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Why Didn’t They Ask Evans?

Why Didn’t They Ask Evans?
Why Didn’t They Ask Evans? Agatha Christie When a man plunges down a cliff, two adventurous young friends decide to find his killer…While playing an erratic round of golf, Bobby Jones slices his ball over the edge of a cliff. His ball is lost, but on the rocks below he finds the crumpled body of a dying man. With his final breath the man opens his eyes and says, ‘Why didn’t they ask Evans?’Haunted by these words, Bobby and his vivacious companion, Frankie, set out to solve a mystery that will bring them into mortal danger… AGATHA CHRISTIE Why Didn’t They Ask Evans? Copyright (#ulink_6b74fbce-0bad-5b5d-87f7-a8e7f673a73a) HarperCollinsPublishers Ltd. 1 London Bridge Street London SE1 9GF www.harpercollins.co.uk (http://www.harpercollins.co.uk) First published in Great Britain by Collins 1934 Copyright © 1934 Agatha Christie Ltd. All rights reserved. www.agathachristie.com (http://www.agathachristie.com/) Agatha Christie asserts the moral right to be identified as the author of this work A catalogue record of this book is available from the British Library 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 ebook 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 ebooks HarperCollinsPublishers has made every reasonable effort to ensure that any picture content and written content in this ebook has been included or removed in accordance with the contractual and technological constraints in operation at the time of publication Source ISBN: 9780007122608 Ebook Edition © OCTOBER 2010 ISBN: 9780007422906 Version: 2018-10-08 To Christopher Mallock in memory of Hinds Contents Cover (#u7139db6f-03cc-5192-8e14-0037479d76f0) Title Page (#u5a9badb9-78fd-5ca8-86e3-da187b1d583f) Copyright (#u194ef3dc-431f-564d-be37-2f5e43ba6ebf) Dedication (#u63567f25-2c39-591d-8b74-19771cf8cfcd) Chapter 1 The Accident (#u0ad316f8-c2a8-5cc8-9ef8-d3a47c779f89) Chapter 2 Concerning Fathers (#u360705b5-fc8c-5930-81cc-79d8cab5e5f0) Chapter 3 A Railway Journey (#u8d6fd8ba-7ee8-5a6f-8741-699b4ca7032c) Chapter 4 The Inquest (#uda20cd7d-9179-5d76-925c-fcef9277381b) Chapter 5 Mr and Mrs Cayman (#u094a0167-f3d6-5910-be13-91b55d895ed2) Chapter 6 End of a Picnic (#u68b1d02e-2ca5-5684-91f7-1cef9103ccc5) Chapter 7 An Escape from Death (#u86420352-41f4-58bc-a212-b5fcbede4155) Chapter 8 Riddle of a Photograph (#uceb6788e-8ee6-50de-b4f7-2137a79e24b5) Chapter 9 Concerning Mr Bassington-ffrench (#uf01d5a65-f1e5-5a7a-b147-5499be13de67) Chapter 10 Preparations for an Accident (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 11 The Accident Happens (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 12 In the Enemy’s Camp (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 13 Alan Carstairs (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 14 Dr Nicholson (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 15 A Discovery (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 16 Bobby Becomes a Solicitor (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 17 Mrs Rivington Talks (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 18 The Girl of the Photograph (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 19 A Council of Three (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 20 Council of Two (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 21 Roger Answers a Question (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 22 Another Victim (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 23 Moira Disappears (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 24 On the Track of the Caymans (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 25 Mr Spragge Talks (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 26 Nocturnal Adventure (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 27 ‘My Brother was Murdered’ (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 28 At the Eleventh Hour (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 29 Badger’s Story (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 30 Escape (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 31 Frankie Asks a Question (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 32 Evans (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 33 Sensation in the Orient Café (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 34 Letter from South America (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 35 News from the Vicarage (#litres_trial_promo) Keep Reading (#litres_trial_promo) About the Author (#litres_trial_promo) The Agatha Christie Collection (#litres_trial_promo) About The Publisher (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 1 The Accident (#ulink_2a2aa663-1f93-5e10-9fe2-52d8e25108b5) Bobby Jones teed up his ball, gave a short preliminary waggle, took the club back slowly, then brought it down and through with the rapidity of lightning. Did the ball fly down the fairway straight and true, rising as it went and soaring over the bunker to land within an easy mashie shot of the fourteenth green? No, it did not. Badly topped, it scudded along the ground and embedded itself firmly in the bunker! There were no eager crowds to groan with dismay. The solitary witness of the shot manifested no surprise. And that is easily explained – for it was not the American-born master of the game who had played the shot, but merely the fourth son of the Vicar of Marchbolt – a small seaside town on the coast of Wales. Bobby uttered a decidedly profane ejaculation. He was an amiable-looking young man of about eight and twenty. His best friend could not have said that he was handsome, but his face was an eminently likeable one, and his eyes had the honest brown friendliness of a dog’s. ‘I get worse every day,’ he muttered dejectedly. ‘You press,’ said his companion. Dr Thomas was a middle-aged man with grey hair and a red cheerful face. He himself never took a full swing. He played short straight shots down the middle, and usually beat more brilliant but more erratic players. Bobby attacked his ball fiercely with a niblick. The third time was successful. The ball lay a short distance from the green which Dr Thomas had reached with two creditable iron shots. ‘Your hole,’ said Bobby. They proceeded to the next tee. The doctor drove first – a nice straight shot, but with no great distance about it. Bobby sighed, teed his ball, reteed it, waggled his club a long time, took back stiffly, shut his eyes, raised his head, depressed his right shoulder, did everything he ought not to have done – and hit a screamer down the middle of the course. He drew a deep breath of satisfaction. The well-known golfer’s gloom passed from his eloquent face to be succeeded by the equally well-known golfer’s exultation. ‘I know now what I’ve been doing,’ said Bobby – quite untruthfully. A perfect iron shot, a little chip with a mashie and Bobby lay dead. He achieved a birdie four and Dr Thomas was reduced to one up. Full of confidence, Bobby stepped on to the sixteenth tee. He again did everything he should not have done, and this time no miracle occurred. A terrific, a magnificent, an almost superhuman slice happened! The ball went round at right angles. ‘If that had been straight – whew!’ said Dr Thomas. ‘If,’ said Bobby bitterly. ‘Hullo, I thought I heard a shout! Hope the ball didn’t hit anyone.’ He peered out to the right. It was a difficult light. The sun was on the point of setting, and, looking straight into it, it was hard to see anything distinctly. Also there was a slight mist rising from the sea. The edge of the cliff was a few hundred yards away. ‘The footpath runs along there,’ said Bobby. ‘But the ball can’t possibly have travelled as far as that. All the same, I did think I heard a cry. Did you?’ But the doctor had heard nothing. Bobby went after his ball. He had some difficulty in finding it, but ran it to earth at last. It was practically unplayable – embedded in a furze bush. He had a couple of hacks at it, then picked it up and called out to his companion that he gave up the hole. The doctor came over towards him since the next tee was right on the edge of the cliff. The seventeenth was Bobby’s particular bugbear. At it you had to drive over a chasm. The distance was not actually so great, but the attraction of the depths below was overpowering. They had crossed the footpath which now ran inland to their left, skirting the very edge of the cliff. The doctor took an iron and just landed on the other side. Bobby took a deep breath and drove. The ball scudded forward and disappeared over the lip of the abyss. ‘Every single dashed time,’ said Bobby bitterly. ‘I do the same dashed idiotic thing.’ He skirted the chasm, peering over. Far below the sea sparkled, but not every ball was lost in its depths. The drop was sheer at the top, but below it shelved gradually. Bobby walked slowly along. There was, he knew, one place where one could scramble down fairly easily. Caddies did so, hurling themselves over the edge and reappearing triumphant and panting with the missing ball. Suddenly Bobby stiffened and called to his companion. ‘I say, doctor, come here. What do you make of that?’ Some forty feet below was a dark heap of something that looked like old clothes. The doctor caught his breath. ‘By Jove,’ he said. ‘Somebody’s fallen over the cliff. We must get down to him.’ Side by side the two men scrambled down the rock, the more athletic Bobby helping the other. At last they reached the ominous dark bundle. It was a man of about forty, and he was still breathing, though unconscious. The doctor examined him, touching his limbs, feeling his pulse, drawing down the lids of his eyes. He knelt down beside him and completed his examination. Then he looked up at Bobby, who was standing there feeling rather sick, and slowly shook his head. ‘Nothing to be done,’ he said. ‘His number’s up, poor fellow. His back’s broken. Well, well. I suppose he wasn’t familiar with the path, and when the mist came up he walked over the edge. I’ve told the council more than once there ought to be a railing just here.’ He stood up again. ‘I’ll go off and get help,’ he said. ‘Make arrangements to have the body got up. It’ll be dark before we know where we are. Will you stay here?’ Bobby nodded. ‘There’s nothing to be done for him, I suppose?’ he asked. The doctor shook his head. ‘Nothing. It won’t be long – the pulse is weakening fast. He’ll last another twenty minutes at most. Just possible he may recover consciousness before the end; but very likely he won’t. Still –’ ‘Rather,’ said Bobby quickly. ‘I’ll stay. You get along. If he does come to, there’s no drug or anything –’ he hesitated. The doctor shook his head. ‘There’ll be no pain,’ he said. ‘No pain at all.’ Turning away, he began rapidly to climb up the cliff again. Bobby watched him till he disappeared over the top with a wave of his hand. Bobby moved a step or two along the narrow ledge, sat down on a projection in the rock and lit a cigarette. The business had shaken him. Up to now he had never come in contact with illness or death. What rotten luck there was in the world! A swirl of mist on a fine evening, a false step – and life came to an end. Fine healthy-looking fellow too – probably never known a day’s illness in his life. The pallor of approaching death couldn’t disguise the deep tan of the skin. A man who had lived an out-of-door life – abroad, perhaps. Bobby studied him more closely – the crisp curling chestnut hair just touched with grey at the temples, the big nose, the strong jaw, the white teeth just showing through the parted lips. Then the broad shoulders and the fine sinewy hands. The legs were twisted at a curious angle. Bobby shuddered and brought his eyes up again to the face. An attractive face, humorous, determined, resourceful. The eyes, he thought, were probably blue – And just as he reached that point in his thoughts, the eyes suddenly opened. They were blue – a clear deep blue. They looked straight at Bobby. There was nothing uncertain or hazy about them. They seemed completely conscious. They were watchful and at the same time they seemed to be asking a question. Bobby got up quickly and came towards the man. Before he got there, the other spoke. His voice was not weak – it came out clear and resonant. ‘Why didn’t they ask Evans?’ he said. And then a queer little shudder passed over him, the eyelids dropped, the jaw fell … The man was dead. Chapter 2 Concerning Fathers (#ulink_256fb44e-c651-5910-9931-09197630bb8a) Bobby knelt down beside him, but there was no doubt. The man was dead. A last moment of consciousness, that sudden question, and then – the end. Rather apologetically, Bobby put his hand into the dead man’s pocket and, drawing out a silk handkerchief, he spread it reverently over the dead face. There was nothing more he could do. Then he noticed that in his action he had jerked something else out of the pocket. It was a photograph and in the act of replacing it he glanced at the pictured face. It was a woman’s face, strangely haunting in quality. A fair woman with wide-apart eyes. She seemed little more than a girl, certainly under thirty, but it was the arresting quality of her beauty rather than the beauty itself that seized upon the boy’s imagination. It was the kind of face, he thought, not easy to forget. Gently and reverently, he replaced the photograph in the pocket from which it had come, then he sat down again to wait for the doctor’s return. The time passed very slowly – or at least so it seemed to the waiting boy. Also, he had just remembered something. He had promised his father to play the organ at the evening service at six o’clock and it was now ten minutes to six. Naturally, his father would understand the circumstances, but all the same he wished that he had remembered to send a message by the doctor. The Rev. Thomas Jones was a man of extremely nervous temperament. He was, par excellence, a fusser, and when he fussed, his digestive apparatus collapsed and he suffered agonizing pain. Bobby, though he considered his father a pitiful old ass, was nevertheless extremely fond of him. The Rev. Thomas, on the other hand, considered his fourth son a pitiful young ass, and with less tolerance than Bobby sought to effect improvement in the young man. ‘The poor old gov’nor,’ thought Bobby. ‘He’ll be ramping up and down. He won’t know whether to start the service or not. He’ll work himself up till he gets that pain in the tummy, and then he won’t be able to eat his supper. He won’t have the sense to realize that I wouldn’t let him down unless it were quite unavoidable – and, anyway, what does it matter? But he’ll never see it that way. Nobody over fifty has got any sense – they worry themselves to death about tuppeny-ha’peny things that don’t matter. They’ve been brought up all wrong, I suppose, and now they can’t help themselves. Poor old Dad, he’s got less sense than a chicken!’ He sat there thinking of his father with mingled affection and exasperation. His life at home seemed to him to be one long sacrifice to his father’s peculiar ideas. To Mr Jones, the same time seemed to be one long sacrifice on his part, ill understood or appreciated by the younger generation. So may ideas on the same subject differ. What an age the doctor was! Surely he might have been back by this time? Bobby got up and stamped his feet moodily. At that moment he heard something above him and looked up, thankful that help was at hand and his own services no longer needed. But it was not the doctor. It was a man in plus fours whom Bobby did not know. ‘I say,’ said the newcomer. ‘Is anything the matter? Has there been an accident? Can I help in any way?’ He was a tall man with a pleasant tenor voice. Bobby could not see him very clearly for it was now fast growing dusk. He explained what had happened whilst the stranger made shocked comments. ‘There’s nothing I can do?’ he asked. ‘Get help or anything?’ Bobby explained that help was on the way and asked if the other could see any signs of its arriving. ‘There’s nothing at present.’ ‘You see,’ went on Bobby, ‘I’ve got an appointment at six.’ ‘And you don’t like to leave –’ ‘No, I don’t quite,’ said Bobby. ‘I mean, the poor chap’s dead and all that, and of course one can’t do anything, but all the same –’ He paused, finding it, as usual, difficult to put confused emotions into words. The other, however, seemed to understand. ‘I know,’ he said. ‘Look here, I’ll come down – that is, if I can see my way – and I’ll stay till these fellows arrive.’ ‘Oh, would you?’ said Bobby gratefully. ‘You see, it’s my father. He’s not a bad sort really, and things upset him. Can you see your way? A bit more to the left – now to the right – that’s it. It’s not really difficult.’ He encouraged the other with directions until the two men were face to face on the narrow plateau. The newcomer was a man of about thirty-five. He had a rather indecisive face which seemed to be calling for a monocle and a little moustache. ‘I’m a stranger down here,’ he explained. ‘My name’s Bassington-ffrench, by the way. Come down to see about a house. I say, what a beastly thing to happen! Did he walk over the edge?’ Bobby nodded. ‘Bit of mist got up,’ he explained. ‘It’s a dangerous bit of path. Well, so long. Thanks very much. I’ve got to hurry. It’s awfully good of you.’ ‘Not at all,’ the other protested. ‘Anybody would do the same. Can’t leave the poor chap lying – well, I mean, it wouldn’t be decent somehow.’ Bobby was scrambling up the precipitous path. At the top he waved his hand to the other then set off at a brisk run across country. To save time, he vaulted the churchyard wall instead of going round to the gate on the road – a proceeding observed by the Vicar from the vestry window and deeply disapproved of by him. It was five minutes past six, but the bell was still tolling. Explanations and recriminations were postponed until after the service. Breathless, Bobby sank into his seat and manipulated the stops of the ancient organ. Association of ideas led his fingers into Chopin’s funeral march. Afterwards, more in sorrow than in anger (as he expressly pointed out), the Vicar took his son to task. ‘If you cannot do a thing properly, my dear Bobby,’ he said, ‘it is better not to do it at all. I know that you and all your young friends seem to have no idea of time, but there is One whom we should not keep waiting. You offered to play the organ of your own accord. I did not coerce you. Instead, faint-hearted, you preferred playing a game –’ Bobby thought he had better interrupt before his father got too well away. ‘Sorry, Dad,’ he said, speaking cheerfully and breezily as was his habit no matter what the subject. ‘Not my fault this time. I was keeping guard over a corpse.’ ‘You were what?’ ‘Keeping guard over a blighter who stepped over the cliff. You know – the place where the chasm is – by the seventeenth tee. There was a bit of mist just then, and he must have gone straight on and over.’ ‘Good heavens,’ cried the Vicar. ‘What a tragedy! Was the man killed outright?’ ‘No. He was unconscious. He died just after Dr Thomas had gone off. But of course I felt I had to squat there – couldn’t just push off and leave him. And then another fellow came along so I passed the job of chief mourner on to him and legged it here as fast as I could.’ The Vicar sighed. ‘Oh, my dear Bobby,’ he said. ‘Will nothing shake your deplorable callousness? It grieves me more than I can say. Here you have been brought face to face with death – with sudden death. And you can joke about it! It leaves you unmoved. Everything – everything, however solemn, however sacred, is merely a joke to your generation.’ Bobby shuffled his feet. If his father couldn’t see that, of course, you joked about a thing because you had felt badly about it – well, he couldn’t see it! It wasn’t the sort of thing you could explain. With death and tragedy about you had to keep a stiff upper lip. But what could you expect? Nobody over fifty understood anything at all. They had the most extraordinary ideas. ‘I expect it was the War,’ thought Bobby loyally. ‘It upset them and they never got straight again.’ He felt ashamed of his father and sorry for him. ‘Sorry, Dad,’ he said with a clear-eyed realization that explanation was impossible. The Vicar felt sorry for his son – he looked abashed – but he also felt ashamed of him. The boy had no conception of the seriousness of life. Even his apology was cheery and impenitent. They moved towards the Vicarage, each making enormous efforts to find excuses for the other. The Vicar thought: ‘I wonder when Bobby will find something to do … ?’ Bobby thought: ‘Wonder how much longer I can stick it down here … ?’ Yet they were both extremely fond of each other. Chapter 3 A Railway Journey (#ulink_a7cad521-bec9-53a6-b1a8-52a26f961f2c) Bobby did not see the immediate sequel of his adventure. On the following morning he went up to town, there to meet a friend who was thinking of starting a garage and who fancied Bobby’s co-operation might be valuable. After settling things to everybody’s satisfaction, Bobby caught the 11.30 train home two days later. He caught it, true, but only by a very narrow margin. He arrived at Paddington when the clock announced the time to be 11.28, dashed down the subway, emerged on No. 3 Platform just as the train was moving and hurled himself at the first carriage he saw, heedless of indignant ticket collectors and porters in his immediate rear. Wrenching open the door, he fell in on his hands and knees, picked himself up. The door was shut with a slam by an agile porter and Bobby found himself looking at the sole occupant of the compartment. It was a first-class carriage and in the corner facing the engine sat a dark girl smoking a cigarette. She had on a red skirt, a short green jacket and a brilliant blue beret, and despite a certain resemblance to an organ grinder’s monkey (she had long sorrowful dark eyes and a puckered-up face) she was distinctly attractive. In the midst of an apology, Bobby broke off. ‘Why, it’s you, Frankie!’ he said. ‘I haven’t seen you for ages.’ ‘Well, I haven’t seen you. Sit down and talk.’ Bobby grinned. ‘My ticket’s the wrong colour.’ ‘That doesn’t matter,’ said Frankie kindly. ‘I’ll pay the difference for you.’ ‘My manly indignation rises at the thought,’ said Bobby. ‘How could I let a lady pay for me?’ ‘It’s about all we seem to be good for these days,’ said Frankie. ‘I will pay the difference myself,’ said Bobby heroically as a burly figure in blue appeared at the door from the corridor. ‘Leave it to me,’ said Frankie. She smiled graciously at the ticket collector, who touched his hat as he took the piece of white cardboard from her and punched it. ‘Mr Jones has just come in to talk to me for a bit,’ she said. ‘That won’t matter, will it?’ ‘That’s all right, your ladyship. The gentleman won’t be staying long, I expect.’ He coughed tactfully. ‘I shan’t be round again till after Bristol,’ he added significantly. ‘What can be done with a smile,’ said Bobby as the official withdrew. Lady Frances Derwent shook her head thoughtfully. ‘I’m not so sure it’s the smile,’ she said. ‘I rather think it’s father’s habit of tipping everybody five shillings whenever he travels that does it.’ ‘I thought you’d given up Wales for good, Frankie.’ Frances sighed. ‘My dear, you know what it is. You know how mouldy parents can be. What with that and the bathrooms in the state they are, and nothing to do and nobody to see – and people simply won’t come to the country to stay nowadays! They say they’re economizing and they can’t go so far. Well, I mean, what’s a girl to do?’ Bobby shook his head, sadly recognizing the problem. ‘However,’ went on Frankie, ‘after the party I went to last night, I thought even home couldn’t be worse.’ ‘What was wrong with the party?’ ‘Nothing at all. It was just like any other party, only more so. It was to start at the Savoy at half-past eight. Some of us rolled up about a quarter-past nine and, of course, we got entangled with other people, but we got sorted out about ten. And we had dinner and then after a bit we went on to the Marionette – there was a rumour it was going to be raided, but nothing happened – it was just moribund, and we drank a bit and then we went on to the Bullring and that was even deader, and then we went to a coffee stall, and then we went to a fried-fish place, and then we thought we’d go and breakfast with Angela’s uncle and see if he’d be shocked, but he wasn’t – only bored, and then we sort of fizzled home. Honestly, Bobby, it isn’t good enough.’ ‘I suppose not,’ said Bobby, stifling a pang of envy. Never in his wildest moments did he dream of being able to be a member of the Marionette or the Bullring. His relationship with Frankie was a peculiar one. As children, he and his brothers had played with the children at the Castle. Now that they were all grown up, they seldom came across each other. When they did, they still used Christian names. On the rare occasions when Frankie was at home, Bobby and his brothers would go up and play tennis. But Frankie and her two brothers were not asked to the Vicarage. It seemed to be tacitly recognized that it would not be amusing for them. On the other hand, extra men were always wanted for tennis. There may have been a trace of constraint in spite of the Christian names. The Derwents were, perhaps, a shade more friendly than they need have been as though to show that ‘there was no difference’. The Jones, on their side, were a shade formal, as though determined not to claim more friendship than was offered them. The two families had now nothing in common save certain childish memories. Yet Bobbie was very fond of Frankie and was always pleased on the rare occasions when Fate threw them together. ‘I’m so tired of everything,’ said Frankie in a weary voice. ‘Aren’t you?’ Bobby considered. ‘No, I don’t think I am.’ ‘My dear, how wonderful,’ said Frankie. ‘I don’t mean I’m hearty,’ said Bobby, anxious not to create a painful impression. ‘I just can’t stand people who are hearty.’ Frankie shuddered at the mere mention of the word. ‘I know,’ she murmured. ‘They’re dreadful.’ They looked at each other sympathetically. ‘By the way,’ said Frankie suddenly. ‘What’s all this about a man falling over the cliffs?’ ‘Dr Thomas and I found him,’ said Bobby. ‘How did you know about it, Frankie?’ ‘Saw it in the paper. Look.’ She indicated with her finger a small paragraph headed: ‘Fatal Accident in Sea Mist.’ The victim of the tragedy at Marchbolt was identified late last night by means of a photograph which he was carrying. The photograph proved to be that of Mrs Leo Cayman. Mrs Cayman was communicated with and journeyed at once to Marchbolt, where she identified the deceased as her brother, Alex Pritchard. Mr Pritchard had recently returned from Siam. He had been out of England for ten years and was just starting upon a walking tour. The inquest will be held at Marchbolt tomorrow. Bobby’s thoughts flew back to the strangely haunting face of the photograph. ‘I believe I shall have to give evidence at the inquest,’ he said. ‘How thrilling. I shall come and hear you.’ ‘I don’t suppose there will be anything thrilling about it,’ said Bobby. ‘We just found him, you know.’ ‘Was he dead?’ ‘No, not then. He died about a quarter of an hour later. I was alone with him.’ He paused. ‘Rather grim,’ said Frankie with that immediate understanding that Bobby’s father had lacked. ‘Of course he didn’t feel anything –’ ‘No?’ ‘But all the same – well – you see, he looked awfully alive – that sort of person – rather a rotten way to finish – just stepping off a cliff in a silly little bit of mist.’ ‘I get you, Steve,’ said Frankie, and again the queer phrase represented sympathy and understanding. ‘Did you see the sister?’ she asked presently. ‘No. I’ve been up in town two days. Had to see a friend of mine about a garage business we’re going in for. You remember him. Badger Beadon.’ ‘Do I?’ ‘Of course you do. You must remember good old Badger. He squints.’ Frankie wrinkled her brows. ‘He’s got an awfully silly kind of laugh – haw haw haw – like that,’ continued Bobby helpfully. Still Frankie wrinkled her brows. ‘Fell off his pony when we were kids,’ continued Bobby. ‘Stuck in the mud head down, and we had to pull him out by the legs.’ ‘Oh!’ said Frankie in a flood of recollection. ‘I know now. He stammered.’ ‘He still does,’ said Bobby proudly. ‘Didn’t he run a chicken farm and it went bust?’ inquired Frankie. ‘That’s right.’ ‘And then he went into a stockbroker’s office and they fired him after a month?’ ‘That’s it.’ ‘And then they sent him to Australia and he came back?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘Bobby,’ said Frankie. ‘You’re not putting any money into this business venture, I hope?’ ‘I haven’t got any money to put,’ said Bobby. ‘That’s just as well,’ said Frankie. ‘Naturally,’ went on Bobby. ‘Badger has tried to get hold of someone with a little capital to invest. But it isn’t so easy as you’d think.’ ‘When you look round you,’ said Frankie, ‘you wouldn’t believe people had any sense at all – but they have.’ The point of these remarks seemed at last to strike Bobby. ‘Look here, Frankie,’ he said. ‘Badger’s one of the best – one of the very best.’ ‘They always are,’ said Frankie. ‘Who are?’ ‘The ones who go to Australia and come back again. How did he get hold of the money to start this business?’ ‘An aunt or something died and left him a garage for six cars with three rooms over and his people stumped up a hundred pounds to buy second-hand cars with. You’d be surprised what bargains there are to be had in second-hand cars.’ ‘I bought one once,’ said Frankie. ‘It’s a painful subject. Don’t let’s talk of it. What did you want to leave the Navy for? They didn’t axe you, did they? Not at your age.’ Bobby flushed. ‘Eyes,’ he said gruffly. ‘You always had trouble with your eyes, I remember.’ ‘I know. But I just managed to scrape through. Then foreign service – the strong light, you know – that rather did for them. So – well – I had to get out.’ ‘Grim,’ murmured Frankie, looking out of the window. There was an eloquent pause. ‘All the same, it’s a shame,’ burst out Bobby. ‘My eyes aren’t really bad – they won’t get any worse, they say. I could have carried on perfectly.’ ‘They look all right,’ said Frankie. She looked straight into their honest brown depths. ‘So you see,’ said Bobby, ‘I’m going in with Badger.’ Frankie nodded. An attendant opened the door and said, ‘First luncheon.’ ‘Shall we?’ said Frankie. They passed along to the dining car. Bobby made a short strategic retreat during the time when the ticket collector might be expected. ‘We don’t want him to strain his conscience too much,’ he said. But Frankie said she didn’t expect ticket collectors had any consciences. It was just after five o’clock when they reached Sileham, which was the station for Marchbolt. ‘The car’s meeting me,’ said Frankie. ‘I’ll give you a lift.’ ‘Thanks. That will save me carrying this beastly thing for two miles.’ He kicked his suitcase disparagingly. ‘Three miles, not two,’ said Frankie. ‘Two miles if you go by the footpath over the links.’ ‘The one where –’ ‘Yes – where that fellow went over.’ ‘I suppose nobody pushed him over, did they?’ asked Frankie as she handed her dressing-case to her maid. ‘Pushed him over? Good Lord, no. Why?’ ‘Well, it would make it much more exciting, wouldn’t it?’ said Frankie idly. Chapter 4 The Inquest (#ulink_59c9646b-6acc-5241-a594-211b1e763323) The inquest on the body of Alex Pritchard was held on the following day. Dr Thomas gave evidence as to the finding of the body. ‘Life was not then extinct?’ asked the coroner. ‘No, deceased was still breathing. There was, however, no hope of recovery. The –’ Here the doctor became highly technical. The coroner came to the rescue of the jury: ‘In ordinary everyday language, the man’s back was broken?’ ‘If you like to put it that way,’ said Dr Thomas sadly. He described how he had gone off to get help, leaving the dying man in Bobby’s charge. ‘Now as to the cause of this disaster, what is your opinion, Dr Thomas?’ ‘I should say that in all probability (failing any evidence as to his state of mind, that is to say) the deceased stepped inadvertently over the edge of the cliff. There was a mist rising from the sea, and at that particular point the path turns abruptly inland. Owing to the mist the deceased may not have noticed the danger and walked straight on – in which case two steps would take him over the edge.’ ‘There were no signs of violence? Such as might have been administered by a third party?’ ‘I can only say that all the injuries present are fully explained by the body striking the rocks fifty or sixty feet below.’ ‘There remains the question of suicide?’ ‘That is, of course, perfectly possible. Whether the deceased walked over the edge or threw himself over is a matter on which I can say nothing.’ Robert Jones was called next. Bobby explained that he had been playing golf with the doctor and had sliced his ball towards the sea. A mist was rising at the time and it was difficult to see. He thought he heard a cry, and for a moment wondered if his ball could have hit anybody coming along the footpath. He had decided, however, that it could not possibly have travelled so far. ‘Did you find the ball?’ ‘Yes, it was about a hundred yards short of the footpath.’ He then described how they had driven from the next tee and how he himself had driven into the chasm. Here the coroner stopped him since his evidence would have been a repetition of the doctor’s. He questioned him closely, however, as to the cry he had heard or thought he heard. ‘It was just a cry.’ ‘A cry for help?’ ‘Oh, no. Just a sort of shout, you know. In fact I wasn’t quite sure I heard it.’ ‘A startled kind of cry?’ ‘That’s more like it,’ said Bobby gratefully. ‘Sort of noise a fellow might let out if a ball hit him unexpectedly.’ ‘Or if he took a step into nothingness when he thought he was on a path?’ ‘Yes.’ Then, having explained that the man actually died about five minutes after the doctor left to get help, Bobby’s ordeal came to an end. The coroner was by now anxious to get on with a perfectly straightforward business. Mrs Leo Cayman was called. Bobby gave a gasp of acute disappointment. Where was the face of the photo that had tumbled from the dead man’s pocket? Photographers, thought Bobby disgustedly, were the worst kind of liars. The photo obviously must have been taken some years ago, but even then it was hard to believe that that charming wide-eyed beauty could have become this brazen-looking woman with plucked eyebrows and obviously dyed hair. Time, thought Bobby suddenly, was a very frightening thing. What would Frankie, for instance, look like in twenty years’ time? He gave a little shiver. Meanwhile, Amelia Cayman, of 17 St Leonard’s Gardens, Paddington, was giving evidence. Deceased was her only brother, Alexander Pritchard. She had last seen her brother the day before the tragedy when he had announced his intention of going for a walking tour in Wales. Her brother had recently returned from the East. ‘Did he seem in a happy and normal state of mind?’ ‘Oh, quite. Alex was always cheerful.’ ‘So far as you know, he had nothing on his mind?’ ‘Oh! I’m sure he hadn’t. He was looking forward to his trip.’ ‘There have been no money troubles – or other troubles of any kind in his life recently?’ ‘Well, really I couldn’t say as to that,’ said Mrs Cayman. ‘You see, he’d only just come back, and before that I hadn’t seen him for ten years and he was never one much for writing. But he took me out to theatres and lunches in London and gave me one or two presents, so I don’t think he could have been short of money, and he was in such good spirits that I don’t think there could have been anything else.’ ‘What was your brother’s profession, Mrs Cayman?’ The lady seemed slightly embarrassed. ‘Well, I can’t say I rightly know. Prospecting – that’s what he called it. He was very seldom in England.’ ‘You know of no reason which should cause him to take his own life?’ ‘Oh, no; and I can’t believe that he did such a thing. It must have been an accident.’ ‘How do you explain the fact that your brother had no luggage with him – not even a knapsack?’ ‘He didn’t like carrying a knapsack. He meant to post parcels alternate days. He posted one the day before he left with his night things and a pair of socks, only he addressed it to Derbyshire instead of Denbighshire, so it only got here today.’ ‘Ah! That clears up a somewhat curious point.’ Mrs Cayman went on to explain how she had been communicated with through the photographers whose name was on the photo her brother had carried. She had come down with her husband to Marchbolt and had at once recognized the body as that of her brother. As she said the last words she sniffed audibly and began to cry. The coroner said a few soothing words and dismissed her. Then he addressed the jury. Their task was to state how this man came by his death. Fortunately, the matter appeared to be quite simple. There was no suggestion that Mr Pritchard had been worried or depressed or in a state of mind where he would be likely to take his own life. On the contrary, he had been in good health and spirits and had been looking forward to his holiday. It was unfortunately the case that when a sea mist was rising the path along the cliff was a dangerous one and possibly they might agree with him that it was time something was done about it. The jury’s verdict was prompt. ‘We find that the deceased came to his death by misadventure and we wish to add a rider that in our opinion the Town Council should immediately take steps to put a fence or rail on the sea side of the path where it skirts the chasm.’ The coroner nodded approval. The inquest was over. Chapter 5 Mr and Mrs Cayman (#ulink_facdd4ec-f72d-512a-a844-e5b1cdd81b89) On arriving back at the Vicarage about half an hour later, Bobby found that his connection with the death of Alex Pritchard was not yet quite over. He was informed that Mr and Mrs Cayman had called to see him and were in the study with his father. Bobby made his way there and found his father bravely making suitable conversation without, apparently, much enjoying his task. ‘Ah!’ he said with some slight relief. ‘Here is Bobby.’ Mr Cayman rose and advanced towards the young man with outstretched hand. Mr Cayman was a big florid man with a would-be hearty manner and a cold and somewhat shifty eye that rather belied the manner. As for Mrs Cayman, though she might be considered attractive in a bold, coarse fashion, she had little now in common with that early photograph of herself, and no trace of that wistful expression remained. In fact, Bobby reflected, if she had not recognized her own photograph, it seemed doubtful if anyone else would have done so. ‘I came down with the wife,’ said Mr Cayman, enclosing Bobby’s hand in a firm and painful grip. ‘Had to stand by, you know; Amelia’s naturally upset.’ Mrs Cayman sniffed. ‘We came round to see you,’ continued Mr Cayman. ‘You see, my poor wife’s brother died, practically speaking, in your arms. Naturally, she wanted to know all you could tell her of his last moments.’ ‘Absolutely,’ said Bobby unhappily. ‘Oh, absolutely.’ He grinned nervously and was immediately aware of his father’s sigh – a sigh of Christian resignation. ‘Poor Alex,’ said Mrs Cayman, dabbing her eyes. ‘Poor, poor Alex.’ ‘I know,’ said Bobby. ‘Absolutely grim.’ He wriggled uncomfortably. ‘You see,’ said Mrs Cayman, looking hopefully at Bobby, ‘if he left any last words or messages, naturally I want to know.’ ‘Oh, rather,’ said Bobby. ‘But as a matter of fact he didn’t.’ ‘Nothing at all?’ Mrs Cayman looked disappointed and incredulous. Bobby felt apologetic. ‘No – well – as a matter of fact, nothing at all.’ ‘It was best so,’ said Mr Cayman solemnly. ‘To pass away unconscious– without pain – why, you must think of it as a mercy, Amelia.’ ‘I suppose I must,’ said Mrs Cayman. ‘You don’t think he felt any pain?’ ‘I’m sure he didn’t,’ said Bobby. Mrs Cayman sighed deeply. ‘Well, that’s something to be thankful for. Perhaps I did hope he’d left a last message, but I can see that it’s best as it is. Poor Alex. Such a fine out-of-door man.’ ‘Yes, wasn’t he?’ said Bobby. He recalled the bronze face, the deep blue eyes. An attractive personality, that of Alex Pritchard, attractive even so near death. Strange that he should be the brother of Mrs Cayman and the brother-in-law of Mr Cayman. He had been worthy, Bobby felt, of better things. ‘Well, we’re very much indebted to you, I’m sure,’ said Mrs Cayman. ‘Oh, that’s all right,’ said Bobby. ‘I mean – well, couldn’t do anything else – I mean –’ He floundered hopelessly. ‘We shan’t forget it,’ said Mr Cayman. Bobby suffered once more that painful grip. He received a flabby hand from Mrs Cayman. His father made further adieus. Bobby accompanied the Caymans to the front door. ‘And what do you do with yourself, young man?’ inquired Cayman. ‘Home on leave – something of that kind?’ ‘I spend most of my time looking for a job,’ said Bobby. He paused. ‘I was in the Navy.’ ‘Hard times – hard times nowadays,’ said Mr Cayman, shaking his head. ‘Well, I wish you luck, I’m sure.’ ‘Thank you very much,’ said Bobby politely. He watched them down the weed-grown drive. Standing there, he fell into a brown study. Various ideas flashed chaotically through his mind – confused reflections – the photograph – that girl’s face with the wide-apart eyes and the misty hair – and ten or fifteen years later Mrs Cayman with her heavy make-up, her plucked eyebrows, those wide-apart eyes sunk in between folds of flesh till they looked like pig’s eyes, and her violent henna-tinted hair. All traces of youth and innocence had vanished. The pity of things! It all came, perhaps, of marrying a hearty bounder like Mr Cayman. If she had married someone else she might possibly have grown older gracefully. A touch of grey in her hair, eyes still wide apart looking out from a smooth pale face. But perhaps anyway – Bobby sighed and shook his head. ‘That’s the worst of marriage,’ he said gloomily. ‘What did you say?’ Bobby awoke from meditation to become aware of Frankie, whose approach he had not heard. ‘Hullo,’ he said. ‘Hullo. Why marriage? And whose?’ ‘I was making a reflection of a general nature,’ said Bobby. ‘Namely –?’ ‘On the devasting effects of marriage.’ ‘Who is devastated?’ Bobby explained. He found Frankie unsympathetic. ‘Nonsense. The woman’s exactly like her photograph.’ ‘When did you see her? Were you at the inquest?’ ‘Of course I was at the inquest. What do you think? There’s little enough to do down here. An inquest is a perfect godsend. I’ve never been to one before. I was thrilled to the teeth. Of course, it would have been better if it had been a mysterious poisoning case, with the analyst’s reports and all that sort of thing; but one mustn’t be too exacting when these simple pleasures come one’s way. I hoped up to the end for a suspicion of foul play, but it all seemed most regrettably straightforward.’ ‘What blood-thirsty instincts you have, Frankie.’ ‘I know. It’s probably atavism (however do you pronounce it? – I’ve never been sure). Don’t you think so? I’m sure I’m atavistic. My nickname at school was Monkey Face.’ ‘Do monkeys like murder?’ queried Bobby. ‘You sound like a correspondence in a Sunday paper,’ said Frankie. ‘Our correspondents’ views on this subject are solicited.’ ‘You know,’ said Bobby, reverting to the original topic, ‘I don’t agree with you about the female Cayman. Her photograph was lovely.’ ‘Touched up – that’s all,’ interrupted Frankie. ‘Well, then, it was so much touched up that you wouldn’t have known them for the same person.’ ‘You’re blind,’ said Frankie. ‘The photographer had done all that the art of photography could do, but it was still a nasty bit of work.’ ‘I absolutely disagree with you,’ said Bobby coldly. ‘Anyway, where did you see it?’ ‘In the local Evening Echo.’ ‘It probably reproduced badly.’ ‘It seems to me you’re absolutely batty,’ said Frankie crossly, ‘over a painted-up raddled bitch – yes, I said bitch – like the Cayman.’ ‘Frankie,’ said Bobby, ‘I’m surprised at you. In the Vicarage drive, too. Semi-holy ground, so to speak.’ ‘Well, you shouldn’t have been so ridiculous.’ There was a pause, then Frankie’s sudden fit of temper abated. ‘What is ridiculous,’ she said, ‘is to quarrel about the damned woman. I came to suggest a round of golf. What about it?’ ‘OK, chief,’ said Bobby happily. They set off amicably together and their conversation was of such things as slicing and pulling and how to perfect a chip shot on to the green. The recent tragedy passed quite out of mind until Bobby, holing a long putt at the eleventh to halve the hole, suddenly gave an exclamation. ‘What is it?’ ‘Nothing. I’ve just remembered something.’ ‘What?’ ‘Well, these people, the Caymans – they came round and asked if the fellow had said anything before he died – and I told them he hadn’t.’ ‘Well?’ ‘And now I’ve just remembered that he did.’ ‘Not one of your brightest mornings, in fact.’ ‘Well, you see, it wasn’t the sort of thing they meant. That’s why, I suppose, I didn’t think of it.’ ‘What did he say?’ asked Frankie curiously. ‘He said: “Why didn’t they ask Evans?”’ ‘What a funny thing to say. Nothing else?’ ‘No. He just opened his eyes and said that – quite suddenly – and then died, poor chap.’ ‘Oh, well,’ said Frankie, turning it over in her mind. ‘I don’t see that you need worry. It wasn’t important.’ ‘No, of course not. Still, I wish I’d just mentioned it. You see, I said he’d said nothing at all.’ ‘Well, it amounts to the same thing,’ said Frankie. ‘I mean, it isn’t like – “Tell Gladys I always loved her”, or “The will is in the walnut bureau”, or any of the proper romantic Last Words there are in books.’ ‘You don’t think it’s worth writing about it to them?’ ‘I shouldn’t bother. It couldn’t be important.’ ‘I expect you’re right,’ said Bobby and turned his attention with renewed vigour to the game. But the matter did not really dismiss itself from his mind. It was a small point but it fretted him. He felt very faintly uncomfortable about it. Frankie’s point of view was, he felt sure, the right and sensible one. The thing was of no importance – let it go. But his conscience continued to reproach him faintly. He had said that the dead man had said nothing. That wasn’t true. It was all very trivial and silly but he couldn’t feel quite comfortable about it. Finally, that evening, on an impulse, he sat down and wrote to Mr Cayman. Dear Mr Cayman, I have just remembered that your brother-in-law did actually say something before he died. I think the exact words were, ‘Why didn’t they ask Evans?’ I apologize for not mentioning this this morning, but I attached no importance to the words at the time and so, I suppose, they slipped my memory. Yours truly, Robert Jones. On the next day but one he received a reply: Dear Mr Jones (wrote Mr Cayman), Your letter of 6th instant to hand. Many thanks for repeating my poor brother-in-law’s last words so punctiliously in spite of their trivial character. What my wife hoped was that her brother might have left her some last message. Still, thank you for being so conscientious. Yours faithfully, Leo Cayman. Bobby felt snubbed. Chapter 6 End of a Picnic (#ulink_7bf1e141-fc19-59bf-b696-cc3cccf42fcb) On the following day Bobby received a letter of quite a different nature: It’s all fixed, old boy, (wrote Badger in an illiterate scrawl which reflected no credit on the expensive public school which had educated him). Actually got five cars yesterday for fifteen pounds the lot – an Austin, two Morrises and a couple of Rovers. At the moment they won’t actually go, but we can tinker them up sufficiently, I think. Dash it all, a car’s a car, after all. So long as it takes the purchaser home without breaking down, that’s all they can expect. I thought of opening up Monday week and am relying on you, so don’t let me down, will you, old boy? I must say old Aunt Carrie was a sport. I once broke the window of an old boy next door to her who’d been rude to her about her cats and she never got over it. Sent me a fiver every Christmas – and now this. We’re bound to succeed. The thing’s a dead cert. I mean, a car’s a car after all. You can pick ’em up for nothing. Put a lick of paint on and that’s all the ordinary fool notices. The thing will go with a Bang. Now don’t forget. Monday week. I’m relying on you. Yours ever, Badger. Bobby informed his father that he would be going up to town on Monday week to take up a job. The description of the job did not rouse the Vicar to anything like enthusiasm. He had, it may be pointed out, come across Badger Beadon in the past. He merely treated Bobby to a long lecture on the advisability of not making himself liable for anything. Not an authority on financial or business matters, his advice was technically vague, but its meaning unmistakable. On the Wednesday of that week Bobby received another letter. It was addressed in a foreign slanting handwriting. Its contents were somewhat surprising to the young man. It was from the firm of Henriquez and Dallo in Buenos Aires and, to put it concisely, it offered Bobby a job in the firm with a salary of a thousand a year. For the first minute or two the young man thought he must be dreaming. A thousand a year. He reread the letter more carefully. There was mention of an ex-Naval man being preferred. A suggestion that Bobby’s name had been put forward by someone (someone not named). That acceptance must be immediate, and that Bobby must be prepared to start for Buenos Aires within a week. ‘Well, I’m damned!’ said Bobby, giving vent to his feelings in a somewhat unfortunate manner. ‘Bobby!’ ‘Sorry, Dad. Forgot you were there.’ Mr Jones cleared his throat. ‘I should like to point out to you –’ Bobby felt that this process – usually a long one – must at all costs be avoided. He achieved this course by a simple statement: ‘Someone’s offered me a thousand a year.’ The Vicar remained open-mouthed, unable for the moment to make any comment. ‘That’s put him off his drive all right,’ thought Bobby with satisfaction. ‘My dear Bobby, did I understand you to say that someone had offered you a thousand a year? A thousand?’ ‘Holed it in one, Dad,’ said Bobby. ‘It’s impossible,’ said the Vicar. Bobby was not hurt by this frank incredulity. His estimate of his own monetary value differed little from that of his father. ‘They must be complete mutts,’ he agreed heartily. ‘Who – er – are these people?’ Bobby handed him the letter. The Vicar, fumbling for his pince-nez, peered at it suspiciously. Finally he perused it twice. ‘Most remarkable,’ he said at last. ‘Most remarkable.’ ‘Lunatics,’ said Bobby. ‘Ah! my boy,’ said the Vicar. ‘It is after all, a great thing to be in Englishman. Honesty. That’s what we stand for. The Navy has carried that ideal all over the world. An Englishman’s world! This South American firm realizes the value of a young man whose integrity will be unshaken and of whose fidelity his employers will be assured. You can always depend on an Englishman to play the game –’ ‘And keep a straight bat,’ said Bobby. The Vicar looked at his son doubtfully. The phrase, an excellent one, had actually been on the tip of his tongue, but there was something in Bobby’s tone that struck him as not quite sincere. The young man, however, appeared to be perfectly serious. ‘All the same, Dad,’ he said, ‘why me?’ ‘What do you mean – why you?’ ‘There are a lot of Englishmen in England,’ said Bobby. ‘Hearty fellows, full of cricketing qualities. Why pick on me?’ ‘Probably your late commanding officer may have recommended you.’ ‘Yes, I suppose that’s true,’ said Bobby doubtfully. ‘It doesn’t matter, anyway, since I can’t take the job.’ ‘Can’t take it? My dear boy, what do you mean?’ ‘Well, I’m fixed up, you see. With Badger.’ ‘Badger? Badger Beadon. Nonsense, my dear Bobby. This is serious.’ ‘It’s a bit hard, I own,’ said Bobby with a sigh. ‘Any childish arrangement you have made with young Beadon cannot count for a moment.’ ‘It counts with me.’ ‘Young Beadon is completely irresponsible. He has already, I understand, been a source of considerable trouble and expense to his parents.’ ‘He’s not had much luck. Badger’s so infernally trusting.’ ‘Luck – luck! I should say that young man had never done a hand’s turn in his life.’ ‘Nonsense, Dad. Why, he used to get up at five in the morning to feed those beastly chickens. It wasn’t his fault they all got the roop or the croup, or whatever it was.’ ‘I have never approved of this garage project. Mere folly. You must give it up.’ ‘Can’t sir. I’ve promised. I can’t let old Badger down. He’s counting on me.’ The discussion proceeded. The Vicar, biased by his views on the subject of Badger, was quite unable to regard any promise made to that young man as binding. He looked on Bobby as obstinate and determined at all costs to lead an idle life in company with one of the worse possible companions. Bobby, on the other hand, stolidly repeated without originality that he ‘couldn’t let old Badger down’. The Vicar finally left the room in anger and Bobby then and there sat down to write to the firm of Henriquez and Dallo, refusing their offer. He sighed as he did so. He was letting a chance go here which was never likely to occur again. But he saw no alternative. Later, on the links, he put the problem to Frankie. She listened attentively. ‘You’d have had to go to South America?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘Would you have liked that?’ ‘Yes, why not?’ Frankie sighed. ‘Anyway,’ she said with decision. ‘I think you did quite right.’ ‘About Badger, you mean?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘I couldn’t let the old bird down, could I?’ ‘No, but be careful the old bird, as you call him, doesn’t let you in.’ ‘Oh! I shall be careful. Anyway, I shall be all right. I haven’t got any assets.’ ‘That must be rather fun,’ said Frankie. ‘Why?’ ‘I don’t know why. It just sounded rather nice and free and irresponsible. I suppose, though, when I come to think of it, that I haven’t got any assets much, either. I mean, Father gives me an allowance and I’ve got lots of houses to live in and clothes and maids and some hideous family jewels and a good deal of credits at shops; but that’s all the family really. It’s not me.’ ‘No, but all the same –’ Bobby paused. ‘Oh, it’s quite different, I know.’ ‘Yes,’ said Bobby. ‘It’s quite different.’ He felt suddenly very depressed. They walked in silence to the next tee. ‘I’m going to town tomorrow,’ said Frankie, as Bobby teed up his ball. ‘Tomorrow? Oh – and I was going to suggest you should come for a picnic.’ ‘I’d have liked to. However, it’s arranged. You see, Father’s got the gout again.’ ‘You ought to stay and minister to him,’ said Bobby. ‘He doesn’t like being ministered to. It annoys him frightfully. He likes the second footman best. He’s sympathetic and doesn’t mind having things thrown at him and being called a damned fool.’ Bobby topped his drive and it trickled into the bunker. ‘Hard lines,’ said Frankie and drove a nice straight ball that sailed over it. ‘By the way,’ she remarked. ‘We might do something together in London. You’ll be up soon?’ ‘On Monday. But – well – it’s no good, is it?’ ‘What do you mean – no good?’ ‘Well, I mean I shall be working as a mechanic most of the time. I mean –’ ‘Even then,’ said Frankie, ‘I suppose you’re just as capable of coming to a cocktail party and getting tight as any other of my friends.’ Bobby merely shook his head. ‘I’ll give a beer and sausage party if you prefer it,’ said Frankie encouragingly. ‘Oh, look here, Frankie, what’s the good? I mean, you can’t mix your crowds. Your crowd’s a different crowd from mine.’ ‘I assure you,’ said Frankie, ‘that my crowd is a very mixed one.’ ‘You’re pretending not to understand.’ ‘You can bring Badger if you like. There’s friendship for you.’ ‘You’ve got some sort of prejudice against Badger.’ ‘I daresay it’s his stammer. People who stammer always make me stammer, too.’ ‘Look here, Frankie, it’s no good and you know it isn’t. It’s all right down here. There’s not much to do and I suppose I’m better than nothing. I mean you’re always awfully decent to me and all that, and I’m grateful. But I mean I know I’m just nobody – I mean –’ ‘When you’ve quite finished expressing your inferiority complex,’ said Frankie coldly, ‘perhaps you’ll try getting out of the bunker with a niblick instead of a putter.’ ‘Have I – oh! damn!’ He replaced the putter in his bag and took out the niblick. Frankie watched with malicious satisfaction as he hacked at the ball five times in succession. Clouds of sand rose round them. ‘Your hole,’ said Bobby, picking up the ball. ‘I think it is,’ said Frankie. ‘And that gives me the match.’ ‘Shall we play the bye?’ ‘No, I don’t think so. I’ve got a lot to do.’ ‘Of course. I suppose you have.’ They walked together in silence to the clubhouse. ‘Well,’ said Frankie, holding out her hand. ‘Goodbye, my dear. It’s been too marvellous to have you to make use of while I’ve been down here. See something of you again, perhaps, when I’ve nothing better to do.’ ‘Look here, Frankie –’ ‘Perhaps you’ll condescend to come to my coster party. I believe you can get pearl buttons quite cheaply at Woolworth’s.’ ‘Frankie –’ His words were drowned in the noise of the Bentley’s engine which Frankie had just started. She drove away with an airy wave of her hand. ‘Damn!’ said Bobby in a heartfelt tone. Frankie, he considered, had behaved outrageously. Perhaps he hadn’t put things very tactfully, but, dash it all, what he had said was true enough. Perhaps, though, he shouldn’t have put it into words. The next three days seemed interminably long. The Vicar had a sore throat which necessitated his speaking in a whisper when he spoke at all. He spoke very little and was obviously bearing his fourth son’s presence as a Christian should. Once or twice he quoted Shakespeare to the effect that a serpent’s tooth, etc. On Saturday Bobby felt that he could bear the strain of home life no longer. He got Mrs Roberts, who, with her husband, ‘ran’ the Vicarage, to give him a packet of sandwiches, and, supplementing this with a bottle of beer which he bought in Marchbolt, he set off for a solitary picnic. He had missed Frankie abominably these last few days. These older people were the limit … They harped on things so. Bobby stretched himself out on a brackeny bank and debated with himself whether he should eat his lunch first and go to sleep afterwards, or sleep first and eat afterwards. While he was cogitating, the matter was settled for him by his falling asleep without noticing it. When he awoke it was half-past three! Bobby grinned as he thought how his father would disapprove of this way of spending a day. A good walk across country – twelve miles or so – that was the kind of thing that a healthy young man should do. It led inevitably to that famous remark: ‘And now, I think, I’ve earned my lunch.’ ‘Idiotic,’ thought Bobby. ‘Why earn lunch by doing a lot of walking you don’t particularly want to do? What’s the merit in it? If you enjoy it, then it’s pure self-indulgence, and if you don’t enjoy it you’re a fool to do it.’ Whereupon he fell upon his unearned lunch and ate it with gusto. With a sigh of satisfaction he unscrewed the bottle of beer. Unusually bitter beer, but decidedly refreshing … He lay back again, having tossed the empty beer bottle into a clump of heather. He felt rather god-like lounging there. The world was at his feet. A phrase, but a good phrase. He could do anything – anything if he tried! Plans of great splendour and daring initiative flashed through his mind. Then he grew sleepy again. Lethargy stole over him. He slept … Heavy, numbing sleep … Chapter 7 An Escape from Death (#ulink_8201513c-5ceb-5925-be24-08123febc08c) Driving her large green Bentley, Frankie drew up to the kerb outside a large old-fashioned house over the doorway of which was inscribed ‘St Asaph’s’. Frankie jumped out and, turning, extracted a large bunch of lilies. Then she rang the bell. A woman in nurse’s dress answered the door. ‘Can I see Mr Jones?’ inquired Frankie. The nurse’s eyes took in the Bentley, the lilies and Frankie with intense interest. ‘What name shall I say?’ ‘Lady Frances Derwent.’ The nurse was thrilled and her patient went up in her estimation. She guided Frankie upstairs into a room on the first floor. ‘You’ve a visitor to see you, Mr Jones. Now, who do you think it is? Such a nice surprise for you.’ All this is the ‘bright’ manner usual to nursing homes. ‘Gosh!’ said Bobby, very much surprised. ‘If it isn’t Frankie!’ ‘Hullo, Bobby, I’ve brought the usual flowers. Rather a graveyard suggestion about them, but the choice was limited.’ ‘Oh, Lady Frances,’ said the nurse, ‘they’re lovely. I’ll put them into water.’ She left the room. Frankie sat down in an obvious visitor’s chair. ‘Well, Bobby,’ she said. ‘What’s all this?’ ‘You may well ask,’ said Bobby. ‘I’m the complete sensation of this place. Eight grains of morphia, no less. They’re going to write about me in the Lancet and the BMJ.’ ‘What’s the BMJ?’ interrupted Frankie. ‘The British Medical Journal.’ ‘All right. Go ahead. Rattle off some more initials.’ ‘Do you know, my girl, that half a grain is a fatal dose? I ought to be dead about sixteen times over. It’s true that recovery has been known after sixteen grains – still, eight is pretty good, don’t you think? I’m the hero of this place. They’ve never had a case like me before.’ ‘How nice for them.’ ‘Isn’t it? Gives them something to talk about to all the other patients.’ The nurse re-entered, bearing lilies in vases. ‘It’s true, isn’t it, nurse?’ demanded Bobby. ‘You’ve never had a case like mine?’ ‘Oh! you oughtn’t to be here at all,’ said the nurse. ‘In the churchyard you ought to be. But it’s only the good die young, they say.’ She giggled at her own wit and went out. ‘There you are,’ said Bobby. ‘You’ll see, I shall be famous all over England.’ He continued to talk. Any signs of inferiority complex that he had displayed at his last meeting with Frankie had now quite disappeared. He took a firm and egotistical pleasure in recounting every detail of his case. ‘That’s enough,’ said Frankie, quelling him. ‘I don’t really care terribly for stomach pumps. To listen to you one would think nobody had ever been poisoned before.’ ‘Jolly few have been poisoned with eight grains of morphia and got over it,’ Bobby pointed out. ‘Dash it all, you’re not sufficiently impressed.’ ‘Pretty sickening for the people who poisoned you,’ said Frankie. ‘I know. Waste of perfectly good morphia.’ ‘It was in the beer, wasn’t it?’ ‘Yes. You see, someone found me sleeping like the dead, tried to wake me and couldn’t. Then they got alarmed, carried me to a farmhouse and sent for a doctor –’ ‘I know all the next part,’ said Frankie hastily. ‘At first they had the idea that I’d taken the stuff deliberately. Then when they heard my story, they went off and looked for the beer bottle and found it where I’d thrown it and had it analysed – the dregs of it were quite enough for that, apparently.’ ‘No clue as to how the morphia got in the bottle?’ ‘None whatever. They’ve interviewed the pub where I bought it and opened other bottles and everything’s been quite all right.’ ‘Someone must have put the stuff in the beer while you were asleep?’ ‘That’s it. I remember that the paper across the top wasn’t still sticking properly.’ Frankie nodded thoughtfully. ‘Well,’ she said. ‘It shows that what I said in the train that day was quite right.’ ‘What did you say?’ ‘That that man – Pritchard – had been pushed over the cliff.’ ‘That wasn’t in the train. You said that at the station,’ said Bobby feebly. ‘Same thing.’ ‘But why –’ ‘Darling – it’s obvious. Why should anyone want to put you out of the way? You’re not the heir to a fortune or anything.’ ‘I may be. Some great aunt I’ve never heard of in New Zealand or somewhere may have left me all her money.’ ‘Nonsense. Not without knowing you. And if she didn’t know you, why leave money to a fourth son? Why, in these hard times even a clergyman mightn’t have a fourth son! No, it’s all quite clear. No one benefits by your death, so that’s ruled out. Then there’s revenge. You haven’t seduced a chemist’s daughter, by any chance?’ ‘Not that I can remember,’ said Bobby with dignity. ‘I know. One seduces so much that one can’t keep count. But I should say offhand that you’ve never seduced anyone at all.’ ‘You’re making me blush, Frankie. And why must it be a chemist’s daughter, anyway?’ ‘Free access to morphia. It’s not so easy to get hold of morphia.’ ‘Well, I haven’t seduced a chemist’s daughter.’ ‘And you haven’t got any enemies that you know of?’ Bobby shook his head. ‘Well, there you are,’ said Frankie triumphantly. ‘It must be the man who was pushed over the cliff. What do the police think?’ ‘They think it must have been a lunatic.’ ‘Nonsense. Lunatics don’t wander about with unlimited supplies of morphia looking for odd bottles of beer to put it into. No, somebody pushed Pritchard over the cliff. A minute or two later you come along and he thinks you saw him do it and so determines to put you out of the way.’ ‘I don’t think that will hold water, Frankie.’ ‘Why not?’ ‘Well, to begin with, I didn’t see anything.’ ‘Yes, but he didn’t know that.’ ‘And if I had seen anything, I should have said so at the inquest.’ ‘I suppose that’s so,’ said Frankie unwillingly. She thought for a minute or two. ‘Perhaps he thought you’d seen something that you didn’t think was anything but which really was something. That sounds pure gibberish, but you get the idea?’ Bobby nodded. ‘Yes, I see what you mean, but it doesn’t seem very probable, somehow.’ ‘I’m sure that cliff business had something to do with this. You were on the spot – the first person to be there –’ ‘Thomas was there, too,’ Bobby reminded her. ‘And nobody’s tried to poison him.’ ‘Perhaps they’re going to,’ said Frankie cheerfully. ‘Or perhaps they’ve tried and failed.’ ‘It all seems very far-fetched.’ ‘I think it’s logical. If you get two out of the way things happening in a stagnant pond like Marchbolt – wait – there’s a third thing.’ ‘What?’ ‘That job you were offered. That, of course, is quite a small thing, but it was odd, you must admit. I’ve never heard of a foreign firm that specialized in seeking out undistinguished ex-Naval officers.’ ‘Did you say undistinguished?’ ‘You hadn’t got into the BMJ, then. But you see my point. You’ve seen something you weren’t meant to see – or so they (whoever they are) think. Very well. They first try to get rid of you by offering you a job abroad. Then, when that fails, they try to put you out of the way altogether.’ ‘Isn’t that rather drastic? And anyway a great risk to take?’ ‘Oh! but murderers are always frightfully rash. The more murders they do, the more murders they want to do.’ ‘Like The Third Bloodstain,’ said Bobby, remembering one of his favourite works of fiction. ‘Yes, and in real life, too – Smith and his wives and Armstrong and people.’ ‘Well, but, Frankie, what on earth is it I’m supposed to have seen?’ ‘That, of course, is the difficulty,’ admitted Frankie. ‘I agree that it can’t have been the actual pushing, because you would have told about that. It must be something about the man himself. Perhaps he had a birthmark or double-jointed fingers or some strange physical peculiarity.’ ‘Your mind is running on Dr Thorndyke, I see. It couldn’t be anything like that because whatever I saw the police would see as well.’ ‘So they would. That was an idiotic suggestion. It’s very difficult, isn’t it?’ ‘It’s a pleasing theory,’ said Bobby. ‘And it makes me feel important, but all the same, I don’t believe it’s much more than a theory.’ ‘I’m sure I’m right.’ Frankie rose. ‘I must be off now. Shall I come and see you again tomorrow?’ ‘Oh! Do. The arch chatter of the nurses gets very monotonous. By the way, you’re back from London very soon?’ ‘My dear, as soon as I heard about you, I tore back. It’s most exciting to have a romantically poisoned friend.’ ‘I don’t know whether morphia is so very romantic,’ said Bobby reminiscently. ‘Well, I’ll come tomorrow. Do I kiss you or don’t I?’ ‘It’s not catching,’ said Bobby encouragingly. ‘Then I’ll do my duty to the sick thoroughly.’ She kissed him lightly. ‘See you tomorrow.’ The nurse came in with Bobby’s tea as she went out. ‘I’ve seen her pictures in the papers often. She’s not so very like them, though. And, of course, I’ve seen her driving about in her car, but I’ve never seen her before close to, so to speak. Not a bit haughty, is she?’ ‘Oh, no!’ said Bobby. ‘I should never call Frankie haughty.’ ‘I said to Sister, I said, she’s as natural as anything. Not a bit stuck up. I said to Sister, she’s just like you or me, I said.’ Silently dissenting violently from this view, Bobby returned no reply. The nurse, disappointed by his lack of response, left the room. Bobby was left to his own thoughts. He finished his tea. Then he went over in his mind the possibilities of Frankie’s amazing theory, and ended by deciding reluctantly against it. He then cast about for other distractions. His eye was caught by the vases of lilies. Frightfully sweet of Frankie to bring him all these flowers, and of course they were lovely, but he wished it had occurred to her to bring him a few detective stories instead. He cast his eye over the table beside him. There was a novel of Ouida’s and a copy of John Halifax, Gentleman and last week’s Marchbolt Weekly Times. He picked up John Halifax, Gentleman. After five minutes he put it down. To a mind nourished on The Third Bloodstain, The Case of the Murdered Archduke and The Strange Adventure of the Florentine Dagger, John Halifax, Gentleman, lacked pep. With a sigh he picked up last week’s Marchbolt Weekly Times. A moment or two later he was pressing the bell beneath his pillow with a vigour which brought a nurse into the room at a run. ‘Whatever’s the matter, Mr Jones? Are you taken bad?’ ‘Ring up the Castle,’ cried Bobby. ‘Tell Lady Frances she must come back here at once.’ ‘Oh, Mr Jones. You can’t send a message like that.’ ‘Can’t I?’ said Bobby. ‘If I were allowed to get up from this blasted bed you’d soon see whether I could or couldn’t. As it is, you’ve got to do it for me.’ ‘But she’ll hardly be back.’ ‘You don’t know that Bentley.’ ‘She won’t have had her tea.’ ‘Now look here, my dear girl,’ said Bobby, ‘don’t stand there arguing with me. Ring up as I tell you. Tell her she’s got to come here at once because I’ve got something very important to say to her.’ Overborne, but unwilling, the nurse went. She took some liberties with Bobby’s message. If it was no inconvenience to Lady Frances, Mr Jones wondered if she would mind coming as he had something he would like to say to her, but, of course, Lady Frances was not to put herself out in any way. Lady Frances replied curtly that she would come at once. ‘Depend upon it,’ said the nurse to her colleagues, ‘she’s sweet on him! That’s what it is.’ Frankie arrived all agog. ‘What’s this desperate summons?’ she demanded. Bobby was sitting up in bed, a bright red spot in each cheek. In his hand he waved the copy of the Marchbolt Weekly Times. ‘Look at this, Frankie.’ Frankie looked. ‘Well,’ she demanded. ‘This is the picture you meant when you said it was touched up but quite like the Cayman woman.’ Bobby’s finger pointed to a somewhat blurred reproduction of a photograph. Underneath it were the words: ‘PORTRAIT FOUND ON THE DEAD MAN AND BY WHICH HE WAS IDENTIFIED. MRS AMELIA CAYMAN, THE DEAD MAN’S SISTER.’ ‘That’s what I said, and it’s true, too. I can’t see anything to rave over in it.’ ‘No more than I.’ ‘But you said –’ ‘I know I said. But you see, Frankie’ – Bobby’s voice became very impressive – ‘this isn’t the photograph that I put back in the dead man’s pocket …’ They looked at each other. ‘Then in that case,’ began Frankie slowly. ‘Either there must have been two photographs –’ ‘– Which isn’t likely –’ ‘Or else –’ They paused. ‘That man – what’s his name?’ said Frankie. ‘Bassington-ffrench!’ said Bobby. ‘I’m quite sure!’ Chapter 8 Riddle of a Photograph (#ulink_32035afa-6cb8-5736-9a83-c1dde72847e9) They stared at each other as they tried to adjust themselves to the altered situation. ‘It couldn’t be anyone else,’ said Bobby. ‘He was the only person who had the chance.’ ‘Unless, as we said, there were two photographs.’ ‘We agreed that that wasn’t likely. If there had been two photographs they’d have tried to identify him by means of both of them – not only one.’ ‘Anyway, that’s easily found out,’ said Frankie. ‘We can ask the police. We’ll assume for the moment that there was just the one photograph, the one you saw that you put back again in his pocket. It was there when you left him, and it wasn’t there when the police came, therefore the only person who could have taken it away and put the other one in its place was this man Bassington-ffrench. What was he like, Bobby?’ Bobby frowned in the effort of remembrance. ‘A sort of nondescript fellow. Pleasant voice. A gentleman and all that. I really didn’t notice him particularly. He said that he was a stranger down here – and something about looking for a house.’ ‘We can verify that, anyway,’ said Frankie. ‘Wheeler & Owen are the only house agents.’ Suddenly she gave a shiver. ‘Bobby, have you thought? If Pritchard was pushed over – Bassington-ffrench must be the man who did it …’ ‘That’s pretty grim,’ said Bobby. ‘He seemed such a nice pleasant sort of fellow. But you know, Frankie, we can’t be sure he really was pushed over.’ ‘You have been all along.’ ‘No, I just wanted it to be that way because it made things more exciting. But now it’s more or less proved. If it was murder everything fits in. Your unexpected appearance which upsets the murderer’s plans. Your discovery of the photograph and, in consequence, the need to put you out of the way.’ ‘There’s a flaw there,’ said Bobby. ‘Why?’ You were the only person who saw that photograph. As soon as Bassington-ffrench was left alone with the body he changed the photograph which only you had seen.’ But Bobby continued to shake his head. ‘No, that won’t do. Let’s grant for the moment that that photograph was so important that I had to be “got out of the way”, as you put it. Sounds absurd but I suppose it’s just possible. Well, then, whatever was going to be done would have to be done at once. The fact that I went to London and never saw the Marchbolt Weekly Times or the other papers with the photograph in it was just pure chance – a thing nobody could count on. The probability was that I should say at once, “That isn’t the photograph I saw.” Why wait till after the inquest when everything was nicely settled?’ ‘There’s something in that,’ admitted Frankie. ‘And there’s another point. I can’t be absolutely sure, of course, but I could almost swear that when I put the photograph back in the dead man’s pocket Bassington-ffrench wasn’t there. He didn’t arrive till about five or ten minutes later.’ ‘He might have been watching you all the time,’ argued Frankie. ‘I don’t see very well how he could,’ said Bobby slowly. ‘There’s really only one place where you can see down to exactly the spot we were. Farther round, the cliff bulges and then recedes underneath, so that you can’t see over. There’s just the one place and when Bassington-ffrench did arrive there I heard him at once. Footsteps echo down below. He may have been near at hand, but he wasn’t looking over till then – I’ll swear.’ ‘Then you think that he didn’t know about your seeing the photograph?’ ‘I don’t see how he could have known.’ ‘And he can’t have been afraid you’d seen him doing it – the murder, I mean – because, as you say, that’s absurd. You’d never have held your tongue about it. It looks as though it must have been something else altogether.’ ‘Only I don’t see what it could have been.’ ‘Something they didn’t know about till after the inquest. I don’t know why I say “they”.’ ‘Why not? After all, the Caymans must have been in it, too. It’s probably a gang. I like gangs.’ ‘That’s a low taste,’ said Frankie absently. ‘A single-handed murder is much higher class. Bobby!’ ‘Yes?’ ‘What was it Pritchard said – just before he died? You know, you told me about it that day on the links. That funny question?’ ‘“Why didn’t they ask Evans?”’ ‘Yes. Suppose that was it?’ ‘But that’s ridiculous.’ ‘It sounds so, but it might be important, really. Bobby, I’m sure it’s that. Oh, no, I’m being an idiot – you never told the Caymans about it?’ ‘I did, as a matter of fact,’ said Bobby slowly. ‘You did?’ ‘Yes. I wrote to them that evening. Saying, of course, that it was probably quite unimportant.’ ‘And what happened?’ ‘Cayman wrote back, politely agreeing, of course, that there was nothing in it, but thanking me for taking the trouble. I felt rather snubbed.’ ‘And two days later you got this letter from a strange firm bribing you to go to South America?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘Well,’ said Frankie, ‘I don’t know what more you want. They try that first; you turn it down, and the next thing is that they follow you round and seize a good moment to empty a lot of morphia into your bottle of beer.’ ‘Then the Caymans are in it?’ ‘Of course the Caymans are in it!’ ‘Yes,’ said Bobby thoughtfully. ‘If your reconstruction is correct, they must be in it. According to our present theory, it goes like this. Dead man X is deliberately pushed over cliff – presumably by BF (pardon these initials). It is important that X should not be correctly identified, so portrait of Mrs C is put in his pocket and portrait of fair unknown removed. (Who was she, I wonder?)’ ‘Keep to the point,’ said Frankie sternly. ‘Mrs C waits for photographs to appear and turns up as grief-stricken sister and identifies X as her brother from foreign parts.’ ‘You don’t believe he could really have been her brother?’ ‘Not for a moment! You know, it puzzled me all along. The Caymans were a different class altogether. The dead man was – well, it sounds a most awful thing to say and just like some deadly old retired Anglo-Indian, but the dead man was a pukka sahib.’ ‘And the Caymans most emphatically weren’t?’ ‘Most emphatically.’ ‘And then, just when everything has gone off well from the Caymans’ point of view – body successfully identified, verdict of accidental death, everything in the garden lovely – you come along and mess things up,’ mused Frankie. ‘“Why didn’t they ask Evans?”’ Bobby repeated the phrase thoughtfully. ‘You know, I can’t see what on earth there can be in that to put the wind up anybody.’ ‘Ah! that’s because you don’t know. It’s like making crossword puzzles. You write down a clue and you think it’s too idiotically simple and that everyone will guess it straight off, and you’re frightfully surprised when they simply can’t get it in the least. “Why didn’t they ask Evans?” must have been a most frightfully significant phrase to them, and they couldn’t realize that it meant nothing at all to you.’ ‘More fools they.’ ‘Oh, quite so. But it’s just possible they thought that if Pritchard said that, he might have said something more which would also recur to you in due time. Anyway, they weren’t going to take chances. You were safer out of the way.’ ‘They took a lot of risk. Why didn’t they engineer another “accident”?’ ‘No, no. That would have been stupid. Two accidents within a week of each other? It might have suggested a connection between the two, and then people would have begun inquiring into the first one. No, I think there’s a kind of bald simplicity about their method which is really rather clever.’ ‘And yet you said just now that morphia wasn’t easy to get hold of.’ ‘No more it isn’t. You have to sign poison books and things. Oh! of course, that’s a clue. Whoever did it had easy access to supplies of morphia.’ ‘A doctor, a hospital nurse, or a chemist,’ suggested Bobby. ‘Well, I was thinking more of illicitly imported drugs.’ ‘You can’t mix up too many different sorts of crime,’ said Bobby. ‘You see, the strong point would be the absence of motive. Your death doesn’t benefit anyone. So what will the police think?’ ‘A lunatic,’ said Bobby. ‘And that’s what they do think.’ ‘You see? It’s awfully simple, really.’ Bobby began to laugh suddenly. ‘What’s amusing you?’ ‘Just the thought of how sick-making it must be for them! All that morphia – enough to kill five or six people – and here I am still alive and kicking.’ ‘One of Life’s little ironies that one can’t foresee,’ agreed Frankie. ‘The question is – what do we do next?’ said Bobby practically. ‘Oh! lots of things,’ said Frankie promptly. ‘Such as … ?’ ‘Well – finding out about the photograph – that there was only one, not two. And about Bassington-ffrench’s house hunting.’ ‘That will probably be quite all right and above board.’ ‘Why do you say that?’ ‘Look here, Frankie, think a minute. Bassington-ffrench must be above suspicion. He must be all clear and above board. Not only must there be nothing to connect him in any way with the dead man, but he must have a proper reason for being down here. He may have invented house hunting on the spur of the moment, but I bet he carried out something of the kind. There must be no suggestion of a “mysterious stranger seen in the neighbourhood of the accident”. I fancy that Bassington-ffrench is his own name and that he’s the sort of person who would be quite above suspicion.’ ‘Yes,’ said Frankie thoughtfully. ‘That’s a very good deduction. There will be nothing whatever to connect Bassington-ffrench with Alex Pritchard. Now, if we knew who the dead man really was –’ ‘Ah, then it might be different.’ ‘So it was very important that the body should not be recognized – hence all the Cayman camouflage. And yet it was taking a big risk.’ ‘You forget that Mrs Cayman identified him as soon as was humanly possible. After that, even if there had been pictures of him in the papers (you know how blurry these things are) people would only say: “Curious, this man Pritchard, who fell over a cliff, is really extraordinarily like Mr X.”’ ‘There must be more to it than that,’ said Frankie shrewdly. ‘X must have been a man who wouldn’t easily be missed. I mean, he couldn’t have been the sort of family man whose wife or relations would go to the police at once and report him missing.’ ‘Good for you, Frankie. No, he must have been just going abroad or perhaps just come back (he was marvellously tanned – like a big-game hunter – he looked that sort of person) and he can’t have had any very near relations who knew all about his movements.’ ‘We’re deducing beautifully,’ said Frankie. ‘I hope we’re not deducing all wrong.’ ‘Very likely,’ said Bobby. ‘But I think what we’ve said so far is fairly sound sense – granted, that is, the wild improbability of the whole thing.’ Frankie waved away the wild improbability with an airy gesture. ‘The thing is – what to do next,’ she said. ‘It seems to me we’ve got three angles of attack.’ ‘Go on, Sherlock.’ ‘The first is you. They’ve made one attempt on your life. They’ll probably try again. This time we might get what they call “a line” on them. Using you as a decoy, I mean.’ ‘No thank you, Frankie,’ said Bobby with feeling. ‘I’ve been very lucky this time, but I mightn’t be so lucky again if they changed the attack to a blunt instrument. I was thinking of taking a great deal of care of myself in the future. The decoy idea can be washed out.’ ‘I was afraid you’d say that,’ said Frankie with a sigh. ‘Young men are sadly degenerate nowadays. Father says so. They don’t enjoy being uncomfortable and doing dangerous and unpleasant things any longer. It’s a pity.’ ‘A great pity,’ said Bobby, but he spoke with firmness. ‘What’s the second plan of campaign?’ ‘Working from the “Why didn’t they ask Evans?” clue,’ said Frankie. ‘Presumably the dead man came down here to see Evans, whoever he was. Now, if we could find Evans –’ ‘How many Evanses,’ Bobby interrupted, ‘do you think there are in Marchbolt?’ ‘Seven hundred, I should think,’ admitted Frankie. ‘At least! We might do something that way, but I’m rather doubtful.’ ‘We could list all the Evanses and visit the likely ones.’ ‘And ask them – what?’ ‘That’s the difficulty,’ said Frankie. ‘We need to know a little more,’ said Bobby. ‘Then that idea of yours might come in useful. What’s No. 3?’ ‘This man Bassington-ffrench. There we have got something tangible to go upon. It’s an uncommon name. I’ll ask Father. He knows all these county family names and their various branches.’ ‘Yes,’ said Bobby. ‘We might do something that way.’ ‘At any rate, we are going to do something?’ ‘Of course we are. Do you think I’m going to be given eight grains of morphia and do nothing about it?’ ‘That’s the spirit,’ said Frankie. ‘And besides that,’ said Bobby, ‘there’s the indignity of the stomach pump to be washed out.’ ‘That’s enough,’ said Frankie. ‘You’ll be getting morbid and indecent again if I don’t stop you.’ ‘You have no true womanly sympathy,’ said Bobby. Chapter 9 Concerning Mr Bassington-ffrench (#ulink_9ea1f25b-6c62-5255-a545-905881934c89) Frankie lost no time in setting to work. She attacked her father that same evening. ‘Father,’ she said, ‘do you know any Bassington-ffrenches?’ Lord Marchington, who was reading a political article, did not quite take in the question. ‘It’s not the French so much as the Americans,’ he said severely. ‘All this tomfoolery and conferences – wasting the nation’s time and money –’ Frankie abstracted her mind until Lord Marchington, running like a railway train along an accustomed line, came, as it were, to a halt at a station. ‘The Bassington-ffrenches,’ repeated Frankie. ‘What about ’em?’ said Lord Marchington. Frankie didn’t know what about them. She made a statement, knowing well enough that her father enjoyed contradiction. ‘They’re a Yorkshire family, aren’t they?’ ‘Nonsense – Hampshire. There’s the Shropshire branch, of course, and then there’s the Irish lot. Which are your friends?’ ‘I’m not sure,’ said Frankie, accepting the implication of friendship with several unknown people. ‘Not sure? What do you mean? You must be sure.’ ‘People drift about so nowadays,’ said Frankie. ‘Drift – drift – that’s about all they do. In my days we asked people. Then one knew where one was – fellow said he was the Hampshire branch – very well, your grandmother married my second cousin. It made a link.’ Конец ознакомительного фрагмента. Текст предоставлен ООО «ЛитРес». Прочитайте эту книгу целиком, купив полную легальную версию (https://www.litres.ru/agata-kristi/why-didn-t-they-ask-evans/?lfrom=334617187) на ЛитРес. Безопасно оплатить книгу можно банковской картой Visa, MasterCard, Maestro, со счета мобильного телефона, с платежного терминала, в салоне МТС или Связной, через PayPal, WebMoney, Яндекс.Деньги, QIWI Кошелек, бонусными картами или другим удобным Вам способом.
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