But first there was the inquest. And it was at the inquest that the first faint stirring of a much greater sensation began to appear. It was Jammy Hopkins who noted the quiver on the smooth surface. He had earned his nickname because of his glad cry of "Jam! Jam!" when a good story broke, and his philosophical reflection when times were thin that "all was jam that came to the rollers." Hopkins had an excellent nose for jam, and so it was that he stopped suddenly in the middle of analyzing for Bartholomew's benefit the various sensation seekers crowding the little Kentish village hall. Stopped dead and stared. Because, between the flyaway hats of two bright sensationalists, he could see a man's calm face which was much more sensational than anything in that building.
"Seen something?" Bart asked.
"Have I seen something!" Hopkins slid from the end of the form, just as the coroner sat down and tapped for silence. "Keep my place," he whispered, and disappeared out of the building. He entered it again at the back door, expertly pushed his way to the place he wanted, and sat down. The man turned his head to view this gate-crasher. "Morning, Inspector," said Hopkins. The Inspector looked his disgust.
"I wouldn't do it if I didn't need the money," Hopkins said, vox humana.
The coroner tapped again for silence, but the Inspector's face relaxed.
Presently, under cover of the bustle of Potticary's arrival to give evidence, Hopkins said, "What is Scotland Yard doing here, Inspector?"
"I see. Just studying inquests as an institution. Crime slack these days?" As the Inspector showed no sign of being drawn: "Oh, have a heart, Inspector. What's in the wind? Is there something phony about the death? Suspicions, eh? If you don't want to talk for publication I'm the original locked casket."
"You're the original camel fly."
"Oh, well, look at the hides I have to get through!" This produced a grin and nothing else. "Look here. Just tell me one thing, Inspector. Is this inquest going to be adjourned?"
"I shouldn't be surprised."
"Thank you. That tells me everything," Hopkins said, half sarcastic, half serious, as he made his way out again. He prised Mrs. Pitts's Albert away from the wall where he clung limpetlike by the window, persuaded him that two shillings were better than a partial view of dull proceedings, and sent him to Liddlestone with a telegram which set the Clarion office buzzing. Then he went back to Bart.
"Something wrong," he said out of the corner of his mouth in answer to Bart's eyebrows. "The Yard's here. That's Grant, behind the scarlet hat. Inquest going to be adjourned. Spot the murderer!"
"Not here," Bart said, having considered the gathering.
"No," agreed Jammy. "Who's the chap in the flannel bags?"
"Thought the boyfriend was Jay Harmer."
"Was. This one newer."
"'Love nest killing'?"
"Wouldn't mind betting."
"Supposed to be cold, I thought?"
"Yes. So they say. Fooled them, seemingly. Good enough reason for murder, I should think."
The evidence was of the most formal kind the finding and identification of the body — and as soon as that had been offered the coroner brought the proceedings to an end, and fixed no date for resumption.
Hopkins had decided that, the Clay death being apparently no accident, and Scotland Yard not being able so far to make any arrest, the person to cultivate was undoubtedly the man in the flannel bags. Tisdall, his name was. Bart said that every newspaper man in England had tried to interview him the previous day (Hopkins being then en route from the poker murder) but that he had been exceptionally tough. Called them ghouls, and vultures, and rats, and other things less easy of specification, and had altogether seemed unaware of the standing of the Press. No one was rude to the Press anymore — not with impunity, that was.
But Hopkins had great faith in his power to seduce the human mind.
"Your name Tisdall, by any chance?" he asked casually, «finding» himself alongside the young man in the crowded procession to the door.
The man's face hardened into instant enmity.
"Yes, it is," he said aggressively.
"Not old Tom Tisdall's nephew?"
The face cleared swiftly.
"Yes. Did you know Uncle Tom?"
"A little," admitted Hopkins, no whit dismayed to find that there really was a Tom Tisdall.
"You seem to know about my giving up the Stannaway?"
"Yes, someone told me," Hopkins said, wondering if the Stannaway was a house, or what? "What are you doing now?"
By the time they had reached the door, Hopkins had established himself. "Can I give you a lift somewhere? Come and have lunch with me?"
A pip! In half an hour he'd have a front-page story. And this was the baby they said was difficult! No, there was no doubt of it: he, James Brooke Hopkins, was the greatest newspaper man in the business.
"Sorry, Mr. Hopkins," said Grant's pleasant voice at his shoulder. "I don't want to spoil your party, but Mr. Tisdall has an appointment with me." And, since Tisdall betrayed his astonishment and Hopkins his instant putting two and two together, he added, "We're hoping he can help us."
"I don't understand," Tisdall was beginning. And Hopkins, seeing that Tisdall was unaware of Grant's identity, rushed in with glad maliciousness.
"That is Scotland Yard," he said. "Inspector Grant. Never had an unsolved crime to his name."
"I hope you write my obituary," Grant said.
"I hope I do!" the journalist said, with fervor.
And then they noticed Tisdall. His face was like parchment, dry and old and expressionless. Only the pulse beating hard at his temple suggested a living being. Journalist and detective stood looking in mutual astonishment at so unexpected a result of Hopkins's announcement. And then, seeing the man's knees beginning to sag, Grant took him hastily by the arm.
"Here! Come and sit down. My car is just here."
He edged the apparently blind Tisdall through the dawdling, chattering crowd, and pushed him into the rear seat of a dark touring car.
"Westover," he said to the chauffeur, and got in beside Tisdall.
As they went at snail's pace towards the high road, Grant saw Hopkins still standing where they had left him. That Jammy Hopkins should stay without moving for more than three consecutive minutes argued that he was being given furiously to think. From now on — the Inspector sighed — the camelfly would be a bloodhound.
And the Inspector, too, had food for his wits. He had been called in the previous night by a worried County Constabulary who had no desire to make themselves ridiculous by making mountains out of molehills, but who found themselves unable to explain away satisfactorily one very small, very puzzling obstacle to their path. They had all viewed the obstacle, from the Chief Constable down to the sergeant who had taken charge on the beach, had been rude about each other's theories, and had in the end agreed on only one thing: that they wanted to push the responsibility on to someone else's shoulders. It was all very well to hang on to your own crime, and the kudos of a solution, when there was a crime. But to decide in cold blood to announce a crime, on the doubtful evidence of that common little object on the table; to risk, not the disgrace of failure, but the much worse slings of ridicule, was something they could not find it in their hearts to do. And so Grant had canceled his seat at the Criterion and had journeyed down to Westover. He had inspected the stumbling block, listened with patience to their theories and with respect to the police surgeon's story, and had gone to bed in the small hours with a great desire to interview Robert Tisdall. And now here was Tisdall, beside him, still speechless and half-fainting because he had been confronted without warning by Scotland Yard. Yes, there was a case; no doubt of it. Well, there couldn't be any questioning with Cork in the driving seat, so until they got back to Westover Tisdall might be left to recover. Grant took a flask from the car pocket and offered it to him. Tisdall took it shakily but made good use of it. Presently he apologized for his weakness.
"I don't know what went wrong. This affair has been an awful shock to me. I haven't been sleeping. Keep going over things in my mind. Or rather, my mind keeps doing it; I can't stop it. And then, at the inquest it seemed — I say, is something not right? I mean, was it not a simple drowning? Why did they postpone the end of the inquest?"
"There are one or two things that the police find puzzling."
"As what, for instance?"
"I think we won't discuss it until we get to Westover."
"Is anything I say to be used in evidence against me?" The smile was wry but the intention was good.
"You took the words out of my mouth," the Inspector said lightly, and silence fell between them.
By the time they reached the Chief Constable's room in the County Police offices, Tisdall was looking normal if a little worn. In fact, so normal did he look that when Grant said, "This is Mr. Tisdall," the Chief Constable, who was a genial soul except when someone jumped in his pocket out hunting, almost shook hands with him, but recollected himself before any harm was done.
"Howdyudo. Harrump!" He cleared his throat to give himself time. Couldn't do that, of course. My goodness, no. Fellow suspected of murder. Didn't look it, no, upon his soul he didn't. But there was no telling these days. The most charming people were — well, things he hadn't known till lately existed. Very sad. But couldn't shake hands, of course. No, definitely not. "Harrump! Fine morning! Bad for racing, of course. Going very hard. But good for the holiday makers. Mustn't be selfish in our pleasures. You a racing man? Going to Goodwood? Oh, well, perhaps — No. Well, I expect you and — and our friend here — " somehow one didn't want to rub in the fact of Grant's inspectorship. Nice-looking chap. Well brought up, and all that — "would like to talk in peace. I'm going to lunch. The Ship," he added, for Grant's benefit, in case the Inspector wanted him. "Not that the food's very good there, but it's a self-respecting house. Not like these Marine things. Like to get steak and potatoes without going through sun lounges for them." And the Chief Constable took himself out.
"A Freedy Lloyd part," Tisdall said.
Grant looked up appreciatively from pulling forward a chair.
"You're a theater fan."
"I was a fan of most things."
Grant's mind focused on the peculiarity of the phrase. "Why 'was'?" he asked.
"Because I'm broke. You need money to be a fan."
"You won't forget that formula about 'anything you say, will you?"
"No, thanks. But it doesn't make any difference. I can only tell you the truth. If you draw wrong deductions from it then that's your fault, not mine."
"So it's I who am on trial. A nice point. I appreciate it. Well, try me out. I want to know how you were living in the same house with a woman whose name you didn't know? You did tell the County Police that, didn't you?"
"Yes. I expect it sounds incredible. Silly, too. But it's quite simple. You see, I was standing on the pavement opposite the Gaiety one night, very late, wondering what to do. I had fivepence in my pocket, and that was fivepence too much, because I had aimed at having nothing at all. And I was wondering whether to have a last go at spending the fivepence (there isn't much one can do with fivepence) or to cheat, and forget about the odd pennies. So —»
"Just a moment. You might explain to a dullard just why these five pennies should have been important."
"They were the end of a fortune, you see. Thirty thousand. I inherited it from my uncle. My mother's brother. My real name is Stannaway, but Uncle Tom asked that I should take his name with the money. I didn't mind. The Tisdalls were a much better lot than the Stannaways, anyhow. Stamina and ballast and all that. If I'd been a Tisdall I wouldn't be broke now, but I'm nearly all Stannaway. I've been the perfect fool, the complete Awful Warning. I was in an architect's office when I inherited the money, living in rooms and just making do; and it went to my head to have what seemed more than I could ever spend. I gave up my job and went to see all the places I'd wanted to see and never hoped to. New York and Hollywood and Budapest and Rome and Capri and God knows where else. I came back to London with about two thousand, meaning to bank it and get a job. It would have been easy enough two years before — I mean, to bank the money. I hadn't anyone to help spend it then. But in those two years I had gathered a lot of friends all over the world, and there were never less than a dozen of them in London at the same time. So I woke up one morning to find that I was down to my last hundred. It was a bit of a shock. Like cold water. I sat down and thought for the first time for two years. I had the choice of two things: sponging — you can live in luxury anywhere in the world's capitals for six months if you're a good sponger: I know; I supported dozens of that sort — and disappearing. Disappearing seemed easier. I could drop out quite easily. People would just say, 'Where's Bobby Tisdall these days? and they'd just take it for granted that I was in some of the other corners of the world where their sort went, and that they'd run into me one of these days. I was supposed to be suffocatingly rich, you see, and it was easier to drop out and leave them thinking of me like that than to stay and be laughed at when the truth began to dawn on them. I paid my bills, and that left me with fifty-seven pounds. I thought I'd have one last gamble then, and see if I could pick up enough to start me off on the new level. So I had thirty pounds — fifteen each way; that's the bit of Tisdall in me — on Red Rowan in the Eclipse. He finished fifth. Twenty-odd pounds isn't enough to start anything except a barrow. There was nothing for it but tramping. I wasn't much put out at the thought of tramping — it would be a change — but you can't tramp with twenty-seven pounds in the bank, so I decided to blue it all in one grand last night. I promised myself that I'd finish up without a penny in my pocket. Then I'd pawn my evening things for some suitable clothes and hit the road. What I hadn't reckoned with was that you can't pawn things in the west-end on a Saturday midnight. And you can't take to the road in evening things without being conspicuous. So I was standing there, as I said, feeling resentful about these five pennies and wondering what I was to do about my clothes and a place to sleep. I was standing by the traffic lights at the Aldwych, just before you turn around into Lancaster Place, when a car was pulled up by the red lights. Chris was in it, alone —»
"I didn't know her name, then. She looked at me for a little. The street was very quiet. Just us two. And we were so close that it seemed natural when she smiled and said, 'Take you anywhere, mister? I said: 'Yes. Land's End. She said: 'A bit off my route. Chatham, Faversham, Canterbury, and points east? Well, it was one solution. I couldn't go on standing there, and I couldn't think of a water-tight tale that would get me a bed in a friend's house. Besides, I felt far away from all that crowd already. So I got in without thinking much about it. She was charming to me. I didn't tell her all I'm telling you, but she soon found out I was broke to the wide. I began to explain, but she said: 'All right, I don't want to know. Let's accept each other on face value. You're Robin and I'm Chris. I'd told her my name was Robert Stannaway, and without knowing it she used my family pet name. The crowd called me Bobby. It was sort of comforting to hear someone call me Robin again."
"Why did you say your name was Stannaway?"
"I don't know. A sort of desire to get away from the fortune side of things. I hadn't been much ornament to the name, anyhow. And in my mind I always thought of myself as Stannaway."
"All right. Go on."
"There isn't much more to tell. She offered me hospitality. Told me she was alone, but that — well, that I'd be just a guest. I said wasn't she taking a chance. She said, 'Yes, but I've taken them all my life and it's worked out pretty well, so far. It seemed an awkward arrangement to me, but it turned out just the opposite. She was right about it. It made things very easy, just accepting each other. In a way (it was queer, but it was like that) it was as if we had known each other for years. If we had had to start at scratch and work up, it would have taken us weeks to get to the same stage. We liked each other a lot. I don't mean sentimentally, although she was stunning to look at; I mean I thought her grand. I had no clothes for the next morning, but I spent that day in a bathing suit and a dressing gown that someone had left. And on Monday Mrs. Pitts came in to my room and said, 'Your suitcase, sir, and dumped a case I'd never seen before in the middle of the floor. It had a complete new outfit in it — tweed coat and flannels, socks, shirt, everything. From a place in Canterbury. The suitcase was old, and had a label with my name on it. She had even remembered my name. Well, I can't describe to you what I felt about these things. You see, it was the first time for years that anyone had given me anything. With the crowd it was take, take, all the time. 'Bobby'll pay. 'Bobby'll lend his car. They never thought of me at all. I don't think they ever stopped to look at me. Anyhow, those clothes sort of broke me up. I'd have died for her. She laughed when she saw me in them — they were reach-me-downs, of course, but they fitted quite well — and said: 'Not exactly Bruton Street, but they'll do. Don't say I can't size a man up. So we settled down to having a good time together, just lazing around, reading, talking, swimming, cooking when Mrs. Pitts wasn't there. I put out of my head what was going to happen after. She said that in about ten days she'd have to leave the cottage. I tried to go after the first day, out of politeness, but she wouldn't let me. And after that I didn't try. That's how I came to be staying there, and that's how I didn't know her name." He drew in his breath in a sharp sigh as he sat back. "Now I know how these psychoanalysts make money. It's a long time since I enjoyed anything like telling you all about myself."
Grant smiled involuntarily. There was an engaging childlikeness about the boy.
Then he shook himself mentally, like a dog coming out of water.
Charm. The most insidious weapon in all the human armory. And here it was, being exploited under his nose. He considered the good-natured feckless face dispassionately. He had known at least one murderer who had had that type of good looks; blue-eyed, amiable, harmless; and he had buried his dismembered fianc'ee in an ash pit. Tisdall's eyes were of that particular warm opaque blue which Grant had noted so often in men to whom the society of women was a necessity of existence. Mother's darlings had those eyes; so sometimes, had womanizers.
Well, presently he would check up on Tisdall. Meanwhile —
"Do you ask me to believe that in your four days together you had no suspicion at all of Miss Clay's identity?" he asked, marking time until he could bring Tisdall unsuspecting to the crucial matter.
"I suspected that she was an actress. Partly from things she said, but mostly because there were such a lot of stage and film magazines in the house. I asked her about it once, but she said: 'No names, no pack drill. It's a good motto, Robin. Don't forget. "
"I see. Did the outfit Miss Clay bought for you include an overcoat?"
"No. A mackintosh. I had a coat."
"You were wearing a coat over your evening things?"
"Yes. It had been drizzling when we set out for dinner — the crowd and I, I mean."
"And you still have that coat?"
"No. It was stolen from the car one day when we were over at Dymchurch." His eyes grew alarmed suddenly. "Why? What has the coat got to do with it?"
"Was it dark- or light-colored?"
"Dark, of course. A sort of gray-black. Why?"
"Did you report its loss?"
"No, neither of us wanted attention called to us. What has it —»
"Just tell me about Thursday morning, will you?" The face opposite him was steadily losing its ingenuousness and becoming wary and inimical again. "I understand that you didn't go with Miss Clay to swim. Is that right?"
"Yes. But I awoke almost as soon as she had gone —»
"How do you know when she went if you were asleep?"
"Because it was still only six. She couldn't have been gone long. And Mrs. Pitts said afterwards that I had followed down the road on her heels."
"I see. And in the hour and a half — roughly — between your getting up and the finding of Miss Clay's body you walked to the Gap, stole the car, drove it in the direction of Canterbury, regretted what you had done, came back, and found that Miss Clay had been drowned. Is that a complete record of your actions?"
"Yes, I think so."
"If you felt so grateful to Miss Clay, it was surely an extraordinary thing to do."
"Extraordinary isn't the word at all. Even yet I can't believe I did it."
"You are quite sure that you didn't enter the water that morning?"
"Of course I'm sure. Why?"
"When was your last swim? Previous to Thursday morning, I mean?"
"Noon on Wednesday."
"And yet your swimming suit was soaking wet on Thursday morning."
"How do you know that! Yes, it was. But not with salt water. It had been spread to dry on the roof below my window, and when I was dressing on Thursday morning I noticed that the birds in the tree — an apple tree hangs over that gable — had made too free with it. So I washed it in the water I had been washing in."
"You didn't put it out to dry again, though, apparently?"
"After what happened the last time? No! I put it on the towel rail. For God's sake, Inspector, tell me what all this has to do with Chris's death? Can't you see that questions you can't see the reason of are torture? I've had about all I can stand. The inquest this morning was the last straw. Everyone describing how they found her. Talking about 'the body, when all the time it was Chris. Chris! And now all this mystery and suspicion. If there was anything not straightforward about her drowning, what has my coat got to do with it anyway?"
"Because this was found entangled in her hair."
Grant opened a cardboard box on the table and exhibited a black button of the kind used for men's coats. It had been torn from its proper place, the worn threads of its attachment still forming a ragged "neck." And around the neck, close to the button, was twined a thin strand of bright hair.
Tisdall was on his feet, both hands on the table edge, staring down at the object.
"You think someone drowned her? I mean — like that! But that isn't mine. There are thousands of buttons like that. What makes you think it is mine?"
"I don't think anything, Mr. Tisdall. I am only eliminating possibilities. All I wanted you to do was to account for any garment owned by you which had buttons like that. You say you had one but that it was stolen."
Tisdall stared at the Inspector, his mouth opening and shutting helplessly.
The door breezed open, after the sketchiest of knocks, and in the middle of the floor stood a small, skinny child of sixteen in shabby tweeds, her dark head hatless and very untidy.
"Oh, sorry," she said. "I thought my father was here. Sorry."
Tisdall slumped to the floor with a crash.
Grant, who was sitting on the other side of the large table sprang to action, but the skinny child, with no sign of haste or dismay, was there first.
"Dear me!" she said, getting the slumped body under the shoulders from behind and turning it over.
Grant took a cushion from a chair.
"I shouldn't do that," she said. "You let their heads stay back unless it's apoplexy. And he's a bit young for that, isn't he?"
She was loosening collar and tie and shirt band with the expert detachment of a cook paring pastry from a pie edge. Grant noticed that her sunburnt wrists were covered with small scars and scratches of varying age, and that they stuck too far out of her out-grown sleeves.
"You'll find brandy in the cupboard, I think. Father isn't allowed it, but he has no self-control."
Grant found the brandy and came back to find her slapping Tisdall's unconscious face with a light insistent tapotement.
"You seem to be good at this sort of thing," Grant said.
"Oh, I ran the Guides at school." She had a voice at once precise and friendly. "A ve-ry silly institution. But it varied the routine. That is the main thing, to vary the routine."
"Did you learn this from the Guides?" he asked, nodding at her occupation.
"Oh, no. They burn paper and smell salts and things. I learned this in Bradford Pete's dressing room."
"You know. The welterweight. I used to have great faith in Pete, but I think he's lost his speed lately. Don't you? At least, I hope it's his speed. He's coming to nicely." This last referred to Tisdall. "I think he'd swallow the brandy now."
While Grant was administering the brandy, she said: "Have you been giving him the third degree, or something? You're police aren't you?"
"My dear young lady — I don't know your name?"
"Erica. I'm Erica Burgoyne."
"My dear Miss Burgoyne, as the Chief Constable's daughter you must be aware that the only people in Britain who are subjected to the third degree are the police."
"Well, what did he faint for? Is he guilty?"
"I don't know," Grant said, before he thought.
"I shouldn't think so." She was considering the now spluttering Tisdall. "He doesn't look capable of much." This with the same grave detachment as she used to everything she did.
"Don't let looks influence your judgment, Miss Burgoyne."
"I don't. Not the way you mean. Anyhow, he isn't at all my type. But it's quite right to judge on looks if you know enough. You wouldn't buy a washy chestnut narrow across the eyes, would you?"
This, thought Grant, is quite the most amazing conversation.
She was standing up now, her hands pushed into her jacket pockets so much the much-tried garment sagged to two bulging points. The tweed she wore was rubbed at the cuffs and covered all over with «pulled» ends of thread where briars had caught. Her skirt was too short and one stocking was violently twisted on its stick of leg. Only her shoes — scarred like her hands, but thick, well-shaped, and expensive — betrayed the fact that she was not a charity child.
And then Grant's eyes went back to her face. Except her face. The calm sureness of that sallow little triangular visage was not bred in any charity school.
"There!" she said encouragingly, as Grant helped Tisdall to his feet and guided him into a chair. "You'll be all right. Have a little more of Father's brandy. It's a much better end for it than Father's arteries. I'm going now. Where is Father, do you know?" This to Grant.
"He has gone to lunch at The Ship."
"Thank you." Turning to the still dazed Tisdall, she said, "That shirt collar of yours is far too tight." As Grant moved to open the door for her, she said, "You haven't told me your name?"
"Grant. At your service." He gave her a little bow.
"I don't need anything just now, but I might some day." She considered him. Grant found himself hoping with a fervor which surprised him that he was not being placed in the same category as "washy chestnuts."
"You're much more my type. I like people broad across the cheekbones. Good-bye, Mr. Grant."
"Who was that?" Tisdall asked, in the indifferent tones of the newly conscious. "Colonel Burgoyne's daughter."
"She was right about my shirt."
"One of the reach-me-downs?"
"Yes. Am I being arrested?"
"Oh, no. Nothing like that."
"It mightn't be a bad idea."
"It would settle my immediate future. I left the cottage this morning and now I'm on the road."
"You mean you're serious about tramping?"
"As soon as I have got suitable clothes."
"I'd rather you stayed where I could get information from you if I wanted."
"I see the point. But how?"
"What about that architect's office? Why not try for a job?"
"I'm never going back to an office. Not an architect's anyhow. I was shoved there only because I could draw."
"Do I understand that you consider yourself permanently incapacitated from earning your bread?"
"Phew! That's nasty. No, of course not. I'll have to work. But what kind of job am I fit for?"
"Two years of hitting the high spots must have educated you to something. Even if it is only driving a car."
There came a tentative tap at the door, and the sergeant put his head in.
"I'm very sorry indeed to disturb you, Inspector, but I'd like something from the Chief's files. It's rather urgent."
Permission given, he came in.
"This coast's lively in the season, sir," he said, as he ran through the files. "Positively continental. Here's the chef at the Marine — it's just outside the town, so it's our affair — the chef at the Marine's stabbed a waiter because he had dandruff, it seems. The waiter, I mean, sir. Chef on the way to prison and waiter on the way to hospital. They think maybe his lung's touched. Well, thank you, sir. Sorry to disturb you."
Grant eyed Tisdall, who was achieving the knot in his tie with a melancholy abstraction. Tisdall caught the look, appeared puzzled by it, and then, comprehension dawning, leaped into action.
"I say, Sergeant, have they a fellow to take the waiter's place, do you know?"
"That they haven't. Mr. Toselli — he's the manager — he's tearing his hair."
"Have you finished with me?" he asked Grant.
"For today," Grant said. "Good luck."