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Chapter 14: The Man who Bought Food

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Author Topic: Chapter 14: The Man who Bought Food  (Read 17 times)
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« on: May 27, 2023, 08:13:29 am »

I DON’T think any of us were prepared for this intimation; the two policemen, I am sure, were taken aback by it; Preece looked as if he wanted to start out there and then in search of Trawlerson. Before either inspector or sergeant could speak, Halkin pushed to the front.

“Ah!” he said, with a sly chuckle that was meant to signify a great deal. “Made off, has he? And when---at what time was it on Saturday night, I mean---did he make off, now?”

The landlord, scratching his elbows and chewing his straw, looked at Halkin pretty much as a mastiff might look at an officious cur, and looked away again. He turned to the police.

“In and out he was all Saturday,” he said. “It was only Saturday morning I said to the wife as how he was getting stranger and stranger in his goings-on. Like one o’ these figures in an old-fashioned weather-glass he was---always either out or in, and you never knew which! But quiet and well-conducted, even when he’d had his rum---and he was a good hand at that! and always down on the nail with his money. However---there ’tis! Gone!”

“What time did he go, Saturday?” asked the inspector.

“As I say, he was in and out, all Saturday,” continued the landlord. “I see him last some time after he’d had his supper. He was in the parlour, then, in his fav’rite corner, where it was his custom to sit. That ’ud be about half-past eight---he took his supper at eight, reg’lar. He was in that there corner one minute, and gone the next. Never saw him go out---and ain’t seen him since.”

“What time was it when you saw him, Halkin?” asked Preece.

“It would be about nine,” replied Halkin promptly. “I came from Chichester by the 8.21. That’s due at our station at 8.37. It would take me nearly half an hour to walk up. Say all about nine.”

“You’re sure it was Trawlerson?” asked Preece.

“As sure as that I see you!” asserted Halkin. “He was coming out of Chissick’s gate. As you’re aware, that gate’s set at the end of a thick holly hedge that leads up to the front door. He’d his head turned that way, and he was calling a good night to somebody that I couldn’t see---somebody behind him hidden by the hedge. I took it to be Chissick, of course.”

“Which way did Trawlerson go, then?” enquired the inspector.

“I didn’t see him go any way. I’d turned my head as it was, to see him at all; I’d heard his footsteps on the gravel walk, d’ye see?” explained Halkin. “When I saw who it was, I didn’t look round again, so I don’t know if he came after me or where he went. But I say, you know,” he continued, in his customary fussy manner, “if that was Chissick that Trawlerson called a good night to, Chissick couldn’t ha’ been murdered on Saturday noon! Those doctors----”

The two policemen ignored Halkin. They went into the inn, to question the landlord and his wife, and Trace and I turned homeward. Murder or no murder, there were the fowls to attend upon. Of course, we talked of the events of the morning; everybody in the neighbourhood would be talking too. Trace discussed the affair from every possible point of view. He had theories---suggestions. Taking Halkin’s story about Trawlerson and Chissick’s cottage to be true, perhaps the doctors had been wrong, and Chissick’s murder had taken place at night. Perhaps Trawlerson was the murderer. Perhaps the good-night call which Halkin heard was a piece of bluff on Trawlerson’s part---to deceive anyone who, like Halkin, happened to be about when Trawlerson was coming away from the scene of his crime. It looked, putting one thing and another together, as if Trawlerson had murdered Chissick. Trawlerson had stuck like a leech to his post on the hill-side while Chissick and his men built that shed. It must have been Trawlerson whom I had seen prowling about the shed when Chissick was digging inside. Trawlerson had come to the conclusion that Chissick had unearthed something in that shed, and he had gained admittance to Chissick’s house and murdered Chissick in order to possess himself of that something. And now Trawlerson was away---probably, in the words of the old song, over the hills and far away; very far away, indeed, it might be.

I wasn’t very much interested in these speculations. Ever since we had witnessed the opening of the safe in Chissick’s prim parlour, one and only one question had obsessed me---how did Chissick get hold of Kest’s map and Kest’s bank-notes? Was Chissick the man I had seen in the sea fog, who first struggled with Kest and then knifed him? Letting my mind go back over everything I could remember about Chissick, I could scarcely bring myself to regard him as a murderer. He might be shifty, sly, crafty, unscrupulous, all that, but I couldn’t see him as a man who would drive his knife into another man’s throat. Still, there were the facts, Kest was murdered. I had seen him murdered. And Chissick had been proved to be in possession of things taken from Kest’s body.

But we got some light on this two days later, when the inquest was opened on Chissick. There was no other light thrown on anything else, though. I suppose that all the police in the county, and perhaps some from outside its boundaries, had been hunting for Trawlerson during the forty-eight hours which had elapsed since the discovery of Chissick’s murder, but they hadn’t found him, nor had they come across a single trace of him. Preece, who had a commonsense way of looking at things, said that in his opinion Trawlerson had gone up to London by the last train from a neighbouring junction on the Saturday night, and was safely hidden in some sailors’ haunt in the East End.

But we got this sidelight on Chissick. There was a disposition on the part of the officials to shorten the initiatory proceedings of the inquest on him; somehow or other they gave you the impression that at that stage they didn’t want very much to get out. Still, they put a witness before the coroner whose evidence, when all was said and done, had nothing to do with the actual murder of Chissick---directly, at any rate---but was extremely pertinent as to the mystery of the bank-notes. This was a cattle-drover, a rough-looking but intelligent fellow, who said that, having seen all this stuff in the newspapers about first Kest, and then Chissick, he thought he’d better come forward and tell the police of certain things that he knew.

What this man---Solomon Cole---said, amounted to this: On a Monday afternoon (the Monday being at once settled by date to be that on the morning or early afternoon of which Kest drew one hundred pounds out of his bank) he, Cole, was in the parlour of the Prussian Hussar tavern at Chichester. That was about four o’clock. Everything was very quiet; he, in fact, was the only occupant of the room. Chissick came in; he knew Chissick well by sight. Chissick had with him a sharp-faced, red-haired man, with a goatee beard, who looked like a sailor: him Cole did not know, and had never seen before. Chissick and his companion sat down in a corner. Chissick ordered and paid for two glasses of whisky and two cigars. He and the red-haired man seemed to be talking business. He, Cole, now and then caught a stray word or two. The business appeared to relate to land: he heard something about freehold property, conveyancing, and the like. Eventually, when the two seemed to have reached an agreement, he heard a more definite remark from Chissick. Chissick said, as near as he could remember, “Ten per cent. deposit on the agreed price is the usual thing.” He then saw the red-haired man produce a pocket-book, and from it take some bank-notes which, after counting, he handed to Chissick, who in his turn counted them before putting them in his purse. After that Chissick rang the parlour bell and borrowed pen, ink, and paper from the landlady, and when he had got them, wrote out what he, Cole, supposed to be a receipt. He gave this to the red-haired man, and soon afterwards the two men went away, Chissick having first paid for two more glasses of whisky.

Chissick’s brother from Brighton was at the inquest, and he had a solicitor with him; this solicitor asked Cole questions when he had finished his evidence-in-chief. Was he watching Chissick and the red-haired man very closely? Not particularly, said Cole; he was---well, just noticing. Did he see the red-haired man give Chissick anything else than the bank-notes---a folded paper, for instance? No, replied Cole; he did not. Might the red-haired man have handed over such a paper---with the bank-notes or afterwards? He might, said Cole, but he didn’t see any such paper handed over and he didn’t believe it was ever shown. Mr. Chissick---he had a paper, a great roll of paper, which he spread out on the table at which he and the red-haired man sat. But the red-haired man never produced any paper that he, Cole, saw---except the bank-notes.

We all knew what Chissick’s brother’s solicitor wanted. He wanted to convince coroner and jury that the red-haired man, who, without doubt, was Kest, handed over to Chissick, in addition to the bank-notes, the map that was found with them. But the coroner was quick to point out that I, as witness in the Kest case, had sworn that I saw the map in Kest’s possession more than twenty-four hours after the meeting at the Prussian Hussar.

“And it comes to this,” said he. “I see no reason to doubt Cole’s evidence. The man who was with Chissick at the Prussian Hussar was, no doubt, Kest. Kest, it would seem from Cole’s evidence, was buying some land from Chissick; we know, from the evidence of the bank-clerk, that Kest had said that he was going to buy some property. Apparently, he paid Chissick a deposit on the agreed price. That accounts for Chissick’s possession of these particular Bank of England notes. But it does not account for Chissick’s possession of the map which the witness in the Kest case, the young man Crowe, saw in Kest’s hands on the night before Kest was murdered.”

Things were left at that, for the time being; that is, the inquest, as in Kest’s case, was adjourned for the production of more evidence. And now, where there had been half a dozen police folk on the scene of Kest’s affair, there were at least twice and at times thrice as many in Chissick’s. Men came down from London---real Scotland Yard men. There was the usual examination and re-examination of village people, and especially those who lived nearest to Chissick (nobody did live very near; his charwoman, I think, was his nearest neighbour). As for me, if I told my tale once to police authorities, big and little, I told it fifty times. There were all sorts of mysterious doings at Chissick’s house: searchings for finger-prints on wood and metal-work; microscopic examination of the garden for footmarks; inspection on account books and papers and letters; a general turning over and inside out of everything. It all came to nothing, by which I mean that at the end of a week the police were no wiser than before. And Trawlerson, for whom the hue-and-cry was out, was as if he had been bodily snatched up by a jinnee and set down amongst the Mountains of the Moon. Not a whisper of news about him came to hand.

Then one day, as Preece was talking to Trace and me at our garden gate, we saw a man, a stranger, come along the street and go to Preece’s cottage, over the door of which, of course, were the insignia of the county constabulary. We saw him knock; we saw Mrs. Preece come out, talk to him, and then looking up and down and catching sight of her husband, point him out---Preece was in plain clothes. The man came along in our direction---an elderly, respectable, small-tradesman-looking sort of man---eyeing my two companions questioningly.

“Sergeant Preece?” he asked, looking from one to the other.

“My name, sir,” replied Preece promptly. “What can I do for you, sir?”

The man took off his hat, wiped his forehead---it was a hot June morning---and leaned back against our wall.

“I’ve come a long way to see you, Sergeant,” he said. “My name’s Scale---I keep a grocer’s shop over at Barlaton---other side of the hill there. Not in your district, that, I think. However, I believe I’ve got some information that may be of use to you. You’re looking for a man called Trawlerson?”

“We are, Mr. Scale---and wanting him badly!” exclaimed Preece. “If you can tell us anything about him----”

“I don’t know whether I can or not,” interrupted Scale. “But it’s in my mind that I may be able to. It’s like this---last night, just before I closed, there was a man came into my shop who was a total stranger to me, and who, moreover, wasn’t a man of our parts. He told me that he was in charge of a steam-roller on a road away up in the hills, and had to camp out for a while, and he wanted some provisions. He bought a quantity---chiefly tinned stuff: tongues, beef, sardines, preserves; that sort of thing, that doesn’t need any cooking. Biscuits too---a lot. Bread, tea, coffee---altogether as much as ever he could carry in a sack that he’d got with him. I said to him jokingly that he must be going to make a long job of it; he replied that he didn’t know when he’d get done, and he didn’t want to come foraging again. It was dark when he went off, and I didn’t see which way he went. But I heard, later, that he called in at our public-house and bought three bottles of rum.”

“Paid for everything, I suppose?” asked Preece.

“Oh, on the nail!---made no difficulty about that,” replied the grocer. “He’d plenty of money on him---I saw that. And he’d something else too---a revolver! I saw it sticking out of his hip-pocket. Well, this morning I was talking to some of my neighbours, and there’s nobody knows of any steam-roller at work anywhere amongst our hills, nor in our district. And they suggested this man might be Trawlerson, driven out of some hiding-place in search of food and drink, and that I should walk over and see you.”

“Much obliged to you, Mr. Scale,” said Preece. “And now, sir---what was this man like? You’d no doubt take stock of him?”

Scale had evidently taken stock of his customer to some purpose. He described him with great particularity of detail. And our faces fell and we shook our heads. For the grocer’s description of his mysterious customer was not one that fitted in with our knowledge of Trawlerson.

It was at this juncture---in fact, while we stood talking there---that Macpherson came back.

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