m afraid he’s gone, poor thing!”

She opened the door and we went in, on tiptoe, and into the parlour. I laid a hand on Fewster’s forehead---stone-cold!

The woman at my side was whispering; she too had laid her fingers on one of the dead man’s hands.

“Mr. Crowe,” she said, “we must get somebody here! He’s been dead some time. And---there’s the laying-out, you know. They---they get stiff, you see! If you’ll run to fetch somebody----”

I left her there with all the stillness of the place about her and ran as fast as legs could carry me, first to Preece, then to our own house. Preece and Parkapple were at breakfast already, but as soon as they heard the news they threw down their knives and forks and hurried off; so, a few minutes later, did Trace and Macpherson, neither fully dressed. When we reached Fewster’s house, the two policemen were already there, and Mrs. Singleton was telling them something.

“Anyway, that’s how it is, gentlemen,” she was saying. “The key of the back door isn’t there, neither inside nor outside. It looks to me as if somebody had been in this house since---since that happened,” she said, nodding towards the parlour, “and had gone out by the back door, locking it from outside, and had taken the key away. I’ve never known it to be missing before. Perhaps---perhaps somebody’s done something to the poor man!---his heart, I know, was that bad that the least shock would give him the palpitations.”

They all went into the parlour and looked at Fewster. Macpherson said something about a doctor.

“Sent for him as we came along,” muttered Preece. “He’ll not be long. No signs of any struggle here, I think---everything’s in order.”

He glanced at Parkapple, who, after a searching look at the dead man, had begun to inspect the room.

“No,” said Parkapple, “I see no signs of anything. Judging from what we saw in the kitchen just now, I should say he was going to have his supper, came in here for something, had a seizure, sat down and died straight off. Well---I think he’s probably taken secrets with him!” He paused a moment, and then glanced at Trace and Macpherson. “You saw that he and I recognised each other yesterday?” he continued. “Well---I’ll tell you who he was---used to be, anyway. I told Preece last night. Last time I saw him was in the dock at the Central Criminal Court, a good many years ago now. He got five years.”

“For what?” asked Macpherson.

“Receiving stolen goods,” answered Parkapple. “I arrested him---I and another of our men. It was a second conviction. Of course, Fewster isn’t his real name. Real name is Foester—came from Germany when he was a young man. I’ve often wondered where he’d got to. He was a cute, clever chap in those days. Well---that’s over! And---just when we were wanting to get more news out of him! Unfortunate, this!”

The doctor came hurrying in. But we saw at once that Fewster’s sudden death was in no way surprising to him. He said so, at once.

“His heart has been in such an absolutely rotten condition for some time that I’ve warned him over and over again against sudden exertion, excitement, anything of that kind,” he said. “He was liable to go at any minute. And that’s how he did go!”

“Quite suddenly?” asked Trace.

“With absolute suddenness!” asserted the doctor. “He probably felt himself turn faint, sat down where you see him, and died straight off. I suppose this’ll have to be reported to the coroner. But there’s really no necessity for an inquest. As I’ve attended him for months, I can give a certificate.”

They carried Fewster away into another room, and left him to Mrs. Singleton and some women that she had fetched.

And then Parkapple began to look about the parlour, and suddenly drew our attention to certain matters which lay on an old blotting-pad on a side-table. There was some cotton-wool; some sealing-wax; some small sheets of brown paper; a length of string; a bedroom candlestick, on which wax, red wax, had been dropped.

“Making up a parcel, eh?” he muttered. “And---recently. Well----”

He hesitated a moment, then saying that he would be back presently, left the room; next minute we saw him walking quickly down the garden. The rest of us remained there, talking in low voices. Half an hour went by; then Parkapple came hurrying back. I saw by his expression that he had learned something.

“I’ve found out a bit of really important news,” he said as he came into the parlour and carefully closed the door. “Early yesterday evening Fewster took a small, sealed parcel---evidently a cardboard box---to the post office here, and registered it. I’ve got the address it was sent to: ‘Mr. J. Foster, Post Office, Brighton.’ And now I want to find the receipt they gave him at this office when he handed it in!”
38  Our Library / J. S. Fletcher - Sea Fog (1925) / Chapter 22: The Light in the Mill on: May 27, 2023, 11:24:10 am
WE had plenty of food for thought and subjects for discussion over our tea in Trace’s parlour that afternoon. The uppermost---being the last---was the disappearance of Halkin. Had it anything to do with the rest of things?---with the more important matter of Chissick’s murder? Macpherson was quick to start a theory. It was his belief that Trawlerson was still in the neighbourhood, lurking about, and probably in a position to get news of what was going on. Supposing Trawlerson had heard what Halkin had said about him---that he, Trawlerson, had been seen leaving Chissick’s garden on the evening of the murder? Supposing Trawlerson, prowling about the woods at night, and coming across Halkin, engaged in his poaching work, had gone for him---silenced him, as a man who knew a secret?

“I misdoubt we shall be hearing of a third murder!” he concluded lugubriously. “I misdoubt it!”

But Trace shook his head. He had never had any good opinion of Halkin, whom he had always regarded as a sly, canting rogue. His idea about Halkin’s disappearance was that the man had cleared out to get away from his wife, who was well known to be a shrew. Halkin didn’t interest him; he was wondering about the events of the afternoon, and if Parkapple and Preece would come back to us that evening with more news. But neither Preece nor Parkapple came; nobody came, until, long after dark, a timid tap at the back door summoned me to find Mrs. Halkin standing there, alone.

Mrs. Halkin had a big shawl about her head and shoulders, closely gathered around her sharp-featured face; her entire attitude suggested secrecy and mystery, and when she addressed me, it was in a whisper.

“Young man!” she said wheedlingly. “That housekeeper of the Captain’s, now---is she in?”

“No!” said I. “She’s out---it’s her day out.”

She came a bit nearer at that.

“Because,” she went on, still whispering, “I don’t want no women to hear what I’ve got to say---women, they talk! I don’t mind you and the other gentleman. But it’s the Captain I want to see. Confidential!”

Trace had overheard the whispering, and just then came to see what it was all about. I motioned Mrs. Halkin to come in.

“She wants to tell you something, I think,” I said, turning to Trace. “Private!”

“Which I don’t know anybody else in the village that I could tell it to, Captain Trace,” said Mrs. Halkin. “I know a gentleman when I see one, and I was housemaid in an officer’s family before I wed Halkin, and----”

Trace stopped her flood of talk by asking her into the parlour. I don’t think he felt any pleasure at seeing her, and though he gave her a chair politely enough, his tone was curt.

“Well?” he said. “What is it, Mrs. Halkin?”

Mrs. Halkin showed more of her sharp features and inspected the three of us, especially Macpherson, who, stolidly smoking his pipe, took stock of her in return.

“Feeling as how I couldn’t stop in that cottage up yonder one mortal hour longer,” she said, “and there being neither sign nor sound of Halkin, I’ve brought the children down to my mother’s in the village, and there they are and will be, and me too. And I came here, knowing as I do that here’s a gentleman as a deserted woman can speak to, free! Not minding this here young man, nor the gentleman across there, busy with his bit of tobacco----”

“What is it you want to say, Mrs. Halkin?” asked Trace. “Out with it, now?”

“Which I wasn’t going to say anything this afternoon, Captain Trace,” she announced. “Not before that Mrs. Preece, though, to be sure, I want Preece to find Halkin---if he can, which I doubt. But this here is not for Preece, but for you, as can give better advice than what Preece can.” She paused for a second or two, looking from one to the other of us as if in preface to some momentous announcement. “Captain!” she said, in a low, meaning voice. “Halkin!---he has money!”

We all stared at each other. I don’t think any of us had the ghost of an idea as to what she meant. None of us spoke.

“Money!” she repeated. “And---them above alone knows where he got it from! I don’t---and me his lawful wedded!”

“What do you mean about his having money, Mrs. Halkin?” asked Trace. “Do you mean he’s got some large sum lately, or---what?”

She nodded her shawled head slowly two or three times.

“Halkin,” she announced. “Halkin---he said to me, not so many days ago, that he’d come into a bit of the ready, and maybe we’d leave these parts altogether and go to a new country, across the sea. No more than that---and I didn’t dare to ask questions, for Halkin, though he’s as meek as a whipped dog when he’s at that chapel, is not pleasant to deal with under his own roof, being of a strange temper. But one night I watched him, through a crack in the wall, when he thought I’d gone to bed, and I saw him count money. A fortune!”

“And how much might ye reckon that would be, my good woman?” asked Macpherson. “There’d be gold in it, no doubt?”

“There was gold money and there was bank-notes, mister,” replied Mrs. Halkin. “I couldn’t say how much there was, but it was more money than I’d ever set eyes on in my life, or Halkin either, I’ll warrant! I say---a fortune!”

“Perhaps he’s had a legacy left to him?” suggested Trace.

“I never heard of nobody as could leave him such, Captain,” said Mrs. Halkin. “On no side at all!---neither father’s nor mother’s, nor uncles’ nor aunts’. However, there it is! As I say, Halkin has money!”

“What did he do with it, mistress, when you watched him?” enquired Macpherson.

“He put it all in a belt---a new belt it was too---and fastened it round his waist, mister, next to his shirt, if I may mention such a garment to gentlemen,” replied Mrs. Halkin. “And from that time to the time of his disappearance he never had that belt off of him! No!”

There was a moment’s silence. Then Trace spoke.

“Mrs. Halkin! What do you think yourself?”

The woman fingered her shawl for a while before she replied.

“I think it likely that Halkin’s run away and left me and those children, Captain Trace,” she said at last. “Halkin!---he’s none the man he professed to be down here in the village! He’s an oily tongue and a black heart. He hasn’t treated me well. I think he’s run away with that money. And I wanted to ask you, for I’m sure you’ll know---isn’t there some way of tracing people through them bank-notes? He’ll have to change them----”

“You don’t know the numbers of the notes, Mrs. Halkin,” said Trace. “But if Halkin had all this money on him when he went away, you ought to let the police know. He may have come to some harm. Now come, Mrs. Halkin, look here!---it’s no use keeping things back. Is it true that Halkin used to go poaching?”

She made no reply at first, but eventually she nodded.

“He went out at nights a deal, Captain,” she admitted. “I dare say----”

“You’ll know, now,” said Trace. “He couldn’t keep it from you.”

“Well, of course, he’d bring a thing or two home, now and again,” she said. “He was, as I say, out o’ nights. And---it was night when he went off.”

“You’ll have to tell everything to the police,” said Trace. “He may have been murdered for that money. Come with me, now, Mrs. Halkin. I’ll go down to Preece’s with you. It’s the only thing to do.”

He took her away there and then, but he was soon back with me and Macpherson, saying that Preece and Parkapple had not yet returned, and that he had sent Mrs. Halkin along to her mother’s. Macpherson was already considering what we had just heard.

“Where did yon man Halkin live?” he asked.

“In a lonely cottage, up the hill-side,” said I.

“Anywhere in the neighbourhood o’ yon old mill?” he suggested.

“Half a mile from it---to the west,” I replied.

Macpherson puffed slowly at his pipe for some time---in silence.

“Aye!” he remarked at last. “A man that’s evidently double-dealing in his nature and actions, and that goes out o’ nights, and lives in the neighbourhood o’ yon awesome old ruin on top o’ the hill---Captain!---it would no surprise me if Halkin hasn’t been mixed up in these crimes! It would not!”

It was just what I had been thinking myself, ever since Mrs. Halkin had told us about the money and her husband’s habit of night-strolling. Halkin, I thought, might, after all, be the man who ran away in the mist. But, to my surprise, Trace shook his head.

“In some indefinite, chance way---accessory after the facts---he might have been, Macpherson,” he replied. “But actively, no! The man’s an arrant coward! I know his sort---he hasn’t the spunk to be a courageous criminal. If he thought of murdering anybody, the shadow of the gallows would fall heavy across his vision, and he’d slink and run.”

“Aye, well, and I’m no so sure o’ that,” said Macpherson. “Meet a man in a straight fight for life---no, I’m not saying he’d do that. But yon Chissick was felled from behind---a coward’s blow! And that---aye, I think Halkin would be the man to hit when ’twas sure he couldn’t be hit back. Captain!---yon man has something more to do with all this than’s been reckoned on!”

“It’s all queer, and all suspicious,” agreed Trace. “And this detective, Parkapple, should know. Tom,” he went on, turning to me, “go down to Preece’s after a while and see if he and Parkapple have come back, and get them to come up here, if they have. Parkapple must be posted up.”

I went along to Preece’s cottage at ten o’clock that evening. He had not returned; his wife had heard nothing of him since his going out with the detective early in the afternoon. Still, she felt sure that he wouldn’t be long. Instead of telling her what I wanted---for I was becoming wonderfully close and cautious amidst all these doings---I said I would look in again, later, and went away; not to return to Trace’s house, but to wander up the village, in the darkness, wondering what the secrets were which, so far, seemed as impenetrable as the sea-fog into which Kest’s murderer had vanished.

It had been a hot day, that, one of the first really hot days we had that summer, and the cool night air that swept about the foot of the hill was grateful and refreshing. I went wandering aimlessly up the hill-side, past the shed that Chissick had built; past the oak trees. I was scarcely thinking about where I went; anyway, I went higher up than I had meant to, and eventually to the place where Kest had fallen before the unknown man’s knife. The recognition of that spot pulled me up short. I stood there in the darkness, reconstructing the crime, living over again the thrilling moments in which I had stared from the mill window, horror-struck, at the struggling men. That made me glance at the mill itself, standing black and gaunt against sky and stars, and as I glanced I saw, somewhere within it, a moving light.

There were cracks in the timbers of that mill; it was through them that I saw the light---a mere spark. But it moved. As I stood there, I saw it move from one side of the lower part of the structure to another; after it had wavered there a while, it disappeared. But I caught it again, higher up. Evidently, whoever held it had climbed the stair to the upper chamber from which, through the hole in the floor, I had watched Kest eat his bread and meat, and sup at his gin-and-water, and examine his map. And after a time it went still higher, and I remembered then that from that upper chamber a ladder rose to the dome at the extreme top of the mill. Plainly this explorer was climbing it.

My first instinct was to go boldly forward, nearer, and to wait until whoever it was that was in the mill came out by the half-ruinous doorway—the only means of egress. But I suddenly realised that it would be a foolish, and probably a highly risky, thing to do. It was more than likely that the man inside would have a confederate outside, watching. If there was such a confederate, he might already be watching me. Still . . .

I dropped on hands and knees at last, curiosity getting the better of me, and, with infinite caution, began to wriggle my way across the intervening space, taking advantage of any available cover. And very soon I came to the conclusion that the man in the mill, whatever he was after, was doing his job alone, and had no confederate, either inside or outside. Once hearing the scream of a rabbit, chased, no doubt, by stoat or weasel, in some adjacent warren, I paused, wondering if it really was a rabbit’s cry, or some skilful imitation of it by human lips, a signal to the light-carrier from a companion who had detected me. But it came again, once, sharply, and I knew it for what it was, and went on, crawling on my belly like a snake, and so I came up to where there was thick heather around the lower walls of the mill, and amongst that I lay still as a mouse when there are cats around, and waited, watching.

That spot was immediately in front of the ragged aperture in which the door had once been. I knew the man was still in the mill, for as I had wriggled along I had paused from time to time and watched the light. It was still in the slatted dome, high above, when I took up my position in the thick heather. And the holder of it must either have considered himself very safe from interruption or been prepared to take risks, for he was up there for a considerable time, fifteen or twenty minutes, I reckoned, before the light moved downwards. But---it moved at last, and presently, straining my ears, I heard steps, cautious but heavy, coming down the stair to the lower floor. I saw no more of the light, however. The next thing was a man, his figure silhouetted against the night and the stars, moving away from the mill in the direction of the woods.

The man was not Halkin: I knew that as soon as I clapped eyes on him. Nor was he Trawlerson: I knew that too. Halkin and Trawlerson were much alike in build and figure: men of medium height, and squarely built. But this---I saw his figure clearly enough, sharply outlined against the sky---was a tall man, of spare build; a fellow of long legs. Those legs carried him swiftly away. I had no sooner taken a good look at him than he was vanishing in the gloom; a second or two, and he was gone. And presently I heard the crackle of dry leaves, and the sound of a creaking branch as he set foot within the adjacent wood.

Presently, too, I sprang to my feet and raced down the hill-side, wondering and excited. But instead of bursting in on Trace and Macpherson with this latest news, I called again at Preece’s cottage. All was dark there; Mrs. Preece put her head out of the bedroom window and told me that the sergeant had not returned. I went home then, and for the next ten minutes had Macpherson and Trace listening open-mouthed. Macpherson shook his head knowingly when I had done.

“Aye!” he said ruminatively. “All of a piece with the rest of it---mysteries to the end!---wherever that may be. Man about?---aye! Something’ll have to be done, Captain, that’s no been attempted so far!”

We did nothing that night---except talk a bit before going to bed. We were all disappointed, I think, that Preece didn’t come knocking at the door, and I know that it was a long time before I went to sleep. I was awake before my time next morning too, and at half-past five I got up, and, going downstairs, lighted the kitchen fire and put on the kettle in preparation for an early cup of tea. And the kettle was just beginning to sing, and I was measuring the tea into its pot, when I heard a click of the garden gate, and, looking out of the window, saw Preece, half dressed, coming up the path.

39  Our Library / J. S. Fletcher - Sea Fog (1925) / Chapter 21: Recognition on: May 27, 2023, 10:59:31 am
FEWSTER came bustling in at the gate a few minutes later. Maddick had left the front door open, and he walked straight into the hall, calling for Preece as he crossed the threshold. But Preece, at a sign from the detective, made no answer, and Fewster turned sharp into the parlour. The first man he set eyes on, standing right in front of him, was Parkapple.

I don’t know why, but, quite apart from the discovery of the steel bar, I had a queer notion that something was going to happen when Fewster arrived---something out of the common. He couldn’t see Macpherson, or Trace, or Preece, or Maddick, as he walked in; they were behind him, at the other side of the room. He could have seen me; I stood a little to Parkapple’s right, between them. But he never looked at me; his eyes, starting, fixed themselves full on the little detective. And his big, flabby face turned white---a nasty, pasty white, and he caught his breath in a sudden gasp and half lifted a hand towards his heart. I realised then that Fewster knew Parkapple, and, glancing round, I saw that Parkapple knew Fewster.

I think the other three saw that too, and for a second there was a queer, dead silence. Then Parkapple spoke---and his voice was as hard and dry as ever human voice can be.

“Oh,” he said. “Ah! So we meet again, Mr.---Fewster, eh? Just so! Some time since we last met, I think?”

It seemed like a full minute, or more, before Fewster replied. And before he spoke, he dropped into the nearest chair---suddenly. His voice was husky when it came, and he tapped his chest.

“I’ll sit, if you please,” he muttered. “Hurried here!---and I have---heart trouble. Some time, as you say, Mr. Parkapple---considerable time, sir.”

Young as I was, I was sharp enough of wit to detect two dominant notes in Fewster’s tones. One was obsequiousness, the other fear. And his actions showed that he was frightened. The big bandanna handkerchief of the sort that he always carried came out of his tail-pocket, and he mopped his pasty face; when he put the handkerchief away, his small eyes glanced furtively at the men standing on the other side of the room. He saw that they were all watching him, and I could see him shrink.

“Yes, but not so long that one can’t recall everything about it,” remarked Parkapple, still more dryly. “Um!---but I want to ask a few questions about recent events, Mr. Fewster. I understand that you knew this man Chissick, who’s been murdered?”

“Yes, sir---yes, I knew Chissick,” answered Fewster hurriedly. “Oh yes!”

“Known him long?” asked the detective.

“I was here when he came here, Mr. Parkapple---resident here.”

“Just so---but had you known him before that?”

I could see that Fewster did not want to reply to that question. I could see, too, that he felt he’d got to. His answer came as hurriedly as before.

“Yes, yes, sir---yes, Mr. Parkapple, I had!”

“So it was a renewing of old acquaintance, eh, when Chissick came here?” suggested Parkapple. “Or---perhaps---it was due to you that he came? Was that it?”

“Well, sir, well---I certainly recommended this place to him---yes, you may say that was it, Mr. Parkapple---yes, I told him of the place, sir.”

“As a likely sort of spot for a man to---retire to, eh?” observed Parkapple. “I see!”

“There was the chance of doing a little business in his line, sir,” said Fewster. “That was the reason of my recommendation. I met him, accidentally, at Brighton. He wanted to do a bit of speculative building. I told him of this district. He came here. Nothing improper in that, I hope, sir?”

“No, I shouldn’t think so,” agreed Parkapple. “And, of course, you were very friendly after he came.”

“We were friends, sir---we were friends. Both being bachelor-men, you see----”

“When did you see Chissick alive last?” asked Parkapple suddenly.

“The evening before his death, between six and seven o’clock,” answered Fewster, with readiness. “Here!---in this room. I came to borrow a book he’d promised to lend. He mentioned that he was going to Brighton for the week-end. He often did that, Mr. Parkapple: he’d relatives there.”

“Well, you say it was owing to you that he came here---to do a bit of building. I suppose you sometimes discussed his doings?”

“Oh, in just the ordinary way, Mr. Parkapple---just the ordinary way. He might tell me of his ideas, and I might pass a remark on them---no more than that, sir.”

It seemed to me that Fewster’s shade of fear was passing off. His voice was growing steadier, and the colour was coming back to his face. And when Parkapple put the next question to him he replied more readily than ever.

“When you were in here, then, the evening before his death, did he say anything to you about that latest job of his---building those bungalows on the hill-side?”

“No, sir! He never mentioned that job to me on that occasion.”

Parkapple hesitated a moment; then he walked over to the bureau, lifted the sheet of paper, and taking up the steel bar, held it out to Fewster.

“Do you recognise that implement?” he asked.

Fewster’s face paled again as he looked at the thing and saw what was on it. But he answered as readily as before.

“Yes---it’s mine!” he said, “Chissick borrowed it from me a day or two before his death. He came and fetched it himself---took it with his own hands out of my tool-house; he said he wanted it to prise off the lid of a packing-case. The evening I called here---the evening before his death---I saw that tool; it was lying on that side-table there. He mentioned that he’d done with it, and I should have taken it with me, there and then, only I wasn’t going home; I was just setting out for a walk.”

Parkapple put the tool back in the bureau and closed the drawer.

“There’s very little doubt that that’s the thing with which Chissick was murdered,” he remarked. “If it was still lying on that side-table---where, you say, you saw it the night before---on that Saturday morning, the murderer must have picked it up as he followed Chissick from this room on their way to the back door. But come outside, Mr. Fewster. Preece, come with us.”

The three men went out; we heard them go to the back of the house. They were not long there; presently we saw them going down the front garden. Near the gate they paused, and for some time stood talking together. Fewster seemed to be explaining something to the other two. After a time, it was evident from their movements that all three came to some understanding. Fewster, looking much relieved, I thought, went away, and Parkapple and Preece came back to the house. The detective looked preoccupied; it was very clear that what had happened had given him a good deal to reflect upon.

“I think that’s all we can do this afternoon,” he said, as soon as he and Preece re-entered the parlour. “Of course, you’ll all keep everything that’s taken place to yourselves. Maddick, be careful not to say a word to anybody in the village! Well---lock the place up, Preece.”

We all went away soon after that, Parkapple carrying the steel bar with him, carefully wrapped in paper. Outside the gate, Macpherson, who had been itching to speak for some time, nodded his head towards Fewster’s house, the gables and chimneys of which we could see over his orchard.

“You’ll be knowing yon man Fewster, I’m thinking, Mr. Parkapple?” he said, with a meaning glance. “You’ll ha’ set your eyes on him before?”

But Parkapple was not to be drawn.

“I’ve known and have set eyes on a sight of my fellow-creatures in my time, Mr. Macpherson!” said he. “And it wouldn’t do for me to be answering questions about them. Well---thank you for your assistance, gentlemen.”

He turned away towards the railway station, and Preece with him, and the rest of us went homeward. Macpherson showed signs of feeling affronted.

“Yon’s a man o’ the true-blood official sort,” he muttered. “He gets what he can out of a body, and tells nothing in return! Where’ll he be away to now, I wonder?”

“He’ll be off to see the local police authorities, of course,” said Trace. “To show them that bit of steel. It’s a highly important discovery, that!”

“Aye, it’s important!” agreed Macpherson. “But I’m thinking there’s more important matters than yon to consider. When you take into account the fact that yon bit o’ cold iron battered the life out of a living man, and that it’s the property of Fewster, and that Fewster confessed it was his, there’s a question I should have required a straight answer to before I’d let Fewster out o’ my sight!”

“What?” enquired Trace.

“Oh, just this. I should ha’ requested Fewster to give a circumstantial account of all his movements that Saturday, from his rising up to his lying down, and I should ha’ wanted proof o’ the truth of whatever he said in reply,” answered Macpherson. “Aye, just that! But I suppose detective men have other notions.”

“What you mean, Macpherson, is that you’d have made Fewster prove an alibi before you’d have let him go!” said Trace, with a laugh. “I should say---from what I’ve seen of Parkapple---that that’s just what Parkapple did! When they were all there talking at the gate, Parkapple no doubt made Fewster tell his doings that Saturday.”

“Man! Fewster could ha’ told ’em as many lies as there’s mites in an old cheese!” exclaimed Macpherson. “I said---proof! D’ye mind the look Fewster gave Parkapple when he walked into yon parlour? I do! D’ye recall the look Parkapple gave Fewster? Losh, man, I see it now! Those two had met!---aye, and where? And if you want my opinion, it is that when they last met, Fewster was in the dock, and Parkapple in the witness-box! Aye!”

“What---another revelation?” said Trace. “Come!”

“I’m telling you,” persisted Macpherson. “Didn’t you notice how very subservient yon big, fat man, a retired gentleman, as he’s considered hereabouts, was to the detective, calling him sir and mister at every verse-end? Man!---yon Parkapple knows all about Fewster! Aye, it reminded me o’ what I’ve seen, and you’ve seen yourself, Captain, at assizes and quarter-sessions, when the poor fellow in the dock’s been found guilty---you know what happens then! There’s a man appears with a bundle o’ papers, few sometimes, and a many at other times, and reads out a record o’ past misdeeds---previous convictions. Oh, man!---I’m afeard Parkapple recognised a naughty man in Fewster!”

I don’t know what Trace was going to reply to this. We had just turned into the village street then, and our attention was diverted from the subject in hand by the sight of a group of people, mainly old men, women, and children, gathered in front of Sergeant Preece’s cottage. They seemed to be listening to voluble speech on the part of a woman who, holding two children by the hands, one on either side of her, was addressing herself to all and sundry. She was an ill-dressed, haggard-looking creature, of a shrewish aspect, and her voice was strident and insistent. But at sight of us she grew silent, and Mrs. Preece, the sergeant’s wife, who was standing at her garden gate, pushed her way through the throng and approached us.

“Have you seen anything of my husband, Captain Trace?” she asked. “Do you know where he is, sir?”

“I believe he’s gone into town with Mr. Parkapple,” replied Trace. “What is it, Mrs. Preece? Something gone wrong?”

Mrs. Preece indicated the complaining woman.

“It’s Mrs. Halkin,” she answered. “She’s come down to the village to say that her husband’s disappeared. He went out---when was it, Mrs. Halkin?”

“Night before last!” said Mrs. Halkin angrily. “Without a word to me, either. I’ve no idea where he was going, nor why! All I know is, he’s never come back, and there I am left with these here childer up in that cottage, all alone, and what I say is, that what’s the use of having policemen about if they can’t find a woman’s husband, and----”

Macpherson laid a hand on Mrs. Halkin’s shoulder.

“Aye, just so!” he said soothingly. “And now let’s be hearing all about it, my lass! What time o’ night was it when Halkin went out?”

We heard the whole story; the rest of the folk listened, open-mouthed, for certainly the second, and perhaps the third time. There was not a great deal to tell, though Mrs. Halkin made a great deal of it. That day was a Wednesday. On the Monday night, Halkin, after having his supper at eight o’clock, had gone out of the house, and had never returned to it.

“Was it a habit of his to go out o’ nights, now?” asked Macpherson. “Maybe he’d come down to the public and take his glass?”

But there an old man, who supported himself on two sticks, raised his voice.

“No, master, he wasn’t a man for the public, wasn’t Halkin! You’d see him there now and then, but very seldom. No---not a sociable man, he wasn’t.”

“Well, did he go out o’ nights?” enquired Macpherson, again turning to Mrs. Halkin. “If that was his habit----”

But Mrs. Halkin suddenly froze into silence---on that question, at any rate. Muttering something about the police again, and that Halkin would have to be found, she dragged off her children and disappeared towards the hill-side, taking no further notice of Macpherson and his questions. The old man who had volunteered information as to Halkin’s lack of sociability volunteered more.

“Her isn’t goin’ to say no more on that there p’int, master,” he remarked with a sly look. “Her don’t want no inconvaynient questions. Halkin!---ah, there be them as do know a bit about he! Halkin, he be a poacher! mighty clever hand he be at that, Halkin! I misdoubt he’ve come to some mishap in they woods. For there ’tis---he be a poacher!”

40  Our Library / J. S. Fletcher - Sea Fog (1925) / Chapter 20: The Thatched Roof on: May 27, 2023, 10:39:22 am
THERE was an air of jaunty confidence about Parkapple when he said this that made us all regard him with wonder. I suppose that what we all had in our minds was the fact that the local police and the previous detectives from London had done everything in their power to detect Chissick’s murderer, and so far had failed. For the moment nobody spoke. But presently Macpherson found his tongue.

“Ye think that’ll be an easy job, Mr. Parkapple?” he suggested.

“Don’t know whether it’ll be easy or difficult, Mr. Macpherson,” answered the detective, with a laugh. “Difficult, I imagine! But it’s what I’m here for.”

“My opinion,” remarked Macpherson, “is that this case needs a deal o’ research. Whoever tackles it should go far back into the past, Mr. Parkapple!”

“Very likely, Mr. Macpherson, but I’m a man of the present! I can’t---just now, at any rate---go raking up things of two-and-forty years ago. I want to find out who killed Chissick---perhaps we’ll find out why later on.”

“You’re not concerned with the question of what Chissick dug out----”

“May have dug out, you mean,” interrupted Parkapple good-humouredly. “I’ve no proof that he dug out anything!”

“Dug out, or may have dug out, o’ yon cavity in the corner of his new shed,” continued Macpherson imperturbably. “Do you tell me you attach no importance to that, now?”

“I’ll attach no end of importance to it, Mr. Macpherson, if I find that it bears on the case,” replied Parkapple. “You do, don’t you?”

“My considered and deliberate opinion,” said Macpherson solemnly, “is that the man Chissick dug up out o’ that hole a parcel o’ diamonds, contained in a tin box, which tin box, emptied of its contents, was discovered by Sergeant Preece in Chissick’s waste-bin only recently, and that whoever murdered Chissick perpetrated that deed in order to rob him of those diamonds! Man!---we have the facts before us!”

“Well, let’s see if we can spot the guilty man,” said Parkapple. “When we’ve got him, we can find out what his motive was.” He turned to Preece. “First of all,” he continued, “there’s the question of this man Trawlerson. You’ve failed to get any news whatever of him?”

“Absolutely!” replied Preece. “We’ve scoured the whole country-side for him! No good---none whatever! We’ve enquired at the place where he lives. It’s quite true he’s a nice little property there, at Fareham. He’s known there as a quiet, respectable man. But the woman who acts as day-servant to him says he’s never been home for some time; at least, if he has been, it must have been in the night, for she’s never seen him. She says, indeed, she’s never set eyes on him since a date that fits in with the time when all these things began. We’ve found out that he has a banking account at Portsmouth---well, he’s never been at his bank for weeks, nor have they heard anything of him there, nor had any cheques of his presented, though they say that it had been his custom to get a small cheque cashed once a week at a tradesman’s in Fareham. No!---we’ve heard nothing whatever of Trawlerson since Halkin saw him and heard him speak that Saturday evening at the garden gate of Chissick’s house---nothing at all! He’s clean vanished.”

Parkapple took his papers out of his bag again and referred to something.

“Halkin, now?” he said presently. “Is he a dependable man?”

“Oh yes!” replied Preece. “Bit of a talker---I call him a humbug, myself---but you can depend on him. He’s a village gossip, you understand---a sort of Nosey Parker---but in a matter of this sort I should believe his word.”

“Well,” said Parkapple, referring to his papers, “Halkin said that he saw and heard Trawlerson at Chissick’s garden gate at dusk that Saturday evening, and evidently he thought, or wished it to be thought, that Trawlerson had been in Chissick’s house. Now, according to the doctors, Chissick at that time had been dead some hours. That was what they said at the inquest, wasn’t it?”

“They say so still,” replied Preece. “I told them, of course, what Halkin said. They paid no attention to it. At least, what they said was this---Halkin may have heard and seen Trawlerson at Chissick’s garden gate on that Saturday evening, but that makes no difference to their opinion. There were three doctors examined Chissick within an hour of the discovery of his dead body. They’re all dead certain that when Chissick was found dead, he’d been dead not less than forty to forty-two hours. That shows that he was murdered Saturday noon.”

Parkapple made no comment on this; he paid no attention to Macpherson’s muttered remark that doctors were no more to be reckoned infallible than the Man of Rome. He put away his papers again, and turned to Preece.

“Well, I suppose nobody’s interfered with that house of Chissick’s?” he asked. “That is, nobody but yourselves?”

“No,” replied Preece. “We’ve examined it pretty thoroughly, though. I don’t think there’s much likelihood of anything being discovered there.”

“Perhaps not---but I’m going to examine it,” said Parkapple. “I’ll have a thorough look round it, this afternoon. You can all come and help, if you like,” he continued, turning to the rest of us. “And,” he added, addressing himself to Preece, “you must get me a carpenter---a man that you can trust to hold his tongue---and he must bring some tools with him. Knowing what I do know of Chissick, or, as he really was, Creswick, I’m going to know all I can about his house and what there is in it. We’ll meet there at, say, two o’clock.”

I was so excited at the prospect of actively engaging in real detective work that I could scarcely eat any dinner that day, and I was impatient enough to get off to Chissick’s cottage when dinner was over. We encountered Parkapple and Preece as we went along the lane; they had Will Maddick with them, a young carpenter who had been employed by the dead man. Chissick’s garden gate was secured by a padlock, of which Preece had the key; at Parkapple’s instructions, he locked it again after we had all passed through. Preece had the keys of the house too; although summer was close at hand, it was cold and cheerless inside, and the silence that met us as we walked about was intensely depressing. Parkapple, however, was full of activity. He took a glance into every room in the place, upstairs and down; walked round the garden; examined the orchard and the yard at the back; and, having acquainted himself with the general aspect of the property, set to work on a more detailed inspection. He wanted a complete overhauling of everything, he said---just to satisfy himself about certain things. And having set Macpherson to one job, and Preece to another, and Trace to a third, and Maddick to a fourth, he tapped me on the shoulder and beckoned me to follow him outside to the back garden.

There was an old draw-well in a corner of that back garden; an ancient affair with a windlass and a bucket, and with a wooden covering over the top of the well-shaft. Parkapple led me straight to this, and himself lifted the cover. He peered down into the depths beneath. Standing beside him and peering down too, I could see the water shining far below.

“I wonder what the depth of that water is?” he said musingly. “Look in that outhouse, my boy, and see if you can find a rope and something heavy to fasten at the end of it.”

I found a rope---which, to be exact, was an old clothes-line---easily enough, and a bit of old iron to act as a plummet, and went back to the well with them. Parkapple let the line down into the water until the weight touched bottom.

“Not much water in there,” he remarked, drawing up the rope and showing me that no more than two or three feet of its length was wet. “Very poor supply, I should call that!---a dribbling sort of spring, if it is a spring. I should say it’s nothing but drainings of surface water. Anyway, my lad, there’s your bit of a job! You set to work and draw all that water out. There’s the bucket---chuck the water away, anywhere, as you draw it.”

This was not my idea of high-class detective work, but I didn’t say so; instead, I took off my coat and waistcoat and rolled up my shirt-sleeves.

“What’s the idea, Mr. Parkapple?” I ventured to enquire as I seized the handle of the windlass and pushed the bucket over the edge. “Do you think there’s something down there, under the water?”

“Ah!” he answered, with a laugh. “Who knows? There’s an old saying, my boy---truth lies at the bottom of a well! You clear all that water out, and when that’s done, let me know, and we’ll see about getting a ladder and going down to see if anything’s lying in the mud.”

He went off to the others in the house, and I set to work at my task. If I had read as much in those days as I have read since, I might have quoted something to Parkapple about:

   “the toil
    Of dropping buckets into empty wells,
    And growing old in drawing nothing up.”

However, though there was but some two or three feet of water in it, that well was not empty, and I had to wind and unwind that old windlass a lot of times before the surface began to shrink appreciably. It was a hot afternoon, and a hot job. I had not only to hoist up each bucketful, but to unhook the bucket from the chain of the windlass and carry it---and it was heavy---across the orchard to a ditch that ran just within the hedgerow. Stiff work---but, after all, I was assisting in the detection, or attempted detection, of a crime.

We had had salted beef for dinner that day, at Trace’s, and what with that, and the labour of drawing up and carrying that iron-bound bucket, I grew thirsty. So I went across to the back door of the cottage to get a cup or a mug, anything to dip into the next bucketful of water. And as I went, crossing patches of vegetables, and with no idea whatever of looking for anything, or seeing anything, or discovering anything, I suddenly saw---something!

Chissick’s house, like a great many houses in that part of the country, was thatched---with straw. Thatching is a fine art thereabouts; a first-class roof of thatch will last you for two or three generations, perhaps longer. This house had been beautifully thatched. I was admiring the thatching as I walked across the garden, between the beds of onions and beets. It was in two parts, that house. One, the principal wing, was tall, with a high, sloping roof; the other, the kitchen part, was low; you could touch the eaves of the thatch there with your hand. And at a corner of that part, just behind a thick holly-bush, I saw, slightly protruding from the thatch, something which I knew at once had nothing to do with it and had no place there, and looked like steel---it shone, though dully, in the sun. And I went up, and crowding in between the holly-bush and the wall, reached above me, and drew out from the thatch a length of steel, a sort of pick, or small crow-bar, on one end of which there were dark, thick stains, still sticky, and on them fragments of what I was sure was human hair.

I must have stood motionless for several minutes, staring at the thing in my hand. But I knew, all the time, that I was handling the weapon with which the life had been beaten out of Chissick. That was Chissick’s hair!---Chissick’s blood! It was as if the murder was being re-enacted.

A thrush suddenly perched in an apple-tree close by, and set up a loud song, and I started into activity at that and made for the house. There was no one in the kitchen. I heard Macpherson and Trace talking somewhere upstairs. I saw Preece examining a cupboard in the little hall. But I went straight into the parlour, where the detective and the carpenter were---literally---pulling to pieces an old bureau. I think my face must have gone pale, for they started as they stared at me.

“Mr. Parkapple!” said I, in a voice which I scarcely recognised as my own. “Look at this!”

He started afresh then, for he saw the stains and the bits of hair. But while he kept silent, staring, Maddick let out a cry:

“That’s Mr. Fewster’s! I know it! I’ve used it many a time when I’ve been working there!”

“What’s Fewster’s?” demanded Parkapple sharply. “That piece of steel?”

“Sure enough, sir! That’s his---Fewster’s! I’ve worked with it. More by token, look there---his initials stamped on it! He’s a good lot of tools---a shed full of ’em, back of his house.”

The other men had heard something unusual going on by that time, and they came crowding into the room in time to hear Maddick’s last declaration. Parkapple took the piece of steel out of my hand gingerly.

“Where did you find this, my lad?” he asked.

“Thrust into the thatch, back of the house,” I answered. “I saw it by accident---I think it had slipped down a bit from where it had been pushed in.”

He turned to the other men, pointing.

“Look at that---and that!” he said, in a low voice. And Maddick says he recognises this bar as the property of that man you spoke of---Fewster!”

“No doubt about that, sir!” affirmed Maddick. “I tell you, I’ve used it many a time when I’ve been working there.”

“Where does this Fewster live?” enquired Parkapple. “Just along here?” He hesitated a moment and then turned to Maddick. “Just run round there; see if he’s at home. If he is, ask him to step along here to meet Sergeant Preece. But---not a word of this, you understand?”

Maddick nodded his complete comprehension, and hurried off. Parkapple laid the steel bar within a drawer and put a sheet of paper over it. He didn’t seem inclined to talk, and the rest of us kept silence. And within a few minutes Maddick was back, with another nod at Parkapple. He had been running, and he panted out just one word:


41  Our Library / J. S. Fletcher - Sea Fog (1925) / Chapter 19: Detective-Sergeant Parkapple on: May 27, 2023, 10:22:42 am
I FIRST set eyes on the famous Detective-Sergeant Parkapple in the parlour of the village inn, where, with a glass of bitter ale in front of him, and a crust of bread and cheese in his hand, he was arguing with the landlord and Sergeant Preece about the best methods to be adopted in the successful growing of vegetable marrows. He was not a bit like a detective; at any rate, not a bit like my idea of a detective. I had always thought of detectives as men whose appearance suggested mystery: there was nothing mysterious about Parkapple. He was a little, plump man, with a cheery, pink face and mutton-chop whiskers; very smartly dressed, in a black morning coat, fancy waistcoat, and fashionable striped trousers. He wore spats to his shoes and had a shiny silk hat and a neatly rolled umbrella. And his manner was frank, chatty, and jovial---when conversing about vegetables, anyway. I made out, from his talk, that he lived at Surbiton, and possessed a garden in which he spent all his spare time, and, young as I was, it struck me that gardening was probably his proper job in life, and that he had got thrown into police work by accident and had somehow stuck where he was thrown.

When this great man (of whose fame and deeds, in the way of criminal-catching, Preece had told us a lot, the night before) had finished his refreshment, he went with Preece and me to Trace’s, whose house by that time had come to be regarded by the police as a highly convenient centre for discussions. We had a sort of informal committee meeting there, at which Macpherson and Preece did most of the talking. As for Parkapple, he lighted a cigar, folded his plump hands over his fancy waistcoat, and listened. He was a good listener, but though, boy-like, I watched him with absorbed attention, I could not see a flicker of anything like interest in his face. He just listened, politely. And after Macpherson had said all that he had to say, and Preece had followed suit, Parkapple said a few quiet words which showed that he already knew pretty well everything they had told him. I was not surprised at that, when, a few minutes later, he opened a little dispatch-case which he carried about with him and drew from it a sheaf of papers, amongst which were quantities of sheets on which newspaper reports had been neatly pasted. Yet, to be sure, there were certain things with which he was not conversant, such as the Hentidge story, and the evidence of Pyker, and that of the man brought to us by Silvermore. What I, and, I think, Trace too (Macpherson certainly did), wanted to know was---what did Parkapple make of that aspect of the question?

Parkapple didn’t tell us; for the time being, he seemed to regard all that as irrelevant; at any rate, he put it aside quietly. Out of his mass of papers he produced one, a folded sheet of official-looking foolscap. With this unopened in his hand, he took his cigar out of his lips and looked round at Trace, Macpherson, and Preece.

“Which of you gentlemen lived here, in this village, when Chissick came to it?” he asked. Trace and Macpherson promptly shook their heads. Macpherson, of course, was not a villager at all. Trace was, comparatively, a new-comer.

“I lived here,” answered Preece. “It’s five years since he came.”

“What did you know of him, when he did come?” asked Parkapple.

“Why, nothing! He was a stranger.”

“Well, what did you learn of him? What did he do?”

Preece put on his thinking-cap.

“Let’s see?” he said. “Five years is a long time---lots o’ things happened in that time. Well, Chissick---first thing I knew of him, or anybody knew of him, he turned up here, a complete stranger, and bought that home in which he lived ever afterwards till he was murdered the other day. Bought it from an old man who had it to sell, and who’s now dead. I think I seem to remember that they said Chissick gave eight hundred pounds for the house, garden, and orchard, freehold---it’s not a very big place. And---well, then he settled down. Did nothing at first. Retired gentleman, you know, in the beginning, anyway.”

“When did he begin to do anything?” asked Parkapple.

“After a bit,” replied Preece, “he began speculating a time or two in land. Bought up a plot here and a plot there, d’ye see?---and, of course, sold them again. Then he began building a bit---and selling what he’d built as soon as it was finished. He kept on at that game. During the last two years he did a good lot at it; had a builder’s yard, and employed a fair lot of men.”

“I suppose you knew him pretty well?”

“As a resident, yes---no more. Never had any great amount of talk to him.”

“You don’t know, and never did know, anything about his past? Where he came from, for instance?”

“No! I do know this, though---he wasn’t a native of these parts. You could tell that by his speech.”

Parkapple turned, and, looking at me, gave me a close, searching inspection.

“This is the lad, Tom Crowe, who’s figured in this case a lot, isn’t it?” he asked. “Very well---is he to be trusted thoroughly?”

They all spoke up for me. I began to think a lot of myself as I heard them. And Parkapple nodded.

“So I’d heard!” he remarked, with a smile. “I shouldn’t have said as much as I have if I hadn’t. Very well; as Master Tom there seems to be one of the cabinet, we can talk freely. This Chissick, now---I have his record here!”

I don’t think any of us knew what he meant, with the exception of Preece. I am sure Trace and I didn’t, and I believe Macpherson only guessed. But Preece, as a policeman of experience, started.

“Ah!” he exclaimed. “Record, eh? Just so!”

“Record!” continued Parkapple. “You see, when the fact came out about Chissick’s murder, there was mention of his habit of going to Brighton to spend his week-ends. Very good! I went to Brighton! I got information at Brighton that enabled me to work back---a long way. To cut things short, I’ve investigated Chissick’s past---I’ve only just finished the investigation. It’s all here,” he added, tapping his folded paper. “I’ll give you the gist of it.”

He searched for and found a pair of spectacles, and began polishing them, leisurely---too leisurely for me, and, I think, for Macpherson, who by this time was all agog with excitement and began to mutter.

“Aye!” he murmured, shifting about in his seat at the table. “Aye!---it’ll be another digging up o’ dry bones out o’ the grave o’ the past! Aye!---and maybe he’ll be able to clothe them in flesh and blood---ye’ll no doubt have some more than ordinary revelations to make, Mr. Parkapple?”

“Oh, so---so!” replied the detective. “Nothing very wonderful, Mr. Macpherson---just such facts as you generally get in such cases. Of course, you see, this man’s real name wasn’t Chissick at all.”

“D’ye tell me that, now!” exclaimed Macpherson. “Aye, and what would it be, I’m wondering?”

Parkapple had fitted on his spectacles by that time. He unfolded his paper and began to give us bits from it, punctuating them with remarks.

“The real name of this man was James Creswick,” he said. “His father was a small builder and contractor at Middlesbrough. He himself was apprenticed to that trade---to the building trade. But when he was about twenty he seems to have left it, and at twenty-one he was working as a clerk in the employ of a firm of shipping merchants at Newcastle. Three years afterwards he was secretary to a building society at Darlington: a building society the members of which were chiefly working-class people, folk who wanted to buy their own houses, you know.”

“Aye, there’s a deal o’ societies o’ that sort in the North,” agreed Macpherson.

“Well, he evidently did very well in this capacity,” continued Parkapple. “I mean well for the society---so well, indeed, that within a few years he was not only secretary but treasurer into the bargain, and had the entire affairs of the concern in his hands. However, when he was about thirty-five, some officious member began to suspect that something was wrong. He induced other members to join him in an enquiry; there was a drastic one, and the result was Creswick’s arrest, on a charge of falsifying accounts, forging documents, and embezzling the society’s money. Pretty bad, eh?”

“Aye---aye!” moaned Macpherson. “Aye---it’s a grave matter!”

“Grave enough! Well, he was tried at Durham Assizes, and found guilty, and he got seven years’ penal servitude,” continued Parkapple. “He served part of that sentence at Dartmoor, and part at Parkhurst.”

“That’s where Kest was,” observed Preece.

“Exactly!” said Parkapple. “Kest and Creswick were at Parkhurst about the same time. Creswick left first, some little time before Kest, but they certainly had some months together as fellow-guests in His Majesty’s hotel, as they call it.”

“They must have met!” exclaimed Preece. “In that case----”

“To be sure! But we haven’t got to that yet,” said Parkapple. “Continuing with Creswick---he proved himself, as his sort invariably do, quite a model and well-behaved prisoner, and earned the full period of remission. When he was discharged his friends sent him away---to Australia. He came back from Australia a few years after, called on his brother, who’s a very respectable man at Brighton, and said he’d done well where he’d been, had saved a nice bit of money, and had come home to start life again in England under a new name---or, rather, under the name in which he’d left, which was Chissick. And then---he came here.”

Parkapple uttered the last three words with a snap of his plump jaws, and, taking off his spectacles, put the paper back amongst his other documents. He picked up his cigar, which had smouldered at his side while he read, puffed at it for a minute, and then discharged a question, point-blank, at Preece.

“Know anything against him---as Chissick?” he asked.

But Preece shook his head, with definite decision.

“Nothing! Always a law-abiding man, I thought. Keen, they said, about his bargains, but---no, there’s nothing whatever against him here.”

Parkapple laid a finger on his newspaper extracts.

“I learn from these local accounts of the inquest on Kest that Chissick was one of the coroner’s jury,” he observed. “Did he show any particular interest in the case?”

“Not more than any other juryman,” replied Preece. “That is, as far as I recollect.”

“He was deeply interested, though,” remarked Trace. “I can tell as to that. Kest was murdered in the presence of Tom Crowe here very early in the morning. By breakfast-time, the news had spread over the village. Before Tom and I had finished our breakfast, Chissick and Fewster----”

“Fewster---who’s Fewster?” interrupted Parkapple sharply.

“A man who lives in the village, a retired business man, who was Chissick’s great pal,” replied Trace. “Chissick and Fewster, I say, before we’d finished breakfast that morning of Kest’s murder, walked in here for news. They didn’t get any!---I wouldn’t allow Tom to speak. But---they were keen! Chissick especially. And, if we’re going to be so confidential about it, I’ve come to a conclusion since---in fact, quite recently, since Chissick’s death---why Chissick was keen, and what he really wanted!”

“Well, what do you think he really did want?” asked Parkapple.

Trace hesitated. Then he spoke firmly, more firmly than I had ever known him speak. “I think he wanted to assure himself that this boy was absolutely unable to identify the man who knifed Kest and ran away in the mist!” he answered. “Just---that!”

“And you wouldn’t let this lad tell him?” suggested Parkapple.

“No! The lad himself refused to tell anything---then. But,” added Trace significantly, “Chissick soon got to know!”


“At the inquest. Tom told the coroner there, in his evidence, that he could not possibly identify the man.”

“Did you notice if Chissick showed any sign of---well, anything, when he heard that?” enquired Parkapple.

“No! But he heard it. The point was emphasised,” said Trace. “A good deal was made of it.”

Parkapple turned to me.

“Sea fog, wasn’t it, my boy?” he suggested. “Pretty thick?”

“Very thick, sir,” I answered. “Thick, white, clinging!”

“But you saw the man who ran off after knifing Kest?”

“Oh, I saw him, yes, Mr. Parkapple---as a figure!”

“Well, now, as to a figure. Was his figure anything like Chissick’s?”

“Well,” I answered hesitatingly, “I should say---it was! A middle-height man, thick-set.”

Parkapple began to put his papers in his bag. Suddenly, in the midst of a dead silence, he turned to me again.

“Are you a very sound sleeper, my lad?” he asked. “Real sound?”

“Yes, sir,” I answered. “Especially when I’ve been out in the open all day.”

“As you had on that occasion, I think,” he remarked. “Do you think it possible that two men could have met and talked in the lower part of that old mill without waking you on the floor above?”

“Yes, sir,” I said promptly. “I’m sure they could!”

He closed his bag with a snap of the catch and stood up.

“Looks to me, you know,” he said, glancing at Preece and the other two, “as if Chissick, to give him his assumed name, had gone up there that morning to meet Kest, and as if they’d quarrelled and rushed out of the mill fighting, with the result we know of. Chissick may have been afraid of Kest giving him away as an ex-convict. I think, considering everything, that perhaps---only perhaps, mind you!---Chissick did murder Kest.”

“But---who murdered Chissick?” muttered Macpherson. “Chissick!”

“Oh, that!” answered Parkapple, almost unconcernedly. “That is what we’re going to find out!”

42  Our Library / J. S. Fletcher - Sea Fog (1925) / Chapter 18: Ditti-Box and ’Bacca-Box on: May 27, 2023, 10:04:06 am
SILVERMORE turned up at Preece’s one afternoon in company with a little elderly man who had all the unmistakable signs of the seafarer on him. Preece brought the two of them up to Trace’s; we could talk more freely there, he said, than in his cottage, where there were women-folk about. And Silvermore introduced his companion as Silas Cushion.

“The man that pledged that ditty-box with me,” he explained. “He’s been knocking about all over the world since then, and has only just come back. And---he’s been reading the papers, and came to see me in consequence. There isn’t much those newspaper chaps have left out, I think!”

Silvermore was right there. The newspaper reporters, or correspondents, or whatever they called themselves, had made the most of what they termed the South Downs Mystery. It constituted a fine story, and they had given every detail they could lay hands on about it. I think the police authorities encouraged them, under the impression that publicity of the widest sort would be a good thing.

“Yes?” said Preece. He sized up Silas Cushion with a comprehensive inspection. “That ditty-box, now?” he continued. “I suppose you know all about it? Previous history, eh?”

Cushion was one of those men who appear to be always chewing something. It may have been that he had a quid of tobacco in his cheek, but his jaws were for ever working. This gave him a meditative expression.

“Well,” he answered ruminatingly, “from the time I got it. Not before---though, to be sure, I know where it came from.”

“That’s just what we’d like to know,” said Preece. “Where did it come from?”

“To me,” replied Cushion, “from a man that I knew years ago. Him and me was shipmates. In the Pacific, that was. Merchant vessel---from Valparaiso to Sydney. He was took bad, uncommon bad, just before we made Sydney. And, of course, they put him in hospital. I used to go to see him there. But he was mostly past speech. Never got nothing much out of him, nohow. Nothing about his private affairs, you understand. And one day when I goes up to the hospital, they tells me he’d died. In the night---a bit sudden, at the last. There was a few things of his that had been taken to the hospital with him. The hospital folks, they give ’em to me, d’ye see, as being the only man that knew anything about him. That ditty-box, it was amongst ’em.”

“What was this man’s name?” asked Preece.

“Cossin---Dave Cossin. Name I knew him by, anyway. Some of ’em, of course, has a many names in a lifetime. But from what I see of him, I should say that was his right name.”

“What like was he, can you say?” demanded Macpherson eagerly. “Was he a tall, dark, spare fellow, now?”

But Cushion shook his head---with signs of a decided negative.

“No, mister, he was not!” he answered. “He was a little, sandy, weechy sort of a chap! I never rightly knew whether he was Scotch or Irish---one of ’em. I did hear him say once he was born in Liverpool. But there’s a sight of Irish there---and Scotch too. No!---he wasn’t at all what you say. An offal sort o’ little man.”

“Did he ever tell you where he got that ditty-box, or what was in it?” enquired Preece.

“He did not. Never mentioned it to me, as I remember. I never see it, neither, till it was give to me by the hospital folks, when he was dead. You see, when they took him off from the ship to the hospital, I reckon they bundled up all the bits o’ things he had in his locker, and sent ’em with him, and the ditty-box was amongst ’em. No, I never had no word from him about it.”

Macpherson was obviously intensely disappointed to find that the man who died in hospital at Sydney did not answer to the description of either Kit Flinch or Ralph Charlesworth, and he muttered something about an impasse. But Preece, as became an intelligent policeman who had kept his ears open at quarter-sessions and assizes, proceeded with his examination-in-chief.

“Well, you eventually pledged that ditty-box with Mr. Silvermore there, at Portsmouth, didn’t you?” he suggested. “You, yourself?”

“Oh, I pledged it!” said Cushion. “With other matters. A bit down on my luck at that time, I was. Yes!”

“Well, now, Mr. Silvermore says there were a lot of small articles, curiosities, and the like, in the box. Were they all what you’d found in it, when it was given to you after Cossin’s death?”

“No! Some were what was in it then; some was what I put into it time and again. Bits o’ things. Such as a man what uses the sea picks up, you understand.”

“Well, about this map,” continued Preece, producing his pocket-book. “You’ve read about it in the newspapers? Just so! Was it in the ditty-box when that came into your possession?”

“Oh yes---the map was there! Lying at the bottom---a lot o’ little things atop of it.”

“Had you any idea as to what it meant---what it was about?”

“Not I! I’ve seen that sort o’ thing before. I thought it was something Cossin had drawed out, or somebody’d drawed out for him---’maginary stuff, I reckoned! I never gave no particular heed to it.”

“But you left it in the box?”

“Never took it out but once, when I examined what was in the box. I put it back then, and t’other articles on top of it. There it stuck, and there it was when I pledges it at Mr. Silvermore’s.”

“Would you know it again if you saw it, Cushion?”

“Oh I should know it---remember it, and how it was drawed, well enough!”

Preece produced the map from his pocket-book, and spread it on the parlour table.

“Is that it?” he asked.

“Oh, that’s it, right enough!” declared Cushion. “Don’t look no worse, neither.”

“You can swear that’s the map you found in the ditty-box at Sydney?”

“Swear to it, yes! No doubt about it!”

Preece put the map away again.

“Have you ever known a man named Kest?” he asked abruptly.

“Not as I’m aware of,” replied Cushion. “I’ve read about him, of course, in these here newspaper pieces, but I can’t recall him nohow. He may ha’ been known to me at some time or other, under another name, d’ye see? But as Kest---no, don’t know him at all.”

“Did you ever talk to anybody, any of your shipmates, anybody at all, about this map?”

“I can’t recollect as I ever did. I don’t remember doing so at any time. You see, I never attached no importance to it. I thought it was just a trifle that Cossin had picked up---sailor-men has a habit of picking up and keeping things that landsmen ’ud throw aside. No---I never talked about it.”

That was all we learnt from Silas Cushion. The problem arising out of it, discovered at length by Macpherson when Preece and his visitors had gone, was---who was the man Cossin?---how did he get hold of that map?---was he a man who originally hailed from these parts?---he might have been in these parts at some time or other, said Macpherson, even though he was born in Liverpool.

“Well, there’s one thing certain, Macpherson,” said Trace. “He wasn’t Kit Flinch, and he wasn’t Ralph Charlesworth, the two men you’re anxious to know more about. He was a little, sandy, weechy man! That settles you!”

“It’s but another obstacle,” replied Macpherson. “It can be overcome. I think Cossin got that map from the man called Smarto. Maybe he stole it. Maybe he bought it. Maybe he found it. But anyway, Trace, I’m sure it came from Smarto. And Smarto was one or other of those dark, spare fellows that went away from this quarter after the murder of Dan Welgrave the younger! Man, I contend that bit by bit we’re progressing to the grand climacteric!”

“We certainly keep learning a bit!” agreed Trace.

We heard a bit more, two or three days later---again through Preece. Preece, in company with another local policeman, put in an hour or two now and then in examining the surroundings of Chissick’s house. That house, as I have said, stood in a lonely situation: at least a hundred yards from its nearest neighbour. It had a garden in front, a flower garden, well shielded from the lane by thick hedges; there was another garden at the back, also well hedged, in which Chissick grew vegetables and cultivated fruit-trees. And there was a fenced-off yard, in which there were two refuse-bins, one reserved for stuff thrown out of the kitchen by the charwoman, Mrs. Watson, another sacred to ashes, waste paper, and the like. Preece took it into his head to examine this ash-bin and its contents; he had already gone through a waste-paper basket in Chissick’s parlour, and had also raked out the parlour grate, without finding anything. It was difficult to imagine his finding anything, it seemed to me. But one day he turned up at Trace’s with a small parcel in his hand, carefully done up in brown paper.

“See here!” he said, as he set it down on the sitting-room table. “If this isn’t a find, I don’t know what could be! Unearthed this, myself, in a refuse-bin at Chissick’s back door, amongst a lot of torn-up paper and stuff that he’d evidently emptied out of a waste-paper basket. If this doesn’t refer to that business of forty years ago that you’re always nosing into, Mr. Macpherson, I’m a Dutchman! And I’m not a Dutchman!”

He was plainly highly elated at his discovery, and he enjoyed our suspense and curiosity as he undid the wrappings of his parcel. Eventually, having stripped off various folds of brown paper, he revealed an old tin box, about five inches in length, three in width, and two in depth. It bore unmistakable signs of age and of rust, but the lettering on it, in block letters, not on a paper label, but on the lid itself, was still plain enough. And that was: Soldans and Sandberg, Tobacconists and Cigar Merchants, 85, Alderley Street, Cape Town.

The depth of Macpherson’s delight at the sight of this ancient relic---for it was obvious to all that the box was by no means of recent manufacture---was evidenced by the way in which he seized on the thing.

“Man, Preece!” he exclaimed, his voice hoarse with emotion, “ye’ve made a most important discovery!---the most important, in my opinion, of any that’s been made in the whole procedure of investigation into this truly amazing mystery! Man!---this is a grand day!”

“Aye---and how do you make all that out, Mr. Macpherson?” asked Preece, with a wink at me and Trace. “Something---perhaps a good deal---in it, no doubt, but----”

“Something in it, you say?” interrupted Macpherson excitedly. “Man!---do you tell me that you don’t see what’s in it? Man!---I’m telling you! This is the box yon Dan Welgrave carried his diamonds in when he came to the inn down below! This is the box was taken off him when he was murdered! This is the box was hidden by the murderer under yon old oak tree up the hill-side, where Chissick built his bit shed! This is the box Chissick dug out o’ that hole he made in the floor of the corner of the shed! Losh, man!---I see it all as plain as I see your fat face, Preece! And the great question, great, great question”---I cannot presume to describe how Macpherson rolled his r’s, and broadened his o’s and a’s during this speech---“is---where are the diamonds?”

He gazed from one to the other of us as if demanding an instant reply. But Preece and I only stared at him. Trace, however, who had got into a way of chaffing him about his newly developed passion for sleuth-work, smiled good-humouredly.

“Better theorise a bit more, Macpherson!” he said. “It’s amusing!”

“No, but I’m serious, Captain,” protested Macpherson. “Man!---it’s a very serious matter! And ye’ll get no practical result in anything, in my opinion, unless you theorise first. Now, it’s my theory that whoever killed Dan Welgrave forty-two years ago found this very box containing diamonds on him. They may have been uncut; they may have been cut. I think they were uncut. Didn’t he tell his cronies at the inn that he’d come straight from the diamond-fields? Anyway, this box and its contents o’ diamonds was found by the murderer; he didn’t know exactly what to do with them then, and he buried the box for safety. Now, I argue that the diamonds were in the box when Chissick dug it up, and that Chissick took them out of the box in the privacy of his own house, and flung away the box where friend Preece here has just discovered it. Then Chissick put the diamonds in his own pocket! And now I’ll just ask you to recall a highly important matter. D’ye recollect, all of you, what yon charwoman body, Mrs. Watson, told us when the lad Tom here fetched her to Chissick’s house that morning he was found murdered? Whether it’s escaped your poor mem’ries or not, it’s no escaped mine! What did yon woman say Chissick had told her that Saturday morning she last had speech of him? That he was going to Brighton! Aye, but that was his usual custom; there was nothing in that. But more---from Brighton he was going to London, on the Monday, and might be away till the Tuesday or Wednesday. What for was Chissick going to London---which, as I’ve made out, was not usual with him? Man alive!---I could take my oath on what he was going for! He was going to London to sell those diamonds!”

I am sure that Preece and myself were vastly impressed by Macpherson; we saw it all as plainly as if it had been printed in a book. And even Trace seemed struck.

“Excellent theory, excellent, Macpherson!” he said. “You’d make a detective, I think. And----”

But that caused Preece to interrupt.

“Why, talking about detectives, Captain,” he remarked, “Mr. Macpherson’ll be glad to hear that we’re going to do just what he advised some little time ago. There’s a still bigger man coming down from Scotland Yard to-morrow, to take special charge of this Chissick case---the famous Detective-Sergeant Parkapple.”

43  Our Library / J. S. Fletcher - Sea Fog (1925) / Chapter 17: The China Seas on: May 27, 2023, 09:55:44 am
I WAS getting pretty quick of perception by that time, having had my wits sharpened a good deal by the recent happenings, and I saw at once that this new-comer had some message to deliver and that it was probably of a confidential nature. He looked at me with a sort of shy doubt, as if wondering who I was, and having thus inspected me, his eyes shifted to either side, peering into the hall beyond as though in search of something.

“Well?” I said, curtly enough. “What is it?”

He was standing on the step, but at this he summoned up courage and put a foot on the mat inside, taking off his cap as he did so. And he sank his voice to a whisper.

“Captain Trace?” he said. “Is this where he lives?”

“This is Captain Trace’s,” I answered. “What do you want with him?”

“And he’s in?” he asked. “To be seen?”

“That depends,” I said, “on the business! What’s yours?”

Turning his cap over and over in his hands, he gave me a look that, I am sure, was meant to carry an impression of great delicacy and secrecy.

“If so be as he’s in---and to be seen---and’ll see me,” he whispered, “say as how it’s a man from Jim Swaddle’s, of Bosham. You might say, a relation of Jim’s. Cousin---on the mother’s side.”

I let him in then, further. I knew Jim Swaddle---by name, at any rate; he was the man who looked after Trace’s small yacht. I beckoned the stranger to follow me into the parlour.

“Here’s a man who says he comes from Jim Swaddle, at Bosham, Captain Trace,” I announced. “He’s Jim Swaddle’s cousin.”

“On the mother’s side,” added the visitor, as if anxious to be correct in detail. “Servant, gentlemen! Which my name is Pyker---John Pyker. Of Brixham, in Devonshire. But now holidaying, as it were---come to see Cousin Jim a bit.”

“Glad to see you, Pyker!” said Trace. “Any relation of Jim’s is welcome. Sit down---and have a drink after your walk. Tom!---the spirit-case.”

I got out the spirit-case, and, at his own request, obliged Pyker with a drop of gin.

He took a swallow of it, prefaced by a polite expression of his best respects to all present, and, having set his glass down at his elbow, folded his hands and looked at Trace in the way in which I have often seen preachers look at their congregations---as if he had a lot to say, but scarcely knew how to begin saying it.

“Something to tell us, Pyker?” suggested Trace.

Pyker swallowed two or three times, nodding his head at each swallow.

“Which I told it all, first, to Cousin Jim Swaddle,” he said, suddenly making a violent effort at speech. “Ah!---from start to finish. Cousin Jim Swaddle, he said---go straight away and tell all that to Captain Trace! Which I now do so!”

“Glad to hear it, Pyker, whatever it is,” said Trace. “Take your time.”

Pyker took his time. He seemed to reflect for a moment or two; then bending forward and looking from one to the other of us, he rapped out these words:

“This here Trawlerson!”

“Just so!” said Trace. “What about him, Pyker?”

Pyker prepared himself for a longer effort.

“When I come into these parts, three days gone by, to Bosham, to see Cousin Jim Swaddle,” he said, “what do I find him, and all his mates, and all the people I meets, in street and in public-house, a-talking of? Murders!---these here murders! What do I read in the newspapers, day by day, me being a fair scholard, fair? Murders!---these here murders, in this here village! And what else? Trawlerson! ‘Where is Trawlerson?’ says everybody you talks to. ‘Where can Trawlerson be?’ says the newspapers! Very well! For, mark me, I know Trawlerson! Or, to speak correct, did know him! See?”

“When?” asked Trace.

“Years ago! I think seven. It might be eight. I can’t swear. But---knew him well enough, whenever it was.”

“Where was that, Pyker?”

“China seas, knocked about a deal in them quarters, I have. And, I should say, Trawlerson too. But that time, when I knew him---and it’s the same christened name, which is Hosea, and a mighty bad-sounding name, somehow, is that, I reckon, and seems to fit in with Trawlerson, as was a bad ’un hisself----”

“Oh, you thought him so, did you, Pyker?” interrupted Trace. “Bad lot, eh?”

“Terb’le bad lot, in my opinion. Howsumever, that time I knew him, I shipped with Trawlerson at Hong-Kong, on a crazy old wind-jammer, name of the Martha Marshall, bound from Hong-Kong to Nagasaki. Scratch crew, you understand---queer lot, too. Various colours. Come to grief, the Martha Marshall did---and no wonder!”

“How did she come to grief?” enquired Trace.

“Shipwrecked we were! Bad ship---bad weather. Struck a reef, or a rock---something, anyways---some days out from Hong-Kong. Went down. There was two boats loads of us got away. One of ’em---captain was in her---I don’t know what became of it---went down, like the old wind-jammer, I reckon. Never see or hear of it again, anyway. The one I was in, she made one of those small islands, north of the Loo-Choos, as they call ’em, in the Tung Hai sea. Trawlerson was in my boat. And also another fellow. Which, because of what’s being said in all these papers, and amongst folk hereabouts, is what I wanted to tell you.”

“Yes?” said Trace. “About---another fellow, eh? Who was he, now?”

“Never knew his proper name,” replied Pyker. “Lor’ bless you!---that crew on the Martha Marshall, it was of that sort that names didn’t matter or count! Reckon they stuck down anything on the ship’s books, if they stuck anything at all. This fellow, they called him Smarto. He was a sort of better stuff, d’ye see---looked like he’d been, well, a bit of a decent-bred chap. Bad ’un, though---bold, dare-devil sort! Looked it---a black-haired, black-eyed man---queer-tempered.”

“Black-haired, black-eyed,” said Trace, glancing at Macpherson. “We’ll make a note of that! What else was he like, Pyker? Tall---short---what?”

“Tall, slim fellow---all muscle and sinew,” answered Pyker. “He could do things---strongest man we had; though, to be sure, he was getting on a bit in years. And him and Trawlerson, they was chums. Always together. I made out they came from about the same part, here at home---south country. Kept themselves a good deal to themselves, those two. That is, until we was cast on that island---which, to be sure, was little better than a reef. They were a bit more companionable, like, after that. And Smarto, he used to talk more. And now and then, when he was feeling it more than usual, he’d say that he only wished he was back in England, for he’d something put there in a safe place that ’ud be enough to bring him roast beef and sound ale every day for the rest of his life, and didn’t he wish he’d the handling of it then!”

“Did he say what it was?” asked Trace.

“He did not! But I made out---for he talked often of it in the last days on that island, and would ha’ talked more if Trawlerson hadn’t checked him---that it was something he’d put away, hidden, buried, or something of that sort. I know what I thought---and what other of my mates thought!”

“Aye, and what did you think, man?” asked Macpherson, suddenly showing great interest. “What were your impressions, now?”

“We thought Smarto had been one of these here burglars and had placed something,” replied Pyker. “He wasn’t a real sailor-man, Smarto, though he could do his job. He hadn’t been trained to the sea, you understand---he was just a landsman that had picked it up.”

“Well, and how long were you on that island?” asked Trace.

“Not so long, but long enough to make us thankful to get off it! Of course, there never was any great danger of being left there---it was in the way of ships. We could ha’ got away in our own boat, only it got smashed through careless handling just after we struck land. We was took off by a vessel that carried us to Shanghai.”

“And---there?” enquired Trace.

“There?---oh, there we all parted. Some got a job here, and another there. I don’t know where Trawlerson and Smarto went---whether separate or in company. Never saw either of ’em again. Didn’t want, neither.”

“Never seen them again at all, eh?” said Trace. “Nor heard of them?”

“Not till I heard all this about Trawlerson---no! I come home, d’ye see, after that do. And to home I’ve stopped---down there at Brixham. Didn’t want no more high-seas life! Took up wi’ fishing---peaceful.”

“Did you ever know a man named Kest?” asked Trace.

“No---never!” replied Pyker. “Not by that name, anyway. I’ve read about him, though, in the newspapers, along of his being murdered hereabouts. Can’t say as I can reckernise him from the descriptions. Know a many men as would fall in with the description o’ Kest as given in the papers---sharp-faced, red-haired, goatee-bearded man. Lots on ’em like that, in my time. Goatee beards is fashernable.”

“Did you ever see the man you call Smarto show anything like a map to Trawlerson?” enquired Trace. “Think, now!”

“Not a map---no! I’ve read about that map. I never see it, nor hear of it. But I do rekerlect this here---Smarto, he had a pocket-book, a leather-bound affair, what he kept in a hip-pocket. I seen him showing that book, opened at a certain page, to Trawlerson. Looked to me as if there was a list o’ something in it, where it was opened.”

“A list? What sort of a list?”

“Well---words, and figures. Like---like a bill. Leastways, when he had his pocket-book open once, near me, a-showing of it to Trawlerson, I see words in one column, and figures in another. Like you see in bills.”

That was the sum-total of what we got out of John Pyker. Macpherson and Trace seemed to think it a decided step to have seen him. Macpherson said that light was beginning to be thrown on several dark places all at once. And next day, when he and Trace and I were up at Hentidge’s again, discussing things, he asked old Hentidge a sudden question.

“Mr. Hentidge, it’ll be no great effort o’ that grand memory o’ yours to tell me this---what like was yon Kit Flinch ye’ve told us of?”

Hentidge chuckled, as he always did when any question about the past was put to him.

“I can see him now!” he said. “He was a tall, spare, black fellow! I should say he’d gipsy blood in him: he’d that look.”

I could see that Macpherson was highly delighted at this discovery. He wanted to identify Flinch with the man called Smarto. But a moment later his face fell.

“And what like was yon Charlesworth, now?” he asked. “You’ll remember him too?”

“Well enough!” replied old Hentidge. “He was of a similar sort---tall, thin, black. He might have had gipsy blood, as well. I don’t know if you’ve noticed it, Mr. Macpherson, but there’s evidences of mixture with that blood all the way along this country, from Kent through Sussex into Hampshire---black hair, black eyes, the gipsy look. You’ll have seen it?”

But Macpherson only grunted an uninterested affirmative. He was disappointed---as he always was when he wanted to fit things together and encountered a difficulty.

“That’s unfortunate!” he said grumblingly, when we went away from Hentidge’s. “Both those young fellows, according to old Hentidge, were much alike! Now, as sure as my name’s what it is, that Smarto was one of ’em! But---which? Both disappeared from here about the same time. Both, I’m convinced, knew a lot about the Dan Welgrave affair, and about what he had on him and was robbed of. Was Smarto Kit Flinch, or was he Ralph Charlesworth? And is Smarto alive?”

“He’d be getting on when Pyker knew him,” remarked Trace. “And now, if he was a young man of twenty-three or four at the time of the Welgrave murder---that is, if Smarto was either Flinch or Charlesworth---he’ll be well over sixty.”

“That makes no difference to what I’m thinking about,” said Macpherson.

I don’t think either Trace or myself had any clear notion of what Macpherson was thinking about. But he was always busy. He passed a good deal of his time with Preece; whether he communicated his ideas to Preece, I don’t know. But he and Preece spent hours in examining various places on the hill-side---I believe they went over Blackponds from garret to cellar. And Macpherson, at great trouble to himself, managed to rake up and copy out of old files the contemporary newspaper accounts of the Welgrave affair, and he devoted his evenings to studying his copies. He was certain, he said, that the secret of the recent murders lay in that of the one of forty years before.

I don’t think Preece cared much about these researches. Preece had got it into his head that Trawlerson murdered Chissick, and that Trawlerson had disappeared in such clever fashion that he would never be traced. The local police had done everything in their power to trace him, and nothing had resulted. Preece, talking to us one night when he dropped in about something or other, said that, in his opinion, Trawlerson, whom he regarded as a past-master in craft, was already beyond the seas, and would never come back again---never!

“That I don’t believe!” said Trace. “Trawlerson, according to his own account, owns a house at Fareham, with, you’ll remember, a mast in the front garden and a bit of glass at the back. He insisted on the mast and the glass---which was his way of showing himself proud of his bit of property. I don’t think Trawlerson is going to lose his property! Moreover, if I read Trawlerson’s character, I don’t think Trawlerson was the sort of man who’d risk his neck by murdering anybody, or his liberty by robbing anybody. I’m off the Trawlerson notion!”

“What’s Trawlerson disappeared for, then?” demanded Preece. “He’s advertised for outside every police-station in England! Where is he?”

Nobody could answer that, of course. Macpherson, who was fond of airing his knowledge of languages, said we were in a cul-de-sac. So we were---but just then Silvermore appeared again.

44  Our Library / J. S. Fletcher - Sea Fog (1925) / Chapter 16: Macpherson on: May 27, 2023, 08:54:08 am
I THINK Trace and myself had an almost infinite belief in Andrew Macpherson’s powers; there was that about him which made you think that he could see deeper into things than most people. But at this announcement we turned incredulous eyes on him, and Trace, after a start of surprise, let out what we were both thinking.

“What!---already?” he exclaimed. “Out of an old man’s tale!”

“Ca’ canny, my lad!” replied Macpherson. “We’ll talk!” He kept silence himself until we were back in Trace’s garden, where he perched on a rustic bench that stood beneath the parlour window and motioned us to seat ourselves on either side of him. “Now, you’ll conceive of me as one of those gentlemen of the wig and gown,” he said, “arguing a case before a judge and jury---I’ve sufficient good conceit of myself to think I’d ha’ made a good figure at that work! Well, we’ve heard what the old gentleman up above had to tell us, and a very clear and concise job he made of it. Now, we’ll recapitulate a little. Daniel Welgrave the younger came back to this village, flashing his money, and communicating the notion that he’d a deal of that about him. He was murdered---for what he had on him. But I opine, from evidence adduced, that the man who murdered him found not only money on his victim, but something else. What, now---in view of what we’ve heard about where Daniel Welgrave the younger had come from?”

“Diamonds!” said Trace.

“Man, ye’re in the right of it!” exclaimed Macpherson. “Diamonds it would be! I’ve heard stories myself, many’s the time, of how these first prospectors that went out to the diamond-fields when the boom arose, in 1870, would come back to England with packets of uncut stones in their pockets. I think this young Dan had diamonds on him when he came back to this village and caroused in yon public tavern. I think that when he was murdered, late that evening, the diamonds were found on him, as well as the money which was the murderer’s first objective. And I think the murderer, perhaps not there and then, but at any rate not so long after, buried those diamonds at the spot over which, only the other day, Chissick built his bit of a shed---without a window, and with a stout lock and a weighty bolt! Aye!”

“Aye!” echoed Trace. “A good theory!”

“Now, then, who murdered young Daniel Welgrave?” continued Macpherson. “ ’Tis forty years ago and more, and we’ve no details except those given us, after all that time, by the old man up the street---Hentidge. There are all sorts of things I would like to know. One is---who was the man that young Dan set out to spend the night with on the other side of the hill?”

“That could be found out, even now,” said Trace.

“And it might be well to find it out,” remarked Macpherson. “And especially if that man’s alive, as he might be, for we’ll consider him as having been at that time of about Dan Welgrave’s age, and Dan was a young man. However---for another thing, the murder may not have been the work of one man. There may have been two of them at it---there may have been a gang. But for the sake of a logical argument, let’s conclude it was the fellow called Flinch---Kit Flinch. Now, what does Flinch do after he’s buried those diamonds?---of the exact value of which, of course, he knows nothing, or, at best, can only guess at. He finds out that he’s being suspected, and one night he makes off, quietly, and effects a complete and successful disappearance. No doubt he went to sea; we’ll assume that he did. At some time or other, he made that rough map, or chart, or drawing, that’s figured so largely in this affair---or, he got some mate of his, better equipped for the job than himself, to make it for him. And, no doubt, on occasion, as sailor-men will, he talked, boastingly perhaps, of his buried treasure to those about him, without, of course, giving details, and Kest on one hand, and Trawlerson on another, got to hear of it. Eventually, Kest got hold of the map---in quite recent times. We know how Kest got it. He found it in the sailor’s ditty-box that he bought of Silvermore, the jeweller-pawnbroker, at Portsmouth. That’s established! But there are three questions I’d like answering about that. When Kest found, when he first saw, that map in the ditty-box at Silvermore’s, did he recognise it? That’s one. Did the recognition come from having actually seen it before? That’s two. Or---did he recognise it from having heard talk of it? That’s three!”

“You can’t answer any of them,” remarked Trace. “Or get answers to them!”

“You can’t! But you can form your own opinions,” said Macpherson. “I opine that Kest knew that map! I think he bought the ditty-box because the map was in it. Anyway, he got it. And from the testimony of Tom here, Kest had that map in his possession when he came to the mill up yonder. Now, two days before Kest was seen at the mill by Tom, he’d bought, or agreed to buy, from Chissick the particular bit of land on the hill-side on which we conclude the diamonds had been buried. What does that prove? That Kest had already found out where the exact spot was! He wanted to get that land into his own hands so that he could dig in peace. Well, Kest was murdered, and the map was stolen from him at the time of the murder, either just before he woke from his sleep in the mill, or after the murder during the half-hour or so that elapsed between Tom finding Kest dead and coming back with you, Captain, to the dead man’s side. The map disappeared---and nothing’s heard of it until it’s found in Chissick’s safe, after the murder of Chissick.”

“In company with the bank-notes which Kest undoubtedly handed to Chissick!” murmured Trace. “Which is----”

“Extraordinarily strange!” said Macpherson. “But we’ll leave the bank-notes alone---we know how and why Chissick got them. But we don’t know how Chissick got the map! Did he murder Kest? Did he rob Kest’s dead body? Was it somebody else, somebody we know nothing whatever about, who knifed Kest, and made off in the morning sea fog? Did Chissick, who might be out for an early walk, or up there on some of his prospecting business, emerge from that sea fog, when Tom had run down the hill, find Kest lying dead, and go through his pockets? That may have been the way of it. Tom can’t say definitely, for he doesn’t know at all whether Kest was robbed before or after he was dead.”

“No!” said I, reflecting on that misty morning and its horrors. “And that’s a fact, Mr. Macpherson.”

“Aye, it’s a fact, my man, and a deplorable one!” he answered. “However, Chissick came into possession of that map. Now, then, here’s the greatest question of the lot that crowds upon my mind, Captain! When did Chissick master the secret of that map? He’d agreed to sell the patch of land to Kest, and Kest had paid him a deposit to clinch the bargain. Kest was dead; nobody knew of the transaction; no papers had been made out and delivered; Chissick decided to say nothing. He had the map---how soon after Kest’s death we don’t know. But---when---when!---when did he find out what the map signified?”

He looked from one to the other of us as if seeking an answer from either or both, though I am sure he expected none; the look was merely a forensic trick. He answered his question himself---with an air of triumph.

“I’ll tell you!---that is, in my opinion,” he exclaimed. “He found it out when Trawlerson was in the witness-box at the opening of the inquest on Kest! You’ll remember, both of ye, that there was a rare to-do between Trawlerson and the coroner over the question of why Trawlerson wanted to find the mill, and the map came into the arguments. Now, Chissick was on the jury and heard all that, and no doubt he saw, as most other folk of any perception saw, that there was a particular secret about this mill and its vicinity, and that the secret was confined in the map. But had he the map then---at the time of the inquest? If he had, I think he either murdered Kest or robbed Kest after the murder. If he hadn’t, then I think somebody else did the murdering and robbing, and sold the map to Chissick.”

“That’s a new idea,” remarked Trace. “I don’t like it, Macpherson. Nobody could sell Chissick the map but the actual murderer and thief. Do you think he’d give himself away by letting Chissick know that he had the map?”

“Aye, man, but I don’t see that way at all!” said Macpherson. “We’re well aware, we three, that whoever got the map in the first instance took it out of its wrappings in yon wood at the top of the hill, and threw the wrappings away---that is, we’re well aware of the seemingness of that, on surface facts. But is that right? It mayn’t be!”

“We found the wrappings, Mr. Macpherson,” I reminded him.

“Aye, surely we did, my lad,” he answered. “But we don’t know that the map had been taken out of them by the murderer. Now, put it to yourselves this way. The murderer, after knifing Kest, gets away into those woods. He’s either robbed Kest before or after the murder---of everything that he had on him. Let’s take it that what he was after was valuables---money and the like. Well, in the wood he examines what he’s got. He finds the map---that’s no use to him! He throws it away, with the wrappings. It’s picked up later by some man passing through the wood---perhaps after the inquest, at which the map’s freely enquired after. That man, the man who picked it up, sells it to Chissick. He’d say nothing. Chissick did say nothing!”

“What was Chissick murdered for?” said Trace, after a short pause.

“Aye, do you ask me that?” answered Macpherson. “Man!---for what he’d dug out of that hole in the hill-side, the night before! Man!---Chissick had been watched!”

“Then it’s Trawlerson!” I exclaimed. “It’s Trawlerson! Trawlerson did nothing but watch from the moment Chissick began operations on those bungalows! And I’m sure it must have been Trawlerson I saw prowling around the shed that night.”

“Aweel!” said Macpherson, in his driest manner and relapsing into his native manner of speech. “The man’s no here to answer for himself, and I canna say. Ye’ll no get a reply from him either, Tom, my man, if they catch him.”

“Did Trawlerson murder both of them?” said Trace musingly. “I don’t mean did he actually murder Kest, for we know he was in bed, miles away, at the exact hour of Kest’s murder. But---had he an accomplice? Was Trawlerson an accessory? He professed utter ignorance, but Trawlerson, in my opinion, is a good actor, or an expert at dissimulation. Nobody’s gone into that accomplice idea!”

“Barring my own self!” remarked Macpherson. “And what I think about that, my lads, I’m not going to tell to anybody---yet! I’m engaged in serious cogitations about that, and I’ll walk now under your apple-trees, Captain, and cogitate some more.”

He left us then, and we saw no more of him until it was time for tea, over which meal he was unusually silent. And as soon as it was over, he took up his stick and went out into the road. Out of inquisitiveness, I got into the window-place and watched him. He made for Hentidge’s farm, and I saw him turn in at the garden gate.

It was growing dusk when he came back and joined us again in Trace’s parlour. He gave us glances that had something of sly triumph in them.

“I ha’ found out more about yon matter o’ two-and-forty years ago!” he announced. “He’s a more than by-ordinary memory, yon Hentidge, and improves with acquaintance. Now, I’ll tell you still more about what happened to young Dan Welgrave---man! I’m now doubtful if the fellow Kit Flinch should ha’ been suspected at all, though I think he knew things that he never told. It just shows how things that didn’t occur to people at the time occur to impartial listeners a long time after.”

“You’ve got further information on that affair?” asked Trace.

“And weighty information too, bearing on later things than it,” said Macpherson. “I daundered up the road there while you were still finishing your teas and dropped in on Hentidge and his daughter at theirs, and I ha’ had more talk with the old man, and got him---small effort on his part, for, as I say, he’s a fine hand at recalling things---to tell me still more about that Dan Welgrave affair. Now, you’ll recollect that when Dan Welgrave left the inn down here after his evening’s carouse, it was to go over the hill to spend the night with an old friend? That friend was a young farmer, a bachelor-man, of about his own age, which, Hentidge thinks, was about four-and-twenty years. His name was Ralph Charlesworth, and the farmstead he had is still there, and its name is Blackponds---ye’ll maybe acquaint with it, Captain? Very well---now this Ralph Charlesworth was of the same kidney as Dan Welgrave and his lot, wild, rackety, fond of his glass, and given to spending a deal of his time at inns. He was in this inn down the village here when Dan Welgrave turned up that night; he was one of the gang with whom Dan caroused. But---he didn’t stay to the end! He settled with Dan that Dan should stay the night with him, but he himself left the inn at nine o’clock, saying he’d got to see another farmer on his way home, on business. Dan wouldn’t go with him then; they arranged that he was to go on to Blackponds later. Now, this Ralph Charlesworth said, when the discovery of Dan’s dead body was made next day, that he sat up for Dan for a good two hours, till past midnight. When Dan never came, he concluded that Dan had either become too drunk to walk over the hill, or that he had decided to stop where he was for the night, or had gone home with some man who lived in the village. Nobody questioned him, or suspected him, this Ralph Charlesworth. But I do!---from two very significant facts remembered by old Hentidge. The stile by which Dan’s body was found was between two meadows on Charlesworth’s farm, in a very lonely place; a man well knowing the district could easily have lain in wait there. That’s one. The other is, that, after this happened, Charlesworth took to drinking hard, at home, and whereas he’d been a great hand for raking out at nights, could never be persuaded to go out again after dark! And not so long after Kit Flinch disappeared, Charlesworth disappeared too---and they found that, financially, he was in a bad way and there was nothing much for his creditors. Man!---I think Charlesworth murdered Dan Welgrave, and I think Flinch knew it!”

Before Trace could find words to comment on this, and while I sat, open-mouthed, wondering at this story of the past, a knock came at the door, and I went to answer it. There, in the porch, stood a man whom, from his blue pea-jacket and blue jersey, I knew to be a sailor.

45  Our Library / J. S. Fletcher - Sea Fog (1925) / Chapter 15: Black Mill Bottom on: May 27, 2023, 08:35:32 am
I KNEW at once that Andrew Macpherson had come to stop. He had a certain old brown leather portmanteau in his left hand and a bunched-up umbrella, equally ancient, in his right; they were familiar to me as being articles that he dug out of his boxroom whenever he was going to stay more than a night from home; for a mere one-night stay he carried his luggage in his pocket---a collar, a handkerchief, a comb, and a tooth-brush. Preece and the grocer-man leaving us as Andrew came up, we took him in, and he told us at once that, his holiday being due, he had come to help in the solution of these problems.

“For there’s no denying that it’s an uncommon and interesting case,” said he, “and’ll tax the brains and the ingenuity of as many folk as can give their time and attention to it. And Tom there being mixed up in it---losh, man, ye’ve fallen full length and head over ears into a wealth of those adventures you were longing after!---it becomes a sort of family affair. And so, if ye’ll give me bed and board for a few days, Captain----”

“Both---and delighted!” responded Trace. “Two heads are better than one, and three than two, you know!”

“I’m no so sure about that, as a proposition,” said Macpherson. “It’s like a lot o’ those old saws---there’s a flaw in it. But, man, ye’ve been through strange experiences! And what body was that, going away with the policeman? A detective, likely?”

“No---a man in your line of business,” replied Trace. “Came with what he thought might be some information. But you’ll want posting up, Macpherson. Wait till we’ve had dinner, and we’ll put you wise, as they say across the water. There’s a lot for you to ruminate over.”

“Aweel, I ha’ read all the newspapers,” said Macpherson. “Very pretty reading it makes, and gives rise to some strange reflections! But I’ll not be the worse for hearing it all at first hand.”

We told him all we knew, either at dinner, or as he and Trace smoked their pipes in the window-place when dinner was over. He was a good and a shrewd listener, Macpherson, only interrupting a story to ask some very pertinent question, and he took in all we had to tell him on this occasion with unusual attention. And at the end he knocked the ashes from his pipe with a firmness of gesture which showed me, who well knew his various tricks, that he had formed some opinion.

“Captain!” he asked, giving Trace an earnest look. “Is there an ancient man or woman in this place, in full possession of what you might call his or her intellectual faculties, that’s thoroughly acquaint with its history for years past?”

“I should think there is!” replied Trace, with a confident laugh. “Old Hentidge!”

“And who may old Hentidge be?” asked Macpherson.

“Farmer---one of the last of the old sort,” said Trace. “Well over eighty---fine old fellow. He’s in full possession of his faculties, if you like!---clear-headed as ever they make ’em. Eyes, ears, teeth, all sound---nothing amiss with the old chap except that he’s lost the use of his legs and has to go about in a wheel-chair. But as to his memory---wonderful!”

Macpherson rose and picked up his hat. He beckoned us to rise too.

“Take me to that man!” he commanded solemnly. “We’ll ha’ speech together!”

We led him up the village to Hentidge’s farm. As we came near the garden gate we saw the old man sitting in his wheel-chair in the sunlight amongst the apple-trees. Chrissie sat near him, busied, as usual, with some woman’s job of knitting or sewing.

“Is the old gentleman well acquaint with these recent happenings?” enquired Macpherson, as we went in. “Posted up to date in them, eh?”

“Oh, he’ll know all about things!” asserted Trace. “We haven’t been to see him for some days, but his daughter reads the papers to him, and he reads them himself, and he gets all the news of the place---he’ll know. And you needn’t be afraid of talking, Macpherson---the old man likes it.”

“It’s him I’m wanting to talk,” said Macpherson. “I’ll do the listening.” He sat silently regarding old Hentidge for some minutes after Trace had presented him to father and daughter. “Ye were no born yesterday, Mr. Hentidge, I’m thinking!” he blurted out suddenly. “No, nor the day before that, neither, eh?”

“No---no---no!” chuckled Hentidge. “Eighty-five!---according to the family Bible.”

“Aye, just so---not that you look it,” said Macpherson. “Still, you’re an ancient man. And, like some of ’em, I’ll warrant ye’ve a good memory for past events?”

Hentidge chuckled again.

“Remember things of my young days better than things that happened last year!” he answered. “More clearly!”

“Ye will---it’s an infirmity of nature,” remarked Macpherson. “And a highly useful one, whiles. Well, now, Mr. Hentidge, can you no recall anything that happened in this village that in your opinion bears on these recent tragedies? I’m thinking it’s very likely you can, Mr. Hentidge.”

Hentidge smiled, and lifting the ash-plant stick which he always carried across the rug laid over his knees, pointed it first at Trace and then at me.

“I was going to say something to those two boys about that the other day,” he said. “Going to tell them a story. But they ran off---after that man Trawlerson. So it never got told. May have something to do with these recent affairs, Mr. Macpherson---and it mayn’t. I don’t know. Perhaps it has---if so, it wants careful thinking.”

“Man, I’m a born genius at that!” exclaimed Macpherson. “In a business like mine, there’s opportunities for cultivating the science o’ pure reflection. If you’ll tell us your tale, now, I’ll reflect and meditate on it till I’ve reduced the component parts to a congruous whole. Ye’ll no doubt have it at your tongue’s end, Mr. Hentidge?”

“Oh, I can remember, I can remember!” said Hentidge, with one of his dry chuckles. “Dates and all, Mr. Macpherson---I’ve a fine memory for dates. Well, now, look this way.” He raised his ash-plant and pointed up the hill-side to where a fringe of woodland rose on the sky-line. “You see that coppice up yonder?” he went on. “If you go up there, and through those trees, you’ll see, just below you, on the far slope of the hill, a farmstead---Highmeadow Farm. Man named Mellin has it now, Tom Mellin, but fifty years ago it belonged to a family called Welgrave, and it had been in their hands for a couple of centuries at least. However, fifty years ago, that family was on its last legs. They were a queer lot, those Welgraves; some said, a bad lot. I don’t know about that, but as far back as I can recollect, they were steadily going to ruin.”

“That ’ud be the drink, Mr. Hentidge?” suggested Macpherson. “It’s a catching thing, that, for folk living in solitudes!”

“Drink for one thing,” assented Hentidge. “Gambling for another---they were great horse-racing folk---always off at some race-meeting or other. And card-playing too. A loose, fast-living, rackety lot---all of ’em. There was a father, two grown-up sons, and a grown-up girl or two---the mother was dead. They were all tarred with the same brush---loose-lived! And when the father died suddenly---he fell off his horse, dead, out hunting one day---the whole thing came to the smash-up that we’d all foreseen. He left nothing---but debts. The two lads went off somewhere; the girls, somewhere else; all disappeared. That was in the year 1868.”

“Forty-four years ago!” remarked Macpherson. “Ye’d be a man o’ middle age yourself at that time, Mr. Hentidge.”

“In my prime!” said Hentidge, nodding. “And living here, of course---we’ve been on this land longer than those Welgraves had been on theirs. We’re here still!” he chuckled. “But they!---as I say, they all disappeared. Nothing’s ever been heard of them since they left the parish---with one exception. That was in the case of Daniel Welgrave---young Dan, as he was always called; his father was known as old Dan. Three years after they’d all left, young Dan Welgrave came back---for one night. And it’s about what happened on that night that I want to tell you.”

“Three years?” remarked Macpherson. “That would be in 1871, Mr. Hentidge?”

“1871 it was---the date’s important, as I’ll show you,” asserted Hentidge. “1871 the year, and the month was November. One November afternoon, late, young Dan Welgrave walked into the inn down yonder. Up to recently there were men in the village who’d have remembered it, and who saw him, but they’re dead. I didn’t see him, but I heard all about his coming and his doings. They said he was dressed like a gentleman and sported a gold watch and chain and had rings on his fingers. He soon got a crowd of them round him and treated them all to drink---it was said they nearly finished all the best liquor the landlord had in his cellar. Young Dan himself, they told me, was foremost of the lot in that sort of thing, and the more he drank, the more he talked. He told them he’d been out to South Africa, to the diamond-fields---I said the date was important, and so it is, because I’m given to understand that it was just about that time that the great rush to those South African diamond-fields took place, so that seems to prove that young Dan was telling the truth---and that he’d made his fortune. Money in plenty he had on him, they said---he was throwing sovereigns about like ha’pence, and showing rolls of bank-notes whenever he paid for anything. He boasted that he was going to buy the old place and turn it into a gentleman’s residence. And so on, and so on---you can guess, Mr. Macpherson, what sort of a riotous evening it was down yonder at the inn. And about ten o’clock young Dan left it, to walk over the shoulder of the hill to see an old friend with whom he proposed to stay that night. He went off alone---and nobody heard any more of him until next day, when, late in the afternoon, a man found him lying in a lonely place in Black Mill Bottom, dead. And---murdered!”

“Aye!” murmured Macpherson, with a sage nod. “Aye, I was thinking that would be the next news! Murdered! Aye---that would be the way of it!”

“Murdered!” repeated old Hentidge. “He’d been struck down---battered to his death. And of course, robbed. The fine gold watch and chain, the rings, the money in his pockets---all gone. They made out the exact spot where it had happened: near a stile that he had to climb over. They traced the line through the grass over which his body had been dragged into the cover of the undergrowth. But they got no clue to the actual murderer. Perhaps they weren’t as clever in those days as they are now, sometimes, but there’s the fact---the police never made any arrest. It was like a good many other things that happen in the country---talked about for nine days, you know, Mr. Macpherson, and then . . . dropped.”

“Was there nobody that you’d call suspect, then?” asked Macpherson.

“Well, you’ll see the difficulty of suspecting anybody,” answered Hentidge. “There’d been a crowd of some twenty or thirty men down there at the inn, all drinking and carousing at young Dan Welgrave’s expense. Some of them lived in the village, some on the hill-sides, some in the valleys. When they separated they went their various ways. Most of them, you may be sure, had had more than enough liquor; none had over-clear ideas of anything next morning. But in addition to these roysterers, gathered about Dan in the parlour, there were other men, of a lower sort, in the place, who were well aware of what was going on and heard Dan’s boasting of his wealth and doubtless saw enough to assure them that he’d a lot of money on him. And we had some black sheep in the parish in those days. The thing was to get evidence against anybody, and the police couldn’t get any evidence---none whatever. But, amongst the village folk, one man was suspected.”

“Aye, and who would he be, now?” asked Macpherson.

“A young fellow named Flinch, Kit Flinch,” replied Hentidge. “He came of a bad lot and he was a bad lot himself---he’d been in trouble for poaching several times. Whispers went round that Kit Flinch was the man, but they couldn’t get a scrap of evidence against him, and though he knew people were talking he took no heed, and showed himself in his usual haunts as impudently as you like, as if daring the police and the public. But---all of a sudden he disappeared!”

“Aye!” muttered Macpherson. “Aye, he would! Aye, he would, indeed! Losh---it’s wonderful, fair wonderful, how things join together! To be sure, he would disappear! That would be the way of it. Aye, it fits in---amazingly!”

I don’t think old Hentidge had the least idea of what Macpherson was muttering about; it was easy to see that the story he was telling was chiefly interesting to him as a story.

“Yes,” he continued, “he disappeared, Kit Flinch. Suddenly and completely too---he was drinking and smoking at the inn one night with certain cronies of his own sort, and next morning he wasn’t to be found. Of course, he’d gone off in the night, but nobody knew where. He never came back---never!”

“That’ll be as far as you’re aware, Mr. Hentidge,” remarked Macpherson, with a sly glance at me and Trace, which I, for my part, couldn’t comprehend. “As far as you’re aware, that’ll be. For, you see, I’ve a notion of my own about it---and a man that can run away from a place unperceived can come back to it without anybody knowing!”

“Well, he was never known to come back,” said Hentidge. “And nobody ever heard a word of him again. And what might your notion be, now?”

But Macpherson was not going to be drawn. He shook his head and looked wiser than ever.

“It’s a shapeless and inchoate and nebulous thing, my notion, Mr. Hentidge,” he answered, “and’ll need a deal o’ reflection and perpending before I can put it in such poor words as I have at my command. But yon’s a grand story, and as entertaining as any I ever read in the books---man! ye’d never think such deeds o’ blood and blackness could be done in the midst o’ this beautiful scenery---eh, it’s a sad, sad world that ye’ve been spared so many days in, Mr. Hentidge!”

Presently we went away, and, once outside the garden gate, Macpherson clapped Trace’s shoulder.

“Captain!” he said in a low voice. “I don’t know what ye think, but, eh man, in my opinion I ha’ learnt the secret o’ these murders!”

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