The Man in the Queue, by Josephine Tey



Grant was disconsolate. His radiance was dimmed as the Yard had never known it dimmed. He even snapped at the faithful Williams, and only the surprised hurt on that bland pink face recalled him to himself for a little. Mrs. Field blamed it unconditionally on the Scots: their food, their ways, their climate, and their country; and said dramatically to her husband, after the manner of a childish arithmetic, “If four days in a country like that makes him like this, what would a month do?” That was on the occasion when she was exhibiting to her better half the torn and muddy tweeds that Grant had brought back with him from his foray in the hills; but she made no secret of her beliefs and her prejudices, and Grant suffered her as mildly as his worried soul would permit. Back in the everyday routine and clearing-up arrears of work he would stop and ask himself, What had he left undone? What possible avenue of exploration had he left untravelled? He tried deliberately to stop himself from further questioning, to accept the general theory that the police case was too good to be other than true, to subscribe to Barker’s opinion that he had “nerves” and needed a holiday. But it was no use. The feeling that there was something wrong somewhere always flowed back the minute he stopped bullying himself. If anything, the conviction grew as the slow, unproductive, tedious days passed, and he would go back in his mind to that first day, little more than a fortnight ago, when he had viewed an unknown body, and go over the case again from there. Had he missed a point somewhere? There was the knife that had proved so barren a clue an individual thing to be so unproductive. Yet no one had claimed to have seen or owned one like it. All it had done was to provide the scar on the murderer’s hand — a piece of evidence conclusive only when allied with much more.

There was this, there was that, there was the other, but all of them stood the strain of pulling apart, and remained in their separate entities what they had been in the pattern of the whole; and Grant was left, as before, with the belief, so strong and so unreasonable that it amounted to superstition, that the monogrammed brooch in Sorrell’s pocket was the key to the whole mystery; that it was shouting its tale at them, only they could not hear. It lay in his desk with the knife now, and the consciousness of it was with him continually. When he had nothing to do for the moment he would take both it and the knife from the drawer and sit there “mooning over them,” as the sympathetic Williams reported to his subordinate. They were becoming a fetish with him. There was some connexion between the two — between the offering that Sorrell had made to a woman and the knife that had killed him. He felt that as strongly and distinctly as he felt the sunlight that warmed his hands as he played with the objects on the table. And yet both his own reason and that of others laughed at the idea. What had the brooch to do with the affair! Gerald Lamont had killed Sorrell with a small Italian knife — his grandmother had been Italian, and if he hadn’t inherited the knife he had probably inherited the will to use one — after a quarrel in a queue. On his own showing he resented Sorrell’s departure from Britain, leaving him jobless and more or less penniless. Sorrell had had the money to pay for his passage, but had not offered it. And on his own showing he had not known that Sorrell had given him any money until two days after the murder. Where did a pearl monogrammed brooch come into that? The little silver-and-enamel knife was a piece de résistance in the case — a prince of exhibits. It would be photographed, paragraphed, and discussed in every house in England, and the little crack on its boss handle would hang a man. And all the time that pearl brooch, which would not appear in the case at all, glowed a silent and complete refutal of all their puny theories.

It was utterly ridiculous. Grant hated the sight of the thing, and yet he went back again and again to it as a man does to a mocking mistress. He tried “shutting his eyes”— his favourite resort in a difficulty — and either distracted himself with amusement, or buried himself in work for long periods at a time; but always when he opened his eyes again it was the brooch he saw. That had never happened before — that he had opened his eyes again and seen no new angle in a case. It was borne in on him that either he was obsessed or he had reached the last angle in the case — the vital one — and that it told him nothing; it was there for him to read, and he did not know how to.

Suppose, he would think, just suppose that the murder was an emissary’s work after all, and not the result of the quarrel in the queue, what type of person would an emissary be? Not one of those nearest the murdered man, certainly. But no one else had had access to the queue except the policeman, the doorkeeper, and Lamont. Or had there been another who had made his escape unnoticed? Raoul Legarde had gone, and Lamont had gone, without attracting notice — the one because the queue was self-absorbed, the other because it was absorbed in the murder. Was it possible that there had been still another? He reminded himself how indifferent to their surroundings the various witnesses had proved themselves to have been. Not one of them had been able to give an adequate account of the people who had stood next them, with the exception of Raoul Legarde, who was more critical because he was a stranger to England, and an English crowd was still an entertainment to him. To the others it had been no entertainment, and they had not bothered about their neighbours; they had had all the self-absorption of Londoners and habitual queue-goers. It was still possible that some one else had got away without being remembered. And if that were so, what chance was there now of his being captured? What possible clue had they?

The brooch, said his other self, the brooch!

On Friday, Lamont was again brought up at Gowbridge Police Court, and his counsel protested, as Grant had foreseen, about the statement that had been taken from Lamont. Grant had expected him to protest as a matter of form, but it was evident that he was protesting from conviction. He had become aware of the use the Crown might make of Lamont’s admission that he had resented Sorrell’s departure. The magistrate said that he could see no evidence of coercion on the part of the police. The prisoner had been evidently not only willing but anxious to make a statement. But Lamont’s counsel pointed out that his client had been in no mental or physical condition to make such an important statement. He was barely recovered from a bad concussion. He was not in a fit state to . . .

And so the wordy, futile argument went on, and the two people whom it most concerned — Grant and Lamont — sat bored and weary, waiting till the spate of words should cease and they could depart, the one to his cell and the other to his work and his ever-present problem. Miss Dinmont was in the now crowded court again, and this time there was no doubt of her graciousness to Grant. Her interview with her aunt seemed to have had the strange effect of softening her in every way, and Grant, remembering Mrs. Everett, marvelled. It was only on the way back to the Yard that it occurred to him that her aunt’s belief in Lamont had bred in her a hope that had nothing to do with reason or logic, and that it was the hope that had given her that queer unusual charm that was almost radiance. And Grant swore. She might hope that after all Lamont was not guilty, but what would that avail her if he were convicted?

That pearl brooch! What was it saying? Who had had access to the queue? He flung himself into his room and glared out of the window. He would give up the service. He wasn’t fit for it. He kept seeing difficulties where others saw none. It was pure proof of incompetence. How Barker must be laughing at him! Well, let him. Barker had about as much imagination as a paving-stone. But then he, Grant, had too much of it for the police force. He would resign. There would be at least two people who would be grateful to him — the two men who hankered most after his job. As for this case, he would think no more of it.

And even as he made the resolution he turned from the window to take the brooch from its drawer yet once again, but was interrupted by the entrance of Barker.

“Well,” said his chief, “I hear they’re making a fuss about the statement.”


“What good do they think that’s going to do them?”

“Don’t know. Principle, I suppose. And they see a few admissions that we could make use of, I think.”

“Oh, well, let them wriggle,” Barker said. “They can’t wriggle out of the evidence. Statement or no statement, we’ve got them on toast. Still worrying over the business?”

“No; I’ve given it up. After this I’m going to believe what I see and know, and not what I feel.”

“Splendid!” said Barker. “You keep a rein on your imagination, Grant, and you’ll be a great man some day. Once in five years is often enough to have a flair. If you limit it to that, it’s likely to be an asset.” And he grinned good-naturedly at his subordinate.

A constable appeared in the doorway, and said to Grant, “A lady to see you, sir.”

“Who is it?”

“She wouldn’t give her name, but she said it was very important.”

“All right. Show her in.”

Barker made a movement as if to go, but subsided again, and there was silence while the two men waited for the new arrival. Barker was lounging slightly in front of Grant’s desk, and Grant was behind it, his left hand caressing the handle of the drawer that sheltered the brooch. Then the door opened, and the constable ushered in the visitor with an official repetition of his announcement, “A lady to see you, sir.”

It was the fat woman from the queue.

“Good afternoon, Mrs. — Wallis.” Grant recalled her name with an effort; he had not seen her since the inquest. “What can I do for you?”

“Good afternoon, Inspector,” she said, in her rampant Cockney. “I came because I think this business has gone far enough. I killed Bert Sorrell, and I’m not going to let any one suffer for it if I can ‘elp it.”

“You —” said Grant, and stopped, staring at her fat shining face, beady eyes, tight black satin coat, and black satin toque.

Barker glanced at his subordinate and, seeing him utterly at a loss — really, Grant must have a holiday — he took command of the situation. “Sit down, Mrs. — Wallis,” he said kindly. “You’ve been thinking too much about this affair, haven’t you?” He brought forward a chair and settled her into it rather as though she had come to consult him about heartburn. “It isn’t good to brood over nasty things like murders. What makes you think you killed Sorrell?”

“I don’t think,” she said rather tartly. “I didn’t make any doubt about it, did I? A very good job it was.”

“Well, well,” said Barker indulgently, “let us say how do we know you did it?”

“How do you know?” she repeated. “What do you mean? You didn’t know till now, but now I’ve told you and you know.”

“But, you know, just because you say you’ve done it is no reason that we should believe you have,” Barker said.

“Not believe me!” she said, her voice rising. “Do people usually come and confess to murdering people when they didn’t?”

“Oh, quite often,” said Barker.

She sat in surprised silence, her bright, expressionless dark eyes darting swiftly from one face to the other. Barker raised a comical eyebrow at the still silent Grant, but Grant hardly noticed him. He came from behind the desk as if loosed suddenly from a spell that had held him motionless, and came up to the woman.

“Mrs. Wallis,” he said, “will you take off your gloves a moment?”

“Come now, that’s a bit more sensible,” she said, as she drew off her black cotton gloves. “I know what you’re looking for, but it’s nearly gone now.”

She held out her left hand, gloveless, to him. On the side of her first finger, healed but still visible in the rough skin of her hard-worked hand, was the mark of a jagged scar. Grant expelled a long breath, and Barker came over and bent to examine the woman’s hand.

“But, Mrs. Wallis,” he said, “why should you want to kill Sorrell?”

“Never you mind,” she said. “I killed ’im, and that’s enough.”

“I’m afraid it isn’t,” Barker said. “The fact that you have a small scar on your finger is no proof at all that you had anything to do with Sorrell’s death.”

“But I tell you I killed ’im!” she said. “Why won’t you believe me? I killed ’im with the little knife my ‘usband brought home from Spain.”

“So you say, but we have no proof that what you say is true.”

She stared hostilely at them both. “You’d think you weren’t police at all to listen to you,” she remarked. “If it weren’t for that young man you’ve got, I’d walk home right now. I never knew such fools. What more do you want when I’ve confessed?”

“Oh, quite a lot more,” Barker said, as Grant was still silent. “For instance, how could you have killed Sorrell when you were in front of him in the queue?”

“I wasn’t in front of ’im. I was standing behind ’im all the time till the queue began to move up tight. Then I stuck the knife in and after a little I shoved in front, keepin’ close to ’im all the time so he shouldn’t fall.”

This time Barker dropped his complaisant manner and looked at her keenly. “And what was Sorrell to you that you should stick a knife in him?” he asked.

“Bert Sorrell wasn’t anything to me, but he ‘ad to be killed and I killed ’im, see? That’s all.”

“Did you know Sorrell?”


“How long have you known him?”

Something in that question made her hesitate. “Some time,” she said.

“Had he wronged you somehow?”

But her tight mouth shut still more tightly. Barker looked at her rather helplessly, and then Grant could see him turning on the other tack.

“Well, I’m very sorry, Mrs. Wallis,” he said, as if the interview were ended, “but we can’t put any belief in your story. It has all the appearance of a cock-and-bull yarn. You’ve been thinking too much about the affair. People do that, you know, quite often, and then they begin to imagine that they did the thing themselves. The best thing you can do is to go home and think no more about it.”

As Barker had expected, that got her. A faint alarm appeared on her red face. Then her shrewd black eyes went to Grant and examined him. “I don’t know who you may be,” she said to Barker, “but Inspector Grant believes me all right.”

“This is Superintendent Barker,” Grant said, “and my chief. You’ll have to tell the superintendent a lot more than that, Mrs. Wallis, before he can believe you.”

She recognized the rebuff, and before she had recovered Barker said again, “Why did you kill Sorrell? Unless you give us an adequate reason, I’m afraid we can’t believe you. There’s nothing at all to connect you with the murder except that little scar. I expect it’s that little scar that has set you thinking about all this, isn’t it, now?”

“Not it!” she said. “D’you think I’m crazy? Well, I’m not. I did it all right, and I’ve told you how I did it exactly. Isn’t that enough?”

“Oh, no, you could quite easily have made up the tale of how you did it. We’ve got to have proof.”

“Well, I’ve got the sheath of the knife at home,” she said in sudden triumph. “There’s your proof for you.”

“I’m afraid that’s no good either,” Barker said, with a very good imitation of regret. “Any one could have the sheath of the knife. You’ll have to give a reason for killing Sorrell before we’ll even begin to believe you.”

“Well,” she said sullenly after a long silence, “if you must ‘ave it, I killed ’im because ‘e was going to shoot my Rosie.”

“Who is Rosie?”

“My daughter.”

“Why should he shoot your daughter?”

“Because she wouldn’t have anything to do with the likes of ’im.”

“Does your daughter live with you?”


“Then perhaps you’ll let me have her address.”

“No; you can’t have ‘er address. She’s gone abroad.”

“But if she has gone abroad, how could Sorrell be able to harm her?”

“She hadn’t gone abroad when I killed Bert Sorrell.”

“Then —” began Barker. But Grant interrupted him.

“Mrs. Wallis,” he said slowly, “is Ray Marcable your daughter?”

The woman was on her feet with a swiftness amazing in a person of her bulk. Her tight mouth was suddenly slack, and inarticulate sounds came from her throat.

“Sit down,” said Grant gently, and pushed her back into her chair —“sit down and tell us all about it. Take your time.”

“‘Ow did you know?” she asked, when she had recovered herself. “‘Ow could you know?”

Grant ignored the question. “What made you think that Sorrell intended harm to your daughter?”

“Because I met ’im one day in the street. I ‘adn’t seen ’im for years, and I said something about Rosie going to America. And ‘e said, ‘So am I.’ And I didn’t like that, because I knew ‘e was a nuisance to Rosie. And then ‘e smiled kind of queer at me and said, ‘At least, it isn’t certain. Either we’re both going or neither of us is going.’ An’ I said, ‘What do you mean? Rosie’s going for sure. She’s got a contract and she can’t break it.’ And he said, ‘She has a previous contract with me. Do you think she’ll keep to that too?’ And I said not to be foolish. Boy-and-girl affairs were best forgotten, I said. And ‘e just smiled again, that horrid queer way, and said, ‘Well, wherever she’s goin’ we’re goin’ together.’ And ‘e went away.”

“When was that?” Grant asked.

“It was three weeks today — the Friday before I killed ’im.”

The day after Sorrell had received the little parcel at Mrs. Everett’s. “All right. Go on.

“Well, I went ‘ome and thought about it. I kept seeing ‘is face. It had a bad grey kind of look in spite of its bein’ so pleasant and all that. And I began to be sure that he meant to do Rosie in.”

“Had your daughter been engaged to him?”

“Well, ’e said so. It was a boy-and-girl affair. They’d known each other ever since they were kids. Of course, Rosie wouldn’t dream of marrying ’im now.”

“All right. Go on.”

“Well, I thought the only place ‘e would be able to see ‘er would be the theatre. You see, I went round specially to tell Rosie about it — I didn’t see ‘er very often — but she didn’t seem to worry. She just said. ‘Oh, Bert always talked through his hat anyway, and anyhow I don’t see him any more.’ She ‘ad such a lot of other things to think of, she wasn’t worried. But I was, I tell you. I went that night and stood on the opposite side of the street, watching the people coming to the queues. But ‘e didn’t come. And I went to the matinée on Saturday and again in the evening, but ‘e didn’t come. And again on Monday night, and on Tuesday afternoon. And then on Tuesday night I saw ’im come alone, and I went and stood behind ’im in the queue at the pit door. After a while I saw a bulge in ‘is right-‘and coat pocket, and I felt it and it was hard. I was sure then that it was a revolver and that he was going to do Rosie in. So I just waited till the queue moved tight, like I said, and stuck the knife in ’im. He didn’t make a sound. You’d think he didn’t know anything had happened. And then I shoved in front, like I told you.”

“Was Sorrell alone?”


“Who was standing alongside him?”

“For a while there was a dark young gentleman, very good-looking. And then another man came to talk to Bert, and pushed the young gentleman back next me.”

“And who was behind you?”

“The lady and gentleman who gave evidence at the inquest.”

“How is Rosie Markham your daughter?”

“Well, you see, my ‘usband was a sailor — that’s ‘ow I got the knife from Spain — brought me lots of things, ‘e did. But when Rosie was little, ‘e got drowned; and ‘is sister, who was very well married to Markham, offered to take ‘er and bring ‘er up as their own, ‘cause they had no kids. So I let ‘er go. And they brought ‘er up proper, I’ll say that for them. A real lady, my Rosie is. I went out charring for years, but since Rosie got money she bought what they call an annuity for me, and I live on that mostly now.”

“How did your daughter know Sorrell?”

“The aunt that brought Bert up used to live next door to the Markhams, and Bert and Rosie went to the same school. They were very friendly then, of course. Then the aunt died when Bert was at the War.”

“But it was after the War that they got engaged, surely?”

“They weren’t what you would call engaged. They just had a notion for each other. Rosie was on tour in The Green Sunshade then, and they used to see each other when she was in town or near it.”

“But Sorrell considered himself engaged?”

“Perhaps. Lots of men would like to be engaged to Rosie. As if Rosie would think of the likes of him!”

“But they kept up some kind of acquaintance?”

“Oh, yes, she let ’im come to see ‘er at ‘er flat sometimes, but she wouldn’t go out with him, or anything like that. And she didn’t ‘ave ’im very often. I don’t think she ‘ad the heart to send him away for good, you see. She was letting ’im down gently, I think. But I’m not sure about all that, you know. I didn’t go to see Rosie often myself. Not that she wasn’t nice to me, but it wasn’t fair on ‘er. She didn’t want a common old woman like me round, and ‘er hobnobbin’ with lords and things.”

“Why did you not tell the police at once that Sorrell was threatening your daughter?”

“I thought about it, and then I thought, in the first place, I ‘adn’t any proof. Judging by the way you treated me today, I should think I was right. And in the second place, even supposing the police shut ’im up, they couldn’t shut ’im up for good. He would just do ‘er in when he came out. And I couldn’t be always round watching ’im. So I thought it best to do it when I could. I ‘ad that little knife, and I thought that would be a good way. I don’t know anything about pistols and things.”

“Tell me, Mrs. Wallis, did your daughter ever see that dagger?”


“Are you quite sure? Think a little.”

“Yes; she did. I’m telling you a lie. When she was quite big, before she left school, they had a play of Shakespeare that had a dagger in it. I don’t remember the name of it.”

Macbeth?” suggested Grant.

“Yes; that was it. And she was the heroine. She was always wonderful at acting, you know. Even when she was a little thing she was a fairy in a school pantomime. And I always went to see ‘er. And when they were playing that thing Macbeth, I gave ‘er a loan of the little dagger ‘er father ‘ad brought from Spain. Just for luck, you know. She gave it back to me when the play was over. But she kept the luck, all right. All ‘er life she’s been lucky. It was just luck that made Ladds see ‘er when she was on tour, so that ‘e told Barron about ‘er, and Barron gave ‘er an interview. That’s ‘ow she got ‘er name — Ray Marcable. All the time she was dancing and singing and what not for him ‘e kept saying, ‘Remarkable!’ and so Rosie took that for ‘er name. It’s the same initials as ‘er own — at least, as ‘er adopted name, see?”

There was a silence. Both Barker, who had been wordless for some time, and Grant seemed to be temporarily at a loss. Only the fat woman with the red face seemed to be completely at her ease.

“There’s one thing you must remember,” she said. “Rosie’s name must be kept out of this. Not a word about Rosie. You can say that I killed ’im because of ’im threatening my daughter, who is abroad.”

“I’m sorry, Mrs. Wallis, I can’t hold out any hope of that. Miss Marcable’s name is sure to come out.”

“But it mustn’t!” she said. “It mustn’t! It’ll spoil it all if she’s dragged into it. Think of the scandal and the talk. Surely you gentlemen are clever enough to think of a way of avoiding that?”

“I’m afraid not, Mrs. Wallis. We would if we could, but it won’t be possible if your story is true.”

“Oh, well,” she said, with surprising equanimity, considering her former vehemence, “I don’t suppose it will make such a very great difference to Rosie. Rosie is the greatest actress in Britain at the present time, and ‘er position is too good for anything like that to spoil it. Only you must hang me before she comes back from America.”

“It is a little too soon to talk of hanging,” Barker said, with a faint smile. “Have you got the key of your house with you?”

“Yes; why?”

“If you hand it over to me, I’ll send a man down to verify your story of the sheath of the knife. Where can he find it?”

“It’s at the very bottom of the top left-hand drawer of the chest of drawers, in a box that had a scent-bottle in.”

Barker called in a man, and gave him the key and the instructions. “And see you leave everything as you get it,” Mrs. Wallis said tartly to the emissary.

When the man had gone, Grant pushed a piece of paper across his desk to her and extended a pen. “Will you write your name and address there?” he said.

She took the pen in her left hand, and rather laboriously wrote what he had asked.

“You remember when I went to see you before the inquest?”


“You weren’t left-handed then.”

“I can use either hand for most things. There’s a name for it, but I forget what it is. But when I’m doing anything very special, I use my left. Rosie, she’s left-handed too. And so was my father.”

“Why didn’t you come before and tell us this story?” Barker asked.

“I didn’t think you would get any one unless you got me. But when I saw in the paper that the police had a good case, and all that, I thought something would have to be done. And then today I went to the court to have a look at ’im.” So she had been in that crowded court today without Grant having seen her! “‘E didn’t look bad even if he was foreign-looking. And ‘e looked very ill. So I just went ‘ome and cleared up and come along.”

“I see,” said Grant, and raised his eyebrows at his chief. The superintendent summoned a man, and said, “Mrs. Wallis will wait in the next room for the moment, and you will keep her company. If there is anything you want, just ask Simpson for it, Mrs. Wallis.” And the door closed behind her tight black satin figure.

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