“Simpson,” said Grant, “what were you yesterday when you were gathering information about the Ratcliffes?”
“I was an ex-serviceman with writing-pads, sir.”
“Oh, well, you can be an ex-serviceman again today. Very self-respecting, clean, with a collar, not a muffler, and out of a job. I want to know about a Mrs. Everett who lives at 98 Brightling Crescent, off the Fulham Road. I don’t want any door-to-door business. She’s shy of that, and you must be very careful. She looks as if she attends church. Try that. I think you should find it useful. Bar a club, it’s the gossipiest community I know of. I want to know, above all, where her friends and relations live. Never mind her correspondence. I can keep an eye on that myself, and, in any case, I have an idea that that isn’t likely to be useful. Mrs. Everett was not born yesterday. Get that into your head and remember it. Don’t work faster than you can with safety. If she spots you, it will mean that some one else will have to take over, and a promising line of investigation will be spoiled. The minute you get something, let me know, but don’t come back here until you’ve talked to me on the telephone first.”
That was how Mr. Caldicott, the clergyman of the Brightlingside Congregational Church, pushing damply at the mower which jibbed at the tough grass of his front lawn and finding the March sun too prodigal of its blessing, became aware that his labours were being viewed by a stranger with a queer mixture of sympathy and envy. Seeing that he had been discovered, the stranger made a sketchy motion towards his cap, in deference evidently to the cloth, and said, “That’s hot work on a day like this, sir. Will you let me take a hand?”
Now the clergyman was young and very fond of showing that he was not above a good day’s work. “Do you think I’m not able to do a job like that myself?” he asked, with a strong, brotherly smile.
“Oh, no, sir. It isn’t that at all. It’s only that I’d be very glad to earn a copper or two for doing it for you.”
“Oh?” said Mr. Caldicott, his professional instincts aroused. “Are you looking for work?”
“That’s about it,” said the man. “Married?”
“No, sir.” Simpson was about to add a pious thanksgiving, but stopped himself in time.
“What kind of work are you looking for?”
“Yes, but have you a trade?”
“I can make shoes, sir,” said Simpson, thinking he might as well stick to the truth as far as it served him.
“Well, perhaps it would be more sensible if you did the grass and I attended to other duties. Come in and have lunch with me at one o’clock.”
But that was not at all what Simpson wanted. The kitchen was his objective, not the parsonical conversation of the dining-room. With a masterly confusion he turned hesitatingly from the mower on which he had already laid zealous hands, and stammered, “If it’s all the same to you, sir, I’d rather have a bite in the kitchen. You see — I’m not used to the other kind.”
“Come, come,” began Mr. Caldicott in brotherly rallying, and Simpson, fearful that his chance of precious gossip was going to be taken from him, could have hit the reverend gentleman.
“Please, sir, if you don’t mind —” he said, with such a wealth of conviction in his tone that the clergyman gave way.
“Well, well,” he said half testily — had he not exhibited broadmindedness and the true spirit of brotherhood and had them discounted? —“if you really would prefer it.” He went away, but before very long he came back, and under pretext of hearing Simpson’s history — he catalogued his visitor in a completely unbrotherly fashion as a very respectable fellow — he remained on the pathway until lunchtime, gossiping cheerfully about the things that interested him. He talked about the War — he had been a C.F. at Rouen — about seedlings, and London soot, and shoeleather — this last as being of possible interest to his listener — and the difficulty he experienced in getting young men to come to church. When Simpson found that his last sermon had proved conclusively that God disapproved of betting, and that those who betted committed a sin against themselves, against their neighbour, and against God, he was not particularly surprised at the paucity of Mr. Caldicott’s youthful following.
“Now you are young,” Mr. Caldicott said. “Can you tell me why young men do not like church?” But Simpson had no intention of leaving the clergyman’s house before evening if he could help it, so he refrained from instructing him, and merely shook his head sadly to indicate mournful disapproval. A consciousness of the weekly half-crown that went to enrich the bookmakers instead of the managers of the local Empire made him attack his work with a new zeal, but he was glad when a gong sounded in the house and the clergyman dismissed him with his blessing to the back regions. More than any meal to Simpson was the pursuit of the game he was engaged in.
The clergyman — who, he learned, was a most eligible bachelor — had two maids: a cook-housekeeper and a “help,” who looked just like every stage and cinema Tweeny. They were delighted to welcome such a presentable male to their board, and in the hour that he took to his meal, Simpson learned more of lower-class suburbia than he had known in a whole lifetime spent among it. But beyond hearing that Mrs. Everett was a stuck-up widow who gave herself airs because her father had been a clergyman, he learned nothing that he wanted to know. When he asked if her father had been clergyman here, they said oh, no, that it had been somewhere in the north. Some one-horse place, he might be sure. Mrs. Everett went to all the church meetings and things, the cook opined, not because she was keen on church, but just to keep every one in mind that her father had been a clergyman. Revolving this really striking elucidation of human motive, Simpson went back to the garden to resume the mowing which was very nearly finished, and presently the clergyman joined him again. They were having a social meeting in the church hall that evening — would Simpson care to come? Simpson thanked him, and said with sincerity that he would be delighted. In that case there were chairs and such impedimenta to be carried from the church into the church hall — would Simpson like to help with them? If he went down after tea, he would find the ladies’ committee preparing for the event. A ladies’ committee was the thing above all that Simpson wanted to meet at the moment, and he again expressed his complete willingness, and the clergyman departed.
After an afternoon of border-trimming and gossiping alternately with the cook and the “help,” who invented excuses to come and talk to him without apparently caring whether he believed the excuses or not, and a kitchen tea which, though more productive than the previous day’s one in Lemonora Road, lacked the spice provided by his colleague’s presence, Simpson betook himself to the church. The church he had already located — a red-brick building of a hideousness so complete that it was difficult to believe that it was accidental. The yellowish brown and ultramarine blue of the stained-glass windows was now decently shrouded by the kindly dusk, but evening had its own horror in the brightly lit church hall, where two or three women were rushing about in the aimless, excited fashion of hens, talking much and achieving little, since none of their number did a thing without one of the others suggesting an amendment, which resulted in the committee immediately going into session. Their debates were protracted beyond the limits of an ordinary man’s patience by their constant and insincere deferrings to each other, and after Simpson had watched them from the door for a little, very much as he had watched Mr. Caldicott’s efforts with a lawn-mower, he came slowly forward, cap in hand, and called attention to himself. “Are you looking for some one?” one of them said, and he explained that Mr. Caldicott had sent him down to assist. He was an immediate success. In fact, he was so sought after that he began to feel inordinately pleased with himself a state of mind which has no business in a member of the Criminal Investigation Department, and which died a sudden death when later in the evening he met his rivals. Reporting them afterwards in camera to Mullins, he used a picturesqueness of phrase which I regret I cannot reproduce, but which left no doubt in Mullins’ mind as to the type of men who had attended that “social.” Altogether Simpson was rather bitter about that evening, though why he should have been, I cannot fathom. His red-fair hair and freckles were his passport to happiness — no one could resist them; the pink wash that adorned the walls — it was raspberry, with a touch of cochineal — did not presumably hurt him as it might have hurt more sensitive souls; he was by far the most popular male present; and the information he had come to seek was lying about in chunks waiting to be picked up. But the fact remains that, when the ploy was all over and Mullins said to him, “The boss is pleased with you about Brightling Crescent,” Simpson’s pleasant face twisted in a sneer that did not go with red hair and freckles, and he snarled, yes snarled, “Well, I sweated for it!”
The “social” broke up at the eminently respectable hour of nine-forty-five, and Simpson once more helped the committee to play the game of robbing Peter to pay Paul, and then “saw home” the most gossiping of the females who had been nice to him. So it was on the following morning that Grant interviewed him and heard all that was to be known of Mrs. Everett.
Mrs. Everett was Scotch. Her lack of accent was explained by the fact that she had been for twenty-five years in London, and that initially she came from the West Coast. Her father had been the minister of a Wee Free church in a village on the west coast of Ross, and now her brother was a minister there. Her name was Logan. She had been a widow for fifteen years and had no children. She was not very popular because she kept herself to herself, but she was greatly respected. Not even the fact that she let her rooms to two bookmakers had been sufficient to degrade her in the eyes of the Brightlingside Congregational Church. Sorrell had gone to her on coming out of the Army, and he had not been a bookmaker then, so perhaps she was absolved from any charge of deliberately choosing depravity as a boarder. The two men had not been known personally to any of the church community. They had been regarded from afar, Grant understood, as moral lepers without equal, but the subject of them seemed to have that never-palling attraction that thorough-paced wickedness has for virtue, and no detail of their lives was hidden from people whom the two men had quite certainly not known by sight. The two men, as Mrs. Everett had said — Mrs. Everett, Grant thought, would not lie about something that could be verified! — went everywhere together. Neither had had a “girl.” They were both very smart according to Brightlingside standards, and Mrs. Everett waited hand and foot on them. Mrs. Everett had no relations in London that any one knew of, but once a year usually she went to Scotland, and if her boarders happened not to be away, engaged and paid some one to look after them.
When Simpson had taken his burnished presence out of the room, Grant sent for the men who had been on duty at King’s Cross and Euston on Monday night, and asked them to describe the suspects they had examined. At the King’s Cross man’s tale of a young man with his mother, he halted. “Describe the mother,” he said, and the man did, quite accurately.
“Were there no other possibles on that train?”
Oh, yes, the man said, several. He inferred bitterly that the original home of thin, dark men with high cheekbones must be the north of Scotland. They swarmed on all northbound trains.
“What made you think he wasn’t the man you wanted?”
“His manner, sir. And the woman’s. And his case was on the rack, with the initials outside for any one to see — G. L. And he had a golf-bag, and altogether looked too casual.”
Well done, Mrs. Everett! thought Grant. It wasn’t the man who left the notes in the drawer that thought of the golf-bag. He wondered if leaving the case like that had been deliberate. He could hardly credit that any one would risk unnecessarily the whole success of the thing on such an enormous bluff. It was probably accident.
Where was he going?
There were no labels on his luggage, but the ticket collector had said he was going to Edinburgh.
It did not take Grant long to find out Lamont’s probable destination. There were not many Logans in the Church of Scotland, and only one had a church in Ross-shire. He was minister of the United Free church in Carninnish — having evidently ratted from the stern faith of his fathers — and Carninnish was a village at the head of a loch on the west coast of the county.
Grant went in to Barker and said, “I’m going fishing in Scotland for a day or two.”
“There are more comfortable places than Scotland for hiding your diminished head,” said Barker, who knew all about the arrest that had side-slipped.
“May be, but the fishing isn’t so good. That’s my approximate address. Two days will do me, I expect.”
“Taking any one along?”
“I think you’d better. Think for a moment what a Highland rural policeman is like.”
“He can always kill the fish by falling on it — but I don’t think it will come to that. I may want some one to take the fish to London, though.”
“All right. When are you going?”
“I’m going with the seven-thirty from King’s Cross tonight, and I’ll be in Inverness before ten tomorrow morning. After that I’ll advise you.”
“Right!” said Barker. “Good fishing! Don’t get stuck on your own hooks.”
Grant spent a considerable time arranging for the prosecution of the search in his absence. He had no guarantee that the man who had gone to Carninnish was Lamont. He was going after the suspect himself because he was the only man among the searchers who had actually set eves on the Levantine. But the search in London would go on as usual. The whole departure for Carninnish might be a huge bluff. Grant had a great respect for Mrs. Everett.
As he was getting his fishing tackle together and looking out his old clothes, Mrs. Field came in with sandwiches and commiseration, neither of which Grant felt to be appropriate. He refused the former on the ground that he would have a very good dinner on the train and a very good breakfast, again on the train, in the morning.
“Yes,” she said; “that’s all very well, but look at the long night there’ll be. You never know the minute you’ll waken up hungry and be glad of the sandwiches even if it’s only to pass the time. They’re chicken, and you don’t know when you’ll have chicken again. It’s a terribly poor country, Scotland. Goodness only knows what you’ll get to eat!”
Grant said that Scotland nowadays was very like the rest of Britain, only more beautiful.
“I don’t know anything about beauty,” said Mrs. Field, putting the sandwiches resolutely away in the rug-strap, “but I do know that a cousin of mine was in service there once she went for the season with her people from London — and there wasn’t a house to be seen in the whole countryside but their own, and not a tree. And the natives had never heard of teacakes, and called scones ‘skons.’”
“How barbaric!” said Grant, folding his most ancient tweed lovingly away in his case.
As the train steamed out of King’s Cross he settled down to the study of a one-inch survey map of the Carninnish district. It gave him a pleasant feeling to be studying a map again. There was quite a distinctive thrill in hunting your man in open country. It was more primitive and more human, less mechanized than the soulless machinery that stretched and relaxed noiseless steel tentacles on Thames bank. It was man against man. There would be a telephone only where there was a post office. And there would be no calling out of reserves to head off any one making a break for it. It was your wit against his perhaps your gun against his. But Grant hoped that it would not come to that. There would be little satisfaction in bringing a dead man to justice. And the police, in any case, do not look with favour on summary methods in their detectives. He would have to go about it quietly. After all, he was only two days behind the fair. The man could not have arrived at his destination before last night. The longer he had to settle down in, the less suspicious he would become. At first every boulder would hide a detective for him, but as he grew used to the country — and Grant knew the type of country — its complete severance from any outside interests would have its inevitable effect of giving him a false sense of security.
Grant studied the map. The village of Carninnish lay along the south bank of a river — the Finley — where the river joined the sea in Loch Finley. About four miles to the south, a second loch ran into the land, and on the north shore of it was a village slightly larger apparently than Carninnish, called Garnie. That is, Carninnish lay on the north side of a peninsula and Garnie on the south, the distance between them over the peninsula being about four miles by a hilly and third-class road. Grant decided that he would stay at Garnie — there was an hotel there which he knew from hearsay contained a bath — and from there he would keep an eye on Carninnish under pretence of fishing the Finley. Until late at night he pored over the map, until the country grew as familiar to him as if he had known it. He knew from bitter experience that the very best map-reader has to suffer some severe shocks when he comes face to face with reality, but he had the comfortable knowledge that he now knew the district probably much better than the man he was hunting.
And morning brought him nothing but exhilaration. As he opened his eyes on the daylight, through the open chink at the top of his window he could see the brown moors sliding slowly past, and the chug-chug of the hitherto racing train told of its conquest of the Grampians. A clear, cold air that sparkled, greeted him as he dressed, and over breakfast he watched the brown barrenness with its background of vivid sky and dazzling snow change to pine forest flat black slabs stuck mathematically on the hillsides like patches of woolwork — and then to birches; birches that stepped down the mountain-sides as escort for some stream, or birches that trailed their light draperies of an unbelievable new green in little woods carpeted with fine turf. And so with a rush, as the train took heart on the down grade, to fields again — wide fields in broad straths and little stony fields tacked to hillsides — and lochs, and rivers, and a green countryside. He wondered, standing in the corridor as the train rattled and swerved and swung in its last triumphant down-rush to Inverness, what the fugitive had thought of it all — the Londoner torn from his streets, and the security of buildings and bolt-holes. Sundays on the river would not have prepared him for the black torrents that waited him in the west, nor the freedom of a Surrey common for the utter unnerving desolation of those moors. Had he regretted his flight? He wondered what the man’s temperament was. He had been the bright and cheerful one — at least, according to Mrs. Everett. Was he anything more than bright and cheerful? He had cared sufficiently for something to stab a man in the back for it, but that did not argue sensitiveness. To a sensitive man, the horror of being alone and helpless and hunted in a country like this would probably be worse than a cell of familiar bricks and mortar. In the old days in the Highlands, to take to the hills had been synonymous with flying from justice — what the Irish call being on the run. But civilization had changed that completely. Not one criminal in a thousand now fled to the Highlands or to Wales for refuge. A man demanded the means of food and shelter in his retreat nowadays, and a deserted bothy or a cave on the hillside was out of date. If it had not been for Mrs. Everett’s promise of sanctuary, not even her will would have got Lamont out of London; Grant felt sure of that. What had Lamont felt when he saw what he had come to?
At Inverness he left the comfort of the through train and crossed the wind-swept platform into a little local affair that for the rest of the morning trundled from the green countryside back into a brown desolation such as had greeted Grant on waking. West and still farther west they trailed, stopping inexplicably at stations set down equally inexplicably in the middle of vast moors devoid of human habitation, until in the afternoon he was bundled out on to a sandy platform, and the train went away into the desolation without him. Here, he was told, he took the mail-car. It was thirty-six miles to Carninnish, and with any luck he’d be there by eight that night. It would all depend on how many things they met on the road. It wasn’t but a fortnight back that Andy had had the right wheel in the front taken clean off of him by another motorcar, and him with the left wheel half into the ditch and all. Grant was led through a booking-office, and in the gravelled space behind the station beheld the contraption in which he was to spend the next five hours, and which would, with luck on the road, duly deposit him in Garnie. It was quite literally a charabanc. Behind the driving seat were three benches, their penitential qualities inadequately mitigated by cushions, stuffed, apparently, with sawdust and covered in American cloth. There were, amazing as it seemed to him, five other candidates for seats on this conveyance. Grant made inquiries about hiring a car to do the journey, and the expressions on the faces of his audience conveyed to him not only the futility of his quest, but the fact that he had been guilty of a grave error of taste. One did not scorn the mail-car. It was the one significant thing in each day to the dwellers in the thirty-six miles between him and the sea. Grant resigned himself to discomfort, and hoped that comedy would save the journey from boredom. So far comedy had been absent from him. He bagged a seat by the driver and hoped for the best.
As they went along the narrow roads, torn here and there where burns had swept across them in their downward path in spate from the hills, he realized the force of the man’s remark about meeting things. There was no room in most places for even a perambulator to pass.
“How do you manage when you meet something?” he asked the driver.
“Well, sometimes we back — and sometimes they back,” he said. After about five miles Grant saw this new rule of the road demonstrated when they came face to face with a traction-engine. It was a diminutive specimen of its kind, but formidable enough in the circumstances. On one side was the hill, and on the other a small rocky ravine. With the greatest good humour the driver reversed, and backed his unwieldy vehicle until he could run it into the bank in a siding for road metal. The traction-engine chuffed complacently past, and the journey was resumed. In all the thirty-six miles they met only two more obstacles, both motors. In one case they grazed past by a mutual withdrawing of skirts, the near wheel of the mail-car being in a ditch and the near wheel of the other in a bank of heather and boulders. In the other case the car proved to be a Ford, and with the mongrel adaptability of its kind took without parley to the moor, and with complete insouciance swept bumping past the stationary mail-car what time the drivers exchanged unintelligible greetings. This display of amphibiousness seemed to astonish no one, and though the car was now full to overflowing, no remark was made. It was evidently a daily occurrence.
With the laden state of the car in his mind, Grant wondered what would happen to the people along the road who would have no means of travelling. The same fear had occurred to a little old woman who had been waiting by a roadside cottage for the car. As it slowed down and the driver descended to her assistance she looked scaredly at the crowded benches and said, “How are you going to make room, Andy?”
“Be quiet,” said Andy cheerfully; “we never left any one yet.”
“Be quiet,” Grant learned, was not a reproof in this country, and had nothing to do with its English meaning. It was an expression of half-jocose refusal, and, on occasions, of straightforward admiration tinged with disbelief. On Andy’s lips it meant that the old lady was what a Lowlander would call “haivering.” And certainly he was as good as his word. Room was found, and no one seemed to suffer very badly, unless it was the hens in the coop at the back, which had been rolled slightly sideways. But they were still vociferously alive when their proud owner, waiting at the head of a track that led apparently nowhere, claimed them and bore them away in a wheelbarrow.
Several miles before Garnie, Grant smelt the sea — that seaweedy smell of the sea on an indented coast. It was strange to smell it so unpreparedly in such unsealike surroundings. It was still more strange to come on it suddenly as a small green pool among the hills. Only the brown surge of the weed along the rocks proclaimed the fact that it was ocean and not moor loch. But as they swept into Garnie with all the éclat of the most important thing in twenty-four hours, the long line of Garnie sands lay bare in the evening light, a violet sea creaming gently on their silver placidity. The car decanted him at the flagged doorway of his hostelry, but, hungry as he was, he lingered in the door to watch the light die beyond the flat purple outline of the islands to the west. The stillness was full of the clear, far-away sounds of evening. The air smelt of peat smoke and the sea. The first lights of the village shone daffodil-clear here and there. The sea grew lavender, and the sands became a pale shimmer in the dusk.
And he had come here to arrest a man who had committed murder in a London queue!
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:14