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13: Fresh Light on Mrs. Pink

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Author Topic: 13: Fresh Light on Mrs. Pink  (Read 57 times)
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« on: April 21, 2023, 12:24:49 pm »

THE inhabitants of Yewbury, apart from the minority whose occupation allowed them to make money out of the week-end visitors, naturally preferred to get away from the village during the Easter holiday. By way of avoiding the crowded slopes of Yew Hill they piled into their baby cars and motor-cycle combinations, launched on to the traffic-choked roads and with one accord made for the sea, where they spent a few happy hours on the crowded beaches of some popular resort, whose inhabitants (apart from the minority engaged in making money out of the visitors) had fled to some inland beauty-spot, such as Yew Hill. It was therefore without surprise that Trimble, on calling at Mr. Todman's garage, learned from the gloomy hireling left behind to operate the petrol pump that the proprietor and his wife, with a cargo of paying passengers, had left at dawn for Bognor Regis and were not expected home before nightfall.

By this time it was well past noon, and the Superintendent suggested to Sergeant Broome that they should lunch at the Huntsman's Inn. The Sergeant, who had been on duty practically continuously since Friday morning, agreed with an alacrity that was a tribute less to his devotion to his work than to his horror of the meal that he would have had to eat at home. A moment later, however, he relapsed into his usual gloom and remarked that the Huntsman's would be sure to be crowded out with tourists.

Trimble sent him in to enquire, and he appeared a moment later, announcing with the relish of the justified pessimist that there was not a table to be had for half an hour and that the joint was off already.

"Very well," said the Superintendent, "then we will wait for half an hour."

"You can't get near the bar," said Broome moodily. "It's packed right out."

"I did not say anything about the bar," retorted Trimble virtuously.

He was, in fact, not sorry to have a little time at his disposal in which to stroll through the village. Himself a townsman, he always felt a little out of his element when faced with a problem that had for its background a community such as Yewbury. Village life, with its close-knit unity masking a hundred subtle social distinctions, its ramifications of blood and marriage ties, its feuds and enmities that could be as old as the parish church or as recent as last year's horticultural show, always had been and remained to him a mystery. The most that a stranger could do was to keep his eyes and ears open for the chance sight or sound that might give him a glimpse into what went on below the surface.

With the patient and thirsty Sergeant Broome in attendance he strolled past the inn down the lane to Mrs. Pink's cottage. The sound of hammering and the wail of a baby from within showed that Marlene and her husband had put the duties of home-making before the delights of the seaside. Outside the house, leaning on his bicycle and gazing earnestly at nothing in particular, was Police-Constable Merrett.

The Superintendent felt irritated at the sight of that placid, bucolic figure. If only he had a really smart man in the village! There must be an enormous amount of background information going begging for an intelligent officer. Merrett would notice nothing that was not right under his nose---and barely that, he reflected, if he continued to star-gaze in that absentminded fashion.

Merrett finally became aware of his superior's approach, drew himself up and saluted.

"Looks as though it was going to turn out fine over the week-end," he remarked genially.

Trimble was not interested in the weather.

"How long have you been stationed in Yewbury?" he asked abruptly.

Merrett gazed skyward once more in the throes of mental calculations.

"Eleven years come Michaelmas," he finally announced, lowering his eyes to the Superintendent's level.

"Then you ought to know the people pretty well?"

"I wouldn't say that, sir. Eleven years isn't all that long to get to know a place, would you think?"

Trimble's mind went back to all that he had accomplished in the past eleven years, and his impatience merged into pity for an existence so eventless and futile.

"How well did you know Mrs. Pink?"

"Not at all, sir," said Merrett with the jovial air of one imparting good news. "She kept herself to herself, you see. Ever since she came back to Yewbury as a widow. Nobody in the village knew anything about her, really. A real mystery woman, you might say. Very rich she was, of course."

"Eh?" said the startled Trimble. "How did you know that?"

"Just common village gossip, sir. Rich as a lord and lived like a miser. That was what made her so unpopular in the place."

The Superintendent felt that he was getting an altogether new picture of Mrs. Pink.

"Unpopular?" he echoed. "I understood that everybody liked her."

"Lord bless you, sir, no! I expect you've been talking to the gentry---Colonel Sampson, Lady Furlong and all that crowd. They liked her all right---she was that useful. And the Vicar too, 'cos she was always at church. But the villagers didn't like her. It stands to reason. All that money, and living so small---it isn't natural. And then keeping herself to herself the way she did, for all she was born in the village. Mind you, sir, nobody had a word against her, if you understand what I mean. She was a respectable woman—a good woman, you might call her, I dare say. Never an unkind word to anybody, and that useful in the place they'll have a job to manage without her. But as to liking her---no. She was much too quiet. Kept herself to herself, if you follow me, sir."

"Yes," said the Superintendent. "I think you mentioned that point before."

"Well, that's about the size of it," Merrett concluded, gazing up into the sky once more and sucking his teeth reflectively. "And it didn't make her any the more popular keeping Mr. Todman's Marlene out of her house, and her with all that money and all."

"You haven't told me," Trimble reminded him, "how the gossip got about that she had money."

"Well, sir, in a small place like this it's not difficult for things to get about once they start. This one started over there." Merrett nodded towards the village post-office, two doors away from where they stood.

"Yes?"

"Telephone calls to London," said Merrett darkly. "Telegrams, even, once or twice. But mostly it was letters. All typed envelopes, I understand---big ones, some of them, the sort you send papers in. And then she'd post them back in envelopes with the address on them all ready printed. Same address every time, they say---London lawyers. Well, sir, anybody can have a letter from a lawyer now and again, but when it's happening all the time what can it mean but money? That's what the village said, anyway. I dare say they was wrong, but that's what they said."

Merrett looked ostentatiously at his watch and prepared to climb on to his bicycle.

"And if she hadn't got money," he added as an after-thought, "why did Mr. Wendon want to marry her?"

"Did he, indeed?"

"That's what they said, sir. Mind you, it's only common, ordinary village gossip. I'm not saying it's evidence. But Mr. Wendon could do with a wife---and with money too. Everybody knows that. And there he was, giving her rides in that broken-down car of his, dropping in to tea, even, they tell me. And that's a pretty remarkable thing for a woman like her. She kept herself to herself mostly, you see."

With a parting salute the constable rode away.

---

Lunch at the Huntsman, though jointless, was palatable enough. Sergeant Broome was in an almost cheerful frame of mind by the time that it ended.

"It looks to me, sir," he said as they drove away from the inn, "as though this case was simmering down very prettily. Barring accidents, it seems we can reduce it to one of three people. Not so bad, after less than a couple of days' work."

"Three, Sergeant?" said Trimble. "At the moment I make it four."

"I don't get you, sir. You're not counting the boy, surely. A regular softy like that---I wouldn't have said he had it in him."

"Neither should I. Indeed it's on his evidence that I am relying for my four. There's his mother for one----"

"A hard-boiled woman, that. Though I shouldn't have thought this was what you'd call a female type of crime, would you, sir?"

"I should not---but, all the same, until I have some reasonable explanation of that ear-ring I can't leave her out of it altogether. Then we have Todman---we know what his motive was; and if he's the man, we're wasting our time prying into all Mrs. Pink's affairs."

"This sort of work is nine-tenths waste of time anyhow, don't you think, sir?" said Broome resignedly. "Not that I mind---I'm used to it at my time of life. Well, if it is Todman I expect we can break him down when we get the chance to talk to him."

"If it is Todman," said the Superintendent reflectively, "he's a very brave man. I don't expect any easy confession from him."

"Brave, sir? There's nothing very brave about clubbing a poor woman from behind, it seems to me. Real coward's trick, I call it."

"Maybe; but you're forgetting that we have already seen Mr. Todman. Assuming that he's the murderer, he acted the part of a brave man then. Just put yourself in his place. You have killed your tenant because in the present state of the law it's the only way you can hope to get possession of your house. You have come round to the place in triumph to gather the fruits of your crime. And the first thing you see when you open the door is a plain-clothes policeman. Don't you think it wants a good deal of nerve to brazen things out in the way that Todman did? I don't know about you, but if it had been me I should have turned tail at once."

"There's a lot in what you say, sir; but don't forget his old woman had sent him round to put his daughter in. Perhaps he was more frightened of her than what he was of you."

"There may be something in that. Sergeant," said Trimble, and he fell silent, mutely thanking heaven that he was not married to the unspeakable Mrs. Broome.

"Well, sir," the Sergeant went on, "that's two of them disposed of. Number three is Wendon, I suppose. He took her up to The Alps that afternoon, and he vanished just before she left, if young Ransome is to be relied on. After what Merrett has told us, it looks as if it might be a case of a lovers' tiff."

"We've no reason to think he was in love with her," the Superintendent objected. "Even the village only thought that he was after her money. If she refused him, killing her wouldn't make him any richer and wouldn't give him much satisfaction. Besides, just because village gossip made a lucky shot in the matter of Mrs. Pink's money, it doesn't mean there was anything in the other story. All that we know about Wendon is that he was in her company fairly frequently and with her shortly before her death. If there's anything more to be known about him"---he swung the car off the main road into the West Yewbury lane---"now's the time to find out."

They were bumping over the rutted lane towards Horace Wendon's smallholding when Broome observed:

"You haven't mentioned your fourth suspect yet, sir."

"Oh, Sergeant, Sergeant," said Trimble reproachfully. "Do you mean to say that you have forgotten Humphrey Rose?"

"Rose, sir? But he wasn't there at the time."

"Was he not? How do we know? He was walking up from the station, remember. Todman had brought his luggage in the car. With Mrs. Pink walking down and Rose walking up I can't possibly leave him out."

"True enough, sir, when you put it that way. But I still don't see what Rose could have had to do with Mrs. Pink."

The Superintendent braked abruptly to avoid a hen that had blundered suddenly on to the lane. The car skidded in a muddy patch and came to rest under an unkempt hedge of flowering blackthorn, one wheel in a ditch.

"Damn!" he said quietly. "Now you'll have to push me out, I expect, Sergeant. But before you do, let me say a word about Humphrey Rose. I know of no conceivable connection between him and Mrs. Pink. I fancy that there is a pretty close one between him and Mrs. Ransome, though, and Mrs. Ransome knows more about the deceased lady than she's prepared to admit. Further, Rose has vanished very abruptly, and I got the impression that Mrs. Ransome was speaking the truth when she said that she didn't know where to. Further still, Rose is, I believe, one of the two or three wickedest men in England. So far as I know, he hasn't actually killed anybody yet with his own hands, but I'm sure he'd not think twice about it if it suited him. Finally---but that's just a fancy of my own, and I propose to keep it to myself until we know a little more about the case."

A familiar look of deep depression had settled on the face of Sergeant Broome.

"Just when I was saying that this job was simmering down nicely!" he said.

"Quite. And now would you mind going to the back of the car and shoving when I give you the word?"

Quite himself again by now, Broome climbed wearily out and set his massive shoulder against the back panel of the car. One tremendous heave took it on to the track again, and a few minutes later the two officers drove into the filthy, litter-strewn yard of Wendon's homestead.

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