A Shilling for Candles, by Josephine Tey

Chapter 21

The service was held in a bare chapel, candlelit and white-washed, very simple except for the magnificence of the altar at the east gable. Grant was surprised by the appearance of the altar. Poor the brothers might be, but there was wealth somewhere. The vessels on the white velvet cloth, and the Crucifix, might have been a pirate’s loot from a Spanish American cathedral. He had found it difficult to associate the Herbert Gotobed he knew by reputation with this cloistered and poverty-struck existence. Being theatrical to no audience but oneself must soon pall. But the sight of that altar gave him pause. Herbert was perhaps running true to form after all.

Grant heard no word of the service. From his seat in the dim recess of a side window he could see all the faces of the participants; more than a score of them; and he found it a fascinating study. Some were cranks (one saw the faces at “anti” meetings and folk-dance revivals), some fanatics (masochists looking for a modern hair shirt), some simple, some at odds with themselves and looking for peace, some at odds with the world and looking for sanctuary. Grant, looking them over with a lively interest, found his glance stayed as it came to one face. Now what had brought the owner of that face to a life of seclusion and self-denial? A round sallow face on a round ill-shaped head, the eyes small, the nose fleshly, the lower lip loose, so that it hung away from his teeth as he repeated the words of the service. All the others in that little chapel had been types that fitted easily into recognized niches in the everyday world; the principal to a bishopric, this one to a neurologist’s waiting room, this to a depot for unemployed. But where did that last one fit?

There was only one answer. In the dock.

“So that,” said Grant’s otherself to him, “is Herbert Gotobed.” He could not be sure, of course, until he had seen the man walk. That was all he had ever seen of him: his walk. But he was ready to stake much on his judgment. The best of judges were at fault sometimes — Gotobed might turn out to be that lean and harmless-looking individual in the front row — but he would be surprised if Gotobed were any but that unctuous creature with the loose lower lip.

As the men filed out after midnight, he had no more doubt. Gotobed had a peculiar walk, a gangling, shoulder-rotating progression which was quite his own.

Grant followed them out and then sought the Reverend Father. What was the name of the last man to leave the chapel?

That was Brother Aloysius.

And after a little persuasion Brother Aloysius was sent for.

As they waited Grant talked conventionally of the Order and its rules and learned that no member could own any worldly property or have communication for worldly purposes with human beings. Such trivial worldlinesses as newspapers were, of course, not even thought of. He also learned that the principal intended in about a month’s time to take over a new Mission in Mexico, which they had built out of their funds, and that the privilege of electing his successor lay entirely with him.

A thought occurred to Grant.

“I don’t want to be impertinent — please don’t think this idle curiosity — but would you tell me whether you have decided in your mind on any particular person?”

“I have practically decided.”

“May I know who it is?”

“I really do not know why I should tell to a stranger what I am not prepared to tell to the brothers of my own Order, but there is no reason to conceal it if I may trust your secrecy.” Grant gave his word. “My successor is likely to be the man you have asked to see.”

“But he is a newcomer!” Grant said before he thought.

“I am at a loss to know how you knew that,” the Reverend Father said sharply. “It is true Brother Aloysius has been with us only a few months, but the qualities necessary for the priorship” (so he was a prior!) “are not developed with length of service.”

Grant murmured agreement, and then asked which of their community had been on an errand in the streets this evening.

None of them, the prior said firmly; and the conversation was brought to an end by the entrance of the man Grant wanted.

He stood there passively, his hands folded within the wide sleeves of his dark brown gown. Grant noticed that his feet were not sandaled but bare, and remembered that there had been no warning of his approach when he had presented himself in the newsagent’s. The looker-on in Grant wondered whether it was an appearance of humility or the convenience of a noiseless tread which appealed so greatly to Herbert.

“This is Brother Aloysius,” the prior said, and left them with a blessing, a much more poetic performance than the doorkeeper’s.

“I am from Messrs. Erskine, Smythe, and Erskine, the lawyers in the Temple,” Grant said. “You are Herbert Gotobed.”

“I am Brother Aloysius.”

“You were Herbert Gotobed.”

“I never heard of him.”

Grant considered him for a moment. “I’m sorry,” he said. “We’re looking for Gotobed about a legacy that has been left him.”

“Yes? If he is a brother of this Order, your news will be of little interest to him.”

“If the legacy were big enough, he might realize that he could do far more for the cause of charity outside these walls than in them.”

“Our oath is for life. Nothing that happens outside these walls is of interest to any member of our Order.”

“So you deny that you are Herbert Gotobed?”

Grant was conducting the conversation automatically. What his mind was occupied with, he found, was that the expression in the man’s small pale eyes was hate. He had rarely seen such hate. But why hate? That was what his mind asked. It should be fear, surely?

Grant felt that to this man he was not a pursuer but someone who had butted in. The feeling stayed with him while he took his leave and all the way back to the hotel opposite the tobacconist’s.

Williams was brooding over a cold meal he had caused to be set for his superior. “Any news?” Grant asked.

“No, sir.”

“No word of Tisdall? Have you telephoned?”

“Yes, I telephoned about twenty minutes ago. Not a word, sir.”

Grant slapped some slices of ham between two pieces of bread. “Pity,” he said. “I’d work much better if Tisdall were out of my mind. Come on. There isn’t going to be much bed for us tonight.”

“What is it, sir? Did you find him?”

“Yes, he’s there all right. Denied he was Gotobed. They’re not allowed to have any worldly transactions. That is why he was so shy in the shop. Didn’t even wait to see who the second person behind the counter was: just fled at the very prospect of a watcher. That’s what’s worrying me, Williams. He seems much more occupied with not being chucked out of the order than with being run in for murder.”

“But his running out of the shop might have been because he wanted to keep on in hiding. That monastery place is as good a hideout as a murderer could wish for.”

“Ye-s. Yes, but he’s not frightened. He’s angry. We’re spoiling something for him.”

They had been going quietly downstairs, Grant eating large mouthfuls of his improvised sandwich. As they approached the ground floor they were confronted by an enormous female who blocked their exit from the stairway. She had no poker in her hand, but the effect was the same.

“So that’s what you are!” she said, with concentrated venom. “A couple of sneaking fly-by-nights. Come in here, as large as life, you do, and make me and my poor husband buy the best of everything for your meals — chops at tenpence each, and tongue at two-and-eightpence the pound, to say nothing of English tomatoes to suit your very particular tastes — and all we get for our expense and our trouble is a couple of empty rooms in the morning. I’ve a good mind to ring up the police and give you in charge — if it weren’t for —”

“Oh, for God’s sake!” Grant said angrily; and then began to laugh. He hung over the banisters laughing helplessly, while Williams talked to the angry hostess.

“Well, why didn’t you say you were bobbies?” she said.

“We’re not bobbies,” Williams said, ferociously, and Grant laughed the more, and dragged him from the scene.

“Gilbertian!” he said, wiping his eyes. “Quite Gilbertian. Did me a lot of good. Now, listen. These monks, or whatever they esteem themselves, retire to their cells at midnight and don’t move out of them till six. But Herbert gets in and out of that building more or less when he likes. I don’t know how he works it: those first-floor windows are low enough to drop from but much too high to get back into, and he doesn’t look like a gymnast. But get out he does. No one knew — or at least, the powers that be didn’t know — he was out tonight. Well, I have a hunch that he’s going walking again tonight, and I want to see where to.”

“What makes you think so, sir?”

“Just instinct. If I were Herbert I’d have a base to conduct operations from. I walked around the block before I came back to the hotel. There are only two points where the monastery property abuts on the street. At the side where the door is; and at the very opposite side where the garden ends in a wall that looks fifteen feet high. There’s a long gate there; iron and very solid. It’s a long way from the living quarters, and I think our original side is the most helpful, But I want you to keep watch on the garden side, and tail anyone who comes out. I’ll do the same on the door side. If nothing happens by six o’clock you can creep home and go to bed.”

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