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The Floating Admiral Agatha Christie Simon Brett G.K. Chesterton Anthony Berkeley Dorothy L. Sayers Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers, G.K. Chesterton and nine other writers from the legendary Detection Club collaborate in this fiendishly clever but forgotten crime novel first published 80 years ago.Inspector Rudge does not encounter many cases of murder in the sleepy seaside town of Whynmouth. But when an old sailor lands a rowing boat containing a fresh corpse with a stab wound to the chest, the Inspector's investigation immediately comes up against several obstacles. The vicar, whose boat the body was found in, is clearly withholding information, and the victim's niece has disappeared. There is clearly more to this case than meets the eye – even the identity of the victim is called into doubt. Inspector Rudge begins to wonder just how many people have contributed to this extraordinary crime and whether he will ever unravel it…In 1931, Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers and ten other crime writers from the newly-formed ‘Detection Club’ collaborated in publishing a unique crime novel. In a literary game of consequences, each author would write one chapter, leaving G.K. Chesterton to write a typically paradoxical prologue and Anthony Berkeley to tie up all the loose ends. In addition, each of the authors provided their own solution in a sealed envelope, all of which appeared at the end of the book, with Agatha Christie’s ingenious conclusion acknowledged at the time to be ‘enough to make the book worth buying on its own’.The authors of this novel are: G. K. Chesterton, Canon Victor Whitechurch, G. D. H. Cole and Margaret Cole, Henry Wade, Agatha Christie, John Rhode, Milward Kennedy, Dorothy L. Sayers, Ronald Knox, Freeman Wills Crofts, Edgar Jepson, Clemence Dane and Anthony Berkeley. The Floating Admiral By Certain Members of the Detection Club G. K. Chesterton Canon Victor L. Whitechurch G. D. H. and M. Cole Henry Wade Agatha Christie John Rhode Milward Kennedy Dorothy L. Sayers Ronald A. Knox Freeman Wills Crofts Edgar Jepson Clemence Dane Anthony Berkley Copyright Published by HarperCollinsPublishers Ltd 1 London Bridge Street London SE1 9GF www.harpercollins.co.uk (http://www.harpercollins.co.uk) This 80th anniversary edition published by HarperCollinsPublishers 2011 First published in Great Britain by Hodder & Stoughton 1931 THE FLOATING ADMIRAL. Copyright © The Detection Club 1931, 2011. All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. By payment of the required fees, you have been granted the non-exclusive, non-transferable right to access and read the text of this e-book on-screen. No part of this text may be reproduced, transmitted, down-loaded, decompiled, reverse engineered, or stored in or introduced into any information storage and retrieval system, in any form or by any means, whether electronic or mechanical, now known or hereinafter invented, without the express written permission of HarperCollins e-books. EPub Edition © MARCH 2011 ISBN: 9780007414451 Version: 2017-04-13 Contents Copyright Map (#ulink_817f7c3b-65a4-53de-b5f9-5950430d54a1) Foreword By Simon Brett Introduction By Dorothy L. Sayers Prologue “The Three Pipe Dreams” By G. K. Chesterton Chapter I Corpse Ahoy! By Canon Victor L. Whitechurch Chapter II Breaking the News By G. D. H. and M. Cole Chapter III Bright thoughts on Tides By Henry Wade Chapter IV Mainly Conversation By Agatha Christie Chapter V Inspector Rudge begins to form a Theory By John Rhode Chapter VI Inspector Rudge Thinks Better of It By Milward Kennedy Chapter VII Shocks for the Inspector By Dorothy L. Sayers Chapter VIII Thirty-Nine Articles of Doubt By Ronald A. Knox Chapter IX The Visitor in the Night By Freeman Wills Crofts Chapter X The Bathroom Basin By Edgar Jepson Chapter XI At the Vicarage By Clemence Dane Chapter XII Clearing up the Mess By Anthony Berkeley Appendix I Solutions Appendix II Notes on Mooring of Boat Counsel’s Opinion On Fitzgerald’s Will (#litres_trial_promo) About the Publisher Map FOREWORD By Simon Brett PRESIDENT OF THE DETECTION CLUB 2001– IT is appropriate that the origins of the Detection Club are shrouded in mystery. No official archives for the organisation have ever been kept and so its history has to be pieced together from the memoirs, correspondence, hints and recollections of its members. One reason for this incomplete record may be that the Club originally prided itself on being a kind of secret society, with rituals known only to its initiates. In the days of the internet, however, such a level of security is impossible. Indeed, an extract from the Detection Club’s most secret rite, the Initiation of New Members, is readily accessible on Wikipedia. So the Club’s history is, at the best, conjectural. One authority declares that it was founded in 1932 with 26 members, but this assertion is somewhat weakened by the fact that a letter was published in the Times Literary Supplement in 1930 and signed by “members of the Detection Club”. And the serials The Scoop and Behind the Screen appeared in The Listener respectively in 1930 and 1931. They were written by multiple authors, including Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers, E. C. Bentley and Anthony Berkeley, under the name of the Detection Club, as was this work, The Floating Admiral, whose copyright notice on the first edition reads: “The Detection Club 1931”. So a more likely prehistory of the Club was that round about 1928 Anthony Berkeley Cox (who only used his first two names on his books) and other detective writers started to meet for informal dinners, which then became more established into the rituals of a Club. According to some sources, G. K. Chesterton was appointed the first President—though sometimes referred to as “Leader”—in 1930. Mind you, other authorities say that he didn’t take over the Presidential mantle until 1932. Even the Detection Club itself is inconsistent about the date. On its headed notepaper is stated that Chesterton’s reign began in 1932, whereas in the List of Members it says 1930. So you can really take your pick. What is certain, however, is that, on 11 March 1932 the “Constitution and Rules of the Detection Club” were adopted. The opening section of this document reads: “The Detection Club is instituted for the association of writers of detective-novels and for promoting and continuing a mutual interest and fellowship between them.” Members had to fulfil “the following condition: That he or she has written at least two detective-novels of admitted merit or (in exceptional cases) one such novel; it being understood that the term ‘detective-novel’ does not include adventure-stories or ‘thrillers’ or stories in which the detection is not the main interest, and that it is a demerit in a detective-novel if the author does not ‘play fair by the reader’.” In this 1932 Constitution, the Ordinary Meetings of the Club should be “not fewer than four in the year”, so things haven’t changed that much. In 2010—and for many years before that—the Detection Club met three times. What has changed is the criterion of admissibility for potential candidates. With the great spread of crime fiction’s range, the qualification has been extended way beyond the traditional whodunit (which is just as well, because very few people nowadays write traditional whodunits). The current membership certainly includes writers of “adventure-stories or ‘thrillers’ or stories in which the detection is not the main interest”, as well as practitioners of the historical, legal, forensic, psychopathological and other developing subgenres. Crime fiction is a much broader church now than it was in the 1920s and 1930s, and the Detection Club reflects that. Some would argue that contemporary mysteries are much more varied and frequently better written than the offerings of that so-called “Golden Age”. They are certainly more psychologically credible than many of the works produced at that time. They are also more serious, sometimes even to the point of taking themselves too seriously. In crime fiction, noir is the new black. Most of these differences could be seen as improvements, but the one thing that has been lost with the passage of time is the sense of fun that used to be associated with crime fiction. In her introduction to The Floating Admiral, Dorothy L. Sayers’ description of the collaborative exercise is: “the detection game as played out on paper by certain members of the Detection Club among themselves.” And later she writes: “Whether the game thus played for our own amusement will succeed in amusing other people also is for the reader to judge.” The fact that the book is being reissued yet again suggests that there are still plenty of readers out there willing to be amused by the game. A lot of Golden Age crime novels were games. A murder mystery was an intellectual challenge rather on the same level as a crossword—and it’s interesting that the two forms of entertainment both developed around the same time. In the days before television, in the days of country house parties, such games were very popular. Collections of crime puzzles—like F. Tennyson Jesse’s The Baffle Book, A Parlour Game of Mystery and Detection—sold in large numbers. It was indeed the age of the parlour game … which hardly exists nowadays. People don’t have parlour games. Very few of them even have parlours. But it is in the spirit of a parlour game that The Floating Admiral should be approached. The idea of a serious (should I use that awful word “literary”?) novel written by a relay of authors is incongruous. For a light-hearted work of crime fiction, though, the concept is fun, and I think it’s clear that the writers involved in The Floating Admiral enjoyed the intellectual challenge that faced them. I have been involved in a couple of collaborative ventures of this kind and I very quickly discovered that the best job to get is that of the person who starts the story. In the first chapter you can sprinkle clues and inconsistencies with reckless abandon, secure in the knowledge that it won’t be you who has to tie up all the loose ends later. As a logical consequence of this, the worst job is writing the final chapter, pulling together all the threads of the story to produce a credible solution to the mystery. The temptation to begin that final chapter with the words “But it was all a dream …” is strong. In The Floating Admiral this particular short straw was drawn by Anthony Berkeley, which was probably just as well. The author of The Poisoned Chocolate Case, who also, under the pseudonym of Francis Iles, produced the classic thriller Malice Aforethought, was equipped both as whodunit plotter and as someone who understood the psychology of the criminal mind. If he couldn’t make sense of the ending, nobody could, and I think it’s significant that his final chapter is entitled Clearing Up the Mess. Berkeley is one of the contributors to The Floating Admiral whose name is still reasonably well known, at least to crime fiction buffs. The same could be said of Monsignor Ronald A. Knox, Freeman Wills Croft and Clemence Dane. Agatha Christie and Dorothy L. Sayers, of course, are big hitters, seemingly destined to endure forever, and G. K. Chesterton is still a well-known literary figure (though the Prologue he wrote to this volume seems to bear no relation to anything in the ensuing novel). Some of the other contributors’ names have dropped off the radar almost completely—except in the consciousness of dedicated collectors—but I was interested to know a little about them, to help me visualise the composition of the Detection Club in its early years. So here are my findings: Canon Victor L. Whitechurch was, as his title suggests, a clergyman, whose fictional creation Thorpe Hazell was a vegetarian railway detective, intended to be as different as possible from Sherlock Holmes. Whitechurch was one of the first crime writers to submit his manuscripts to Scotland Yard to check he’d got his police procedural details right (an effort that many contemporary practitioners of the genre still don’t bother to make). G. D. H. (George Howard Douglas) and M. (Margaret) Cole were a husband and wife team of crime writers. Both left-wing intellectuals, in 1931 G. D. H. formed the Society for Socialist Inquiry and Propaganda, later to be renamed the Socialist League. Amongst the undergraduates he taught at Oxford was the future Prime Minister, Harold Wilson. Henry Wade was the pseudonym of Henry Lancelot Aubrey-Fletcher, 6th Baronet, who was awarded both the D.S.O. and the Croix de Guerre for his bravery in the First World War. As well as writing twenty crime novels, he was High Sheriff of Buckinghamshire. John Rhode was one of the pseudonyms of Cecil John Charles Street. Also writing as Miles Burton and Cecil Waye, in his lifetime he published over 140 books. Milward Kennedy was the pseudonym of Milward Rodon Kennedy Burge, an Oxford-educated career civil servant, who specialised in police procedurals. He also wrote books under the androgynous name Evelyn Elder. Edgar Jepson had an enormously varied literary career. As well as crime novels and popular romances, he wrote children’s stories and is probably best remembered now for his fantasy fiction. His son and daughter were both published authors and his granddaughter is the writer Fay Weldon. So just a few snapshots of the 1931 Detection Club members who collaborated on The Floating Admiral. I find it intriguing to imagine the dinners they must have shared when they cooked up the ideas for this relay novel. Also the conversations … I’m sure, like contemporary members of the Detection Club, though they talked a bit about the craft of crime writing, it was when they got on to other topics that they became more energised. I can visualise religious discussions between the Catholic convert Ronald Knox, the Anglican canon Victor Whiteside and the Christian humanist Dorothy L. Sayers. I wonder how the idealistic Socialism of G. D. H. and M. Cole went down with the aristocratic Henry Wade. And, writing all those books, John Rhode must have had difficulty finding time to attend the dinners. But enough nostalgia. One thing I am sure of, though … The dinners of the embryonic organisation, during which the plot of The Floating Admiral was hatched, would have been conducted in just the same spirit of good humour and congeniality which, I am glad to say, still characterises to-day’s Detection Club. What can be wrong, after all, with an exclusive organisation of some sixty members which exists, in the words of Dorothy L. Sayers, “chiefly for the purpose of eating dinners together at suitable intervals and of talking illimitable shop”? INTRODUCTION By Dorothy L. Sayers THE FLOATING ADMIRAL WHEN members of the official police force are invited to express an opinion about the great detectives of fiction, they usually say with a kindly smile: “Well, of course, it’s not the same for them as it is for us. The author knows beforehand who did the job, and the great detective has only to pick up the clues that are laid down for him. It’s wonderful,” they indulgently add, “the clever ideas these authors hit upon, but we don’t think they would work very well in real life.” There is probably much truth in these observations, and they are, in any case, difficult to confute. If Mr. John Rhode, for example, could be induced to commit a real murder by one of the ingeniously simple methods he so easily invents in fiction, and if Mr. Freeman Wills Crofts, say, would undertake to pursue him, Bradshaw in hand, from Stranraer to Saint Juan-les-Pins, then, indeed, we might put the matter to the test. But writers of detective fiction are, as a rule, not bloodthirsty people. They avoid physical violence, for two reasons: first, because their murderous feelings are so efficiently blown-off in print as to have little energy left for boiling up in action, and secondly, because they are so accustomed to the idea that murders are made to be detected that they feel a wholesome reluctance to put their criminal theories into practice. While, as for doing real detecting, the fact is that few of them have the time for it, being engaged in earning their bread and butter like reasonable citizens, unblessed with the ample leisure of a Wimsey or a Father Brown. But the next best thing to a genuine contest is a good game, and The Floating Admiral is the detection game as played out on paper by certain members of the Detection Club among themselves. And here it may be asked: What is the Detection Club? It is a private association of writers of detective fiction in Great Britain, existing chiefly for the purpose of eating dinners together at suitable intervals and of talking illimitable shop. It owes no allegiance to any publisher, nor, though willing to turn an honest penny by offering the present venture to the public, is it primarily concerned with making money. It is not a committee of judges for recommending its own or other people’s books, and indeed has no object but to amuse itself. Its membership is confined to those who have written genuine detective stories (not adventure tales or “thrillers”) and election is secured by a vote of the club on recommendation by two or more members, and involves the undertaking of an oath. While wild horses would not drag from me any revelation of the solemn ritual of the Detection Club, a word as to the nature of the oath is, perhaps, permissible. Put briefly, it amounts to this: that the author pledges himself to play the game with the public and with his fellow-authors. His detectives must detect by their wits, without the help of accident or coincidence; he must not invent impossible death-rays and poisons to produce solutions which no living person could expect; he must write as good English as he can. He must preserve inviolable secrecy concerning his fellow-members’ forthcoming plots and titles, and he must give any assistance in his power to members who need advice on technical points. If there is any serious aim behind the avowedly frivolous organisation of the Detection Club, it is to keep the detective story up to the highest standard that its nature permits, and to free it from the bad legacy of sensationalism, clap-trap and jargon with which it was unhappily burdened in the past. Now, a word about the conditions under which The Floating Admiral was written. Here, the problem was made to approach as closely as possible to a problem of real detection. Except in the case of Mr. Chesterton’s picturesque Prologue, which was written last, each contributor tackled the mystery presented to him in the preceding chapters without having the slightest idea what solution or solutions the previous authors had in mind. Two rules only were imposed. Each writer must construct his instalment with a definite solution in view—that is, he must not introduce new complications merely “to make it more difficult.” He must be ready, if called upon, to explain his own clues coherently and plausibly; and to make sure that he was playing fair in this respect, each writer was bound to deliver, together with the manuscript of his own chapter, his own proposed solution of the mystery. These solutions are printed at the end of the book for the benefit of the curious reader. Secondly, each writer was bound to deal faithfully with all the difficulties left for his consideration by his predecessors. If Elma’s attitude towards love and marriage appeared to fluctuate strangely, or if the boat was put into the boat-house wrong end first, those facts must form part of his solution. He must not dismiss them as caprice or accident, or present an explanation inconsistent with them. Naturally, as the clues became in process of time more numerous, the suggested solutions grew more complicated and precise, while the general outlines of the plot gradually hardened and fixed themselves. But it is entertaining and instructive to note the surprising number of different interpretations which may be devised to account for the simplest actions. Where one writer may have laid down a clue, thinking that it could point only in one obvious direction, succeeding writers have managed to make it point in a direction exactly opposite. And it is here, perhaps, that the game approximates most closely to real life. We judge one another by our outward actions, but in the motive underlying those actions our judgment may be widely at fault. Preoccupied by our own private interpretation of the matter, we can see only the one possible motive behind the action, so that our solution may be quite plausible, quite coherent, and quite wrong. And here, possibly, we detective-writers may have succeeded in wholesomely surprising and confounding ourselves and one another. We are only too much accustomed to let the great detective say airily: “Cannot you see, my dear Watson, that these facts admit of only one interpretation?” After our experience in the matter of The Floating Admiral, our great detectives may have to learn to express themselves more guardedly. Whether the game thus played for our own amusement will succeed in amusing other people also is for the reader to judge. We can only assure him that the game was played honestly according to the rules, and with all the energy and enthusiasm which the players knew how to put into it. Speaking for myself, I may say that the helpless bewilderment into which I was plunged on receipt of Mr. Milward Kennedy’s little bunch of brain-teasers was, apparently, fully equalled by the hideous sensation of bafflement which overcame Father Ronald Knox when, having, as I fondly imagined, cleared up much that was obscure, I handed the problem on to him. That Mr. Anthony Berkeley should so cheerfully have confounded our politics and frustrated our knavish tricks in the final solution, I must attribute partly to his native ingenuity and partly to the energetic interference of the other three intervening solvers, who discovered so many facts and motives that we earlier gropers in the dark knew nothing about. But none of us, I think, will bear any malice against our fellow-authors, any more than against the vagaries of the River Whyn, which, powerfully guided by Mr. Henry Wade and Mr. John Rhode, twin luminaries of its tidal waters, bore so peacefully between its flowery banks the body of the Floating Admiral. PROLOGUE By G. K. Chesterton “THE THREE PIPE DREAMS” THREE glimpses through the rolling smoke of opium, three stories that still hover about a squalid opium joint in Hong Kong, might very well at this distance of time be dismissed as pipe dreams. Yet they really happened; they were stages in the great misfortune of a man’s life; although many who played their parts in the drama would have forgotten it by the morning. A large paper-lantern coarsely scrawled with a glaring crimson dragon hung over the black and almost subterranean entrance of the den; the moon was up and the little street was almost deserted. We all talk of the mystery of Asia; and there is a sense in which we are all wrong. Asia has been hardened by the ages; it is old, so that its bones stick out; and in one sense there is less disguise and mystification about it than there is about the more living and moving problems of the West. The dope-peddlers and opium hags and harlots who made the dingy life of that place were fixed and recognised in their functions, in something almost like a social hierarchy; sometimes their vice was official and almost religious, as in the dancing-girls of the temples. But the English naval officer who strode at that instant past that door, and had occasion to pause there, was in reality much more of a mystery; for he was a mystery even to himself. There were bound up in his character, both national and individual, the most complex and contradictory things; codes and compromises about codes, and a conscience strangely fitful and illogical; sentimental instincts that recoiled from sentiment and religious feelings that had outlived religion; a patriotism that prided itself on being merely practical and professional; all the tangled traditions of a great Pagan and a great Christian past; the mystery of the West. It grew more and more mysterious, because he himself never thought about it. Indeed there is only one part of it that anybody need think about for the purposes of this tale. Like every man of his type, he had a perfectly sincere hatred of individual oppression; which would not have saved him from taking part in impersonal or collective oppression, if the responsibility were spread to all his civilisation or his country or his class. He was the Captain of a battleship lying at that moment in the harbour of Hong Kong. He would have shelled Hong Kong to pieces and killed half the people in it, even if it had been in that shameful war by which Great Britain forced opium upon China. But when he happened to see one individual Chinese girl being dragged across the road by a greasy, yellow ruffian, and flung head-foremost into the opium-den, something sprang up quite spontaneously within him; an “age” that is never really past; and certain romances that were not really burned by the Barber; something that does still deserve the glorious insult of being called quixotic. With two or three battering blows he sent the Chinaman spinning across the road, where he collapsed in a distant gutter. But the girl had already been flung down the steps of the dark entry, and he precipitated himself after her with the purely instinctive impetuosity of a charging bull. There was very little in his mind at that moment except rage and a very vague intention of delivering the captive from so uninviting a dungeon. But even over such a simple mood a wave of unconscious warning seemed to pass; the blood-red dragon-lantern seemed to leer down at him; and he had some such blind sensation as might have overwhelmed St. George if, charging with a victorious lance, he had found himself swallowed by the dragon. And yet the next scene revealed, in a rift of that visionary vapour, is not any such scene of doom or punishment as some sensationalists might legitimately expect. It will not be necessary to gratify the refined modern taste with scenes of torture; nor to avoid the vulgarity of a happy ending by killing the principal character in the first chapter. Nevertheless, the scene revealed was perhaps, in its ultimate effects, almost more tragic than a scene of death. The most tragic thing about it was that it was rather comic. The gleam of the tawdry lanterns in the dope-den revealed nothing but a huddle of drugged coolies, with faces like yellow stone, the sailors from a ship that had put into Hong Kong that morning, flying the Stars and Stripes; and the final feature of a tall English naval officer, wearing the uniform of the Captain of a British ship, behaving in a peculiar way and apparently under rather peculiar influences. It was believed by some that what he was performing was a horn-pipe, but that it was mingled with motions designed only to preserve equilibrium. The crew looking on was American; that is to say, some of them were Swedish, several Polish, several more Slavs of nameless nationality, and a large number of brown Lascars from the ends of the earth. But they all saw something that they very much wanted to see and had never seen before. They saw an English gentleman unbend. He unbent with luxuriant slowness and then suddenly bent double again and slid to the floor with a bang. He was understood to say: “Dam’ bad whisky but dam’ good. WhadImeansay is,” he explained with laborious logic, “whisky dam’ bad, but dam’ bad whisky dam’ good thing.” “He’s had more than whisky,” said one of the Swedish sailors in Swedish American. “He’s had everything there is to have, I should think,” replied a Pole with a refined accent. And then a little swarthy Jew, who was born in Budapest but had lived in Whitechapel, struck up in piping tones a song he had heard there: “Every nice girl loves a sailor.” And in his song there was a sneer that was some day to be seen on the face of Trotsky, and to change the world. The dawn gives us the third glimpse of the harbour of Hong Kong, where the battleship flying the Stars and Stripes lay with the other battleship flying the Union Jack; and on the latter ship there was turmoil and blank dismay. The First and Second Officers looked at each other with growing alertness and alarm, and one of them looked at a watch. “Can you suggest anything, Mr. Lutterell?” said one of them, with a sharp voice but a very vague eye. “I think we shall have to send somebody ashore to find out,” replied Mr. Lutterell. At this point a third officer appeared hauling forward a heavy and reluctant seaman; who was supposed to have some information to give, but seemed to have some difficulty in giving it. “Well, you see, sir, he’s been found,” he said at last. “The Captain’s been found.” Something in his tone moved the First Officer to sudden horror. “What do you mean by found?” he cried. “You talk as if he was dead!” “Well, I don’t think he’s dead,” said the sailor with irritating slowness. “But he looked dead-like.” “I’m afraid, sir,” said the Second Officer in a low voice, “that they’re just bringing him in. I hope they’ll be quick and keep it as quiet as they can.” Under these circumstances did the First Officer look up and behold his respected Captain returning to his beloved ship. He was being carried like a sack by two dirty-looking coolies, and the officers hastily closed round him and carried him to his cabin. Then Mr. Lutterell turned sharply and sent for the ship’s doctor. “Hold these men for the moment,” he said, pointing to the coolies; “we’ve got to know about this. Now then, Doctor, what’s the matter with him?” The doctor was a hard-headed, hatchet-faced man, having the not very popular character of a candid friend; and on this occasion he was very candid indeed. “I can see and smell for myself,” he said, “before I begin the examination. He’s had opium and whisky as well as Heaven knows what else. I should say he’s a bag of poisons.” “Any wounds at all?” asked the frowning Lutterell. “I should say he’s knocked himself out,” said the candid doctor. “Most likely knocked himself out of the Service.” “You have no right to say that,” said the First Officer severely. “That is for the authorities.” “Yes,” said the other doggedly. “Authorities of a Court Martial, I should say. No; there are no wounds.” Thus do the first three stages of the story reach their conclusion; and it must be admitted with regret that so far there is no moral to the story. CHAPTER I By Canon Victor L. Whitechurch CORPSE AHOY! EVERYONE in Lingham knew old Neddy Ware, though he was not a native of the village, having only resided there for the last ten years; which, in the eyes of the older inhabitants who had spent the whole of their lives in that quiet spot, constituted him still a “stranger.” Not that they really knew very much about him, for the old man was of a retiring disposition and had few cronies. What they did know was that he was a retired petty officer of the Royal Navy, subsisting on his pension, that he was whole-heartedly devoted to the Waltonian craft, spending most of his time fishing in the River Whyn, and that, though he was of a peaceful disposition generally, he had a vocabulary of awful and blood-curdling swearwords if anyone upset him by interfering with his sport. If you, being a fellow-fisherman, took up your position on the bank of the River Whyn in a spot which Neddy Ware considered to be too near his, he would let drive at you with alarming emphasis; if boys—his pet aversion—annoyed him in any way by chattering around him, his language became totally unfit for juvenile ears. Once young Harry Ayres, the village champion where fisticuffs were concerned, had the temerity to throw a stone at the old man’s float; he slunk back home afterwards, white in face and utterly cowed with the torrent of Neddy Ware’s lurid remarks. He lived in a small cottage standing quite by itself on the outskirts of the village, and he lived there alone. Mrs. Lambert, a widow, went to his cottage for a couple of hours every morning to tidy up and cook his midday meal. For the rest, Neddy Ware managed quite well. He came out of his cottage one August morning as the church clock, some half a mile distant, was striking four. Those who knew his habits would have seen nothing unusual in his rising so early. The fisherman knows the value of those first morning hours; besides which, the little River Whyn, which was the scene of his favourite occupation, was tidal for some five or six miles from the sea. For those five or six miles it meandered, first through a low valley, flanked by the open downs on one side and by wooded heights on the other, and then made its way, for the last four miles, through a flat, low-lying country till it finally entered the Channel at Whynmouth. Everyone knows Whynmouth as a favourite South Coast holiday resort, possessing a small harbour at the mouth of its river. Twice a day the tide flowed up the Whyn, more or less rapidly according to whether it was “spring” or “neap.” And this fact had an important bearing on the times which were favourable for angling. On this particular morning Neddy Ware had planned to be on the river bank a little while after the incoming tide had begun to flow up the stream. Behold him, then, as he came out of his cottage, half-way up the wooded slopes of “Lingham Hangar,” crossed the high road, and made his way down to the level of the river. He was fairly on in years, but carried those years well, so much so that there was only just a sprinkling of grey in his coal-black hair. A sturdy-looking man, cleanshaven, but with a curious, old-fashioned twist of hair allowed to grow long on either side of his head just in front of his ears; brown, weatherbeaten, lined face, humorous mouth and keen, grey eyes. Dressed in an old navy blue serge suit, and wearing—as he invariably did—a black bowler hat. Carrying rods, landing net, and a capacious basket containing all kinds of the impedimenta of his craft. He reached the grassy bank of the river, put his things on the ground, and very slowly filled a blackened clay pipe with twist tobacco—which he rubbed in his hands first—and proceeded to light it, glancing up and down the river as he did so. Where he was standing the river took a curve, and he was on the outer side of this curve, on the right bank. Away to the left the stream bent itself between the heights on the one side and open meadows on the other. To the right, bending away from him, was the flat country, the river’s edges bordered with tall-growing reeds. From this direction the tide was flowing towards him, swirling round the bend. His first task was to haul in three or four eel lines he had thrown out the evening before, the ends being tied to the gnarled roots of a small tree growing on the bank. Two of the lines brought to land a couple of fair-sized eels, and, very dexterously, he detached the slippery, twisting fish from the hooks, washing the slime off afterwards. Then, slowly, he commenced putting one of his rods together, arranging his tackle, baiting with worms, and casting into the stream. For some little time he watched the float bobbing about in the swirl of the eddies, now and again striking when it suddenly disappeared beneath the surface, once landing a fish. He glanced around. Suddenly his float lost interest. He was gazing down-stream, as far as he could see around the bend. Slowly a small rowing-boat was coming up-stream. But there was something peculiar about her. No oars were in evidence. She appeared to be drifting. The old sailor was quick to recognise the little craft. “Ah,” he muttered, “that’s the Vicar’s boat.” Lingham Vicarage stood, with its adjacent church, quite apart from the village proper, about half a mile down the river. The grounds ran down to the water’s edge, where there was a rough landing-stage. The Vicar, he knew, kept his boat at this stage, moored by her painter to a convenient post. There was a little creek running into the grounds, with a wooden boat-house, but, in the summer months, especially when the Vicar’s two boys were home from school, the boat was generally kept on the river itself. As it came nearer, Ware laid down his rod. He could see now that there was someone in the boat—not seated, but, apparently, lying in the bottom of her, astern. The boat was only about fifty yards away now. The swirl of the tide was bringing her round the outer side of the bend in the river, but Neddy Ware, who knew every current, saw that she would pass beyond his reach. With the quick action of the sailor he did not waste an instant. Diving into his basket he produced one of the coiled up eel lines with its heavy, lead plummet. And then stood in readiness, uncoiling the line and throwing the slack on the grass. On came the boat, about a dozen yards from the bank. Skilfully he threw the plummet into her bows, and then started walking along the bank up-stream, gently but steadily pulling on the line till, at length, he brought her close up to the bank and laid hold of the painter at her bows. The end of the painter was dragging in the water. As he pulled it out he glanced at it. It had been cut. He made it fast to a tree-root. The boat swung round, stern up-stream, alongside the bank. And Ware got into her. The next moment he was on his knees, bending over the man who lay in the stern. He lay there on his back, his knees slightly hunched up, his arms at his sides, quite still. A man of about sixty, with iron-grey hair, moustache and close-cropped, pointed beard, dark eyes open with fixed stare. He was clad in evening dress clothes and a brown overcoat, the latter open at the front and exposing a white shirt-front stained with blood. Sitting on one of the seats, Ware made a swift examination of the boat. A pair of oars lay in her, the metal rowlocks were unshipped. Apparently the dead man was hatless—no—there was a hat in the boat, lying in the bows; a round, black, clerical hat, such as Mr. Mount, the Vicar, usually wore. Neddy Ware, having looked around, got out of the boat and glanced at his watch. Ten minutes to five. Then, leaving the little craft moored to the bank, he hurried off as fast as he could go, gained the high road, which was some hundred yards away from the river, and started in the direction of the village. Police Constable Hempstead, just on the point of turning into bed after having been on duty all night, looked out of the window in answer to Ware’s knock at the door. “What is it, Mr. Ware?” he asked. “Something pretty bad, I’m afraid.” Hempstead, wide awake now, slipped on his clothes again, came down and opened the door. Ware told him what had happened. “I must get the Inspector out from Whynmouth—and a doctor,” said the constable, “I’ll phone to the station there.” He came out again in two or three minutes. “All right,” he said. “They’ll run over in a car at once. Now you come along with me and show me that boat and what’s in it. You haven’t been messing about with anything—moving the body and so on, I hope?” “I shouldn’t be such a fool,” replied Ware. “That’s all right. You haven’t seen anyone else?” “No one.” The policeman went on asking questions from time to time as they hurried along. He was a smart man, this young constable, eager for his stripes, and wanted to make the most of the opportunity. As soon as they reached the river bank he took a glance at the boat and its contents, and exclaimed: “Hullo! Don’t you know who that is, Mr. Ware?” “Never saw him before that I know of. Who is he?” “Why, it’s Admiral Penistone. He lives at Rundel Croft—that big house the other side of the river just opposite the Vicarage. Leastways, he’s been in residence there about a month. He only bought it last June. A new-comer.” “Oh! Admiral Penistone, is he?” said Neddy Ware. “That’s the man, right enough. But, look here: are you sure this is the Vicarage boat?” “Certain.” “Queer, eh? That seems to mean something happened this side of the river, for of course there’s no bridge till you get to Fernton—three miles lower down. Ah, and the parson’s hat, eh? Let’s see; what time did you first see the boat coming along?” “A little after half-past four, I should say.” Hempstead had his note-book out and was making pencilled jottings in it. Then he said: “Look here, Mr. Ware, I want you, if you will, to go back to the road and stop Inspector Rudge when he comes along in his car.” “Very well,” replied Ware; “nothing more I can do?” “Not yet, at any rate.” Hempstead was an astute man. He waited until Neddy Ware was out of the way before he began a little examination on his own account. He knew very well that his superior officer would take the case fully in hand, but he was anxious to see what he could, without disturbing anything, in the meantime. As he got into the boat, he noticed a folded newspaper, half sticking out of the dead man’s overcoat pocket. He took it out, gingerly, looked at it, and replaced it. “Ah,” he murmured, “the Evening Gazette, last night’s late London edition. He wouldn’t get that here. The nearest place where it’s sold is Whynmouth.” He would very much have liked to examine the contents of all the pockets of the dead man’s clothes, but felt he had better not. So he got out of the boat, sat down on the bank, and waited. After a bit the sound of a car running along the main road was heard, and in a minute or two, four men came across the meadow; Neddy Ware, a police inspector in uniform, and two men in plain clothes, one of them a doctor, the other a detective-sergeant. Inspector Rudge was a tall, thin man, with sallow, cleanshaven face. He came up to Hempstead. “You haven’t moved anything?” he asked curtly. “No, sir.” Rudge turned to the doctor. “I won’t do anything, Doctor Grice, till you have made your examination.” Doctor Grice got into the boat and proceeded to examine the body. It was only a few minutes before he said: “Stabbed to the heart, Inspector, with some narrow-bladed instrument—a thin knife or dagger. Death must have been instantaneous. There’ll have to be a post-mortem, of course.” “How long has he been dead?” “Some hours. He probably died before midnight.” “Nothing more?” “Not at present, Inspector.” “Very well. I’ll have a look now.” He turned the body over, shifting it slightly. “No sign of blood under him,” he said, “or anywhere else in the boat that I can see. Let’s have a look in his pockets—ah, it wasn’t robbery. Gold watch and chain—wallet full of notes—they were not after that. Evening paper here—last night’s date. That must be noted. Now—we’ve got to be as quick as possible. Tell me, Hempstead, what do you know about him?” “He’s Admiral Penistone, sir. Retired. A new-comer hereabouts. Bought Rundel Croft, a big house on the other side of the river, a few months ago. Took up residence there lately. I believe he has a niece living with him. But it’s not in my district, sir.” “I know.” The Inspector turned to Ware. “You say the boat belongs to the Vicar here?” “Yes.” “How long would it take for the tide to bring it up from his place?” “Forty to forty-five minutes,” replied Ware promptly, “with the tide as it is to-day.” “I see. Now, the question is how are we to move him? We might pull the boat back against the tide. Won’t do, though. Those oars must be tested for finger-prints before they are handled. Let’s see—Vicarage on the telephone, Hempstead?” “Yes, sir.” “All right. I’ll go there now. I want to see the Vicar. We’ll phone to Whynmouth for an ambulance. Have to run him to Rundel Croft round by Fernton Bridge. You remain here, Hempstead, and if anyone comes along don’t let ’em touch anything. I shall want you, Sergeant—we’ll have to put you across the river from the Vicarage if we can get a boat there; I want you to mount guard over the Admiral’s boat and boat-house. Perhaps you won’t mind coming too, Mr. Ware. You may be useful. There! We’ll get a move on. Come along, Doctor.” In a very short time the Inspector was driving the car down the short bit of road leading from the highway to the Vicarage. The front door of the latter faced the river, a lawn stretching down to the bank. Opposite, about a hundred yards from the bank, stood a large, red-brick, Tudor mansion, with a broad sweep of lawn in front and a boat-house. The Inspector, the Vicar’s hat in his hand, got out of the car and rang the bell; the others followed. It was a few minutes before the maid, who evidently had only just come down, opened the door and said her master was not up yet. “Will you kindly tell him that Inspector Rudge wants to see him at once. Say I’m sorry to disturb him, but it’s most important.” “I’ll tell him, sir. Won’t you come in?” “Thank you, no. I’ll wait here.” “Hullo, I say, are you a policeman?” He turned. Two boys had come across the lawn, aged, respectively, about sixteen and fourteen, dressed in flannel trousers and shirts open at the neck, and carrying bathing towels. They were regarding him eagerly. “Yes,” he said, “I am.” “Good egg!” exclaimed the elder, “just what we want, isn’t he, Alec? Look here; some blighter has taken our boat—cut the painter. Perhaps you’ve heard about it, though? Is that what you’ve come about?” The Inspector smiled grimly. “Yes—that’s what I’ve come about, young gentlemen,” he replied, dryly, “but you needn’t worry about your boat. It’s been found.” “Hooray!” exclaimed the other boy. “Got the beggar who took it?” “Not yet,” said Rudge, with another grim little smile, “that may not be so easy. Have you got another boat handy?” he asked. “Only our old punt—she’s in the boat-house.” “Well, do you two young gentlemen think you could manage to put my detective-sergeant here across the water in her? He wants to pay a call at Rundel Croft.” “Rather!” Peter Mount looked with boyish admiration at the sergeant. “Is there going to be a man-hunt? Cheerio! We’ll help you. But you don’t suspect old Admiral Penistone of sneaking our boat, do you? He crossed back in his own last night. He’d been dining here, you know.” “Oh, had he!” said the Inspector. “No, we don’t suspect him. Now—will you do what I asked?” “Come on,” said Alec to Sergeant Appleton, “the tide’s running pretty strong, but we’ll put you across all right.” They went down to the boat-house with the sergeant. “Good morning, Inspector. Good morning, Doctor Grice—ah—it’s you, Ware, I see. What’s the meaning of this early morning deputation?” The Vicar had come out of the house; a man of about fifty, of medium height, sturdily built, with clear-cut features and hair a little grey. He asked the question of the Inspector, who replied: “I’ll explain directly, Mr. Mount. Is this your hat?” The Vicar took it and looked at it. “Yes; certainly it is.” “Then would you mind telling me if you remember when you had it last?” “That is quite simple. To be absolutely accurate, at twenty minutes past ten last evening.” “And where?” “You are very mysterious, Inspector. But I’ll tell you. My neighbour who lives opposite was dining with us last evening, with his niece. They left just about ten. I went down to the river to see them off, and put my hat on. After the Admiral had crossed the stream in his boat with his niece I sat down in that little summer-house and smoked a pipe. I took off my hat and laid it on the seat beside me—and, absent-mindedly, I forgot to put it on again when I returned to the house. It was then that I set my watch by the clock in the hall—twenty minutes past ten. But will you tell me why you ask me this—and what you have all come about?” “I will, sir. This hat was found in your boat early this morning. Your boat was drifting with the tide up-stream. And in her was the dead body of your opposite neighbour, Admiral Penistone—murdered, Mr. Mount.” CHAPTER II By G. D. H. and M. Cole BREAKING THE NEWS “MURDERED! Good God!” the Vicar said—and it was well known, the Inspector reflected, that the Vicar of Lingham had a ridiculously exaggerated respect for the Third Commandment. He had stepped back a pace at the shock of the news, and some of the colour was fading from his cheeks. “But—murdered. … How—what do you mean, Inspector?” “I mean,” said Rudge, “that Admiral Penistone was stabbed to the heart some time before midnight last night—and his body placed in your boat.” “But what—why … ? How could he have been?” “And your hat,” the Inspector remorselessly amplified, “was lying in the boat beside him. So you see,” he added, “that the first thing I had to do was to make enquiries at your house.” The Vicar turned on his heel abruptly. “Come into my study,” he said. “We can talk better there—I don’t suppose you want my sons, at present?” The Inspector shook his head, and followed him into a quiet, brown room with wide sash windows, the very model of what a clerical study, owned by a none too tidy cleric, should be. As he led the way in, the Vicar stumbled over something, and with a little gasp caught hold of the table for support. “You—you must excuse me,” he muttered, as he motioned the Inspector to a chair and sank into one himself. “This is—a very great shock. Now, will you tell me what I can do for you?” Rudge scanned him a minute before replying. Undoubtedly he had received a very great shock. He was pale; his hands were none too steady; and his breath was coming and going quickly. Whether the cause was merely the sudden impact of violent death on a sheltered clerical life, or whether there was some graver reason, the Inspector did not know enough to decide. At any rate, there was no sense in causing further alarm at the moment. So when he spoke it was in a gentle reassuring tone. “What I want to find out immediately, Mr. Mount, is exactly what happened last night, as far as you know it. Admiral Penistone, you say, came over to dine with his niece—what is the lady’s name, by the way?” “Fitzgerald—Miss Elma Fitzgerald. She is his sister’s daughter, I understand.” “About what age?” “Oh—I should say a year or two over thirty.” “Thank you. They arrived—when?” “Just before seven-thirty. In their boat.” “And left?” “Slightly after ten. I can’t fix it to the minute, I’m afraid; but they were just taking their leave when the church clock struck, and Admiral Penistone said, ‘Hurry up, I want to get back before midnight’—or something of that sort; and within a very few minutes they were gone.” “And you saw them off?” “Yes. I went down to the landing-stage with them, and Peter—that’s my eldest son—helped them to start. It’s sometimes a little awkward getting off, if the current is running strongly.” “Did you actually see them land?” “Yes. It wasn’t dark. I watched them take the boat into the Admiral’s boat-house, and then, a little later, I saw them come out of the boat-house, and go up to the house.” “I should have thought those trees at the back of the boat-house would have screened them from you,” said the Inspector, who had made good use of his eyes. “Or do you mean they were crossing the lawn?” The Vicar looked at him with respect. “No, they were in the trees,” he said. “But Miss Fitzgerald had on a white dress, and I saw it showing through them.” “But Admiral Penistone hadn’t a white dress?” “No. … I suppose,” the Vicar reflected, “that now you mention it I couldn’t say I saw the Admiral leave the boat-house—but seeing his niece I naturally concluded he was with her.” “Very naturally,” Rudge concurred soothingly. “And you yourself stayed out smoking until—?” “Twenty past ten.” “And then?” “I locked the house up and went to bed.” “And you heard nothing more of your neighbour?” “Nothing,” said the Vicar. “Nothing at all,” he repeated more loudly. “What about your sons? Or your servants? Would they have heard anything?” “I don’t think so. They had all gone to bed when I came in.” “Thank you. Now, Mr. Mount, can you tell me this? Did Admiral Penistone seem in his usual spirits during the evening?” The question appeared to distress the Vicar. “I—I don’t think I can really answer that,” he said. “You see, I haven’t known the Admiral at all long. He has only recently come to the neighbourhood. … I really hardly know him.” “But still,” Rudge persisted, “you might have noticed if he seemed distressed, or worried in any way. Did he?” And, seeing the Vicar still hesitated, he pressed his point. “If you did notice anything, Mr. Mount, I really think you should tell me. It’s of the highest importance that we should find out everything we can about the poor gentleman’s state of mind at the time—and I assure you I know how to be discreet.” “Well,” said the Vicar, fidgeting a little. “Well … it’s nothing, probably. But I should say—yes—that the Admiral was perhaps a little worried. He was not as—as amiable as usual. And he was generally a very pleasant man—not at all snappish.” “He was snappish with Miss Fitzgerald, perhaps?” the Inspector suggested quickly; and the Vicar blinked. “Oh, no … hardly … I shouldn’t say that at all.” “But he acted as though there was something on his mind. … I suppose you’ve no idea what it was?” “I think—I don’t know—it may have been his niece’s marriage. He said something about it. Nothing much.” “Oh, she’s getting married, is she? Who to?” “Somebody called Holland, Arthur Holland. From London, I think. I don’t know him.” “And Admiral Penistone didn’t approve?” “I don’t mean that. I mean, I don’t know. He didn’t say. Only he seemed as though something might have gone a little wrong. Perhaps it was to do with her settlements; she has a good deal of money, as I understand, and the Admiral is—was her trustee. But I really don’t know anything about it.” “I see. Had you, yourself, known Admiral Penistone long?” “Only since he came here, about a month ago. I called on him, you know; and we got acquainted.” “And you saw each other fairly often?” “Oh, two or three times in the week, perhaps. Not more.” “Ever hear him speak of any enemies—anyone who’d have a reason for killing him?” “Oh, no, no!” The Vicar looked shocked, but hastened to add, “Of course, I really know nothing of his life before he came here.” “Had he many friends? In the neighbourhood? Or outside? Where did he live before?” “Somewhere in the West, I believe. I don’t remember his ever telling me the district. I don’t think he knew many people about here well. Sir Wilfrid Denny, over at West End, saw most of him, I fancy. I believe he had old friends down to meet him, sometimes.” “Ever meet any of them yourself?” “Oh, no,” said the Vicar. “I see. Well, I think I’d better be getting over to his place now,” the Inspector said. “I’m very much obliged to you, Mr. Mount. I’ll want to have a word with your sons and your servants some time, just in case any of them noticed anything that might help us. But that can wait. By the way,” he turned at the door to add, “can you tell me what sort of a young lady Miss Fitzgerald is? Liable to—to be very upset, I mean?” The Vicar smiled a little, almost in spite of himself. “I shouldn’t think so,” he said. “I don’t think Miss Fitzgerald is at all the fainting type.” “Very devoted to her uncle, eh?” “I couldn’t say, particularly. About as much as most nieces are to their uncles, I imagine. Perhaps she is rather a reserved young woman—has interests of her own. But this is just gossip—you can see for yourself what you think, Inspector.” “That’s true enough. Well, I’ll be going,” the Inspector said, and noted the expression of relief which overspread the Vicar’s face. “I know we aren’t popular visitors,” he thought to himself, “at the best of times. But need he show quite so plainly how glad he is to get rid of me? I wonder if there could be any other reason—if he knows anything more than he’s said. But—the Vicar of Lingham, and a most respectable Vicar, from all I’ve ever heard of him! I must say it doesn’t sound likely.” And, so thinking, he made his way back to the car, and drove rapidly the three miles or so which he had to cover to reach the house a hundred yards away. It was close on eight o’clock by the time he reached his destination; but Rundel Croft obviously did not keep early hours. One or two of the windows facing him still had their blinds down; and the hall, when he was admitted to it, was obviously undergoing its matutinal clean-up. A rather down-at-heels butler, of the type which seems to have become a butler because its wife is a good cook and itself has no special ability of any kind, opened the door to him and blinked uneasily in his face. Rudge asked for Miss Fitzgerald, and was told that she was not yet about. Apparently she always breakfasted in bed. Rudge then asked for Admiral Penistone. “He’s in his room, still,” the butler said, looking faintly hostile, as though he did not approve of early morning visitors. “No, he isn’t,” Rudge said sharply. “He’s had an accident.” The butler goggled at him. “Look here—what’s your name?” “Emery.” “Look here, Emery, I’m Inspector Rudge from Whynmouth, and I must see Miss Fitzgerald at once. Admiral Penistone has met with a very serious accident—in fact, he’s dead. Will you find Miss Fitzgerald’s maid, if she has one, and tell her that I want to speak to Miss Fitzgerald as soon as she can possibly come down. And come back here when you’ve done it. I want a word with you.” With no more than an inarticulate noise the butler shuffled off, and it was ten minutes or so before he returned, with the news that Miss Fitzgerald would be down in a quarter of an hour. The Inspector took him aside into a square, rather beautiful morning-room, and began questioning him about his master’s movements of the night before. But he got very little help from his interview. It seemed to him that the man must be either phenomenally stupid or else dazed with shock at his master’s death; and yet the latter did not seem to be the case. Beyond a muttering or two of “Dear, dear!” and the like, he hardly appeared to have taken in the news; and the Inspector felt some surprise that a retired naval officer should keep so incompetent-looking a servant. Yet the house appeared well cleaned, if it did rouse itself somewhat late in the day. Admiral Penistone, the Inspector learned, had last been seen by his staff at about a quarter past seven on the previous evening, when he and his niece had gone down to the boat-house to row themselves over to the Vicarage. (He never allowed anyone to disturb him in the morning until he rang, which accounted for his absence being unknown.) As he was going to the boat-house, he had told Emery that he need not wait up, but was to lock the front of the house and go to bed, leaving the french window of the drawing-room, which led to the lawn and the river, unbolted. “I was to lock it,” Emery said, “but Admiral Penistone always had his own key.” “Stop a moment. Was this window bolted when you came down this morning, or not?” “No,” Emery said; but added that that didn’t mean anything. Half the time the Admiral didn’t bolt it. It was locked, and nobody was likely to come burgling from the riverside. Then he hadn’t seen the Admiral again? No. Or Miss Fitzgerald? Yes, so to speak. He meant that, as he and his wife were going up to bed, a bit after ten, might have been quarter-past, they’d seen Miss Fitzgerald coming up the path from the boat-house. At least, they’d seen her dress; they couldn’t see her properly in the dark. The Admiral wasn’t with her then; but they supposed he was behind, locking up the boat-house. No, he didn’t know if the boat-house was locked now; he supposed it was, but it wasn’t his work to go down to the boat-house. No, he couldn’t say they’d actually seen Miss Fitzgerald come in; she might have, or she might have stopped on the lawn. He and his wife weren’t particularly noticing; they were going to bed. And that was all Emery had to say. Questioned about his late master’s mood of the previous evening, he seemed to have no idea, and simply stared with a moon-faced imbecility. He “supposed he was much as usual.” The Admiral was occasionally “short” with his servants (the Inspector reflected that it would take a saint not to be short with Emery at least a dozen times a day); but beyond that his butler had nothing to say. Masters, apparently, were phenomena that were occasionally short, like pastry; but one accepted the fact, and did not conjecture about the cause. At least, not if one were as limp and uninterested as Emery appeared. No, his wife and he had only been a month with the Admiral; they had applied for the post from an advertisement; they were last with a lady and gentleman in Hove, for a year and a half. At this point, somewhat to Rudge’s relief, a much more intelligent-looking maidservant appeared, and announced that Miss Fitzgerald was awaiting him in the dining-room. “She’s ugly!” was the Inspector’s immediate reaction on first beholding the niece of the late Admiral Penistone. And then: “No, I’m not so sure that she would be, in some lights. But she’d take a good bit of making-up, I shouldn’t wonder. And, jiminy! isn’t she sulky-looking!” Miss Elma Fitzgerald was very pale. But it was not the pallor of fear for a possible accident to her uncle, but that peculiar to a very thick, opaque skin. She was big and heavily-made, with long limbs and broad shoulders, and would have been better suited, obviously, by long trailing draperies than by the tweed skirt and jumper which she had rather carelessly put on. She had largish, strongly-marked, but roughly-designed features, with a wide jaw and full chin, and dark brows nearly meeting in her white face. Her hair was dark and coarse, done in flat plaits around her ears, and under her eyes, which were so little open that the Inspector could not at first glance determine their colour, were lines and dark pouches. She was, to him, distinctly unattractive; and “a year or two over thirty” was, he thought, a generous description. Yet she was certainly a woman of personality, and in a kinder light and with artificial aids to lighten her skin and hide the disfiguring lines, she might even have been attractive. “Yes?” she said in a voice that contrived to have a rasp and a drawl simultaneously. “What do you want?” At any rate, the Inspector thought, she was not going to waste his time. “I am sorry to have to tell you, Miss Fitzgerald,” said he, “that Admiral Penistone has met with a serious accident.” “Is he dead?” The tone was so matter-of-fact that the Inspector jumped slightly. “I am afraid he is. But did you—were you expecting—?” “Oh, no.” Still she had not raised her eyes. “But that’s the way the police always break things to one, don’t they? What happened?” “I’m sorry to say,” said the Inspector, “that the Admiral was murdered.” “Murdered?” At that the eyes did open wide for a moment. They were grey, very dark grey. They would have been fine eyes, Rudge noted, if the lashes had been longer. “But—why?” As that was exactly what the Inspector wanted to know himself, he was momentarily brought to a stop. “His body was found,” he said, “at half-past four this morning, drifting in a boat up-stream and stabbed to the heart.” Miss Fitzgerald merely bowed her head in acquiescence, and seemed waiting for him to continue. “Damn her!” the Inspector thought. “Hasn’t she got any natural feelings? You’d think I’d told her there was a cat on the lawn!” Aloud he said: “I’m afraid this must come as a good deal of a shock to you, madam.” “You need not consider my feelings, Inspector,” said Elma Fitzgerald, with a glance which said, more plainly than words: “And it is a gross impertinence on your part to make any enquiries into them!” “I suppose you have some idea why—this happened? Or who did it?” “I am afraid I don’t see it very clearly yet,” the Inspector said. “I wondered—if you could …” “I can’t,” said Miss Fitzgerald with decision. “I haven’t any idea”—she spoke slowly—“why anyone—anyone at all—should want to kill my uncle. I suppose—” But the sentence stopped there. Whatever it was she supposed, the Inspector, wait as he might, was not to be privy to it. “What do you want me to tell you?” she continued at length. (“I wish you’d be quick and go about your business,” her voice conveyed.) “Just this, madam,” the Inspector said. “When did you last see Admiral Penistone?” “Last night. When we came back from dining at the Vicarage.” “What time would that be?” The Inspector believed in getting his information confirmed from as many sources as possible. “Oh … a little after ten, I think. It struck ten just before we left.” “And you rowed across, and came up to the house with the Admiral?” “No, he didn’t come up to the house when I did. He was locking the boat-house, and he said he thought he’d like a cigar before he went to bed. So I said good night to him, and came straight up to the house.” “Was there anyone about when you came in?” “No; but Emery and his wife had only just gone to bed, I think. I saw the lights going on and off as I came up. They must have been shutting up the house.” “And then—what did you do?” “I came straight up, and went to bed myself.” “You didn’t hear Admiral Penistone come in?” “No. But I wasn’t listening particularly. He often stays up quite late, walking about,” said Miss Fitzgerald. “I gather,” said the Inspector, “that Admiral Penistone, last night, appeared rather worried and distressed?” “I don’t think so. … No. Why should he have been?” “You hadn’t had a—a disagreement with him at all?” “You mean,” said Miss Fitzgerald with disconcerting penetration, “about my marriage. That—is—pure—gossip.” There was a considerable amount of contempt in her tone. “My uncle was not in the least opposed to my marriage. He was a little worried, I believe, about the best way of arranging the money side of it—but that was only a question which would settle itself, in time. That was all.” But there must be a little more to it, the Inspector swiftly reflected, or she wouldn’t have tumbled so quick to what I was talking about. “Then you can’t suggest at all what was worrying him?” “I don’t think for a moment there was anything,” said Miss Fitzgerald; and made a slight movement that at least suggested a gesture of dismissal. “I see. Well …” The Inspector would have liked to continue the interview, but did not see, at the moment, exactly what other information he could well demand. And it was perhaps hardly in the best of taste to sit there pestering a lady in her first grief—if she was grieved. There was a sudden twitch of a strong, rather large hand, that suggested more emotion than appeared on the surface, at any rate. “Just one more thing, Miss Fitzgerald, and then I need not trouble you further. Can you give me the name of Admiral Penistone’s lawyers?” “Dakers and Dakers. They live somewhere in Lincoln’s Inn, I think.” “Thank you. And if I could see Admiral Penistone’s papers now—and the servants—” “I think all his papers are in the study. Emery will show you.” Miss Fitzgerald leaned across and touched the bell. “Inspector,” she said, a little suddenly, “will you tell me—what happens? Will they be bringing him—here?” It was the first trace of real emotion her voice had shown, and Rudge hastened to assure her that the body would be taken to the mortuary, and that every effort would be made to spare her as much as possible. “Thank you,” she said, returning to indifference again; and at that moment Emery shuffled in. “Emery, take the Inspector to the Admiral’s study, and let him see anything he wants to. And you’d better none of you go out of the house. The Inspector may want to speak to you.” She leaned back in her chair, and made no movement, as Rudge, looking, he hoped, not as puzzled as he felt, followed Emery out of the room. The Admiral’s study was a large and pleasant room on the first floor, looking out upon the lawn and the river. It was in fairly good order, though it had obviously not been cleaned this morning, and there were a few papers, dating probably from the previous evening, lying untidily upon the desk. Rudge took in the appearance of the room with a practised eye, and reflected that it ought not to take long to make it yield up any secrets it possessed. Then he dismissed the hovering Emery. “And you’re not to let anybody into the house for the present, please, without asking me about it,” were his final instructions. Emery, with a muttered “Very good,” shuffled off again. The desk and a small filing cabinet which stood beside it were the only likely receptacles for papers in the room. The filing cabinet, when opened, disclosed nothing but newspaper cuttings neatly sorted. The desk was locked, but Rudge had prudently possessed himself of the dead man’s keys, and he very soon had it open. The first thing which he found was a pistol, perfectly clean and fully loaded, lying all by itself in a little drawer. He formed his mouth into the shape of a soundless whistle, and proceeded to unearth writing-paper and envelopes, a drawer full of pipes, another with a few letters of recent date, another with bank-books, stub-ends of cheque-books, income-tax forms and other financial paraphernalia, and a fifth which contained only a large legal envelope inscribed Elma Fitzgerald. In view of what the Vicar had said, the Inspector conjectured that the contents of this envelope might possibly have some bearing upon his case, and he settled himself down to study them as a preliminary. The first item was the “Last Will and Testament of John Martin Fitzgerald,” bulky and wordy beyond even the normal run of such documents; and the Inspector, whose mastery of legal jargon was not as thorough as he could have wished, found some trouble in disentangling its provisions. He had succeeded in making out that John Martin Fitzgerald was the Admiral’s brother-in-law, and that his will devised his property, whatever that might be, in equal proportions to his son Walter Everett Fitzgerald, “if he should be found to be alive at the date of my death,” and his daughter Elma Fitzgerald; and had noted that if the son turned out to be dead (“I suppose he must have disappeared or something. It’s a funny way to put it anyhow.”) Elma Fitzgerald would get all the property on her marriage—when his attention was arrested by what sounded like an altercation below-stairs. For a moment or two he listened, and judged that, in spite of his orders, some visitor must be trying to force an entrance into the house. And as he strongly mistrusted Emery’s power to oppose even a determined fly, he went down into the hall to see what it was all about, and found, as he had anticipated, a pink and perplexed butler feebly flapping at an enraged visitor who had already penetrated as far as the foot of the stairs. “—the Inspector said—” he was bleating. “To hell with the Inspector!” the intruder retorted; and, glancing up, found himself looking straight into the eyes of the said Inspector—a contingency which disconcerted him not at all. Nor need it have done so. Whoever he was, the intruder was easily capable of dealing with a dozen inspectors. He must have been six foot three at the very least, with the build and gait of an athlete, and an athlete, moreover, who specialised in events requiring exceptional strength. Above a pair of magnificently broad shoulders was set a handsome head with sunburned face and neck, a square chin, and short aquiline nose, brown hair cropped so close that it could hardly indulge its natural curls, and big, fiery, hazel eyes, which glared up at Rudge with all the righteous indignation of a supporter of Law and Justice resenting the interference of Law with his own avocations. “I told Mr. Holland,” Emery bleated, “that you’d said nobody was to be let in without orders.” “And I told him,” Mr. Holland remarked, “that I was coming in.” “You’re Mr. Holland?” the Inspector said. “Mr. Arthur Holland?” Holland nodded. “And you want to see—?” “I’ve come to see Miss Fitzgerald,” Arthur Holland said. “And let me tell you I’m in a hurry, whoever you are. Here, Emery, go and tell Miss Fitzgerald I’m here, and be quick about it, will you?” “Half a moment, sir,” the Inspector said, while a maidservant came out of one of the rooms opening into the hall, and began to whisper to the butler. “If you’ll excuse me, I want a word or two with you myself, first. Did this man tell you that Admiral Penistone has—?” “Been killed? Yes,” the young man said. “Is that any reason why I shouldn’t see Miss Fitzgerald? She’ll need someone—” “Beg pardon, sir.” Emery approached deferentially. “But Miss Fitzgerald’s away.” “Away!” The exclamation burst from both men simultaneously. “Yes, sir. She’s just had her bag packed, and driven off in her car, Merton says.” He indicated the maidservant in the hall. “Not ten minutes ago, sir.” “Whew!” With an internal whistle the Inspector brooded on this new development. CHAPTER III By Henry Wade BRIGHT THOUGHTS ON TIDES STILL frowning with annoyance at the escape of this important witness, Inspector Rudge turned to his companion. “If you’ll kindly step into the study, sir,” he said, “there are some questions that I’d like to ask you.” “They’ll have to wait,” said Holland curtly, turning towards the front door. “I’m going to find Miss Fitzgerald.” “No, sir!” There was a ring of authority in the Inspector’s voice that brought even the masterful Holland up with a round turn. Rudge was not going to lose two witnesses before he had done with them. “I must ask you to attend to me first, sir, please. I shall not detain you longer than I can help.” “With a wry smile, Arthur Holland followed the Inspector into the study and, declining a chair, leant his back against the tall mantelpiece. “Well, what is it?” he asked. “Fire away.” Rudge took out his note-book and made a show of preparing to take down vital information. He had often found this effective with recalcitrant witnesses. “Your full name, sir, please?” “Arthur Holland.” “Age?” “Thirty-three.” “Address?” “Lord Marshall Hotel, Whynmouth.” Rudge looked up. “That’s not your permanent address, sir?” “I hope not.” “Then may I have it, sir, please?” “I haven’t got one.” The Inspector’s eyebrows lifted, and he opened his mouth as if to argue the point but, changing his mind, licked his pencil and wrote down, audibly: “No permanent address.” After a moment’s thought he continued: “Occupation?” “I’m a trader.” Rudge looked slightly puzzled. “Commercial traveller, sir?” “Good God, no! I trade in raw materials—rubber, jute, ivory—that sort of thing.” “In London, sir?” Holland writhed with impatience. “They don’t grow in London, man. I’m in England now, fixing up markets.” “Ah!” The Inspector felt as if he were getting nearer the bone. “Then will you tell me, sir, in what part of the world you get your raw material for the London market?” “I didn’t say the London market. I said I was in London to fix up markets—London’s only a centre, the markets may be in any part of the world.” The policeman’s irritatingly stupid questions were drawing more information out of Arthur Holland than he had intended to give. “Quite, sir; but you haven’t answered my question. In what part of the world do you yourself get the material for which you are trying to find a market?” “Oh, wherever I think the going’s good at the moment,” replied Holland airily. “Burma, Kenya, S.A., India—I move about.” Holland hesitated. “It won’t be very difficult for me to find out, sir,” said Rudge quietly. “Better for you to tell me.” The reply came slowly—almost unwillingly: “China.” “I see, sir. And no particular or permanent address in China?” “No.” Inspector Rudge whisked over a page and started afresh. “Now about last night, sir. Were you at the Lord Marshall last night?” “Yes, I was.” “You arrived at … ?” “I got to Whynmouth just before nine.” “Ah; by the express?” “Yes.” “From London?” “Yes.” “And you spent the evening … where?” “In Whynmouth.” “You didn’t come out here to see your young lady?” “I knew she was dining out. I stayed in Whynmouth.” “Very patient of you, sir. You remained in the hotel?” “I had a stroll by the sea after dinner. I went to bed early.” “Perhaps there would be someone who would be able to confirm what you say about your movements, sir?” The Inspector’s voice was casual—too casual. Holland’s eyes narrowed. “Are you suspecting me of killing the Admiral?” he asked harshly. “Oh, dear, no; oh, dear, no. Why, I didn’t even know of your existence till an hour or so ago. Funny, isn’t it? No; that’s just routine. We like to know—and if possible to confirm—the whereabouts of everyone in any way connected with the deceased at the time of the crime. I just thought it possible you might know of someone who could confirm your statement.” “How can anyone prove whether I was in bed or not? I happen to make a practice of sleeping alone. Funny, isn’t it?” quoted Holland with a sneer. “Ah, then you know the crime was committed after you went to bed?” Holland stared. “How the devil should I? I’ve only just heard of it.” “Quite, sir; quite. Like me only just hearing of you. Now about Miss Fitzgerald. Have you any idea where she’s gone?” “Not the slightest.” “But when you were dashing off to find her just now, you must have had some idea of where to look.” “She might have gone to London.” “And you might be able to find her in London?” “I might.” “Then perhaps it would be as well if you did, and asked her to return here without delay.” Holland nodded. “I’ll tell her, but she’s likely to please herself about that.” “It’ll be wise if she pleases herself by coming back, sir. You’ll keep in touch with us, in any case, won’t you, sir?” Holland halted, with his hand on the door. “Does that mean that I’m to be under observation or whatever you call it?” “I shan’t put a man on to watch you, sir, but I’d like you to keep in touch.” With a grunt Miss Fitzgerald’s “young man” swung open the door and strode out of the room. There was a smile on Inspector Rudge’s face as he pressed the bell. “I’d like to see Miss Fitzgerald’s maid—Merton, I think you said her name was—please, Emery.” A minute later Merton was sitting on the edge of a chair, nervously eyeing the formidable Police Inspector. She was a fresh-looking English girl of about twenty-six, attractive without being actually pretty, and evidently intelligent. Inspector Rudge decided at once to put her at her ease—one of his favourite alternatives of examination. “‘Merton’ they call you?” he said with a friendly smile. “Sounds a bit formal to me. I expect you’ve got another name, eh?” “Jennie’s my Christian name, sir.” “Ah, that’s better. Well, Jennie, this is a sad affair and I don’t want to upset you more than I can help, but I must just ask you a few questions about your employers. You see, I don’t know anything of them; not been here long, have they?” “No, sir; only about a month.” “Were you with them before they came here?” “Oh, no; I come from Whynmouth myself. I’ve only been here three weeks.” “Ah, so Miss Fitzgerald didn’t bring a maid with her when she came?” “Oh, yes, she did—a French one—Mademoiselle Blanc she called herself, but Miss Fitzgerald called her Célie. She didn’t stay long—told the other girls the place was like a mortuary—‘dead-house’ she called it—I don’t know whether she meant Rundel Croft or Whynmouth, but I suppose she thought it was dull. Anyway she packed up and went off without waiting for her month, nor yet her wages, so the girls say. Miss Fitzgerald had to go to Marlow’s Agency for another maid in a hurry and as they hadn’t got one but they knew I’d been in a maid’s situation but I’m living with mother now—she’s not well—they asked me, and I consented to oblige.” The last sentence, though rather involved, had the merit of explaining the situation. Inspector Rudge nodded. “I see; so you don’t really know Miss Fitzgerald very well.” “Not so very, but I’m not blind.” “I’m sure not. What did you see?” “Just that they didn’t look much like an uncle and niece to me.” “Oh, they didn’t? Why not?” “The way she spoke to him—sharp and sarcastic—more like a wife, I should say. Not that I mean there was anything wrong.” “But he was old enough to be her uncle—or her father, wasn’t he?” “Oh, yes—if you think that matters.” “Did they seem fond of each other?” “Not so as you’d notice it.” “Rather the reverse in fact?” “Well, of course, I really couldn’t say. It’s not my place to be with them—only with her.” Jennie evidently felt that she had said too much already. “Well, about her then. You knew that she was engaged to this Mr. Holland, of course?” “So she told me.” “Did she seem to be in love with him?” “I’m sure I couldn’t say.” “You didn’t see them together much?” “Not so much. But I never saw them kissing or holding hands.” “Ah!” Here evidently was significance—a criterion. “Now tell me, Jennie, did Miss Fitzgerald care about her appearance?” Jennie stared. “Funny your asking that, sir. It always puzzled me. Sometimes she didn’t and sometimes she did. She’d be downright plain some days—like she was this morning—and then she’d take and do herself up till she looked real handsome.” “And when did she do that? When her young man was coming?” “I never could make out when she did or why she did—but it wasn’t for him. Last night she was lovely—took over an hour to dress, when she usually flung her things off and on in five minutes. That white dress she wore was her favourite—it was chiffon with an overcoat of cream lace; she always wore a coloured flower—artificial—with it.” “Ah! I’d like to have a look at that dress sometime,” said Rudge. “I’ve heard it mentioned more than once.” “Well now, that’s another funny thing,” said Jennie, who was now fully at her ease—as Rudge had intended. “She’s taken it with her! She only told me to pack sleeping things and a change of underclothes and stockings, but she must have packed that herself after I’d done.” “But didn’t you take it away—to brush, or whatever you do to it—when you called her this morning?” asked the Inspector, fumbling with half-guessed mysteries. “Well now, there you are again! I didn’t call her before you came—she likes to sleep late. But when I went to tell her you were here I went to pick up her dress and shoes and things to take away, but she snapped at me fierce and told me to go away, she wanted to get up. Of course, I went, but when she’d come down to see you, I went back to get them—and they were gone!” “Gone! All the clothes she wore last night?” “The dress and shoes and stockings were.” “Didn’t you look for them?” “Of course I did. They weren’t anywhere.” “So that’s why you think she took them with her?” “Well, she must have. Where else could they be?” Inspector Rudge looked thoughtfully at the girl, then nodded his head and drew out the notebook which had not previously appeared at this interview. “I see, Jennie; thank you. I won’t keep you longer now. Don’t tell anyone else about that dress and things, but have a good hunt and, if you find them, let me know.” When the girl had gone, Inspector Rudge sat back in his chair and pondered what he had just heard. The maid’s judgment as to the relations existing between Elma Fitzgerald and her uncle, and again between her and her fiancé, might be at fault; the question of Miss Fitzgerald’s spasmodic attention to her appearance was at present beyond him; but surely the disappearance of the dress and shoes which she had been wearing at the time of the tragedy—or at any rate on the evening of the tragedy—was significant? Could she be in some way connected with her uncle’s death? She had appeared neither surprised nor distressed when she heard of it, but if she had been guilty—or even cognisant of it—would she not have feigned both? However, it was too early yet to indulge in surmise—let alone theories; there were many facts to be collected first. To begin with, the newspaper. How had it come into the dead man’s pocket? Rudge happened to know that the late London edition of the Evening Gazette did not reach Whynmouth till 8.50—the express by which, incidentally, Arthur Holland had arrived. No doubt a copy would be delivered at Rundel Croft, but that could not be till about 9 p.m. and the Admiral had left the house at 7.15 for his dinner at the Vicarage. Unless he had got a copy from the Vicarage, that seemed to imply that Penistone had returned to Rundel Croft after leaving the Vicarage at 10 p.m.—but then why was the paper in his overcoat pocket? Had he gone back to fetch it in order to read it out of doors—surely that was inconceivable? Or had he, on his way back to Rundel Croft, met someone who gave him the paper—not the delivery boy, it was too late for that. Someone, perhaps, who had brought the paper out with him—had brought it, perhaps, from London—Arthur Holland, for instance? Holland, who had spent the evening by the seashore and then gone early to bed—by himself. But here again was surmise—facts were what he wanted. Rudge rang the bell. “Emery, did your master take in the late London Evening Gazette?” “Yes, sir. Tolwhistle’s boy brings it out of an evening—gets here about nine.” “Did it get here last night?” “Yes, sir,” said Emery, a faint look of surprise on his stodgy face. “Where did you put it?” “In the hall, sir.” “Is it still there?” “I couldn’t say.” “Go and have a look, and if it’s not there, find out whether it’s been tidied away.” Looking more surprised than ever, Emery slouched out of the door. Rudge thought it would probably be ten minutes at least before the tortoise-like butler returned, so he reached for the telephone which stood upon the writing-table and put a call through to Tolwhistle’s, the Whynmouth stationer. The number was engaged, and while he waited Rudge let his mind drift back to the missing dress. He remembered that when he sent Emery off to ask Miss Fitzgerald to come and see him it was ten minutes before the butler returned and then it was with the information that Miss Fitzgerald would be down in a quarter of an hour. There was, in fact, an interval of twenty-five minutes between his despatching his message and the arrival of Miss Fitzgerald. Did her appearance—slovenly in the extreme—justify or explain such a long delay? Was it possible that the mysterious “niece” had spent part of the time in hiding the clothes she had … ? The telephone bell trilled. “Tolwhistle’s? I want to speak to Mr. Tolwhistle, please. That you, Mr. Tolwhistle? Inspector Rudge here. I want some information; quite confidential. Sounds trivial, but isn’t. Do you supply the Reverend Mount, Vicar of Lingham, with newspapers? You do. Does he have a late London Evening Gazette? Left it off at the end of last year? Said what? Oh, spoilt the morning’s—yes, I see. Any chance of anyone else supplying him? No, you’d have heard of it, of course. Thank you, Mr. Tolwhistle. Keep my questions to yourself. I’ll explain them some day.” That settled the question of whether the Admiral had got the paper from the Vicarage; there remained the two alternatives of his having come back to the house, fetched his own paper, and gone out again, or having met someone outside who had for some reason given him the paper. Impatient at the long absence of Emery, Rudge went to look for him. There was no sign of the butler, but Police Constable Hempstead was standing in the hall. “I came to report that the body has been taken to the undertaker’s, sir. I formally handed it over and obtained a receipt.” The Inspector blinked. Here was efficiency carried to full stretch. “Right,” he said. “This house isn’t in your district, I think you said?” “No, sir, but the corpse was found in it.” “And you think it your duty to see that its presence is accounted for?” “That’s for you to say, sir.” Rudge grinned. He knew that this keen-eyed young constable was itching to be “in” the investigation. “All right,” he said. “Here’s a job for you; go down to the boat-house and find out from Sergeant Appleton whether he’s found anything significant. No. I’ll come with you. If there’s anything, I shall want to see it for myself and we mustn’t keep our detective-sergeant there all day.” And so, forgetting all about the newspaper, Inspector Rudge accompanied P.C. Hempstead across the park to the boat-house. As he went, he asked his subordinate whether anything particular had struck him about the case. “One or two things, sir. In the first place, the body’s clothes were almost dry—the back quite dry. But there was a heavy dew last night. If he had been lying about in grass, or even in the boat, since midnight (Doctor Grice fixed the time of death, you remember, sir, as before midnight) wouldn’t the clothes have been wet?” Inspector Rudge eyed his companion with interest. “From which you infer … ?” he asked. “That the Admiral was killed indoors and kept indoors—or at any rate under cover—for some time after he was killed.” The Inspector was silent for so long that Hempstead began to fear that he had exceeded his duty. Just as they reached the boat-house, however, Rudge said: “That’s a neat point; we’ll talk about it later. Ah, Appleton, sorry to keep you waiting. Found anything?” Detective-Sergeant Appleton was a square, solemn-looking man, valuable as a detective rather for his persistence in following up small clues than for any brilliance in deducing theories from them. “Only two suggestive points, sir. This boat’s very clean and rather wet inside—looks as if it might have been swabbed out recently. That’s one; the other is that its bow’s facing inwards. The Vicar’s sons tell me that the Admiral always used to go in stern first, so as to be facing the right way when the boat went out again.” “Ah, Navy trick, eh? That’s worth noting. Nothing else? No blood, signs of struggle, footmarks, finger-prints?” “No to the first two, sir. There are one or two good footmarks I’ve covered over with boards and there look to be plenty of finger-prints all over the boat and sculls.” “We’ll have to examine them later. Any theories, Appleton?” “None, sir.” Inspector Rudge sat down on the bank and motioned to his subordinates to join him. “Light up,” he said, pulling a pipe out of his pocket. “Think better smoking, and we must think now. The Vicar’s hat, in the first place; why was it in the boat?” “Put there by the guilty party to throw suspicion on the Vicar,” hazarded Sergeant Appleton. “Improve on that, Hempstead?” “The other alternative is that the Vicar left it there himself, sir, and forgot he had.” “He stated positively that he had his hat on when he saw the Admiral off after dinner last night and that he left it on the seat in the summer-house.” “But supposing he went out in the boat after that, sir?” “Ah, you mean … well, never mind what you mean. Now, why was the painter cut?” “Someone was in a hurry,” said Appleton. “Someone wanted to suggest that the boat was stolen,” murmured Hempstead. “And the rowlocks were unshipped,” the Inspector added his quota of surmise, “either because the body was dumped into the Vicar’s boat from another and the boat then cut adrift, or … to suggest that explanation, eh, Hempstead?” “Possibly, sir.” “Now, can anyone explain why the body was found where it was and when it was?” asked the Inspector, adding to himself, “and if it was.” Sergeant Appleton brightened. “Yes, sir,” he said. “I thought that out while I was waiting. If the murder was committed at midnight, as Doctor Grice says, and the boat cut adrift then, it would have gone right out to sea, because the tide was at full ebb then. My theory is that the murder was committed several miles up-stream and that before the boat reached Whynmouth the tide turned and it floated back to where it was found.” “What time did the tide turn?” “According to Mr. Ware, sir,” said Hempstead, “it turned about 3.45 a.m.” “Well, let’s work this out. He told us, you remember, Hempstead, that it would have taken forty to forty-five minutes for the boat to get from the Vicarage to the spot where he was when it reached him; what time was that?” “Just after 4.30 a.m., sir.” “That means it left—or passed—the Vicarage at about 3.50 a.m.—only five minutes after the tide turned?” “That’s right, sir.” “Then that means that if it was set adrift from here or from the Vicarage it must have been only just before 3.45 a.m.—otherwise it couldn’t have got back to where Ware found it by the time it did. But it’s nearly light by 3.45—they wouldn’t have left it as late as that. It looks as if Appleton’s theory was the right one.” Sergeant Appleton beamed, but P.C. Hempstead looked mulish. Rudge noticed the look. “Out with it, Hempstead,” he said. “You’ve got a theory, I can see.” “Well, sir, if I might make the suggestion, you’ve overlooked slack tide. For an hour or so before the turn the tide’s so slack that it’s barely running. It’s possible that a boat might fetch up against the bank for quite a time. My theory, as you know, sir, is that the body wasn’t in the boat long enough for the dew to make the clothes wet. I think it was set adrift from here about 2.30 or 3 a.m. If the person who did it was a stranger to the place he might not think of the river being tidal—he’d expect the boat to float straight out to sea. But what happened was that it floated a few hundred yards, and then, as the tide slackened, drifted into the bank; at 3.45, when the tide turned, it drifted off again and so floated up on the flow till it reached the spot where Neddy Ware found it at half past four.” CHAPTER IV By Agatha Christie MAINLY CONVERSATION “THAT’S a pretty good theory too,” said Rudge. He always believed in being diplomatic with his inferiors. In this instance, nothing in his face showed which of the two theories struck him as being the right one. He nodded his head once or twice and then rose to his feet. He looked behind him at the trees near the boat-house. “There’s one thing that strikes me,” he said. “I wonder if there’s anything in it?” Appleton and Hempstead looked at him enquiringly. “In my conversation with the Vicar, he mentioned that he had seen Miss Fitzgerald’s white dress through the trees.” “As she was going up to the house, sir—yes, I remember his saying that. Anything fishy about that, do you think, sir?” “No, I imagine it’s perfectly possible. Miss Fitzgerald was wearing a white chiffon dress with a cream lace coat. If the Vicar saw the dress, then clearly she was not wearing any coat or cloak over it. After all, why should she? It was quite a warm night.” “Yes, sir.” Appleton looked puzzled. “On the other hand, the Admiral, when he was found, was wearing a thick brown overcoat. Anything strike you as odd about that?” “Well—yes, I suppose it is a little queer—that the lady shouldn’t have had anything warmer in the way of a wrap than a lace coat, and that the Admiral—yes, sir, I take your meaning.” “I’m going to ask you, Sergeant, to take a boat across to the Vicarage and ask there if the Admiral was wearing a coat last night.” “Right, sir.” When the sergeant had departed, the Inspector turned to Hempstead. “Now,” he said with a twinkle; “I’m going to ask you a question.” “Yes, sir?” “Who is the biggest talker in Whynmouth?” P.C. Hempstead grinned in spite of himself. “Mrs. Davis, sir, who keeps the Lord Marshall. Nobody else can get a word in edgeways when she’s about.” “One of that kind, is she?” “Yes, indeed, sir.” “Well, that will just suit me. The Admiral was a new-comer to the place. There’s always talk about a new-comer. For ninety-nine false rumours, there will be one true thing that somebody has noticed and observed. Attention has been focussed on Rundel Croft. I want to know just what has transpired in village gossip.” “Then it’s Mrs. Davis you want, sir.” “I want to go over to West End too, and see Sir Wilfrid Denny. He seems to be the only person in the neighbourhood who knows anything about the murdered man. He might possibly know whether the Admiral had any enemies.” “You think he was in hiding, sir?” “Not exactly in hiding. He came here openly, under his own name. It’s not an unusual thing for a retired naval man to do. But the loaded revolver in the desk tells a tale. That’s not so usual. I could do with knowing a little more about Admiral Penistone’s career. Ah! here comes the sergeant back again.” The sergeant, however, did not return alone. With him were the two boys from the Vicarage. Their eager, boyish faces were alight with curiosity. “I say, Inspector,” cried Peter, “can’t we help in any way? Haven’t you got a job for us of any kind? Fancy old Penistone, of all people, to get murdered!” “Why do you say ‘of all people,’ young gentleman?” enquired the Inspector. “Oh! I don’t know.” The boy flushed. “He was so very—well, correct and nautical. All present and shipshape! Sort of old fellow who’d look at you if you forgot to call him ‘sir’ even once.” “A martinet and a disciplinarian, eh?” “I suppose that’s what I mean. Years behind the times.” “I don’t think he was a bad old geezer,” said Alec tolerantly. The Inspector turned to Appleton. “What about the coat?” “The Admiral, sir, was not wearing a coat when he came to dinner last night.” “Rather not,” said Peter. “Just nip across the river and there you are. Why should he wear a coat? The Fitzgerald hadn’t got one either.” “Wasn’t she sweet?” minced Alec. “All in white like a blushing bride. And old as the hills really.” “Well,” said Rudge. “I must be getting along.” “Oh, but, Inspector, what about us?” Rudge smiled indulgently. “Suppose you two young gentlemen have a look for the weapon,” he suggested. “It wasn’t in the wound. Somewhere along the river bank maybe. …” He retreated, smiling to himself. “That’ll keep ’em busy,” he said to himself. “And do no harm either. They might even come across it—stranger things have happened.” As he got into his car and drove in the direction of Whynmouth, his brain worked busily. The evening paper was now accounted for. The Admiral must have returned to the house some time between ten o’clock and midnight, donned an overcoat and slipped the evening paper into his overcoat pocket. Then he had gone out again—where? Had he taken the boat? Had he gone either up-stream or down-stream to keep some appointment? Had he walked to some house near by? As yet, the whole thing was a mystery. On arrival at Whynmouth, Rudge pulled up opposite the Lord Marshall Hotel. The Lord Marshall prided itself on its old-world air. The hall was dark and narrow and an intending visitor was bewildered by finding no one to whom to apply. Usually, deceived by the general dimness, application was made to a guest who repulsed the new-comer frostily. On the walls were sporting prints of a humorous nature and several glass cases containing fish. Rudge knew his way about the Lord Marshall well enough. He crossed the passage and tapped at a door marked “Private.” The high-pitched voice of Mrs. Davis bid him enter. At sight of him the lady took a deep breath and began without wasting a minute: “Inspector Rudge, isn’t it? And it’s well I know you by sight, as indeed for the matter of that I know everybody in these parts. And not only by sight, too, for we’ve passed a remark now and again though I dare say you don’t remember. But there, as I always say, to be well known to the police isn’t what you might call a compliment and I’m just as well pleased that we haven’t, as you might say, really met before. And I can tell you this, Inspector Rudge, you couldn’t have done a wiser thing than come straight to me this morning! Seeing that you’re a new-comer in the place—only been here two years, haven’t you, or is it three?—I declare time does run away. That’s what I’m always saying. No sooner is one meal over than it’s time for another. And dinner I will have served to time. These newfangled people arriving in cars, eight o’clock, nine o’clock, even, and wanting dinner. Cold supper, I can manage, I says, but dinner is served at seven o’clock, and then everyone’s free to walk about and very pleasant it is around the harbour on a summer evening, and so the young people think—and even the older ones!” Feeling the need of refilling her lungs, Mrs. Davis paused for an infinitesimal moment. She was a jolly, good-humoured-looking woman of fifty, dressed in black silk. She wore a gold locket and several rings. Without allowing Rudge a chance to speak, she swept straight on: “You needn’t tell me what you’ve come about. It’s Admiral Penistone. Got the news half an hour ago, I did. And ‘Well,’ I said, ‘we’re here to-day and gone to-morrow.’ But not gone this way, most of us—or so I devoutly hope. Stabbed to the heart with a narrow instrument, that’s right, isn’t it? And depend upon it, that’s a stiletto, that’s what I said! One of those nasty, murdering Eyetalian stilettos. Wops they call them in New York—the Eyetalians, I mean, not the stilettos. And you mark my words, you’ll find out that whoever murdered the Admiral had been in Italy. Naturally it couldn’t have been an Eyetalian—he’d have been noticed. Used to sell ice cream, they did, in my young day. But now they have Walls and those others and much more wholesome stuff, I dare say. No—we don’t have many foreigners in Whynmouth—except of course Americans—and they’re not really what you’d call foreigners—just a kind of queer English, that’s how I look upon them! And the stories those boatmen tell them—why you’d think they’d be afraid of a judgment—and the poor innocents lapping it up—but there, I’m getting away from the subject. And a sad subject it is.” She shook her head, but with no overdone air of melancholy. “Not that you can say the Admiral was one of us yet. Why, he’d only passed through Whynmouth half a dozen times. Barely knew him by sight, we did. And his niece! A most peculiar young lady, if you ask me, Mr. Rudge! Very odd things I’ve heard about her. Her young gentleman’s actually stopping in the house now. Came down last evening by the 8.30. And if you ask me, I say ‘No.’” “Eh!” said Rudge, completely bewildered by this sudden dramatic stop interrupting the flow of speech. “I say ‘No,’” repeated Mrs. Davis, nodding her head very violently. “No to what?” asked the Inspector, still puzzled. “I say, if you ask me if he’s the murderer, I say ‘No!’” “Oh! I see, but I never suggested anything of the kind.” “Not in words, but it’s what it comes to. Cut the cackle and come to the horses, as Mr. Davis used to say. I’m never one for beating about the bush.” “What I was going to ask you was—” Mrs. Davis interrupted serenely. “I know, I know, Mr. Rudge. Whether Mr. Holland went out or not last night, I cannot tell you. Bit of a rush we had with the charabancs, and you can’t notice everything. What I mean to say is, you can’t be in two places at once. And what with the gas being poor and one thing and another, I’m putting in the electricity this year. Old-world is old-world, but some things people won’t stand. Hot water system last year and electricity this. But there, I’m wandering off the point again. I was just going to say—what was I going to say?” The Inspector assured her that he had no idea. “Admiral Penistone was a friend of Sir Wilfrid Denny, was he not?” he asked. “Now there’s a nice gentleman for you—Sir Wilfrid Denny. Always a cheery word and a joke. A shame he should be so hard up, poor gentleman. Oh! yes, he and the Admiral were acquainted. They do say that’s why the Admiral came down here to live. But I don’t know about that. There’s those who say that Sir Wilfrid was none too pleased when he heard his friend was coming down here to live. But there, people will say anything, won’t they? I’m never one to say a word myself. Too much harm done by gossiping. Keep a still tongue in your head and you can’t go far wrong. That’s my motto. And one thing I will say is a wicked shame. To take the Vicar’s boat to do their dirty work in. Trying to drag him into it, poor gentleman. As if he hadn’t had trouble enough in his life.” “Had a bit of trouble, has he?” “Well, it’s a long time ago now. Six and four the little boys were, and how she could do it! Depend upon it, a woman who leaves her husband and her children—well, there’s not much to be said for her—not when it’s a good Christian husband like the Vicar. (There’s some I could name as deserve to be left.) Leaving her little children, that’s what I can’t get over. And a pretty gentle lady too, by all accounts. I never saw her myself. It happened before Mr. Mount came here. And who it was she went off with, I’ve forgotten. But a very handsome gentleman, I’ve always heard. Those handsome ones have a way with them, there’s no denying it. Well, well, I wonder what’s become of her? Dear, dear, life’s a sad mix-up. And if I haven’t gone right away from the subject again! Talking about Mr. Holland we were—and he’s a handsome fellow if you like. And yet they say Miss Fitzgerald doesn’t seem to think so, for all they’re engaged to be married.” “So that’s what they say?” Mrs. Davis nodded very significantly. “And what the Admiral wanted to see Mr. Holland about, I’ve no idea,” she went on. “But it’s crossed my mind that maybe the young lady wanted the engagement off, and sent her uncle to do the dirty work for her. Though why it couldn’t have waited till the morning … I dare say that’s exactly what the Admiral thought, and why he changed his mind and said he had a train to catch.” Inspector Rudge made a valiant effort and interpreted this cryptic pronouncement. “Do you mean,” he said, “that Admiral Penistone called here last night?” “Why, of course he did. Asked the Boots for Mr. Holland. And then, just as the man was going off, called him back again, hemmed and hawed and looked at his watch, and said he had a train to catch, there wouldn’t be time for him to see Mr. Holland.” “What time was this?” “I couldn’t say exactly. It was after eleven o’clock. I was in bed, and glad to be there. Such a day as we’d had. Really, these charabancs—they do take it out of one! There were a lot of people about still. These warm nights you can’t get the people to bed.” “A train to catch,” mused the Inspector. “That would be the 11.25 I expect,” said Mrs. Davis. “The up train for London. Six in the morning it gets there. But he didn’t go by it. What I mean is, he couldn’t have gone by it, because if he had, he wouldn’t have been lying murdered in the Vicar’s boat.” And she looked at Inspector Rudge triumphantly. CHAPTER V By John Rhode INSPECTOR RUDGE BEGINS TO FORM A THEORY INSPECTOR RUDGE assumed an expression of profound admiration. “My word, Mrs. Davis, it takes a woman like you to put two and two together like that!” he exclaimed. “Of course the Admiral could not have caught the train, now I come to think of it!” Mrs. Davis chuckled good-humouredly. “There, now you’re laughing at me,” she said. “I don’t know how it is, but most of my visitors always seem to find a joke in something or other I say to them. Perhaps it’s just as well, it keeps them cheerful and contented, and what I always say is: make your visitors happy as long as you’re sure they have got enough money to pay their bills. Not that they often manage to hoodwink me—” “I’m sure they don’t,” interrupted the Inspector politely. “It would take a clever man to do that, I’m certain. By the way, how was it you knew all about the murder of Admiral Penistone before I got here?” “It isn’t always those that get about the most that hears the most,” replied Mrs. Davis roguishly. “Here am I, not been outside the house this blessed morning, and I warrant I know more about it than anybody else in Whynmouth, barring the police, of course, Inspector. You see, it’s this way: you came in by the hotel entrance, and you wouldn’t have noticed it. But if you go up the side street there’s another door that leads into the Shades. It’s put there, apart from the house, so that it won’t interfere with the hotel visitors. They get their drinks in the smoking-room, and pay more for them, too. It’s the outside customers that use the Shades, fishermen and the like of that, such as the gentlemen who use the smoking-room wouldn’t care to associate with. Not that there’s anything amiss with them, bar that they’re a bit free with their language sometimes. They’re polite enough to me when I go in there in the mornings at opening time to see that all’s right and comfortable.” “Ah, so you heard about the murder in the Shades this morning, did you, Mrs. Davis?” suggested the Inspector. “Why! that’s just what I was going to tell you about!” exclaimed Mrs. Davis, in a slightly hurt tone. “But you gentlemen in the police are all the same. You’re so short with your questions that a body can hardly get a word in edgeways. As I was going to say, I was in there this morning when Billy the barman was taking down the shutters, and as soon as he unlocked the door in walked a couple of chaps with ambulance badges on. I asked them if there had been an accident, and they told me how Mr. Ware of Lingham had found the Admiral’s body in the Vicar’s boat, which was floating about, with no one in sight.” At this moment, as though in answer to Inspector Rudge’s inward prayer, an agitated-looking cook appeared from the back regions and muttered something in Mrs. Davis’s ear. “Why, there now! if it hadn’t altogether slipped my memory,” she exclaimed. “I’ve been so interested hearing you talk, Inspector, that I’ve never ordered the joint for lunch. You’ll excuse me if I run off and see to it, won’t you, Mr. Rudge?” The Inspector waited till Mrs. Davis had disappeared, then, when he was satisfied that she was out of hearing, rang a bell marked “Porter.” In a few minutes a bald-headed individual hustled into the entrance hall, still struggling with the short jacket which he had hastily thrust on over his rolled-up shirt sleeves. From his appearance he seemed to have been interrupted in the act of stoking the central heating system. He looked at Inspector Rudge enquiringly. “Yessir,” he remarked. “I’m Inspector Rudge, and I came here to make certain enquiries. You knew Admiral Penistone, I believe?” The man scratched his head. “Well, sir, I can’t rightly say as I knew him,” he replied. “I’ve only seen him once in my life, and that was last night. Came in here, he did, and asked for Mr. Holland.” The Inspector nodded. “So I believe. Now, I’m particularly anxious to know how he was looking then. Did he seem worried, or anxious, or anything like that?” “I couldn’t very well say, sir. You see, it was gone eleven, and I was just going to shut up the house. Mrs. Davis is always telling me to be careful of the gas, and there was only one light burning. The Admiral came just inside the door, and stood where you might be standing now, sir. ‘Is Mr. Holland in?’ he asks, sharp like. And almost before I had time to say he was in bed, he said that it didn’t matter and that he couldn’t wait, as he had a train to catch. He wasn’t here no more than a few seconds, sir. He seemed in a hurry, but I couldn’t properly see his face. I wouldn’t have known who it was if he hadn’t told me.” Again the Inspector nodded. “You’d recognise him again if you saw him, I suppose?” he asked. “Well, sir, I might and I mightn’t. I never got a proper sight of him, as you might say.” “Oh, well, it doesn’t matter,” said the Inspector carelessly. “Was Mr. Holland in when Admiral Penistone called?” “I’m pretty sure he was, sir, leastways, his boots was outside his door. I saw them when I went up to bed soon after. And he didn’t come in later, I know that for a fact.” “How can you be sure of that?” “Why, sir, because I locked the door as I always do round about half-past eleven. If anybody wants to get in after that, they presses the bell, which rings in my room, and I comes down and lets them in. And the bell didn’t ring last night, sir.” “I see. And when is the door opened again?” “I unbolts it first thing, when I comes down in the morning, sir, round about six, that is.” “What do you do after you unlock the door?” “Why, sir, I lights the kitchen fire and puts on the kettle for a cup of tea.” “Did you happen to see Mr. Holland this morning?” “I was in the hall when he went out after breakfast, sir. About nine o’clock that would have been. And he hasn’t come back since, at least not that I know of.” The sound of Mrs. Davis’s voice, rapidly growing in intensity as she returned from the back regions, caused Rudge to beat a hasty retreat. He slipped out of the hotel, and began to walk towards the police station, reviewing the scraps of information which he had picked up at the Lord Marshall, and congratulating himself upon having had the idea of interviewing Mrs. Davis. Gossip though she might be, her freely-expressed opinions of people were based upon a certain native shrewdness. The Inspector felt that he had already gained a valuable side-light upon Sir Wilfrid Denny, and that even the revelation of that curious episode in the Vicar’s past might prove instructive. As to Holland, Mrs. Davis’s conviction that he was not the murderer was certainly well-grounded if he had spent the night in the hotel. But of course, the most interesting thing he had learnt was the alleged visit of Admiral Penistone shortly after eleven last night. Unfortunately it was impossible to decide whether the caller had been the Admiral or not. The porter’s identification of him was obviously worthless. He did not know the Admiral by sight, he could not even undertake to recognise the caller again. Where, in fact, had been the Admiral? He had last been seen shortly after ten, by the boat-house. That would have given him an hour to get to Whynmouth. Hardly time to have walked the distance, and yet he was hardly likely to have taken the car out. Had he done so, somebody would have been sure to have heard him. Could he have come down in his boat? Possibly, if the tide had been flowing the right way. Inspector Rudge frowned. He was no seaman, and he had begun to regard the vagaries of this infernal River Whyn as a personal affront to him. His idea of a self-respecting river was a placid stream which knew its own mind and flowed always in the same direction, like, say, the Thames at Maidenhead. But the Whyn was mad, subject, like a lunatic, to the influence of the moon, and changing the direction of its flow in obedience to some law which was past the Inspector’s comprehension. He decided that he would have to consult some expert on that point. For the present, he imagined that if the tide had been flowing down the river, there was no reason why the Admiral should not have called at the Lord Marshall at the time stated. But on the other hand, his behaviour there had been quite contrary to what the Inspector had gathered of his character. He seemed to have been of a peremptory and determined nature. Rudge could not have imagined him walking into the place, with the intention of seeing Holland, and then suddenly changing his mind on the score that he had barely time to catch his train. It would have been more like him to have stamped about the hall till Holland had been dragged from his bed. Unless—yes—that was a possibility. Suppose his visit to the hotel had been merely to assure himself that Holland had arrived? From the fact that the porter had offered to go and see if he was in, he would have known that he was staying in the house. Perhaps, having ascertained this, his object had been accomplished, and the excuse about the train had been trumped up on the spur of the moment, to account for his exit. He might not have wanted to see Holland just then. On the other hand, if the visitor had not been the Admiral, why had he given his name? To make it appear that the Admiral had been in Whynmouth at that particular time? This opened up a wide field for speculation, in which one central fact was apparent. The visitor must have known something of Admiral Penistone’s movements that evening. And therefore every effort must be made to trace him. And what about Holland himself? The Inspector was not at all satisfied on the subject of that impulsive gentleman. Mrs. Davis may have been right in her conjecture that Miss Fitzgerald was not eager to marry him, but he was by no means certain that she was equally right in her opinion that he was not the murderer. There was no means of verifying his statement that he had spent the night in the hotel. He could easily have slipped out during the confusion that appeared to have reigned before eleven, and returned just after six in the morning, when the door was unlocked and the porter was busy with the kitchen fire. Had he done so, and met the Admiral in Whynmouth or elsewhere? The more he considered the matter, the wider the field of speculation seemed to extend before Rudge’s vision. His original intention had been to drive out and see Sir Wilfrid Denny at West End, after he had finished with Mrs. Davis. But the possible light which that loquacious lady had thrown upon the Admiral’s movements decided him to defer the visit. He had formed the rudiments of a theory as to the time and place of the murder, but the possibility of this theory depended upon the tides in the River Whyn, and upon this subject he must seek expert advice. Why not have another chat with Neddy Ware? He knew the tides as no one else did, his hobby had rendered a study of them absolutely necessary to him. And besides, there was always the chance that he might have observed some detail which he had not recollected in the first excitement of his discovery. Inspector Rudge turned his car towards Lingham once more, and very soon reached Ware’s cottage. The old man was at home, smoking his pipe contemplatively after his midday meal. He greeted the Inspector hospitably, and the two sat down in a room decorated with models of ships and faded photographs of the vessels in which Ware had served. “You want to know about the tides in the river?” he replied, in answer to the Inspector’s explanation of the cause of his visit. “Why, they’re simple enough, so long as you remember that it’s high water, Full and Change, at Whynmouth at seven o’clock.” Rudge laughed. “I haven’t a doubt it’s simple enough to you,” he said. “Personally, I haven’t the foggiest idea what you’re talking about. What on earth do you mean by high water, Full and Change?” “Why, merely that it’s high water at Whynmouth at seven o’clock nearabouts, on the days when the moon is full or new,” replied Ware. “Now, take this morning’s tide, for instance. To-day’s Wednesday, the 10th. It was new moon on Monday, that’s to say it was high water at Whynmouth at seven on Monday evening. It would be about eight yesterday evening and half-past this morning. You can allow six hours between high and low water, making it low water at half-past two this morning. The tide up here begins to flow half to three-quarters of an hour after low water at Whynmouth, or say soon after three. And that’s when I went out fishing.” “After three!” exclaimed Rudge. “But I thought you said the church clock struck four not long before you saw the boat?” “The clock!” replied Ware, in a voice of supreme contempt. “You don’t expect the tide to fall in with the children’s games you play with the clock in summer, do you? You play a game of make-believe with the time, just because you haven’t the courage to face the prospects of getting up an hour earlier than usual. It may be all very well for landsmen, but it won’t do for sailors. To them, time’s time, and you can’t alter it.” “I see. Then, by summer-time the tide began to flow this morning up here, soon after four. From what you tell me, then, I gather that it began to ebb about ten last night?” “That’s right, ten or a little before,” agreed Ware. “As I say, the moon was new two days ago, which means that it was pretty well the top of the springs last night. I reckon the ebb must have run down the river nigh on three knots for the first couple of hours or so. After that it would have slacked off a bit, as it always does.” “So that a man leaving here between ten and eleven would have had no difficulty in getting to Whynmouth by boat?” suggested Inspector Rudge. “He’d have drifted there and likely enough gone straight out to sea,” replied Ware. “That is, if he didn’t use his oars. If he did, he could have got to Whynmouth in under the hour, easy.” The old sailor had glanced shrewdly at the Inspector as he spoke. Rudge saw what was in his mind, and smiled. “You can guess what I’m getting at,” he said. “I thought it possible that Admiral Penistone might have taken his boat down to Whynmouth last night. But if he did, the boat cannot have come back by itself. Somebody must have rowed it back and put it into the boat-house.” He paused, half expecting some comment from Ware, but the old man merely nodded, and continued puffing at his pipe in silence. Rudge tried a new tack. “Why was the painter of the Vicar’s boat cut, and not untied, Ware?” he asked abruptly. Ware smiled. “Because it couldn’t have been anything else, as the Vicar’s boys could tell you, if you asked them,” he replied. “It’s no business of mine, this murder, but naturally my mind’s been on it all the morning.” “I’d very much like to hear the conclusions you’ve come to,” said Inspector Rudge quietly. “Why do you say that the painter of the Vicar’s boat couldn’t have been untied, for instance?” “I haven’t come to any conclusions,” replied Ware impassively. “That is, I don’t know who killed the Admiral, if that’s what you mean. But it isn’t difficult to understand how the boats came to be found as they were.” “Not for you, perhaps,” remarked the Inspector, “but it would be a great help to me if you’d explain.” “Aye, that I will. Now take the Vicar’s boat first. She’s not kept in the boat-house while the boys are at home, but out in the stream, tied to a post. Sometimes the lads remember to take the oars and crutches out of her when they come ashore, mostly they don’t. I’ve seen them left in her dozens of times. “Now, suppose they’d been out in her yesterday evening, and tied her up when the tide was high, or well up, as it would have been any time between seven and ten. You’ll find, in any tidal river, that the greater part of the rise happens during the first three hours of the flood, and the greater part of the fall during the first three hours of the ebb. Right. They come in when the tide’s well up, and what do they do? One of them stands up in the bow, and makes the painter fast to the post. They’re both well-grown lads, and they’d naturally make fast about four or five feet above the water. Then they’d pole the stern round, till it touched the bank and they could jump ashore. Maybe they were afraid of being late for dinner, and forgot the oars and crutches in their hurry.” Inspector Rudge nodded. This did not seem to take him any further than he had got already. “Now, take the Admiral’s boat,” continued Ware. “From what I hear, she was seen either in, or alongside, the Rundel Croft boat-house soon after ten. Now this I’m pretty sure of. If anybody took her out between ten and one this morning, they didn’t row far up the river. You don’t make much headway with a heavy boat like that against a three-knot tide. You take it from me, if she went out at all, she went down-stream, and not up. “After one this morning—I’m talking in shore time now, not real time—things would be different. There’d be only a gentle stream running down till four, perhaps a knot at the most. Anyone could row against that; it wouldn’t take them more than a couple of hours to come up from Whynmouth, say, taking it easy. That’s clear enough, isn’t it?” “Perfectly clear,” replied Rudge. “It comes to this. If the Admiral was murdered in his own boat, it must have been somewhere below Rundel Croft, anywhere as far down as Whynmouth, in fact?” “That’s right. Now I suppose whoever murdered him brought the boat back with the body in it. Suppose they got back round about slack water. The chap, whoever he was, sees the Vicar’s boat moored to the post in the stream, and hits upon the idea of putting the body in it. He goes alongside, lifts the body in, and then what does he do next? How is he going to cast off the Vicar’s boat? Tell me that?” “I don’t exactly see the difficulty,” replied the Inspector. “It wasn’t made fast with a chain and padlock.” “You didn’t see what I was getting at just now,” said Ware, with a touch of impatience. “Why, when he got back, it was dead low water, and the river had fallen three or four feet since the boat had been made fast. Don’t you see? Unless he was a very tall man, he wouldn’t be able to reach the knot unless he swarmed up the post. There was only one thing for him to do, and that was to cut the painter. And there’s one thing about that you may not have noticed. That painter is a nearly new piece of inch-and-a-half manilla.” “I noticed that it looked fairly new. But I can’t see for the moment what that’s got to do with it.” “Ever tried to cut new manilla with an ordinary pocket knife? No, I suppose not. But you can take it from me that you’d find it a pretty tough job. And when you’d finished you’d have left a frayed edge. But this rope was cut clean through, like as though it had been cut with one stroke of a very sharp knife. Anyway, cut it was, and the boat left to drift.” Конец ознакомительного фрагмента. Текст предоставлен ООО «ЛитРес». Прочитайте эту книгу целиком, купив полную легальную версию (https://www.litres.ru/agata-kristi/the-floating-admiral/?lfrom=334617187) на ЛитРес. 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