The Man in the Queue, by Josephine Tey



Grant had got little information from Andy, the mail-car driver, not because the driver was ignorant — after all, he had presumably driven Lamont these thirty-six miles over the hills only two days before — but because Andy’s desire to find out all about himself was, surprisingly enough, just as strong as his to find out about Lamont, and he brushed aside Grant’s most hopeful leads with a monosyllable or a movement of his head, and produced instead leads of his own. It was a game that soon palled, and Grant had given him up long before he had resigned himself to knowing no more of Grant. And now the landlord of the Garnie Hotel, interviewed in the porch after breakfast, proved equally unhelpful, this time through genuine ignorance. Where the mail-driver would have been intensely interested in whatever happened at Carninnish, which was his home and his resting-place each night, the landlord was interested only in Garnie, and in Garnie only as it affected his hotel.

“Come for some fishing, sir?” he said, and Grant said yes, that he had thoughts of fishing the Finley if that were possible.

“Yes,” the man said, “that’s just four mile at the back of the hill beyond. Perhaps you’ll know the country?” Grant thought it best to disclaim any knowledge of the district. “Well, there’s a wee village the other side, on Loch Finley, but you’re better here. It’s a wee poky place of an hotel they have there, and they have nothing but mutton to eat.” Grant said they might do worse. “Yes, you’d think that the first day, and maybe the second, but by the end of a week the sight of a sheep on the hill’d be too much for you. We can send you over in the Ford every day if you’re not fond of walking. You’ll have a permit, I suppose?” Grant said that he had thought there would be some water belonging to the hotel. “No; all that water belongs to the gentleman who has Carninnish House. He is a Glasgow stockbroker. Yes, he’s here — at least he came a week ago, if he’s not gone again.”

“Well, if I can have the Ford now, I’ll go over and see him.” Fishing was the only excuse which would allow him to wander the country without remark. “What did you say his name was?” he asked, as he stepped into a battered Ford alongside a hirsute Jehu with a glaring eye.

“He’s a Mr. Drysdale,” the landlord said. “He’s not overgenerous with the water, but perhaps you’ll manage it.” With which cold comfort Grant set off on a still colder drive over the hills to the Finley valley.

“Where is the house?” he asked the hirsute one, whose name he learned was Roddy, as they went along.

“At Carninnish.”

“Do you mean right in the village?” Grant had no intention of making so public an appearance at this early date.

“No; it’s the other side of the river from the village.”

“We don’t go through the village?”

“No; the bridge is before you come to the village at all.”

As they came to the edge of the divide the whole new valley opened maplike before Grant’s fascinated gaze several hundreds of feet below. There were no fields, no green at all except on the border of the river that ran, a silver thread, through scattered birch to the distant sealoch. It was a brown country, and the intensity of the sea’s blue gave it a foreign air — faery lands forlorn, with a vengeance, Grant thought. As they ran seawards down the side of the hill he noticed two churches, and took his opportunity.

“You have enough churches for the size of the village.”

“Well,” said Roddy, “you couldn’t be expecting the Wee Frees to go to the U.F. That’s the U.F. down there — Mr. Logan’s.” He pointed down to the right over the edge of the road, where a bald church and a solid four-square manse sheltered in some trees by the river. “The Wee Free is away at the other end of the village, by the sea.”

Grant looked interestedly out of the corner of his eyes at the comfortable-looking house that sheltered his quarry. “Nice place,” he said. “Do they take boarders?”

No, Roddy thought not. They let the house for a month in the summer. The minister was a bachelor, and his widowed sister, a Mrs. Dinmont, kept house for him. And his niece, Mrs. Dinmont’s daughter, was home for holidays just now. She was a nurse in London.

No word of another inmate, and he could not pursue the subject without making the always curious Highlander suspicious. “Many people at the hotel here?”

“Three,” said Roddy. As befitted the retainer of a rival concern there was nothing he did not know about the inn at Carninnish. But though all three were men, none of them was Lamont. Roddy had the history and predilections of all of them at his fingertips.

Carninnish House lay on the opposite side of the river from the village, close to the Sea, with the high road to the north at its back. “You’d better wait,” Grant said, as Roddy pulled up before the door; and with what dignity Roddy’s method of coming to a halt had left him, he descended on to the doorstep. In the hall was a lean, rather sour-looking man in good tweeds. The stockbroker’s got a party, thought Grant. He had quite unconsciously pictured the stockbroking gentleman as round and pink and too tight about the trouser legs. It was therefore rather a shock when the lean man came forward and said, “Can I do anything for you?”

“I wanted to see Mr. Drysdale.”

“Come in,” said the man, and led him into a room littered with fishing tackle. Now Grant had intended quite shamelessly to try sob-stuff on the broker of his imagination, appealing to his generosity not to spoil his holiday; but the sight of the real man made him change his mind. He took out his professional card, and was gratified at the man’s surprise. It was a compliment to the perfection of the disguise which his old fishing clothes afforded.

“Well, Inspector, what can I do for you?”

“I want you to be good enough to let me fish in the Finley for a little. Two days at most, I think. I think a man I want is in the neighbourhood, and the only way I can go about without attracting notice is to fish. I thought the hotel at Garnie would have some fishing of their own, but it appears they haven’t. I won’t catch any fish, but I have fished a good deal, and I won’t frighten everything in the river.”

To his surprise a smile had come over the dour face of Mr. Drysdale. “Inspector,” he said, “I don’t think you can have any idea how unique this occasion is, how utterly unique you are. Even in the ‘45 they didn’t come here looking for any one, and no one, certainly, has done it since. It’s simply incredible. A criminal in Carninnish, and a C.I.D. inspector looking for him! Why, drunk and incapable is the most horrible crime that this neighbourhood has known since the flood.”

“Perhaps my man thought of that,” said the inspector dryly. “Anyhow, I promise I shan’t bother you long if you give me the permission to fish.”

“Certainly you can fish. Anywhere you like. I’m going up the river now. Would you care to come with me, and I’ll introduce you to the best pools? You might as well have a decent day’s fishing if you’re going to fish at all. Send that madman back to Garnie”— Roddy was giggling with a maid in high-pitched Gaelic outside the open window, quite indifferent to the probable proximity of “the gentleman”—“and tell him he needn’t come back. I’ll send you over in the evening whenever you want to go.”

Delighted at the unexpected graciousness on the part of the ill-favoured and reputedly ungenerous one, Grant dismissed Roddy, who received his congé with the grave respect of an A.D. C., but departed in a flurry of high unintelligible cackle flung between himself and the maid. It sounded like the protesting row of an alarmed hen as she rockets over a fence to safety. When the noises had died away, Drysdale began in silence to collect his tackle for the river. He asked no more questions, and Grant was again grateful to him. To break the silence which Drysdale had evidently no intention of breaking, he asked about the state of the river, and soon they were talking fishing with the freedom of two enthusiasts. They proceeded up the right bank of the river — that is, the opposite bank from the village and the manse — and Drysdale pointed out the pools and their peculiarities. The whole tawny, narrow boulder-strewn river was not more than six miles long. It ran from a hill loch in an impetuous scramble, broken by still pools, to the sea at Carninnish.

“I expect you’d like to be near the village,” Drysdale said, and suggested that the inspector should be left the lower half of the river while he went up to the hill end, where he would probably spend the day; and to that Grant gratefully agreed. As they passed opposite the manse, Grant said, “That the manse? Scotch clergymen seem to be very comfortable.”

“They are,” said Drysdale, with emphasis, but did not pursue the subject. Grant remarked on the apparent size of the house, and asked if they took boarders. It would be a good place to stay. Drysdale said that as far as he knew they did not take any one, and he repeated Roddy’s tale of the summer letting. He took leave of Grant with the abruptness of a shy man, and departed into the landscape, leaving Grant with the comfortable knowledge that he had an ally after his own heart if the need for one should arise.

Grant decided that he would start fishing perhaps two hundred yards above the manse and work slowly down, taking his bearings and keeping an eye on the traffic to and from the house. On his side of the river there was a cart-track that was almost a road, but on the other side there was as far as he could see, only the path like a sheep-track made by the feet of fishermen and gillies, so that any one coming upriver would come on his side. The manse was surrounded by a stone wall, and faced away from him towards the high road on the other side of the river. Inside the wall was a row of scraggy firs which effectually hid the detail of the house. Only gleams of whitewash and its eight chimneys advertised its presence. At the back the garden wall ran down to the river bank, and in the middle of the wall flanking the river was a small iron gate of the strictly utilitarian pattern popular in the Highlands. Though he could not see the high road immediately in front of the house he had an uninterrupted view of the road on either side. No one could come or go from the house without his being aware of it. And he could stay where he was all day unquestioned and unremarkable. It was an ideal situation. Grant sent the first cast hissing over the brown shining water, and felt that life was good. It was too sunny for fishing and his prospects of catching anything were meagre in the extreme; but a bigger catch lay to his hand. No one had mentioned that a stranger had arrived at the manse, but just as he had known on the Brixton stair-landing that the rooms were empty, Grant now had a feeling that his man was here.

It was eleven before he began to fish, and for an hour or more no human activity other than his own broke the perfect peace of the morning. The two chimneys of the manse continued to smoke lazily into the bright air. The river babbled its eternal nursery-rhyme song at his feet, and the water slid under his eyes with a mesmeric swiftness. Away to his right beyond the distant bridge the whitewashed houses by the shore showed over the slight rise of the moor, placid and sunlit as a stage setting. Grant began to feel that the whole thing was a picture, like the illustration from which he had first learned French in his youth, and that he was merely stuck down there by the river so that the picture might be complete. He was not Grant of the C.I.D; he was pêcheur, to be pointed at with a wooden wand that tickled, for the education of some one unknown. A postman coming from the village, leaning heavily and alternately on the pedals of a push-bike, broke the spell. It was still a picture, but he no longer belonged to it. It was a stage setting — one of the tiny exhibition ones — and he was the giant who was going to upset the whole box of tricks. And, even as he thought it, the iron gate in the low wall of the manse swung open, and a girl came out, followed by a man. They shut the gate with difficulty and some laughter, and turned in single file down the footpath towards the bridge. Grant was still nearly a hundred yards above the house, and neither of them had noticed him. The man was dressed in flannel trousers, an old trench-coat, and a cap, and, except for his slightness, was as unlike the figure that had flung itself into the maelstrom of the Strand traffic as might well be. Grant was conscious of slight surprise. Revolving the matter during his long journey north, he had taken for granted that the man would look out of place. A London bookmaker’s clerk would not be thrown into the western Highlands at a moment’s notice and look like an habitué. Well, it might not be the man, after all. He hoped that they were making for the bridge and his side of the river, and not for the village. Surely, if they had set out for the village, they would have gone out by the front way and walked along the high road? He watched in suspense until he saw the girl turn to the bridge. But there was still a chance that they were going straight on by the high road past Carninnish House. Grant expelled a thankful breath as once more the girl turned riverwards and her companion joined her. They were coming up the river to him. They would pass only a few yards at his back. Industriously he flung a gleaming cast to the far side of the pool. He must not look their way again. In a minute or two they would have spotted him. He felt grateful to the ancient hat that collapsed more than drooped over his face, and to the shapeless garments that clothed him. His boots, too, were convincing even to the most suspicious eye. It had been no case of dressing the part this time; he was the genuine article, and he was glad of it. There would be no amateurish cast to attract the practised eye of Miss Dinmont — it must be Miss Dinmont. No suggestion of “towniness” about his clothes to call forth comment and her partner’s instant interest. Suddenly above the swirl of the water he could hear their voices, raised because of the river’s accompaniment. They were still laughing and animated, and apparently very good friends. Grant did not look round as they passed, nor did he look round immediately they had passed. If he glanced round now, a curious look from the man would have found his face revealed. But as they retreated upriver he watched them. Was it Lamont? He tried to picture the man’s walk again. Short of developing a limp, it is almost impossible to disguise a walk successfully. But he could not be sure. And then the man looked back suddenly. Grant was too far away to see his face, but the movement told him all he wanted to know. It was so vivid that, before his reason had time to note it, his mind was back at the bottom of Bedford Street. There was no doubt of it — the man was Lamont. Grant’s heart sang. Had Lamont known him? He thought not. How could he? It was mere bad conscience that had made him turn. If he asked Miss Dinmont about him, he would hear that no one who was not staying at Carninnish House was allowed to fish the water, and he would be reassured.

And now what? Go to the house when he returned and arrest him straight away? He had the warrant in his pocket. But suddenly he wanted to be assured — assured beyond the possibility of doubt — that Lamont was the man who had murdered Sorrell. They knew that he was the man who had quarrelled with Sorrell before his death. But that was not proof. The link that connected him with the knife was still missing. Before he would risk executing the warrant he wanted to find out if Lamont’s left hand bore the scar made by the knife. If it did not, then his case fell to pieces. However certain he himself might be, there must be no gaps in the evidence that would be put before a jury, and as long as there was a possible gap in the evidence, Grant had no intention of arresting any one. He must get himself invited to the manse. It should not be difficult. If all else failed, he could fall into the river and appeal to them to dry him.

He was eating the sandwiches provided by the Garnie Hotel, on a boulder half in and half out of the water, when the couple came back. They went swinging past him down to the bridge and into the village, and presently he saw them reappear and come back to the manse by the high road. It was lunchtime. They were safely occupied for an hour at least, and directly under his eye.

He was carefully wrapping up the remaining sandwiches against a lean time to come when the local policeman appeared from upriver pushing a punctured push-bicycle. He slowed down when he saw Grant — if his previous leisurely progress could admit of any retarding without bringing him to a stop — and as Grant looked up, the last semblance of progression ceased.

“Having any luck, sir?” asked the policeman. He had a face like a very pink waxwork, round and devoid of expression, and one glance at him made Grant thankful for the discovery of Drysdale. His pale blue eyes were fringed like a doll’s, with fine black lashes, and an unconvincing moustache of silky black made a line on his upper lip. His fat, soft body could neither hurry nor take cover; that slow brain would be of no use whatever in an emergency.

Grant admitted that he had caught nothing, but added that he had hardly expected to on such a bright morning.

“Yes, that’s so,” said the man; “but it won’t be long like that. There’s never a day but there’s some rain here. You’ll catch a fish before night.”

Grant recognized this as the Highlander’s usual desire to say the thing he thinks will be acceptable to his hearer. “You haven’t had the best of luck yourself,” he said, indicating the tire.

“Indeed, I have not. These ro’ds are the very ruin on tires. Not but what I get an allowance for them, you know, but there’s others isn’t so lucky. Mr. Logan, the minister”— he jerked his head over at the manse —“was just saying to me the other day that ministers should have a tire-allowance as well as the pollis. He had three tires of his car punctured in one week. It would put even a minister in a temper.”

“Are there many motors in Carninnish?”

“Well, Mr. Drysdale has two, as I expect you know, and Mr. Logan has one, but that’s all. The other minister has a sidecar.”

But when some one wanted to hire, what did they do?

Oh, as to that, the hotel had a Ford for visitors. They hired out that when they weren’t needing it themselves. A Ford in the constable’s opinion evidently did not come under the heading “cars.”

Presently the constable said, “There’s Mr. Logan away to see the new twins east at Arkless,” and Grant saw a rather heavy figure appear on the high road on the Garnie side of the manse and proceed upriver at a businesslike pace.

“I thought that road led only over the hill to Garnie,” Grant said.

“Oh yes, the high road. But where the high road begins to go up the hill there’s a track goes off along the river to the crofts you can see from the ro’d. That’s where he’s going evernow, Mr. Logan. And that’s why he’s walking. He’s not very fond of walking.”

The constable stayed for a long time quite contentedly watching Grant fish, evidently glad to find interest for his eyes in a spot usually vacant, and Grant revolved the problem of what he would do if the Logan car appeared suddenly on the high road beyond the manse, bound for Garnie and the south. He would have no guarantee that Lamont was the passenger. It was too far away to identify any one. He would have to make certain of that before he did anything. And then it would be a choice between getting busy on a telephone or giving chase. The hotel Ford, he supposed. Or perhaps Drysdale would lend his car? But the afternoon wore on, the light took that white, hard, unsympathetic look that it does about four o’clock, the constable trundled his bicycle away to the village where he could procure the patching materials which he had evidently forgotten, and still no one came from the manse. At five o’clock Grant ate his remaining sandwiches, and began to consider what other possibilities there were of cadging an entrance to the manse. The thought of a dip in the river — even if it was only a momentary one — became less and less pleasant as the evening wore on. His thoughts were interrupted and his difficulties miraculously solved by heavy footsteps behind him. He looked round to see Mr. Logan at his back.

The minister gave him a hearty good evening, and his heavy red face with its hooked nose beamed benevolently. “It doesn’t look as if you have had much luck,” he said.

No, Grant said; he had been at it for a whole day, and had had nothing. They would laugh at him when he got back to Garnie.

“Oh, you’re not staying at Carninnish House?”

No, Grant said; he was staying at the hotel at Garnie, but Mr. Drysdale had very kindly given him permission to fish the Finley for a day or two.

“Are the Garnie people sending for you?”

No, Grant said; he had intended to walk back when he was tired of fishing. It was only four miles or so, and any fish he caught would, of course, be left with Mr. Drysdale.

“It’s very cold work, and disheartening when you’ve got nothing,” said the minister. “Won’t you come in and have a hot cup of tea at the manse? My name is Logan. Tea is between half-past five and six, and it should be ready now.”

Grant thanked him, and tried not to show an indecent degree of joy at the invitation. Fate was playing into his hands. Once inside the manse and it would be for him to call the tune. It was difficult not to bundle his things together, grab the minister by the arm, and run him the half-mile down the river and back to the house. As it was, he packed up with extra deliberation, dawdled at the minister’s pace, which had slackened considerably since the early afternoon, down the track, across the bridge, and along the high road to the front of the manse. As the minister led him down the broad path, cut in stretches of grass to the door, Grant’s heart quickened perceptibly, and for once he did not smile at himself for a weakness. Ten days ago Barker had handed over this case to him, and he had been presented with a handkerchief, a revolver, and a bloodstained knife. Now, at the other end of the kingdom, he was about to come face to face with the man he wanted.

They divested themselves of their coats and hats in the hall, and Grant could hear through the closed door the chatter and clink of people at tea. Then Mr. Logan stepped over to the door and preceded him into the room.

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01