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Chapter 13: Suspect

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« on: May 27, 2023, 07:13:49 am »

ONE thing and another, we were very late in sitting down to Trace’s breakfast-table that morning, and we were still there when Preece and the inspector walked in on us. It was easy to see that they had more news.

“We’ve settled that point, Captain!” said Preece. “Those bank-notes, you know. They’re the same!”

“You mean---the notes that were paid out to Kest?” exclaimed Trace. “You’ve ascertained that---definitely?”

“Definitely!---no doubt whatever about it,” replied Preece. “I’ve just been on the telephone with the bank people. Those notes that we found in Chissick’s safe are the identical notes paid out to Kest as part of the hundred pounds he drew! That’s certain---no getting away from it. And now, then---how did they come into Chissick’s hands?”

Trace pointed at me.

“I think Tom Crowe had better tell you both of certain mysterious doings on the part of Chissick during the last few days and nights,” he remarked. “And,” he added, turning to me, “don’t forget the man you couldn’t identify, Tom. Begin at the beginning.”

I told Preece and the inspector of everything that had happened on the hill-side, from the time at which Miss Hentidge told me of the midnight visitant, to that in which Chissick locked up the completed shed. And I saw at once that what impressed them most was the conclusion of the story, in which I described the stealthy coming of the unknown man.

“You couldn’t say who he was?” suggested Preece. “Couldn’t make a guess?”

“I couldn’t say, Mr. Preece. He wasn’t near enough. But,” I added, “I thought it was---I mean, I thought it might be Trawlerson.”

“There’s a difference between thinking it was Trawlerson and thinking it might be,” said Preece uneasily. “You couldn’t say positively it was Trawlerson?”

“No, I couldn’t!” said I. “That’s a fact!”

“Why did you think it might be?” he asked.

“Well, it was like his figure---just his height and build. But I’d other reasons,” I said. “Trawlerson had never been away from that spot from the time Chissick started work on it! He was there all day long---watching. Chissick remarked on it to me---said Trawlerson was enough to get on his nerves. He’d some extraordinary curiosity about what was going on, Trawlerson.”

“We shall have to question Trawlerson,” observed Preece. “But first, this shed. I’ve got the map here,” he went on, feeling in his pocket. “We’ve been studying it, me and the inspector---superficially, there’s lines, figures, measurements on it. Look at it, my lad---where do you make this shed to be?”

“Right there!---where that line’s drawn down from the black spot,” I answered promptly. “This line, with the figures at the side of it.”

“I take that black spot to be the mill,” said Preece. “So the line evidently points to a place so many yards, so many feet, beneath it?”

“That’s just what you’ll find it does, Mr. Preece,” I said. “And you’ll find, too, that the line ends underneath the biggest oak tree up there, and it’s alongside that oak, beneath the long lower bough, in fact, that Chissick built the shed.”

“Well, we’ll go up there,” remarked Preece. “I’ve got a lot of keys that we found in Chissick’s house, and if the shed’s locked we must try them. That’s the first thing to do---to see if there’s anything in that shed that can throw any light on this affair. You say Chissick put a strong lock on the door?”

“And a very strong bolt---inside,” I answered. “He didn’t mean anybody to get in when he was busied inside, Mr. Preece. And---there’s no window!”

We all set off, there and then, for the shed. I remembered what Chissick had told me---that active work on the foundations of the bungalows was to begin that morning. But there were no workmen there; the hill-side was left to itself. I glanced at the rock on which Trawlerson had been accustomed to sit for hours: it was untenanted. Preece quickly found the key which opened the door of the shed, and we all crowded in. There was nothing to see at first---nothing. I almost began to believe that I had been mistaken about the digging, for the floor looked as if it had never been disturbed. But Preece, growing accustomed to the light sooner than the rest of us, suddenly pointed to a corner.

“That’s where the digging’s been!” he said. “Look there!---it’s plain enough. Somebody---Chissick, of course---has dug here, and when he’d found what he wanted, he’s filled in the hole again.”

We were all getting accustomed to the light by that time, and we saw what Preece meant. It looked as if Chissick had dug a cavity some two feet square---how deep, of course, we could not know---and having either found something in it or decided that there was nothing to find, had carefully filled it up again and levelled the turf.

“The thing is,” said the inspector musingly, “the thing is---what was his object? What was he digging for?”

“I don’t think there’s much doubt about that!” said Trace. “The map’s the key to all that! Something’s been buried here. Why was Trawlerson so keen about finding this mill? Why has he stuck to the village and haunted this spot ever since he came here and heard that Kest had a map? Why did Kest come?---with the map?”

“Aye!” muttered Preece. “And how did Chissick get the map? And how did Chissick get Kest’s bank-notes? The whole thing’s----”

He broke off at the sound of a heavy step just outside the door. We all turned sharply. There stood Fewster, whom I knew chiefly as Chissick’s friend and constant companion.

Fewster’s big, flabby face was pale, and there was perspiration on it. It might be from hurrying up the hill-side, but I saw that his hand shook badly as he pulled out a huge bandanna handkerchief and began to mop himself. He looked anxiously at Preece.

“What’s this I hear, Sergeant?” he asked, in a shaking voice. “Our milkman told me, and said he’d seen you coming up the hill. Chissick? Is it----”

“It’s quite true, Mr. Fewster,” replied Preece. “Found dead in his house, this morning. Murdered, sir! No doubt about it!”

Fewster seemed to grow paler, and I thought he trembled. He put a hand on the lintel of the door, as if to steady himself.

“No clue?” he asked sharply.

“None as yet, Mr. Fewster,” said Preece. “I suppose you can’t help us? You knew Chissick better than anybody, I think.”

“I know nothing,” answered Fewster. “Nothing! Chissick---he dropped in on me, latish, Friday night. He didn’t stay long---just had a cigar and a drop of something. He mentioned that he was going to Brighton next day for the week-end. Nothing uncommon in that---it was his custom.”

“Did he say anything to you about this?” asked Preece, waving his hand in a gesture that took in the shed and the piles of building material that lay about. “Make any reference to what he was doing here?”

“No more than that he was going to build a couple of smart little bungalows hereabouts,” replied Fewster. “And nothing particular about that.”

Preece nodded, and motioning the rest of us out of the shed, proceeded to lock the door and put the keys in his pocket.

“Well, there it is, Mr. Fewster,” he said. “He’s dead---murdered. That’s the second murder within three weeks! We haven’t solved the problem of the first yet. Now here’s another---and perhaps a more difficult one. What is it, Mr. Fewster?”

For Fewster was showing unmistakable signs of anxiety to ask a question. He glanced, in a queer, speculative way, from one policeman to the other.

“There’ll have been a motive,” he said. “There must have been a motive! Was it---was it robbery, now?”

There was something underlying his curiosity, and I thought the policemen saw that there was, for they exchanged glances. But the inspector answered him readily enough.

“It doesn’t look like robbery,” he said. “He’d considerable personal effects on him, Mr. Fewster, and nothing was touched. But---why do you ask?”

Fewster was prodding holes in the turf with the ferrule of his stick. He kept his gaze on these as he made one after another, but suddenly he looked up and spoke in a low voice, as if he were telling a secret.

“I’ve been in a mind to see you about this, Sergeant, once or twice,” he said, addressing himself to Preece. “But I’m not the man to spread rumours or make mischief. However, this is no time to mince matters. Murder!---come, that’s the limit! The fact is,” he went on, with a look that seemed to beckon us all round him in confidence, “the fact is---there’s somebody about that shouldn’t be!”

“How do you mean, Mr. Fewster?” asked Preece.

“I mean this, Sergeant,” replied Fewster, with a knowing look. “This! You’re not aware of it, though my doctor is, and my chemist is, but I suffer from insomnia---have done for a long time---and occasionally I try walking out late of a night as an inducement to sleep. Well, I know, as a matter of fact, that there’s somebody lurks about this place at night in a fashion that shows he’s up to no good!”

“You’ve seen somebody---or something?” suggested the inspector.

“More than once!” replied Fewster. “A man! I’ve seen him, late at night, cross Hentidge’s lighted windows, down there, and disappear amongst Hentidge’s outbuildings. I’ve twice or thrice seen him outlined against the sky, up there, moonlight nights. Once, as I came along Sweetbriar Lane, I saw him---it must have been the same man!---coming to meet me---he disappeared into a coppice and lay hid there till I’d gone by. And once, Captain Trace, I saw him listening and peering in at that little side-window of yours, overlooking the garden!”

“You’ve never been near enough to get a sight of his face?” asked Preece.

“No---but it’s always the same figure---sturdily built, somewhat thick-set man,” said Fewster. “One thing I do know about him---he goes about in rubber-soled shoes---steps soft, you know. And I don’t want to mention names, but I think if I were you, I should get to know more about the man who’s lodging at the inn---you’re aware of who I mean, Sergeant!”

“I’m not afraid of mentioning names,” said Preece. “You mean Trawlerson. That’s the man you suspect of this midnight prowling about?”

But Fewster remained true to his principles, and with a nod which might have meant no more than a farewell for the time being, he went off. Preece turned to the rest of us, with a shake of his head.

“That’s queer stuff!” he said doubtfully. “I’m out and about at night---no end!---and I haven’t seen anything of this.”

“You’ve a beaten track,” remarked Trace.

“Well, more or less so, yes,” admitted Preece. “But I’ve never heard any complaints from anybody. However, here’s this lad says he saw a man at this shed when Chissick was digging whom he thought might be Trawlerson, and Mr. Fewster implies pretty plainly that he suspects Trawlerson, so I reckon we’d better go and hear what Trawlerson has to say for himself. But you know we’ve nothing to connect him with this, and he’s a stiff nut to crack, and a hard man to draw!”

“I know what’ll draw him, Mr. Preece!” I exclaimed. “And so does Captain Trace! Tell Trawlerson the map’s been found!”

Preece looked at me with a dawning appreciation of the value of my suggestion, and a knowing look came into his eyes.

“Not a bad notion, my lad!” he said. “The thing is---if he knows we’ve got it, and that he’s no chance of getting it----”

“Don’t forget something that Trawlerson said at the inquest,” interrupted Trace. “Do you remember?---he implied, to the coroner, that the map was his.”

“He’ll have to prove that!” said Preece. “I shan’t let him handle it. But I think”---here he turned to the inspector---“I think we’d better see the landlord at the inn before we see Trawlerson, just to find out---eh?---what Trawlerson’s movements were on Saturday and Sunday.”

We went down to the village in a body. Near Hentidge’s farm we met Halkin. Halkin had heard the news, and was hurrying to the inn as the distributing centre of all local information. But as soon as he saw the policeman he halted, and, waiting for us to come up, buttonholed Preece.

“This affair of Chissick’s, now!” he exclaimed, so that we all could hear. “I’ve been talking to one of your men at Chissick’s garden gate. He says that the doctor says that Chissick was murdered at noon---about noon, anyway---on Saturday. But it can’t have been so, Preece, it can’t have been!”

“Why can’t it have been?” asked Preece, with a glance at the rest of us. “What do you know about it?”

“This much!” retorted Halkin. “I was past there on Saturday night---just about dusk---coming home from marketing. And I saw Trawlerson come away from Chissick’s garden gate and heard him say good night. That ’ud be to Chissick, of course! So---Chissick must have been alive then, d’ye see? But you ask Trawlerson.”

“You’re sure it was Trawlerson you saw?” demanded Preece.

“Sure? Certain! You ask him,” replied Halkin. “Come down to the inn---he’ll tell you.”

We all walked along to the inn. The landlord, in his shirt-sleeves, and with a straw in his mouth, was standing at the front. He gave the police a shrewd glance as they drew near him.

“I know who you’re after,” he said, with something like a wink. “No good, gentlemen! He’s not here! Never seen head nor tail of him since Saturday night!”

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