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18: Trimble v. Rose (Wendon Intervening)

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Author Topic: 18: Trimble v. Rose (Wendon Intervening)  (Read 58 times)
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« on: April 22, 2023, 02:35:53 am »

THE inquest was held in the village hall at Yewbury. The coroner sat at a table on the platform at the end of the hall; to the one side of him a row of self-conscious jurors, to the other an impressive selection of press representatives. It was an appropriate setting, for it was there that Mrs. Pink had so often figured, a quiet, unobtrusive but essential personage on every committee, prompting the chairmen of innumerable meetings with answers to awkward questions, reading the minutes of proceedings of every sort of parochial society, modestly acknowledging the inevitable tribute to her valuable work behind the scenes of this, that or the other activity. It seemed quite unnatural to the villagers who packed the body of the hall that Mrs. Pink was not present in person to see that everything was in order.

Apart from the inevitable absence of the subject of the inquiry, nothing was lacking to make up a village occasion on the grand scale. Every resident who could possibly be squeezed into the building was there, and most of them had been patiently waiting for the proceedings to begin for an hour or more before Pettigrew slipped into the seat which the Superintendent, as good as his word, had reserved for him. The crowds of disappointed late-comers whom he had seen turned away at the doors were, he noticed, mostly composed of strangers. That was as it should be. This was, after all, a local show. It was a pity, he reflected, that it was going to be so dull and so brief. There was still a glamour about the name of coroner's courts, but their great days were over. He passed the time of waiting in trying to recollect exactly when it was that Parliament had relieved coroners from the task of amateurishly duplicating the work of the magistrates and police. He could not remember. It did not matter. Nothing of the smallest interest was going to happen today, at all events, and he could not for the life of him say why he had come there himself, except that, having finished the lecture on torts, he was at a loose end that morning, and that sitting with his neighbours in the village hall made a change from pottering round the garden at home.

He glanced around him, picking up here and there a familiar face in the throng. He threw what he hoped was an encouraging smile in the direction of Godfrey Ransome, who had come into a reserved seat a little distance from his own, and then occupied himself in the always fascinating task of trying to read his neighbour's newspaper without too obviously drawing the attention of the owner. The headline was clear enough: WHERE IS HUMPHREY ROSE? was spread clean across the top of the front page. A blurry patch below and to one side was presumably a photograph, but the light was poor, and he had to take it on trust. By squinting vigorously he could just decipher part of a passage in leaded type. Needless to say, it resolved itself into "... believe may be able to help them in their inquiries".

He was still absorbed in this childish game when he became aware that the inquest had begun and the jury was already being sworn. Stumbling over the unaccustomed words, in a ragged chorus they promised that they would diligently enquire and true presentment make, and so on to the end of the time-honoured formula, just as though they really had a useful function to perform.

The coroner, contrary to all tradition, proved to be a quiet young man with a modest, almost shy, demeanour. In a voice barely audible beyond the first few rows of chairs, he informed the jury that he proposed to lay before them evidence of the identity of the deceased and then to adjourn the proceedings. Whether they would be summoned again would depend upon the result of the investigations then being conducted by the police. He called Police-Constable Merrett.

Taking the centre of the floor with measured tread, Merrett held the Testament aloft and recited the oath in ringing tones. At nine o'clock that morning, he announced, he had proceeded to the mortuary of the Royal Markshire Hospital at Markhampton and had there seen the body of----

"Excuse me, Mr. Coroner, but may I say a word?"

A deep, cultured voice from the back of the hall interrupted the proceedings. Merrett stopped his evidence midway, the heads of the audience turned from the direction of the platform towards the entrance behind them, and there was a momentary hush. Pettigrew, who, like many people, had never heard but often secretly longed to hear a stranger forbid the banns in church, felt that he was witnessing the nearest approach to it that he was ever likely to experience. Looking behind him, he could see some sort of a scuffle going on near the door, where apparently the interrupter was trying to force his way further in.

"There must be silence!" said the coroner, with an unexpected rasp to his voice. "If there is any further disturbance I shall order the court to be cleared." He motioned to Merrett. "Proceed," he said.

But Merrett did not proceed. From his vantage-point on the platform he was looking down into the hall with an air of bewilderment on his broad, honest face. He turned to say something aside to the coroner, and as he did so the voice spoke again.

"I have a right to be heard," it said, "and I insist upon being heard. Let me pass, please."

A moment later Humphrey Rose, slightly dishevelled from his struggle with the doorkeeper, but otherwise perfectly self-possessed, walked up the hall. He was nattily dressed in a dove-grey suit, to which he had very properly added a black tie.

"Mr. Coroner," he said, "I must apologize for this intrusion, but am I not correct in thinking that it is usual for evidence of identification at proceedings of this nature to be given by the next of kin? If so, as husband of the deceased I feel that I should be called upon rather than this witness."

The coroner, Pettigrew was glad to observe, was entirely equal to the occasion.

"May I ask, sir," he said calmly, "whether you have seen the body of the deceased?"

"To my regret, no. I have come from some distance and have not yet had the opportunity."

"Then you are not qualified as a witness."

Rose smiled amiably. "I am ashamed to say that I had overlooked that all-important point," he said. "Would it be possible for the proceedings to be adjourned so that I could qualify?"

"Certainly not."

"I am in your hands, sir. In that case I have nothing further to say, except to ask you once more to accept my apologies."

And that, as Pettigrew recollected afterwards with mild astonishment, was the end of the whole extraordinary episode. Merrett resumed his evidence, his deposition was laboriously written down and signed, and the inquest was formally adjourned. The appearances were beautifully preserved. So far as the record went, there had been no more than a minor interruption, lasting a bare two minutes, which had been dealt with by the court in the only proper way. Up to the end of the brief session nobody in the assembly behaved as though anything in the least out of the way had occurred. It was an extraordinary example of English calm---or should one call it sluggishness?---in the face of the unexpected.

The coroner announced the adjournment, gathered up his papers and left the hall, followed by the officials present. The public stood respectfully until they had gone. There was a short moment of indecision, a scraping of chairs and benches on the wooden floor as people gathered up hats and coats and handbags, and then a low murmur of talk, pitched in that toneless semi-whisper in which the inhabitants of Yewbury prefer to converse with one another in public places. They had, every man and woman of them, just experienced the greatest thrill of their lives, but nobody would have guessed it from their demeanour. Very slowly and quietly they began to file out, hampered in their progress towards the door by the pressmen, who, the only persons present uninhibited by village manners, had dashed from the platform and followed as close as they could upon the heels of the coroner and his little procession.

It was not the coroner they were after, of course. The last of the group for which the village courteously made way was Police-Constable Merrett, whose broad back effectually blocked any attempt to pass him in the narrow gangway between the seats. Two in front of him and immediately behind the coroner went the Chief Constable. And sandwiched between the Chief Constable and Merrett, walking close together like old friends, were Detective Superintendent Trimble and Humphrey Rose. The whole thing had been done so quietly, so naturally, that it might have been rehearsed. By the time the first eager reporter had reached the road outside, the door had already closed on the waiting police-car. In the words that were to be read at five million breakfast tables next morning, Mr. Rose had been invited to accompany police-officers to the station---and Mr. Rose had elected to avail himself of the invitation.

Pettigrew found himself jostling Godfrey in the slowly moving progress out of the hall.

"I think this has solved your problems," he murmured to him.

The boy nodded. Then he said gloomily, "In a way, sir, yes. But don't you think it has perhaps raised some others?"

Pettigrew gave himself time to think that over. When they were outside he turned to Godfrey and said with an air of crisp decision:

"My immediate problem is that I have a lawn urgently in need of mowing and a mass of weeds to remove from the herbaceous border. It is always easy to prescribe for others, but I suggest that the best thing for you at the moment is a spell of hard, physical work. I can offer you that, if you care to come up to my place now, with a bite of lunch and as much drink as you can carry thrown in. What do you say?"

"Thank you, sir. I'll come."

They set off together, picking their way with difficulty past the knots of eagerly gossiping villagers. It was not difficult to tell from the snatches of talk which they overheard what was the general reaction to the morning's events. The duplicity of Mrs. Pink in having concealed the existence of a husband was enthusiastically condemned by one and all. She was variously described as sly, deceitful, and even---ultimate reproach---as no better than she should be. As for her death, she had got what was coming to her and no mistake, and such expressions of sympathy as made themselves heard were reserved for the poor fellow who they wouldn't even let see his own wife's corpse when he asked to.

---

On the last point, at least, the village did the authorities an injustice. As the police-car drove into Markhampton Rose broke the silence which he had maintained up to that point by asking with his usual genial politeness whether it would be convenient to stop at the mortuary on the way to the police-station. Permission was granted, and the car was diverted accordingly. Arrived at the hospital, Rose threw away the stub of the cigar which, to Trimble's intense discomfort, he had been smoking all the way from Yewbury and went with the Superintendent into the building. Five minutes later they returned. In suitably grave tones he discussed and approved the arrangements that had been made for the funeral, then lighted a fresh cigar and announced jauntily that he was at the Superintendent's service.

"Let me get one thing clear at the outset," he began, when he was finally installed in Trimble's office. "I am not under arrest?"

"Certainly not, sir."

"Very well. It follows that I am here entirely of my own free will?"

"Yes, sir."

"I should be glad if that could be put upon record. As an ex-convict I value my personal liberty rather more than most men. Now, how can I help you?"

"We will begin at the beginning, if you don't mind. Your name is Humphrey Rose?"

"I think you know the answer to that one. Yes."

"Your address?"

"I hesitate to say that I am of no fixed abode, Superintendent, because the expression has rather degrading associations. I have booked a room at the Druids Hotel for the next few days. Will that do?"

"You were staying until recently at The Alps?"

"Quite right."

"I will come back to that later. Now I understand you to say that you are the husband of the deceased?"

"Yes. To make the position quite clear, I have here my marriage certificate and a copy of the deed-poll by which I changed my name. I suppose, by the way, that my little announcement at the inquest this morning did not come as a surprise to you?"

"I am not here to answer your questions, Mr. Rose. When did you last see your wife?"

"A week or two ago. I forget the exact date. We met accidentally in the road. She had fallen off her bicycle and I took her back to her house."

"Was that the occasion when you took from her a portrait which she had there?"

"The 'Spy' cartoon of Spicer, you mean? Quite right. No doubt you read of my presenting it to the local museum afterwards? It seemed a harmless piece of vanity at the time, but I wish now I hadn't done it."

"What do you mean?"

"Well . . ." Rose extended his hands. "You will have to work that one out for yourselves, I am afraid, but I have a notion that it had unfortunate consequences. You were saying----?"

"Was that the last time you saw your wife?"

"Until this morning---yes."

"I want to come to last Thursday, the day on which the murder took place. You were staying at The Alps at the time?"

"Yes. That was my headquarters. I spent Wednesday night in London, though. I had business appointments there on Thursday morning. Do you want to know what they were?"

"I am interested in what occurred after you returned from London. You came down by the train due at Yewbury at four thirty-five, which on that evening was running six minutes late?"

"I wasn't aware that the train was late, but no doubt your information on that point is accurate."

"You were met by Todman's car, but decided to walk, leaving him to take up your luggage?"

"That is nearly correct. Actually I let him drive me to the foot of the hill and put me down there. I don't care for walking on roads."

"What time did you reach The Alps?"

Rose considered for a moment. "It's difficult to say exactly," he said. "It was after a quarter past five, I should think. Say twenty past and you won't be far wrong. I'm a slow walker."

"Very slow, if it took you as long as that," Trimble pointed out. "Did you stop on the way?"

"I expect so. To look at the view and get my breath and so on."

"There are several paths up the hill. Which one did you take?"

"The easiest one, naturally."

"Not the most direct route, through the trees?"

"Certainly not."

"Very well. You say you took the easiest path. That is the one that follows the main slope of the hill. Did you meet anybody on the way?"

Rose did not reply for some time. Then, in a hesitant manner, and in marked contrast to his fluency up to then, he said, "I really can't remember."

"Do you really mean that, Mr. Rose? Think. It may be important."

"I was taking no particular notice. I may have met someone or I may not. It is really impossible to say."

"If you were where you say, you were within view of the road near the top of the hill. Was there any traffic going up or down?"

"I rather think I saw a car going down---possibly more than one. I can't be sure."

"It comes to this, then, that there is nothing but your word to show that you were on the path you describe at, shall we say, ten minutes past five, and not in the yew trees on the opposite slope of the hill?"

"I don't quite know what is the significance of ten minutes past five," said Rose easily, "though I could hazard a guess. But you must take my statement---which, I would remind you, is a purely voluntary one, made without pressure or threat and without my having been cautioned---for what it is worth. Any comments you choose to make upon it are your affair."

Trimble changed the subject abruptly.

"Would you care to tell me," he said, "where you went to on Friday?"

"Actually," said Rose, "I should. I went away on business to a rather remote spot in the North of England. I don't propose to give you any further details."

"On business, Mr. Rose? Over the Easter holiday?"

"And when do you suppose, sir," Rose rejoined in a contemptuous tone, "that business is done? I'm speaking of business that matters, involving important people and important interests---things that you wouldn't begin to understand. It's done, of course, when offices are closed, and when the people who really matter can get together and discuss their affairs without interruption. I do not propose to tell you anything about it or to disclose the names of my associates. This whole affair has probably done my projects irreparable harm as it is. As soon as I was aware of what had occurred I came back in order to give you what assistance I could. And all the thanks I get for it is to be accused---not in so many words, I grant you, you are too clever for that---but virtually accused of murdering my wife. As if any man of sense couldn't see the absurdity of such a proposition to a man in my position!"

Then Trimble played his trump card.

"When you speak of a man in your position," he said softly, "you mean an undischarged bankrupt with all his property in his wife's name?"

"That is not a correct way of putting it. I am---was, I should say---a man with no property whatever, and a wife who had a good deal."

"A wife, at all events, who was quite prepared to let her husband deal with the money exactly as though it was his own?"

"A wife who chose to be generous with her property towards her husband."

"Suppose, Mr. Rose, the wife had changed her mind and chose to apply the money in her hands to paying some of the bankrupt's creditors? That might change her value in the eyes of her husband, might it not?"

"What the devil do you mean?"

"I mean that your wife, three days before her death, wrote to her solicitor, saying that she had just realized the hardship which your bankruptcy had imposed on many people, and on one in particular, and enquiring what securities he suggested she should sell so that she could make an immediate payment of eight thousand odd pounds, with more to follow. Does that come as a surprise to you?"

Rose did not answer the question. Instead he muttered in a low, angry voice, "I should like to see that letter."

"It will be produced in due course. I have not got it, but it was read to me over the telephone this morning by the person to whom it was addressed. Have you anything further to say about it, Mr. Rose?"

Rose's pale cheeks had assumed an almost greenish hue. Somehow he mustered a smile. "It makes quite a difference, doesn't it?" he said. Then he stood up. "Unless there are any further matters on which you wish to question me," he went on, "I should like to go."

"You are a free agent, sir," said the Superintendent ungraciously. "But I should like to know where you are going."

"I have given you my address already---the Druids Hotel."

"In that case, if you have no objection to waiting a few moments, I will arrange for a car to take you there."

"That arrangement would suit both our purposes very well, I fancy," said Rose calmly. He had by now to some degree recovered his poise. "I hope you will not keep me waiting long. I am beginning to feel in need of my lunch."

"No. I will see that you are back in good time for your lunch."

Trimble rang a bell on his desk and said to the officer who answered it, "Show this gentleman to the waiting-room and order a car for him as soon as possible."

The officer saluted and then murmured something in the Superintendent's ear.

"Is he?" said Trimble. "Then show him in at once."

"Very good, sir."

The officer left the room, and Rose followed him to what the Superintendent was pleased to call the waiting-room. The headquarters of the Markshire Constabulary, like most police buildings, were old, and hopelessly out of date for the purposes which modern conditions had imposed upon them. Even if they had not been largely reduced in usable area by a direct hit during the war, they would have been far too small for comfort or efficiency. As it was, the one and only place where callers could be deposited was little more than a large, lighted cupboard, partitioned off from the main C.I.D. office. It was disagreeably reminiscent of a cell.

Rose's guide flung open the door of this dismal apartment and said to him, "Will you wait in here, please?" and in the same breath to somebody inside, "The Superintendent will see you now, sir." The incoming and outgoing inmates met face to face.

"Well!" said Rose, his face wreathed in smiles. "If it isn't my old friend Wendon!"

"Get out of my way, you filthy bastard!" said Horace Wendon.

Detective-Sergeant Broome, who was gloomily arranging a file of papers in the office, looked up with interest and made a note of the encounter.

---

"Well, Mr. Wendon?" said Trimble.

Wendon was obviously in a state of some excitement. It had the effect of reducing him almost to incoherence, and it was some time before any words came.

At last he stammered out, "Look here, you're making a ghastly mistake."

"What do you mean, exactly?"

"Arresting Rose, I mean. You're absolutely barking up the wrong tree."

"And who told you that I had arrested Mr. Rose?"

"Damn it, I was at the inquest this morning---I saw you do it. And it's absolutely wrong, I tell you. The man may be the biggest swine on earth, but I'm not going to stand by and see him hanged for a crime he didn't commit, whatever else he may have done. It's not cricket."

"Now, calm yourself, sir. Take things easy and we shall get on a lot better. Nobody has been arrested yet. Mr. Rose has come here at my invitation to answer a few questions and make a statement, just as you made a statement. That is all. You've got no business to jump to conclusions and talk about innocent people being hanged, or nonsense of that kind."

"But it said in the paper----"

"If you believe everything you read in the papers at your time of life, Mr. Wendon, you must be a very simple man. In any case, what it said in the paper was that we were looking for Mr. Rose. So we were. Now we have found him. Whether he or anybody else is arrested remains to be seen."

"But you may arrest him---that's the point. And I happen to know that he is innocent."

"Do you, indeed, Mr. Wendon? And how, may I ask?"

"That's what I'm trying to tell you. When I saw you the other day you told me to come back and let you know if I remembered anything further."

"I recollect that perfectly well. I recollect also that you said it wouldn't be any use, because you hadn't that sort of memory."

"Well, I have remembered, and it was seeing Rose at the inquest that reminded me."

"Reminded you of what?"

"Reminded me that I saw Rose on the hill on Thursday afternoon."

"What was he doing?"

"He was walking," said Wendon, speaking now very deliberately and carefully, "he was walking up the hill by the main path over the slope. I was fiddling with my car on the road, as I told you, and I saw him coming from a long way off. Then I started up and came down very slowly, because of my brakes. I had him in view pretty nearly the whole way, and he kept on straight to the brow of the hill. He was nowhere near the trees all the way."

"You seem very positive about it, Mr. Wendon."

"I am positive. Damn it all, you needn't think I'm making this up to save the skin of a filthy little rat like Rose. It's simply that I'm not going to stand by and see an innocent man----"

"Yes, you've said that before. It's a pity you couldn't remember this important piece of evidence when I saw you on Saturday."

"Well, I'm sorry, but that's the way my memory works. It just wants a bit of jogging, and seeing you taking Rose off after the inquest gave it the jog. That was all."

"Very well." Trimble sighed. He looked suddenly very tired. "I'll have what you have said put into statement form, Mr. Wendon, and when you have signed it you can go."

He went out of the room for a moment. In the office outside he signalled to Sergeant Broome.

"Has Rose left yet?" he asked him.

Broome looked out of the window.

"Just getting into the car, sir."

"Run down and stop him, will you? I must see him again after Wendon has gone. Then send a typist to my room."

When Wendon had departed Rose was brought back into the Superintendent's room. This time the interview was very brief.

"Just one more question, Mr. Rose. You spoke of seeing a car going down the hill. Can you describe it?"

"Yes," said Rose without hesitation. "It was one of those jeep affairs with a snub nose."

---

"So that," said Trimble afterwards to Broome, "is that. If Wendon is telling the truth about that odd memory of his, Rose is clean out of it."

"And why shouldn't he be telling the truth, sir? If ever a man hated another like poison, he does Rose. You should have seen him when they met in the waiting-room just now."

"And Rose, on his side, has just presented Wendon with a perfectly good alibi. I don't somehow see him doing that sort of thing out of pure kindness to his fellow man." The Superintendent shrugged his shoulders. "Is there any further news from Bognor yet?" he asked abruptly.

"Not yet, sir."

"Ring up the hospital and find out if Todman will be fit to be seen tomorrow. Tell them it's urgent."

Urgent---Urgent. The word beat like a drum in Trimble's head as he went back to his desk, to read once more his ever-growing file which sooner or later, with all its gaps and defects, would have to be proffered for inspection by the kindly but alarming eyes of his Chief Constable.

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