The Man in the Queue, by Josephine Tey

12

Capture

It was a dining-room, and there were three people having tea at the table: an elderly woman with a faint resemblance to Mrs. Everett, a girl with reddish hair and a pale skin, and the Levantine. Grant had time to note them all from behind the minister’s bulk before his host’s making way for him brought him into their view, and he had the exquisite pleasure of seeing his quarry recognize him. For a second Lamont’s eyes widened at him, then the blood rushed to his face and as suddenly receded, leaving it deathly pale. The looker-on in Grant thought how Danny Miller would have sneered at such an exhibition — Danny, who would kill a man and not bother to remember it. The Levantine was certainly an amateur at the game — a murderer by accident more than design, perhaps.

“I have brought you a visitor,” the minister was saying. “This is Mr. Grant. I found him fishing, but catching nothing, so I brought him in to get some hot tea. My sister, Mrs. Dinmont. My niece, Miss Dinmont. And a friend of ours, Mr. Lowe. Now, where will you sit?”

Grant was given a seat beside Miss Dinmont and facing Lamont. Lamont had bowed to him when introduced, but so far gave no sign of ill-meditated action. Either he was paralysed or he was going to take things quietly. And then as he sat down Grant saw the thing that made his heart leap. Lamont’s cup was on the wrong side of his plate. The man was left-handed.

“I am so glad you didn’t wait, Agnes,” Mr. Logan said in a tone which clearly said, I think you might have waited. “It was such a fine evening that I crossed by the swing bridge and came home by the other side of the river.”

“Well, we’re glad you did,” said his niece, “because you’ve brought Mr. Grant, and that makes an uneven number, and so we can put it to the vote. We’ve been having a fight as to whether a mixture of race in a person is a good thing or not. I don’t mean black and white, but just different stocks of white. Mother says that a single-stock person is the best, of course, but that is because she is solid Highland, back to the flood and before. Logans are Maclennans, you know, and there never was a Maclennan who hadn’t a boat of his own. But my father was a Borderer and my grandmother English, and Mr. Lowe’s grandmother was an Italian, so we are very firmly on the other side. Now, Uncle Robert is sure to side with Mother, being a pure-bred Highlander and having in a pure-bred degree all the stubbornness and stinking pride of his race. So we are looking to you for support. Do say that your ancestry is tartan.”

Grant said, quite honestly, that he thought a mixed strain of more value than a pure-bred one. That was, talking of purebred as it can exist today. It gave a man a many-sidedness instead of giving him a few qualities in excess, and that was a good thing. It tended to cleverness and versatility, and consequently broad-mindedness and wide sympathies. On the whole, he endorsed Miss Dinmont’s and Mr. — er — Lowe’s point of view.

In view of the lightness of the conversation Grant was astonished at the vehemence and seriousness with which Mr. Logan contradicted him. His race was a fetish with him, and he compared it at length with most of the other nations in western Europe, to their extreme detriment. It was only towards the end of tea that Grant found, to his intense amusement, that Mr. Logan had never been out of Scotland in his life. The despised Lowlanders he had met only during his training for the ministry some thirty years ago, and the other nations he had never known at all. Frustrated in his effort — nobly seconded by Miss Dinmont — to make light conversation, Grant played the part of a Greek chorus to Mr. Logan, and let his thoughts deal with Lamont.

The Levantine was beginning to look a little better. He met Grant’s eyes squarely, and except for the antagonism in his own, there was nothing remarkable about him. He made no attempt to hide the small scar on his thumb, though he must have known, as he knew about his telltale cup, that it was damning evidence. He had evidently decided that the game was up. It remained to be seen, though, whether he would come quietly when the time came. At least Grant was glad to see that flicker of antagonism in his eyes. It is an unlovely job to arrest a craven. A police officer would much sooner be hacked on the shins than clasped about the knees. There would quite obviously be no knee-clasping on this occasion.

One thing caused Grant’s heart to harden against the man: the strides he seemed to have made in Miss Dinmont’s regard in the three days of his stay. Even yet his quick smile came out to answer hers, and his eyes sought hers oftener than those of any one else at table. Miss Dinmont looked a girl who would be quite able to take care of herself — she had all a red-haired person’s shrewdness and capability — but that did not excuse Lamont’s lack of decent feeling. Had he merely been preparing an ally? A man on the run for murder does not usually have the spare interest for love-making — more especially if he is an amateur in crime. It was a blatant and heartless piece of opportunism. Well, he should have no chance of appealing to his ally; Grant would see to that. Meanwhile he kept his place in the conversation, and did justice to the fried trout which was the pièce de résistance of five-thirty tea at the manse. The Levantine ate, too, and Grant caught himself wondering what degree of effort was required to swallow each of these mouthfuls. Did he care, or had he got past that? Was his impudent “Don’t you think so, Mr. Grant?” a bluff or the real thing? His hands were quite steady — that thin, dark left hand that had put an end to his friend’s life — and he did not shirk his part in the conversation. There was obviously to the others no difference between the man who sat there now and the man who had sat there at lunch. The Levantine was doing it well.

At the end of tea, when they began to smoke, Grant offered Miss Dinmont a cigarette, and she raised her eyebrows in mock horror.

“My dear man,” she said, “this is a Highland manse. If you like to come out and sit on a stone by the river, I’ll have one, but not under this roof.”

The “under this roof’ was obviously a quotation, but her uncle pretended not to hear.

“There’s nothing I’d like better,” Grant said, “but it’s getting late, and as I am walking to Garnie, I think I’d better start. I’m so grateful to you all for the good ending to my day. Perhaps Mr. Lowe would walk a bit of the way with me? It’s early yet, and very fine.”

“Certainly,” said the Levantine, and preceded him into the hall. Grant’s adieux to his hostess were cut short by the fear that Lamont would have disappeared, but he found him in the hall calmly hoisting himself into the trench-coat he had worn that morning. And then Miss Dinmont came out to join her uncle, who was seeing them off the premises, and Grant had a sudden fear that she was going to offer to accompany them. Perhaps the resolute way in which Lamont kept his back turned to her daunted her a little. It would have been so natural for him to say, “Won’t you come along too?”

But he said nothing. Kept his back turned, though he knew she was there. That could only mean that he didn’t want her, and the suggestion she had been on the point of making died on her lips. Grant breathed again. He had no desire for a scene with a hysterical female, if it could be avoided. At the gate both men turned to acknowledge the presence of the two at the door. As Grant was replacing his battered hat he saw Lamont’s salutation. It was a mere doffing his cap and donning it again, but Grant had not known that any gesture could be so eloquent of farewell.

They walked in silence up the first slight ascent of road until they were well out of sight of the house, at the parting of the ways where the high road went up the hill and the track to the crofts branched off along the river. There Grant halted and said, “I think you know what I want you for, Lamont?”

“What exactly do you mean?” asked Lamont, facing him calmly.

“I am Inspector Grant from Scotland Yard, and I have a warrant for your arrest for the murder of Albert Sorrell in the Woffington queue on the night of the 13th. I must warn you that anything you say may be used in evidence against you. I want to see that you have nothing on you. Will you take your hands out of your pockets a moment and let me run you over?”

“You’ve made a mistake, Inspector,” the lean said. “I said I’d go a bit of the way with you, but I didn’t say how far. This is where I get off.” His left hand shot out of his pocket, and Grant, expecting a revolver, knocked his hand up as it lifted, but, even as his eyes closed instinctively, he saw and recognized the blue pepper-pot from the manse tea-table. Helpless, half blind, coughing and sneezing, he heard the man’s flying feet on the moor-track, and desperately tried to control himself so that he could hear the direction of the retreating sounds. But it was at least two minutes before he could see well enough to be able to follow. A remembrance of that evening in the Strand came to him, and he decided to take his time. No man, even as lightly built as the Levantine was, could run for more than a limited time. There was a radius of possibility bounded by the circumstance of exhaustion point. And judging by the direction he had chosen, when he reached that exhaustion point, the Levantine would be in a country that offered him little means of escape. And, of course, he would be shrewd enough to recognize that. Therefore, the more likely procedure would be that he should repeat the tactics of the Strand evening: lie hidden, probably till darkness made it safe to move, and then return to a better means of escape.

Well, Grant thought, the man who has the higher ground commands the situation. A few yards farther on, a small trickle of water came down the hillside. The valley it made was not deep enough to afford him cover standing up, but, if he bent, it hid his progress up the hillside from any one farther along the moor-tract. With as keen a scrutiny round him as his still smarting eyes would permit, he took to the small gully and, bent double, scrambled up it, stopping every few yards to make sure that nothing was in sight and that he himself was still in adequate cover. Farther up, the gully was bordered by stunted birch, and still farther up it ran through a small plateau thinly wooded with larger birch. Birch in its first mist of green is not ideal cover, but the plateau afforded a first-rate outlook, so Grant decided to risk it. Circumspectly he raised himself from the sandy bank of the stream to the fine turf of the plateau, and crawled across it to the fringe of thick heather that bordered a drop of several feet in the face of the hillside. From this vantage he had the whole immediate sweep of the valley before him, with the exception of a slab to his right, which was hidden by one of the rectangular patches of firwood so typical of the country. The sight of the firwood reassured him. The firwood would be to Lamont what the door on the other side of Bedford Street had been. He had not the faintest doubt that Lamont was lying there now, waiting for him to declare himself on the road somewhere. What puzzled him was what Lamont thought was going to take the place of the busses and the taxis. What hope had he other than the darkness? And he must realize that, if he waited till dark, Grant would have given the alarm. Already the light was beginning to go. Should he abandon his hiding-place and give the alarm, or was that the very thing that Lamont wanted? Would he be playing into Lamont’s hands now if he abandoned the watch and went back to raise beaters? He wished he could make up his mind — could see Lamont’s play. The more he thought of it, the surer he felt that Lamont was counting on his going back to give the alarm. It was the obvious thing to do. He had given Lamont his chance of going quietly, and he had not taken it, even though his resistance had meant the publication of his true standing; most assuredly, then, he would expect the inspector to be squeamish no longer about his or other people’s feelings, and to go back for help in his capture. That being so, Grant would stay where he was and keep an eye on the country.

For a long time he lay there in the dampish, withered heather, looking through the parted fronds at a tranquil strath. Once the brakes of a car squealed away to his left, where the high road came down the hill, and later he saw the car cross the bridge before the village, run like a small black spider along the road at the back of Carninnish House, and disappear up the coast road to the north. A sheep bleated far away on the hill, and a late lark sang high in the air, where the sun still was. But nothing moved in the valley but the river, and the slow northern twilight began to settle on it. And then something moved. Down by the river it was. Nothing more definite than the sudden flash of water in the river itself, there and gone again. But it was not the river; something had moved. Breathlessly he waited, his heart, pressed against the turf, beating time with the blood in his ears. He had to wait awhile, but what he saw he saw distinctly this time. From behind a huge twelve-foot boulder by the river his quarry slid into sight and disappeared again under the bank. Grant waited again patiently. Was he going to ground there, or was he making for somewhere? Even in his anxiety he was conscious of that amused indulgence with which a human being watches an unconscious wild animal busy about its own affairs — that “tickled” feeling that all human beings have when they are spying. And presently a gentle movement farther downstream advertised the fact that Lamont was not stationary. He was heading somewhere. And for a townsman he was making a wonderful job of cover. But then, of course, there had been the War — Grant had forgotten that Lamont was old enough to have seen active service. He probably knew all that was to be known about the art of taking cover. Grant had seen nothing that second time — he had merely been conscious of movement. He would probably have seen nothing the first time if there had been a better method of getting from that rock to the shelter of the bank than coming into the open. There was no further sign of movement, and Grant remembered that the left bank of the river would afford good shelter nearly all the way. It was time that he abandoned his seat on the dais and went down into the arena. What could Lamont’s plan be? If he held to his present course, he would be back at the manse in a quarter of an hour. Was that where he was making for? Was he going to take advantage of the tenderness he had aroused so farseeingly in the Dinmont girl? A pretty enough plan. If he, Grant, had done as Lamont had suspected, and gone back for help, the last place any one would look for him would be in the manse itself.

Grant swore, and let himself down the gully again as quickly as the going and his desire to remain in cover would allow. He regained the moor-track and hesitated, wondering which was the better plan. Between him and the river stretched a piece of moor, boulder-strewn certainly, but without cover for anything bigger than a rabbit. Only the firwood farther on had enabled Lamont to reach the river unobserved by him. Well, what about going back now and giving the alarm? And catch the man being hidden by the minister’s niece? asked the looker-on in him. Well, why not? he demanded angrily of himself: If she hides him, she deserves all that’s coming to her. But there’s no need for publicity even yet, urged his other half. Make sure it is to the manse he has gone, and then follow and arrest him there.

That seemed sensible enough, and Grant, hoping that no one as far down the river as Lamont was could see him, crossed the little moor to the river at the double. What he wanted was to cross the river. To follow the man down the river-bed was to court certain discovery. He did not want the man to run; he wanted him to go peacefully to ground in the manse, so that he could be pounced upon comfortably. If by any chance he could cross the river, he could keep an eye on the man’s progress from the high ground on the other side, could even move parallel with him, if he could come up with him, without the man’s being aware that he was being stalked. He looked at the torrent. Time was precious, and a wetting was nothing now. It is one thing to dip oneself in icy water in the cold blood of a high resolution and quite another to plunge into a flood in the heat of a chase. Grant chose a spot where the river was divided into three parts by two large boulders. If he could succeed in negotiating the first one, he could take the second and the bank in a flying leap, and it would not matter very much if he missed the bank as long as his hands caught at it. He would be across. He stepped back a pace or two and measured the distance to the first boulder with his eye. The first was the flatter of the two, and offered a landing-place; the second was pointed, and must be taken on the run. With an inarticulate prayer he launched himself into space, felt his nailed boots slip as they met the stone, recovered himself, felt the stone heeling over to the black pool beneath, leaped again, but knew even as he leaped that the slipping stone had lacked purchase for his spring, met the second stone sideways, and felt his hands on the far bank just in time to prevent himself going in farther than to his waist. Thankful and breathless, he pulled himself out, hastily wrung as much of the water from his heavy tweed trousers as would prevent him from being hampered by its weight, and made for the high ground beyond. Never had the moor appeared so treacherous. Dry tussocks of grass melted under his feet into bog, dead brambles clung with a living tenacity to his wet tweed, hidden branches of birch rose and hit him as he stepped on the nearer end, holes waited for his feet among the heather. It was more like a music-hall turn, he thought ferociously, than a serious attempt to overtake a criminal. Panting, he came to a turn of the river, and flung himself down to reconnoitre. There was his man, about fifty yards above the manse, moving very slowly and cautiously. It occurred to Grant that he, the pursuer, was having the rough time of it, while the pursued kept a pleasant and well-planned course in the open. Well, it wouldn’t be for long. The minute the man turned into that little back gate that they were laughing so serenely over this morning, he, Grant, would be out of the heather and doubling down the cart-track by the river as hard as he could go. He had a small automatic in his pocket and a pair of handcuffs, and this time he would use them — both if necessary. His man wasn’t armed or he wouldn’t have stolen the pepper-pot from the tea-table, but he wasn’t taking risks any longer. No one’s feelings would be considered any more in this case — his own least of all. Let every female from here to Land’s End have hysterics at once — he wouldn’t care.

Grant was still fuming and glowering and promising himself all sorts of fancy retributions when the man passed the gate. I have always wished that I could have seen Grant’s face at that moment — seen the disgruntled anger and resentment of a man who had tried to do things decently, only to have had his decency taken advantage of, change to the sheer unbelieving astonishment of a small boy beholding his first firework. He blinked hard, but the picture remained the same; what he saw was real. The man had passed the gate. He was now at the end of the manse wall, and making for the bridge. What was the fool doing? Yes, Grant thought of him as a fool. He had worked out a perfectly good way of escape for him — to appeal to Miss Dinmont and lie doggo at the manse — and the fool wasn’t taking advantage of it. He was near the bridge now. What was he doing? What was in his head? There was purpose in every movement. It was not an aimless or even a particularly furtive progress. He seemed to be too wrapped up in the thought of the business ahead to pay much attention to his present circumstances, beyond an occasional glance behind him up the river-bed. Not that there would be much good looking for cover so near the village. Even at this deserted hour, when every one was eating his evening meal and no one was abroad until, an hour later, they came to smoke pipes in the dusk at the bridge-end, there was always the chance of a passer-by, and any appearance of deliberate hiding would defeat its own ends. The man climbed on to the road beside the bridge, but went neither north to the right nor left towards the village. He crossed the road and disappeared on to the river-bank again. What could he get there? Was he going to work round to the hotel, which stood on the point where the river joined the sea, and try to steal the Ford? But he had obviously expected Grant to give the alarm. He would never venture up from the shore to the garage after waiting so deliberately to let Grant give warning. The shore?

Shore! Good heavens, he’d got it! The man had gone for a boat. They would be lying on the deserted shore, out of sight of the village. The tide was in — just on the ebb, in fact — and not a soul, child or adult, would be abroad to witness his departure. Grant hurled himself down the hillside, cursing in a reluctant admiration of the man’s ingenuity. Grant knew the west coaster, and he had a shrewd idea how often these boats were used. If you stay in a west-coast village, you find that the scarcest commodity of all is fresh fish. It might be literally days before any one discovered that MacKenzie’s boat was missing, and even then they would decide that some one had borrowed it, and would save up “the rough side of their tongues”— a course which involved no expenditure of energy — for the borrower when he should put it back. Had Lamont sat and thought all that out at the tea at the manse, Grant thought, as his feet touched the cart-track, or was it a Heaven-sent inspiration in the moment of need? If he had planned it, he thought, racing down the road to the bridge that seemed so strangely distant, then he had also planned that murder in the queue. When one came to think of it, even if one’s grandmother was an Italian, one doesn’t carry daggers about on the off-chance of their being useful. The man was a more accomplished villain than he had given him credit for, in spite of his lack of self-control on two occasions.

Long before Grant had reached the cart-track in his first avalanche down the hillside he had decided on his course of action. This morning, when he had emerged from Carninnish House with Drysdale, he had noticed a boathouse just beyond the house itself, and protruding from it, alongside the little jetty that led from its shelter to the sea, was what Grant in retrospect was sure was the stern of a motorboat. If he was right, and Drysdale was at home, and the light held, then Lamont was as good as caught. But there were three ifs in the affair.

By the time he reached the bridge he was very nearly winded. He had come from the other side of the valley, and now down this one in his heavy fishing boots, with his wet tweeds weighing him down. Keen as he was, it required a real effort of will to make him double that last hundred yards up the north road to the gates of Carninnish House. Once there, the worst was over; the house lay only a few yards inside the gate, in the narrow strip between the road and the sea. When Drysdale’s butler beheld a damp and breathless man at the door, he immediately jumped to conclusions.

“It is the master?” he said. “What’s wrong? Is he drowned?”

“Isn’t he here?” said Grant. “Damn! Is that a motorboat? Can I have a loan of it?” He waved a none too accurate hand towards the boathouse, and the butler looked suspiciously at him. None of the servants had been present at Grant’s arrival in the morning.

“No, you cannot, my lad,” said the butler, “and the sooner you get out of this, the better it will be for you. Mr. Drysdale will make you look pretty small when he comes, I can tell you.”

“Is he coming soon? When is he coming?”

“He’ll be here any minute.”

“But any minute’s too late!”

“Get out!” said the butler. “And have one less next time.”

“Look here,” said Grant, gripping him by the arm, “don’t be a fool. I’m as sober as you are. Come down here where you can see the sea.”

Something in his tone arrested the man’s attention, but it was with obvious fear of personal violence that he approached the sea in company with the madman. Out in the middle of the loch was a rowing-boat, being rapidly propelled seawards down the narrow estuary on the ebbing tide.

“Do you see that?” Grant asked. “I want to overtake that boat, and I can’t do it in a rowing-boat.”

“No, you can’t,” said the man. “The tide goes out there like a mill stream.”

“That’s why I must have the motorboat. Who runs the motor? Mr. Drysdale?”

“No; I do usually when he goes out.”

“Come on, then. You’ll have to do it now. Mr. Drysdale knows all about me. I’ve been fishing the river all day. That man has a stolen boat, to begin with, and we want him very badly for other reasons, so get busy.”

“Are you going to take all the responsibility of it if I go?”

“Oh, yes; you’ll have the law on your side all right. I promise you that.”

“Well, I’ll just have to leave a message”— and he darted into the house.

Grant put out a hand to stop him, but was too late. For a second he was afraid that he was not, after all, convinced, and was merely making his escape; but in a moment he was back and they were running across the long, narrow lawn to the boathouse, where Master Robert floated. Drysdale had evidently christened the boat after the horse whose winning of the National had provided the money for her purchase. As the butler was fiddling with the engine, which uttered tentative spurts, Drysdale came round the end of the house with his gun, evidently just back from an afternoon on the hill, and Grant hailed him joyfully, and hurriedly explained what had happened. Drysdale said not a word, but came back to the boathouse with him and said, “It’s all right, Pidgeon; I’ll see to that, and take Mr. Grant out. Will you see that there is a good dinner waiting for two — no, three — when we get back?”

Pidgeon came out of the boat with an alacrity he took no trouble to hide. He gave Master Robert a push, Drysdale set the engine going, and with a roar they shot away from the jetty out into the loch. As they swerved round into their course down the loch, Grant’s eyes fixed themselves on the dark speck against the pale yellow of the western sky. What would Lamont do this time? Come quietly? Presently the dark speck altered its course. It seemed to be making in to the land on the south side, and as it went away from the lighted skyline it became invisible against the background of the southern hills.

“Can you see him?” Grant asked anxiously. “I can’t.”

“Yes; he’s making in to the south shore. Don’t worry; we’ll be there before he makes it.”

As they tore along, the south shore came up to meet them in fashion seemingly miraculous. And in a moment or two Grant could make out the boat again. The man was rowing desperately for the shore. It was difficult for Grant, unacquainted with distances on water, to measure how far he was from the shore and how far they were from him, but a sudden slackening in Master Robert’s speed told him all he wanted to know. Drysdale was slowing up already. In a minute they would have overhauled him. When the boats were about fifty yards apart, Lamont suddenly stopped rowing. Given it up, thought Grant. Then he saw that the man was bending down in the boat. Does he think we’re going to shoot? thought Grant, puzzled. And then, when Drysdale had shut down the engine and they were approaching him with a smooth leisureliness, Lamont, coatless and hatless, sprang to his feet and then to the gunnel, as if to dive. His stockinged foot slipped on the wet gunnel, his feet went from under him. With a sickening crack that they heard quite distinctly, the back of his head hit the boat and he disappeared under water.

Grant had his coat and boots off by the time they were up to him.

“Can you swim?” asked Drysdale calmly. “If not, we’ll wait till he comes up.”

“Oh yes,” Grant said, “I can swim well enough when there is a boat there to rescue me. I think I’ll have to go for him if I want him. That was a terrific crack he got.” And he went over the side. Six or seven seconds later a dark head broke the surface, and Grant hauled the unconscious man to the boat, and with Drysdale’s help pulled him in.

“Got him!” he said, as he rolled the limp heap on the floor.

Drysdale secured the rowing-boat to the stern of Master Robert and set the engine going again. He watched with interest while Grant perfunctorily wrung his wet clothes and painstakingly examined his capture. The man was completely knocked out, and was bleeding from a cut on the back of the head.

“Sorry for your planking,” Grant apologized as the blood collected in a little pool. “Don’t worry,” Drysdale said. “It will scrub. This the man you wanted?”

“Yes.”

He considered the dark, unconscious face for a while.

“What do you want him for, if it isn’t an indiscreet question?”

“Murder.”

“Really?” said Drysdale, very much as though Grant had said “sheep-stealing.” He considered the man again. “Is he a foreigner?”

“No; a Londoner.”

“Well, at the moment he looks very much as if he would cheat the gallows after all, doesn’t he?”

Grant looked sharply at the man he was tending. Was he as bad as that? Surely not!

As Carninnish House swam up to them from across the water Grant said, “He was staying with the Logans at the manse. I can’t very well take him back there. The hotel is the best place, I think. Then the Government can bear all the bother of the business.”

But as they floated swiftly in to the landing-stage, and Pidgeon, who had been on the lookout for their return, came down to meet them, Drysdale said, “The man we went for is a bit knocked out. Which room was the fire lit in for Mr. Grant?”

“The one next yours, sir.”

“Well, we’ll carry this man there. Then tell Matheson to go over to Garnie for Dr. Anderson, and tell the Garnie Hotel people that Mr. Grant is staying the night with me, and bring over his things.”

Grant protested at this unnecessary generosity. “Why, the man stuck his friend in the back!” he said.

“It isn’t for him I’m doing it,” Drysdale smiled, “though I wouldn’t condemn my worst enemy to the hotel here. But you don’t want to lose your man now that you’ve got him. Judging entirely by appearances, you had a very fine time getting him. And by the time they had lit a smoking fire in one of the glacial bedrooms over there”— he indicated the hotel on the point across the river —“and got him to bed, your man would be as good as dead. Whereas here there is the room you would have had to wash in, all warm and ready. It is far easier and better to dump the man there. And, Pidgeon!” as the man was turning away, “keep your mouth entirely closed. This gentleman met with an accident while boating. We observed it, and went out to his assistance.”

“Very good, sir,” said Pidgeon.

So Grant and Drysdale, between them, carried the limp heap upstairs, and rendered first aid in the big firelit bedroom; and then, between them, Pidgeon and Grant got him to bed, while Drysdale wrote a note to Mrs. Dinmont explaining that her guest had met with a slight accident and would stay here for the night. He was suffering from slight concussion, but would they not be alarmed.

Grant had just changed into some things of his host’s, and was waiting at the bedside until dinner should be announced, when there was a knock at the door, and in answer to his “Come in,” Miss Dinmont walked into the room. She was bareheaded and carried a small bundle under her arm, but appeared to be completely self-possessed.

“I’ve brought down some things of his,” she said, and went over to the bed and dispassionately examined Lamont. For the sake of saying something, Grant said that they had sent for the doctor, but it was in his — Grant’s — opinion a simple concussion. He had a cut on the back of the head.

“How did it happen?” she asked. But Grant had been facing this difficulty all the time he was changing out of his own wet things.

“We met Mr. Drysdale, and he offered to take us out. Mr. Lowe’s foot slipped on the edge of the jetty, and the back of his head came in contact with it as he fell.”

She nodded. She seemed to be puzzling over something and not to be able to make herself articulate. “Well, I’m going to stay and look after him tonight. It’s awfully good of Mr. Drysdale to take him in.” She untied her bundle matter-of-factly. “Do you know, I had a presentiment this morning when we were going up the river that something was going to happen. I’m so glad it’s this and nothing worse. It might have been somebody’s death, and that would have been incurable.” There was a little pause, and, still busy, she said over her shoulder, “Are you staying the night with Mr. Drysdale too?”

Grant said “Yes,” and on the word the door opened and Drysdale himself came in.

“Ready, Inspector? You must be hungry,” he said, and then he saw Miss Dinmont. From that moment Grant always considered Drysdale a first-class “intelligence” man wasted. He didn’t “bat an eyelid.”

“Well, Miss Dinmont, were you anxious about your truant? There isn’t any need, I think. It’s just a slight concussion. Dr. Andersen will be along presently.”

With another woman it might have passed muster, but Grant’s heart sank as he met the Dinmont girl’s intelligent eye. “Thank you for having him here,” she said to Drysdale. “There isn’t much to do till he comes round. But I’ll stay the night, if you don’t mind, and look after him.” And then she turned to Grant and said deliberately, “Inspector of what?”

“Schools,” said Grant on the spur of the moment, and then wished he hadn’t. Drysdale, too, knew that it was a mistake, but loyally backed him up.

“He doesn’t look it, does he? But then inspecting is the last resort of the unintellectual. Is there anything I can get you before we go and eat, Miss Dinmont?”

“No, thank you. May I ring for the maid if I want anything?”

“I hope you will. And for us if you want us. We’re only in the room below.” He went out and moved along the corridor, but, as Grant was following, she left the room with him and drew the door to behind her.

“Inspector,” she said, “do you think I’m a fool? Don’t you realize that for seven years I have worked in London hospitals? You can’t treat me as a country innocent with any hope of success. Will you be good enough to tell me what the mystery is?”

Drysdale had disappeared downstairs. He was alone with her, and he felt that to tell her another untruth would be the supreme insult. “All right, Miss Dinmont, I’ll tell you the truth. I didn’t want you to know the truth before because I thought it might save you from — from feeling sorry about things. But now it can’t be helped. I came from London to arrest the man you had staying with you. He knew what I had come for when I came in at teatime, because he knows me by sight. But when he came with me as far as the top of the road he bolted. In the end he took to a boat, and it was in diving from the boat when we followed that he cut his head open.”

“And what do you want him for?”

It was inevitable. “He killed a man in London.”

“Murder!” The word was a statement, not a question. She seemed to understand that, if it had been otherwise, the inspector would have said manslaughter. “Then his name is not Lowe?”

“No; his name is Lamont — Gerald Lamont.”

He was waiting for the inevitable feminine outburst of “I don’t believe it! He wouldn’t do such a thing!” but it did not come.

“Are you arresting him on suspicion, or did he do the thing?”

“I’m afraid there isn’t any doubt about it,” Grant said gently.

“But my aunt — is she — how did she come to send him here?”

“I expect Mrs. Everett was sorry for him. She’d known him some time.”

“I only met my aunt once in the time I’ve been in London — we didn’t like each other — but she didn’t strike me as a person to be sorry for a wrongdoer. I’d be much more likely to believe she did the thing herself. Then he isn’t even a journalist?”

“No,” Grant said; “he’s a bookmaker’s clerk.”

“Well, thank you for telling me the truth at last,” she said. “I must get things ready for Dr. Anderson now.”

“Are you still going to look after him?” Grant asked involuntarily. Was the outburst of disbelief coming now?

“Certainly,” said this remarkable girl. “The fact that he is a murderer doesn’t alter the fact that he has concussion, does it? — nor the fact that he abused our hospitality alter the fact that I’m a professional nurse? And even if it weren’t for that, perhaps you know that in the old days in the Highlands a guest received hospitality and sanctuary even if he had his host’s brother’s blood on his sword. It isn’t often I boost the Highlands,” she added, “but this is rather a special occasion.” She gave a little catch of her breath that might have been a laugh or a sob, and was probably half one, half the other, and went back into the room to look after the man who had so unscrupulously used herself and her home.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/t/tey/josephine/man_in_the_queue/chapter12.html

Last updated Tuesday, March 4, 2014 at 20:04