The Man in the Queue, by Josephine Tey


The Brooch

After a hot bath, during which he had twiddled his toes in the wavering steam and tried to mesmerize himself into that habitually comfortable frame of mind of a detective officer who has got his man, Grant repaired to the Yard and went to interview his chief. When he came into the great man’s presence Barker was complimentary.

“Congratulations, Grant!” he said. “That was very smart work altogether.” And he asked for details of the capture which Grant had not, of course, included in his official report, and Grant provided him with a vivid sketch of the three days at Carninnish. The superintendent was highly amused.

“Well done!” he said. “Rather you than me. Careering across bogs was never a sport of mine. It seems you were the right man in the right place this time, Grant.”

“Yes,” said Grant unenthusiastically.

“You don’t let your emotions run away with you, do you?” said Barker, grinning at his unsmiling face.

“Well, it’s been luck, mostly, and I made one bad break.”

“What was that?”

“I found out that Sorrell had really intended to go to America — at least, that he had booked a berth — and I forgot that his belongings would be lying at a terminus waiting to be examined.”

“That doesn’t sound a very vital mistake to me. You knew who the man was and who his friends were. What more could you find out that would help you to Lamont?”

“Nothing about Lamont. It was because I was so hard on Lamont’s trail that I forgot about the luggage. But I want to know more about Sorrell. To tell you the truth,” he added in a sudden burst, “I’m not very happy about this case.”

Barker’s jaw dropped just a little. “What’s wrong?” he said. “It’s the clearest case the Yard has had for some time.”

“Yes; on the surface. But, if you dig a bit, there seems to be more than meets the eye.”

“What do you mean? That there was more than one in it?”

“No; I mean that there’s just the barest possibility that we’ve got the wrong one.”

For a little there was silence. “Grant,” said Barker at last, “I never knew you to lose your nerve before. You need a holiday. I don’t think scooting across moors can be good for you. Perhaps the jogging movement is addling to the brain. You certainly have lost your critical faculty.”

Grant could find nothing to say except “Well, here’s the statement he gave us last night,” and he handed it over. While Barker was reading it, he crossed to the window, gazed at the patch of green and the river in the sun, and wondered if he were making a complete fool of himself to be worrying when he had a good case. Well, fool or no fool, he would go along to Waterloo as soon as his chief had finished with him, and see what he could pick up there.

When Barker dropped the statement with a little flop on to the table, Grant turned eagerly to see what effect it had had on him. “Well,” said that worthy, “it leaves me with a strong desire to meet Mr. Lamont.”

“Why?” asked Grant.

“Because I’d like to see in person the man who tried sob-stuff on Inspector Grant and got away with it. The unimpressionable Grant!”

“That’s how it strikes you, is it?” Grant said gloomily. “You don’t believe a word of it?”

“Not a word,” said Barker cheerfully. “It’s about the thinnest story I’ve known put up for some time. But then I should think the man was hard put to it to find any way out of the evidence at all. He did his damnedest — I will say that for him.”

“Well, look at it from the other way, and can you think of a reasonable explanation for Lamont’s killing Sorrell?”

“Tut, tut, Grant, you’ve been at the Yard for I don’t know how many years, and you’re looking at this late stage for reasonable murders. You need a holiday, man. Lamont probably killed Sorrell because the way he ate had got on his nerves. Besides, it isn’t any of our business to fit psychology to people or to provide motives or anything of that sort. So don’t worry your head. Fit them with good watertight evidence and provide them with a cell, and that’s all we have to bother about.”

There was a short silence, and Grant gathered up his papers preparatory to taking his leave and getting along to Waterloo.

“Look here,” said Barker out of the silence, “all joshing apart — do you believe the man didn’t do it?”

“I don’t see how he could not have,” Grant said. “There’s the evidence. I can’t say why I’m uneasy about the thing, but that doesn’t alter the fact that I am.”

“Is this an example of the famous flair?” said Barker, with a return to his former manner.

But Grant would not be other than serious this morning. “No; I think it’s just that I have seen Lamont and talked to him when he was telling his story, and you haven’t.”

“That’s what I said to begin with,” Barker reminded him. “Lamont has tried a sob-story on you and put it over . . . Put it out of your head, Grant, until you get even a tittle of evidence to substantiate it. Flair is all very well, and I don’t deny that you have been uncanny once or twice, but it has always been more or less in accordance with the evidence before, and in this case it most emphatically isn’t.”

“That’s the very thing that makes me worry most. Why should I not be pleased with the case as it stands? What is it that makes me not pleased? There is something, but I’m blowed if I can see what it is. I keep feeling that something is wrong somewhere. I want something that will either tighten up the evidence against Lamont or loosen it.”

“Well, well,” said Barker good-humouredly, “go ahead. You’ve done so well so far that you can afford to play yourself for a few days more. The evidence is good enough for the police court — or any other kind of court, for that of it.”

So Grant betook himself through the sunny, busy morning to Waterloo, trailing a little cloud of discontent behind him as he went. As he stepped from the warm pavement into the cool vault of the best but saddest of all London stations — the very name of it reeks of endings and partings — gloom sat on his face like a portent. Having obtained the necessary authority to open any luggage that Sorrell might have left, he repaired to the left-luggage room, where a highly interested official said, “Yes, sir, I know them. Left about a fortnight ago, they were,” and led him to the luggage in question. It consisted of two well-worn trunks, and it occurred to Grant that neither was labelled with the Rotterdam–Manhattan company’s labels as they should have been if Sorrell had intended going aboard at Southampton. Nor were they addressed at all. On ordinary labels on each was written in Sorrell’s writing, “A. Sorrell,” but nothing else. With his own keys and a slight quickening of heart he opened them. Below the top garment in the first were Sorrell’s passport and tickets for the voyage. Why had he left them there? Why not have taken them with him in a pocketbook? But alongside them were the labels supplied by the company for the labelling of passengers’ luggage. Perhaps for some reason Sorrell had meant to open the trunk again before going down on the boat-train, and had postponed labelling it till then. And had left his tickets and passport there as being safer than a pocketbook in a queue.

Grant continued his examination. There was no further indication that Sorrell had not intended to go abroad as he said. The clothes were packed with a care and neatness that surely argued a further use for them. There was method, too, in the manner of their disposition. The articles which would presumably be needed first were there to hand, and the less necessary ones farther down. It was difficult, looking at the packing, to believe that Sorrell had not intended to take out the articles himself at some future time. And there was no information, no letters, no photographs. That last struck Grant as the only remarkable thing about the luggage — that a man who was going abroad should have no souvenirs of any sort with him. And then he came on them, packed at the bottom between two shoes — a little bundle of snapshots. Hastily he untied the piece of string that held them together, and looked them through. At least half of them were photographs of Gerald Lamont, either alone or with Sorrell, and the rest were old army groups. The only women in the collection were Mrs. Everett and some VAD’s who seemed to be incidental to the army groups. Grant almost groaned aloud in his disappointment — he had untied that string with such mighty if vague hopes — but when he had tied up the bundle again he put it in his pocket. VAD’s might be incidental in a group, but individually they were women and, as such, not to be despised.

And that was all! That was all he was going to get from the luggage he had been banking so heavily on. Troubled and disappointed, he began to put the things back as he had found them. As he lifted a coat to fold it, something fell from a pocket and rolled along the floor of the left-luggage room. It was a small blue velvet case such as jewellers use for their wares. No terrier is quicker on a rat than Grant was on that small slowly revolving box, and no girl’s heart beat at the opening of a velvet case as Grant’s heart beat at the opening of that one. A press with his thumb and the lid flew up. On the deep blue lining lay a brooch such as women wear in their hats. It was made from small pearls in the form of a monogram, and was very simple and rather beautiful. “M. R.,” said Grant aloud. Margaret Ratcliffe.

His brain had said it before his thoughts had time to gather round it. He stared at the trinket for a little, took it up from its velvet bed, turned it in his hand, and put it back again. Was this his clue, after all? And did these common-enough initials point to the woman who kept stumbling into this case so persistently? It was she that had stood behind Sorrell when he was killed; it was she that had booked a berth on the same day on the same ship to the same destination as Sorrell; and now the only thing of value found among his belongings was a brooch with her initials. He examined it again. It did not look the kind of thing that is sold by the dozen, and the name on the box was not that of a firm usually patronized by impecunious young bookmakers. It was that of a Bond Street firm of good reputation, with wares corresponding in price. He thought that, on the whole, his best step would be to go and see Messrs. Gallio & Stein. He locked up the trunks, put the brooch in his pocket with the snapshots, and departed from Waterloo. As he mounted the stairs of a bus he remembered that Lamont had said that the notes he had been given by Sorrell had been wrapped in white paper such as jewellers use. One more good mark for Lamont. But if Sorrell were going abroad in the company of, or because of, Margaret Ratcliffe, why should he hand over such a sum to Lamont? Mrs. Ratcliffe had money of her own, Simpson had reported, but no man started out to live on the woman he was eloping with, even if he was sorry to leave his friend in comparative poverty.

The business of Messrs. Gallio & Stein is conducted in a small and rather dark shop in Old Bond Street, and Grant found but one assistant visible. As soon as Grant opened the blue box the man recognized the brooch. It was he that had dealt with the customer about it. No; they did not have them in stock. It had been made to order for a Mr. Sorrell, a young fair man. It had cost thirty guineas, and had been finished — he consulted a book — on the 6th, a Tuesday, and Mr. Sorrell had called and paid for it and taken it away with him on that date. No; the assistant had never seen the man before. He had described what he wanted, and had made no fuss about the price.

Grant went away thinking deeply, but no nearer a solution. That a man in Sorrell’s position had been willing to pay thirty guineas for an ornament argued infatuation of an extreme type. He had not presented it to the object of his devotion up to the time of his departure. That meant that it could be presented only after he had left Britain. It was packed deep in his trunk. He had no friends in America that any one knew of. But — Margaret Ratcliffe was going out by the same boat. That woman! How she came into things! And her entry, instead of making things clearer, merely made the muddle worse than before. For muddle Grant was now convinced there was.

It was nearly lunchtime, but he went back to the Yard because he was expecting a message from the post office. It was there waiting for him. On the morning of the 14th (Wednesday) a telegram had been handed in at Brixton High Street post office addressed to Albert Sorrell on board the Queen of Arabia, and reading “Sorry. — JERRY.” It had presumably been delivered, since there had been no word to the contrary, but it was not unlikely that, in the shoal of telegrams attending the departure of a big liner, if it had not been claimed, it might have been mislaid.

“So that’s that!” said Grant aloud; and Williams, who was in attendance, said, “Yes, sir,” accommodatingly.

And now what? He wanted to see Mrs. Ratcliffe, but he did not know whether she had returned home. If he rang to inquire, she would be forewarned of his renewed interest in her. He would have to send Simpson again. Mrs. Ratcliffe would have to wait for the moment. He would go and see Mrs. Everett instead. He gave Simpson his instructions, and after lunch went down to Fulham.

Mrs. Everett opened the door to him, with no sign of fear or embarrassment. From the expression of her eyes, her hostility was too great to permit of her harbouring any other emotion. What line should he take with her? The stern official one would be useless both from the point of impressing her and from the point of extracting information; the dead man had done well to call her Lady Macbeth. And a magnanimous overlooking of the part she had played in Lamont’s escape would also have no effect. Flattery would earn nothing but her scorn. It occurred to him that the only method of dealing with her to any advantage was to tell her the truth.

“Mrs. Everett,” he said, when she had led him in, “we have a case that will hang Gerald Lamont, but I’m not satisfied myself with the evidence. So far, I haven’t caught Lamont out in a misstatement, and there is just the faintest possibility that his story is true. But no jury will believe it. It is a very thin tale, and, told badly in a court of law, would be beyond belief. But I feel that a little more information will tip the scales one way or another — either prove Lamont’s guilt beyond a doubt or acquit him. So I’ve come to you. If he’s innocent, then the chances are that the extra information will go to prove that, and not his guilt. And so I’ve come to you for the information.”

She examined him in silence, trying to read his motive through the camouflage of his words.

“I’ve told you the truth,” he said, “and you can take it or leave it. It isn’t any softness for Gerald Lamont that has brought me here, I assure you. It’s a matter of my own professional pride. If there’s any possibility of a mistake, then I’ve got to worry at the case until I’m sure I’ve got the right man.”

“‘What do you want to know?” she said, and it sounded like a capitulation. At least it was a compromise.

“In the first place, what letters habitually came for Sorrell, and where did they come from?”

“He got very few letters altogether. He had not many friends on these terms.”

“Did you ever know letters addressed in a woman’s hand come for him?”

“Yes; occasionally.”

“Where were they posted?”

“In London, I think.”

“What was the writing like?”

“Very round and regular and rather large.”

“Do you know who the woman was?”


“How long had the letters been coming for him?”

“Oh, for years! I don’t remember how long.”

“And in all these years you never found out who his correspondent was?”

“Did no woman ever come to see him here?”


“How often did the letters come?”

“Oh, not often! About once in six weeks, perhaps, or a little oftener.”

“Lamont has said that Sorrell was secretive. Is that so?”

“No, not secretive. But he was jealous. I mean jealous of the things he liked. When he cared very much about a thing he would — hug it to himself, if you know what I mean.”

“Did the arrival of the letters make any difference to him — make him pleased or otherwise?”

“No; he didn’t show any feeling that way. He was very quiet, you know.”

“Tell me,” said Grant, and produced the velvet case, “have you ever seen that before?” He snapped it open to her gaze.

“M. R.,” she said slowly, just as Grant had done. “No; I never saw it before. What has that got to do with Bertie?”

“That was found in the pocket of a coat in Sorrell’s trunk.”

She put her worn hand out for it, looked at it with curiosity, and gave it back to him.

“Can you suggest any reason why Sorrell should commit suicide?”

“No, I can’t. But I can tell you that about a week before he left to go — left here — a small parcel came by post for him. It was waiting for him when he came home one evening. He came home that night before Jerry — Mr. Lamont.”

“Do you mean as small a parcel as this?”

“Not quite, but as big as that would be with wrapping round it.”

But the man in Gallio & Stein’s had said that Sorrell had taken the brooch away with him. “Can you remember what day that was?”

“I wouldn’t swear to it, but I think it was the Thursday before he left.”

On Tuesday, Sorrell had taken the little parcel from the jeweller, and on Thursday evening the little parcel had been delivered at Sorrell’s rooms. The inference was obvious. The woman had refused his offering.

“What was the writing on the parcel like?”

“It was addressed only on the label, and the address was printed.”

“Did Sorrell show any emotion on opening it?”

“I wasn’t there when he opened it.”

“Then afterwards?”

“No; I don’t think so. He was very quiet. But then he was always quiet.”

“I see. When did Lamont come and tell you what had happened?”

“On Saturday.”

“You knew before then that the man in the queue was Sorrell?”

“No; the description of the man wasn’t published in full until Thursday, and I naturally thought that Bert had sailed on Wednesday. I knew that Jerry would have been with him up to the last minute, so I didn’t worry. It was only when I saw the description of the man the police wanted that I put the two descriptions together and began to wonder. That was on Saturday.”

“And what did you think then?”

“I thought, as I think now, that there was a very bad mistake somewhere.”

“Will you tell me what Lamont told you? He has made a statement to us already.”

She hesitated a moment and then said, “Well, I can’t see that things can be worse than they are,” and told him the story Lamont had told her. To the smallest detail it coincided with what he had told Grant and the constable in the train coming south.

“And you didn’t find anything fishy in such a story?”

“I don’t know that I would have believed the story from a stranger”— she was extraordinarily like her niece at that moment, the inspector thought —“but, you see, I know Jerry Lamont.”

“But you knew Sorrell very much longer, and didn’t know the things that mattered in his life.”

“Yes, but that was Bertie. Length of time has nothing to do with it. I heard about everything that happened to Jerry, girls included.”

“Well, thank you for telling me all you did,” Grant said as he stood up. “If nothing you have said helps Lamont very much, at least it doesn’t incriminate him any further. Did you ever have any reason to think that Sorrell wasn’t going to America at all?”

“Do you mean that he was going somewhere else?”

“No; I mean that, if he contemplated suicide, his going to America might have been an elaborate blind.”

“I certainly don’t think that. I’m sure he intended to go to America.”

Grant thanked her again, and went back to the Yard. From Simpson he learned that Mrs. Ratcliffe and her sister were still at Eastbourne, and there was no word of their return.

“Does Mr. Ratcliffe go up and down to Eastbourne, then?”

No; Mr. Ratcliffe had been down only once since they were there, and then he didn’t stay the night.

“Did you find out what the quarrel was about?”

No; the maid apparently had not known. From the secret amusement that radiated from Simpson’s freckled face Grant deduced that the interview with the Ratcliffe maid had been more amusing than informative, and he dismissed him dolefully. He would have to go down to Eastbourne and see Mrs. Ratcliffe — accidentally; but to-morrow he would have to attend the Lamont case at the police court. It would be a purely formal occasion, but he would have to be there. There was no time to go down to Eastbourne tonight, and get back, with any hope of obtaining the casual kind of meeting with Mrs. Ratcliffe that he contemplated. But, if the case was over quickly to-morrow, he would go straight down there. He wished duty did not call him to the court. That was routine, and the visit to Mrs. Ratcliffe was not — it was a hunt, a sporting chance, a gamble. He wanted so badly to see what Margaret Ratcliffe’s face would look like when he showed her the monogrammed brooch.

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