A Shilling for Candles, by Josephine Tey

Chapter 20

Grant had imagination, yes. But it was not Jammy’s kind. It would never have occurred to him to waste the time of a perfectly good detective by sending him to look at an audience for two hours. Sanger was at the Ewes Hall because his job for the moment was to tail Jason Harmer.

He brought back an account of the afternoon’s drama, and reported that Harmer had been, as far as he could see, quite unmoved. He, Jason, had been accosted by Hopkins from the Clarion directly afterwards; but Hopkins didn’t seem to get very far with him.

“Yes?” said Grant, lifting an eyebrow. “If he’s a match for Hopkins, we must begin to consider him again. Cleverer than I thought!” And Sanger grinned.

On Wednesday afternoon Mr. Erskine telephoned to say that the fish had bitten. What he said, of course, was that “the line of investigation suggested by Inspector Grant had, it would appear, proved unexpectedly successful,” but what he meant was that the fish had risen. Would Grant come along as soon as he could to inspect a document which Mr. Erskine was anxious to show him?

Grant would! In twelve minutes he was in the little green-lighted room.

Erskine, his hand trembling a little more than usual, gave him a letter to read.

Sir,

Having seen your advertisement saying that if Herbert Gotobed will call at your office he will hear of something to his advantage, I beg to state that I am unable to come personally but if you will communicate your news to me by letter to 5, Threadle Street, Canterbury, I will get the letter.

Yours faithfully,

HERBERT GOTOBED

“Canterbury!” Grant’s eyes lighted. He handled the letter lovingly. The paper was cheap, and the ink poor. The style and the writing vaguely illiterate. Grant remembered Christine’s letter with its easy sentences and its individual hand, and marveled for the thousandth time at the mystery of breeding.

“Canterbury! It’s almost too good to be true. An accommodation address. I wonder why? Is our Herbert ‘wanted,’ by any chance? The Yard certainly don’t know him. Not by that name. Pity we haven’t got a photograph of him.

“And what is our next move, Inspector?”

“You write saying that if he doesn’t put in a personal appearance you have no guarantee that he is Herbert Gotobed, and that it is therefore necessary for him to come to your offices!”

“Yes. Yes, certainly. That would be quite in order.”

As if it mattered a hoot whether it was in order, Grant thought. How did these fellows imagine criminals were caught? Not by wondering what would be in order, that was certain!

“If you post it straightaway, it will be in Canterbury tonight. I’ll go down tomorrow morning and be waiting for the bird when he arrives. May I use your telephone?”

He called the Yard and asked, “Are you sure that none of the list of ‘wanted’ men has a passion for preaching or otherwise indulging in theatricality?”

The Yard said no, only Holy Mike, and everyone in the force had known him for years. He was reported from Plymouth, by the way.

“How appropriate!” Grant said, and hung up. “Strange!” he said to Erskine. “If he isn’t wanted, why lie low? If he has nothing on his conscience — no, he hasn’t a conscience. I mean, if we have nothing on him, I should have thought the same lad would have been in your office by return of post. He’d do almost anything for money. Clay knew where to hurt him when she left him that shilling.”

“Lady Edward was a shrewd judge of character. She had, I think, been brought up in a hard school, and the fact helped her to discriminate.”

Grant asked if he had known her well.

“No, I regret to say, no. A very charming woman. A little impatient of orthodox form, but otherwise —”

Yes. Grant could almost hear her saying, “And in plain English what does that mean?” She, too, must have suffered from Mr. Erskine.

Grant took his leave, warned Williams to be ready to accompany him next morning to Canterbury, arranged for a substitute in the absence of them both, and went home and slept for ten hours. In the morning, very early, he and Williams left a London not yet awake and arrived in a Canterbury shrouded in the smoke of breakfast.

The accommodation address proved to be, as Grant had expected, a small newsagent in a side street. Grant considered it, and said: “I don’t suppose our friend will show up this end of the day, but one never knows. You go across to the pub over the way, engage that room above the saloon door, and have breakfast sent up to you. Don’t leave the window, and keep an eye on everyone who comes. I’m going inside. When I want you I’ll sign from the shop window.”

“Aren’t you going to have breakfast, sir?”

“I’ve had it. You can order lunch for one o’clock, though. It doesn’t look the kind of place that would have a chop in the house.”

Grant lingered until he saw Williams come to the upper window. Then he turned into the small shop. A round bald man with a heavy black mustache was transferring cartons of cigarettes from a cardboard box to a glass case.

“Good morning. Are you Mr. Rickett?”

“That’s me,” Mr. Rickett said, with caution.

“I understand that you sometimes use these premises as an accommodation address?”

Mr. Rickett looked him over. His experienced eye asked, Customer or police? and decided correctly.

“And what if I do? Nothing wrong in that, is there?”

“Not a thing!” Grant answered cheerfully. “I wanted to know whether you knew a Mr. Herbert Gotobed?”

“This a joke?”

“Certainly not. He gave your shop as an address for letters, and I wondered if you knew him.”

“Not me. I don’t take no interest in the people who has letters. They pay their fee when they come for them, and that finishes it as far as I am concerned.”

“I see. Well, I want you to help me. I want you to let me stay in your shop until Mr. Gotobed comes to claim his letter. You have a letter for him?”

“Yes, I have a letter. It came last night. But — you police?”

“Scotland Yard,” Grant showed his credentials.

“Yes. Well, I don’t want no arrests on my premises. This is a respectable business, this is, even if I do a little on the side. I don’t want no bad name hanging around my business.”

Grant assured him that no arrest was contemplated. All he wanted was to meet Mr. Gotobed. He wanted information from him.

Oh, well, if that was all.

So Grant was established behind the little tower of cheap editions at the end of the counter, and found the morning passing not so slowly as he had feared. Humanity, even after all his years in the force, still had a lively interest in Grant’s eyes — except in moments of depression — and interest proved plentiful. It was Williams, watching a very ordinary small-town street, who was bored. He welcomed the half hour of conversation behind the books when Grant went to lunch, and went back reluctantly to the frowsy room above the saloon. The long summer afternoon, clouded and warm, wore away into a misty evening, and a too early dusk. The first lights appeared, very pale in the daylight.

“What time do you close?” Grant asked anxiously.

“Oh, tennish.”

There was still plenty of time.

And then, about half-past nine, Grant became aware of a presence in the shop. There had been no warning of footsteps, no announcement at all except a swish of drapery. Grant looked up to see a man in monk’s garb.

A high-pitched peevish voice said, “You have a letter addressed to Mr. Herbert —”

A light movement on Grant’s part called attention to his presence.

Without a moment’s pause the man turned and disappeared, leaving his sentence unfinished.

The apparition had been so unexpected, the disappearance so abrupt, that it was a second or two before mortal wits could cope with the situation. But Grant was out of the shop before the stranger was more than a few yards down the street. He saw the figure turn into an alley, and he ran. It was a little back court of two storey houses, all the doors open to the warm evening, and two transverse alleys leading out of it. The man had disappeared. He turned to find Williams, a little breathless, at his back.

“Good man!” he said. “But it isn’t much use. You take that alley and I’ll take this one. A monk of sorts!”

“I saw him!” Williams said, making off. But it was no good. In ten minutes they met at the newsagent’s, blank.

“Who was that?” Grant demanded of Mr. Rickett.

“Don’t know. Never saw him before as far as I know.”

“Is there a monastery here?”

“In Canterbury? No!”

“Well, in the district?”

“Not as I knows.”

A woman behind them put down sixpence on the counter. “Goldflake,” she said. “You looking for a monastery? There’s that brotherhood place in Bligh Vennel. They’re by way of being monks. Ropes around their middles and bare heads.”

“Where is — what is it? Bligh Vennel?” Grant asked. “Far from here?”

“No. ‘Bout two streets. Less as the crow flies, but that won’t be much good to you in Canterbury. It’s in the lanes behind the Cock and Pheasant. I’d show you myself, if Jim wasn’t waiting for his smoke. A sixpenny packet, Mr. Rickett, please.”

“After hours,” said Mr. Rickett, gruffly, avoiding the detective’s eye. The woman’s confidence was a conviction in itself.

She looked surprised, and before she should commit herself further Grant pulled his own cigarette case from his pocket. “Madam, they say a nation gets the laws it deserves. It is not in my weak power to obtain the sixpenny packet for you, but please let me repay your help by providing Jim’s smoke.” He poured his cigarettes into her astonished hands, and dismissed her, protesting.

“And now,” he said to Rickett, “about this brotherhood or whatever it is. Do you know it?”

“No. There is such a thing, now I remember. But I don’t know where they hang out. You heard what she said. Behind the Cock and Pheasant. Half the cranks in the world has branches here, if it comes to that. I’m shutting up now.”

“I should,” Grant said. “People wanting cigarettes are a nuisance.”

Mr. Rickett growled.

“Come on, Williams. And remember, Rickett, not a word of this to anyone. You’ll probably see us tomorrow.”

Rickett was understood to say that if he never saw them again it would be too soon.

“This is a rum go, sir,” Williams said, as they set off down the street. “What’s the program now?”

“I’m going to call on the brotherhood. I don’t think you had better come along, Williams. Your good healthy Worcestershire face doesn’t suggest any yearning after the life ascetic.”

“You mean I look like a cop. I know, sir. It’s worried me often. Bad for business. You don’t know how I envy you your looks, sir. People think ‘Army’ the minute they see you. It’s a great help always to be taken for Army.”

“Considering all the dud checks on Cox’s, I find that surprising! No, I wasn’t considering your looks, Williams, not that way. I was just talking ‘thoughtless.’ It’s a one-man party, this. You’d better go back to the aspidistra and wait for me. Have a meal.”

They found the place after some search. A row of first-storey windows looked down upon the alley, but the only opening on the ground floor was a narrow door, heavy and studded. The building apparently faced into a court or garden. There was neither plate nor inscription at the door to give information to the curious. But there was a bell.

Grant rang, and after a long pause there was the sound, faint through the heavy door, of footsteps on a stone floor. A small grill in the door shot back, and a man asked Grant’s business.

Grant asked to see the principal.

Whom do you wish to see?”

“The principal,” said Grant firmly. He didn’t know whether they called their Number One abbot or prior; principal seemed to him good enough.

“The Reverend Father does not give audience at this hour.”

“Will you give the Reverend Father my card,” Grant said, handing the little square through the grill, “and tell him that I shall be grateful if he would see me on a matter of importance.”

“No worldly matter is of importance.”

“The Reverend Father may decide differently when you have given him my card.”

The grill shot back with an effect which might in a community less saintly have been described as snappish, and Grant was left in the darkening street. Williams saluted silently from some paces’ distance and turned away. The distant voices of children playing came clearly from adjoining streets, but there was no traffic in the alley. Williams’s footsteps had faded out of hearing long before there was the sound of returning ones in the passage beyond the door. Then there was the creak of bolts being drawn and a key turned. (What did they shut out? Grant wondered. Life? Or were the bars to keep straying wills indoors?) The door was opened sufficiently to admit him, and the man bade him enter.

“Peace be with you and with all Christian souls and the blessing of the Lord God go with you now and for ever, amen,” gabbled the man as he shot the bolts again and turned the key. If he had hummed a line of “Sing to Me Sometimes” the effect would have been exactly similar, Grant thought.

“The Reverend Father in his graciousness will see you,” the man said, and led the way up the stone passage, his sandals slapping with a slovenly effect on the flags. He ushered Grant into a small whitewashed room, bare except for a table, chairs, and a Crucifix, said “Peace be with you,” and shut the door, leaving Grant alone. It was very chilly there, and Grant hoped that the Reverend Father would not discipline him by leaving him there too long.

But in less than five minutes the doorkeeper returned and with great impressiveness bowed in his principal. He uttered another of his gabbled benedictions and left the two men together. Grant had expected the fanatic type; he was confronted instead with the successful preacher; bland, entrenched, worldly.

“Can I help you, my son?”

“I think you have in your brotherhood a man of the name of Herbert Gotobed —”

“There is no one of that name here.”

“I had not expected that that was the name he is known by in your community, but you are no doubt aware of the real names of the men who enter your order.”

“The worldly name of a man is forgotten on the day he enters the door to become one of us.”

“You asked if you could help me.”

“I still wish to help you.”

“I want to see Herbert Gotobed. I have news for him.”

“I know of no one of that name. And there can be no ‘news’ for a man who has joined the Brotherhood of the Tree of Lebanon.”

“Very well. You may not know the man as Gotobed. But the man I want to interview is one of your number. I have to ask that you will let me find him.”

“Do you suggest that I should parade my community for your inspection?”

“No. You have some kind of service to which all the brothers come, haven’t you?”

“Certainly.”

“Let me be present at the service.”

“It is a most unusual request.”

“When is the next service?”

“In half an hour the midnight service begins.”

“Then all I ask is a seat where I can see the faces of your community.”

The Reverend Father was reluctant, and mentioned the inviolability of the holy house, but Grant’s casually dropped phrases on the attractive but obsolete custom of sanctuary and the still-surviving magic of King’s Writ, made him change his mind.

“By the way, will you tell me — I’m afraid I’m very ignorant of your rules and ways of life — do the members of your community have business in the town?”

“No. Only when charity demands it.”

“Have the brothers no traffic with the world at all then?” Herbert was going to have a perfect alibi, if that were so!

“For twenty-four hours once every moon, a brother goes into the world. That is contrived lest the unspottedness of communal life should breed self-righteousness. For the twelve hours of the day he must help his fellow beings in such ways as are open to him. For the twelve hours of the night he must meditate in a place alone: in summer in some open place, in winter in some church.”

“I see. And the twenty-four hours begin — when?”

“From a midnight to a midnight.”

“Thank you.”

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