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12: Trimble at the Alps

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Author Topic: 12: Trimble at the Alps  (Read 54 times)
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« on: April 21, 2023, 11:53:55 am »

GODFREY Ransome did not go on the hill on Easter Saturday. On that day, as on every day during Bank Holiday week-ends, the inhabitants of The Alps lived in a virtual state of siege. An endless file of small cars and overburdened motor-cycles choked the lane that ran past their gates, while the slopes beyond the garden fence were swarming with holidaymakers on foot. Needless to say, the vast majority of the visitors were tamely content to enjoy the wide stretch of country to which they were by law entitled. Barely one in a hundred thought of throwing their empty bottles into Mrs. Ransome's garden; only a mere handful would attempt to climb the fence to help themselves to her daffodils and primroses; while not more than one party in a day would normally be expected to light a fire in her orchard to brew themselves a cup of tea. Pioneers were ever the exception. But, as always, it is the active minority that counts. So it came about that under his mother's direction Godfrey was spending the morning in a state of peripatetic vigilance.

It was a tiresome waste of time to an intellectual young man who had looked forward to getting in a few hours solid work on his entry for the New Statesman literary competition; but to one who had never before lived in a beauty spot it had the attraction of novelty. He had already garnered a varied collection of offerings for the dustbin from various parts of the perimeter, discouraged several small boys from balancing on the palings on the border of the wild garden, and informed two harassed mothers who marched up the drive demanding to be directed to a "toilet" that they would find all their requirements at the tea-gardens farther up the lane. Then followed a temporary lull, while he endeavoured at last to get into the proper frame of mind for literary composition. It did not last long. In a few moments he heard the front gate open once more, and yet another two intruders hove in sight.

The fact that the newcomers were careful to shut the gate behind them was sufficient in itself to differentiate them from any other strangers who had appeared at The Alps that morning. The leisurely speed of their approach made it fairly certain that their errand had none of the urgency that had driven the ladies whom he had recommended to the tea-gardens. They came up to the house as though about to pay a social call---but Godfrey by now knew his mother well enough to be fairly certain that these were not of the type with whom she would be on calling terms.

Godfrey met them halfway to the door. His mother's instructions after breakfast that morning had been, "For pity's sake, Godfrey, keep them out!"; and until he had good evidence to the contrary he was going to assume that these men, like the others, were "them". Before he could say anything, however, the smaller of the strangers spoke.

"Good morning," he said politely. "We are police-officers. Are you Mr. Ransome?"

"Yes," said Godfrey. "Yes---that is---I mean---yes."

It was not, he felt, the way that a man of the world should have replied to such a simple question. There was really nothing in the least alarming in being asked your name by a policeman. No sensible chap should make a fuss about it. To his fury, he could feel that he was blushing. Luckily, the man did not seem to notice anything unusual.

"My name is Trimble, by the way," he said. "Detective-Superintendent Trimble. My colleague here and I are enquiring into the matter of Mrs. Pink. We understand that she called here on Thursday afternoon."

"Oh yes. She did."

"Then perhaps you wouldn't mind assisting us by answering a few questions?"

"I am at your service, Superintendent." (That was much better. It was what all the chaps in books said, anyway.)

Godfrey led the way into the house. He took them into the dining-room. His mother, he knew, was in the drawing-room on the other side of the house, and he had no intention of disturbing her unnecessarily. Trimble's colleague produced some sheets of official-looking paper which he laid out on the table, where they looked strange against the urbane, polished mahogany, and Godfrey nervously faced his first experience of a police interrogation.

"What time did Mrs. Pink arrive here on Thursday?"

"About half-past four."

A long pause, while the colleague scribbled industriously with a fountain-pen.

"Was there anyone with her when she came?"

"She came in Mr. Wendon's car."

So it went on. It was a surprisingly simple business. Once he had got over the initial discomfort of figuring as the subject of police enquiry Godfrey found himself, rather shamefacedly, enjoying the experience. A reasonable individual such as he was set small store by such things, but it did none the less give one a certain sense of importance. He spoke fluently, and, he felt, with an apt choice of words that should have impressed the Superintendent.

His self-satisfaction was sadly diminished when, the interrogation completed, his statement was read back to him in bald, official English, the flowers of speech shorn away, the bare facts set down in all their crudity. Put that way, his evidence didn't amount to very much after all. It barely covered a sheet and a half of the constabulary foolscap.

He signed at the foot of the statement. Trimble added his signature as witness, and that was that. Then, just as he was folding up the paper preparatory to putting it away, the Superintendent asked him another question.

"You were down near the Arch-druid's Tree yesterday morning, weren't you?"

"Yes, I was."

"Looking for something?"

"Yes."

"Did you find whatever it was you were looking for, Mr. Ransome?"

The Superintendent's expression could only be described as coy. Godfrey was irresistibly reminded of one of his more tiresome aunts about to produce a "surprise" at Christmas-time. He had been a small boy then, and he disliked being treated as a small boy now.

"No," he said, in his most grown-up manner. "Do you want me to describe it to you? I presume that you have found something."

"I have found this, Mr. Ransome." The diamond ear-ring glittered on the Superintendent's broad palm.

"Oh, good!" Godfrey's relief at seeing it again swept away his temporary annoyance. "My mother will be pleased."

"You recognize it as Mrs. Ransome's?"

"Of course."

"And when did she lose it?"

The voice was no longer coy. It was distinctly hard and unpleasant.

Godfrey said nothing for a moment. In the brief pause before he answered he had time to feel very frightened, very foolish and very angry.

"I think you had better ask her that," he said finally.

Trimble gave him a long, hard stare. His face was quite expressionless.

"If you put it that way, Mr. Ransome, perhaps I had," he said.

---

Mrs. Ransome was sitting in her drawing-room sewing when Godfrey entered with the two detectives. She raised her elegant eyebrows at the sight of them.

"What is it, Godfrey?" she asked. "And who are these extraordinary people? I told you not to let anyone in."

"We are----" Trimble began, but Godfrey was determined to be too quick for him.

"This is a policeman, Mother," he said. "He's found your ear-ring."

"Oh, but how clever of you!" Mrs. Ransome exclaimed, laying her sewing in her lap. "You see how much better policemen are at looking for things than ordinary people, Godfrey! Let me see it. Yes---my ear-ring it is. Where did you find it, Constable?"

"Superintendent, madam. Detective-Superintendent Trimble of the Markshire Constabulary. This is Detective-Sergeant Broome."

"I beg your pardon. Well, I'm extremely grateful to you both, all the same. I was going down to the police-station about it today, but I suppose my son told you it was missing."

"It was found, madam, in the course of another enquiry altogether," said Trimble portentously.

"Well, never mind how. It has been recovered, that's the great thing. Er---I was going to offer a little reward. Godfrey, dear, my bag is on that table in the window, I think."

"Please don't trouble yourself, Mr. Ransome," said Trimble. "There is, of course, no question of any reward in this case. What I am interested in, madam, is how you came to lose it."

"What an extraordinary question to ask! How does one lose an ear-ring? If you were a woman and hadn't ever bothered to have your ears pierced, you wouldn't need to be told. It's the most fatally easy thing in the world."

"I have no doubt it is. But are you able to say when and where you lost it?"

"If I was able to say that, I should have been able to find it for myself. But it wasn't stolen, if that is what is bothering you. It dropped off somewhere on the hill the other evening, that's all I know. Was that where you found it?"

"I found it yesterday morning in a litter bin by the Arch-druid's Yew."

"In a litter bin! What an extraordinary piece of luck! I'm sure you never thought of looking there, Godfrey."

"The bin had only been placed there just before. There can be no question of your having dropped it into the bin."

"Well, really, this is very odd. You mean to tell me that someone picked it up and put it into the bin? What strange things some people do!"

"Be that as it may, madam," said Trimble impatiently, "it would appear that this ear-ring was lost in the vicinity of the Arch-druid's Yew."

Mrs. Ransome shook her head vaguely.

"I'm no good at those touristy names," she said. "I'm only a resident, you know. I don't read the guide-books. What do you call the Arch-thingummy's Yew?"

"I mean the large tree about halfway down the hill from here where three paths meet."

"I think I know the place you mean."

"Were you there on Thursday afternoon?"

"I'm not sure. Why Thursday in particular?"

"Was that not the day you lost the ear-ring?"

"Was it?"

"As your son here was looking for it on Friday morning, I presume that you had discovered the loss the previous evening."

"Oh, very well, I expect it was Thursday."

"You met Mrs. Pink here on Thursday, did you not?"

"Mrs. Pink? What has all this to do with her?" Mrs. Ransome seemed genuinely bewildered.

"The body of Mrs. Pink was found on Friday morning, madam, within a few yards of the tree known as the Arch-druid's Yew."

"Oh yes, I know. Terrible," said Mrs. Ransome in the hushed tones which a well-bred person sometimes employs in speaking of the recently dead. Then her face changed as an idea suddenly came to her. "Mrs. Pink!" she repeated. "You mean she might have taken my ear-ring with her when she left the house? Godfrey, we never thought of that!"

It was very plain from Godfrey's expression at that moment, as the Superintendent was quick to observe, that he certainly had never thought of any such thing.

"Of course," Mrs. Ransome went on, "she might have taken it accidentally---caught up in her dress in some way. It's always possible. One wants to be charitable to the poor thing after what has happened. But she certainly did behave very strangely that day, didn't she, Godfrey? Inviting herself to tea with you and then being positively rude to me afterwards. When we were hardly more than strangers, in any case! One feels a woman in that mood might have done anything. Was she---er---of a certain age, do you know, Superintendent?" she enquired delicately. "Women do sometimes----"

"I know nothing about that at all," said Trimble abruptly. "And I have no reason to suppose that Mrs. Pink stole your ear-ring."

"Oh, very well!" Mrs. Ransome shrugged her shoulders. "It doesn't seem to me to matter much whether she did or not, so long as I have it back."

"This ear-ring, madam," said the Superintendent impressively, "was found within a few yards from the spot where a murder was committed. We know that the murdered woman was last seen alive on the path leading down from this house. You left the house very shortly after she did. I am asking you now to explain your movements from that time."

"Asking me to explain? . . . Asking me to explain! I really think it is about time to ask you to explain! Are you seriously suggesting that I had anything to do with the death of this unfortunate woman?"

To anyone looking at Mrs. Ransome, sitting in her elegant drawing-room, it certainly seemed a very odd suggestion indeed.

"I have not suggested that."

"Well, you have certainly implied it." Mrs. Ransome picked up her sewing and began jabbing her needle into her work with furious concentration. "And if that was not the suggestion I don't know what the point of your question was. And I absolutely refuse to answer anything further except in the presence of my solicitor. And what he will say when I tell him that I've been practically accused of murder because somebody else chose to pick my ear-ring up and hide it in a litter bin I don't know."

"Very well, madam," said Trimble. "If you take up that attitude there is nothing further that I can do. Before I go, however, I should like a word with Mr. Rose."

"He is not here," said Mrs. Ransome curtly, her head still bent over her sewing.

"I understood that he was staying in the house. When did he leave?"

"Yesterday."

"Then where is he now?"

"I have no idea."

"I see, Mrs. Ransome, that you are quite determined not to help us." The Superintendent got up to go.

"After the way you have insulted me I don't see why I should." Mrs. Ransome picked up her scissors and snipped off her thread. "I will thank you for my ear-ring," she added. "There is no reason why you should deprive me of my property as well as trying to take away my reputation. Godfrey, show these people out."

---

"Well, Godfrey," said Mrs. Ransome a few minutes later, with a cheerful smile, "have they gone?"

"Yes, Mother."

"Did you have a look to see if there were any more of those odious trippers about in the garden?"

"Yes, Mother."

"Well, don't go on repeating 'Yes, Mother' like that, you silly boy. Anybody would think you were afraid I should eat you. Was there anybody?"

"Only a couple of children picking daffodils behind the potting-shed, and I got rid of them. There was a police-car waiting for the detectives outside the front gate, and I expect that kept most people away."

"That's one good result of having the police here, anyhow. It was rather fun in a way, though, wasn't it?"

"Mother, I----"

"Yes, Godfrey?"

"Oh, nothing. Only I---I wish you wouldn't."

"Wouldn't what, exactly?"

"Oh---you know."

"Yes," said Mrs. Ransome, smiling sweetly. "You don't express yourself as clearly as usual, Godfrey, but I know, only too well. But sometimes one has to, and I'm afraid I'm the sort of person who rather enjoys doing it. Now for goodness' sake take that hangdog look off your face and go and get the sherry. There's just time for a glass before lunch, and I have an idea that we both need it."

---

"I wonder, Godfrey," said Mrs. Ransome as she sipped her sherry, "who really killed that silly old Mrs. Pink---and why? It would be interesting to know, wouldn't it?"

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