The Man in the Queue, by Josephine Tey



“Well,” said Barker, after a moment’s silence, “I’ll never talk to you about your flair again, Grant. Do you think she’s mad?”

“If logic carried to excess is madness, then she is,” Grant said.

“But she seems to have no feelings on the subject at all — either for herself or for Sorrell.”

“No. Perhaps she is crazy.”

“There’s no chance of its not being true? It’s a far less believable story in my eyes than the Lamont one.”

“Oh, yes, it’s true,” Grant said. “There’s not a doubt of it. It seems strange to you only because you haven’t lived with the case as I have. The whole thing falls into place now — Sorrell’s suicide, the gift of the money to Lamont, the booking of the passage, the brooch. I was a fool not to have seen that the initials might as well have been R. M. But I was obsessed by the Ratcliffe women at the time. Not that reading the initials the other way would have helped me too much, if Mrs. Wallis hadn’t turned up with her confession. Still, I ought to have connected it with Ray Marcable. On the very first day of the investigations, I went down to the Woffington to have a talk with the doorkeeper, and I saw Ray Marcable then, and she gave me tea. Over tea I described the dagger to her — the description was going to the Press that evening. She looked so startled that I was almost certain that she had seen something like that before. But there wasn’t any way of making her tell if she didn’t want to, so I left it, and from beginning to end of the case there has been nothing to connect her with it until now. Sorrell must have intended to go to America as soon as he knew that she was going. Poor devil! She might be Ray Marcable to the rest of the world, and a very big star, but he never got over thinking of her as Rosie Markham. That was his tragedy. She, of course, isn’t a bit like that. It’s a long time since Ray Marcable thought of herself as Rosie Markham. I expect she made it definite that there was nothing doing when she returned the brooch he had had made for her. A brooch like that wouldn’t have meant anything to Ray Marcable. He had really meant to go to America till the Thursday evening, when he got the parcel Mrs. Everett talked about. That was the brooch, and that evidently tore it. She may have announced her intention of marrying Lacing, for all I know. You saw that he had gone out on the same boat with her? Sorrell must have made up his mind then that he would shoot her and commit suicide. The Woffington pit isn’t the best place for shots at the stage with a revolver, but I expect he counted on the fuss there would be at the end. It isn’t so very long since I saw half the pit in the orchestra at the end of a last night at the Arena. Or perhaps he meant to do it as she was leaving the theatre after the show. I don’t know. He could have done it in the afternoon quite easily — he and Lamont went to the stalls — but he didn’t. I don’t think he wanted his friends to know if there was the remotest chance that they mightn’t. You see, he tried to fit things so that they would take it for granted that he was on his way to America. That explains the lack of clues. Neither Mrs. Everett nor Lamont would connect the suicide of an unknown man who had killed Ray Marcable with the man they thought was on the Queen of Arabia. He probably forgot that meeting in the street with Mrs. Wallis, or didn’t think that his secret thoughts had been so obvious to her. When you come to think of it, it was rather cute of her to spot what he intended. Of course, she had the clue — she knew about Ray. But she was the only one who would be able to connect him with Ray Marcable. Ray Marcable never went anywhere with him, of course. He tried to do the best he could for his friend by handing over his wad, with instructions, as Lamont said, that it wasn’t to be opened till the Thursday. Do you think Sorrell thought there was a chance that his friend would never know what had become of him, or do you think he didn’t care so long as the deed was well over before they found out?”

“Search me!” said Barker. “I don’t think he was too sane either.”

“No,” said Grant, considering, “I don’t think Sorrell was crazy. It’s just what Lamont said about him — he thought for a long time about something, and then did exactly what he intended. The only thing he didn’t reckon with was Mrs. Wallis — and you’ll admit she isn’t the kind of quantity you’d expect to find butting around in an ordinary crowd. He couldn’t have been a bad sort, Sorrell. Even to the last he kept up the jape about going to America. His packing was perfect — but Lamont was packing at the same time, and probably in and out of the room all the time. He hadn’t a single letter or photograph of Ray Marcable. He must have made a clean sweep when he made up his mind what he was going to do. Only, he forgot the brooch. It fell out of a pocket, as I told you.”

“Do you think Ray Marcable suspected the truth?”

“No; I don’t think so.”

“Why not?”

“Because Ray Marcable is one of the most self-absorbed people in this era. In any case, she remembered the dagger from my description of it, but she had no reason to connect the man who was murdered with Sorrell, and therefore wouldn’t connect her mother with the affair at all. The Yard didn’t know Sorrell’s identity until Monday, and that was the day she left for the States. I shall be very much surprised if she knows, even yet, that the dead man was Sorrell. I shouldn’t think she reads much in the Press but the gossip column, and America isn’t interested in the queue murder.”

“Then there’s a shock in store for her,” said Barker sorrowfully.

“There is,” said Grant grimly. “And at least there is a pleasant one in store for Lamont, and I’m glad of it. I have made a complete fool of myself over this case, but I’m happier just now than I have been since I hauled him into the boat from the loch.”

“You’re a marvel, Grant. With a case like that I should have been as pleased as Punch and all over myself. It isn’t canny. If you’re ever fired from the force, you can set up as something in the second-sight line at five bob a time.”

“So that you can descend on me for blackmail, I suppose? ‘Give us a quid or you’ll have the cops in!’ No; there isn’t anything uncanny about it. After all, in any human relationship you’ve got to decide for yourself, apart from evidence, what a man is like. And though I wouldn’t confess it even to myself, I think I knew Lamont was telling the truth that night when he gave me his statement in the train.”

“Well, it’s a queer business,” said Barker, “— the queerest business I’ve known for ages.” He hoisted himself off the desk against which he had been propped. “Let me know when Mullins comes back, will you? If he has the sheath, then we’ll decide to accept the story. Lamont’s being brought up again tomorrow, isn’t he? We can bring her into court then.” And he left Grant alone.

And Grant mechanically did what he had been going to do when Barker’s entrance interrupted him. He unlocked the drawer of his desk and took out the dagger and the brooch. Only a little space between the intention and the act, and what a difference! He had been going to withdraw them as the emblems of his despair — mysteries that maddened him; and now he knew all about it. And it was so simple now that he knew. Now that he knew! But if Mrs. Wallis had not come . . . He turned away from the thought. But for the accident that made the woman fair-minded even in her madness he would have stifled his misgivings and gone through with the case as befitted a valued inspector of the C.I.D., and in accordance with the evidence. He had been saved from that.

It had been so clear a case where evidence was concerned — the quarrel, the left-handedness, the scar. They had searched for the man who had quarrelled with Sorrell, and he was left-handed and had a scar on his thumb. Wasn’t that good enough? And now it was nonsense — like Miss Dinmont’s bedcover. The murderer was a woman, ambidextrous, with a scar on her finger. He had been saved by the skin of his teeth and a woman’s fair dealing.

His thoughts went back over the trail that had led them so far wrong: the hunt for Sorrell’s identity; Nottingham, the youth in Faith Brothers’, Mr. Yeudall, the waitress at the hotel, all of them remembering the thing they were most interested in, and humanly connecting it with all that happened. Raoul Legarde with his beauty, his quick intelligence, and his complete description of Lamont. Danny Miller. The last night of Didn’t You Know? Struwwelpeter and the raid on Sorrell’s offices. Lacey, the jockey, and that damp day at Lingfield. Mrs. Everett. The burst to the north. Carninnish — the silent Drysdale and the tea at the manse. Miss Dinmont with her logic and her self-containedness. The beginning of his doubt and its blossoming with Lamont’s statement. The brooch. And now —

They lay on his desk, the two shining things. The dagger winked knowingly in the evening light, and the pearls gleamed with a still small smile very like the smile that Ray Marcable had made famous. He did not think that Gallio & Stein had made a very good job of the monogram; even yet, looked at casually, he would read it M. R. Both. Mrs. Ratcliffe and Mrs. Everett had read it that way, he remembered.

His thoughts went back to Mrs. Wallis. Was she technically sane? He would have said not; but sanity, from a medical point of view, depended on such queer qualifications. It was impossible to anticipate what a specialist would think of her. And anyhow it wasn’t his business. His business was done. The Press would be scathing, of course, about the police haste to make an arrest, but his withers would be unwrung. The Yard would understand, and his professional standing would not suffer. And presently he would have that holiday. He would go down to Stockbridge and fish. Or should he go back to Carninnish? Drysdale had given him a very warm invitation, and the Finley would be teeming with salmon just now. But somehow the thought of that swift brown water and that dark country was ungrateful at the moment. It spoke of turmoil and grief and frustration; and he wanted none of that. He wanted a cowlike placidity, and ease, and pleasant skies. He would go down to Hampshire. It would be green there now, and when he grew tired of the placid Test waters there would be a horse and the turf on Danebury.

Mullins knocked, and came in and laid the sheath of the knife on Grant’s desk. “Got it where she said, sir. That’s the key of the house.”

“Thanks, Mullins,” said Grant. He dropped the knife into its sheath, and rose to take it to Barker. Yes; he would go to Hampshire. But sometime, of course, he would go back to Carninnish.

The doctors pronounced Mrs. Wallis quite sane and fit to plead, and her trial is due at the Old Bailey this month. Grant is convinced that she will get off, and I am inclined to trust Grant’s flair so far. Unwritten laws, he says, are not supposed to be valid in this country, but a British jury is in reality just as sentimental as a French one; and when they hear the story as put forward by Mrs. Wallis’s counsel — one of the most famous criminal defenders of the day — they’ll weep bucketfuls and refuse to convict her.

“Well,” I said to him, “it has been a queer case, but the queerest thing about it is that there isn’t a villain in it.”

“Isn’t there!” Grant said, with that twist to his mouth.

Well, is there?

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