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Title: To Love and Be Wise (1950)
Author: Josephine Tey [Elizabeth MacKintosh] (1896-1952)
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Title: To Love and Be Wise (1950)
Author: Josephine Tey [Elizabeth MacKintosh] (1896-1952)


The verses in Chapter 15 are quoted from
_A Soldier Looks at Beauty_,
by Hugh P. F. McIntosh.


This book is fiction, and all the characters
and incidents in it are entirely imaginary




_1_


GRANT paused with his foot on the lowest step, and listened to the
shrieking from the floor above. As well as the shrieks there was a dull
continuous roar; an elemental sound, like a forest fire or a river in
spate. As his reluctant legs bore him upwards he arrived at the inevitable
deduction: the party was being a success.

He was not going to the party. Literary sherry parties, even distinguished
ones, were not Grant's cup of tea. He was going to collect Marta Hallard
and take her out to dinner. Policemen, it is true, do not normally take
out to dinner leading actresses who gravitate between the Haymarket and
the Old Vic; not even when the policemen are Detective-Inspectors at
Scotland Yard. There were three reasons for his privileged position, and
Grant was aware of all three. In the first place he was a presentable
escort, in the second place he could afford to dine at Laurent's, and in
the third place Marta Hallard did not find it easy to obtain escort. For
all her standing, and her chic, men were a little afraid of Marta. So when
Grant, a mere Detective-Sergeant then, appeared in her life over a matter
of stolen jewellery, she had seen to it that he did not entirely fade out
of it again. And Grant had been glad to stay. If he was useful to Marta as
a cavalier when she needed one, she was even more useful to him as a
window on the world. The more windows on the world a policeman has the
better he is likely to be at his job, and Marta was Grant's 'leper's
squint' on the theatre.

The roar of the party's success came flooding out through the open doors
on to the landing, and Grant paused to look at the yelling crowd
asparagus-packed into the long Georgian room and to wonder how he was
going to pry Marta out of it.

Just inside the door, baffled apparently by the solid wall of talking and
drinking humanity, was a young man, looking lost. He still had his hat in
his hand, and had therefore just arrived.

'In difficulties?' Grant said, catching his eye.

'I've forgotten my megaphone,' the young man said.

He said it in a gentle drawl, not bothering to compete with the crowd. The
mere difference in pitch made the words more audible than if he had
shouted. Grant glanced at him again, approvingly. He was a very
good-looking young man indeed, now that he took notice. Too blond to be
entirely English. Norwegian, perhaps?

Or American. There was something in the way he said 'forgotten' that was
transatlantic.

The early spring afternoon was already blue against the windows and the
lamps were lit. Across the haze of cigarette smoke Grant could see Marta
at the far end of the room listening to Tullis the play-wright telling her
about his royalties. He did not have to hear what Tullis was talking about
to know that he was talking about his royalties; that is all Tullis ever
talked about. Tullis could tell you, off-hand, what the Number Two company
of his _Supper for Three_ took on Easter Monday in Blackpool in 1938.
Marta had given up even a pretence of listening, and her mouth drooped at
the corners. Grant thought that if that D.B.E. did not come along soon
Marta would be disappointed into the need for a face-lifting. He decided
to stay where he was until he could catch her eye. They were both tall
enough to see over the heads of a normal crowd.

With a policeman's ingrained habit of inspection he let his eye run over
the crowd between them, but found nothing of interest. It was the usual
collection. The very prosperous firm of Ross and Cromarty were celebrating
the publication of Lavinia Fitch's twenty-first book, and since it was
largely due to Lavinia that the firm was prosperous the drinks were
plentiful and the guests were distinguished. Distinguished in the sense of
being well-dressed and well-known, that is to say. The distinguished in
achievement did not celebrate the birth of _Maureen's Lover_, nor drink
the sherry of Messrs Ross and Cromarty. Even Marta, that inevitable Dame,
was here because she was a neighbour of Lavinia's in the country. And
Marta, bless her black-and-white chic and her disgruntled look, was the
nearest thing to real distinction in the room.

Unless, of course, this young man whom he did not know brought more than
good looks to the party. He wondered what the stranger did for a living.
An actor? But an actor would not stand baffled at the edge of a crowd. And
there was something in the implied comment of his remark about the
megaphone, in the detachment with which he was watching the scene, that
divorced him from his surroundings. Was it possible, Grant wondered, that
those cheekbones were being wasted in a stockbroker's office? Or was it
perhaps that the soft light of Messrs Ross and Cromarty's expensive lamps
flattered that nice straight nose and the straight blond hair and that the
young man was less beautiful in the daylight?

'Perhaps you can tell me,' said the young man, still not raising his voice
in emulation, 'which is Miss Lavinia Fitch?'

Lavinia was the sandy little woman by the middle window. She had bought
herself a fashionable hat for the occasion, but had done nothing to
accommodate it; so that the hat perched on her bird's-nest of ginger hair
as if it had dropped there from an upper window as she walked along the
street. She was wearing her normal expression of pleased bewilderment and
no make-up.

Grant pointed her out to the young man.

'Stranger in town?' he said, borrowing a phrase from all good Westerns.
The polite formality of 'Miss Lavinia Fitch' could have come only from the
U.S.A.

'I'm really looking for Miss Fitch's nephew. I looked him up in the book
and he isn't there, but I hoped he'd be here. Do you happen to know him,
Mr----?

'Grant.'

'Mr Grant?'

'I know him by sight, but he isn't here. Walter Whitmore, you mean?'

'Yes. Whitmore. I don't know him at all, but I want very much to meet him
because we have--had, I mean--a great friend in common. I was sure he'd be
here. You're quite sure he isn't? After all, it's quite a party.'

'He isn't in this room; I know that, because Whitmore is as tall as I am.
But he may still be around somewhere. Look, you had better come and meet
Miss Fitch. I suppose we can get through the barricade if we have the
determination.'

'You lean and I'll squirm,' said the young man, referring to their
respective build. 'This is very kind of you, Mr Grant,' he said as they
came up for air half-way, wedged tightly together between the hedged
elbows and shoulders of their fellows; and he laughed up at the helpless
Grant. And Grant was suddenly disconcerted. So disconcerted that he turned
immediately and continued his struggle through the jungle to the clearing
at the middle window where Lavinia Fitch was standing.

'Miss Fitch,' he said, 'here is a young man who wants to meet you. He is
trying to get in touch with your nephew.'

'With Walter?' said Lavinia, her peaked little face losing its muzzy
expression of general benevolence and sharpening to real interest.

'My name is Searle, Miss Fitch. I'm over from the States on holiday and I
wanted to meet Walter because Cooney Wiggin was a friend of mine too.'

'Cooney! You are a friend of Cooney's? Oh, Walter will be delighted, my
dear, simply delighted. Oh, what a nice surprise in the middle of this--I
mean, so unexpected. Walter _will_ be pleased. Searle, did you say?'

'Yes. Leslie Searle. I couldn't find Walter in the book----'

'No, he has just a pied-à-terre in town. He lives down at Salcott St Mary
like the rest of us. Where he has the farm, you know. The farm he
broadcasts about. At least it's my farm but he runs it and talks about it
and----. He's broadcasting this afternoon, that is why he isn't coming to
the party. But you must come down and stay. Come down this weekend. Come
back with us this afternoon.'

'But you don't know if Walter----'

'You don't have any engagements for the weekend, do you?'

'No. No, I haven't. But----'

'Well, then. Walter is going straight back from the studio, but you can
come with Liz and me in our car and we'll surprise him. Liz! Liz, dear,
where are you? Where are you staying, Mr Searle?'

'I'm at the Westmorland.'

'Well, what could be handier. Liz! Where _is_ Liz?'

'Here, Aunt Lavinia.'

'Liz, dear, this is Leslie Searle, who is coming back with us for the
weekend. He wants to meet Walter because they were both friends of
Cooney's. And this is Friday, and we are all going to be at Salcott over
the weekend recovering from this--being nice and quiet and peaceful, so
what could be more appropriate. So, Liz dear, you take him round to the
Westmorland and help him pack and then come back for me, will you? By that
time this--the party will surely be over, and you can pick me up and we'll
go back to Salcott together and surprise Walter.'

Grant saw the interest in the young man's face as he looked at Liz
Garrowby, and wondered a little. Liz was a small plain girl with a sallow
face. True, she had remarkable eyes; speedwell blue and surprising; and
she had the kind of face a man might want to live with; she was a nice
girl, Liz. But she was not the type of girl at whom young men look with
instant attention. Perhaps it was just that Searle had heard rumours of
her engagement, and was identifying her as Walter Whitmore's fiancée.

He lost interest in the Fitch ménage as he saw that Marta had spotted him.
He indicated that he would meet her at the door, and plunged once more
into the suffocating depths. Marta, being the more ruthless of the two,
did the double distance in half the time and was waiting for him in the
doorway.

'Who is the beautiful young man?' she asked, looking backwards as they
moved to the stairs.

'He came looking for Walter Whitmore. He says he's a friend of Cooney
Wiggin.'

'_Says?_' repeated Marta, being caustic not about the young man but about
Grant.

'The police mind,' Grant said apologetically.

'And who is Cooney Wiggin, anyhow?'

'Cooney was one of the best-known press photographers in the States. He
was killed while photographing one of those Balkan flare-ups a year or two
ago.'

'You know everything, don't you.'

It was on the tip of Grant's tongue to say: 'Anyone but an actress would
have known that,' but he liked Marta. Instead he said: 'He is going down
to Salcott for the weekend, I understand.'

'The beautiful young man? Well, well. I hope Lavinia knows what she is
doing.'

'What is wrong with having him down?'

'I don't know, but it seems to me to be taking risks with their luck.'

'Luck?'

'Everything has worked out the way they wanted it to, hasn't it? Walter
saved from Marguerite Merriam and settling down to marry Liz; all family
together in the old homestead and too cosy for words. No time to go
introducing disconcertingly beautiful young men into the ménage, it seems
to me.'

'Disconcerting,' murmured Grant, wondering again what had disconcerted him
about Searle. Mere good looks could not have been responsible. Policemen
are not impressed by good looks.

'I wager that Emma takes one look at him and gets him out of the house
directly after breakfast on Monday morning,' Marta said. 'Her darling Liz
is going to marry Walter, and nothing is going to stop that if Emma has
anything to do with it.'

'Liz Garrowby doesn't look very impressionable to me. I don't see why Mrs
Garrowby should worry.'

'Don't you indeed. That boy was making an impression on me in thirty
seconds flat and a range of twenty yards, and I'm considered practically
incombustible. Besides, I never believed that Liz really fell in love with
that stick. She just wanted to bind up his broken heart.'

'Was it badly broken?'

'Considerably shaken, I should say. Naturally.'

'Did you ever act with Marguerite Merriam?'

'Oh, yes. More than once. We were together for quite a lengthy run in
_Walk in Darkness_. There's a taxi coming.'

'_Taxi!_ What did you think of her?'

'Marguerite? Oh, she was mad, of course.'

'How mad?'

'Ten tenths.'

'In what way?'

'You mean how did it take her? Oh, a complete indifference to everything
but the thing she wanted at the moment.'

'That isn't madness; that is merely the criminal mind at its simplest.'

'Well, you ought to know, my dear. Perhaps she was a criminal manqué. What
is quite certain is that she was as mad as a hatter and I wouldn't wish
even Walter Whitmore a fate like being married to her.'

'Why do you dislike the British Public's bright boy so much?'

'My dear, I hate the way he _yearns_. It was bad enough when he was
yearning over the thyme on an Aegean hillside with the bullets zipping
past his ears--he never failed to let us hear the bullets: I always
suspected that he did it by cracking a whip----'

'Marta, you shock me.'

'I don't, my dear; not one little bit. You know as well as I do. When we
were _all_ being shot at, Walter took care that he was safe in a nice
fuggy office fifty feet underground. Then when it was once more unique to
be in danger, up comes Walter from his little safe office and sits himself
on a thymey hillside with a microphone and a whip to make bullet noises
with.'

'I see that I shall have to bail you out, one of these days.'

'Homicide?'

'No; criminal libel.'

'Do you need bail for that? I thought it was one of those nice gentlemanly
things that you are just summonsed for.'

Grant thought how independable Malta's ignorances were.

'It might still be homicide, though,' Marta said, in the cooing,
considering voice that was her trade-mark on the stage. 'I could just
stand the thyme and the bullets, but now that he has taken a ninety-nine
years' lease of the spring corn, and the woodpeckers, and things, he
amounts to a public menace.'

'Why do you listen to him?'

'Well, there's a dreadful fascination about it, you know. One thinks:
Well, that's the absolute sky-limit of awfulness, than which _nothing_
could be worse. And so next week you listen to see if it really _can_ be
worse. It's a snare. It's so awful that you can't even switch off. You
wait fascinated for the next piece of awfulness, and the next. And you are
still there when he signs off.'

'It couldn't be, could it, Marta, that this is mere professional
jealousy?'

'Are you suggesting that the creature is a _professional_?' asked Marta,
dropping her voice a perfect fifth, so that it quivered with the
reflection of repertory years, and provincial digs, and Sunday trains, and
dreary auditions in cold dark theatres.

'No, I'm suggesting that he is an actor. A quite natural and unconscious
actor, who has made himself a household word in a few years without doing
any noticeable work to that end. I could forgive you for not liking that.
What did Marguerite find so wonderful about him?'

'I can tell you that. His devotion. Marguerite liked picking the wings off
flies. Walter would let her take him to pieces and then come back for
more.'

'There was one time that he didn't come back.'

'Yes.'

'What was the final row about, do you know?'

'I don't think there was one. I think he just told her he was through. At
least that is what he said at the inquest. Did you read the obituaries, by
the way?'

'I suppose I must have at the time. I don't remember them individually.'

'If she had lived another ten years she would have got a tiny par in among
the "ads" on the back page. As it was she got better notices than Duse. "A
flame of genius has gone out and the world is the poorer." "She had the
lightness of a blown leaf and the grace of a willow in the wind." That
sort of thing. One was surprised that there were no black edges in the
Press. The mourning was practically of national dimensions.'

'It's a far cry from that to Liz Garrowby.'

'Dear, nice Liz. If Marguerite Merriam was too bad even for Walter
Whitmore, then Liz is too good for him. Much too good for him. I should be
delighted if the beautiful young man took her from under his nose.'

'Somehow I can't see your "beautiful young man" in the rôle of husband,
whereas Walter will make a very good one.'

'My good man, Walter will broadcast about it. All about their children,
and the shelves he has put up in the pantry, and how the little woman's
bulbs are coming along, and the frost patterns on the nursery window.
She'd be much safer with--what did you say his name was?'

'Searle. Leslie Searle.' Absentmindedly he watched the pale yellow neon
signature of _Laurent's_ coming nearer.

'I don't think safe is the adjective I would apply to Searle, somehow,' he
said reflectively; and from that moment forgot all about Leslie Searle
until the day when he was sent down to Salcott St Mary to search for the
young man's body.




_2_


'DAYLIGHT!' said Liz, coming out on to the pavement. 'Good clean
daylight.' She sniffed the afternoon air with pleasure. 'The car is round
the corner in the square. Do you know London well, Mr--Mr Searle?'

'I've been in England for holidays quite often, yes. Not often as early in
the year as this, though.'

'You haven't seen England at all unless you have seen it in the spring.'

'So I've heard.'

'Did you fly over?'

'Just from Paris, like a good American. Paris is fine in the spring too.'

'So I've heard,' she said, returning his phrase and his tone. And then,
finding the eye he turned on her intimidating, went on: 'Are you a
journalist? Is that how you knew Cooney Wiggin?'

'No, I'm in the same line as Cooney was.'

'Press photography?'

'Not Press. Just photography. I spend most of the winter on the Coast,
doing people.'

'The Coast?'

'California. That keeps me on good terms with my bank manager. And the
other half of the year I travel and photograph the things I want to
photograph.'

'It sounds a good sort of life,' Liz said, as she unlocked the car door and
got in.

'It's a very good life.'

The car was a two-seater Rolls; a little old-fashioned in shape as Rolls
cars, which last for ever, are apt to be. Liz explained it as they drove
out of the square into the stream of the late afternoon traffic.

'The first thing Aunt Lavinia did when she made money was to buy herself a
sable scarf. She had always thought a sable scarf the last word in good
dressing. And the second thing she wanted was a Rolls. She got that with
her next book. She never wore the scarf at all because she said it was a
dreadful nuisance to have something dangling about her all the time, but
the Rolls was a great success so we still have it.'

'What happened to the sable scarf?'

'She swopped it for a pair of Queen Anne chairs and a lawn-mower.'

As they came to rest in front of the hotel she said: 'They won't let me
wait here. I'll go over to the parking place and wait for you.'

'But aren't you going to pack for me?'

'Pack for you? Certainly not.'

'But your aunt said you were to.'

'That was a mere figure of speech.'

'Not the way I figure it. Anyhow, come up and watch while I pack. Lend me
your advice and countenance. It's a nice countenance.'

In the end it was actually Liz who packed the things into his two cases,
while he took them out of the drawers and tossed them over to her. They
were all very expensive things, she observed; custom-made of the best
materials.

'Are you very rich, or just very extravagant?' she asked.

'Fastidious, let us say.'

By the time they left the hotel the first street lamps were decorating the
daylight.

'This is when I think lights look best,' Liz said. 'While it is still
daylight. They are daffodil yellow and magic. Presently when it grows dark
they will go white and ordinary.'

They drove back to Bloomsbury only to find that Miss Fitch had gone. The
Ross part of the firm, sprawled in large exhaustion in a chair and
thoughtfully consuming what was left of the sherry, roused himself to a
shadow of his professional bonhomie to say that Miss Fitch had decided that
there would be more room in Mr Whitmore's car and had gone over to the
studio to pick him up when he had finished his half-hour. Miss Garrowby and
Mr Searle were to follow them down to Salcott St Mary.

Searle was silent as they made their way out of London; from deference to
the driver, Liz supposed, and liked him for it. It was not until green
fields appeared on either hand that he began to talk about Walter. Cooney,
it seemed, had thought a lot of Walter.

'You weren't in the Balkans with Cooney Wiggin, then?'

'No, I knew Cooney back in the States. But he wrote me a lot in letters
about your cousin.'

'That was nice of him. But Walter isn't my cousin, you know.'

'Not?  But Miss Fitch is your aunt, isn't she?'

'No. I'm no relation to any of them. Lavinia's sister--Emma--married my
father when I was little. That's all. Mother--Emma, that is--practically
surrounded him, if the truth must be told. He didn't have a chance. You
see, she brought up Lavinia, and it was a frightful shock to her when
Vinnie upped and did something on her own. Especially anything so outré as
becoming a best-seller. Emma looked round to see what else she could lay
hands on that would do to go broody about, and there was Father, stranded
with a baby daughter, and simply asking to be arrested. So she became Emma
Garrowby, and my mother. I never think of her as my "step", because I don't
remember any other. When my father died, mother came to live at Trimmings
with Aunt Lavinia, and when I left school I took over the job of her
secretary.  Hence the line about packing for you.'

'And Walter? Where does he come in?'

'He is the eldest sister's son. His parents died in India and Aunt Lavinia
has brought him up since then. I mean, since he was fifteen, or so.'

He was silent for a little, evidently disentangling this in his mind.

Why had she told him that, she wondered? Why had she told him that her
mother was possessive; even if she had made it clear that she was
possessive in the very nicest way? Was it possible that she was nervous?
She, who was never nervous and never chattered. What was there to be
nervous about? There was surely nothing disconcerting in the presence of a
good-looking young man. Both as Liz Garrowby and as Miss Lavinia Fitch's
secretary she had entertained a great many good-looking young men in her
time, and had not been (as far as she could remember) greatly impressed.

She  turned from the black polished surface of the arterial road into a
side one. The last raw scar of new development had faded behind them, and
they were now in an altogether country world. The little lanes ran in and
out of each other, anonymous and irrelevant, and Liz picked the ones she
wanted without hesitation.

'How do you choose?' Searle asked. 'All these little dirt roads look alike
to me.'

'They look alike to me too. But I have done this trip so often that my
hands do it for me, the way my fingers know the keys of a typewriter. I
couldn't repeat the keys of a typewriter by trying to visualise them, but
my fingers know where each key is. Do you know this part of the world?'

'No, this is new to me.'

'It's a dull county, I think. Quite featureless. Walter says that it is a
constant permutation of the same seven "props": six trees and a haystack.
Indeed he says that there is a phrase in the county regiment's official
march that says quite plainly: Six trees and a _hay_-stack!' She sang the
phrase for him. 'But where you see the bump in the road is the beginning of
Orfordshire, and that is much more satisfying.'

Orfordshire was in truth a satisfactory stretch of territory. In the
growing dusk its lines flowed together in ever-changing combinations that
were dream-like in their perfection. Presently they paused on the lip of a
shallow valley and looked down on the dark smudge of roofs and the
scattered lights of a village.

'Salcott St Mary,' Liz said, introducing it. 'A once beautiful English
village that is now occupied territory.'

'Occupied by whom?'

'By what the remaining natives call "they artist folk". It is very sad for
them, poor things. They took Aunt Lavinia in their stride, because she was
the owner of the "big house" and not part of their actual lives at all. And
she has been here so long that she is almost beginning to belong. The big
house has never been part of the village in the last hundred years, anyhow,
so it didn't matter much who lived in it. The rot started when the mill
house fell vacant, and some firm was going to buy it for a factory. I mean:
to turn it into a factory. Then Marta Hallard heard about it and bought it
to live in, right under the various lawyers' noses, and everyone was
delighted and thought they were saved. They didn't much want an actress
creature living in the mill house, but at least they weren't after all to
have a factory in their nice village. Poor darlings, if they could only
have foreseen.'

She set the car in motion, and drove slowly along the slope, parallel with
the village.

'I take it there was a sheep-track from London to here in about six
months,' Searle said.

'How did you know?'

'I see it all the time on the Coast. Someone finds a good quiet spot, and
before they've got the plumbing fixed they're being asked to vote for
mayor.'

'Yes. Every third cottage in the place has an alien in it. All degrees of
wealth, from Toby Tullis--the play-wright, you know--who has a lovely
Jacobean house in the middle of the village street, to Serge Ratoff the
dancer who lives in a converted stable. All degrees of living in sin, from
Deenie Paddington who never has the same weekend guest twice, to poor old
Atlanta Hope and Bart Hobart who have been living in sin, bless them, for
the best part of thirty years. All degrees of talent from Silas Weekley,
who writes those dark novels of country life, all steaming manure and
slashing rain, to Miss Easton-Dixon who writes a fairy-tale book once a
year for the Christmas trade.'

'It sounds lovely,' Searle said.

'It's obscene,' Liz said, more hotly than she intended; and then wondered
again why she should be so on edge this evening. 'And talking of the
obscene,' she said, pulling herself together, 'I'm afraid it is too dark
for you to appreciate Trimmings, but the full flavour of it can keep till
the morning. You can just get the general effect against the sky.'

She waited while the young man took in the frieze of dark pinnacles and
crenellations against the evening sky. 'The special gem is the Gothic
conservatory, which you can't see in this light.'

'Why did Miss Fitch choose this?' Searle asked in wonder.

'Because she thought it was grand,' Liz said, her voice warm with
affection. 'She was brought up in a rectory, you know; the kind of rectory
that was built circa 1850; so her eye became conditioned to Victorian
Gothic. Even now, you know, she doesn't honestly see what is wrong with it.
She knows people laugh at it, and she is quite philosophical about it, but
she doesn't really know why they laugh. When she first brought Cormac Ross,
her publisher, here, he complimented her on the appropriateness of the
name, and she had no idea what he was talking about.'

'Well, I'm in no mood to be critical, even of Victorian Gothic,' the young
man said. 'It was extraordinarily nice of Miss Fitch to have me down here
without even stopping to look me up in the reference books. Somehow over in
the States we expect more caution from the English.'

'It isn't a matter of caution with the English; it's a matter of domestic
calculation. Aunt Lavinia asked you down on the spur of the moment because
she didn't have to do any domestic reckoning. She knows that there is
enough spare linen to furnish a spare bed, and enough food in the house to
feed a guest, and enough "labour" to provide for his comfort, and so she
has no need to hesitate. Do you mind if we go straight round to the garage
and take your things in through the side door. It's a day's march to the
front door from the domestics' quarters, the baronial hall unfortunately
intervening.'

'Who built this and why?' Searle asked, looking up at the bulk of the house
as they skirted it.

'A man from Bradford, I understand. There was a very pleasant early
Georgian house on the spot--there is a print of it in the gun-room--but he
thought it a poor-looking object and pulled it down.'

So it was through ugly passages, dimly lit, that Searle carried his
luggage; passages that Liz said always reminded her of boarding-school.

'Just drop them there,' she said, indicating a service stair, 'and someone
will take them up presently. Come through now to comparative civilisation
and get warm and have a drink and meet Walter.'

She pushed open a baize door and led him into the front of the house.

'Do you roller-skate?' he asked, as they crossed the meaningless spaces of
the hall.

Liz said that she hadn't thought of it, but that the place was, of course,
useful for dances. 'The local hunt use it once a year,' she said. 'Though
you mightn't think it, it's less draughty than the Corn Exchange in
Wickham.'

She opened a door and they went from the grey spaces of Orfordshire and the
dreary dim corridors of the house into warmth and firelight and the welcome
of a lived-in room full of well-used furniture and scented with burning
logs and narcissi. Lavinia was sunk in a chair with her neat little feet on
the edge of the steel fender and her untidy mop of hair escaping from its
pins all over the cushions. Facing her, with his elbow on the mantelpiece
and one foot on the fender in his favourite attitude, was Walter Whitmore,
and Liz saw him with a rush of affection and relief.

Why relief? she asked herself, as she listened to the greetings. She had
known Walter would be here. Why relief?

Was it just that she could now hand over the social burden to Walter?

But social duties were her daily task and she took them in her stride. Nor
could Searle be justly considered a burden. She had rarely met anyone so
easy or so undemanding. Why this gladness to see Walter, this absurd
feeling that now it would be all right? Like a child coming back from
strangeness to a familiar room.

She watched the pleasure on Walter's face as he welcomed Searle; and loved
him. He was human, and imperfect, and his face was already growing lined,
and his hair showed signs of growing back above the temples, but he was
Walter, and real; not--not something of inhuman beauty that had walked out
of some morning of the world beyond our remembering.

She took pleasure in remarking that, face to face with Walter's tallness,
the newcomer looked nearly short. And his shoes, for all their
expensiveness were, from an English point of view, distinctly regrettable.

'After all, he's only a photographer,' she said to herself, and was caught
up by her own absurdity.

Was she so impressed by Leslie Searle that she needed protection against
him?  Surely not.

It was not uncommon to find that morning-of-the-world beauty among northern
peoples; nor was it to be wondered at that it made one think of tales of
the seal people and their strangeness. The young man was just a
good-looking Scandinavian-American with a deplorable taste in shoes and a
talent for using the right kind of lens. There was not the slightest need
for her to cross herself, or utter charms against him.

Even so, when her mother asked him at dinner whether he had any family in
England, she was conscious of a vague surprise that he should be possessed
of anything so mundane as relations.

He had a girl cousin, he said; that was all.

'We don't like each other. She paints.'

'Is the painting a non-sequitur?' Walter asked.

'Oh, I like her painting well enough--what I've seen of it. It's just that
we annoy each other, so we don't bother with one another.'

Lavinia asked what she painted; was it portraits?

Liz wondered, while they talked, if she had ever painted her cousin. It
must be nice to be able to take a brush and a box of paints and put on
record for one's own pleasure and satisfaction a beauty that could
otherwise never belong to one. To have it to keep and look at whenever one
wanted to until one died.

'Elizabeth Garrowby!' she said to herself. 'In no time at all you will be
hanging up actor's photographs.'

But no; it wasn't like that at all. It was no more reprehensible than
loving a--than admiring a work of Praxiteles. If Praxiteles had ever
decided to immortalise a hurdler, the hurdler would have looked just like
Leslie Searle. She must ask him sometime where he went to school, and if he
had ever run races over hurdles.

She was a little sorry to see that her mother did not like Searle. No one
would ever suspect it, of course; but Liz knew her mother very well and
could gauge with micrometer accuracy her secret reactions to any given
situation. She was aware now of the distrust that seethed and bubbled
behind that bland front, as lava seethes and bubbles behind the smiling
slopes of Vesuvius.

In that she was, of course, right. When Walter had borne his guest away to
show him his room, and Liz had gone to tidy for dinner, Mrs Garrowby had
catechised her sister about this unknown quantity that she had unloaded on
the household.

'How do you know that he ever knew Cooney Wiggin at all?' she asked.

'If he didn't, Walter will soon find out,' Lavinia said reasonably. 'Don't
bother me, Em. I'm tired. It was an awful party. Everyone screaming their
heads off.'

'If his little plan is to burgle Trimmings, it will be too late tomorrow
morning for Walter to find out that he didn't know Cooney at all. Anyone
could say they knew Cooney. If it comes to that, anyone could say they knew
Cooney and get away with it. There was practically no part of Cooney
Wiggin's life that wasn't public property.'

'I can't think why you should be so suspicious about him. We have often had
people we didn't know anything about down here at a moment's notice----'

'Indeed we have,' Emma said grimly.

'And so far they have always been what they said they were. Why pick on Mr
Searle for your suspicions?'

'He is much too personable to be wholesome.'

It was typical of Emma to shy at the word 'beauty', and to substitute a
bastard compromise like 'personable'.

Lavinia pointed out that since Mr Searle was staying only till Monday the
amount of unwholesomeness he could manage to disseminate was necessarily
small.

'And if it is burglary you are thinking of, he's going to have a sad shock
when he goes through Trimmings. I can't think, off-hand, of anything that
is worth lugging as far as Wickham.'

'There's the silver.'

'Somehow I can't believe that anyone went to all the trouble of appearing
at Cormac's party, and pretending to know Cooney, and asking for Walter,
just to obtain possession of a couple of dozen forks, some spoons, and a
salver. Why not just force a lock one dark night?'

Mrs Garrowby looked unconvinced.

'It must be very useful to have someone who is dead when you want to be
introduced to a family.'

'Oh, Em,' Lavinia had said, breaking into laughter as much at the sentence
as at the sentiment.

So Mrs Garrowby sat and brooded darkly behind her gracious exterior. She
was not afraid for the Trimmings silver, of course. She was afraid of what
she called the young man's 'personableness.' She distrusted it for itself,
and hated it as a potential threat to her house.




_3_


BUT Emma did not, as Marta Hallard had prophesied, get the young man out
of the house first thing on Monday morning. By Monday morning it was
incredible to the inhabitants of Trimmings--all but Emma herself--that on
the previous Friday they had never heard of Leslie Searle. There had never
been any guest at Trimmings who had merged himself with the household as
Searle did. Nor had there ever been anyone who intensified the life of
each one of them to the same extent.

He walked round the farm with Walter, admiring the new brick paths, the
piggery, and the separator. He had spent his school holidays on a farm,
and was knowledgeable as well as receptive. He stood patiently in green
lanes while Walter recorded in his little notebook a hedgerow sprout or a
bird-note that would do for his broadcast next Friday. He photographed
with equal enthusiasm the seventeenth-century honesty of the little
farmhouse, and the surrealist irrelevance of Trimmings, and contrived to
convey the essential quality of each. Indeed, his photographic comment on
Trimmings was so witty that Walter after his involuntary laughter had a
moment of discomfort. This amiable young man had more sides to him than
were apparent in a discussion on husbandry. He had so taken for granted
the boy's discipleship that it was as disconcerting to look at these
photographs as if his shadow had suddenly spoken to him.

But he forgot the moment almost before it had passed. He was not an
introspective person.

For the introspective Liz, on the other hand, life had become all of a
sudden a sort of fun-fair. A kaleidoscope. A place where no surface ever
stayed still or horizontal for more than a few seconds together. Where one
was plunged into swift mock danger and whirled about in coloured lights.
Liz had been falling in and out of love more or less regularly since the
age of seven, but she had never wanted to marry anyone but Walter. Who was
Walter, and different. But never in that long progression from the baker's
roundsman to Walter had she been aware of anyone as she was aware of
Searle. Even with Tino Tresca, of the yearning eyes and the tenor that
dissolved one's heart like a melting ice, even with Tresca, craziest of
all her devotions, it was possible to forget for minutes together that she
was in the same room with him. (With Walter, of course, there was nothing
remarkable in the fact that they should be sharing the same air: he was
just there and it was nice.) But it was never possible to forget that
Searle was in a room.

Why? she kept asking herself. Or rather, why not?

It had nothing to do with falling in love, this interest; this excitement.
If, on Sunday night, after two days in his company, he had turned to her
and said: 'Come away with me, Liz,' she would have laughed aloud at so
absurd a notion. She had no desire to go away with him.

But a light went out of the room with him, and sprang up again when he
came back. She was aware of every movement of his, from the small mallet
of his forefinger as it flicked the radio switch, to the lift of his foot
as it kicked a log in the fireplace.

Why?

She had gone walking with him through the woods, she had shown him the
village and the church, and always the excitement had been there; in his
gentle drawling courtesy, and in those disconcerting grey eyes that seemed
to know too much about her. For Liz, all American men were divided into
two classes: those who treated you as if you were a frail old lady, and
those who treated you as if you were just frail. Searle belonged to the
first class. He helped her over stiles, and shielded her from the crowding
dangers of the village street; he deferred to her opinion and flattered
her ego; and, as a mere change from Walter, Liz found it pleasant. Walter
took it for granted that she was adult enough to look after herself, but
not quite adult enough to be consulted by Walter Whitmore, Household Word
Throughout the British Isles and a Large Part of Overseas. Searle's was a
charming reversal of form.

She had thought, watching him move slowly round the interior of the
church, what a perfect companion he would have made if it were not for
this pricking excitement; this sense of wrongness.

Even the unimpressionable Lavinia, always but semi-detached from her
current heroine, was, Liz noticed, touched by this strange attraction.
Searle had sat with her on the terrace after dinner on Saturday night,
while Walter and Liz walked in the garden and Emma attended to household
matters.  As they passed below the terrace each time on their round of the
garden, Liz could hear her aunt's light childlike voice babbling happily,
like a little stream in the half-dark of the early moonrise. And on Sunday
morning Lavinia had confided to Liz that no one had ever made her feel so
_abandoned_ as Mr Searle. 'I am sure that he was something very wicked in
Ancient Greece,' she said. And had added with a giggle: 'But don't tell
your mother that I said so!'

Against the entrenched opposition of her sister, her nephew, and her
daughter, Mrs Garrowby would have found it difficult to rid Trimmings of
the young man's presence; but her final undoing came at the hands of Miss
Easton-Dixon.

Miss Easton-Dixon lived in a tiny cottage on the slope behind the village
street. It had three windows, asymmetrical in their own right and in
relation to each other, a thatched roof, and a single chimney, and it
looked as if one good sneeze would bring the whole thing round the
occupant's ears; but its aspect of disintegration was equalled only by its
spick and span condition. The cream wash of the plaster, the lime-green
paint of door and windows, the dazzling crispness of the muslin curtains,
the swept condition of the red-brick path, together with the almost
conscientious crookedness of everything that normally would be straight,
made a picture that belonged by right to one of Miss Easton-Dixon's own
fairy-tale books for Christmas.

In the intervals of writing her annual story, Miss Easton-Dixon indulged
in handcrafts. In the schoolroom she had tortured wood with red-hot
pokers. When pen-painting came in she had pen-painted with assiduity, and
had graduated from that to barbola work. After a spell of sealing-wax, she
had come to raffia, and thence to hand-weaving. She still weaved now and
then, but her ingrained desire was not to create but to transform. No
plain surface was safe against Miss Easton-Dixon. She would take a cold
cream jar and reduce its functional simplicity to a nightmare of
mock-Meissen. In times which have seen the disappearance of both the attic
and the boxroom, she was the scourge of her friends; who, incidentally,
loved her.

As well as being a prop of the Women's Rural Institute, a lavish provider
of goods for bazaars, a devoted polisher of Church plate, Miss
Easton-Dixon was also an authority on Hollywood and all its ramifications.
Every Thursday she took the one o'clock bus into Wickham and spent the
afternoon having one-and-ninepence-worth at the converted Followers of
Moses hall that did duty as a cinema. If the week's film happened to be
something of which she did not approve--ukelele opus, for instance, or the
tribulations of some blameless housemaid--she put the one-and-ninepence,
together with the eight-penny bus fare, into the china pig on the
mantelpiece, and used the fund to take her to Crome, when some film that
she specially looked forward to was being shown in that comparative
metropolis.

Every Friday she collected her _Screen Bulletin_ from the newsagent in the
village, read through the releases for the week, marked those she intended
to view, and put away the paper for future reference. There was no bit
player in two hemispheres that Miss Easton-Dixon could not give chapter
and verse for. She could tell you why the make-up expert at Grand
Continental had gone over to Wilhelm's, and the exact difference that had
made to Madeleine Rice's left profile.

So that poor Emma, walking up the spotless brick path to hand in a basket
of eggs on her way to Evensong, was walking all unaware into her Waterloo.

Miss Easton-Dixon asked about the party to celebrate the birth of
_Maureen's Lover_ and Lavinia Fitch's literary coming-of-age. Had it been
a success?

Emma supposed so. Ross and Cromarty's parties always were. A sufficiency
of drink was all that was ever necessary to make a party a success.

'I hear that you have a very good-looking guest this weekend,' Miss
Easton-Dixon said, less because she was curious than because it was
against her idea of good manners to have gaps in the conversation.

'Yes. Lavinia brought him back from the party. A person called Searle.'

'Oh,' said Miss Easton-Dixon in absentminded encouragement, while she
transferred the eggs to a tenpenny white bowl that she had painted with
poppies and corn.

'An American. He says that he is a photographer. Anyone who takes
photographs can say that he is a photographer and there is no one to deny
it. It is a very useful profession. Almost as useful as "nurse" used to be
before it became a matter of registration and reference books.'

'Searle?' Miss Easton-Dixon said, pausing with an egg in her hand. 'Not
_Leslie_ Searle, by any chance?'

'Yes,' said Emma, taken aback. 'His name is Leslie. At least that is what
he says. Why?'

'You mean Leslie Searle is _here_? In Salcott St Mary? How simply
unbelievable!'

'What is unbelievable about it?' Emma said, on the defensive.

'But he is _famous_.'

'So are half the residents of Salcott St Mary,' Emma reminded her tartly.

'Yes, but they don't photograph the most exclusive people in the world. Do
you know that Hollywood stars go down on their knees to get Leslie Searle
to photograph them? It is something that they can't buy. A privilege. An
honour.'

'And, I take it, an advertisement,' said Emma. 'Are we talking about the
same Leslie Searle, do you think?'

'But of course! There can hardly be two Leslie Searles who are American
and photographers.'

'I see nothing impossible in that,' said Emma, a last-ditcher by nature.

'But of course it must be _the_ Leslie Searle. If it won't make you late
for Evensong we can settle the matter here and now.'

'How?'

'I have a photograph of him somewhere.'

'Of Leslie Searle!'

'Yes. In a _Screen Bulletin_. Just let me look it out; it won't take a
moment. This really is exciting. I can't think of anyone more--more
exotic--to find in Salcott of all places.' She opened the door of a
yellow-painted cupboard (decorated Bavarian-fashion with scrolls of
stylised flowers) and disclosed the neat stacks of hoarded _Bulletins_.
'Let me see. It must be eighteen months ago--or perhaps two years.' With a
practised hand she thumbed down the edges of the pile, so that the date in
the corner of each was visible for a moment, and picked two or three from
the pile. 'There is a "contents" list on the outside of each,' she pointed
out, shuffling them on the table, 'so it doesn't take a moment to find
what one wants. So useful.' And then, as the required issue did not turn
up at once: 'But if this is going to make you late, do leave it and come
in on your way home. I shall look it out while you are in church.'

But nothing would now have moved Emma from the house until she had seen
that photograph.

'Ah, here it is!' said Miss Easton-Dixon at last. '"Lovelies And The Lens"
it was called. I suppose one cannot expect style _and_ information for
threepence a week. However, if I remember rightly the article was more
respect-worthy than the title. Here it is. These are samples of his
work--that is a _very_ clever one of Lotta Marlow, isn't it--and here,
over the page, you see, is a self-portrait. Isn't that your weekend
guest?'

It was a photograph taken at an odd angle and full of odd shadows; a
composition rather than a 'likeness' in the old sense. But it was
unmistakably Leslie Searle. The Leslie Searle who was occupying the
'tower' bedroom at Trimmings. Unless, of course, there were twins, both
called Leslie, both called Searle, both Americans, and both photographers;
which was something at which even Emma baulked.

She skimmed through the article, which, as Miss Easton-Dixon had
indicated, was a perfectly straight-forward account of the young man and
his work and might equally well have come out of _Theatre Arts Monthly_.
The article welcomed him back to the Coast for his annual stay, envied him
being free of the world for the rest of the year, and commended his new
portraits of the stars, more especially that of Danny Minsky in Hamlet
clothes. 'The tears of laughter that Danny has wrung from us have no doubt
blinded us to that Forbes-Robertson profile. It took Searle to show us
that,' they said.

'Yes,' said Emma, 'that's----' She had nearly said 'the creature' but
stopped herself in time; 'that is the same person.'

No, she said cautiously, she did not know how long he was staying--he was
Lavinia's guest--but Miss Easton-Dixon should certainly meet him before he
left if that were humanly possible.

'If not,' said Miss Easton-Dixon, 'do please tell him how much I admire
his work.'

But that, of course, Emma had no intention of doing. She was not going to
mention this little matter at home at all. She went to Evensong and sat in
the Trimmings pew looking placid and benevolent and being thoroughly
miserable. The creature was not only 'personable', he was a personality,
and by that much more dangerous. He had a reputation that for all she knew
might vie with Walter's in worldly worth. He no doubt had money, too. It
was bad enough when she had only his 'personableness' to fear; now it
turned out that he was eligible as well. He had everything on his side.

If it had been possible to call up the powers of darkness against him, she
would have done it. But she was in church and must use the means to hand.
So she invoked God and all his angels to guard her Liz against the evils
in her path; that is to say, against not inheriting Lavinia's fortune when
the time came. 'Keep her true to Walter,' she prayed, 'and I'll----.' She
tried to think of some bribe or penance that she could offer, but could
think of none at the moment, so she merely repeated: 'Keep her true to
Walter,' with no inducement added and left it to the unselfish goodness
of the Deity.

It did nothing to reassure her nor to bolster her faith in the Deity, to
come on her daughter and Searle leaning on the little side gate into the
Trimmings garden and laughing together like a pair of children. She came
up behind them along the field path from the church, and was dismayed by
some quality of loveliness, of youth, that belonged to their gaiety. A
quality that was not apparent in any communion between Liz and Walter.

'What I like best is the yard or two of Renaissance before the bit of
Border peel,' Liz was saying. They were evidently at their favourite game
of making fun of the Bradford magnate's folly.

'How did he forget a moat, do you think?' Searle asked.

'Perhaps he started life digging ditches and didn't want to be reminded of
them.'

'It's my guess he didn't want to spend money on digging a hole just to put
water in it. They're Yankees, aren't they, up there?'

Liz 'allowed' that north-country blood had probably much in common with
New England. Then Searle saw Emma and greeted her, and they walked up to
the house with her, not self-conscious in her presence or stopping their
game, but drawing her into it and sharing their delight with her.

She looked at Liz's sallow little countenance and tried to remember when
she had last seen it so alive; so full of the joy of life. After a little
she remembered. It was on a Christmas afternoon long ago, and Liz had
experienced in the short space of an hour her first snow and her first
Christmas tree.

So far she had hated only Leslie Searle's beauty. Now she began to hate
Leslie Searle.




_4_


IT was Emma's hope that Searle would go quietly away before any further
evidences of desirableness were revealed to the family; but in that too
she was bound to be frustrated. Searle had avowedly come to England for a
holiday, he had no relations or intimate friends to visit, he had a camera
and every intention of using it, and there seemed no reason why he should
not stay at Trimmings and use it. His expressed intention, once he had
seen the largely unspoiled loveliness of Orfordshire, was to find a good
hotel in Crome and make that a centre for photographic foraging among the
cottages and country houses of the neighbourhood. But that, as Lavinia
swiftly pointed out, was absurd. He could stay at Trimmings, among his
friends, and forage just as far afield and with as good results as he
could at Crome. Why should he come back each night to a hotel room and the
company of casual acquaintances in a hotel lounge, when he could return to
a home and the comfort of his own room in the tower?

Searle would no doubt have accepted the invitation in any case, but the
final makeweight was the suggestion that he and Walter might do a book
together. No one could remember afterwards who first made the suggestion,
but it was one that anyone might have made. It was from journalism that
Walter had graduated to the eminence of radio commentator, and an alliance
between one of Britain's best-known personalities and one of America's
most admired photographers would produce a book that might, with luck,
have equal interest for Weston-super-Mare and Lynchburg, Va. In
partnership they could clean up.

So there was no question of Searle's departing on Monday morning, nor on
Tuesday, nor on any specific day in a foreseeable future. He was at
Trimmings to stay, it seemed. And no one but Emma found any fault with
that arrangement. Lavinia offered him the use of her Rolls two-seater to
take him round the country--it did nothing but lie in the garage, she
said, when she was working--but Searle preferred to hire a small cheap car
from Bill Maddox, who kept the garage at the entrance to the village. 'If
I'm going nosing up lanes that are not much better than the bed of a
stream, some of them, I want a car I don't have to hold my breath about,'
he said. But Liz felt that this was merely a way of declining Lavinia's
offer gracefully, and liked him for it.

Bill Maddox reported well of him to the village--'no airs at all and can't
be fooled neither; upped with the bonnet and went over her as if he was
bred to the trade'--so that by the time he appeared in the Swan with
Walter of an evening Salcott St Mary knew all about him and were prepared
to accept him in spite of his reprehensible good looks. The Salcott
aliens, of course, had no prejudice against good looks and no hesitation
whatever in accepting him. Toby Tullis took one look at him and
straightway forgot his royalties, the new comedy he had just finished, the
one he had just begun, and the infidelity of Christopher Hatton (how had
he ever been such a half-wit as to trust a creature of a vanity so
pathological that he could take to himself a name like that!) and made a
bee-line for the bench where Walter had deposited Searle while he fetched
the beer.

'I think I saw you at Lavinia's party in town,' he said, in his best
imitation-tentative manner. 'My name is Tullis. I write plays.' The
modesty of this phrase always enchanted him. It was as if the owner of a
transcontinental railroad were to say: 'I run trains.'

'How do you do, Mr Tullis,' said Leslie Searle. 'What kind of plays do you
write?'

There was a moment of silence while Tullis got his breath back, and while
he was still searching for words Walter came up with the beer.

'Well,' he said, 'I see you have introduced yourselves.'

'Walter,' said Tullis, deciding on his line and leaning towards Walter
with empressement, 'I have met him!'

'Met whom?' asked Walter who always remembered his accusatives.

'The man who never heard of me. I have met him at last!'

'And how does it feel?' asked Walter, glancing at Searle and deciding yet
once again that there was more in Leslie Searle than met the eye.

'Wonderful, my boy, wonderful. A unique sensation.'

'If you care, his name is Searle. Leslie Searle. A friend of Cooney
Wiggin.'

Walter saw a shadow of doubt cross the fish-grey eye of Toby Tullis and
followed the thought quite clearly. If this beautiful young man had been a
friend of the very-international Cooney, then was it possible that he had
never heard of the even-more-international Toby Tullis? Was it possible
that the young man was taking him for a ride?

Walter set the beer mugs down, slid into the seat beside Searle, and
prepared to enjoy himself.

Across the room he could see Serge Ratoff glaring at this new piece of
grouping. Ratoff had at one time been the raison d'être and prospective
star of an embryo play of Toby Tullis's which was to be called _Afternoon_
and was all about a faun. Unfortunately it had suffered considerable
changes in the processes of birth and had eventually become something
called _Crépuscule_, which was all about a little waiter in the Bois, and
was played by a newcomer with an Austrian name and a Greek temperament.
Ratoff had never recovered from this 'betrayal'. At first he had drunk
himself into scintillations of self-pity; then he had drunk to avoid the
ache of self-pity that filled him when he was sober; then he was sacked
because he had become independable both at rehearsals and performance;
then he reached the ultimate stage of a ballet dancer's downfall and
ceased even to practise. So that now, vaguely but surely, the fatty tissue
was blurring the spare tautness. Only the furious eyes still had the old
life and fire. The eyes still had meaning and purpose.

When Toby ceased to invite him to the house at Salcott, Ratoff had bought
the old stable next the village shop; a mere lean-to against the shop's
gable end; and made it into a dwelling for himself. This had proved in a
quite unexpected way his salvation, for his point of vantage next the only
shop in the place had turned him from a mere reject of Toby's into a
general purveyer of gossip to the community, and therefore a person in his
own right. The villagers, lured by the childish quality in his make-up,
treated him without the reservation that they used to the other aliens,
employing to him the same tolerance that they used to their own
'innocents'. He was therefore the only person in the village who was
equally free of both communities. No one knew what he lived on, or if he
ever ate, as opposed to drinking. At almost any hour of the day he could
be found draped in incorrigible grace against the post-office counter of
the shop, and in the evenings he drank at the Swan like the rest of the
community.

In the last few months a rapprochement had taken place between him and
Toby, and there were rumours that he was even beginning to practise again.
Now he was glaring at this newcomer to Salcott, this unsmirched unblurred
radiant newcomer, who had taken Toby's interest. In spite of 'betrayal'
and downfall, Toby was still his property and his god. Walter thought with
a mild amusement how scandalised poor Serge would be if he could witness
the treatment to which his adored Toby was being subjected. Toby had by
now discovered that Leslie Searle was a fellow who photographed the
world's celebrities, and was therefore confirmed in his suspicion that
Searle had known quite well who he was. He was puzzled, not to say
wounded. No one had been rude to Toby Tullis for at least a decade. But
his actor's need to be liked was stronger than his resentment, and he was
putting forth all his charm in an effort to win over this so-unexpected
antagonist.

Sitting watching the charm at work, Walter thought how ineradicable was
the 'bounder' in a man's personality. When he was a child his friends at
school had used the word 'bounder' loosely to describe anyone who wore the
wrong kind of collar. But of course it was not at all like that. What made
a man a bounder was a quality of mind. A crassness. A lack of sensitivity.
It was something that was quite incurable; a spiritual astigmatism. And
Toby Tullis, after all those years, stayed unmistakably a bounder. It was
a very odd thing. With the possible exception of the Court of St James's,
there was no door in the world that was not wide open to Toby Tullis. He
travelled like royalty and was given almost diplomatic privileges; he was
dressed by the world's best tailors and had acquired the social tricks of
the world's best people; in everything but essence he was the well-bred
man of the world. In essence he remained a bounder. Marta Hallard had once
said: 'Everything that Toby does is just a little off-key,' and that
described it very well.

Looking sideways to see how Searle was taking this odd wooing, Walter was
delighted to observe a sort of absentmindedness in Searle as he consumed
his beer. The degree of absentmindedness was beautifully graded, Walter
noticed; any more would have laid him open to the charge of rudeness and
so put him in the wrong, any less might not have been obvious enough to
sting Tullis. As it was, Toby was baffled into trying far too hard and
making a fool of himself. He did everything but juggle with plates. That
anyone should be unimpressed by Toby Tullis was a state of affairs not to
be borne. He sweated. And Walter smiled into his beer, and Leslie Searle
was gentle and polite and a little absentminded.

And Serge Ratoff continued to glare from the other side of the room.

Walter reckoned that he was two drinks short of making a scene, and
wondered if they should drink up and go, before Serge joined them in a
torrent of unintelligible English and unfathomable accusations. But the
person who joined them was not Serge but Silas Weekley.

Weekley had been watching them from the bar for some time, and now brought
his beer over to their table and greeted them. He came, as Walter knew,
for two reasons: because he had a woman's curiosity, and because
everything beautiful had for him the attraction of the repulsive. Weekley
resented beauty, and it was not entirely to be held against him that he
made a very large income indeed out of that resentment. His resentment was
quite genuine. The world he approved of was, as Liz had said, 'all
steaming manure and slashing rain'. And not even the clever parodies of
his individual style had sufficed to ruin his vogue. His lecture tours in
America were wild successes, not so much because his earnest readers in
Peoria and Paduca loved steaming manure but because Silas Weekley looked
the part so perfectly. He was cadaverous, and dark, and tall, and his
voice was slow and sibilant and hopeless, and all the good ladies of
Peoria and Paduca longed to take him home and feed him up and give him a
brighter outlook on life. In which they were a great deal more generous
than his English colleagues; who considered him an unmitigated bore and a
bit of an ass. Lavinia always referred to him as 'that tiresome man who
always tells you that he was at a board school', and held that he was just
a little mad. (He, on his part, referred to her as 'the woman Fitch', as
one speaking of a criminal.)

Weekley had come over to them because he could not keep away from the
hateful beauty of Leslie Searle, and Walter caught himself wondering if
Searle knew it. For Searle, who had been all gentle indifference with the
eager Toby, was now engaged in throwing a rope over the antagonistic
Silas. Walter, watching the almost feminine dexterity of it, was willing
to bet that in about fifteen minutes Searle would have Silas roped and
hog-tied. He glanced at the big bland clock behind the bar and decided to
time him.

Searle did it with five minutes to spare. In ten minutes he had Weekley,
resentful and struggling, a prisoner in his toils. And the bewilderment in
Weekley's sunken eyes was greater than ever the bewilderment in Toby's
fish-scale ones had been. Walter nearly laughed aloud.

And then Searle put the final touch of comedy to the act. At a moment when
both Silas and Toby were doing their rival best to be entertaining, Searle
said in his quiet drawl: 'Do forgive me, won't you, but I see a friend of
mine,' and got up without haste and walked away to join the friend at the
bar. The friend was Bill Maddox, the garage keeper.

Walter buried his face in his beer mug and enjoyed the faces of his
friends.

It was only afterwards, rolling it over in his mind to savour it, that a
vague discomfort pricked him. The fun had been so bland, so lightly
handled, that its essential quality, its ruthlessness, had not been
apparent.

At the moment he was merely amused by the typical reactions of Searle's
two victims. Silas Weekley gulped down what was left of his beer, pushed
the mug away from him with a gesture of self-disgust, and went out of the
pub without a word. He was like a man fleeing from the memory of some
frowsy back-room embrace; a man sickened by his own succumbing. Walter
wondered for a moment if Lavinia could possibly be right, and Weekley was
after all a little mad.

Toby Tullis, on the other hand, had never known either retreat or
self-disgust. Toby was merely deploying his forces for further
campaigning.

'A little farouche, your young friend,' he remarked, his eye on Searle as
he talked to Bill Maddox at the bar.

Farouche was the last word that Walter would have used of Leslie Searle
but he understood that Toby must justify his temporary overthrow.

'You must bring him to see Hoo House.'

Hoo House was the beautiful stone building that stood so unexpectedly in
Salcott's row of pink and cream and yellow gables. It had once been an
inn; and before that, it was said, its stones had been part of an abbey
farther down the valley. Now it was a show-piece of a quality so rare that
Toby, who normally changed his dwelling-place (one could hardly say his
home) every second year, had refused all offers for it for several years
now.

'Is he staying long with you?'

Walter said that he and Searle planned to do a book together. They had not
yet decided on the form of it.

'Gipsying Through Orfordshire?'

'Something like that. I do the spiel and Searle does the illustrations. We
haven't thought of a good central theme yet.'

'A little early in the year to go gipsying.'

'Good for photography, though. Before the county becomes clotted with
greenery.'

'Perhaps your young friend would like to photograph Hoo House,' Toby said,
picking up the two mugs and moving with admirable casualness to the bar
with them.

Walter stayed where he was and wondered how many drinks Serge Ratoff had
had since last he noticed him. He had been only two short of a row then,
he had reckoned.  Now he must be almost at explosion point.

Toby put the mugs on the counter, entered first into conversation with the
landlord, then with Bill Maddox, and so quite naturally with Searle again.
It was dexterously done.

'You must come and see Hoo House,' Walter heard him say presently. 'It is
very beautiful. You might even like to photograph it.'

'Has it not been photographed?' asked Searle, surprised. It was quite an
innocent surprise; an astonishment that a thing so beautiful should be
unrecorded. But what it conveyed to his hearers was: 'Is it possible that
any facet of Toby Tullis's life has remained unpublicised?'

This was the spark that ignited Serge.

'_Yes_!' he shrieked, shooting out of his corner like a squib and sticking
his furious small face within an inch of Searle's, 'it has been
photographed! It has been photographed ten thousand times by the greatest
photographers in the world and it does not need to be made cheap by any
stupid amateur from a country that was stolen from the Indians even if he
has a profile and dyed hair and no morals and a----'

'Serge!' said Toby, 'shut up!'

But the wild babble poured out of Serge's ravaged face without a pause.

'Serge! Do you hear! Stop it!' Toby said, and pushed Ratoff lightly on the
shoulder so as to urge him away from Searle.

This was the final touch, and Serge's voice rose into one high continuous
stream of vituperation, most of it couched in mercifully unintelligible
English but spattered liberally with phrases in French or Spanish and
studded here and there with epithets and descriptions of a freshness that
was delightful. 'You middle-west Lucifer!' was one of the better ones.

As Toby's hand took him by the back of the collar to drag him away from
Searle by force, Serge's arm shot out to where Toby's new-filled beer mug
was waiting on the counter. He reached it a split second before Reeve, the
landlord, could save it, grabbed it, and launched the whole contents into
Searle's face. Searle's head moved sideways by instinct, so that the beer
streamed over his neck and shoulder. Screaming with baffled rage, Serge
lifted the heavy mug above his head to fling it, but Reeve's large hand
closed on his wrist, the mug was prised out of his convulsive clutch, and
Reeve said: 'Arthur!'

There was no chucker-out at the Swan, since there had never been any need
for one. But when any persuading had to be done, Arthur Tebbetts did it.
Arthur was cattleman up at Silverlace Farm, and he was a large, slow, kind
creature who would go out of his way to avoid treading on a worm.

'Come now, Mr Ratoff,' Arthur said, enveloping with his Saxon bulk the
small struggling cosmopolitan. 'There's no call to get fussed over little
things. It's that there gin, Mr Ratoff. I've told you afore. That ain't no
drink for a man, Mr Ratoff. Now you come with me, and see if you don't
feel the better of a dose of fresh air. See if you don't.'

Serge had no intention of going anywhere with anyone. He wanted to stay
and murder this newcomer to Salcott. But there was never any successful
argument against Arthur's methods. Arthur just put a friendly arm round
one and leaned. The arm was like a limb of a beech tree, and the pressure
was that of a landslide. Serge went with him to the door under pressure,
and they went out together. Not for one moment had Serge stopped his
torrent of accusation and offence, and not once as far as anyone knew had
he repeated himself.

As the high babbling voice died into the outer air, the onlookers stirred
into relief and conversation again.

'Gentlemen,' said Toby Tullis, 'I apologise on behalf of the Theatre.'

But it was not said lightly enough. Instead of being an actor's gay
smoothing over of an awkward moment, it was Toby Tullis reminding them
that he spoke for the English Theatre. As Marta had said: everything that
Toby did was a little off-key. There was a murmur of amusement, but if
anything his speech added to the village's embarrassment.

The landlord mopped Searle's shoulder with a glass-cloth, and begged him
to come in behind and his missus would take some clean water to his suit
and get the smell of the beer off it before it dried in. But Searle
refused. He was quite amiable about it but seemed to want to get out of
the place. Walter thought that he was looking a little sick.

They said good-evening to Toby, who was still explaining Serge's
temperament in terms of the Theatre, and went out into the sweet evening.

'Does he often sound off like that?' Searle asked.

'Ratoff? He has made scenes before, yes, but never such a violent one.
I've never known him use physical means before.'

They met Arthur, returning to his interrupted beer, and Walter asked what
had become of the disturber.

'He run away home,' Arthur said with his large smile. 'Went off like an
arrow from a bow. He could beat a hare, that one.'  And went back to his
drink.

'It's early for dinner yet,' Walter said. 'Let us walk home by the river
and up by the field-path. I am sorry about the row, but I expect that in
your job you are used to temperaments.'

'Well, I have been called things, of course, but so far nothing has
actually been flung at me.'

'I dare swear no one ever thought of calling you a middle-west Lucifer
before. Poor Serge.' Walter paused to lean on the bridge below the Mill
House, and look at the reflection of the afterglow in the waters of the
Rushmere. 'Perhaps the old saying is true and it is not possible to love
and be wise. When you are as devoted to anyone as Serge is to Toby Tullis,
I expect you cease to be sane about the matter.'

'Sane,' said Searle sharply.

'Yes; things lose their proper proportions. Which, I take it, is a loss of
sanity.'

Searle was quiet for a long time, staring at the smooth water as it
flooded so slowly towards the bridge and then was flicked under it with
the sudden hysteria of water sucked round obstacles in its path.

'Sane,' he repeated, watching the place where the water lost control and
was sucked under the culvert.

'I'm not suggesting the fellow is mad,' Walter said. 'He has just lost
hold of common sense.'

'And is common sense so desirable a quality?'

'An admirable quality.'

'Nothing great ever came out of common sense,' Searle said.

'On the contrary. Lack of common sense is responsible for practically
every ill in life. Everything from wars to not moving up in the bus. I see
there is a light in the Mill House. Marta must be back.'

They looked up at the pale bulk of the house glowing in the half-dark as a
pale flower glows. A single light, still bright yellow in what was left of
the daylight, starred the side that looked on the river.

'A light the way Liz likes them,' Searle said.

'Liz?'

'She likes them golden like that in the daylight. Before the dark turns
them white.'

For the first time Walter was forced into considering Searle in relation
to Liz. It had not crossed his mind until now to consider them in relation
to each other at all, since he was not in the least possessive about Liz.
This unpossessiveness might have been accounted to him for virtue if it
had not sprung directly from the fact that he took her for granted. If by
some method of hypnotism the last dregs of Walter's subconscious could
have been dragged to the surface, it would have been found that he thought
that Liz was doing very well for herself. Even the shadow of such a
thought would have shocked Walter's conscious mind, of course; but since
he was entirely unself-analytical and largely unselfconscious (a quality
that enabled him to perpetrate the broadcasts which so revolted Marta and
endeared him to the British public), the farthest his conscious mind went
was to hold it gratifying and proper that Liz should love him.

He had known Liz so long that she had no surprises for him. He took it for
granted that he knew everything about Liz. But he had not known a simple
little fact like her pleasure in lights in the daytime.

And Searle, the newcomer, had learned that.

And, what was more, remembered it.

A faint ripple stirred the flat waters of Walter's self-satisfaction.

'Have you met Marta Hallard?' he asked.

'No.'

'We must remedy that.'

'I have seen her act, of course.'

'Oh. In what?'

'A play called _Walk in Darkness_.'

'Oh, yes. She was good in that. One of her best parts, I think,' Walter
said, and dropped the subject. He did not want to talk about _Walk in
Darkness_. _Walk in Darkness_ might be a Hallard memory, but it was one
that held also Marguerite Merriam.

'I suppose we couldn't drop in now?' Searle said, looking up at the light.

'It's a little too near dinner time, I think. Marta isn't the kind of
person you drop in on very easily. That, I suspect, is why she chose the
isolated Mill House.'

'Perhaps Liz could take me down and present me tomorrow.'

Walter had nearly said: 'Why Liz?' when he remembered that tomorrow was
Friday, and that he would be away all day in town. Friday was broadcast
day. Searle had remembered that he would not be here tomorrow although he
himself had forgotten. Another ripple stirred.

'Yes. Or we might ask her up to dinner. She likes good food. Well, I
suppose we had better be getting along.'

But Searle did not move. He was looking up the avenue of willows that
bordered the flat pewter surface of the darkening water.

'I've got it!' he said.

'Got what?'

'The theme. The connecting link. The motif.'

'For the book, you mean?'

'Yes. The river. The Rushmere. Why didn't we think of that before?'

'The river! Yes! Why didn't we? I suppose because it isn't entirely an
Orfordshire river. But of course it is the perfect solution. It has been
done repeatedly for the Thames, and for the Severn. I don't see why it
shouldn't work with the smaller Rushmere.'

'Would it give us the variety we need for the book?'

'Indubitably,' said Walter. 'It couldn't be better. It rises in that hilly
country, all sheep and stone walls and sharp outlines; then there's the
pastoral bit with beautiful farm houses, and great barns, and English
trees at their best, and village churches like cathedrals; and then
Wickham, the essence of English market towns, where the villein that
marched from the town cross to speak to King Richard in London is the same
man that prods today's heifer on to the train on its way to the
Argentine.' Walter's hand stole up to the breast pocket where he kept his
notebook, but fell away again. 'Then the marshes. You know: skeins of
geese against an evening sky. Great cloudscapes and shivering grasses.
Then the port: Mere Harbour. Almost Dutch. A complete contrast to the
county at its back. A town full of lovely individual building, and a
harbour full of fishing and coastwise traffic. Gulls, and reflections, and
gables. Searle, it's perfect!'

'When do we start?'

'Well, first, how do we do it?'

'Will this thing take a boat?'

'Only a punt. Or a skiff where it widens below the bridge.'

'A punt,' Searle said doubtfully. 'That's one of those flat duck-shooting
things.'

'Approximately.'

'That doesn't sound very handy. It had better be canoes.'

'Canoes!'

'Yes. Can you manage one?'

'I've paddled one round an ornamental pond when I was a child. That's
all.'

'Oh, well, at least you've got the hang of it. You'll soon remember the
drill. How far up could we start, with canoes? Man, it's a wonderful idea.
It even gives us our title. "_Canoes on the Rushmere._" A title with a
nice swing to it. Like "_Drums Along the Mohawk._" Or "_Oil for the Lamps
of China_".'

'We shall have to tramp the first bit of it. The sheep-country bit. Down
to about Otley. I expect the stream will take a canoe at Otley. Though,
God help me, I don't anticipate being much at home in a canoe. We can
carry a small pack from the source of the river--it's a spring in the
middle of a field, I've always understood--down to Otley or Capel, and
from there to the sea we canoe. "_Canoes on the Rushmere_". Yes, it sounds
all right. When I go up to town tomorrow I'll go and see Cormac Ross and
put the proposition to him and see what he is moved to offer. If he
doesn't like it, I have half a dozen more who will jump at it. But Ross is
in Lavinia's pocket, so we might as well make use of him if he will play.'

'Of course he will,' Searle said. 'You're practically royalty in this
country, aren't you!'

If there was any feeling in the gibe it was not apparent.

'I should really offer it to Debham's,' Walter said. 'They did my book
about farm life. But I quarrelled with them about the illustrations. They
were dreadful, and the book didn't sell.'

'That was before you took to the air, I infer.'

'Oh, yes.' Walter pushed himself off the bridge and began to walk towards
the field-path and dinner. 'They did refuse my poems, after the farm book,
so I can use that as a get-out.'

'You write poems too?'

'Who doesn't?'

'I for one.'

'Clod!' said Walter amiably.

And they went back to discussing the ways and means of their progress down
the Rushmere.




_5_


'COME up to town with me and see Ross,' Walter said at breakfast next
morning.

But Searle wanted to stay in the country. It was blasphemy, he said, to
spend even one day in London with the English countryside bursting into
its first green. Besides, he did not know Ross. It would be better if
Walter put the proposition to Ross first, and brought him into the
business later.

And Walter, though disappointed, did not stop to analyse the exact quality
of his disappointment.

But as he drove up to town his mind was much less occupied than usual with
the matter of his broadcast, and a great deal oftener than usual it
strayed back to Trimmings.

He went to see Ross and laid before him the plans for _Canoes on the
Rushmere_. Ross professed himself delighted and allowed himself to be
beaten up an extra 2½ per cent on a provisional agreement. But of
course nothing could be settled, he pointed out, until he had consulted
Cromarty.

It was popularly supposed that Ross had taken Cromarty into partnership
for the fun of it; as a matter of euphony. He had been doing quite well
for himself as Cormac Ross, as far as anyone could judge, and there seemed
on the surface no reason to rope in a partner; more especially a partner
as colourless as Cromarty. But Cormac Ross had sufficient West Highland
blood in him to find it difficult to say no. He liked to be liked. So he
engaged Cromarty as his smoke-screen. When an author could be received
with open arms, the open arms were Cormac Ross's. When an author had
regretfully to be turned down it was on account of Cromarty's
intransigeance. Cromarty had once said to Ross in a fit of temper: 'You
might at least let me _see_ the books I turn down!' But that was an
extreme case. Normally Cromarty did read the books that he was going to be
responsible for rejecting.

Now, faced with the offer of a book by the British Public's current
darling, Ross used the automatic phrase about consulting his partner; but
his round pink face shone with satisfaction, and he bore Walter off to
lunch and bought him a bottle of Romanée-Conti; which was wasted on
Walter, who liked beer.

So, full of good burgundy and the prospect of cheques to come, Walter went
on to the studio and his mind once more began to play tricks on him and
run away back to Salcott instead of staying delightedly in the studio as
was its habit.

For half of his weekly time on the air Walter always had a guest. Someone
connected with the Open Air; a commodity in which Walter had lately taken
so much stock as to make it a virtual Whitmore monopoly. Walter compèred
the Open Air in the shape of a poacher, a sheep farmer from the back
blocks of Australia, a bird watcher, a keeper from Sutherland, an earnest
female who went round pushing acorns into roadside banks, a young
dilettante who hunted with a hawk, and anyone else who happened to be both
handy and willing. For the latter half of his time Walter merely talked.

Today his guest was a child who kept a tame fox, and Walter was dismayed
to find himself disliking the brat. Walter loved his guests. He felt warm
and protective and all-brothers-together about them; he never loved
mankind so largely or so well as when he and his guests were talking
together in his Half Hour. He loved them to the point of tears. And now it
upset him to feel detached and critical about Harold Dibbs and his silly
fox. Harold had a sadly under-developed jaw, he noticed, and looked
regrettably like a fox himself. Perhaps the fox had stayed with him
because it had felt at home. He felt guilty about having had this thought
and tried to compensate by giving his voice more warmth than it would
carry, so that his interest had a forced note. Harold and his fox were
Walter's first failure.

Nor was the talk successful enough to blot out the memory of Harold. The
talk was about 'What Earthworms do for England'. The 'for England' was a
typical Whitmore touch. Other men might speak on the place of the
Earthworm in Nature, and no one cared two hoots either about Nature or
earthworms. But Walter pinned his worm on to a Shakespearean hook and
angled gently with it, so that his listeners saw the seething legions of
blind purpose turning the grey rock in the western sea into the green
Paradise that was England. There would be fifty-seven letters tomorrow
morning by the first available post from north of the Border, of course,
to point out that Scotland too had her earthworms. But this was just so
much additional evidence of Walter's drawing-power.

It was Walter's secret habit to speak to one particular person when
broadcasting; a trick which helped him to achieve that unselfconscious
friendliness which was his trade-mark. It was never a real person; nor did
he ever visualise his imaginary hearer in detail. He merely decided that
today he would talk to 'an old lady in Leeds', or 'a little girl in
hospital in Bridgwater', or 'a lighthouse-keeper in Scotland'. Today for
the first time he thought of speaking to Liz. Liz always listened to his
broadcast, and he took it for granted that she would listen, but his
imaginary listener was so much a part of his act that it had never
occurred to him before to use Liz as the person he talked to. Now, today,
some obscure need to bind Liz closely to him, to make sure that she was
there, blotted out his 'pretence' listener, and he talked to Liz.

But it was not the success it should have been. The mere recollection of
Liz wooed his mind from the script, so that he remembered last night by
the river, and the darkening willows, and the single golden star in the
side of the Mill House. A daffodil-pale light, 'the way Liz liked them'.
And his attention wandered from the worms and from England and he stumbled
over the words, so that the illusion of spontaneity was lost.

Puzzled and a little annoyed, but still not greatly disturbed, he signed
the autograph books that had been sent to the studio for that purpose,
decided what was to be done in the case of (_a_) a request for his
presence at a christening, (_b_) a request for one of his ties, (_c_)
nineteen requests to appear on his programme, and (_d_) seven requests for
financial loans; and turned his face homewards. As an afterthought he
turned back and bought a pound boot of chocolate dragées for Liz. As he
tucked it into the glove compartment it occurred to him that it must be
some time since he took Liz something on his way home. It was a pleasant
habit; he must do it more often.

It was only when the traffic dropped behind him, and the Roman directness
of the arterial highway stretched uneventful in front of him that his mind
went past Liz to the thing her image was hiding: Searle. Searle. Poor
Serge's 'middle-west Lucifer'. Why Lucifer, he wondered? Lucifer, Prince
of the Morning. He had always pictured Lucifer as a magnificent, burning
figure six-and-a-half feet tall. Not at all like Searle. What in Searle
had suggested Lucifer to Ratoff's accusing mind?

Lucifer. A fallen glory. A beauty turned evil.

He saw in his mind a picture of the Searle who walked round the farm with
him; his hatless blond hair blown into untidy ends by the wind, his hands
pushed deep into very English flannels. Lucifer. He nearly laughed aloud.

But there was, of course, a strangeness in Searle's good looks. A--what
was it?--an unplaceable quality. Something not quite of the world of men.

Perhaps that was what had suggested fallen angels to Serge's fertile mind.

Anyhow, Searle seemed a good chap, and they were going to do a book
together; and Searle knew that he was engaged to marry Liz, so that he
would not----

He did not finish the thought, even to himself. Nor did it occur to him to
wonder how a beauty that made one think of fallen angels was likely to
affect a young woman engaged to a B.B.C. commentator.

He drove home at a better speed than normally, put away the car, took
Liz's favourite sweets out of their place in the glove compartment, and
went in to present them and be kissed for his forethought. He was also the
bearer of the good news that Cormac Ross liked the idea of the book and
was prepared to pay them well for it. He could hardly wait to reach the
drawing-room.

The baronial hall was very silent and cold as he crossed it, and it
smelled, in spite of anachronistic baize doors, of sprouts and stewed
rhubarb. In the drawing-room, which as usual was warm and gay, there was
no one but Lavinia, who was sitting with her feet on the fender and her
lap covered with that day's issue of the highbrow weeklies.

'It's a strange thing,' said Lavinia, taking her nose out of the
_Watchman_, 'how immoral it is to make money out of writing.'

'Hullo, Aunt Vin. Where are the others?'

'This rag used to worship Silas Weekley until he went and made himself a
fortune. Em is upstairs, I think. The others aren't back yet.'

'Back? Back from where?'

'I don't know. They went out in that dreadful little car of Bill Maddox's
after lunch.'

'After _lunch_.'

'"The slick repetition of a technique as lacking in subtlety as a poster."
Don't they make you sick! Yes, I didn't need Liz this afternoon, so they
went out. It has been a glorious day, hasn't it?'

'But it is only ten minutes till dinner time!'

'Yes. Looks as though they're going to be late,' said Lavinia, her eyes
pursuing the slaughter of Silas.

So Liz hadn't heard the broadcast! He had been talking to her and she
hadn't even been listening. He was dumbfounded. The fact that the old lady
in Leeds, and the child in the hospital in Bridgwater, and the
lighthouse-keeper in Scotland hadn't been listening either made no
difference. Liz _always_ listened. It was her business to listen. He was
Walter, her fiancé, and if he spoke to the world it was right that she
should listen. And now she had gone out gaily with Leslie Searle and left
him talking into thin air. She had gone out gadding without a thought, on
a Friday, on his broadcast afternoon, gone out God knew where, with
Searle, with a fellow she had known only seven days, and they stayed out
to the very last minute. She wasn't even there to have chocolates given
her when he had gone out of his way to get them for her. It was monstrous.

Then the vicar arrived. No one had remembered that he was coming to
dinner. He was that kind of man. And Walter had to spend another fifteen
minutes with earthworms when he had already had more than enough of them.
The vicar had listened to his broadcast and was enchanted by it; he could
talk of nothing else.

Mrs Garrowby came in, greeted the vicar with commendable presence of mind,
and went away to arrange for a supplement of tinned peas to the entrée and
a pastry covering for the stewed rhubarb.

By the time that the missing pair were twenty minutes late and Mrs
Garrowby had decided not to wait for them, Walter had changed his attitude
and decided that Liz was dead. She would never be late for dinner. She was
lying dead in a ditch somewhere. Perhaps with the car on top of her.
Searle was an American and it was well-known that all Americans were
reckless drivers and had no patience with English lanes. They had probably
gone round a corner slap into something.

He played with his soup, his heart black with dread, and listened to the
vicar on demonology. He had heard at one time or another everything that
the vicar had to say on the subject of demonology, but at least it was a
relief to get away from worms.

Just when his heart had blackened and shrunk to the state of a very old
mushroom, the gay voices of Searle and Liz could be heard in the hall.
They came in breathless and radiant. Full of off-hand apology for their
lateness and commendation for the family in that they had not kept dinner
back for them. Liz presented Searle to the vicar but did not think of
casting any special word to Walter before falling on her soup like a
starving refugee. They had been all over the place, they said; first they
had viewed Twells Abbey, and adjacent villages; then they had met Peter
Massie and had gone to look at his horses and given him a lift into Crome;
then they had had tea at the Star and Garter in Crome, and they had been
on the way home out of Crome when they found a cinema which was showing
_The Great Train Robbery_, and it was of course not in anyone's power to
refuse a chance of viewing _The Great Train Robbery_. They had had to sit
through several modern exhibits before _The Great Train Robbery_
appeared--which was what had made them late--but it had been worth waiting
for.

An account of _The Great Train Robbery_ occupied most of the fish course.

'How was the broadcast, Walter?' Liz said, reaching for some bread.

It was bad enough that she did not say: 'I am desolated to have missed
your broadcast, Walter'; but that she should spare for the broadcast only
the part of her mind that was not occupied with the replenishing of her
bread plate was the last straw.

'The vicar will tell you,' said Walter. '_He_ listened.'

The vicar told them, _con amore_. Neither Liz nor Leslie Searle, Walter
noticed, really listened. Once, during the recital, Liz met Searle's
glance as she passed him something and gave him her quick friendly smile.
They were very pleased with themselves, with each other, and with the day
they had had.

'What did Ross say about the book?' Searle asked, when the vicar had at
last run down.

'He was delighted with the idea,' Walter said, wishing passionately that
he had never begun this partnership with Searle.

'Have you heard what they plan, Vicar?' Mrs Garrowby said. 'They are going
to write a book about the Rushmere. From its source to the sea. Walter is
going to write it and Mr Searle to illustrate it.'

The vicar approved of the idea and pointed out its classic form. Was it to
be on shanks's mare or with a donkey, he asked.

'On foot down to Otley, or thereabouts,' Walter said. 'And by water from
there.'

'By water? But the Rushmere is full of snags in its early reaches,' the
vicar said.

They told him about the canoes. The vicar thought canoes a sensible craft
for a river like the Rushmere, but wondered where they could be got.

'I talked to Cormac Ross about that today,' Walter said, 'and he suggested
that Kilner's, the small craft builders at Mere Harbour, might have some.
They build for all over the world. It was Joe Kilner who designed that
collapsible raft-boat-tent that Mansell took up the Orinoco on his last
trip, and then said afterwards that if he had thought in time he could
have made it a glider too. I was going to suggest that Searle and I should
go over to Mere Harbour tomorrow and see Kilner--if he has no other
plans.'

'Fine,' Searle said. 'Fine.'

Then the vicar asked Searle if he fished. Searle did not, but the vicar
did. The vicar's other interest, a short head behind demonology, was the
dry fly. So for the rest of dinner they listened to the vicar on flies,
with the detached interest that they might bring to cement-mixing, or
gum-chewing, or turning the heel of a sock; a subject of academic interest
only. And each of them used the unoccupied half of their minds in their
own fashion.

Walter decided that he would leave the little white packet of chocolates
on the hall table, where he had dropped it as he went in to dinner, until
Liz asked about it; when he would tell her casually what it was. She would
be full of compunction, he decided, that he had thought of her while she
had entirely forgotten him.

As they walked out of the dining-room he glanced sideways to make sure
that the little packet was still there. It certainly was. But Liz, too, it
seemed, had dropped something on the table on her way in to dinner. A
great flat box of candy from the most expensive confectioners in Crome.
Four pounds weight at the very least. 'Confits,' it said in dull gold
freehand across its cream surface, and it was tied up with yards of broad
ribbon finished in a most extravagant bow. Walter considered the 'confits'
affected and the ribbon deplorably ostentatious. The whole thing was in
the worst of taste. So like an American to buy something large and showy.
It made him quite sick to look at it.

What made him sick, of course, was not the box of candy.

He was sick of an emotion that was old before candy was invented.

As he poured brandy for Searle, the vicar and himself to drink with their
coffee he looked round in his mind for comfort, and found it.

Searle might give her boxes of expensive sweetmeats, but it was he,
Walter, who knew what her favourite sweets were.

Or--did Searle know that too? Perhaps the Crome confectioner didn't happen
to have dragées.

He tilted the brandy bottle again. He needed an extra spot tonight.




_6_


IF Emma Garrowby could ever be said to be glad of any connection of
Leslie Searle with Trimmings, she was glad of the plan for the book. It
would take him away from the household for the rest of his stay in
Orfordshire; and once the Rushmere trip was over he would go away and they
would see no more of him. No harm had been done so far, that she could
see. Liz liked being with the creature, of course, because they were both
young and because they seemed to laugh at the same things and because,
naturally, he was attractive to look at. But she showed no signs of being
seriously attracted. She never looked at Searle unless she had something
to say to him; never followed him with her eyes as girls in love did,
never sat near him in a room.

For all her apprehensiveness, Emma Garrowby was an imperceptive woman.

It was the semi-detached Lavinia, oddly enough, who observed and was
troubled. The trouble welled up and overflowed into words, almost against
her will, some seven days later. She was dictating as usual to Liz, but
was making heavy weather of it. This was so rare that Liz was puzzled.
Lavinia wrote her books with great ease, being genuinely interested in the
fate of her current heroine. She might not remember afterwards whether it
was Daphne or Valerie who had met her lover when she was gathering violets
in the dawn on Capri, but while Daphne (or Valerie) had been in the
process of that meeting and that gathering Lavinia Fitch watched over her
like a godmother. Now, contrary to all precedent, she was distrait and had
great difficulty in remembering even what Sylvia looked like.

'Where was I, Liz, where was I?' she said, striding up and down the room;
a pencil stuck through the bird's-nest mop of sandy hair and another being
chewed to pulp between her sharp little teeth.

'Sylvia is coming in from the garden. Through the French window.'

'Oh, yes. "Sylvia paused in the window, her slim form outlined against the
light, her large blue eyes wary and doubtful----"'

'Brown,' said Liz.

'What?'

'Her eyes.' Liz flipped back some pages of the script. 'Page 59. "Her
brown eyes, limpid as rainpools lying on autumn leaves----"'

'All right, all right. "--her large brown eyes wary and doubtful. With a
graceful movement of resolution she stepped into the room, her tiny heels
tapping lightly on the parquet floor----"'

'No heels.'

'What d'you say?'

'No heels.'

'Why not?'

'She has just been playing tennis.'

'She could have changed, couldn't she?' Lavinia said with a touch of
asperity that was foreign to her.

'I don't think so,' Liz said patiently. 'She is still carrying her racket.
She came along the terrace "swinging her racket lightly".'

'Oh. _Did_ she!' Lavinia said explosively. 'I bet she can't even _play_!
Where was I? "She stepped into the room--she stepped into the room, her
white frock fluttering"--no; no, wait--"she stepped into the room"--Oh,
_damn_ Sylvia!' she burst out, flinging her chewed pencil on to the desk.
'Who cares what the silly moron does! Let her stay in the blasted window
and starve!'

'What is the matter, Aunt Vin?'

'I can't concentrate.'

'Are you worried about something?'

'No. Yes. No. At least, yes, I suppose I am, in a way.'

'Can I help?'

Lavinia ran her fingers through the bird's-nest, found the pencil there,
and looked gratified. 'Why, _there's_ my yellow pencil.' She put it back
again in her hair-do. 'Liz, dear, don't think me interfering or anything,
will you, but you're not by any chance getting a little--a little
_smitten_ with Leslie Searle, are you?'

Liz thought how like her aunt it was to use an out-of-date Edwardianism
like 'smitten'. She was always having to modernise Lavinia's slang for
her.

'If by "smitten" you mean in love with him, be comforted. I'm not.'

'I don't know that that's what I do mean. You don't love a magnet, if it
comes to that.'

'A what! What are you talking about?'

'It isn't a falling in love, so much. It's an attraction. He fascinates
you, doesn't he.' She made it a statement, not a question.

Liz looked up at the troubled childish eyes, and hedged. 'Why should you
think that?' she asked.

'I suppose because I feel it too,' Lavinia said.

This was so unexpected that Liz had no words.

'I wish now I had never asked him down to Trimmings,' Lavinia said
miserably. 'I know it isn't his fault--it isn't anything he _does_--but
there's no denying that he is an upsetting person. There's Serge and Toby
Tullis not on speaking terms----'

'That is nothing new!'

'No, but they _had_ become friends again, and Serge was behaving quite
well and working, and now----'

'You can hardly blame Leslie Searle for that. It would have happened
inevitably. You know it would.'

'And it _was_ very odd the way Marta took him back with her after dinner
the other night and kept him till all hours. I mean the way she
_appropriated_ him as her escort, without waiting to see what the others
were doing.'

'But the vicar was there to see Miss Easton-Dixon home. Marta knew that.
It was natural that he should go with Miss Dixon; they live in the same
direction.'

'It wasn't what she did, it was the way she did it. She--she _grabbed_.'

'Oh, that is just Marta's lordly way.'

'Nonsense. She felt it too. The--the fascination.'

'Of course, he is exceedingly attractive,' Liz said; and thought how
utterly the cliché failed to convey any quality of Leslie Searle's.

'He is--uncanny,' Lavinia said, unhappily. 'There is no other word. You
wait and watch for the next thing he is going to do, as if it were--as if
it were a sign, or a portent, or a revelation, or something.' She used the
'you' impersonally, but caught Liz's eye and said challengingly: 'Well,
you _do_, don't you!'

'Yes,' Liz said. 'Yes, I suppose it is like that. As if--as if the
smallest thing he does had significance.'

Lavinia picked up the chewed pencil from the desk and doodled with it on
the blotter. Liz noticed that she was making figures-of-eight. Lavinia
must be very troubled indeed. When she was happy she made herring-bones.

'It's very odd, you know,' Lavinia said, mulling it over in her mind. 'I
get the same "kick" out of being in a room with him that I would get out
of being in a room with a famous criminal. Only nicer, of course. But the
same feeling of--of wrongness.' She made several furious figures-of-eight.
'If he were to disappear tonight, and someone told me that he was just a
beautiful demon and not a human being at all, I would believe them. So
help me, I would.'

Presently she flung the pencil back on to the desk, and said with a little
laugh: 'And yet it's all so absurd. You look at him and try to find out
what is so extraordinary about him, and what is there? Nothing. Nothing
that can't be matched elsewhere, is there? That radiant fairness and that
skin like a baby; that Norwegian correspondent of the _Clarion_ that
Walter used to bring down had those. He is extraordinarily graceful for a
man; but so is Serge Ratoff. He has a nice gentle voice and an engaging
drawl; but so have half the inhabitants of Texas and a large part of the
population of Ireland. You catalogue his attractions and what do they add
up to? I can tell you what they _don't_ add up to. They don't add up to
Leslie Searle.'

'No,' said Liz soberly. 'No. They don't.'

'The--the _exciting_ thing is left out. _What_ is it that makes him
different? Even Emma feels it, you know.'

'Mother?'

'Only it takes her the opposite way. She hates it. She quite often
disapproves of the people I bring down, sometimes she even dislikes them.
But she _loathes_ Leslie Searle.'

'Has she told you so?'

'No. She didn't have to.'

No, thought Liz. She did not have to. Lavinia Fitch--dear, kind,
abstracted Lavinia--manufacturer of fiction for the permanently
adolescent, had after all a writer's intuition.

'I wondered for a while if it was that he was a little mad,' Lavinia said.

'Mad!'

'Only nor-nor-west, of course. There is an unholy attraction about people
who are stark crazy in one direction but quite sane every other way.'

'Only if you know about their craziness,' Liz pointed out. 'You would have
to know about their mental kink before you suffered any unholy
attraction.'

Lavinia considered that. 'Yes, I suppose you are right. But it doesn't
matter, because I decided for myself that the "mad" theory didn't work. I
have never met anyone saner than Leslie Searle. Have _you_?'

Liz hadn't.

'You don't think, do you,' Lavinia said, taking to doodling again and
avoiding her niece's eye, 'that Walter is beginning to resent Leslie?'

'Walter,' Liz said, startled. 'No, of course not. They are the greatest
friends.'

Lavinia, having with seven neat strokes erected a house, put the door in
it.

'Why should you think that about Walter?' Liz said, challenging.

Lavinia added four windows and a chimney-stack, and considered the effect.

'Because he is so considerate to him.'

'Considerate! But Walter is _always_----'

'When Walter likes people he takes them for granted,' Lavinia said, making
smoke. 'The more he likes them the more he takes them for granted. He even
takes you for granted--as you have no doubt observed before now. Until
lately he took Leslie Searle for granted. He doesn't any more.'

Liz considered this in silence.

'If he didn't like him,' she said at length, 'he wouldn't be doing the
Rushmere with him, or the book. Well, would he?' she added, as Lavinia
seemed wholly absorbed in the correct placing of a doorknob.

'The book is going to be very profitable,' Lavinia said, with only a hint
of dryness.

'Walter would never collaborate with someone he didn't like,' Liz said
stoutly.

'And Walter might find it difficult to explain why he didn't want to do
the book after all,' Lavinia said as if she had not spoken.

'Why are you telling me this?' Liz said, half angry.

Lavinia stopped doodling and said disarmingly: 'Liz darling, I don't quite
know, except perhaps that I was hoping you would find some way of
reassuring Walter. In your own clever way. Which is to say, without
dotting any I's or crossing any T's.' She caught Liz's glance, and said:
'Oh, yes, you are clever. A great deal cleverer than Walter will ever be.
He is not very clever, poor Walter. The best thing that ever happened to
him was that you should love him.' She pushed the defaced blotter away
from her and smiled suddenly, 'I don't think, you know, that it is
entirely a Bad Thing that he should have a rival to contend with. As long
as there is no chance of the contention becoming serious.'

'Of _course_ it isn't serious,' Liz said.

'Then suppose we get that moron out of the window, and finish the chapter
before lunch,' Lavinia said, and, picking up the pencil, began to chew on
it again.

But a sense of shock stayed with Liz while she recorded, for the ultimate
benefit of the lending libraries and the Inland Revenue, the doings of
Sylvia the moron. It had not occurred to her that her awareness of Searle
could be known to anyone but herself. Now it seemed that not only did
Lavinia know very accurately how she felt about him, but she hinted that
Walter too might know. But that surely was impossible. How could he know?
Lavinia knew because, as she so frankly said, she too was a victim of the
Searle charm. But Walter would have no such pointer to her emotions.

And yet Lavinia had been so right. Walter's first easy taking-for-granted
attitude to the visitor _had_ changed to a host and guest relationship. It
had changed imperceptibly and yet almost overnight. When and why had it
changed? There was the unfortunate coinciding of the two so-different
boxes of sweets; but that could hardly have rankled in any adult mind. The
buying of candy for a girl was an automatic reflex with Americans; of no
more significance than letting her go first through a doorway. Walter
could hardly have resented that. How then could Walter have guessed the
secret that was shared only by her fellow sufferer, Lavinia?

Her mind went on to consider Lavinia and her perceptions. She considered
the one count that Lavinia had left out of the indictment--the snubbing of
Toby Tullis--and wondered whether Lavinia had not mentioned it because she
did not know, or whether she was merely indifferent to any suffering that
Toby might be subjected to. Toby, as the whole village knew, was enduring
the finest tortures of frustration since Tantalus. Searle had refused,
with the most unimaginably kind indifference, to go to see Hoo House, or
to take part in any of the other activities that Toby was eager to arrange
for him. He had even failed to show any interest when Toby offered to take
him over to Stanworth and present him. This had never happened to Toby
before. His freedom to trot in and out of the ducal splendours of
Stanworth was his trump card. He had never before played it in vain. With
Americans especially it took the trick. But not with this American. Searle
wanted no part of Toby Tullis, and made it clear with the most charming
good manners. He stonewalled with a grace that for all its mordant quality
was delightful to watch. Intellectual Salcott watched it with open
delight.

And it was that that excoriated Toby.

To be snubbed by Leslie Searle was bad enough; to have it known that he
was snubbed was torture.

Truly, thought Liz, the advent of Leslie Searle had not been a
particularly fortunate happening for Salcott St Mary. Of all the people
whose lives he touched, only Miss Easton-Dixon, perhaps, was wholly glad
of his coming. He had been lovely with Miss Dixon; as kind and patient
with her endless questions as though he had been a woman himself and
interested in the small talk of the film world. He had trotted out for her
benefit all the light gossip of studio politics, and had exchanged with
her reminiscences of films good and films bad until Lavinia had said that
they were like a couple of housewives swapping recipes.

That was the night that Marta had come to dinner; and there had been a
moment during that evening, when Liz, watching him with Miss Dixon, was
seized with a terrible fear that she might after all be falling in love
with Leslie Searle. She was still grateful to Marta for reassuring her.
For it was when Marta commandeered him and carried him off with her into
the night, and she felt no slightest pang at seeing them go, that she knew
that, however strongly she felt Searle's attraction, she was in no bondage
to him.

Now, recording the doings of Sylvia the moron, she decided that she would
take Lavinia's advice and find some way of reassuring Walter, so that he
went away on this trip happy and with no grudge against Searle in his
heart. When they came back from Mere Harbour, where they were taking
possession of the two canoes and arranging for their transport to Otley to
await them there, she would think up some small exclusive thing to do with
Walter; something that would be tête-à-tête. It had been too often a
triangle lately.

Or too often, perhaps, the wrong tête-à-tête.




_7_


WALTER had welcomed the idea of progression by canoe, not because he
looked forward to folding himself into an inadequate small boat, but,
because it would give him his 'story'. If the book was to be a success he
must have 'adventures', and an unusual method of locomotion was the
easiest way of providing them. It is difficult to garner quaint experience
when being borne along comfortably in a car. And walking has lost face
since it became universal in the form of an activity called hiking.
Walter, who had walked over a great part of Europe with a toothbrush and a
spare shirt in his burberry pocket, would have been glad to do the
Rushmere valley on foot, but felt that he could not hope to satisfy any
modern devotee. His toothbrush-and-spare-shirt technique would merely
puzzle the masochistic enthusiasts who plodded, packed and hobnailed, to
the horizon their glazed eye was fixed on, more Atlas than Odysseus. And
to do the valley as an incidental accompaniment to puppets or a Punch and
Judy might be productive of copy but was a little infra dig in one whose
holding in the Open Air was of almost proprietorial dimensions.

So Walter welcomed the idea of a canoe. And in the last week or so he had
begun to welcome the idea for a different reason altogether.

In a car or on foot he would be cheek by jowl with Leslie Searle day after
day; in a canoe he would be virtually free of him. Walter had reached the
stage when the very sound of Searle's quiet drawl annoyed him into the
need for momentary self-control. And a dim awareness that he was being a
little ridiculous did nothing to soothe his annoyance. The last straw had
been when Liz started being kind to him. He had never analysed Liz's
attitude to him, which had always seemed an appropriate one. That is to
say that Liz supplied the undemanding devotion that he considered ideal in
a woman after eight months of Marguerite Merriam. And now Liz had gone
kind on him. 'Condescending' was his private word for it. But for his new
awareness of Liz he might not have noticed the change, but Liz had moved
to the very forefront of his thoughts and he analysed her lightest word,
her most fleeting expression. And so he caught her being kind to him.
Kind! To _him_. To Walter Whitmore.

Nothing so revolutionary or so unbecoming could have happened but for the
presence of Leslie Searle. Walter needed a great deal of self-control when
he thought of Leslie Searle.

They had planned to camp out each night, weather permitting; and of this
too Walter was glad. Not only would it give him opportunities for tangling
the Great Bear in the branches of some oak, or describing the night life
of field and stream, but it would excuse him from the close quarters of
night in some tiny inn. You can stroll away by yourself from a bivouac,
but not, without remark, from a pub.

The canoes were dubbed Pip and Emma--the Rushmere, according to Searle,
being a place where it was always afternoon--and Mrs Garrowby was
unreasonably annoyed to find that Searle owned the Emma one. But what
dismayed her far more was a dawning realisation that she might not, after
all, be getting rid of Searle. There was to be one piece of comparative
cheating about the trip, it seemed. To photograph the larger pieces of
landscape needed more apparatus than could conveniently be carried in a
canoe that was already occupied by a sleeping-bag and groundsheet, so
Searle was to come back later and photograph the set-pieces at his
leisure.

But for all the subterranean tremors that agitated Trimmings--Lavinia's
misgiving, Walter's resentment, Liz's feeling of guilt, Emma's
hatred--life on the surface was smooth. The sun shone with the incongruous
brilliance so common in England before the last trees are in leaf; the
nights were windless and warm as summer. Indeed Searle, standing on the
stone terrace after dinner one night, had pointed out that This England
might very well be That France.

'Reminds you of Villefranche on a summer night,' he said. 'Until now that
has been my measuring rod for magic. The lights on the water, and the warm
air smelling of geranium, and the last boat out to the ship between one
and two in the morning.'

'What ship?' someone had asked.

'Any ship,' Searle said lazily. 'I had no idea that Perfidious Albion had
the magic too.'

'Magic!' Lavinia had said. 'Why, we're the original firm.'

And they laughed a little and were all friendly together.

And nothing disturbed that friendliness up to the moment when Walter and
Searle departed together into the English landscape late on a Friday
night. Walter had given his usual talk, had come home for dinner (always
put back an hour and a half on 'talks' day) and they had all drunk to the
success of _Canoes on the Rushmere_. Then Liz drove them through the sweet
spring evening, up the valley of the Rushmere, to their starting-point
twenty miles away. They were going to spend the night in Grim's House; a
cave that overlooked the high pastures where the river originated. Walter
said that it was apt and fitting that they should begin their tale in
prehistoric England, but Searle doubted if the domestic arrangements were
likely to be any more prehistoric than some he had already sampled. A lot
of England, he said, didn't seem to have come far from Grim, whoever he
was.

However, he was all for sleeping in a cave. He had slept, in his time, on
the floor of a truck, on the open desert, in a bath, on a billiard table,
in a hammock, and inside the cabin of a Giant Wheel at a fair, but so far
he had not sampled a cave. He was all for the cave.

Liz took them to where the track ended, and walked up the hundred yards of
grassy path with them to inspect their shelter for the night. They were
all very gay, full of good food and good drink and a little drunk with the
magic of the night. They dumped their food and sleeping bags, and walked
Liz back to the car. When they stopped talking for a moment the quiet
pressed against their ears, so that they stayed their steps to listen for
some sound.

'I wish I wasn't going home to a roof,' Liz said into the silence. 'It's a
night for the prehistoric.'

But she went away down the rutted track to the road, her headlights making
metallic green stains on the dark grass, and left them to the silence and
the prehistoric.

After that the two explorers became mere voices on the telephone.

Each evening they rang up Trimmings from some pub or call-box to report
progress. They had walked successfully down to Otley and found their
canoes waiting for them. They took to the river and were delighted with
their craft. Walter's first notebook was already full, and Searle was
lyrical on the beauty of this England in its first light powdering of
blossom. From Capel he called specially for Lavinia to tell her that she
had been right about the magic; England did really have the original
blue-print.

'They sound very happy,' Lavinia said in a half-doubtful, half-relieved
way as she hung up. She longed to go and see them, but the compact was
that they were to be as strangers in a strange land, passing down the
river and through Salcott St Mary as though they had never seen it before.

'You spoil my perspective if you bring Trimmings into it,' Walter had
said. 'I must see it as if I had never seen it before; the countryside, I
mean; see it fresh and new.'

So Trimmings waited each night for their telephoned report; mildly amused
at this make-believe gulf.

And then on Wednesday evening, five days after they had set out, they
walked into the Swan and were hailed as the Stanleys of the Rushmere and
treated to drinks by all and sundry. They were tied up at Pett's Hatch,
they said, and were sleeping there; but they had not been able to resist
walking across the fields to Salcott. By water it was two miles down river
from Pett's Hatch to Salcott, but thanks to the loop of the Rushmere it
was only a mile over the fields from one to the other. There was no inn at
Pett's Hatch, so they had walked by the field-path to Salcott and the
familiar haven of the Swan.

Talk was general at first as each newcomer inquired as to how they did.
But presently Walter took his beer to his favourite table in the corner,
and after a little Searle followed him. Several times from then on one or
other of the loungers at the bar made a movement towards the two to engage
them once more in conversation, only to pause and change his mind as
something in the attitude of the two men to each other struck him as odd.
They were not quarrelling; it was just that something personal and urgent
in their intercourse kept the others, almost unconsciously, from joining
them.

And then, quite suddenly, Walter was gone.

He went without noise and without a goodnight. Only the bang of the door
called their attention to his exit. It was an eloquent slam, furious and
final; a very pointed exit.

They looked in a puzzled fashion from the door to the unfinished beer at
Walter's empty place, and decided in spite of that angry sound that Walter
was coming back. Searle was sitting at his ease, relaxed against the wall,
smiling faintly; and Bill Maddox, encouraged by the easing of that secret
tension that had hung like a cloud in the corner, moved over and joined
him. They talked outboard-motors and debated clinker versus carvel until
their mugs were empty. As Maddox got up to refill them he caught sight of
the flat liquid in Walter's mug and said: 'I'd better get another for Mr
Whitmore; that stuff's stale.'

'Oh, Walter has gone to bed,' Searle said.

'But it's only----' Maddox was beginning, and realised that he was about
to be tactless.

'Yes, I know; but he thought it would be safer.'

'Is he sickening for something?'

'No, but if he stayed any longer he was liable to throttle me,' Searle
said amiably. 'And at the school Walter went to they take a poor view of
throttling. He is putting temptation behind him. Literally.'

'You been annoying poor Mr Whitmore?' said Bill, who felt that he knew
this young American much better than he knew Walter Whitmore.

'Horribly,' Searle said lightly, matching a smile with Bill's.

Maddox clicked his tongue and went away to get the beer.

After that, conversation became general. Searle stayed until closing time,
said goodnight to Reeve, the landlord, as he locked the door behind them,
and walked down the village street with the others. At the narrow lane
that led between the houses to the fields he turned off, pelted by their
mock-condolences on his lack of a snug bed, and throwing back in his turn
accusations of frowst and ageing arteries.

'Goodnight!' he called, from far down the lane.

And that was the last that anyone in Salcott St Mary ever saw of Leslie
Searle.

Forty-eight hours later Alan Grant stepped back into the affairs of the
Trimmings household.




_8_


GRANT had just come back from Hampshire, where a case had ended
unhappily in suicide, and his mind was still reviewing the thing,
wondering how he might have managed things differently to a different end;
so that he listened with only an ear-and-a-half to what his superior was
saying to him until a familiar name caught his whole attention.

'Salcott St Mary!' said Grant.

'Why?' said Bryce, stopping his account. 'Do you know the place?'

'I've never been there, but I know of it, of course.'

'Why of course?'

'It's a sort of artistic thieves'-kitchen. There's been a migration of
intelligentsia to the place. Silas Weekley lives there, and Marta Hallard,
and Lavinia Fitch. Tullis has a house there too. It isn't Toby Tullis who
is missing, by any chance?' he asked hopefully.

'No, unfortunately. It's a chap called Searle. Leslie Searle. A young
American, it seems.'

For a moment Grant was back in the crowded doorway of Cormac Ross's room,
listening to a voice saying: 'I've forgotten my megaphone.' So the
beautiful young man had disappeared.

'Orfordshire say they want to put it in our laps not because they think
the problem is insoluble but because it's a kid-glove affair. They think
it would be easier for us than for them to pursue inquiries among the
local bigwigs, and if there is any arresting to be done they would rather
that we did it.'

'Arresting? Are they suggesting that it was murder?'

'They have a strong leaning to that theory, I understand. But, as the
local inspector said to me, it sounds so absurd when you say it aloud that
they shrink from uttering the name, even.'

'What name?'

'Walter Whitmore.'

'_Walter Whitmore!_' Grant let out his breath in a soundless whistle. 'I
don't wonder they don't like saying it aloud. Walter Whitmore! What is he
supposed to have done to Searle?'

'They don't know. All they've got is some suggestion of a quarrel before
the disappearance. It seems that Walter Whitmore and Searle were
travelling down the Rushmere in canoes, and----'

'Canoes?'

'Yes, a kind of stunt. Whitmore was going to write about it and this chap
Searle was going to supply the illustrations.'

'Is he an artist, then?'

'No. A photographer. They camped out each night, and on Wednesday night
they were sleeping on the river bank about a mile from Salcott. They both
came to the pub at Salcott for a drink that evening. Whitmore left
early--in some sort of pet, it is alleged. Searle stayed till closing-time
and was seen to start off down the track to the river. After that he was
not seen by anyone.'

'Who reported the disappearance?'

'Whitmore did next morning. When he woke and found that Searle had not
occupied his sleeping-bag.'

'He didn't see Searle at all on Wednesday night after leaving the pub?'

'No, he says he fell asleep, and though he woke in the night he took it
for granted that Searle had come back and was sleeping; it was too dark to
see anything. It was only when daylight came that he realised that Searle
had not been to bed.'

'The theory is that he fell into the river, I suppose.'

'Yes. The Wickham people took charge and dragged for a body. But it's a
bad, muddy stream, there, between Capel and Salcott St Mary, the Wickham
people say, so they weren't unbearably surprised not to find one.'

'I don't wonder they don't want to touch the business,' Grant said dryly.

'No. It's a delicate affair. No real suggestion of anything but accident.
And yet--one big question mark.'

'But--but _Walter Whitmore_!' Grant said. 'There _is_ something inherently
absurd about it, you know. What would that lover of little bunnies have to
do with murder?'

'You've been in the Force long enough to know that it is just those lovers
of little bunnies that commit murder,' his chief said snappily. 'Anyhow,
it is going to be your business to sift this artistic thieves'-kitchen of
yours through a fine-mesh riddle until you're left with something that
won't go through the mesh. You had better take a car. Wickham say it is
four miles from a station, with a change at Crome anyhow.'

'Very good. Do you mind if I take Sergeant Williams with me?'

'As chauffeur, or what?'

'No,' Grant said amiably. 'Just so that he knows the lay-out. Then if you
pull me off this for something more urgent--as you will at any
moment--Williams can carry on.'

'You do think up the most convincing excuses for snoozing in a car.'

Grant took this, rightly, as capitulation, and went away to collect
Williams. He liked Williams and liked working with him. Williams was his
opposite and his complement. He was large and pink and slow-moving, and he
rarely read anything but an evening paper; but he had terrier qualities
that were invaluable in a hunt. No terrier at a rat hole ever displayed
more patience or more pertinacity than Williams did when introduced to a
quarry. 'I would hate to have you on my tail,' Grant had said to him more
than once in their years of working together.

To Williams, on the other hand, Grant was everything that was brilliant
and spontaneous. He admired Grant with passion, and envied him without
malice; Williams had no ambition, and coveted no man's shoes. 'You've no
idea how lucky you are, sir,' Williams would say, 'not looking like a
policeman. Me, I go into a pub, and they take one look at me and think:
Copper! But with you, they just cast an eye over you and think: Army in
plain clothes; and they don't think another thing about you. It's a great
advantage in a job like ours, sir.'

'But you have advantages that I lack, Williams,' Grant had once pointed
out.

'As what, for instance?' Williams had said, unbelieving.

'You have only to say: "Hop it!" and people just dissolve. When I say
"Hop it!" to anyone, they are as likely as not to say: "Who do you think
you're talking to?"'

'Lord love you, sir,' Williams had said. 'You don't even have to say: "Hop
it!" You just look at them, and they begin to recollect appointments.'

Grant had laughed and said: 'I must try that sometime!' But he enjoyed
Williams's mild hero-worship; and still more he enjoyed his reliability
and his persistence.

'Do you listen to Walter Whitmore, Williams?' he asked, as Williams drove
him down the unswerving road that the Legions had first surveyed two
thousand years ago.

'Can't say I do, sir. I'm not one for the country, much. Being born and
brought up in it is a drawback.'

'A drawback?'

'Yes. You know just how workaday it really is.'

'More Silas Weekley than Walter Whitmore.'

'I don't know about the Silas bloke, but it certainly isn't like anything
Walter Whitmore makes of it.' He thought of it for a little. 'He's a
dresser-upper,' he said. 'Look at this Rushmere trip.'

'I'm looking.'

'I mean, there wasn't anything to prevent him staying at home with his
aunt and doing the river valley like a Christian, in a car. The Rushmere
isn't all that long. But no, he has to frill it up with a canoe and
things.'

Mention of Walter's aunt prompted Grant to another question.

'I suppose you don't read Lavinia Fitch?'

'No, but Nora does.'

Nora was Mrs Williams, and the mother of Angela and Leonard.

'Does she like them?'

'Loves them. She says three things make her feel cosy in advance. A
hot-water bottle, a quarter-pound of chocolates, and a new Lavinia Fitch.'

'If Miss Fitch did not exist, it seems, it would be necessary to invent
her,' Grant said.

'Must make a fortune,' said Williams. 'Is Whitmore her heir?'

'Her presumptive heir, at any rate. But it isn't Lavinia who has
disappeared.'

'No. What could Whitmore have against this Searle chap?'

'Perhaps he just objects to fauns on principle.'

'To what, sir?'

'I saw Searle once.'

'You did!'

'I spoke to him in passing at a party about a month ago.'

'What was he like, sir?'

'A very good-looking young man indeed.'

'Oh,' Williams said, in a thoughtful way.

'No,' said Grant.

'No?'

'American,' Grant said irrelevantly. And then, remembering that party,
added: 'He seemed to be interested in Liz Garrowby, now that I remember.'

'Who is Liz Garrowby?'

'Walter Whitmore's fiancée.'

'He was? Well!'

'But don't go making five of it until we get some evidence. I can't
believe that Walter Whitmore ever had enough red blood in him to conk
anyone on the head and push them into a river.'

'No,' Williams said, considering it. 'Come to think of it, he's more of a
push-ee.'

Which put Grant in a good mood for the rest of the journey.

At Wickham they were welcomed by the local inspector, Rodgers; a thin,
anxious individual who looked as though he slept badly. He was alert,
however, and informative and full of forethought. He had even booked two
rooms at the Swan in Salcott and two at the White Hart in Wickham, so that
Grant could have his choice. He bore them off to lunch at the White Hart,
where Grant confirmed the room-booking and caused the Salcott booking to
be cancelled. There was to be no suggestion yet that Scotland Yard were
interested in the matter of Leslie Searle's disappearance; and it was not
possible to conduct inquiries from the Swan without creating a sensation
in Salcott.

'I'd like to see Whitmore, though,' Grant said. 'I suppose he is back
at--what do you call it: Miss Fitch's place.'

'Trimmings. But he's up in town today giving his broadcast.'

'In London?' said Grant, a little surprised.

'It was arranged like that before they set out on this trip. Mr Whitmore's
contract calls for a month off in August, when broadcasting has its "off"
season; so there was no question, it seems, of passing up this week's
broadcast just because he was canoeing on the Rushmere. They had arranged
to be in Wickham today and to spend the night there. They had booked two
rooms at the Angel. It's the olde-worlde show-place in Wickham. Very
photogenic. Then this happened. But since there was nothing Mr Whitmore
could do here, he went up to do his half-hour, just as he would have if
they had reached Wickham.'

'I see. And he is coming back tonight?'

'If he doesn't vanish into thin air.'

'About this vanishing: did Whitmore agree that there had been disagreement
between them?'

'I didn't put it to him. That's what----' The Inspector broke off.

'That's what I'm here for,' Grant said, finishing the sentence for him.

'That's about it, sir.'

'Where did the "disagreement" story come from?'

'The Swan. Everyone who was there on Wednesday night had the impression
that there was some kind of tension between them.'

'No overt quarrel?'

'No, nothing like that. If there had been anything like that I could have
taxed him with it. All that happened was that Mr Whitmore left early
without saying goodnight, and Searle said he was angry about something.'

'_Searle_ said! To whom?'

'To the local garage-keeper. A chap called Maddox. Bill Maddox.'

'Have you talked to Maddox?'

'I talked to them all. I was in the Swan last night. We spent the day
dragging the river in case he had fallen in, and making inquiries all
round the neighbourhood in case he had lost his memory and was just
wandering. We couldn't find any body, and no one had seen him or anyone
answering his description. So I finished up at the Swan, and saw most of
the people who had been there on Wednesday night. It's the only pub in the
place, and a very nice respectable little house run by a Joey; an
ex-sergeant of Marines; and it's the meeting-place for the whole village.
None of them was exactly anxious to involve Mr Whitmore----'

'Popular, is he?'

'Well, popular enough. He probably shines by comparison. There's a very
odd crew lives here, I don't know if you know.'

'Yes, I've heard.'

'So they didn't want to get Walter Whitmore into trouble, but they had to
explain why the two friends didn't go back to their camp together. And
once they broke down and talked they were unanimous that there was some
sort of trouble between them.'

'Did this Maddox volunteer his story?'

'No, the local butcher did. Maddox had told them about it on the way home
on Wednesday. After they had seen Searle go away by himself down the lane.
Maddox confirmed it, though.'

'Well, I'll go and see Whitmore when he comes back tonight, and ask for
his story. Meanwhile we'll go and see the place where they camped on
Wednesday night.'




_9_


'I DON'T want to appear in Salcott just yet,' Grant said as they drove
out of Wickham. 'Is there some other way to the river bank?'

'There's no way at all to the river bank, properly speaking. There's about
a mile of field-path from Salcott to where they were. But we could reach
the place just as easily from the main Wickham-Crome road, across the
fields. Or we could turn off the road by a lane that goes to Pett's Hatch,
and walk down the river bank from there. They were moored about a quarter
mile below Pett's Hatch.'

'On the whole, I'd rather walk across the fields from the main road. It
would be interesting to see how much of a walk it is. What kind of a
village is Pett's Hatch?'

'It isn't a village at all. Just a ruined mill and the few cottages that
used to house the workers there. That is why Whitmore and Searle walked
into Salcott for their evening drink.'

'I see.'

The ever-efficient Rodgers pulled a one-inch Survey map out of the pocket
of his car, and studied it. The field opposite which they had stopped
looked to Grant's urban eye exactly like any other field that they had
passed since leaving Wickham, but the Inspector said: 'It should be about
opposite here, I think. Yes; there's where they were; and here is us.'

He showed the lay-out to Grant. North and south ran the road from Wickham
south to Crome. West of it lay the Rushmere, out of sight in its valley,
running north-east to meet the road at Wickham. At a point level with
where they were now halted, the river ran back on itself in a wide loop
over the flat bed of the valley. At the point where it first curved back,
Whitmore and Searle had made their camp. On the farther side of the
valley, where the river came back level with them, was Salcott St Mary.
Both their camp and the village of Salcott were on the right bank of the
river, so that only a short mile of alluvial land lay between their camp
and the village.

As the three men reached the third field from the road, the countryside
opened below them, so that the relevant section of the Rushmere valley was
laid out for them as it had been on Rodgers's map: the flat green floor
with the darker green scarf of the Rushmere looped across it, the huddle
of roofs and gardens on the far side where Salcott St Mary stood in its
trees; the lonely cluster, back up the river to the south, that was Pett's
Hatch.

'Where is the railway from here?' Grant asked.

'There is no railway nearer than Wickham. No station, that is. The line
runs the other side of the Wickham-Crome road;  not in the valley at all.'

'Plenty of buses on the Wickham-Crome road?'

'Oh, yes. But you're not suggesting that the fellow just ducked, are you?'

'I'm keeping the possibility in mind. After all, we know nothing about
him. I'll admit there are more likely possibilities.'

Rodgers led them down the long slope to the river bank. Where the river
turned away south-west two large trees broke the line of pollarded
willows: a tall willow and an ash. Under the ash were moored two canoes.
The grass still had a trampled look.

'This is the place,' Rodgers said. 'Mr Whitmore spread his sleeping-bag
under that big willow, and Searle put his round the other side of the ash
where there is a hollow between the roots that makes a natural shelter. So
that it was quite natural that Mr Whitmore should not know that he wasn't
there.'

Grant moved over to where Searle's bed had been, and considered the water.

'How much current is there? If he had tripped over those roots in the dark
and taken a header into the river, what would happen?'

'It's a horrid stream, the Rushmere, I admit. All pot-holes and
under-tows. And a bottom of what the Chief Constable calls "immemorial
mud". But Searle could swim. Or so Walter Whitmore says.'

'Was he sober?'

'Cold, stone sober.'

'Then if he went into the water unconscious, where would you expect to
find his body?'

'Between here and Salcott. Depends on the amount of rain. We've had so
little lately that you'd normally find the river low, but they had a
cloudburst at Tunstall on Tuesday--out of the blue in the good old English
fashion--and the Rushmere came down like a mill-race.'

'I see. What became of the camp stuff?'

'Walter Whitmore had it taken up to Trimmings.'

'I take it that Searle's normal belongings are still at Trimmings.'

'I expect so.'

'Perhaps I had better take a look through them tonight. If there was
anything interesting to us among them it will have gone by now, but they
may be suggestive. Had Searle been on good terms with the other
inhabitants of Salcott, do you know?'

'Well, I hear there was a scene about a fortnight ago. A dancer chap flung
a mug of beer over him.'

'Why?' asked Grant, identifying the 'dancer chap' without difficulty.
Marta was a faithful recorder of Salcott history.

'He didn't like the attentions that Toby Tullis was paying to Searle, so
they say.'

'Did Searle?'

'No, if all reports are true,' Rodgers said, his anxious face relaxing to
a moment's amusement.

'So Tullis wouldn't love him very much either?'

'Perhaps not.'

'You haven't had time, I suppose, to get round to alibis.'

'No. It wasn't until early evening that we found it might be more than a
simple case of missing. Up till then it was a simple matter of drag and
search. When we found what was turning up we wanted outside help and sent
for you.'

'I'm glad you sent so soon. It's a great help to be there when the tapes
go up. Well, I don't think there is anything else we can do here. We had
better get back to Wickham, and I'll take over.'

Rodgers dropped them at the White Hart, and left them with assurances of
any help that was within his power.

'Good man, that,' Grant said, as they climbed the stairs to inspect their
rooms under the roof--rooms with texts in wools and flowered
wall-paper--'he ought to be at the Yard.'

'It's a queer set-up, isn't it?' Williams said, firmly taking the pokier
of the two rooms. 'The rope trick in an English meadow. What do you think
happened to him, sir?'

'I don't know about "rope trick", but it does smell strongly of
sleight-of-hand. Now you see it, now you don't. The old conjurer's trick
of the distracted attention. Ever seen a lady sawn in half, Williams?'

'Many's the time.'

'There's a strong aroma of sawn lady about this. Or don't you smell it?'

'I haven't got your nose, sir. All I see is a very queer set-up. A spring
night in England, and a young American goes missing in the mile between
the village and the river. You really think he _might_ have ducked, sir?'

'I can't think of any adequate reason why he should, but perhaps Whitmore
can.'

'I expect he will be very anxious to,' Williams said dryly.

But oddly enough Walter Whitmore showed no anxiety to put forward any such
theory. On the contrary, he scorned it. It was absurd, he said, manifestly
absurd, to suggest that Searle should have left of his own accord. Quite
apart from the fact that he was very happy, he had a very profitable deal
to look forward to. He had been enormously enthusiastic about the book
they were doing together, and it was fantastic to suggest that he would
just walk out like that.

Grant had come to Trimmings after dinner, tactfully allowing for the fact
that dinner at Trimmings must be very late on broadcast day. He had sent
in word to ask if Mr Whitmore would see Alan Grant, and had not mentioned
his business until he was face to face with Walter.

His first thought on seeing Walter Whitmore in the flesh was how much
older he looked than he had expected; and then wondered whether it was
that Walter looked much older than he had done on Wednesday. He looked
disorientated, Grant thought; adrift. Something had happened to him that
did not belong to the world he knew and recognised.

But he took Grant's announcement of his identity calmly.

'I was almost expecting you,' he said, offering cigarettes. 'Not you
personally, of course. Just a representative of what has come to be known
as the Higher Levels.'

Grant had asked about their trip down the Rushmere, so as to set him
talking; if you got a man to talk enough he lost his defensive quality.
Whitmore was drawing too hard on his cigarette but talking quite freely.
Before he had actually reached their Wednesday evening visit to the Swan,
Grant deflected him. It was too early yet to ask him about that night.

'You don't really know much about Searle, do you,' he pointed out. 'Had
you heard of him at all before he turned up at that party of Ross's?'

'No, I hadn't. But that isn't strange. Photographers are two a penny.
Almost as common as journalists. There was no reason why I should have
heard of him.'

'You have no reason to believe that he may not be what he represented
himself to be?'

'No, certainly not. I may never have heard of him, but Miss Easton-Dixon
certainly had.'

'Miss Easton-Dixon?'

'One of our local authors. She writes fairy-tales, and is a film addict.
Not only did she know about Searle but she has a photograph.'

'A photograph?' Grant said, startled and pleased.

'In one of those film magazines. I haven't seen it myself. She talked
about it one night when she came to dinner.'

'And she met Searle when she came to dinner? And identified him?'

'She did. They had a wonderful get-together. Searle had photographed some
of her pet actors, and she had reproductions of them too.'

'So there is no doubt in your mind that Searle is what he says he is.'

'I notice you use the present tense, Inspector. That cheers me.' But he
sounded more ironic than cheered.

'Have you yourself any theory as to what could have happened, Mr
Whitmore?'

'Short of fiery chariots or witches' broomsticks, no. It is the most
baffling thing.'

Grant caught himself thinking that Walter Whitmore, too, was moved to
think of sleight-of-hand.

'The most reasonable explanation, I suppose,' Walter went on, 'is that he
lost his way in the dark and fell into the river at some other spot, where
no one would hear him.'

'And why don't you approve of that theory?' Grant asked, answering the
tone that Whitmore used.

'Well, for one thing, Searle had eyes like a cat. I had slept out with him
for four nights, and I know. He was wonderful in the dark. Secondly he had
an extra-good bump of locality. Thirdly he was by all accounts cold sober
when he left the Swan. Fourthly it is a bee-line from Salcott to the
river-bank where we were camped, by the hedges all the way. You can't
stray, because if you walk away from the hedge you walk into plough or
crop of some kind. And lastly, though this is hearsay evidence, Searle
could swim very well indeed.'

'There is a suggestion, Mr Whitmore, that you and Searle were on bad terms
on Wednesday evening. Is there any truth in that?'

'I thought we should get to that sooner or later,' Walter said. He pressed
the half-smoked cigarette into the ashtray until it was a misshapen wreck.

'Well?' Grant prompted, as he seemed to have nothing more to say.

'We had what might be called a--a "spat", I suppose. I was--annoyed.
Nothing more than that.'

'He annoyed you so much that you left him at the pub and walked back by
yourself.'

'I like being by myself.'

'And you went to sleep without waiting for his return.'

'Yes. I didn't want to talk to him any more that night. He annoyed me, I
tell you. I thought that I might be in a better humour and he in a less
provocative mood in the morning.'

'He was provocative?'

'I think that is the word.'

'About what?'

'I don't have to tell you that.'

'You don't have to tell me anything, Mr Whitmore.'

'No, I know I don't. But I want to be as helpful as I can. God knows I
want this thing cleared up as soon as possible. It is just that what
we--disagreed about is something personal and irrelevant. It has no
bearing whatever on anything that happened to Searle on Wednesday night.
I certainly didn't lie in wait for him on the way home, or push him into
the river, or subject him to violence.'

'Do you know of anyone who would be likely to want to?'

Whitmore hesitated; presumably with Serge Ratoff in his mind.

'Not that kind of violence,' he said at length.

'Not what kind?'

'Not that waiting-in-the-dark kind.'

'I see. Just the ordinary sock-in-the-jaw kind. There was a scene with
Serge Ratoff, I understand.'

'Anyone who gets through life in close proximity to Serge Ratoff and
doesn't have a scene with him must be abnormal,' Walter said.

'You don't know of anyone who might have a grudge against Searle?'

'No one in Salcott. I don't know anything of his friends or enemies
elsewhere.'

'Have you any objection to my looking through Searle's belongings?'

'I haven't, but Searle might. What do you expect to find, Inspector?'

'Nothing specific. A man's belongings are very revealing, I find. I am
merely looking for suggestion of some sort; help of any kind in a very
puzzling situation.'

'I'll take you up now, then--unless there is anything else you want to ask
me.'

'No, thank you. You have been very helpful. I wish you could have trusted
me far enough to tell me what the quarrel was about----'

'There was no quarrel!' Whitmore said sharply.

'I beg your pardon. I mean, in what way Searle riled you. It would tell me
even more about Searle than it would about you; but perhaps it is too much
to expect you to see that.'

Whitmore stood by the door, considering this. 'No,' he said slowly. 'No, I
do see what you mean. But to tell you involves---- No, I don't think I can
tell you.'

'I see you can't. Let us go up.'

As they emerged into the baronial hall from the library where the
interview had taken place, Liz had just come out of the drawing-room and
was crossing to the stairs. When she saw Grant she paused and her face
lighted with joy.

'Oh!' she said, 'you've come with news of him!'

When Grant said no, that he had no news, she looked puzzled.

'But it was you who introduced him,' she insisted. 'At that party.'

This was news to Walter and Grant could feel his surprise. He could also
feel his resentment at that flash of overwhelming joy on Liz's face.

'This, Liz dear,' he said in a cool, faintly malicious tone, 'is Detective
Inspector Grant from Scotland Yard.'

'From the Yard! But--you _were_ at that party!'

'It is not unheard of for policemen to be interested in the arts,' Grant
said, amused. 'But----'

'Oh, please! I didn't mean it that way.'

'I had only looked in at the party to pick up a friend. Searle was
standing by the door looking lost because he didn't know Miss Fitch by
sight. So I took him over and introduced them. That is all.'

'And now you've come down here to--to investigate--'

'To investigate his disappearance. Have you any theories, Miss Garrowby?'

'I? No. Not even a rudimentary one. It just doesn't make sense. It's
_fantastically_ senseless.'

'If it isn't too late may I talk to you for a little when I have been
through Searle's belongings?'

'No, of course it isn't too late. It isn't ten o'clock yet.' She sounded
weary. 'Since this happened time stretches out and out. It's like
having--hashish, is it? Are you looking for anything in particular,
Inspector?'

'Yes,' Grant said. 'Inspiration. But I doubt if I shall find it.'

'I shall be in the library when you come down. I hope you will find
something that will help. It is very dreadful being suspended from a
spider's thread this way.'

As he went through Searle's belongings Grant thought about Liz
Garrowby--Marta's 'dear nice Liz'--and her relations with William's
'push-ee'. There was never any saying what a woman saw in any man, and
Whitmore was of course a celebrity as well as a potentially good husband.
He had said as much to Marta, coming away from the party that day. But how
right had Marta been about Searle's power to upset? How much had Liz
Garrowby felt Searle's charm? How much of that eager welcome of hers in
the hall had been joy at Searle's imagined safety and how much mere relief
from the burden of suspicion and gloom?

His hands turned over Searle's things with automatic efficiency, but his
mind was busy deciding how much or how little to ask Liz Garrowby when he
went downstairs again.

Searle had occupied a first-floor room in the battlemented tower that
stuck out to the left of the Tudor front door, so that it had windows on
three sides of it. It was large and high, and was furnished in very
superior Tottenham Court Road, a little too gay and coy for its Victorian
amplitude. It was an impersonal room and Searle had evidently done nothing
to stamp it with his personality. This struck Grant as odd. He had rarely
seen a room, occupied for so long, so devoid of atmosphere. There were
brushes on the table, and books by the bedside, but of their owner there
was no trace. It might have been a room in a shop window.

Of course it had been swept and tidied since last it was occupied six days
ago. But still. But still.

The feeling was so strong that Grant paused to look round and consider. He
thought of all the rooms he had searched in his time. They had all--even
the hotel rooms--been redolent of their late occupier. But here was
nothing but emptiness. An impersonal blank. Searle had kept his
personality to himself.

Grant noticed, as Liz had noticed on that first day, how expensive his
clothes and luggage were. As he turned over the handkerchiefs in the top
drawer he noticed that they had no laundry mark, and wondered a little.
Done at home, perhaps. The shirts and linen were marked but the mark was
old and probably American.

As well as the two leather suitcases, there was a japanned tin case like a
very large paint-box, with the name 'L. Searle' in white letters on the
lid. It was fitted with a lock but was unfastened and Grant lifted the lid
with some curiosity, only to find that it was filled with Searle's
photographic material. It was built on the lines of a paint-box, with a
top tray that was made to lift out. Grant hooked out the top tray with his
forefingers and surveyed the deeper compartment below it. The lower
compartment was full except for an oblong of empty space where something
had been taken out. Grant put down the tray he was holding and went to
unroll the camp outfit that had been brought back from the river-bank. He
wanted to know what fitted into that oblong space.

But there was nothing that fitted.

There were two small cameras in the pack and some rolls of film. Neither
separately nor together did they fit into the space in the tin box. Nor
did anything else in the pack.

Grant came back and stood for some time considering that empty space.
Something roughly 10 inches by 3½ by 4 had been taken out. And it had
been taken out when the box was in its present position. Any heaving about
of the box would have dislodged the other objects from their packed
position and obliterated the empty space.

He would have to ask about that when he went downstairs.

Meanwhile, having given the room a quick going-over, he now went over it
in detail. Even so, he nearly missed the vital thing. He had run through
the rather untidy handkerchief-and-ties drawer and was in the act of
closing it, when something among the ties caught his attention and he
picked it out.

It was a woman's glove. A very small woman's glove.

A glove about Liz Garrowby's size.

Grant looked for its mate but there was none. It was the usual lover's
trophy.

So the beautiful young man had been sufficiently attracted to steal one of
his beloved's gloves. Grant found it oddly endearing. An almost Victorian
gesture. Nowadays fetish-worship took much more sinister forms.

Well, whatever the glove proved, it surely proved that Searle had meant to
come back. One does not leave stolen love-objects in one's tie-drawer to
be exposed to the unsympathetic gaze of the stranger.

The question to be decided was: whose glove, and how much or how little
did it mean?

Grant put it in his pocket and went downstairs. Liz was waiting for him in
the library as she had promised, but he noticed that she had had company.
No one person could have smoked so many cigarettes as the ends in the
ashtray indicated. Grant deduced that Walter Whitmore had been in
consultation with her over this affair of police interrogation.

But Liz had not forgotten that she was also a secretary and official
receptionist for Trimmings, and she had caused drinks to be brought. Grant
refused them because he was on duty, but approved of her effort on his
behalf.

'I suppose this is only a beginning,' Liz said, indicating the _Wickham
Times_ (once weekly every Friday) which was lying open on the table.
YOUNG MAN MISSING, said a modest headline in an inconspicuous position.
And Walter was referred to as Mr Walter Whitmore, of Trimmings, Salcott St
Mary, the well-known commentator.

'Yes,' Grant said. 'The daily Press will have it tomorrow.'

WHITMORE'S COMPANION DROWNED, they would say tomorrow, on the front
page. WHITMORE MYSTERY. FRIEND OF WHITMORE DISAPPEARS.

'It is going to be very bad for Walter.'

'Yes. Publicity is suffering from a sort of inflation. Its power is out of
all proportion to its worth.'

'What do you think happened to him, Inspector? To Leslie?'

'Well, for a time I had a theory that he might have disappeared of his own
accord.'

'Voluntarily! But _why_?'

'That I wouldn't know without knowing more about Leslie Searle. You don't
think, for instance, that he was the type to play a practical joke?'

'Oh, _no_. Quite definitely not. He wasn't that kind at all. He was very
quiet and--and had excellent taste. He wouldn't see anything funny in
practical joking. Besides, where could he disappear to with all his
belongings left behind? He would have only what he stood up in.'

'About those belongings. Did you ever happen to see inside the japanned
tin box that belongs to him?'

'The photographic box. I think I must have once. Because I remember
thinking how neatly packed everything was.'

'Something has been taken out of the lower compartment, and I can't find
anything that fits the space. Would you be able to tell what is missing,
do you think?'

'I'm sure I shouldn't. I don't remember anything in detail. Only the
neatness. It was chemical stuff, and slides, and things like that.'

'Did he keep it locked?'

'It _did_ lock, I know. Some of the stuff was poisonous. But I don't think
it was kept permanently locked. Is it locked now?'

'No. Otherwise I shouldn't have known about the empty space.'

'I thought policemen could open anything.'

'They _can_, but they _may_ not.'

She smiled a little and said: 'I was always in trouble with that at
school.'

'By the way,' he said, 'do you recognise this glove?' And produced it from
his pocket.

'Yes,' she said, mildly interested. 'It looks like one of mine. Where did
you find it?'

'In Searle's handkerchief drawer.'

It was exactly like touching a snail, he thought. The instant closing-up
and withdrawal. One moment she was frank and unselfconscious. The next
moment she was startled and defensive.

'How odd,' she said, through a tight throat. 'He must have picked it up
and meant to give it back to me. I keep a spare pair in the pocket of the
car, a respectable pair, and drive in old ones. Perhaps one of my
respectable pair dropped out one day.'

'I see.'

'That one, certainly, is one of the kind I keep in the car pocket.
Presentable enough to go calling or shopping with but not too grand for
everyday wear.'

'Do you mind if I keep it for a little?'

'No, of course not. Is it an "exhibit"?' It was a gallant effort to sound
light.

'Not exactly. But anything that was in Searle's room is of potential value
at the moment.'

'I think that glove is more likely to mislead you than help you,
Inspector. But keep it by all means.'

He liked the touch of spirit, and was glad of her quick recovery. He had
never enjoyed teasing snails.

'Would Mr Whitmore be able to tell what is missing from that case?'

'I doubt it, but we can see.' She made for the door to summon Walter.

'Or anyone else in the household?'

'Well, Aunt Lavinia wouldn't. She never knows even what is in her own
drawers. And Mother wouldn't, because she never goes near the tower room
except to put her head in to see that the bed had been done and the place
dusted. But we can ask the staff.'

Grant took them up to the tower bedroom and showed them what he meant
about the empty space. What had lain in that oblong gap?

'Some chemical that he has already used up?' Walter suggested.

'I thought of that, but all the necessary chemicals are still there and
hardly used at all. You can't think of anything that you have seen him
with that would fill that gap?'

They could not; and neither could Alice the housemaid.

No one did Mr Searle's room but her, she said. A Mrs Clamp came from the
village every day to help, but she did not do bedrooms. Just stairs and
corridors and offices and that.

Grant watched their faces and speculated. Whitmore was poker-faced; Liz
half interested by the puzzle, half troubled; Alice apprehensive that she
might be held responsible for whatever was missing from the case.

He was getting nowhere.

Whitmore came to the front door with him, and peering into the dark said:
'Where is your car?'

'I left it down the avenue,' Grant said, 'Goodnight, and thank you for
being so helpful.'

He moved away into the darkness and waited while Walter closed the door.
Then he walked round the house to the garage. It was still open, and it
held three cars. He tried the pockets of all three, but none of them held
an odd glove. None of them held any gloves whatever.




_10_


WILLIAMS was sitting in the corner of the coffee-room at the White Hart,
consuming a late supper; and the landlord greeted Grant and went away to
bring supper for him too. Williams, with the aid of the local police, had
spent a long, tiring, and unproductive afternoon and evening on Grant's
theory that Searle might have, for reasons of his own, disappeared. At ten
o'clock, having interviewed his twenty-third bus conductor, and the last
available railway porter, he had called it a day, and was now relaxed over
beer and sausage-and-mashed.

'Not a thing,' he said, in answer to Grant's question. 'No one even
remotely like him. Any luck with you, sir?'

'Nothing that makes the situation any clearer.'

'No letters among his belongings?'

'Not one. They must be all in his wallet, if he has any at all. Nothing
but packets of photographs.'

'Photographs?' Williams's ears pricked.

'Local ones that he has taken since he came here.'

'Oh. Any of Walter Whitmore's girl, by any chance?'

'A very great number indeed.'

'Yes? Posed ones?'

'No, Williams, no. Romantic. Her head against a sunlit sky with a spray of
almond blossom across it. That kind of thing.'

'Is she photogenic, would you say? A blonde?'

'No, she is a small, dark, plainish creature with a nice face.'

'Oh. What does he want to go on photographing her for? Must be in love
with her.'

'I wonder,' Grant said; and was silent while food was put in front of him.

'You really ought, just for once, to try those pickles, sir,' Williams
said. 'They're wonderful.'

'For the five hundred and seventh time, I do not eat pickles. I have a
palate, Williams. A precious possession. And I have no intention of
prostituting it to pickles. There was something among Searle's things that
was a great deal more suggestive than any photograph.'

'What, sir?'

'One of the girl's gloves,' Grant said; and told him where it had been
found.

'Well, well,' Williams said, and chewed the information over in silence
for a little. 'Doesn't sound as if it had gone very far.'

'What?'

'The affair. If he was still at the stage of stealing her glove. Honestly,
sir, in this day and age I didn't imagine that anyone was driven to making
do with a glove.'

Grant laughed. 'I told you. She is a nice girl. Tell me, Williams, what
kind of object would fit a space 10 inches by 3½ by 4?'

'A bar of soap,' said Williams without hesitation.

'Unlikely. What else?'

'Box of cigarettes?'

'No. Not a smoker.'

'Food of some kind? Processed cheese is that shape.'

'No.'

'Revolver? Revolver in a case, I mean.'

'I wonder. Why should he have a revolver?'

'What space are you trying to fill, sir?' Williams asked, and Grant
described the photographic box, and the gap in the neatly fitted
compartment.

'Whatever had been there was something solid, so that the outline was hard
and clear. Nothing that was still available among his belongings fitted
the gap. So either he took it out and got rid of it, or it was removed for
some reason after he had disappeared.'

'That would mean that someone at Trimmings is suppressing evidence. You
still think Whitmore not the type, sir?'

'Type?'

'Not the bumping-off type.'

'I think Whitmore would be more liable to get into a pet than to see red.'

'But he wouldn't need to see red to drown Searle. A shove when he was in a
pet would have done it, and he mightn't have been able to do anything
about rescue in the dark. Then he might lose his head and pretend he knew
nothing about it. Heaven knows that happens often enough.'

'You think Whitmore did it but did it in half-accident?'

'I don't know who did it. But it's my firm conviction that Searle is still
in the river, sir.'

'But Inspector Rodgers says he dragged it thoroughly.'

'The sergeant in charge at Wickham Police Station says the mud in the bed
of the Rushmere goes half-way to Australia.'

'Yes. I know. The Chief Constable, I understand, made the same observation
in a less vivid phrase.'

'After all,' Williams said not listening, 'what _could_ have become of him
if he didn't drown? If all reports are true he wasn't a type you look at
and never remember.'

No. That was true. Grant thought of the young man who had stood in Cormac
Ross's doorway, and reflected how little the official description of the
missing man conveyed the individual they were looking for.

    A man, in his early twenties, five feet eight-and-a-half or
    nine inches, slim build, very fair, grey eyes, straight
    nose, cheek bones rather high, wide mouth; hatless; wearing
    belted mackintosh over grey tweed jacket, grey pullover,
    blue sports shirt, and grey flannels, brown American shoes
    with instep buckle instead of lacing; low voice with
    American accent.

No one reading that description would visualise the actuality that was
Leslie Searle. On the other hand, as Williams pointed out, no one could
set eyes on the actual Searle and not look back for a second glance. No
one would see him and not remember.

'Besides, what could he want to disappear _for_?' persisted Williams.

'That I can't guess without knowing much more of his background. I must
get the Yard on to it first thing tomorrow. There's a female cousin
somewhere in England, but it is his American background that I want to
know about. I can't help feeling that the bumping-off trade is more native
to California than it is to the B.B.C.'

'No one from California took whatever it was from Searle's case,' Williams
pointed out.

'No,' Grant said, contemplative; and went over the inhabitants of
Trimmings in his mind. Tomorrow he would have to begin the collection of
alibis. Williams was of course right. It was unlikely to the point of
fantasy that Searle should have disappeared in such a manner of his own
accord. He had suggested to Liz Garrowby that Searle might have planned a
practical joke for Walter's discomfiture, and Liz had scorned the
suggestion. But even if Liz had been wrong in her estimate, how could
Searle have done it?

'There is still your passing motorist,' he said aloud.

'What's that, sir?'

'We have interviewed the people on the regular transport services, but we
have had no way yet of reaching the casual motorist who might have given
him a lift.'

Williams, dilated with sausage and beer, smiled benevolently on him. 'You
make the Fifty-seventh look like a girl's school, sir.'

'The Fifty-seventh?'

'You die awfully hard. You still in love with that theory about his
ducking of his own accord?'

'I still think that he could have walked on from the river bend, up across
the fields, to the main Wickham-Crome road and got a lift there. I'll ask
Bryce in the morning if we could have a radio S.O.S. about it.'

'And after he got the lift, sir? What then? All his luggage is at
Trimmings.'

'We don't know that. We don't know anything about him before he walked
into that party of Ross's. He is a photographer; that is all we know for
certain. He says he has only a female cousin in England but he may have
half a dozen homes and a dozen wives for all we know.'

'Maybe, but why not go in a natural fashion when this trip was finished?
After all, he would want to collect on that book they were doing, surely?
Why all the mumbo-jumbo?'

'To make things awkward for Walter, perhaps.'

'Yes? You think that? Why?'

'Perhaps because I wouldn't mind making things awkward for Walter
myself,' Grant said with a half smile. 'Perhaps after all it is just
wishful-thinking on my part.'

'It certainly is going to be very uncomfortable for Whitmore,' Williams
said, without any noticeable regret.

'Very. Shouldn't wonder if it leads to civil war.'

'War?'

'The Faithful Whitmorites versus the Doubters.'

'Is he taking it hard?'

'I don't think he quite realises yet what has hit him. He won't, I think,
until he sees the daily Press tomorrow morning.'

'Haven't the Press been at him already?'

'They haven't had time. The _Clarion_ arrived on the doorstep at five this
afternoon, I understand, and went away to get information at the Swan when
he failed to get it at Trimmings.'

'Trust the _Clarion_ to be first. Whitmore would have done better to see
whoever it was. Why didn't he?'

'Waiting for his lawyer to arrive from town, so he said.'

'Who was it, do you know? The _Clarion_.'

'Jammy Hopkins.'

'Jammy! I'd as soon have a flame-thrower on my tail as Jammy Hopkins. He
has no conscience whatever. He'll make up a story out of whole cloth if he
doesn't get an interview. You know, I begin to be sorry for Walter
Whitmore. He couldn't really have given a thought to Jammy, or he wouldn't
have been so quick to shove Searle into the river.'

'And who is being Die-Hard now?' Grant said.




_11_


IN the morning Grant telephoned to his chief, but he had no sooner begun
his story than Bryce interrupted him.

'That you, Grant? You send back that Man Friday of yours straight away.
Benny Skoll cleaned out Poppy Plumtre's bedroom safe last night.'

'I thought all Poppy's valuables were with Uncle.'

'Not since she got herself a new daddy.'

'Are you sure that it's Benny?'

'Quite sure. It has all his trade-marks. The telephone call to get the
hall porter out of the way, the lack of fingerprints, the bread-and-jam
and milk meal, the exit by the service entrance. Short of signing his name
in the visitors' book, he couldn't have written his signature more clearly
over it.'

'Ah, well; the day criminals learn to vary their technique we go out of
business.'

'I need Williams to pick up Benny. Williams knows Benny like a book. So
send him back. How are you doing?'

'Not too well.'

'No? How?'

'We have no corpse. So we have two possibilities: Searle is dead, either
by accident or by design; or he has just disappeared for ends of his own.'

'What sort of ends?'

'Practical joke, perhaps.'

'He had better not try that stuff with us.'

'It might, of course, be plain amnesia.'

'It had better be.'

'There are two things I need, sir. A radio S.O.S. is one. And the other is
some information from the San Francisco police about Searle. We are
working in the dark, knowing nothing about him. His only relation in
England is a cousin; a woman artist, with whom he had no contact. Or says
he hadn't. She will probably get in touch with us when she sees the papers
this morning. But she will probably know very little about him.'

'And you think the San Francisco police will know more?'

'Well, San Francisco was his headquarters, I understand, when he spent the
winter months on the Coast, and they can no doubt dig up something about
him there. Let us know whether he ever was in any bother and if anyone was
liable to kill him for any reason.'

'A lot of people would like to kill a photographer, I should think. Yes,
we'll do that.'

'Thank you, sir. And about the S.O.S.?'

'The B.B.C. don't like their nice little radio cluttered up with police
messages. What did you want to say?'

'I want to ask anyone who gave a lift to a young man between Wickham and
Crome on Wednesday night to get in touch with us.'

'Yes, I'll see to that. I suppose you have covered all the regular
services?'

'Everything, sir. Not a sign of him anywhere. And he is hardly
inconspicuous. Short of his having a rendezvous with a waiting
plane--which only happens in boys' stories, as far as I'm aware--the only
way he could have got away from the district is by walking over the fields
and getting a lift on the main road.'

'No evidence of homicide?'

'None so far. But I shall see what alibis the locals have, this morning.'

'You push Williams off before you do anything else. I'll send the San
Francisco information to the Wickham Station when it comes through.'

'Very good, sir. Thank you.'

Grant hung up and went to tell Williams.

'Damn Benny,' Williams said. 'Just when I was beginning to like this bit
of country. It's no day to wrestle with Benny anyhow.'

'Is he tough?'

'Benny? No! He's a horror. He'll cry and carry on and say that we are
hounding him, and that he is no sooner out of stir and trying to make
good--"make good"! Benny!--than we are down on him to come and be
questioned, and what chance has he in the circs, and so on. He turns my
stomach. If Benny saw an honest day's work coming his way he'd run for his
life. He's a wonderful cryer, though. He once got a question asked in
Parliament. You'd wonder how some of those M.P.s ever had brains enough to
ask for a railway ticket from their home towns. Have I got to take a
_train_ to town?'

'I expect Rodgers will give you a car to Crome and you can get a fast
train there,' Grant said, smiling at the horror on his colleague's face at
the thought of train travel. He himself went back to the telephone and
called Marta Hallard at the Mill House in Salcott St Mary.

'Alan!' she said. 'How nice. Where are you?'

'At the White Hart in Wickham.'

'You poor dear!'

'Oh, it isn't too bad.'

'Don't be so noble. You know it is primitive to the point of being
penitential. Have you heard about our latest sensation, by the way?'

'I have. That is why I am in Wickham.'

There was a complete silence at that.

Then Marta said: 'You mean the _Yard_ are interested in Leslie Searle's
drowning?'

'In Searle's disappearance, let us say.'

'You mean, that there is some truth in this rumour of a quarrel with
Walter?'

'I'm afraid I can't discuss it over the telephone. What I wanted to ask
you was whether you would be at home this evening if I came along.'

'But you must come and stay, of course. You can't stay at that dreary
place. I'll tell Mrs----'

'Thank you with all my heart, but I can't do that. I must be here in
Wickham at the centre of things. But if you like to give me dinner----'

'Of course I shall give you dinner. You shall have a beautiful meal, my
dear. With one of my omelets and one of Mrs Thrupp's chickens, and a
bottle from the cellar that will take the taste of the White Hart beer out
of your mouth.'

So, a little heartened at the prospect of civilisation at the end of the
day, Grant went out on his day's task, and he began with Trimmings. If
there was to be a reckoning of alibis it was fitting that the inhabitants
of Trimmings should be the first to give an account of themselves.

It was a fine blue morning, growing soft after an early frost, and no day,
as Williams had pointed out, to waste on the Bennys of this life; but the
sight of Trimmings standing up unblushingly in the bright sunlight
restored Grant's wavering good humour. Last night it had been a lighted
doorway in the dark. Today it stood revealed, extravagantly monstrous, in
all its smug detail, and Grant was so enraptured that his foot came down
on the brake and he brought the car to a standstill at the curve of the
drive, and sat there gazing.

'I know just how you are feeling,' a voice said at his elbow. And there
was Liz; a little heavy-eyed, he noticed, but otherwise calm and friendly.

'Good morning,' he said. 'I was a little dashed this morning because I
couldn't drop everything and go fishing. But I feel better now.'

'It is a beauty, isn't it,' she agreed. 'You don't quite believe it is
there at all. You feel that no one could possibly have thought it up; it
just appeared.'

Her thoughts shifted from the house to his presence, and he saw the
question coming.

'I am sorry to be a nuisance, but I am busy this morning getting rid of
the undergrowth in this case.'

'Undergrowth?'

'I want to get rid of all the people who can't possibly enter into the
case at all.'

'I see. You are collecting alibis.'

'Yes.' He opened the car door, so that she might ride the short distance
to the house.

'Well, I hope we have good ones. I regret to say that I haven't one at
all. It was the first thing I thought of when I knew who you were. It's
very odd, isn't it, how guilty an innocent person feels when he can't
account for himself on the umpteenth inst. Do you want everyone's alibi?
Aunt Lavinia's and mother's and all?'

'And those of the staff, too. Of everyone who had any connection with
Leslie Searle.'

'Well, you had better start with Aunt Vin. Before she begins her morning
chore. She dictates for two hours every morning, and she likes to begin
punctually.'

'Where were you, Miss Garrowby?' he asked as they arrived at the door.

'At the material time?' He thought she was being deliberately cold-blooded
about it; the 'material time' was when Leslie Searle had presumably lost
his life, and he did not think that she was forgetting that fact.

'Yes. On Wednesday night.'

'I had what they call in detective stories "retired to my room". And don't
tell me that it was "early to retire", either. I know it was. I like going
upstairs early. I like being alone at the end of the day.'

'Do you read?'

'Don't tell, Inspector, but I write.'

'You too?'

'Do I disappoint you?'

'You interest me. What do you write--or shouldn't I ask?'

'I write innocuous heroines out of my system, that's all.'

'Tilda the tweeny with the hare-lip and the homicidal tendencies, as
antidote to Maureen.'

She looked at him for a long moment and then said: 'You are a very odd
sort of policeman.'

'I suspect that it is your idea of policemen that is odd,' Grant said
briskly. 'Will you tell your aunt that I am here?'

But there was no need to announce him. Miss Fitch was in the hall as Liz
ran up the steps, and she said in tones more surprised than grieved:

'Liz, you are five minutes late!' Then she saw the Inspector, and said:
'Well, well, they were right. They said that no one would ever take you
for a policeman. Come in, Inspector. I have wanted so much to meet you.
Officially, as it were. Our last encounter could hardly be termed a
meeting, could it. Come into the morning-room. That is where I work.'

Grant apologised for keeping her from her morning's dictation, but she
professed herself glad to postpone for at least ten minutes her business
with 'the tiresome girl'. Grant took the 'tiresome girl' to be the current
Fitch heroine.

Miss Fitch, too, it seemed, had retired early on Wednesday night. At
half-past nine, to be exact.

'When a family are in each other's pocket all day long, as we are,' she
said, 'they tend to go to their rooms early at night.' She had watched a
radio play, and had lain awake a little, half-listening for her sister
coming in, but had fallen asleep quite early after all.

'Coming in?' Grant said. 'Was Mrs Garrowby out, then?'

'Yes. She was at a W.R.I. meeting.'

He asked her about Searle, then. What she had thought of him, and what in
her opinion he was liable to do or not to do. She was surprisingly guarded
about Searle, he thought; as if she were picking her steps; and he
wondered why.

When he said: 'Did Searle, in your opinion, show signs of being in love
with your niece?' she looked startled, and said 'No, of course not!' too
quickly and too emphatically.

'He did not pay her attentions?'

'My dear man,' Miss Fitch said, '_any_ American pays a girl attentions. It
is a conditioned reflex. As automatic as breathing.'

'You think he was not seriously interested in her?'

'I am sure that he wasn't.'

'Your nephew told me last night that he and Searle had telephoned to you
each night on their way down the river.'

'Yes.'

'Did everyone in the household know about the message on Wednesday night?
I mean, know where the two men were camped?'

'I expect so. The family certainly did; and the staff were always anxious
to hear about their progress so I suppose everyone knew.'

'Thank you very much, Miss Fitch. You have been very kind.'

She called Liz in, and Liz took him to her mother and went back to the
morning-room to record the doings of the latest Maureen.

Mrs Garrowby was another person without an alibi. She had been at the
W.R.I. meeting at the village hall, had left there when the meeting broke
up at half-past nine, had accompanied Miss Easton-Dixon part of the way
home and had left her where their roads branched. She had come in about
ten; or later, perhaps: she had strolled home because it was a lovely
night; and had locked up the front of the house. The back door was always
locked by Mrs Brett, the cook-housekeeper.

Emma Garrowby did not fool Grant for a moment. He had met her counterpart
too often; that ruthless maternalism masquerading in a placid exterior.
Had Searle got in the way of plans she had made for her daughter?

He asked her about Searle, and there was no step-picking at all. He had
been a charming young man, she said. Quite exceptionally charming. They
all liked him enormously, and were shattered by this tragedy.

Grant caught himself receiving this mentally with an expressive
monosyllable.

He felt a little suffocated by Mrs Garrowby, and was glad when she went
away to find Alice for him.

Alice had been walked-out on Wednesday night by the under-gardener, and
had come in at a quarter past ten, whereupon the door had been locked
behind her by Mrs Brett, and they had gone up together, after having a cup
of cocoa, to their rooms in the back wing. Alice really was shattered by
the fate that had overtaken Leslie Searle. Never, she said, had she had to
do for a nicer young man. She had met dozens of young men, gentlemen _and_
others, who considered a girl's ankles, but Mr Searle was the only one she
had ever met who considered a girl's feet.

'_Feet?_'

She had said as much to Mrs Brett, and to Edith, the parlourmaid. He would
say: 'You can do this or that, and that will save you coming up again,
won't it.' And she could only conclude that this was an American
characteristic, because no Englishman she had ever come across had ever
cared two hoots whether you had to come up again or not.

Edith, too, it seemed, mourned for Leslie Searle; not because he
considered her feet but because he was so good-looking. Edith proved to be
very superior and refayned. Much too refayned to be walked out by an
under-gardener. She had gone to her room to watch the same play that her
mistress was watching. She heard Mrs Brett and Alice come up to bed, but
the wing bedrooms were too far away to hear anyone come into the main
block, so she did not know when Mrs Garrowby had come in.

Neither did Mrs Brett. After dinner, Mrs Brett said, the family did not
worry the staff at all. Edith laid out the bed-time drinks, and after that
the baize door in the hall was not normally opened again until the
following morning. Mrs Brett had been nine years with Miss Fitch, and Miss
Fitch could trust her to manage the staff and the staff premises.

When Grant went to the front door on his way to the car he found Walter
Whitmore propped against the terrace wall. He bade Grant good morning and
hoped that the alibis had been satisfactory.

It seemed to Grant that Walter Whitmore was visibly deteriorating. Even
the few hours since last night had made a difference. He wondered how much
a reading of this morning's papers had contributed to the slackening of
Walter's facial structure.

'Have the Press been hounding you yet?' he asked.

'They were here just after breakfast.'

'Did you talk to them?'

'I saw them, if that is what you mean. There wasn't much I could say.
They'll get far more copy down at the Swan.'

'Did your lawyer come?'

'Yes. He's asleep.'

'Asleep!'

'He left London at half-past five, and saw me through the interview. He
had to leave things in a hurry so he didn't get to bed last night till two
this morning. If you take my meaning.'

Grant left him with an illogical feeling of relief and went down to the
Swan. He ran his car into the paved brick yard at the rear of it and
knocked at the side door.

A bolt was drawn with noisy impatience, and Reeve's face appeared in the
gap. 'It's not a bit of use,' he said. 'You'll have to wait till opening
time.'

'As a policeman, I appreciate that snub at its true value,' Grant said.
'But I'd like to come in and talk to you for a moment.'

'You look more Service than Police, if you ask me,' said the ex-Marine,
amused, as he led the way into the bar parlour. 'You're the spit of a
Major we had with us Up The Straights once. Vandaleur was his name. Ever
come across him?'

Grant had not come across Major Vandaleur.

'Well, what can I do for you, sir? It's about this Searle affair, I take
it.'

'Yes. You can do two things for me. I want your considered opinion--and I
mean considered--on the relations between Whitmore and Searle on Wednesday
evening. And I should like a list of all the people in the bar that night
and the times they left.'

Reeve had all a service man's objective attitude to a happening. He had no
desire to dress it up, or to make it reflect his own personality as an
artist did. Grant felt himself relaxing. It was almost like listening to
the report of one of his own men. There was no obvious ill-feeling between
the men, Reeve said. He would not have noticed them at all, if they had
not been isolated by the fact that no one moved away from the bar to join
them. Normally, someone or other would have moved over to resume a
conversation that had begun when they were at the bar together. But on
Wednesday there was something in their unconsciousness of the rest that
kept people from intruding.

'They were like two dogs walking round each other,' Reeve said. 'No row,
but a sort of atmosphere. The row might burst out any minute, if you see
what I mean.'

'Did you see Whitmore go?'

'No one did. The boys were having an argument about who played cricket for
Australia in what year. They paused when the door banged, that was all.
Then Bill Maddox, seeing that Searle was alone, went over and talked to
him. Maddox keeps the garage at the end of the village.'

'Thanks. And now the list of those in the bar.'

Grant wrote the list down; county names, most of them, unchanged since
Domesday Book. As he went out to get his car he said: 'Have you any Press
staying in the house?'

'Three,' Reeve said. 'The _Clarion_, the _Morning News_, and the _Post_.
They're all out now, sucking the village dry.'

'Also ran: Scotland Yard,' Grant said wryly, and drove away to see Bill
Maddox.

At the end of the village was a high clapboarded structure on which faded
paint said: WILLIAM MADDOX AND SON, CARPENTERS AND BOATBUILDERS. At one
corner of this building a bright black and yellow sign pointed into the
yard at the side and said simply: GARAGE.

'You manage to make the best of both worlds, I see,' he said to Bill
Maddox when he had introduced himself, and tilted his head at the sign.

'Oh, MADDOX AND SON is Father, not me.'

'I thought that perhaps you were "SON".'

Bill looked amused. 'Oh, no; my _grandfather_ was SON. That's my
greatgrandfather's business. And still the best woodworkers this side of
the county, though it's me that says it. You looking for information,
Inspector?'

Grant got all the information Maddox could give him, and as he was going
away Maddox said: 'You happen to know a newspaper-man called Hopkins, by
any chance?'

'Hopkins of the _Clarion_? We have met.'

'He was round here for hours this morning, and do you know what that bloke
actually believes? He believes that the whole thing is just a publicity
stunt to sell that book they planned to write.'

The combination of this typically Hopkins reaction and Bill's bewildered
face was too much for Grant. He leant against the car and laughed.

'It's a debasing life, a journalist's,' he said. 'And Jammy Hopkins is a
born debase-ee, as a friend of mine would say.'

'Oh,' said Bill, still puzzled. 'Silly, I call it. Plain silly.'

'Do you know where I can find Serge Ratoff, by the way?'

'I don't suppose he's out of bed yet, but if he is you'll find him
propping up the counter of the post-office. The post-office is in the
shop. Half-way up the street. Serge lives in the lean-to place next door
to it.'

But Serge had not yet reached his daily stance by the post-office counter.
He was coming down the street from the newsagent's with a paper under his
arm. Grant had never seen him before, but he knew the occupational signs
well enough to spot a dancer in a village street. The limp clothes
covering an apparently weedy body, the general air of undernourishment,
the wilting appearance that made one feel that the muscles must be flabby
as tired elastic. It was a never-ceasing amazement to Grant that the
flashing creatures who tossed ballerinas about with no more effort than a
slight gritting of teeth, went out of the stage door looking like
under-privileged barrow boys.

He brought the car to a halt at the pavement as he came level with Serge,
and greeted him.

'Mr Ratoff?'

'That is me.'

'I'm Detective-Inspector Grant. May I speak to you for a moment?'

'Everyone speaks to me,' Serge said complacently. 'Why not you?'

'It is about Leslie Searle.'

'Ah, yes. He has become drowned. Delightful.'

Grant offered some phrases on the virtue of discretion.

'Ah, _discretion_!' said Serge, making five syllables of it. 'A bourgeois
quality.'

'I understand that you had a quarrel with Searle.'

'Nothing of the sort.'

'But----'

'I fling a mug of beer in his face, that is all.'

'And you don't call that a quarrel?'

'Of _course_ not. To quarrel is to be on a level, equal, how do you say,
of the same rank. One does not quarrel with _canaille_. My grandfather in
Russia would have taken a whip to him. This is England and decadent, and
so I fling beer over him. It is a gesture, at least.'

When Grant recounted this conversation to Marta, she said: 'I can't think
what Serge would do without that grandfather in Russia. His father left
Russia when he was three--Serge can't speak a word of Russian and he is
half Neapolitan anyhow--but all his fantasies are built on that
grandfather in Russia.'

'You will understand,' Grant said patiently, 'that it is necessary for the
police to ask all those who knew Searle for an account of their movements
on Wednesday night.'

'Is it? How tiresome for you. It is a sad life, a policeman's. The
movements. So limited, so rudimentary.' Serge made himself into a
semaphore, and worked his arms marionette-wise in a travesty of point-duty
signals. 'Tiresome. Very tiresome. Lucid, of course, but without
subtlety.'

'Where were you on Wednesday night from nine o'clock onwards?' Grant said,
deciding that an indirect approach was just a waste of time.

'I was dancing,' Serge said.

'Oh. At the village hall?'

Serge looked as if he were going to faint.

'You suggest that _I_, that I, _Serge Ratoff_, was taking part in a
'_op_?'

'Then where were you dancing?'

'By the river.'

'_What?_'

'I work out the choreography for a new ballet. I burst with ideas there by
the river on a spring night. They rise up in me like fountains. There is
so much atmosphere there that I get drunk on it. I can do anything. I work
out a very charming idea to go with the river music of Mashako. It begins
with a----'

'What part of the river?'

'What?'

'What _part_ of the river?'

'How should I know? The atmosphere is the same over all.'

'Well, did you go up river or down, from Salcott?'

'Oh, up, most certainly.'

'Why "most certainly"?'

'I need the wide flat spaces to dance. Up river they are there. Down river
from the village it is all steep banks and tiresome root crops. Roots.
Clumsy, obscene things. They----'

'Could you identify the place where you were dancing on Wednesday night?'

'Identify?'

'Point it out to me.'

'How can I? I don't even remember where it was.'

'Can you remember if you saw anyone while you were there?'

'No one who was memorable?'

'Memorable?'

'I trip over lovers in the grass now and then, but they--how you say, go
with the house. They are part of the--the set-up. Not memorable.'

'Do you remember, then, what time you left the river bank on Wednesday
night?'

'Ah, yes, that I remember perfectly.'

'When was it that you left?'

'When the shooting star fell.'

'What time was that?'

'How should I know? I dislike shooting stars. They make butterflies in my
stomach. Though I did think that it would be a very fine ending to my
ballet to have a shooting star. A _Spectre de la Rose_ leap, you know,
that would set the town talking, and show them that I can still----'

'Mr Ratoff, can you suggest how Leslie Searle came to be in the river?'

'Came to be? He fell in, I suppose. Such a pity. Pollution. The river is
so beautiful it should be kept for beautiful things. Ophelia. Shallott. Do
you think Shallott would make a ballet? All the things she sees in the
mirror? It is an idea, that, isn't it?'

Grant gave up.

He left his car where it was and walked up the street to where the flat
stone front of Hoo House broke the pinks and chromes and limes of the
village's plastered gables. The house stood on the pavement like the other
cottages, but three steps to the front door raised the ground floor of the
house above street level. It withdrew itself a little, in a dignity
entirely natural, from everyday affairs. As Grant pulled the Victorian
bell in its bright brass circle he spared a thought to bless the man,
whoever he was, who had been responsible for restoring the place. He had
preserved the structure but had made no attempt to turn it back into its
original form and so make a museum piece of it; the tale of the centuries
was there, from the worn mounting-block to the brass bell. A great amount
of money had obviously been spent to bring it to its present condition of
worthiness, and Grant wondered if perhaps the saving of Hoo House was
sufficient to justify Toby Tullis's existence.

The door was opened by a manservant who might have walked out of one of
Toby's plays. He stood in the doorway, polite but impenetrable; a one-man
road-block.

'Mr Tullis does not see anyone before lunch,' he said in answer to Grant's
inquiry. 'He works in the morning. The appointment with the Press is for
two o'clock.' He began to move his hand towards the door.

'Do I look like Press?' Grant said tartly.

'Well--no, I can't say that you do--sir.'

'Shouldn't you have a little tray?' Grant said, suddenly silky.

The man turned submissively and took a silver card tray from the Jacobean
chest in the hall.

Grant dropped a piece of pasteboard on to the tray and said: 'Present my
compliments to Mr Tullis and say that I would be grateful for three
minutes of his time.'

'Certainly, sir,' said the man, not allowing his eyes to stray even to the
vicinity of the card. 'Will you be kind enough to step into the hall and
wait.'

He disappeared into a room at the rear of the house, and closed the door
behind him on some very unworkmanlike sounds of chatter. But he was back
in a moment. Would Inspector Grant come this way, please. Mr Tullis would
be very pleased to see him.

The room at the back, Grant found, looked into a large garden sloping down
to the river-bank; it was another world altogether from the village street
that he had just left. It was a sitting-room, furnished with the most
perfect 'pieces' that Grant had ever seen out of a museum. Toby, in a
remarkable dressing-gown, was sitting behind an array of silver coffee
things; and behind him, in still more remarkable day clothes, hovered a
callow and eager young man clutching a notebook. The notebook, from its
virgin condition, appeared to be more a badge of office than the implement
of a craft.

'You are modest, Inspector!' Toby said, greeting him.

'Modest?'

'Three minutes! Even the Press expect ten.'

It had been meant as a compliment to Grant, but the effect was merely a
reminder that Toby was the most-interviewed individual in the
English-speaking world and that his time was priceless. As always, what
Toby did was a little 'off-key'.

He presented the young man as Giles Verlaine, his secretary, and offered
Grant coffee. Grant said that it was at once too late and too early for
him, but would Mr Tullis go on with his breakfast; and Toby did.

'I am investigating the disappearance of Leslie Searle,' Grant said. 'And
that involves, I'm afraid, some disturbance of people who are only
remotely connected with Searle. We have to ask everyone at Salcott who
knew Searle to account for their time, as far as they can, on Wednesday
night.'

'Inspector, you offer me a felicity I had never hoped to enjoy. I have
always been madly desirous of being asked what I was doing at nine-thirty
p.m. on the night of Friday the 13th, but I never really dared to hope
that it would happen to me.'

'Now that it has happened, I hope your alibi is worthy of the occasion.'

'It has the virtue of simplicity, at least. Giles and I spent the hours of
that lovely midnight discussing Act II, Scene 1. Pedestrian, Inspector,
but necessary. I am a business man.'

Grant glanced from the business man to Giles, and decided that in his
present stage of discipleship the young man would probably confess to the
murder if it would pleasure Toby. A little thing like providing an alibi
would be merely routine.

'And Mr Verlaine corroborates that, of course,' Grant said.

'Yes, oh yes, of course; of course I do; yes,' said Giles, squandering
affirmatives in the service of his patron.

'It is a tragic thing indeed, this drowning,' Toby said, sipping coffee.
'The sum total of the world's beauty is not so great that we can afford to
waste any. A Shelleyan end, of course, and to that extent fitting. Do you
know the Shelley Memorial at Oxford, Inspector?'

Grant knew the Memorial and it reminded him of an overboiled chicken, but
he refrained from saying so. Nor did Toby expect an answer.

'A lovely thing. Drowning is surely the ideal way of going out of this
life.'

'After a close acquaintance with a great variety of corpses taken from the
water, I can't say that I agree with you.'

Toby cocked a fish-scale eye at him, and said: 'Don't shatter my
illusions, Inspector. You are worse than Silas Weekley. Silas is always
pointing out the nastiness of life. Have you got Silas's alibi, by the
way?'

'Not yet. I understand that he hardly knew Mr Searle.'

'That wouldn't stop Silas. I shouldn't wonder if he did it as a bit of
local colour.'

'Local colour?'

'Yes. According to Silas country existence is one cesspool of rape,
murder, incest, abortion, and suicide, and perhaps Silas thinks that it is
time that Salcott St Mary lived up to his idea of it. Do you read our
Silas, Inspector?'

'I'm afraid not.'

'Don't apologise. It's an acquired taste. Even his wife hasn't acquired it
yet, if all reports are true. But then, poor woman, she is so busy
suckling and suffering that she probably has no time to spare for the
consideration of the abstract. No one seems to have indicated to her the
possibilities of contraception. Of course, Silas has a "thing" about
fertility. He holds that the highest function of a woman is the
manufacture of progeny. So disheartening for a woman, don't you feel, to
be weighed against a rabbit, and to know that she will inevitably be found
wanting. Life, by Fertility out of Ugliness. That is how Silas sees it. He
hates beauty. Beauty is an offence. He must mash it down and make it
fertile. Make mulch of it. Of course he is just a little crazy, poor
sweet, but it is a very profitable kind of craziness, so one need not
drench oneself in tears about it. One of the secrets of a successful life
is to know how to be a little profitably crazy.'

Grant wondered whether this was merely a normal sample of Toby's chatter,
or whether it was designed to edge him on to Silas Weekley. Where a man's
personality is entirely façade, as in the case of Toby Tullis, it was
difficult to decide how much of the façade was barricade and how much was
mere poster-hoarding.

'You didn't see Searle at all on Wednesday evening?' he said.

No, Toby had not seen him. His time for the pub was before dinner, not
after.

'I don't want to be intrusive, Inspector, but there seems to me a needless
furore over a simple drowning.'

'Why drowning?'

'Why not?'

'We have no evidence at all that Searle was drowned, and some fairly
conclusive evidence that he wasn't.'

'That he wasn't? What evidence have you that he wasn't?'

'The river has been dragged for his body.'

'Oh, that!'

'What we are investigating, Mr Tullis, is the disappearance of a man in
Salcott St Mary on Wednesday night.'

'You really ought to see the vicar, Inspector. He has the perfect solution
for you.'

'And what is that?'

'The dear vicar believes that Searle was never really here at all. He
holds that Searle was merely a demon who took human shape for a little,
and disappeared when the joke grew stale or the--the juice ran dry, so to
speak.'

'Very interesting.'

'I suppose you never saw Searle, Inspector?'

'Oh, yes. I have met him.'

This surprised Toby so much that Grant was amused.

'The demon attended a party in Bloomsbury, just before he came to
Salcott,' he said.

'My dear Inspector, you _must_ see the vicar. This contribution to the
predilections of demons is of inestimable value to research.'

'Why did you ask me if I had ever seen Searle?'

'Because he was so perfectly what one would imagine a materialised demon
to be.'

'His good-looks, you mean?'

'Was it only a question of good-looks?' Toby said, half quizzing half in
challenge.

'No,' said Grant. 'No.'

'Do you think Searle was a wrong 'un?' Toby said, forgetting the façade
for a moment and dropping into the vernacular.

'There is no evidence whatever on that score.'

'Ah, me,' Toby said, resuming the façade with a small mock-sigh. 'The
blank wall of bureaucratic caution. I have few ambitions left in life,
Inspector, but one of them is a passionate desire to know what made Leslie
Searle tick.'

'If I ever find out, bureaucratic caution will crack sufficiently to let
you know,' Grant said, getting up to go.

He stood for a moment looking out at the bright garden with the gleam of
the river at the far end.

'This might be a country house, miles from anywhere,' he said.

Toby said that that was one of the charms of Hoo House, but that, of
course, most of the cottages on the river side of the street had gardens
that ran to the river, but most of them were broken into allotments or
market gardens of some sort. It was the keeping of the Hoo House grounds
as lawns and trees that made it spacious seeming.

'And the river makes a boundary without breaking the view. It is a sadly
mixed blessing, the river.'

'Mosquitoes?'

'No; every now and then it has an overwhelming desire to get into the
house. About once in every six winters it succeeds. My caretaker woke one
morning last winter to find the boat knocking against his bedroom window.'

'You keep a boat?'

'Just as a prop. A punt affair that is pleasant to lie in on summer
afternoons.'

Grant thanked him for being so helpful, apologised once more for having
intruded on his breakfast, and took his leave. Toby showed signs of
wanting to show him the house, but Grant avoided that for three reasons:
he had work to do, he had already seen most of the house in the
illustrated press, and he had an odd reluctance to be shown the world's
finest craftsmanship by a slick little operator like Toby Tullis.




_12_


SILAS WEEKLEY lived in a cottage down the lane that led to the far bend
of the river. Or rather, that started off towards the river. The lane,
where it met the fields, turned at right-angles along the back of the
village, only to turn up again and rejoin the village street. It was an
entirely local affair. In the last cottage before the fields lived Silas
Weekley, and Grant, 'proceeding' there police-fashion, was surprised to
find it so poor a dwelling. It was not only that Weekley was a best-seller
and could therefore afford a home that was more attractive than this, but
there had been no effort to beautify the place; no generosity of paint and
wash such as the other cottagers had used to make the street of Salcott St
Mary a delight to the eye. No window plants, no trim curtains. The place
had a slum air that was strange in its surroundings.

The cottage door was open and the combined howls of an infant and a child
poured out into the sunny morning. An enamel basin of dirty water stood in
the porch, the soap bubbles on it bursting one by one in slow resignation.
An animal toy of soft fur, so worn and grubby as to be unidentifiable as
any known species, lay on the floor. The room beyond was unoccupied for
the moment, and Grant stood observing it in a kind of wonder. It was
poorly furnished and untidy beyond belief.

The crying continued to come from some room in the rear, so Grant knocked
loudly on the front door. At his second knock, a woman's voice called:
'Just leave it there, thank you.' At his third knock supplemented with a
call, she came from the darkness at the back and moved forward to inspect
him.

'Mrs Weekley?' Grant said doubtfully.

'Yes, I'm Mrs Weekley.'

She must have been pretty once. Pretty and intelligent; and independent.
Grant remembered hearing somewhere that Weekley had married an elementary
school teacher. She was wearing a sacking apron over a print wrapper, and
the kind of old shoes that a woman all too easily gets used to as good
enough to do chores in. She had not bothered to put on stockings, and the
shoes had left smudges on her bare insteps. Her unwaved hair was pulled
back into a tight desperate knot, but the front strands were too short to
be confined there for long and now hung down on either side of her face.
It was a rather long face and very tired.

Grant said that he would like to see her husband for a moment.

'Oh.' She took it in slowly, as if her mind were still with the crying
children. 'I'm sorry things are so untidy,' she said vaguely. 'My girl
from the village didn't come today. She often doesn't. It just depends on
how she is feeling. And with the children it is difficult----. I don't
think I can disturb my husband in the middle of the morning.' Grant
wondered whether she considered the children were making no disturbance at
all. 'He writes in the morning, you see.'

'I see. But if you would give him my card I think he will see me.'

'Are you from the publishers?'

'No, I'm----'

'Because I think it would be better to wait, and not interrupt him. He
could meet you at the Swan, couldn't he? Just before lunch, perhaps.'

'No, I'm afraid that I must see him. You see, it is a matter----'

'It is very important that he shouldn't be disturbed. It interrupts his
train of thought, and then he finds it difficult to--to get back. He
writes very slowly--carefully, I mean--sometimes only a paragraph a day,
so you see it is----'

'Mrs Weekley,' Grant said, bluntly, 'please give that card to your husband
and say that I must see him, whatever he happens to be doing.'

She stood with the card in her fingers, not even glancing at it, her mind
obviously busy with the search for some excuse that would convince him.
And he was all of a sudden aware that she was afraid to take that card to
her husband. Afraid to interrupt him.

To help her, he said that surely there would be no interruption where the
children had been making so much noise. Her husband could hardly be
concentrating very hard.

'Oh, he doesn't work here,' she said. 'In the house, I mean. He has a
little house of his own at the end of the garden.'

Grant took back the card she was holding, and said grimly: 'Will you show
me the way, Mrs Weekley?'

Dumbly she led him through a dark kitchen where a toddler sat splay-legged
on the floor enjoying his tears, and an infant in a perambulator sobbed in
elemental fury. Beyond, in the bright sunshine of the garden, a boy of
three or so was throwing stones from the pebble path against the wooden
door of an outhouse, an unproductive occupation which nevertheless made a
satisfying noise.

'Stop that, Freddy,' she said automatically, and Freddy as automatically
went on throwing the stones against the door.

The back garden was a long thin strip of ground that ran along the side of
the back lane, and at the very end of it, a long way from the house, was a
wooden shed. Mrs Weekley pointed it out and said:

'Perhaps you would just go and introduce yourself, would you? The children
will be coming in from school for their midday meal and it isn't ready.'

'Children?' Grant said.

'Yes, the three eldest. So if you don't mind.'

'No, of course I don't mind,' Grant said. Indeed, few things would please
him like interrupting the great Silas Weekley this morning, but he
refrained from saying so to Silas Weekley's wife.

He knocked twice on the door of the wooden hut--a very trim wooden
hut--without getting an answer, and so opened the door.

Silas Weekley swung round from the table at which he was writing and said:
'How _dare_ you walk into my----' and then stopped as he saw Grant. He had
quite obviously expected the intruder to be his wife.

'Who are you?' he said rudely. 'If you are a journalist you will find that
rudeness doesn't pay. This is private ground and you are trespassing.'

'I am Detective-Inspector Grant from Scotland Yard,' Grant said and
watched the news sink home.

After a moment or two Silas got his lower jaw under control again and
said: 'And what do you want, may I ask?' It was an attempt at truculence
and it was not convincing.

Grant said his regulation piece about investigating the disappearance of
Leslie Searle and accounting for the movements of all those who knew
Searle, and noted with the unoccupied half of his mind that the ink on the
script that Weekley was working on was not only dry but dark. It was
yesterday's ink. Weekley had done not a line this morning although it was
now past noon.

At the mention of Searle Weekley began a diatribe against moneyed
dilettantes which--in view of Weekley's income and the sum total of his
morning's work--Grant thought inappropriate. He cut him short and asked
what he had been doing on Wednesday night.

'And if I do not choose to tell you?'

'I record your refusal and go away.'

Weekley did not like the sound of this, so he muttered something about
being badgered by the police.

'All that I am doing,' Grant pointed out, 'is asking for your co-operation
as a citizen. As I have pointed out, it is within your right to refuse
co-operation.'

Silas said sulkily that he had been writing on Wednesday night from
supper-time onwards.

'Any witnesses to that?' Grant asked, wasting no frills on Silas.

'My wife, of course.'

'She was here with you?'

'No, of course not. She was in the house.'

'And you were here alone?'

'I was.'

'Thank you and good-morning,' Grant said walking out of the hut and
shutting the door crisply behind him.

The morning smelt very fresh and sweet. The sour smell of vomited milk and
rough-dried dish-cloths that had hung about the house was nothing to the
smell of soured humanity that filled the place where Silas Weekley worked.
As he walked back to the house he remembered that it was from this joyless
and distorted mind that the current English 'masterpieces' came. The
thought did nothing to reassure him. He avoided the joyless house, where
the agitated clattering of pans (an appropriate orchestration, he couldn't
help thinking) conveyed the preoccupation of its mistress, and walked
round the side of it to the front gate, accompanied by Freddy.

'Hullo, Freddy,' he said, sorry for the bored brat.

'Hullo,' Freddy said without enthusiasm.

'Isn't there a more exciting game than flinging stones at a door?'

'No,' said Freddy.

'Couldn't you find one if you looked about you?'

'No,' said Freddy, with cold finality.

Grant stood for a moment contemplating him.

'There will never be any doubt about _your_ paternity, Frederick,' he
said, and walked away up the lane to the spot where he had left his car.

It was down this lane that Leslie Searle had walked on Wednesday night,
calling farewells to the group in the village street. He had walked past
the Weekley cottage to where a stile led into the first of the fields that
lay between the village and the river bend.

At least that is what one took for granted that he did.

He could have walked along the back lane and come to the village street
again. But there would have been little point, surely, in that. He was
never seen again in the village. He had walked into the darkness of the
lane and disappeared.

A little crazy, Tullis had said of Silas Weekley. But Silas Weekley didn't
strike Grant as being crazy. A sadist, perhaps. A megalomaniac almost
certainly. A man sick of a twisted vanity. But actually crazy no.

Or would an alienist think differently?

One of the most famous alienists in the country had once said to him that
to write a book was to give oneself away. (Someone else had said the same
thing more wittily and more succinctly, but he could not think at the
moment who it was.) There was unconscious betrayal in every line, said the
alienist. What, wondered Grant, would the alienist's verdict be after
reading one of Silas Weekley's malignant effusions? That it was the
outpouring of a petty mind, a mere fermentation of vanity? Or that it was
a confession of madness?

He thought for a moment of going back to the Swan and ringing up Wickham
police station from there, but the Swan would be busy just now and the
telephone a far from confidential affair. He decided to go back to Wickham
and have lunch there, so that he could see Inspector Rodgers at his
leisure and pick up any messages that might be waiting for him from
Headquarters.

In Wickham he found the higher orders at the police station preparing to
retire into the peace of the weekend, and the lower ranks preparing for
the weekly liveliness of Saturday night. Rodgers had little to say--he was
never a talkative man--and nothing to report. The disappearance of Searle
was the talk of Wickham, he said, now that the morning papers had made it
general news; but no one had come in to suggest that they had seen him.

'Not even a "nut" to confess to the murder,' he said dryly.

'Well, that is a nice change,' Grant said.

'He'll be along, he'll be along,' Rodgers said resignedly, and invited
Grant home to lunch.

But Grant preferred to eat at the White Hart.

He was sitting in the dining-room of the White Hart eating the
unpretentious but ample lunch that they provided, when the radio music in
the kitchen ceased, and presently, oddly urbane among the castanet racket,
came the voice of the announcer.

'Before the news, here is a police message. Would anyone who gave a lift
to a young man on Wednesday night on the road between Wickham and Crome,
in Orfordshire, or anywhere in that vicinity, please communicate with
Scotland Yard----'

'Telephone Whitehall One Two One Two,' chanted the kitchen staff happily.

And then there was a rush of high-pitched conversation as the staff fell
to on this latest tit-bit of news.

Grant ate the very good roly-poly without relish and went out again into
the sunlight. The streets, which had been teeming with Saturday shoppers
when he came in to lunch, were deserted, the shops shut. He drove out of
town wishing once more that he was going fishing. How had he ever chosen a
profession where he could not count on a Saturday afternoon holiday? Half
the world was free to sit back and enjoy itself this sunny afternoon, but
he had to spend it pottering about asking questions that led nowhere.

He drove back to Salcott in a state of mental dyspepsia, being only
slightly cheered by Dora Siggins. He picked up Dora in the long straight
of dull hedged lane that ran for a mile or more parallel to the river just
outside the town. In the distance he had taken the plodding figure to be a
youth carrying a kit of tools, but as he came nearer and slowed in answer
to the raised thumb, he found that it was a girl in dungarees carrying a
shopping bag. She grinned cheekily at him and said:

'Saved my life, you have! I missed the bus because I was buying slippers
for the dance tonight.'

'Oh,' said Grant, looking at the parcel that had evidently refused to go
into the overflowing bag. 'Glass ones?'

'Not me,' she said, banging the door shut behind her and wriggling
comfortably into the seat. 'None of that home-by-midnight stuff about me.
'Sides, it wasn't a glass slipper at all, you know. It was fur. French, or
something. We learned that at school.'

Grant wondered privately if modern youth had been left any illusions at
all. What would a world without fantasy be like? Or did the charming
illusion that he was all-important fill for the modern child the place of
earlier and more impersonal fantasies? The thought improved his temper
considerably.

At least they were quick of wit, these modern children. The cinema, he
supposed. It was always the one-and-tuppennys--the regulars--who got the
point while the front balcony were still groping. His passenger had got
his reference to dance slippers without a second for consideration.

She was a gay child, even after a week's work and missing the bus on a
Saturday half-holiday, and poured out her history without any
encouragement. Her name was Dora Siggins and she worked at a laundry, but
she had a boy friend in a garage at Salcott, and they were going to get
married as soon as the boy friend got a rise, which would be at Christmas,
if all went as they expected.

When, long afterwards, Grant sent Dora Siggins a box of chocolates as an
anonymous tribute to the help she had been to him, he hoped heartily that
it would lead to no misunderstanding with the boy friend who was so sure
of his rise at Christmas.

'You a commercial?' she asked presently, having exhausted her personal
story.

'No,' said Grant. 'I'm a policeman.'

'Go on!' she said, and then, struck by the possibility that he might be
telling the truth, took a more careful look at the interior of the car.
'Coo!' she said at length. 'Blamed if you aren't, at that!'

'What convinced you?' Grant said curiously.

'Spit and polish,' she said. 'Only the fire service and the police have
the spare time to keep a car shiny this way. I thought the police were
forbidden to give lifts?'

'You're thinking of the Post Office, aren't you. Here is Salcott on the
horizon. Where do you live?'

'The cottage with the wild cherry tree. My, I can't tell you how glad I am
I didn't have to walk those four miles. You got the car out on the fly?'

'No,' Grant said, and asked why she should think that.

'Oh, the plain clothes and all. Thought maybe you were out for the day on
your little own. There's one thing you ought to have that the American
police have.'

'What is that?' Grant asked bringing the car to a halt opposite the
cottage with the cherry tree.

'Sirens to go yelling along the roads with.'

'God forbid,' Grant said.

'I've always wanted to go tearing along the streets behind a siren, seeing
people scattering every way.'

'Don't forget your shoes,' Grant said, unsympathetically, indicating the
parcel she was leaving on the seat.

'Oh, gee, no; thanks! Thanks a million for everything. I'll never say a
word against the police as long as I live.'

She ran up the cottage path, paused to wave to him, and disappeared.

Grant moved on into the village to resume his questioning.




_13_


WHEN GRANT walked into the Mill House at a quarter to seven he felt that
he had riddled Salcott St Mary through a small-meshed sieve, and what he
had left in the sieve was exactly nothing. He had had a very fine
cross-section of life in England, and he was by that much the richer. But
towards solving the problem that had been entrusted to him he had advanced
not one foot.

Marta greeted him with her best contralto coo and drew him in to peace and
refreshment. The living-room of the Mill House stood over the water, and
in the daytime its furnishings swam in the wavering light; a green
sub-aqueous light. But this evening Marta had drawn the curtains over the
last of the sunset, and shut out the river light; she had prepared a
refuge of warmth and reassurance, and Grant, tired and perplexed, was
grateful to her.

'I am so glad that it is not Walter who has disappeared,' she said,
wafting him to a chair with one of her favourite gestures and beginning to
pour sherry.

'Glad?' Grant said, remembering Marta's expressed opinion of Walter.

'If it was Walter who had disappeared, I should be a suspect, instead of a
sleeping partner.'

Grant thought that Marta as sleeping partner must have much in common with
sleeping dogs.

'As it is I can sit at the side of the law and see the wheels go round.
Are you being brilliant, my dear?'

'I'm flummoxed,' Grant said brutally, but Marta took it in her stride.

'You feel that way only because you are tired and hungry; and probably
suffering from dyspepsia, anyhow, after having to eat at the White Hart
for two days. I'm going to leave you with the sherry decanter and go down
and get the wine. Cellar-cooled Moselle. The kitchen is under this room,
and the cellar is under the kitchen, and the wine comes up as cold as
running water. Oh dear, I promised myself I wasn't going to think of
running water any more today. I drew the curtains to shut out the river;
I'm not so stuck on the river as I used to be. Perhaps we'll both feel
better after the Moselle. When I've brought the wine up from the cellar
I'm going to cook you an omelet as only I can cook one, and then we'll
settle down. So relax for a little and get back your appetite. If the
sherry isn't dry enough for you there's some Tio Pepe in the cupboard; but
me, I think it is over-rated stuff.'

She went away, and Grant blessed her that she had not plagued him with the
questions that must have been crowding her mind. She was a woman who not
only appreciated good food and good drink but was possessed of that innate
good sense that is half-way to kindness. He had never seen her to better
advantage than in this unexpected country home of hers.

He lay back in the lamplight, his feet to the whickering logs, and
relaxed. It was warm and very quiet. There was no river song: the Rushmere
was a silent stream. No sound at all except the small noises of the fire.
On the couch opposite him lay a newspaper, and behind it stood a
book-case, but he was too tired to fetch either paper or book. At his
elbow was a shelf of reference books. Idly he read the titles till he came
to the London telephone book. The sight of those familiar volumes sent his
mind flying down a new channel. They had said this evening, when he talked
to the Yard, that so far Searle's cousin had not bothered to get in touch
with them. They were not surprised by that, of course; the news had broken
only that morning, and the artist cousin might live anywhere from the
Scilly Isles to a farm in Cumberland; she might never read newspapers
anyway; she might, if it came to that, be entirely indifferent to any fate
that might overtake her cousin. After all, Searle had said quite frankly
that they did not care for each other.

But Grant still wanted to talk to someone who knew Searle's background; or
at least a little of that background. Now, relaxed and at leisure for the
first time in two days, he put out his hand for the S volume, and, on the
chance that she lived in London and that she and Searle were the children
of two brothers, turned up the Searles. There was a Miss Searle who lived
in Holly Pavement, he noticed. Holly Pavement was in Hampstead and was a
well-known artist's colony. On an impulse he picked up the telephone and
asked for the London number.

'One hour's delay. Call you back,' said the triumphant voice at the other
end.

'Priority,' Grant said. And gave his credentials.

'Oh,' said the voice, disappointed but game. 'Oh, well, I'll see what I
can do.'

'On the contrary,' Grant said, '_I'll_ see what you can do,' and hung up.

He put the telephone book back in its place, and pulled out _Who's Who in
the Theatre_ to amuse himself with while he waited. Some of it made him
feel very old. Actors and actresses he had never heard of already had long
lists of successes to their credit. The ones he knew had pages of
achievement stretching back into the already-quaint past. He began to look
up the people he knew, as one does in the index of an autobiography. Toby
Tullis, son of Sydney Tullis and his wife Martha (Speke). It was
surprising to think that a national institution like Toby Tullis had ever
been subjected to the processes of conception and brought into this world
by the normal method. He observed that Toby's early days as an actor were
decently shrouded under: 'Was at one time an actor.' His one-time
colleagues, Grant knew, would deny with heat that he had ever been even
approximately an actor. On the other hand, Grant thought, remembering this
morning, his whole life was an 'act'. He had created a part for himself
and had played it ever since.

It was surprising, too, to find that Marguerite Merriam (daughter of
Geoffrey Merriam and his wife Brenda (Mattson)) had been considerably
older than her adolescent fragility had led one to believe. Perhaps if she
had lived that adolescent quality would have worn thin, and her power to
break the public heart would have declined. That was, no doubt, what Marta
had meant when she said that if she had lived another ten years her
obituaries would have been back-page stuff.

Marta (daughter of Gervase Wing-Strutt, M.R.C.S., L.R.C.P. and his wife
Anne (Hallard)) was, of course, entirely orthodox. She had been educated
at the best schools and had sneaked her way on to the stage by the
back-door of elocution like so many of her well-bred predecessors. Grant
hoped that when in the next edition--or at most the next after--the
letters D.B.E. followed Marta's name, it would comfort Gervase Wing-Strutt
and his wife Anne for being fooled by their daughter a quarter of a
century ago.

He had not even taken the cream off the possible entertainment provided by
this enchanting volume when the telephone rang.

'Your call to London is through. Will you go ahead, please,' the voice
said.

'Hullo,' Grant said. 'Could I speak to Miss Searle?'

'Miss Searle speaking,' said a pleasant voice, a shade on the efficient
side.

'Miss Searle, I'm truly sorry to bother you, but have you, by any chance,
a cousin called Leslie Searle?'

'I have, and if he has borrowed money from you you are wasting your time
if you think that I will pay it back.'

'Oh, no. It is nothing like that. Your cousin has disappeared while
staying with friends in the country and we hoped that you might help us to
trace him. My name is Grant. I'm a Detective-Inspector at Scotland Yard.'

'Oh,' said the voice, considering but not apparently dismayed. 'Well, I
don't see what help I can be to you. Leslie and I never had much to do
with each other. He wasn't my cup of tea, and I certainly am not his.'

'It would be some help if I could come and talk to you about him. Would
you, perhaps, be at home tomorrow afternoon if I called?'

'Well, tomorrow afternoon I was going to a concert at the Albert Hall.'

'Oh. Then I might manage it just before lunch if that is any better for
you.'

'You are very accommodating for a policeman,' she remarked.

'Criminals don't find us that way,' he said.

'I thought providing accommodation for criminals was the end and object of
Scotland Yard. It's all right, Inspector. I won't go to the concert. It is
not a very good one anyhow.'

'You'll be in if I call?'

'Yes, I'll be here.'

'That is very kind of you.'

'That over-rated photographer didn't take the family jewels with him when
he left, did he?'

'No. Oh, no. He has just disappeared.'

She gave a small snort. It was apparent that whatever Miss Searle had to
tell him about her cousin there would be no suppression of facts or false
modesty in her story.

As Grant hung up, Marta came back preceded by a small boy carrying wood
for the fire. The boy put the logs neatly in the hearth, and then eyed
Grant with respectful awe.

'Tommy has something he wants to ask you,' Marta said. 'He knows that you
are a detective.'

'What is it, Tommy?'

'Will you show me your revolver, sir?'

'I would if I had it with me. But it's in a drawer in Scotland Yard, I'm
afraid.'

Tommy looked cut to the heart. 'I thought you always carried one. The
American cops do. You _can_ shoot, can't you, sir?'

'Oh, yes,' Grant said relieving the awful fear that was clearly dawning.
'I'll tell you what, next time you come to London, you can come to
Scotland Yard and I'll show you the revolver.'

'I can come to the _Yard_? Oh, thank you. Thank you very much, sir. That
would be just bonza.'

He went, with a polite goodnight, in an aura of radiance a foot thick.

'And parents think they can cure boys of liking lethal weapons by not
giving them toy soldiers,' Marta said, as she set the omelet out on the
table. 'Come and eat.'

'I owe you for a trunk call to London.'

'I thought that you were going to relax.'

'I was but I got an idea, and it has taken me the first step forward in
this case since I took it over.'

'Good!' she said. 'Now you can feel happy and let your digestive juices do
their work.'

A small round table had been set near the fire, with candles for pleasure
and decoration, and they ate together in a friendly quiet. Mrs Thrupp came
up with the chicken, and was introduced, and was volubly grateful for
Grant's invitation to Tommy. After that peace was uninterrupted. Over
coffee the talk went to Silas Weekley and the oddness of the ménage in the
lane.

'Silas prides himself on living "working-class", whatever that may mean.
None of his children is going to begin any better off than he did. He's a
frightful bore about his elementary school origins. You would think he was
the first elementary schoolboy to go to Oxford since the place was
founded. He's the classic case of inverted snobbery.'

'But what does he do with all the money he makes?'

'God knows. Buries it under the floor of that little hut where he works,
perhaps. No one is ever allowed to go inside that hut.'

'I interviewed him in that hut this morning.'

'Alan! How clever of you! What was inside?'

'One well-known writer, doing very little work.'

'I expect he sweats blood over his writing. He has no imagination, you
know. I mean, he has no idea how another person's mind works. So his
situations, and his characters' reaction to the situations, are all
clichés. He sells because of his "earthiness", his "elemental strength",
God save us all. Let us push back the table and get nearer the fire.'

She opened a cupboard, and said in an excellent imitation of the boys who
used to sell things off trays on railway platforms: 'Drambuie,
Benedictine, Strega, Grand Marnier, Bols, Chartreuse, Slivovitz, Armagnac,
Cognac, Rakia, Kümmel, Various French Sirops of Unspeakable Sweetness, and
Mrs Thrupp's Ginger Cordial!'

'Is it your intention to seduce official secrets from the Criminal
Investigation Department?'

'No, darling; I am offering homage to your palate. You are one of the few
men I know who possesses such a thing.'

She put the Chartreuse and the liqueur glasses on a tray and arranged her
long legs in comfort on the couch.

'Now tell me,' she said.

'But I have nothing to tell,' he protested.

'I don't mean that kind of tell. I mean talk at me. Pretend I'm your
wife--which God forbid--and just make an audience of me. For instance, you
don't really think that that poor stick Walter Whitmore ever got up enough
red blood to tap the Searle boy on the head, do you?'

'No, I don't think so. Sergeant Williams calls Walter a push-ee, and I
think I agree with him.'

'Calls him a what?'

Grant explained, and Marta said: 'And how right your Sergeant Williams is!
Walter's taking-off is long overdue.'

'He may do his own taking-off if this affair isn't cleared up.'

'Yes, I suppose he is having a bad time, poor silly creature. The gossip
in a small country place is deadly. Have you had any answer to your police
appeal, by the way? I heard it at one o'clock.'

'No, not up to six-forty-five, when I last talked to the Yard. I gave them
this number for the next two hours. I hope you don't mind.'

'Why do you think he might have been given a lift?'

'Because if he isn't in the river he must have walked away from it.'

'Of his own accord? But that would be a very odd thing to do.'

'He may be suffering from amnesia. There are five possibilities
altogether.'

'Five!'

'On Wednesday night Searle walked away down that lane, healthy and sober;
and he has not been near since. The possibilities are: one, that he fell
into the water accidentally and was drowned; two, that he was murdered and
thrown in the river; three, that he walked away for reasons of his own;
four, that he wandered away because he forgot who he was and where he was
going; five, that he was kidnapped.'

'Kidnapped!'

'We don't know anything about his American life; we have to make
allowances for that. He may even have come to this country to get away
from the States for a little. I shan't know about that until we have a
report about him from the Coast--if then! Tell me, what did _you_ think of
Searle?'

'In what way?'

'Well, would you say he was a practical joker, for instance?'

'Anything but.'

'Yes. Liz Garrowby was against that too. She said he wouldn't think a
practical joke funny. How impressed do you think he was with Liz Garrowby?
You were there to dinner.'

'Impressed enough to make Walter sick with jealousy.'

'Really?'

'They were nice together, Leslie and Liz. They were a natural pair,
somehow. Something that Walter and Liz will never be. I don't think Walter
knows anything about Liz; and I had an idea that Leslie Searle knew quite
a lot.'

'Did you like him when you met him? You took him back with you that night,
after dinner.'

'Yes. Yes to both. I liked him with reservations.'

'What kind of reservations?'

'It's difficult to describe. I could hardly take my eyes off him, and yet
he never struck me as being--real. That sounds mad, doesn't it.'

'You mean there was something phony about him?'

'Not in the accepted sense. He was obviously what he said he was. In any
case, our Miss Easton-Dixon bears witness to that, as you probably know.'

'Yes, I was talking to Miss Easton-Dixon this afternoon about him. Her
photograph of him may prove very useful. What did you and Searle talk
about, the night you brought him back with you?'

'Oh, cabbages and kings. People he had photographed. People we had both
met. People he wanted to meet. We spent a long time in mutual adoring of
Danny Minsky, and another long time in furious disagreement about
Marguerite Merriam. Like everyone else he thought Marguerite the world's
genius, and wouldn't hear a word against her. I got so annoyed with him
that I told him a few home-truths about Marguerite. I was ashamed of
myself afterwards. It's a mean thing to break children's toys.'

'I expect it did him good. He was too old to have the facts of life kept
from him.'

'I hear you've been collecting alibis today.'

'How did you hear?'

'The way I hear everything. From Mrs Thrupp. Who are the unlucky people
who have none?'

'Practically the whole village, including Miss Easton-Dixon.'

'Our Dixie is "out". Who else?'

'Miss Lavinia Fitch.'

'_Dear_ Lavinia!' Marta said, laughing outright at the thought of Miss
Fitch on murder bent.

'Liz Garrowby?'

'Poor Liz must be having a thin time over this. I think she was half in
love with the boy.'

'Mrs Garrowby?'

Marta paused to consider this. 'Do you know, I wouldn't put it past the
woman. She would do it and not turn a hair because she would persuade
herself that it was the right thing to do. She'd even go to church
afterwards and ask God's blessing on it.'

'Toby Tullis?'

'N-o, I hardly think so. Toby would find some other way of getting even.
Something much less risky for Toby and just as satisfying. Toby is fertile
in inventing small revenges. I don't think he would need to murder
anyone.'

'Silas Weekley?'

'I wonder. I wonder. Yes, I think Silas would commit murder. Especially if
the book he happened to be writing at the moment was not going well. The
books are Silas's outlet for his hatred, you see. If that was dammed up he
might kill someone. Someone who seemed to him rich and well-favoured and
undeservedly fortunate.'

'You think Weekley mad?'

'Oh, yes. Not certifiable perhaps, but definitely unbalanced. Is there any
truth, by the way, in the rumour of a quarrel between Walter and the
Searle boy?'

'Whitmore denies that it was a quarrel. He says it was "just a spat".'

'So there _was_ bad feeling between them?'

'I don't know if we have even evidence for that. A temporary annoyance is
hardly the same thing as bad feeling. Men can disagree quite fundamentally
in a pub of an evening without any fundamental bad feeling on either
side.'

'Oh, you are maddening. Of course there was bad feeling, and of course we
know why. It was about Liz.'

'Having no connections in the Fourth Dimension, I couldn't say,' Grant
said, mocking her jumped-to conclusion. 'Whitmore said Searle was
"provocative". What, can you tell me from your point of vantage, would he
be provocative about?'

'He probably told Walter how little he appreciated Liz, and that if Walter
didn't mend his ways he would take Liz from him, and if Walter thought he
wasn't up to it he was wrong and he would get Liz to pack and walk away
with him by a week next Tuesday, and there was five pounds that said he
was right. And Walter said, very huffy and stiff, that in this country we
did not bet on the possible bestowal of women's favours, at least
gentlemen didn't, and to put five pounds on Liz was simply insulting
(Walter has no sense of the ridiculous at all, you know; that is how he
perpetrates those broadcasts and endears himself to old ladies who avoid
the country like the plague and wouldn't know a wren if they saw one); and
Leslie probably said that if he thought a fiver too little he was willing
to make it ten, since if Liz had been engaged to a prig like Walter for
nearly twelve months she was just ripe for a change and the ten would be
just found money, and so then Walter got up and went out and banged the
door behind him.'

'How did you know about the banged door?'

'My dear soul, everyone in Orfordshire knows about the banged door by this
time. That is why Walter is suspect Number One. Is that all your list of
Lacking Alibis, by the way?'

'No, there is Serge Ratoff.'

'Oh. What was Serge doing?'

'Dancing on the greensward by the river in the dark.'

'That has the ring of truth, anyhow.'

'Why? Have you seen him?'

'No. But it is just the kind of thing Serge would do. He is still full of
the idea of a come-back, you know. Before the scene about Leslie Searle,
he was planning the come-back as a way of pleasing Toby; now he is
planning it just to "show" Toby.'

'Where do you get all this inside knowledge?'

'I haven't played parts for twenty-five years on just the producer's
directions,' she said.

He looked across at her, elegant and handsome in the firelight, and
thought of all the different parts that he had seen her play: courtesans
and frustrated hags, careerists and domestic doormats. It was true that
actors had a perception, an understanding of human motive, that normal
people lacked. It had nothing to do with intelligence, and very little to
do with education. In general knowledge Marta was as deficient as a not
very bright child of eleven; her attention automatically slid off anything
that was alien to her own immediate interests and the result was an almost
infantine ignorance. He had seen the same thing in hospital nurses, and
sometimes in overworked G.P.s. But put a script in her hands, and from a
secret and native store of knowledge she drew the wherewithal to build her
characterisation of the author's creation.

'Supposing that this really is a case of homicide,' he said. 'Judging
entirely on looks and recent form, so to speak, who would you put your
money on?'

She considered this for a little, turning her empty liqueur glass in the
firelight.

'Emma Garrowby, I think,' she said at last. 'Could Emma have done it?
Physically speaking, I mean.'

'Yes. She left Miss Easton-Dixon where their ways parted on Wednesday
night, and after that time was her own. No one knows what time she came
back to Trimmings. The others had gone to bed; or rather, to their rooms.
It is Mrs Garrowby who locks up the front of the house, anyhow.'

'Yes. Ample time. It isn't so very far from Trimmings to that bend in the
river. I do wonder what Emma's shoes were like on Thursday morning. Or did
she clean them herself.'

'Believe me, if there was any unwonted mud on the shoes she cleaned them
herself. Mrs Garrowby looks to me a very methodical person. Why do you
pick on Emma Garrowby?'

'Well, I take it you commit murder because you are one-idead. Or have
become one-idead. As long as you have a variety of interests you can't
care about any one of them to the point of murder. It is when you have all
your eggs in the same basket, or only one egg left in the basket, that you
lose your sense of proportion. Do I make myself clear, Inspector Grant?'

'Perfectly.'

'Good. Have some more Chartreuse. Well, Emma seems to me the most
concentrated of the possible suspects. No one could call Serge
concentrated, except on the thing of the moment. Serge spends his life
having flaring rows, and has never shown signs of killing anyone. The
farthest he ever gets is to fling whatever happens to come handiest.'

'Lacking a whip,' Grant said; and told her of his interview with Serge.
'And Weekley?'

'On form, to use your own excellent metaphor, Silas is only a pound or two
behind Emma; but quite definitely behind. Silas has his own success, his
family, the books he is going to write in the future (even if they are
just the same old ones over again in different words); Silas's interest
isn't _channelled_ the way Emma's is. Short of having a brain-storm, some
unreasoning hatred, Silas would have no urge to get rid of Leslie. Nor
would Toby. Toby's life simply corruscates with variety. Toby would never
think of killing anyone. As I told you, he has too many other ways of
making the score even. But Emma. Emma has nothing but Liz.'

She thought it over for a moment, and Grant let the silence lie
uninterrupted.

'You should have seen Emma when Walter and Liz announced their
engagement,' she said at last. 'She--she positively _glittered_. She was a
walking Christmas tree. It was what she had always wanted, and against all
probability it had happened. Walter, who met all the clever and beautiful
women of this generation, had fallen in love with Liz and they were going
to be married. Walter would get Trimmings one day, and Lavinia's fortune,
so even if his vogue went they would have as much of this world's goods as
anyone could possibly want or use. It was a fairy-tale come true. She was
floating just an inch or two off the ground. Then Leslie Searle came.'
Marta, the actress, let the silence come back. And being also an artist
she left it unbroken.

The logs slipped and spluttered, sending up fresh jets of flame, and Grant
lay still in his chair and thought about Emma Garrowby.

And about the two things that Marta did not know.

It was odd that Marta's chosen suspect should occupy the same area as the
two unaccountables in this case: the glove in Searle's drawer, and the
space in the photographic box.

Emma. Emma Garrowby. The woman who had brought up a younger sister and
when that sister moved out from under her wing married a widower with a
young child. She channelled her interest as naturally as Toby Tullis
spread his wide, didn't she? She had been radiant--'a walking Christmas
tree'--over the engagement; and in the period since that engagement (it
was five months, he happened to know, not twelve) her initial delight must
have spread and amplified to something much more formidable; an
acceptance; a sense of achievement, of security. The engagement had stood
whatever small shocks it had encountered in these five months, and Emma
must have got used to thinking of it as safe and immutable.

And then, as Marta said, Leslie Searle.

Searle with his charm and his fly-by-night life. Searle with his air of
being not quite of this world. No one could view this modern shower of
gold with more instant distrust than Emma Garrowby.

'What would fit into a space 10½ inches, by 3½ by 4?' he asked.

'A hair brush,' said Marta.

There was a game played by psychologists, Grant remembered, where the
victim said the first thing that occurred to him on hearing a given word.
It must work out pretty well, all things considered. He had put this same
proposition to Bill Maddox, and Maddox, as unhesitatingly as Marta had
said 'A hairbrush', had said 'A spanner'. He remembered that Williams had
proffered a bar of soap.

'Anything else?'

'A set of dominoes. A box of envelopes? No, a shade on the small side.
Packs of cards? Enough cards to set up on a desert island! Table cutlery.
The family spoons. Someone been secreting the family silver?'

'No. It is just something I wondered about.'

'If it's the Trimmings silver, just let it go, my dear. It wouldn't fetch
thirty shillings the lot at an auction sale.' Her eye went in unconscious
satisfaction to the Georgian simplicity of her own implements on the table
behind her. 'Tell me, Alan, it wouldn't be indiscreet or unprofessional,
would it, to tell me who is your own favourite for the part?'

'The part?'

'The killer.'

'It would be both unprofessional and indiscreet. But I don't think there
is any wild indiscretion in telling you that I don't think there is one.'

'What! You really think Leslie Searle is still alive? Why?'

Why indeed, he asked himself. What was there in the set-up that gave him
this feeling of being at a performance? Of being pushed into the stalls so
that an orchestra pit intervened between him and reality. The Assistant
Commissioner had once said to him in an unwonted moment of expansiveness
that he had the most priceless of all attributes for his job: flair. 'But
don't let it ride you, Grant,' he had said. 'Keep your eye on the
evidence.' Was this a sample of letting his flair ride him? The chances
were ninety-nine to one that Searle had fallen into the river. All the
evidence pointed that way. If it hadn't been for the complication of the
quarrel with Whitmore, he, Grant, would not have entered into the affair
at all; it would have been a simple case of 'missing believed drowned'.

And yet. And yet. Now you see it, now you don't. That old conjurer's
phrase. It haunted him.

Half consciously he said it aloud.

Marta stared and said: 'A conjuring trick? By whom? For what?'

'I don't know. I just have a strong feeling that I'm being taken for a
ride!'

'You think that Leslie just walked away somehow?'

'Or someone planned it to look like that. Or something. I have a strong
feeling of watching something being sawn in half.'

'You're overworking,' Marta said. 'Where do you think Leslie could have
disappeared to? Unless he just came back to the village and lay doggo
somewhere.'

Grant came wide awake and regarded her with admiration. 'Oddly enough,' he
said, amused, 'I had never thought of that. Do you think Toby is hiding
him to make things difficult for Walter?'

'No, I know it doesn't make sense. But neither does your idea about his
walking away. Where would he walk to in the middle of the night in nothing
but flannels and a raincoat?'

'I shall know more about that when I have seen his cousin tomorrow.'

'He has a cousin? How surprising. It's like finding Mercury with an
in-law. Who is he?'

'It's a woman. A painter, I understand. A delightful creature who has
given up an Albert Hall Sunday afternoon concert to be at home for me. I
used your telephone to make an assignation with her.'

'And you expect her to know why Leslie walked away in the middle of the
night in nothing but flannels and a raincoat?'

'I expect her to be able to suggest where Leslie might have been headed
for.'

'To borrow the callboy's immortal phrase: I hope it keeps fine for you,'
Marta said.




_14_


GRANT drove back to Wickham through the spring night, cheered in body
and soul.

And Emma Garrowby sat beside him all the way.

Flair might whisper soft seductions to him, but Emma was there in the
middle of the picture, where Marta had set her, and she was much too solid
to be conjured away. Emma made sense. Emma was example and precedent. The
classic samples of ruthlessness were domestic. The Lizzie Bordons. Emma,
if it came to that, was primordial. A female creature protecting its
young. It required immense ingenuity to find a reason why Leslie Searle
should have chosen to disappear. It needed no ingenuity at all to suggest
why Emma Garrowby should have killed him.

In fact, it was a sort of perversity to keep harking back to the idea that
Searle might have ducked. He could just hear the A.C. if he ever came
before him with a theory like that. Evidence, Grant, suggestive evidence.
Common sense, Grant, common sense. Don't let your flair ride you, Grant,
don't let your flair ride you. Disappear of his own accord? This happy
young man who could pay his bills at the Westmorland, buy expensive
clothes to wear and expensive sweets to give away, travel the world at
other people's expense? This young man of such surprising good-looks that
every head he encountered was turned either literally or metaphorically?
This charming young man who liked plain little Liz so much that he kept a
glove of hers? This professionally successful young man who was engaged in
a deal that would bring him both money and kudos?

Common sense, Grant. Evidence, Grant. Don't let your flair ride you.

Consider Emma Garrowby, Grant. She had the opportunity. She had the
motive. And, on form, she probably had the will. She knew where the camp
was that night.

But she didn't know that they had come in to Salcott for a drink.

He wasn't drowned in Salcott.

She couldn't have known that she would find him alone. It was sheer chance
that they separated that night.

_Someone_ found him alone. Why not Emma?

How could it happen?

Perhaps she arranged it.

Emma! How?

Has it struck you that Searle engineered that exit of Walter's?

No. How?

It was Searle who was provocative. He provoked Walter to the point where
he couldn't stand it a minute longer, and had either to go or stay and
have a row. Searle got rid of Walter that evening.

Why should he?

Because he had an appointment.

An appointment! With whom?

Liz Garrowby.

That is absurd. There is no evidence whatever that the Garrowby girl had
any serious interest in----

Oh, it was not Liz who sent Searle the message to meet her.

No? Who then?

Emma.

You mean that Searle went to meet someone he thought was Liz?

Yes. He behaved like a lover, if you think about it.

How?

Do you remember how he took farewell of his acquaintances that night? The
banter about going to their beds on so fine a spring night? The gaiety?
The on-top-of-the-worldness?

He had just had several beers.

So had his companions. Some of them a great deal more than several. But
were they singing metaphorical songs to the spring night? They were not.
They were taking the shortest cut home to bed, even the youngest of them.

Well, it's a theory.

It is more than that. It is a theory in accordance with the evidence.

Evidence, Grant, evidence.

Don't let your flair ride you, Grant.

All the way along the dark lanes between Salcott St Mary and Wickham, Emma
Garrowby sat beside him. And when he went to bed he took her with him.

Because he was tired, and had dined well, and had at last seen a path of
some kind open in front of him, he slept well. And when his eyes opened in
daylight on THE HOUR COMETH in purple wool cross-stitch, he regarded the
text as a promise rather than a warning. He looked forward to going to
town, if only as a mental bath after his plunge into Salcott St Mary. He
could then come back and see it in proportion. You couldn't get the
flavour of anything properly unless you cleaned your palate between times.
He had wondered often how married men managed to combine their domestic
lives with the absorbing demands of police work. It occurred to him now
for the first time that married life must be the perfect palate-cleanser.
There could be nothing like a spell of helping young Bobby with his
algebra to bring you back with a fresh mind to the problem of the current
crime.

At least he would be able to get some clean shirts, he thought. He put his
things into his bag, and turned to go down to breakfast. It was Sunday and
still early, but they would manage to give him something. As he opened the
door of his room the telephone rang.

The White Hart's only concession to progress was to install bedside
telephones. He crossed the room to the instrument and picked it up.

'Inspector Grant?' said the voice of the landlord. 'Just a minute please;
you're wanted on the phone.' There was a moment's silence, and then he
said: 'Go ahead, please; you're through.'

'Hullo.'

'Alan?' said Marta's voice. 'Is that you, Alan?'

'Yes, it's me. You're awake early aren't you?'

'Listen, Alan. Something has happened. You must come out straight away.'

'Out? To Salcott, you mean?'

'To the Mill House. Something has happened. It's very important or I
wouldn't have called you so early.'

'But what has happened? Can't you----'

'You're on a hotel telephone, aren't you.'

'Yes.'

'I can't very well tell you, Alan. Something has turned up. Something that
alters everything. Or rather, everything you--you believed in, so to
speak.'

'Yes. All right. I'll come at once.'

'Have you had breakfast?'

'Not yet.'

'I'll have some ready for you.'

What a woman, he thought as he put back the receiver. He had always
thought that the first requisite in a wife was intelligence, and now he
was sure of it. There was no room in his life for Marta, and none in her
life for him; but it was a pity, all the same. A woman who could announce
a surprising development in a homicide case without babbling on the
telephone was a prize, but one who could in the same breath ask if he had
had breakfast and arrange to supply him with the one he had not had was
above rubies.

He went to collect his car, full of speculation. What could Marta possibly
have unearthed? Something that Searle had left the night he was there?
Some piece of gossip that the milkman had brought?

One thing was certain: it was not a body. If it had been a body Marta,
being Marta, would have conveyed as much, so that he could bring out with
him all the necessary paraphernalia and personnel to deal with such a
discovery.

It was a day of high wind and rainbows. The halcyon time of windless
sunlight that comes each year to the English spring when the first dust
lies on the roads was over. Spring was all of a sudden wild and robust.
Glittering showers slanted across the landscape. Great clouds soared up
over the horizon and swept in shrieking squalls across the sky. The trees
cowered, and plumed themselves, and cowered again.

The countryside was deserted. Not because of the weather but because it
was Sunday. Some of the cottages, he observed, still had their blinds
drawn. People who got up at the crack of dawn during the week, and had no
animals to get them up on Sunday, must be glad to sleep late. He had
grumbled often when his police duties had broken into his private life (a
luxury grumble, since he could have retired years ago when his aunt left
him her money), but to spend one's life in bondage to the predilections of
animals must be a sad waste of a free man's time.

As he brought the car up to the landward side of the Mill House, where the
door was, Marta came out to greet him. Marta never 'dressed the part' in
the country as so many of her colleagues did. She looked on the country
rather as the country people themselves did, as a place to be lived in;
not something that one put on specially bright and casual clothes for. If
her hands were cold she wore gloves. She did not feel that she must look
like a gypsy just because she happened to live in the Mill House at
Salcott St Mary. She was therefore looking as chic and sophisticated this
morning as though she were receiving him on the steps of Stanworth. But he
thought she had a shocked look. Indeed she looked as though she had quite
lately been very sick.

'Alan! You can't imagine how glad I was to hear your voice on the
telephone. I was afraid that you might have gone to town, early as it
was.'

'What is this that has turned up so unexpectedly?' he asked making for the
door. But she led him round and down to the kitchen door at the side of
the house.

'It was your follower, Tommy Thrupp, that found it. Tommy is mad on
fishing. And he quite often goes out before breakfast to fish, because
apparently that is a good time.' The 'apparently' was typically Marta, he
thought. Marta had lived by the river for years and still had to take
someone else's word about the proper time for fishing. 'On Sundays he
usually takes something in his pocket and doesn't come back--something to
eat, I mean--but this morning he came back inside an hour because he
had--because he had caught something very odd.'

She opened the bright green door and led him into the kitchen. In the
kitchen were Tommy Thrupp and his mother. Mrs Thrupp was huddled over the
stove as if she also was feeling not too well, but Tommy came to meet them
in sparkling form. There was nothing sickly about Tommy. Tommy was
transfigured. He was translated. He was six feet high and crowned with
lightning.

'Look, sir! Look what I fished up!' he said, before Marta could say
anything, and drew Grant to the kitchen table. On the table, carefully
placed on several thicknesses of newspaper so as to preserve the scrubbed
perfection of the wood, was a man's shoe.

'I'll never be able to bake on that table again,' moaned Mrs Thrupp, not
looking round.

Grant glanced at the shoe and remembered the police description of the
missing man's clothes.

'It's Searle's, I take it,' he said.

'Yes,' Marta said.

It was a brown shoe, and instead of being laced it was tied with a buckle
and strap across the instep. It was water-logged and very muddy.

'Where did you fish it up, Tommy?'

'Bout a hundred yards down-stream from the big bend.'

'I suppose you didn't think of marking the place?'

'A course I marked it!' Tommy said, hurt.

'Good for you. Presently you'll have to show me the place. Meanwhile wait
here, will you. Don't go out and talk about this.'

'No, sir, I won't. No one's in on this but me and the police.'

A little brightened by this version of the situation, Grant went upstairs
to the telephone in the living-room and called Inspector Rodgers. After
some delay, since the station had to connect him to the Rodgers's home, he
was put through to him, and broke the news that the river would have to be
dragged again and why.

'Oh, lord!' groaned Rodgers. 'Did the Thrupp boy say where he fished it
up?'

'About a hundred yards down from the big bend, if that conveys anything to
you.'

'Yes. That's about two hundred yards down-stream from where they had their
bivouac. We did that stretch with a small-tooth comb. You don't think that
perhaps----? Does the shoe look as if it had been in the water since
Wednesday night?'

'It does indeed.'

'Oh, well. I'll make arrangements. It would happen on a Sunday, wouldn't
it?'

'Do it as quietly as you can, will you? We don't want more spectators than
we can help.'

As he hung up Marta came in with a tray and began to put his breakfast on
the table.

'Mrs Thrupp is still what she calls "heaving", so I judged it better to do
your breakfast myself. How do you like your eggs? Sunny side up?'

'If you really want to know, I like them broken when they are half cooked
and rummelled up with a fork.'

'_Panaché!_' Marta said, delighted. 'That is one I have not met before. We
are growing intimate, aren't we! I am probably the only woman alive except
your housekeeper who knows that you like your breakfast eggs streaky.
Or--am I?'

'Well, there's a woman in a village near Amiens that I once confessed it
to. But I doubt if she would remember.'

'She is probably making a fortune out of the idea. Eggs _à l'Anglaise_
probably has a totally new meaning in France nowadays. Brown bread or
white?'

'Brown, please. I'm going to have to owe you for another trunk call.' He
picked up the telephone again and called Williams's home address in
London. While he waited for the connection he called Trimmings and asked
to speak to the housekeeper. When Mrs Brett a little breathless, arrived
on the wire he asked who was in the habit of cleaning the shoes at
Trimmings and was told that it was the kitchen girl, Polly.

'Could you find out from Polly whether Mr Searle was in the habit of
taking off his brown buckled shoes without unbuckling them, or if he
always unbuckled them first?'

Yes, Mrs Brett would do that, but wouldn't the Inspector like to speak to
Polly himself?

'No, thank you. I'll confirm anything she says, later on, of course. But I
think she is less likely to get flustered if you ask her a quite ordinary
question than if she was brought to the telephone to be questioned by a
stranger. I don't want her to be agitated into thinking about the question
at all. I want her first natural reaction to the question. Were the shoes
buckled or unbuckled when she cleaned them?'

Mrs Brett understood, and would the Inspector hang on?

'No. I'm expecting an important call. But I shall call you back in a very
short time.'

Then London came on the wire, and Williams's not-too-pleased voice could
be heard telling the Exchange: 'All right, all right, I've been ready any
time this last five minutes.'

'That you, Williams? This is Grant. Listen. I was coming up to town today
to interview Leslie Searle's cousin. Yes, I found out where she lived. Her
name is Searle. Miss Searle. And she lives at 9 Holly Pavement, in
Hampstead. It's a sort of coagulation of artists. I talked to her last
night on the telephone and I arranged to see her this afternoon about
three. Now I can't. A boy has just fished a shoe belonging to Leslie
Searle out of the river. Yes, all right, crow! So we have to start
dragging all over again, and I have to be here. Are you free to go and see
Miss Searle for me, or shall I get someone else from the Yard?'

'No, I'll go, sir. What do you want me to ask her?'

'Get everything she knows about Leslie Searle. When she saw him last. What
friends he had in England. Everything she can give you about him.'

'Very good. What time shall I call you back?'

'Well, you ought to be there at a quarter to three, and leaving an hour
clear--four o'clock, perhaps.'

'At the Wickham station?'

'Well, no, perhaps not. In view of the slowness of dragging, perhaps you
had better call me at the Mill House at Salcott. It is Salcott 5.'

It was only when he had hung up that he realised that he had not asked
Williams how his mission to Benny Skoll had turned out.

Marta came in with his breakfast, and as she poured his coffee he talked
to Trimmings again.

Mrs Brett had talked to Polly, and Polly had no doubt about the matter at
all. The straps on Mr Searle's brown shoes had always been undone when he
put them out for cleaning. She knew because she used to rebuckle them so
as to keep the straps from banging about when she cleaned them. She
buckled them to keep the straps still and unbuckled them when she had
finished.

So that was that.

He began to eat his breakfast, and Marta poured out a cup of coffee for
herself and sat sipping it. She looked cold and pale, but he could not
resist the question:

'Did you notice anything odd about the shoe?'

'Yes. It hadn't been unfastened.'

A marvellous woman. He supposed that she must have vices to counterbalance
so many excellences but he couldn't imagine what they could be.




_15_


IT was very cold by the river. The willows shivered, and the water was
pewter colour, its surface alternately wrinkled by the wind and pitted by
the passing showers. As the slow hours went by Rodgers's normally anxious
face slipped into a settled melancholy, and the tip of his nose peering
out from the turned-up collar of his waterproof was pink and sad. So far
no intruders had come to share their vigil. The Mill House had been sworn
to secrecy and had not found the secrecy any strain; Mrs Thrupp had
retired to bed, still 'heaving'; and Tommy, as police ally, was part of
the dragging party. The wide sweep of the river across the alluvial land
was far from road or path and devoid of dwellings, so there were no
passers-by to stop and stare, to pause for a little and then go on to
spread the news.

They were in a world by themselves down there by the river. A timeless
world, and comfortless.

Grant and Rodgers had exhausted professional post-mortems long ago, and
had got no further. Now they were just two men alone in a meadow on a
chilly spring day. They sat together on the stump of a fallen willow,
Grant watching the slow sweep of the questing drag, Rodgers looking out
across the wide flats of the valley floor.

'This is all flooded in winter,' he said. 'Looks quite lovely, too, if you
could forget the damage it's doing.'

    '"Swift beauty come to pass
    Has drowned the blades that strove",'

Grant said.

'What is that?'

'What an army friend of mine wrote about floods.

    "Where once did wake and move
    The slight and ardent grass.
    Swift beauty come to pass
    Has drowned the blades that strove."'

'Nice,' Rodgers said.

'Sadly old-fashioned,' Grant said. 'It _sounds_ like poetry. A fatal
defect, I understand.'

'Is it long?'

'Just two verses and the moral.'

'What is the moral?'

    '"O Final Beauty, found
    In many a drownèd place,
    We love not less thy face
    For lesser beauties drowned."'

Rodgers thought it over. 'That's good, that is,' he said. 'Your army
friend knew what he was talking about. I was never one for reading poems
in books--I mean collections, but magazines sometimes put verses in to
fill up the space when a story doesn't come to the bottom of the page. You
know?'

'I know.'

'I read a lot of these, and every now and then one of them rings a bell. I
remember one of them to this day. It wasn't poetry properly speaking, I
mean it didn't rhyme, but it got me where I lived. It said:

    "My lot is cast in inland places,
    Far from sounding beach
    And crying gull,
    And I
    Who knew the sea's voice from my babyhood
    Must listen to a river purling
    Through green fields,
    And small birds gossiping
    Among the leaves."

'Now, you see, I was bred by the sea, over at Mere Harbour, and I've never
quite got used to being away from it. You feel hedged in, suffocated. But
I never found the words for it till I read that. I know exactly how that
bloke felt. "Small birds gossiping!"'

The scorn and exasperation in his voice amused Grant, but something amused
him much more and he began to laugh.

'What's funny?' Rodgers asked, a shade defensively.

'I was just thinking how shocked the writers of slick detective stories
would be if they could witness two police inspectors sitting on a willow
tree swapping poems.'

'Oh, them!' Rodgers said, in the tone that in lower circles is followed by
a spit. 'Ever read any of these things?'

'Oh, yes. Now and then.'

'My sergeant makes a hobby of it. Collects the howlers. His record so far
is ninety-two to a book. In a thing called _Gods to the Rescue_ by some
woman or other.' He stopped to watch something and added: 'There's a woman
coming now. Pushing a bike.'

Grant took a look and said: 'That's not a woman. It's a goddess to the
rescue.'

It was the unconquerable Marta, with vacuum flasks of hot coffee and
sandwiches for all.

'The bicycle was the only way I could think of for carrying them,' she
explained, 'but it is difficult because most of the gates don't open.'

'How did you get through them, then?'

'I unloaded the bicycle, lifted the thing over, and loaded it again the
other side.'

'The spirit that made the Empire.'

'That's as may be, but Tommy must come with me on the way back, and help
me.'

'Sure I will, Miss Hallard,' Tommy said, his mouth full of sandwich.

The men came up from the river and were presented to Marta. It amused
Grant to notice the _cameraderie_ of those who quite patently had never
heard of her, and the awed good manners of those who had.

'I think the news has leaked out,' Marta said. 'Toby rang me up and asked
if it was true that the river was being dragged again.'

'You didn't tell him why?'

'No. Oh, no,' she said, her face going a little bleak again at the memory
of the shoe.

By two o'clock in the afternoon they had a large attendance. And by three
o'clock the place was like a fair, with the local constable making valiant
efforts to preserve some kind of decency.

At half-past three, when they had dragged the river almost as far as
Salcott itself and had still turned up nothing. Grant went back to the
Mill House and found Walter Whitmore there.

'It was kind of you to send us the message, Inspector,' he said. 'I should
have come to the river, but somehow I couldn't.'

'There was not the slightest need for you to come.'

'Marta said that you were coming back here at teatime, so I waited here.
Any--results?'

'Not so far.'

'Why did you want to know about the shoe, this morning?'

'Because it was fastened when found. I wanted to know if Searle normally
pulled off those shoes without unbuckling them. Apparently he always
unbuckled them.'

'Then why--how could the shoe be fastened now?'

'Either it was sucked off by the current, or he kicked it off to make
swimming easier.'

'I see,' Walter said, drearily.

He refused tea, and went away looking more disorientated than ever.

'I do wish I could be as sorry for him as I should be,' Marta said. 'China
or Indian?'

Grant had had three large cups of scalding tea ('_So_ bad for your
inside!' Marta said) and was beginning to feel human again, when Williams
rang to report.

The report, in spite of Williams's best endeavours, was meagre. Miss
Searle didn't like her cousin and made no bones about it. She, too, was an
American, but they had been born at opposite sides of the United States
and had never met until they were grown up. They had fought at sight,
apparently. He sometimes rang her up when he came to England, but not this
time. She had not known that he was in England.

Williams had asked her if she was out a lot, and if she thought it
possible that Searle could have called, or telephoned, and not found her.
She said that she had been in the Highlands, painting, and that Searle
might have called her many times without her knowledge. When she was away
the studio was empty and there was no one to take telephone messages.

'Did you see the paintings?' Grant asked. 'The ones of Scotland.'

'Oh, yes. The place was full of them.'

'What were they like?'

'Very like Scotland.'

'Oh, orthodox.'

'I wouldn't know. The west of Sutherland and Skye, mostly.'

'And about his friends in this country?'

'She said she was surprised to hear that he had any friends anywhere.'

'She didn't suggest to you that Searle was a wrong 'un?'

'No, sir. Nothing like that.'

'And she couldn't suggest any reason why he should suddenly disappear, or
where he could disappear to?'

'No, she couldn't. He has no people, she did tell me that. Parents dead,
apparently; and he was an only child. But about his friends she seemed to
know nothing. What he said about having only a cousin in England was true,
anyhow.'

'Well, thank you very much, Williams. I quite forgot to ask you this
morning if you found Benny?'

'Benny? Oh, yes. Quite easily.'

'And did he cry?'

Grant heard Williams laugh.

'No. He pulled a new one this time. He pretended to faint.'

'What did that get him?'

'It got him three free brandies and the sympathy of the multitude. We were
in a pub, I need hardly say. After the second brandy he began to come to
and moan about the way he was being persecuted, so they gave him a third.
I was very unpopular.'

Grant considered this a fine sample of understatement.

'Luckily it was a West End pub,' Williams said. This, being translated,
meant that there was no actual interference with his performance of his
duty.

'Did he agree to go with you for questioning?'

'He said he would go if I let him telephone first. I said he knew quite
well that he was free to telephone anyone at any hour of the day or
night--that was a Post Office arrangement--but if his call was innocent I
supposed he didn't mind my being the fly on the telephone-booth wall.'

'And did he agree?'

'He practically dragged me into the box. And who do you think that little
bastard was telephoning to?'

'His M.P.?'

'No. I think M.P.s are a bit shy of him nowadays. He overstayed his
welcome last time. No, he rang up some bloke he knows who writes for the
_Watchman_ and told him the tale. Said he was no sooner "out" than some
policeman or other was on his tail wanting him to go to Scotland Yard for
questioning, and how was a man to go straight if he was having an innocent
drink with his friends who didn't know anything about him, and an obvious
plain-clothes tec came up and wanted to speak to him, and so on and go on.
Then he came with me, quite pleased with himself.'

'Was he any help to the Yard?'

'No, but his girl was.'

'Did she blab?'

'No, she was wearing Poppy's earrings. Poppy Plumtre's.'

'No!'

'If we didn't happen to be taking Benny out of circulation for a little, I
think his girl would put him out of it for good. She's raving mad. He
hasn't had her very long, and it seems she was thinking of leaving him, so
Benny "bought" her a pair of diamond earrings. The amount of intelligence
Benny has wouldn't inconvenience a ladybird.'

'Did you get the rest of Poppy's stuff?'

'Yes. Benny coughed up. He hadn't had time to get to a fence with them.'

'Good work. What about the _Watchman_?'

'Well, I did want to let that _Watchman_ bit of silliness stew in his own
juice. But the Super wouldn't let me. Said it was no good having trouble
that we could avoid even if we had the pleasure of seeing the _Watchman_
making a fool of itself. So I had to ring him up and tell him.'

'At least you must have got something back out of that.'

'Oh, yes. Yes. I don't deny I got some kick out of that. I said: "Mr
Ritter, I'm Detective-Sergeant Williams. I was present when Benny Skoll
rang you up a few hours ago." "You were _present_?" he said. "But he was
lodging a complaint against you!" "Oh, yes," I said. "It's a free country
you know." "I don't call it so free for some," he said. "You were dragging
him away to be questioned at Scotland Yard." I said I invited him to
accompany me, and he didn't have to if he didn't want to.

'Then he gave me the old spiel about hounding criminals, and Benny Skoll
having paid his debt to Society, and that we had no right to hound him now
that he was a free man again, and so forth. "You have shamed him before
his friends," says Mr Ritter, "and pushed him back to hopelessness. How
much the better is Scotland Yard for having badgered poor little Benny
Skoll this afternoon?"

'"Two thousand pounds worth," I said.

'"What?" he said. "What are you talking about?"

'"That is the amount of jewellery he stole from Poppy Plumtre's flat on
Friday night."

'"How do you know it was Benny?" he asked.

'I said Benny had handed over the loot in person, with the exception of
two large single diamond earrings which were gracing the ears of his
current lady friend. Then I said: "_Good_night, sir", very sweet and low,
the way they do in the Children's Hour, and hung up. You know, I think he
had already written that letter about poor innocent Benny. He was so
dashed. Writers must feel very flat when they've written something that no
one can use.'

'Wait till Mr Ritter's flat is burgled,' Grant said. 'He'll come to us
screaming for the criminal's blood.'

'Yes, sir. Funny, isn't it? They're always the worst when it happens to
themselves. Any word from San Francisco?'

'Not yet, but it may come any minute. It doesn't seem so important now.'

'No. When I think of the whole notebook I filled interviewing bus
conductors in Wickham! No good for anything but the wastepaper basket.'

'_Never_ throw notes away, Williams.'

'Keep them for seven years and find a use for them?'

'Keep them for your autobiography, if you like, but keep them. I would
like to have you back here, but at the moment the work doesn't warrant it.
It is just a matter of standing about in the cold.'

'Well, I hope something turns up before sunset, sir.'

'I hope it does. Literally.'

Grant hung up and went back to the river-bank. The crowd had thinned a
little as people began to go home to their Sunday high-tea, but the solid
core who would happily starve in order to see a man's dead body dragged
from the river were still there. Grant looked at their blue moronic faces
and speculated for the thousandth time since he became a policeman about
what made them tick. One thing was certain; if we revived public
executions tomorrow, the 'gate' would be of cup-tie proportions.

Rodgers had gone back to Wickham, but it seemed that the Press had
arrived; both the local man and the Crome correspondent of the London
dailies wanted to know why the river was being re-dragged. There was also
the Oldest Inhabitant. The Oldest Inhabitant had a nose and chin that
approximated so closely that Grant wondered how he shaved. He was a vain
old party but he was the representative in this gathering of something
more powerful than any of them: Race Memory; and as such was to be
respected.

'No use you draggin' any furner'n the village,' he said to Grant, as one
giving the under-gardener instructions.

'No?'

'No. No use. She lets everything down, there. Down into the mud.'

'She' was evidently the river.

'Why?'

'She go slow there. Tired, like. Drops everything. Then when she be round
the turn, half-way to Wickham there, she go tearing off agin all light and
happy. Ah. That is what she do. Drops everything she be carrying into the
mud, and then she go quiet for a little, lookin' round t'see if people
notice what she done, then woops! she be off to Wickham at the tear.' He
cocked a surprisingly clear blue eye at Grant. 'Sly,' he said. 'That's
what she be. Sly!'

Rodgers had said, when first he had talked to him, that it was no use
dragging below Salcott St Mary, and he had accepted the local man's
verdict without asking for an explanation. Now here was Race Memory
offering him the explanation.

'Not much use you draggin' anyway,' said Race Memory, wiping the drop from
its nose with a gesture that was subtly contemptuous.

'Why? Don't you believe there is a body there?'

'Oh, ah! Body there all right. But that mud there, it don't give up
nothin' 'cept in its own time.'

'And when is that likely to be, would you say?'

'Oh! Any time 'tween a thousand years and tomorrow. Powerful sticky that
mud be. Quicksand mud. When my great-grandfer were a little boy he had a
barra run down the bank, like, into the water. Quite shallow it were
there. He could see the barra but he were frightened, see, to wade in for
it. So he run to the cottage. No more'n a few yards. And brung his father
out to reach the barra for him. But the mud had it. Ah. The mud had it in
the time you'd turn yer back. Not a blink of the barra left. Not even when
they got a rake and dragged for it. The mud had it, see. Cannibal mud,
that is, I tell ee, cannibal mud.'

'But you say it does give up its victims sometimes.'

'Oh. Ah. Happen.'

'When? In flood?'

'Nah! In flood she just spread herself. Go broody and drop more mud'n
ever. Nah. But sometime she be taken aback. Then she let go in surprise.'

'Taken aback?'

'Ah. Same as she were a week since. Cloud come and hit the high country
above Otley and burst there, and pour water into the river like someone
pouring bathwater away. She have no time to spread out decent and quiet.
The water come down channel like a scouring brush and churn her up. Then
happen sometimes she loose something from the mud.'

It was a poor outlook, Grant felt, if he had to wait until the next
cloudburst to recover Searle's body. The gathering greyness of the day
depressed him; in a couple of hours they would have to call it off. By
that time, moreover, they would have reached Salcott, and if they had
found nothing, what hope was there? He had had a horrible feeling all day
that they were merely scratching the surface of that 'immemorial mud'. If
this second dragging proved useless, what then? No inquest. No case. No
nothing.

By the time a watery sunset was bathing the scene in pallid light they
were within fifty yards of the end of their beat. And at that moment
Rodgers reappeared and produced an envelope from the pocket of his coat.

'This came for you when I was at the station. It's the report from the
States.'

There was no urgency about it now, but he opened it and read it through.

The San Francisco police had no record against Leslie Searle, and knew of
none. He was in the habit of coming to the Coast for the winter months.
For the rest of the year he travelled and photographed abroad. He lived
well but very quietly, and there was no record of expensive parties or
other extravagances of conduct. He had no wife with him and no history of
emotional entanglements. The San Francisco police had no record of his
origins but they had applied to the Publicity department at Grand
Continental, for which studio Searle had photographed Lotta Marlow and
Danny Minsky, the reigning stars of the moment. According to Grand
Continental, Searle had been born in Jobling, Conn. Only child of Durfey
Searle and Christina Mattson. Police at Jobling, Conn., asked about the
Searles, said they left town more than twenty years ago and went South
somewhere. Searle was a chemist, with a passion for photography, but that
is all anyone remembered about them.

Well, it was a dull enough report. An uninspiring collection of unhelpful
facts. No clue to the thing he had wanted most; Searle's intimates in the
States. No illumination on Searle himself. But something in the report
rang a bell in his head.

He read it over again, waiting for that warning click in his mind that was
like the sound a clock makes when it is preparing to strike. But this time
there was no reaction.

Puzzled, he read it through again, slowly. What was it that had made that
warning sound in his mind? He could find nothing. Still puzzled, he folded
up the paper and put it away in his pocket.

'We're finished, I suppose you know?' Rodgers said. 'We'll find nothing
now. Nothing has ever been taken back from the river at Salcott. In this
part of the country they have a proverb. When they want to say: Give a
thing up, or: Put it out of your mind for good, they say: "Throw it over
the bridge at Salcott".'

'Why don't they dredge the channel instead of letting all this stuff silt
up on them,' Grant said, out of temper. 'If they did they wouldn't have
the river flooding their houses every second winter.'

Rodgers's long face shortened into amusement and kindliness. 'If you'd
ever smelt a bucket of Rushmere mud, you'd think a long time before you'd
willingly arrange for it to be dragged up in wagon loads and carted
through the street. Shall I stop them now?'

'No,' said Grant, mulishly. 'Let them go on dragging as long as the light
lasts. Who knows, we may make history and be the first to take something
back from the river at Salcott. I never did believe in those country
superstitions, anyhow.'

They did go on dragging till the light went, but the river gave nothing
back.




_16_


'SHALL I give you a lift back to Wickham,' Rodgers asked Grant, but
Grant said no, that he had his own car up at the Mill House and would walk
up and fetch it.

Marta came out into the windy twilight to meet him, and put her arm
through his.

'No?' she said.

'No.'

'Come in and get warm.'

She walked beside him in silence into the house and poured him an outsize
whisky. The thick walls shut out the sound of the wind, and the room was
quiet and warm as it had been last night. A faint smell of curry came up
from the kitchen.

'Do you smell what I am cooking for you?'

'Curry. But you can't be expected to feed the Department.'

'Curry is what you need after a whole day of our English spring glories.
You can, of course, go back to the White Hart and have the usual Sunday
evening supper of cold tinned beef, two slices of tomato, three cubes of
beetroot, and a wilting lettuce leaf.'

Grant shivered unaffectedly. The thought of the White Hart on a Sunday
evening was death.

'Besides, tomorrow I shan't be here to give you dinner. I am going back to
town. I can't stand the Mill House any more at the moment. I'll stay in
town till _Faint Heart_ goes into rehearsal.'

'Having you here has practically saved my life,' Grant said. He pulled the
American report from his pocket and said: 'Read that, would you, and tell
me if anything rings a bell for you.'

'No,' she said, having read. 'No bells. Should it?'

'I don't know. It seemed to me when I read it first that it rang a bell in
my mind.' He puzzled over it again for a moment and then put it away.

'When we are both back in town,' Marta said, 'I want to be introduced to
your Sergeant Williams. Perhaps you would bring him to dinner one night?'

'But of course,' Grant said, pleased and amused. 'Why this sudden passion
for the unknown Williams?'

'Well, I have actually two different reasons. The first is that anyone who
has the mother-wit to see that Walter Whitmore is a "push-ee" is worth
meeting. And the second is that the only time I have seen you look happy
today was after talking to Sergeant Williams on the telephone.'

'Oh, that!' he said; and told her about Benny Skoll, and the _Watchman_,
and Williams rebuking virtue. And so they were gay after all over their
Sunday supper, with Marta supplying libellous stories of the _Watchman's_
theatre critic. So that it was not until he was going that she asked what
he was going to do now that the search for Searle had failed.

'I tidy up some ends here in Salcott tomorrow morning,' he said, 'and then
I go back to London to report to my chief.'

'And what happens then?'

'There is a conference to decide what action, if any, is to be taken.'

'I understand. Well, when you have got things straightened out ring me up
and tell me, won't you. And then we can arrange a night when Sergeant
Williams is free.'

How admirable, he thought as he drove away; how truly admirable. No
questions, no hints, no little feminine probings. In her acceptance of a
situation she was extraordinarily masculine. Perhaps it was this lack of
dependence that men found intimidating.

He went back to the White Hart, called the police station to know if there
were any messages, picked the menu off the dining-room sideboard to verify
Marta's prognostication as to supper (she had forgotten the stewed rhubarb
and custard, he must tell her) and for the last time went to bed in the
little room under the roof. The text was no promise tonight. THE HOUR
COMETH, indeed. What a lot of leisure women seemed to have had once. Now
they had everything in cans and had no leisure at all.

But no, it wasn't that, of course. It was that they didn't spend their
leisure making texts in coloured wools any more. They went to see Danny
Minsky and laughed themselves sick for one-and-tuppence, and if you asked
him it was a better way of recovering from the day's work than making
meaningless patterns in purple cross-stitch. He glared at the text, tilted
the lamp until the shadow blotted out his vision of it, and took his
notebooks to bed with him.

In the morning he paid his bill, and pretended not to see the landlord's
surprise. Everyone knew that the river-dragging had been unsuccessful, and
everyone knew that a piece of clothing recovered from the river had caused
that dragging (there, were various accounts of which particular piece of
clothing), so the landlord hardly expected Scotland Yard to be taking its
departure at this juncture. Unless there was a clue that no one knew
about?

'Coming back, sir?'

'Not immediately,' Grant said, reading his mind like a book and not
particularly liking the stigma of failure that was being tacked on to his
name at this moment.

And he headed for Trimmings.

The morning had an air of bland apology. It was smiling wetly and the wind
had died. The leaves glittered and the roads steamed in the sun. 'Just my
fun, dears,' the English spring was saying to the soaked and shivering
mortals who had trusted her.

As the car purred along the slope, towards Trimmings, he looked down at
Salcott St Mary in the valley, and thought how odd it was that three days
ago it was just a name that Marta used occasionally in conversation. Now
it was part of his mind.

And God send it wasn't going to be a burr stuck there for good!

At Trimmings he was received by the refayned Edith, who broke down enough
to look humanly scared for a moment when she saw him, and asked to see
Walter. She showed him into the fireless library; from which Walter
rescued him.

'Come into the drawing-room,' he said. 'We use it as a living-room and
there is a fire there'; and Grant caught himself wondering ungratefully
whether it was his own comfort that Walter was considering or his guest's.
Walter did affect one that way, he observed.

'I am going back to town this morning,' Grant said, 'and there are one or
two small points I want to clear up before I make my report to my
superiors.'

'Yes?' Walter was nervous and looked as if he had not slept.

'When I asked you about your journey down the Rushmere, you said that you
had picked up mail at arranged post-offices.'

'Yes.'

'On Monday there would have been nothing to pick up, but on Tuesday and
Wednesday you presumably picked up what there was. Did Searle have any
letters on either of those two days, can you remember?'

'There's no difficulty in remembering. Inspector, Searle _never_ had _any_
mail.'

'Never? You mean Searle had no letters at all while he was at Trimmings?'

'None that I ever knew about. But Liz would tell you. She deals with the
post when it comes in.'

How had he missed this small item of information, he wondered.

'Not even forwarded from his hotel or bank?'

'Not that I know of. He may have been letting it mount up. Some people are
constitutionally indifferent to letters.'

That was true; and Grant left it there.

'Then about this daily telephoning,' he said. 'You telephoned from
Tunstall on Sunday night, from Capel on Monday night, from Friday Street
on Tuesday, and from where on Wednesday?'

'There's a call-box at Pett's Hatch. We had meant to camp actually at
Pett's Hatch, but that ruined mill looked dreary somehow, and I remembered
the sheltered bit farther on where the river turns south, so we went on to
there.'

'And you told Trimmings about this proposed camp.'

'Yes, I told you already that we did.'

'I know you did. I don't mean to badger you. What I want to know now is
who talked to whom during that call from Pett's Hatch?'

Walter thought for a moment. 'Well, I talked to Miss Fitch first because
she was always waiting for the call, then Searle talked to her. Then Aunt
Em came--Mrs Garrowby--and talked to Searle for a little and then I
finished up by talking to Mrs Garrowby myself. Liz hadn't come in from an
errand in the village, so neither of us talked to her on Wednesday.'

'I see. Thank you.' Grant waited, and then said: 'I suppose you don't feel
able yet to tell me what the subject of your--disagreement was on
Wednesday night?' And as Walter hesitated: 'Is it because it was about
Miss Garrowby that you are reluctant to discuss it?'

'I don't want her dragged into this,' Walter said, and Grant could not
help feeling that this cliché was less the result of emotion than of a
conviction that it was thus an Englishman behaved in the circumstances.

'I ask, as I said before, more as a way of obtaining enlightenment on the
subject of Leslie Searle than of pinning you down to anything. Was there
anything in that conversation, apart from Miss Garrowby's entry into it,
that you would rather I didn't know?'

'No, of course not. It was just about Liz--about Miss Garrowby. It was an
extremely silly conversation.'

Grant smiled heartlessly. 'Mr Whitmore, a policeman has experienced the
absolute in silliness before he has finished his third year in the force.
If you are merely reluctant to put silliness on record, take heart. To me
it will probably sound like something near wisdom.'

'There was no wisdom about it. Searle had been in a very odd mood all the
evening.'

'Odd? Depressed?' Surely, thought Grant, we aren't going to have to
consider suicide at this late stage.

'No. He seemed to be invaded by an unwonted levity. And on the way from
the river he began to twit me about--well, about my not being good enough
for Liz. For my fiancée. I tried to change the subject, but he kept at it.
Until I grew annoyed. He began enumerating all the things he knew about
her that I didn't. He would trot out something and say: "I bet you didn't
know that about her."'

'Nice things?'

'Oh, yes,' Walter said instantly. 'Yes, of course. Charming things. But it
was all so needless and so provocative.'

'Did he suggest that he would be more appreciative in your place?'

'He did more. He said quite frankly that if he put his mind to it he could
cut me out. He could cut me out in a fortnight, he said.'

'He didn't offer to bet on it, I suppose?' Grant couldn't help asking.

'No,' Walter said, looking a little surprised.

Grant thought that some day he must tell Marta that she had slipped up in
one particular.

'It was when he said that,' Walter said, 'about cutting me out, that I
felt I couldn't stand him any more that night. It wasn't the suggestion of
my not being his equal that I resented, I hope you understand, Inspector;
it was the implied reflection on Liz. On Miss Garrowby. The implication
that she would succumb to anyone who used his charms on her.'

'I understand,' said Grant gravely. 'Thank you very much for telling me.
Do you think, then, that Searle was deliberately provoking a quarrel?'

'I hadn't thought of it. I just thought he was in a provocative mood. That
he was a little above himself.'

'I see. Thank you. Could I speak to Miss Fitch for just one moment. I
won't keep her.'

Walter took him to the morning-room where Miss Fitch, with a yellow and a
red pencil stuck in her ginger bird's-nest and another in her mouth, was
prowling up and down like an enraged kitten. She relaxed when she saw
Grant, and looked tired and a little sad.

'Have you come with news, Inspector?' she asked, and Grant, looking past
her, saw the fright in Liz's eyes.

'No, I've come to ask you one question, Miss Fitch, and then I shan't
bother you again. I apologise for bothering you as it is. On Wednesday
night you were waiting for the evening call from your nephew with an
account of their progress.'

'Yes.'

'So that you talked to him first. I mean first of the people at Trimmings.
Will you go on from there?'

'Tell you what we talked about, you mean?'

'No; who talked to whom.'

'Oh. Well, they were at Pett's Hatch--I suppose you know--and I talked to
Walter and then to Leslie. They were both very happy.'

Her voice wavered. 'Then I called Emma--my sister--and she spoke to them
both.'

'Did you wait while she spoke to them?'

'No, I went up to my room to see Susie Sclanders's imitations. She does
ten minutes on a Wednesday once a month, and she is wonderful, and of
course I couldn't listen to her properly with Em talking.'

'I see. And Miss Garrowby?'

'Liz arrived back from the village just too late to talk to them.'

'What time was this, do you remember?'

'I don't remember the exact time, but it must have been about twenty
minutes before dinner. We had dinner early that night because my sister
was going out to a W.R.I. meeting. Dinner at Trimmings is always being put
either back or forwards because someone is either going somewhere or
coming from some place.'

'Thank you very much, Miss Fitch. And now, if I might see Searle's room
once more I won't bother you again.'

'Yes, of course.'

'I'll take the Inspector up,' Liz said, ignoring the fact that Walter, who
was still hovering, was the normal person to escort him.

She got up from the typewriter before Miss Fitch could intervene with any
alternative proposal, and led the Inspector out.

'Are you going away because you have come to a conclusion, Inspector, or
because you haven't; or shouldn't I ask that?' she said as they went
upstairs.

'I am going as a matter of routine. To do what every officer is expected
to do; to present his report to his seniors and let them decide what the
facts add up to.'

'But you do some adding first, surely.'

'A lot of subtraction, too,' he said, dryly.

The dryness was not lost on her. 'Nothing makes sense in this case, does
it,' she agreed. 'Walter says he couldn't have fallen into the river
accidentally. And yet he did fall in. Somehow.'

She paused on the landing outside the tower room. There was a roof-light
there and her face was clear in every detail as she turned to him and
said: 'The one certain thing in this mess is that Walter had nothing to do
with Leslie's death. Please believe that, Inspector. I'm not defending
Walter because he is Walter and I am going to marry him. I've known him
all my life, and I know what he is capable of and what he is not capable
of. And he is not capable of using physical violence to anyone. Do please
believe me. He--he just hasn't the _guts_.'

Even his future wife thought him a push-ee, Grant observed.

'Don't be misled by that glove, either. Inspector. Do please believe that
the most probable explanation is that Leslie picked it up and put it into
his pocket meaning to give it back to me. I have looked for the other one
of the pair in the car pocket and it isn't there, so the most likely
explanation is that they fell out, and Leslie found one and picked it up.'

'Why didn't he put it back in the car pocket?'

'I don't know. Why does one do anything? Putting something in one's pocket
is almost a reflex. The point is that he wouldn't have kept it for the
sake of keeping it. Leslie didn't feel about me like that at all.'

The point, Grant thought to himself, wasn't whether Leslie was in love
with Liz, but whether Walter believed Liz to be in love with Leslie.

He longed to ask Liz what happens to a girl when she is engaged to a
push-ee and along comes a left-over from Eden, an escapee from Atlantis, a
demon in plain clothes. But the question, though pertinent, would
certainly be unproductive. Instead, he asked her if Searle had ever
received letters during his stay at Trimmings and she said that as far as
she knew he had had none. Then she went away downstairs, and he went into
the tower room. The tidy room where Searle had left everything except his
personality.

He had not seen it in daylight before, and he spent a few moments having a
look at the garden and the valley from the three huge windows. There was
one advantage in not caring what your house looked like when it was
finished; you could have your windows where they were likely to do most
good. Then he turned once more to the task of going through Searle's
belongings. Patiently, garment by garment, article by article, he went
through them, vainly hoping for some sign, some revelation. He sat in a
low chair with the photographic box open on the floor between his feet,
and accounted for everything that a photographer might conceivably use. He
could think of nothing--neither chemical nor gadget--that was missing from
the collection. The box had not been moved since last he saw it, and the
empty space still held the outline of what had been abstracted.

It was an innocent space. Articles are abstracted every day from packed
cases, leaving the outline of their presence. There was no reason whatever
to suppose that what had been taken out was of any significance. But why,
in heaven's name, couldn't anyone suggest what that thing might have been?

Once more he tried the small cameras in the space, knowing quite well that
they would not fit. He even clapped a pair of Searle's shoes together and
tried to fit them into the space. They were half an inch too long and the
soles protruded above the general level so that the tray would not fit
home and the lid was prevented from shutting. Anyhow, why carry clothing
in a photographic box when you had ample room in the appropriate cases?
Whatever had occupied the space had not been put in at random or in haste.
It had been a neat and methodical packing.

Which suggested that the thing was put there because only Searle himself
would have the unpacking of it.

Well, this, in the elegant phrase, was where he got off.

He put everything neatly back as he had found it; took another look at the
Rushmere valley, and decided that he had had enough of it; and closed the
door on the room where Leslie Searle had left everything but his
personality.




_17_


IT was grey in town, but it was a friendly grey and comforting after the
rainy levels of the Rushmere. And the young green of the trees in
Westminster was vivid as fire against the dark background. It was nice to
be among his own kind again; to get into that mental undress that one
wears among one's colleagues; to talk the allusive unexplanatory talk that
constituted Headquarters' 'shop'.

But it was not so nice to think of the coming interview with Bryce. Would
it be one of Bryce's good days or one of his 'off' ones? The
Superintendent's average was one off day to three good ones, so the odds
were three to one in his favour. On the other hand it was damp weather and
the Superintendent's rheumatism was always worst in damp weather.

Bryce was smoking a pipe. So it was one of his good days. (On his off days
he lit cigarettes and extinguished them in the ashtray five seconds after
he had extinguished the match.)

Grant wondered how to begin. He couldn't very well say: Four days ago you
handed over a situation to me, and the situation as far as I'm concerned
is in all essentials exactly what it was four days ago. But that, put
brutally, was how the case stood.

It was Bryce who saved him. Bryce examined him with his small shrewd eyes,
and said: 'If ever I saw "Please, sir, it wasn't me" written on a man's
face, it is on yours now,' and Grant laughed.

'Yes, sir. It's a mess.' He laid his notebooks on the table and took the
chair at the other side of the table that was known in the office as the
Suspect's Seat.

'You don't think that Bunny-Boy Whitmore did it, then?'

'No, sir. I think it's unlikely to the point of absurdity.'

'Accident?'

'Bunny-Boy doesn't think so,' Grant said with a grin.

'_Doesn't_ he, indeed. Hasn't he even enough sense to come in out of the
rain?'

'He's a simple sort of creature, in some ways. He just doesn't believe
that it was accident, and says so. The fact that it would be to his
advantage to have it proved an accident is irrelevant in his view,
apparently. He is wildly puzzled and troubled about the disappearance. I
am quite sure he had nothing to do with it.'

'Any alternative suggestion?'

'Well, there is someone who had the opportunity, the motive, and the
means.'

'What are we waiting for?' Bryce said, flippant.

'Unfortunately the fourth ingredient is missing.'

'No evidence.'

'Not one sliver of a tittle.'

'Who is it?'

'The mother of Walter Whitmore's fiancée. Stepmother actually. She brought
Liz Garrowby up from babyhood and is fanatically maternal about her. I
don't mean possessive, but----'

'All the best for our Liz.'

'Yes. She was enormously pleased about her stepdaughter marrying her
nephew, and keeping everything in the family, and I think Searle looked
like upsetting the apple-cart. That is a possible motive. She has no alibi
for the night in question, and she could have reached the place where they
were camped quite easily. She knew where it was because each evening the
men telephoned Trimmings, the Fitch place, to report progress, and on
Wednesday night they described the place where they were going to
bivouac.'

'But she couldn't know that the men would quarrel and go back to the river
separately. How was she going to work it?'

'Well, there's an odd thing about that quarrel. Searle from all accounts
was a markedly equable person, but it was he who provoked that quarrel. At
least Whitmore says so, and I have no reason to doubt him. He twitted
Whitmore about not being good enough for Liz Garrowby and boasted that he
could take her from him in a week. He was quite sober, so anything so
completely out of character must have had an ulterior motive.'

'You think he manufactured a parting with Searle that evening? Why?'

'It _could_ have been because he hoped to meet Liz Garrowby somewhere. The
Garrowby girl was not at home that evening when the two men telephoned, so
Mrs Garrowby did proxy. I suggest that she might also have done proxy in a
more serious way.'

'"Liz says will you meet her at the third oak past the old mill".'

'Something like that.'

'And then raging mother waits for him with a blunt instrument and tips the
body into the river. I wish to heaven you had been able to recover that
body.'

'You don't wish it as badly as I do, sir. Without a corpse where are we?'

'Even with a corpse you have no case.'

'No. But it would be comforting, not to say illuminating, to know the
state of the skull bones.'

'Any evidence that Searle was interested in the girl?'

'He had one of her gloves in his collar drawer.'

Bryce grunted. 'I thought that sort of thing went out with valentines,' he
said, unconsciously paraphrasing Sergeant Williams.

'I showed it to her and she took it well. Said that he had probably picked
it up and meant to give it back to her.'

'And now I'll tell one,' commented the Superintendent.

'She's a nice girl,' Grant said, mildly.

'So was Madeleine Smith. Any second favourite in the suspect stakes?'

'No. Just the field. The men who had no reason to love Searle, and had the
opportunity and no satisfactory alibi.'

'Are there many?' Bryce said, surprised by the plural.

'There's Toby Tullis, who is still sick at the snubbing Searle
administered. Tullis lives on the river-bank and has a boat. His alibi
depends on the word of an infatuated follower. There's Serge Ratoff the
dancer, who loathed Searle because of the attention Toby paid him. Serge,
according to himself, was dancing on the greensward by the river's rim on
Wednesday night. There's Silas Weekley, the distinguished English
novelist, who lives in the lane down which Searle disappeared from human
ken on Wednesday night. Silas has a thing about beauty; has a constant
urge to destroy it. He was working in a hut at the end of the garden that
night, so he says.'

'No bets on the field?'

'N-o. I think not. A saver on Weekley, perhaps. He is the type that might
go over the borderline any day, and spend the rest of his life happily
typing away in Broadmoor. But Tullis wouldn't jeopardise all he has built
up by a silly murder like this. He is much too shrewd. As for Ratoff, I
can imagine him setting off to do a murder, but long before he was
half-way there he would have another fine idea and forget what he
originally set out to do.'

'Is this village entirely inhabited by crack-pots?'

'It has been "discovered", unfortunately. The aborigines are sane enough.'

'Well, I suppose there is nothing we can do until the body turns up.'

'_If_ it turns up.'

'They usually do, in time.'

'According to the local police, five people have been drowned in the
Rushmere in the last forty years. That is, leaving Mere Harbour and the
shipping part out of the reckoning. Two were drowned higher up than
Salcott and three lower down. The three who were drowned lower down than
Salcott all turned up within a day or two. The two who were drowned above
the village have never turned up at all.'

'It's a nice look-out for Walter Whitmore,' Bryce commented.

'Yes,' Grant said, thinking it over. 'They weren't very kind to him this
morning.'

'The papers? No. Awfully good-mannered and discreet but they couldn't have
made pleasant reading for Bunny-Boy. A nasty spot to be in. No accusation,
so no possible defence. Not that he _has_ any,' he added.

He was silent for a little, tapping his teeth with his pipe as was his
habit when cogitating.

'Well, I suppose there is nothing we can do at the moment. You make a neat
shipshape report and we'll see what the Commissioner says. But I don't see
that there is anything more we can do. Death by drowning, no evidence so
far to show whether accidental or otherwise. That's your conclusion, isn't
it?'

As Grant did not answer immediately, he looked up and said sharply: 'Isn't
it?'

Now you see it, now you don't.

Something wrong in the set-up.

Don't let your flair ride you, Grant.

Something phoney somewhere.

Now you see it, now you don't.

Conjurer's patter.

The trick of the distracted attention.

You could get away with anything if you distracted the attention.

Something phoney somewhere....

'Grant!'

He came back to the realisation of his chief's surprise. What was he to
say? Acquiesce and let it go? Stick to the facts and the evidence, and
stay on the safe side?

With a detached regret he heard his own voice saying: 'Have you ever seen
a lady sawn in half, sir?'

'I have,' Bryce said, eyeing him with a wary disapproval.

'It seems to me that there is a strong aroma of sawn-lady about this
case,' Grant said; and then remembered that this was the metaphor he had
used to Sergeant Williams.

But Bryce's reaction was very different from the Sergeant's.

'Oh, my _God_!' he groaned. 'You're _not_ going to do a Lamont on us, are
you, Grant?'

Years ago Grant had gone into the farthest Highlands after a man and had
brought him back; brought him back sewn up in a case so fault-proof that
only the sentence remained to be said; and had handed him over with the
remark that on the whole he thought they had got the wrong man. (They
had.) The Yard had never forgotten it, and any wild opinion in
contradiction to the evidence was still known as 'doing a Lamont'.

The sudden mention of Jerry Lamont heartened Grant. It had been even more
absurd to feel that Jerry Lamont was innocent, in the face of an
unbreakable case, than it was to smell 'sawn-lady' in a simple drowning.

'Grant!'

'There's something very odd about the set-up,' Grant said stubbornly.

'What is odd?'

'If I knew that it would be down in my report. It isn't any one thing.
It's the--the whole set-up. The atmosphere. The smell of it. It doesn't
smell right.'

'Couldn't you just explain to an ordinary hard-working policeman _what_
smells so wrong about it?'

Grant ignored the Superintendent's heavy-handedness, and said:

'It's all wrong from the beginning, don't you see. Searle's walking in
from nowhere, into the party. Yes, I know that we know about him. That he
is who he says he is, and all that. We even know that he came to England
just as he says he did. Via Paris. His place was booked by the American
Express office at the Madeleine. But that doesn't alter the fact that the
whole episode has something queer about it. _Was_ it so likely that he
would be all that keen to meet Walter just because they were both friends
of Cooney Wiggin?'

'Don't ask me! Was it?'

'Why this need to meet Walter?'

'Perhaps he had seen him broadcast and just couldn't wait.'

'And he had no letters.'

'Who hadn't?'

'Searle. He had no letters all the time he was at Salcott.'

'Perhaps he is allergic to the gum on envelopes. Or I _have_ heard that
people leave letters lying at their bank to be called for.'

'That's another thing. None of the usual American banks or agencies has
ever heard of him. And there is one tiny thing that seems odd to me out of
all proportion to its actual value. Actual value to this case, I mean. He
had a tin box, rather like an outsize paint-box, that he used to hold all
his photographic stuff. Something is gone out of the box. Something
roughly 9 inches by 3½ by 4, that was packed in the lower compartment
(it has a tray like a paint-box with a deeper space below). Nothing that
is now among his belongings fits the space, and no one can suggest what
the thing could have been.'

'And what is so odd about that? There must be a hundred and one things
that might have been packed in a space that size.'

'As what, for instance, sir?'

'Well--well, I can't think off-hand, but there must be dozens.'

'There is ample space in his other cases for anything he wanted to pack.
So it wouldn't be clothes, or ordinary possessions. Whatever was there, in
the tin box, was something that he kept where only he would be likely to
handle it.'

Bryce's attention grew more sober at that.

'Now it is missing. It is of no obvious importance in this case. No
importance at all, perhaps. It is just an oddity and it sticks in my
mind.'

'What do you think he might have been after at Trimmings? Blackmail?'
Bryce asked, with interest at last.

'I don't know. I hadn't thought of blackmail.'

'What could have been in the box that he could turn into cash? Not
letters, that shape. Documents, perhaps? Documents in a roll.'

'I don't know. Yes, perhaps. The thing against the blackmail idea is that
he seemed to have ample means.'

'Blackmailers usually have.'

'Yes. But Searle had a profession that kept him very nicely. Only a hog
would want more. And somehow he didn't look to me like a hog.'

'Be your age, Grant. Just sit quiet for a moment and think of the
blackmailers you have known.' He watched this shot go home, and said,
dryly: 'Exactly!' And then: 'Who would you say was the blackmailee at
Trimmings? Mrs Garrowby got a past, do you think?'

'Possibly,' Grant said, considering Emma Garrowby in a new light. 'Yes, I
think it's quite possible.'

'Well, the choice isn't very wide. I don't suppose Lavinia Fitch was ever
out on the tiles?'

Grant thought of kind, anxious little Miss Fitch, with the bristling
pencils in her mop of hair, and smiled.

'There isn't much choice, you see. I suppose if it was blackmail at all it
must have been Mrs Garrowby. So your theory is that Searle was murdered
for a reason that has nothing to do with Liz Garrowby.' And as Grant made
no immediate answer to that, 'You believe that it _was_ murder, don't
you.'

'No.'

'No!'

'I don't believe he's dead.'

There was a moment of silence. Then Bryce leaned forward over the table
and said with immense self-control: 'Now, look here, Grant. Flair's flair.
And you're entitled to your whack of it. But when you take to throwing it
about in chunks it becomes too much of a good thing. Have a little
moderation, for Pete's sake. You've been dragging a river for a whole day
yesterday trying to find a drowned man, and now you have the nerve to sit
there and tell me you don't think he was drowned at all. What do you think
he did? Walked away barefoot? Or hobbled away disguised as a one-legged
man supported by crutches which he had tossed off in an idle moment from a
couple of oak branches? Where do you think he went to? What is he going to
live on from now on? Honestly, Grant, I think you must need a holiday.
What, just tell me _what_, put this notion into your head? _How_ does a
trained detective mind jump from a straight-forward case of "missing
believed drowned" into a wild piece of fantasy that has no connection with
anything in the case at all?'

Grant was silent.

'Come on, Grant. I'm not ribbing you. I really want to know. How do you
arrive at the conclusion that a man isn't drowned after finding his shoe
in the river? How did the shoe get there?'

'If I knew that, sir, I'd have my case.'

'Did Searle have a spare pair of shoes with him?'

'No. Just the ones he was wearing.'

'The one that was found in the river.'

'Yes, sir.'

'And you still think he didn't drown?'

'Yes.'

There was a silence.

'I don't know which to admire more, Grant: your nerve or your
imagination.'

Grant said nothing. There seemed to be nothing to say. He was bitterly
aware that he had already said too much.

'Can you think of any theory, however wild, that would fit your idea of
his being alive?'

'I can think of one. He could have been abducted, and the shoe tossed in
the river as evidence of drowning.'

Bryce regarded him with dramatised respect. 'You mistook your vocation,
Grant. You're a very good detective, but as a writer of detective fiction
you'd make a fortune.'

'I was only answering your challenge and supplying a theory to fit the
facts, sir,' Grant said mildly. 'I didn't say I believed in it.'

This slowed Bryce down a little. 'Take them out of a hat like rabbits, do
you. Theories in all sizes to fit any figure! No compulsion to buy! Walk
up! Walk up!' He stopped and looked for a long moment at Grant's
imperturbable face, sat slowly back in his chair, relaxed, and smiled.
'You damned poker-face, you!' he said amiably. He searched in his pocket
for matches. 'Do you know what I envy about you, Grant? Your self-control.
I'm always flying off the handle about something or other; and it doesn't
do me or anyone else any good. My wife says that it is because I'm not
sure of myself and I'm afraid I'm not going to get my way. She attended a
course of six lectures on psychology at Morley College, and there is
nothing about the human mind she doesn't know. I can only conclude that
you must be damned sure of yourself behind that nice equable temper of
yours.'

'I don't know, sir,' Grant said, amused. 'I was anything but equable when
I came in to report, and had nothing to show you but a situation that was
exactly the same as it was when you handed it over to me four days ago.'

'So you said: "How's the old man's rheumatism today? Is he approachable or
do I go on all fours?"' His little elephant eyes twinkled for a moment.
'Well, I suppose we present the Commissioner with your neat report of the
facts as they exist, and leave him in ignorance of the finer flights of
your imagination.'

'Oh, yes, sir. I can't very well explain to the Commissioner that I have a
feeling in the pit of my stomach.'

'No. And if you'll take my advice, you'll stop paying so much attention to
the rumblings of your stomach, and stick to what goes on in your head.
There is a little phrase commonly used in police work that says, "in
accordance with the evidence". You say that over six times a day as a
grace before and after meals, and perhaps it will keep your feet on the
ground and stop you ending up thinking you're Frederick the Great or a
hedgehog or something.'




_18_


IN his schooldays Grant had learned that if he was stumped by a problem
it paid to leave it alone for a while. A proposition that had seemed
insoluble the night before was simple to the point of being obvious in the
light of morning. This was a lesson that he learned for himself and
consequently never forgot, and he took it with him both into his personal
life and into his work. Whenever he reached deadlock he transferred his
attention. So now, although he did not follow Bryce's advice about the
daily ritual, he did give heed to his words about ignoring 'the rumblings
of his stomach'. Where the Searle affair was concerned he had reached
deadlock, so he withdrew his attention and thought upon Tom Thumb. The
current Tom Thumb being an 'Arab' potentate who had lived at a Strand
hotel for a fortnight, and had disappeared without the formality of paying
his bill.

The daily routine, a routine where there was always more work than men to
do it, sucked him back into its vortex, and Salcott St Mary disappeared
from the forefront of his mind.

Then, on a morning six days later, his mind flung it back at him.

He was walking along the south pavement of the Strand on his way to lunch
in Maiden Lane, pleased with the report that he was going to give Bryce
when he went back to the Yard, and wondering idly at the large display of
women's shoes in a street as unpopular with women as the Strand. The
thought of women's shoes reminded him of Dora Siggins and the slippers she
had bought for the dance, and he smiled a little to himself as he began to
cross the street, remembering her vitality and her chatter and her
friendly sharpness. She had nearly left the shoes behind after all, he
remembered; even after missing a bus home in order to buy them. They had
been lying on the seat because they wouldn't fit into her packed shopping
bag, and he had had to point them out to her. An untidy parcel in cheap
brown paper, with the heels----

He stopped dead.

A taxi driver, his face contorted with rage and fright, yelled something
into his ear. Brakes screamed as a lorry came to a halt at his elbow. A
policeman, hearing the yelling brakes and the protests, made slow but
purposeful movements in his direction. But Grant did not wait. He flung
himself against the next approaching taxi, wrenched the door open, and
said 'Scotland Yard and quick' to the driver.

'Exhibitionist!' said the driver, and chugged away to the Embankment.

But Grant did not hear him. His mind was busy on the old sucked-dry
problem that suddenly seemed so new and exciting now that he had taken it
out again. At the Yard he looked for Williams and when he had found him he
said: 'Williams, remember saying on the telephone that all your Wickham
notes were good for was the wastepaper basket? And I said never to destroy
notes.'

'I remember,' Williams said. 'When I was in town picking up Benny Skoll
and you were at Salcott dragging the river.'

'You didn't by any chance take my advice, did you?'

'Of course I took your advice, sir. I _always_ take your advice.'

'You have those notes somewhere?'

'I have them right here in my desk.'

'May I see them?'

'Certainly, sir. Though I don't know if you can read them.'

It was certainly not easy. When Williams wrote a report it was in a
faultless schoolboy script, but when making notes for his own use he
indulged in a hieroglyphic shorthand of his own.

Grant flipped over the pages looking for what he wanted.

'"The 9.30 Wickham to Crome",' he murmured. '"The 10.5 Crome to Wickham.
The 10.15 Wickham to Crome." 'M. 'M. "Farm lane: old"----old _what_ and
child?'

'Old labourer and child. I didn't detail what they had in the buses to
start with. Just what they picked up on the road.'

'Yes, yes; I know; I understand. "Long Leat crossroads." Where is that?'

'It's a "green" place, a sort of common, on the outskirts of Wickham,
where there's a collection of Fair stuff. A merry-go-round and things.'

'I remember. "Two roundabout men, known." Is it "known"?'

'Yes; known to the conductor personally from other journeys.'

'"Woman going to Warren Farm, known." What comes after that, Williams?'

Williams translated to him what came after that.

Grant wondered what Williams would think if he flung his arms round him
and embraced him, after the fashion of Association Footballers to
successful goal shooters.

'May I keep this for the moment?' he asked.

He could keep it for good, Williams said. It wasn't likely to be much good
now. Unless--unless, of course----

Grant could see the dawning realisation that this sudden interest in his
notes must come from more than academic curiosity on Grant's part; but he
did not wait to answer the coming question. He went to see Bryce.

'It's my belief,' Bryce said, glaring at him, 'that the lower ranks in
this institution prolong hotel cases so that they can sit in the back room
with the manager and be given drinks on the house.'

Grant ignored his libellous pleasantry.

'Is this a routine report before you sit down to a nice leisurely lunch,
or have you something to tell me?'

'I think I've got something that will please you, sir.'

'It will have to be very good to please me today, as perhaps you've
noticed.'

'I've discovered that he had a passion for cherry brandy.'

'_Very_ interesting, I must say. _Fascinatingly_ interesting! And what
good do you think----' A wonderful thought suddenly brightened the bleak
small eye. He looked at Grant, as one colleague to another. '_No!_' he
said. '_Not_ Hamburg Willy!'

'Looks like it, sir. It has all the earmarks; and he'd make a very good
Arab with that Jewish profile of his.'

'Hamburg! Well, well! What did he get out of it that was worth the risk?'

'Soft living for a fortnight; and some fun.'

'It's going to be expensive fun. I suppose you've no idea where he can
have skipped to?'

'Well, I remembered that he has been living with Mabs Hankey, and Mabs is
doing a turn at the Acacias in Nice this spring; so I spent most of the
morning on the telephone and I find that our Willy, or what I take to be
our Willy, is staying there as Monsieur Goujon. What I came to ask, sir,
was if, now that it is routine, someone else could take over the
extradition and all that and leave me free for a day or two to do
something else.'

'What do you want to do?'

'I've got a new idea about the Searle case.'

'Now, Grant!' Bryce said, in warning.

'It's too new'--'and too silly,' he added to himself--'to talk about, but
I would very much like to spend a little time on it and see if it works
out, sir.'

'Well, I suppose, after the cherry brandy, you think I can't very well
refuse you.'

'Thank you, sir.'

'But if it doesn't look like panning out, I hope you'll drop it. There's
plenty of work right here without you running after rainbows and pots of
gold.'

So Grant walked out of the Superintendent's room in pursuit of his pot of
gold, and the first thing he did was to go to his own room and take out
the report that the San Francisco police had sent them about Searle. He
studied it for a long time, and then sent a polite request to the police
of Jobling, Conn.

Then he remembered that he had not yet had lunch. He wanted quiet in which
to think, so he put the precious sheet of paper into his wallet and went
out to his favourite pub, where the rush would be over and they would
manage to scrape up something for him. He still did not know what in that
account of Searle's life in America had rung a bell in his mind when he
had first read it. But he was beginning to have an idea as to what _kind_
of thing it was that had rung that bell.

As he was walking out of the pub after lunch he knew what it might have
been.

He went back to the Yard and consulted a reference book.

Yes, it was that.

He took out the San Francisco report and compared it with the entry in the
reference book.

He was jubilant.

He had the important thing. The thing he needed to stand on. He had the
connection between Searle and Walter Whitmore.

He rang up Marta Hallard, and was told that she was rehearsing for _Faint
Heart_. She would be at the Criterion this afternoon.

Feeling ridiculously like a bubble--so help me, you could bounce me like a
ball, he thought--he floated up to Piccadilly Circus. I feel just the way
Tommy Thrupp looked last Sunday morning, he thought. Twice as large as
life, with lightning shooting out of my head like toasting-forks.

But the Criterion in the throes of a rehearsal afternoon soon reduced him
to life-size and brought his feet back on to the ground.

He walked in through the foyer, stepped over the symbolical barrier of a
draped cord, and went down the stairs into the earth without interference
from anyone. Perhaps they think I look like an author, he thought, and
wondered who had written _Faint Heart_. No one ever did know who had
written a play. Playwrights must lead blighted lives. Fifty to one, on an
actuary's reckoning, against their play running more than three weeks; and
then no one even noticed their name on the programme.

And something like a thousand to one against any play ever getting as far
as rehearsals even. He wondered whether the author of _Faint Heart_ was
aware that he was one in a thousand, or whether he was just sure of it.

Somewhere in the bowels of the earth he came on the elegant little box
that was the Criterion's auditorium; a little ghostly in the cold light of
unshaded electrics, but reticent and well-bred. Various dim shapes lay
about in the stalls, and no one made any move to ask his business.

Marta, alone on the stage with a horse-hair sofa and a scared-looking
young man, was saying: 'But I _must_ lie on the sofa, Bobby darling. It's
a waste of my legs if I just sit. Everyone looks the same from the knees
down.'

'Yes, Marta, you are right, of course,' said Bobby, who was the dim figure
prowling up and down in front of the orchestra pit.

'I don't want to alter your conception in any way, Bobby, but I do
think----'

'Yes, Marta dear, you are right, of course, so right. No, of course it
won't make any difference. No, I assure you. It really is all right. It'll
look grand.'

'Of course it may be difficult for Nigel----'

'No, Nigel can come round behind you before he says his line. Try it,
Nigel, will you.'

Marta draped herself over the horse-hair and the scared-looking boy went
away and made his entrance. He made his entrance nine times. 'Well, it's
coming,' Bobby said, letting him away with the ninth.

Someone in the stalls went out and came back with cups of tea.

Nigel said his line above the sofa, to the right of the sofa, to the left
of the sofa, and without relation to the sofa at all.

Someone came into the stalls and collected the empty cups.

Grant moved over to a lonely lounger and asked: 'When do you think I shall
be able to speak to Miss Hallard?'

'_No one_ will be able to speak to her if she has much more of Nigel
today.'

'I have very important business with her.'

'You the clothes man?'

Grant said that he was a personal friend of Miss Hallard's and must talk
to her for a few moments. He wouldn't keep her longer than that.

'Oh.' The dim figure crawled away and consulted with another. It was like
some muffled ritual.

The consulted one detached himself from the group of shadows to which he
belonged and came over to Grant. He introduced himself as the
stage-manager, and asked what exactly it was that Grant wanted. Grant said
that at the very first opportunity would someone tell Miss Hallard that
Alan Grant was here and wanted to speak to her for a moment.

This worked; and during the next pause, the stage-manager crept on to the
stage and bending apologetically over Marta murmured something in a
wood-pigeon undertone.

Marta got up from the couch and came down to the edge of the stage,
shading her eyes in an effort to see beyond the lights into the dark
auditorium.

'Are you there, Alan?' she said. 'Come through the pass door, will you?
Show him where it is, someone.'

She came to meet him at the pass door and was plainly glad to see him.
'Come and have a cup of tea in the wings with me while the young lovers
get on with it. Thank God that I shall never again have to be one of a
pair of young lovers! The theatre's most boring convention. You've never
come to rehearsal before, Alan! What moved you to it?'

'I would like to say that it was intellectual curiosity, but I'm afraid it
is just business. You can help me, I think.'

She helped him enormously; and never once asked what these questions might
mean.

'We haven't had that dinner with your Sergeant Williams,' she said as she
went away to make the young lovers look like amateurs and wish that they
had gone on the land.

'If you wait for a week or so, Sergeant Williams and I may have a story to
tell you.'

'Splendid. I've earned it, I feel. I've been so good and discreet.'

'You've been wonderful,' he said, and went away out the back way into the
lane with a slight recurrence of the jubilation that had floated him down
the stairs at his entrance.

Armed with the information Marta had given him, he went to Cadogan Gardens
and interviewed the housekeeper of some furnished flats.

'Oh, yes, I remember,' she said. 'They ran about a lot together. Oh, no,
she didn't stay here. These are bachelor flats; I mean, flats for one. But
she was around a lot.'

And by that time London was shutting up shop for the night and there was
nothing more he could do until the police of Jobling, Conn., supplied him
with the information he had asked for. So he went home early for once, had
a light supper, and went to bed. He lay for a long time working it out in
his mind. Working out the details. Working out the wherefore.

Toby Tullis had wanted to know what made Leslie Searle tick; and Grant,
too, lying with his eyes on the ceiling, unmoving for an hour at a time,
was looking for the mainspring of Leslie Searle's mind.




_19_


IT was forty-eight hours before word came from Jobling, Conn., and half
a dozen times in those forty-eight hours Grant was on the brink of going
to that woman in Hampstead and dragging the truth from her by main force.
But he restrained himself. He would deal with her presently. Her lies
would be neatly laid out on a plate, and presented to her when the time
came.

He would wait for that report.

And the report when it came proved worth waiting for.

Grant read it through in one swift eye movement, and then he sat back and
laughed.

'If anyone wants me for the rest of the day,' he said to Sergeant
Williams, 'I'll be at Somerset House.'

'Yes, sir,' Williams said, subdued.

Grant glanced at Williams's unwontedly sober features--Williams was a
little hurt that Grant was playing a lone hand over this--and was reminded
of something.

'By the way, Williams, Miss Hallard is very anxious to meet you. She has
asked me if I would bring you to dinner one night.'

'Me?' said Williams going pink. 'What on earth for?'

'She has fallen a victim to your reported charms. She asked me to arrange
a night when you were free. I feel in my bones this morning that by
Saturday both you and I will be in a state for celebration; and it would
be appropriate if we celebrated with Marta, I think. Saturday any good to
you?'

'Well, Nora and I usually go to the movies on Saturday, but when I'm on
duty she goes with Jen. That's her sister. So I don't see why she
shouldn't go with Jen this week.'

'When she hears that you are going to dine with Marta Hallard she'll
probably start divorce proceedings.'

'Not her. She'll wait up for me so that she can ask me what Marta Hallard
was wearing,' said Williams, the Benedict.

Grant rang to ask Marta if he could bring Sergeant Williams to meet her on
Saturday night, and then went away and buried himself in Somerset House.

And that night he did not lie awake. He was like a child that goes to
sleep because that way it will quickly be tomorrow. Tomorrow, the one
small piece would fall into place and make the pattern whole.

If the one small piece happened not to fit, of course, then the whole
picture was wrong. But he was pretty sure that it would fit.

In the short interval between putting out the lamp and falling asleep he
ranged sleepily over the 'field'. When that one small piece fell into
place tomorrow, life would be a great deal happier for a great many
people. For Walter, naturally; Walter would have the shadow of suspicion
lifted from him. For Emma Garrowby, with her Liz made safe. For Liz?
Relief unspeakable for Liz. And relief for Miss Fitch--who might, he
suspected, be a little sad, too. But she could always put it in a book. In
a book was where the thing belonged.

Toby would have quite special reasons for self-congratulation, Grant
thought; and laughed. And Serge Ratoff would be comforted.

Silas Weekley would not care at all.

He remembered that Marta had remarked on how 'nice' Leslie and Liz had
been together. ('A natural pair,' she said--but she could never have
guessed _how_ natural!) Was it just possible that Liz would be hurt when
that one small piece fell into place tomorrow? He hoped not. He liked Liz
Garrowby. He would like to think that Searle had meant nothing to her.
That she would find nothing but happiness and relief in the vindication of
her Walter.

What was it Marta had said? 'I don't think Walter knows anything about
Liz, and I have an idea that Leslie Searle knew quite a lot.' (Surprising,
how Marta had seen that without any clue to the source of Searle's
understanding.) But it did not matter very much, Grant thought, that
Walter did not know very much about Liz. Liz, he was quite sure, knew all
that was to be known about Walter; and that was a very good basis for a
happy married life.

He fell asleep wondering if being married to someone as nice and
intelligent and lovable as Liz Garrowby would compensate a man for the
loss of his freedom.

A procession of his loves--romantic devotions most of them--trailed away
into the distance as his mind blurred into unconsciousness.

But in the morning he had thought for only one woman. That woman in
Hampstead.

Never, even at his most callow, had he gone to see any woman with an
eagerness as great as the one that was taking him to Holly Pavement this
morning. And he was a little shocked as he got off the bus and walked
towards the Holly Pavement turning to find that his heart was thumping. It
was a very long time indeed since Grant's heart had thumped for any but a
purely physical reason.

Damn the woman, he thought, damn the woman.

Holly Pavement was a backwater filled with sunlight; a place so quiet that
the strutting pigeons seemed almost rowdy. Number nine was a two-storey
house, and the upper storey had been apparently converted into a studio.
There were two push-buttons on the bell plaque with neat wooden labels
alongside. 'Miss Lee Searle', said the upper one; 'Nat Gansage:
Accessories', said the lower.

Wondering what 'accessories' were, Grant pressed the upper button, and
presently heard her coming down the wooden stairs to the door. The door
opened, and she was standing there.

'Miss Searle?' he heard himself say.

'Yes,' she said, waiting there in the sunlight, unperturbed but puzzled.

'I am Detective-Inspector Grant of the C.I.D.' Her puzzlement deepened at
that, he noticed. 'A colleague of mine, Sergeant Williams, came to see you
in my stead a week ago because I was otherwise engaged. I would like very
much to talk to you myself, if it is convenient.'

And it had better be convenient, blast you, he said in his mind; furious
at his racing heart.

'Yes, of course,' she said equably. 'Come in, won't you. I live upstairs.'

She shut the door behind him and then led him up the wooden stairs to her
studio. A strong smell of coffee--good coffee--pervaded the place and as
she led him in she said: 'I've just been having my breakfast. I have made
a bargain with the paper boy that he should leave a roll for me every
morning with the paper, and that is my breakfast. But there is lots of
coffee. Will you have some, Inspector?'

They said at the Yard that Grant had two weaknesses: coffee, and coffee.
And it smelt wonderful. But he wasn't going to drink anything with Lee
Searle.

'Thank you, but I have just had mine.'

She poured another cup for herself, and he noticed that her hand was quite
steady. Damn the woman, he was beginning to admire her. As a colleague she
would be wonderful.

She was a tall woman, and spare; very good-looking in her bony fashion and
still quite young. She wore her hair in a thick plait, coronet-wise. The
long housecoat she was wearing was made of some dull green stuff, rather
like one Marta had; and she had the long legs that helped to give Marta
her elegance.

'Your resemblance to Leslie Searle is remarkable,' he said.

'So we have been told,' she said shortly.

He moved round the room to look at the Scottish pictures that were still
propped up on view. They were orthodox impressions of orthodox scenes, but
they were painted with a savage confidence, a fury, so that they shouted
at one from the canvas. They didn't present themselves to one, they
attacked. 'Look, I'm Suilven!' shouted Suilven, looking odder and more
individual than even that mountain had ever looked. The Cooling, a
grape-blue rampart against a pale morning sky, were a whole barrier of
arrogance. Even the calm waters of Kishorn were insolent.

'Did it stay fine for you?' Grant asked, and then, feeling that that was
too impudent, added: 'The West of Scotland is very wet.'

'Not at this time of year. This is the best time.'

'Did you find the hotels comfortable? I hear they are apt to be
primitive.'

'I didn't trouble the hotels. I camped out in my car.'

Neat, he thought. Very neat.

'What was it you wanted to talk to me about?'

But he was in no hurry. She had caused him a lot of trouble, this woman.
He would take his time.

He moved from the pictures to the rows of books on the shelves, and
considered the titles.

'You have a liking for oddities, I see.'

'Oddities?'

'Poltergeists. Showers of fish. Stigmata. That sort of thing.'

'I think all artists are attracted by the odd, whatever their medium,
don't you?'

'You don't seem to have anything on transvestism.'

'What made you think of that?'

'Then you know the term?'

'Of course.'

'It is something that doesn't interest you?'

'The literature of the subject is very unsatisfactory, I understand.
Nothing between learned pamphlets and _News of the World_.'

'You ought to write a treatise on the subject.'

'_I_?'

'You like oddities,' he said smoothly.

'I am a painter, Inspector, not a writer. Besides, no one is interested
nowadays in female pirates.'

'Pirates?'

'They were all pirates or soldiers or sailors, weren't they?'

'You think the fashion went out with Phoebe Hessel? Oh, by no means. The
thing is continually turning up. Only the other day a woman died in
Gloucestershire who had worked for more than twenty years hauling timber
and coal, and even the doctor who attended her in her last illness had no
idea that she was not a man. I knew a case personally, not long ago. A
young man was charged in a London suburb with theft. Quite a normal
popular young man. Played a good game of billiards, belonged to a men's
club, and was walking out with one of the local beauties. But when
medically examined he turned out to be quite a normal young woman. It
happens somewhere or other every year or two. Glasgow. Chicago. Dundee. In
Dundee a young woman shared a lodging-house ward with ten men and was
never questioned. Am I boring you?'

'Not at all. I was only wondering whether you considered them oddities in
the sense that stigmata and poltergeists are.'

'No; oh, no. Some, of course, are genuinely happier in men's things; but a
great many do it from love of adventure, and a few from economic
necessity. And some because it is the only way in which they can work out
their schemes.'

She sipped her coffee with polite interest, as one indulging an uninvited
guest until he should reach the point of stating what he had come for.

Yes, he thought, she would make a wonderful ally.

His heart had slowed down to its proper rate. These were moves in a game
that he had been playing a long time; the game of mind against mind. And
now he was interested in her reaction to his moves. She had withstood
undermining. How would she stand up to direct attack?

He came away from the bookshelves and said: 'You were very devoted to your
cousin, Miss Searle.'

'Leslie? But I have already----'

'No. Marguerite Merriam.'

'Mar----. I don't know what you are talking about.'

That was a mistake. If she had stopped to think for a moment, she would
have realised that there was no reason at all to deny the connection with
Marguerite. But the unexpectedness of that name on his lips had startled
her, and she had fallen headlong.

'So devoted that you couldn't think quite straight about her.'

'I tell you----'

'No, don't tell me anything. I'll tell you something. Something that ought
to make confidences between us quite easy, Miss Searle. I encountered
Leslie Searle at a party in Bloomsbury. One of those literary gatherings.
He wanted to be introduced to Lavinia Fitch and I agreed to present him.
As we pushed through the crowd we were flung together at very close
quarters; in fact it was breathing-room only. A policeman is trained to
observe, but I think even without that I would have noticed any variation
in detail that was presented to me at that range. He had very fine grey
eyes, Leslie Searle, and there was a small brown fleck in the iris of the
left one. I have lately spent a good deal of time, and a great deal of
labour and thought, trying to account for Leslie Searle's disappearance,
and with native wit and considerable luck I got to the stage where I
needed only one small thing to make my case complete. A small brown fleck.
I found it on the doorstep down there.'

There was complete silence. She was sitting with her coffee cup in her
lap, looking down at it. The slow ticking of a wall clock sounded loud and
ponderous in the quiet.

'It's an odd thing, sex,' Grant said. 'When you laughed with me, caught in
the crush that day, I had a moment of being suddenly out of countenance.
Disconcerted. The way a dog is sometimes when it is laughed at. I knew it
had nothing to do with your laughing, and I could not think why else I
should have been disconcerted. About 12.45 last Monday I began the process
of realising why; and was nearly run over by a taxi in consequence.'

She had looked up at this; and now she said in a kind of detached
interest: 'Are you the star turn at Scotland Yard?'

'Oh, no,' Grant assured her. 'I come in bundles.'

'You don't talk like something out of a bundle. Not any bundles I've been
acquainted with. And no one out of a bundle could have--could have found
out what happened to Leslie Searle.'

'Oh, I'm not responsible for that.'

'No?--Who is, then?'

'Dora Siggins.'

'Dora----? Who is she?'

'She left her shoes on the seat of my car. Tied up in a neat parcel. At
the time they were just Dora Siggins's shoes tied up in a parcel. But at
12.45 last Monday, right in the path of a taxi, they became a parcel of
the required dimensions.'

'What dimensions?'

'The dimensions of that empty space in your photographic box. I did try a
pair of Searle's shoes in that space--you must allow me so much--but
you'll admit that no run-of-the-mill hard-working one-of-a-bundle
detective would think up anything so outré as a parcel containing one pair
of women's shoes and a coloured silk head-square. By the way, my
sergeant's recorded description of the woman who joined the bus at that
crossroads where the fair is, says: Loose gaberdine raincoat.'

'Yes. My burberry is a reversible one.'

'Was that part of the preparation too?'

'No; I got it years ago, so that I could travel light. I could camp out in
it, and go to afternoon tea with the inside out.'

'It is a little galling to think that it was I who paved the way for this
practical joke of yours by my anxiety to be helpful to the stranger within
the gates. I'll let strangers stand after this.'

'Is that how it seems to you?' she said slowly. 'A practical joke?'

'Let us not quibble about terms. I don't know what you call it to
yourself. What it actually is, is a practical joke of particular
brutality. I take it that your plan was either to make a fool of Walter
Whitmore or to leave him in the soup.'

'Oh, no,' she said simply. 'I was going to kill him.'

Her sincerity was so patent that this brought Grant up all standing.

'Kill him?' he said, all attention and his flippancy gone.

'It seemed to me that he shouldn't be allowed to go on living,' she said.
She took her coffee cup off her lap to put it on the table, but her hand
was shaking so much that she could not lift it.

Grant moved over and took it from her, gently, and set it down.

'You hated him because of what you imagined he had done to Marguerite
Merriam,' he said, and she nodded. Her hands were clasped in her lap in a
vain effort to keep them steady.

He was silent for a moment or two, trying to get used to the idea that all
the ingenuity that he had taken to be her slick exit from a masquerade had
been in reality a planned get-out to murder.

'And what made you change your mind?'

'Well--oddly enough, the first small thing was something Walter said. It
was one evening after Serge Ratoff had made a scene in the pub.'

'Yes?'

'Walter said that when one was as devoted as Serge was to anyone one
ceased to be quite sane about it. That made me think a bit.' She paused.
'And then, I liked Liz. She wasn't at all what I had pictured. You see, I
had pictured her as the girl who had stolen Walter from Marguerite. And
the real Liz wasn't like that at all. That sort-of bewildered me a little.
But the real thing that stopped me was--was that--that----'

'You found out that the person you loved had never existed,' Grant said
quietly.

She caught her breath and said: 'I don't know how you could have guessed
that.'

'But that is what happened, isn't it?'

'Yes. Yes, I found out---- People didn't know that I had any connection
with her, you see, and they talked quite unguardedly. Marta, especially.
Marta Hallard. I went back with her one night after dinner. She told me
things that--shocked me. I had always known that she was wild and--and
headstrong--Marguerite, I mean--but one expects that of genius, and she
seemed so--so vulnerable that one forgave----'

'Yes, I understand.'

'But the Marguerite that Marta and those other people knew was someone I
didn't know at all. Someone I wouldn't even have liked if----. I remember
when I said that at least she _lived_, Marta said: "The trouble was that
she didn't allow anyone else to. The suction she created," Marta said,
"was so great that her neighbours were left in a vacuum. They either
expired from suffocation or they were dashed to death against the nearest
large object." So you see, I didn't feel like killing Walter any more. But
I still hated him for leaving her. I couldn't forget that. That he had
walked out on her and she had killed herself because of it. Oh, I know, I
know!' she added, as she saw his interruption coming. 'It was not that she
loved him so much. I know that now. But if he had stayed with her she
would be alive today, alive, with her genius and her beauty and her gay
loveliness. He might have waited----'

'Till she tired?' Grant supplied, more dryly than he had intended, and she
winced.

'It wouldn't have been long,' she said, with sad honesty.

'May I change my mind and have some of that coffee after all?' Grant said.

She looked at her uncontrolled hands and said: 'Will you pour it out?'

She watched him as he poured, and said: 'You are a very strange
policeman.'

'As I said to Liz Garrowby when she made the same remark: It may be your
idea of policemen that's strange.'

'If I had had a sister like Liz how different my life would have been. I
had no one but Marguerite. And when I heard that she had killed herself I
suppose I just went a little crazy for a spell. How did you find out about
Marguerite and me?'

'The police in San Francisco sent us an account of you, and in it your
mother's name was given as Mattson. After much too long an interval I
remembered that in _Who's Who in the Theatre_, which I had been using one
night to pass the time while I waited for a telephone call, Marguerite
Merriam's mother was also given as a Mattson. And since I had been looking
for some connection between you and Walter, it seemed that I might have
found it if you and Marguerite were cousins.'

'Yes. We were more. We were both only children. Our mothers were
Norwegian, but one married in Britain and one in America. And then, when I
was fifteen, my mother took me to England, and I met Marguerite for the
first time. She was nearly a year older than me, but she seemed younger.
Even then she was brilliant. Everything she did had a--a _shining_
quality. We wrote to each other every week from then on, and every year
until my parents died we came to England in the summer, and I saw her.'

'How old were you when your parents died?'

'They died in a flu epidemic when I was seventeen. I sold the pharmacy but
kept the photographic side, because I liked it and was good at it. But I
wanted to travel. To photograph the world and everything that was
beautiful in it. So I took the car and went West. I wore pants in those
days just because they were comfortable and cheap, and because when you
are five feet ten you don't look your best in girlish things. I hadn't
thought of using them as--as camouflage until one day when I was leaning
over the engine of the car a man stopped and said: "Got a match, bud?" and
I gave him a light; and he looked at me and nodded and said: "Thanks,
bud," and went away without a second glance. That made me think. A girl
alone is always having trouble--at least in the States she is--even a girl
of five feet ten. And a girl has a more difficult time getting an "in" in
a racket. So I tried it out for a little. And it worked. It worked like a
dream. I began to make money on the Coast. First photographing people who
wanted to be movie actors, and then photographing actors themselves. But
every year I came to England for a little. As me. My name actually is
Leslie, but mostly they called me Lee. _She_ always called me Lee.'

'So your passport is a woman's one.'

'Oh, yes. It is only in the States that I am Leslie Searle. And not all
the time there.'

'And all you did before going to the Westmorland was to hop over to Paris,
and lay the track of Leslie Searle in case anyone proved inquisitive.'

'Yes. I've been in England for some time. But I didn't actually think I'd
need that track. I meant to do away with Leslie Searle too. To find some
joint end for Walter and him. So that it would not be apparent that it was
murder.'

'Whether it was murder or just, as it turned out, leaving Whitmore in the
soup, it was a pretty expensive amusement, wasn't it?'

'Expensive?'

'One very paying photographer's business, one complete gent's outfit in
very expensive suitings, and assorted luggage from the best makers. Which
reminds me, you didn't steal a glove of Liz Garrowby's, did you?'

'No, I stole a pair. Out of the car pocket. I hadn't thought of gloves,
but I suddenly realised how convincing women's gloves are. If there is any
doubt, I mean, as to your sex. They are almost as good as lipstick. You
forgot my lipstick, by the way--in the little parcel. So I took that pair
of Liz's. They wouldn't go on, of course, but I meant to carry them. I
grabbed them in a hurry out of my collar drawer because Walter was coming
along the passage calling to know if I was ready, and later I found that I
had only one. Was the other one still there in the drawer?'

'It was. With the most misleading results.'

'Oh!' she said, and looked amused and human for the first time. She
thought for a little and then said: 'Walter will never take Liz for
granted again. That is one good thing I have done. It is poetic justice
that it should have been a woman who did that. It was clever of you to
guess that I was a woman just from the outside of a little parcel.'

'You do me too much honour. It never even crossed my mind that you might
be a woman. I merely thought that Leslie Searle had gone away disguised as
a woman. I thought they were probably your things, and that he had gone to
you. But the giving up of the whole of Searle's life and belongings
puzzled me. He wouldn't do that unless he had another personality to step
into. It was only then that I began to wonder whether Searle was
masquerading and wasn't a man at all. It didn't seem as wild an idea as it
might have, because I had so lately seen that case of arrest for theft
that turned out so surprisingly. I had seen how easily it could be done.
And then there was you. Staring me in the face, so to speak. A personality
all ready for Searle to dissolve into. A personality who had most
conveniently been painting in Scotland while Searle was fooling the
intelligentsia in Orfordshire.' His glance went to the art display.
'Did you hire these for the occasion, or did you paint them?'

'Oh, I painted them. I spend my summers in Europe painting.'

'Ever been in Scotland?'

'No.'

'You must go and see it sometime. It's grand. How did you know that
Suilven had that "Look-at-me!" look?'

'That is the way it looked on the postcard. Are you Scottish? Grant is a
Scottish name, isn't it?'

'A renegade Scot. My grandfather belonged to Strathspey.' He looked at the
serried ranks of canvas evidence and smiled. 'As fine and wholesale and
convincing an alibi as ever I saw.'

'I don't know,' she said, doubtfully, considering them. 'I think to
another painter they might be far more of a confession. They're
so--arrogantly destructive. And angry. Aren't they. I would paint them all
differently today now that I have known Liz, and--grown up, and Marguerite
has died in my heart as well as in reality. It is very growing-up to find
that someone you loved all your life never existed at all. Are you
married, Inspector?'

'No. Why?'

'I don't know,' she said vaguely. 'I just wondered how you understood so
quickly about what had happened to me over Marguerite. And I suppose one
expects married people to be more sympathetic to emotional vagaries. Which
is quite absurd, because they are normally far too cluttered up with their
own emotional problems to have spare sympathy. It is the unattached person
who--who helps. Won't you have some more coffee?'

'You make coffee even better than you paint.'

'You haven't come to arrest me, or you wouldn't be drinking my coffee.'

'Quite right. I wouldn't. I wouldn't even drink the coffee of a practical
joker.'

'But you don't mind drinking with a woman who planned long and elaborately
to kill someone?'

'And changed her mind. There are quite a few people I would willingly have
killed in my time. Indeed, with prison no more penitential than a not very
good public school, and the death sentence on the point of being
abolished, I think I'll make a little list, _á la_ Gilbert. Then when I
grow a little aged I shall make a total sweep--ten or so for the price of
one--and retire comfortably to be well cared-for for the rest of my life.'

'You are very kind,' she said irrelevantly. 'I haven't really committed
any crime,' she said presently, 'so they can't prosecute me for anything,
can they?'

'My dear Miss Searle, you have committed practically every known crime in
the book. The worst and most unforgivable being to waste the time of the
overworked police forces of this country.'

'But that isn't a crime, is it? That is what the police are there for. I
don't mean: to have their time wasted, but to make sure that there has
been nothing fishy about a happening. There isn't any law that can punish
one for what you have called a practical joke, surely?'

'There is always "breach of the peace". It is quite wonderful what a
variety of things can be induced to come under the heading of breach of
the peace.'

'And what happens when you breach the peace?'

'You are treated to a little homily and fined.'

'Fined!'

'A quite inappropriate sum, more often than not.'

'Then I shan't be sent to prison?'

'Not unless you have done something that I don't yet know about. And I
wouldn't put it past you, as they say in Strathspey.'

'Oh, no,' she said. 'No. You really do know all about me. I don't know how
you know all you do, if it comes to that.'

'Our policemen are wonderful. Hadn't you heard?'

'You must have been pretty sure that you knew all about me before you came
looking for that brown fleck in my iris.'

'Yes. Your policemen are wonderful too. They looked up the births in
Jobling, Conn., for me. The infant that Mr and Mrs Durfey Searle took with
them when they left Jobling for points south, was, they reported, female.
After that I would have been surprised to death if there had been no brown
fleck.'

'So you ganged up on me.' Her hands had stopped shaking, he noticed. He
was glad that she had reached the stage of achieving a flippancy. 'Are you
going to take me away with you now?'

'On the contrary. This is my farewell to you.'

'Farewell? You can't have come to take farewell of someone you don't
know.'

'Where our mutual acquaintance is concerned I, as they say, have the
advantage of you. I may be quite new to you--or practically new--but you
have been in my hair for the last fourteen days, and I shall be very glad
to get you out.'

'Then you don't take me to a police station or anything like that?'

'No. Not unless you show any signs of beating it out of the country. In
which case an officer would no doubt appear at your elbow with a pressing
invitation to remain.'

'Oh, I'm not going to run away. I am truly sorry for what I have done. I
mean, for the trouble--and I suppose the--the misery I have caused.'

'Yes. Misery is the appropriate word, I feel.'

'I am sorry most of all for what Liz must have suffered.'

'It was gratuitously wicked of you to stage that quarrel at the Swan,
wasn't it?'

'Yes. Yes, it was unforgivable. But he maddened me so. He was so smug. So
unconsciously smug. Everything had always been easy for him.' She saw the
comment in his face, and protested: 'Yes, even Marguerite's death! He went
straight from that into Liz's arms. He never really knew desolation. Or
fear. Or despair. Or any of the big, _grinding_ things in life. He was
quite convinced that nothing irretrievable would ever happen to him. If
his "Marguerite" died there would always be a "Liz" there. I _wanted_ him
to suffer. To be caught in something that he couldn't get out of. To meet
trouble and for once be stuck with it. And you can't say I wasn't right!
He'll never be so smug again. Will he? Will he, then!'

'No, I suppose not. Indeed, I'm sure not.'

'I'm sorry Liz had to be hurt. I would go to prison if I could undo that.
But I've given her a much better Walter than the one she was going to
marry. She really is in love with that poor egotistical wretch of a
creature, you know. Well, I've made him over for her. I'll be surprised if
he isn't a new man from now on.'

'If I don't go, you'll be proving to me that you are a public benefactor
instead of an offender under breach-of-the-peace.'

'What happens to me now? Do I just sit and wait?'

'A constable will no doubt serve you solemnly with a summons to appear at
a magistrate's court. Have you a lawyer, by the way?'

'Yes, I have an old man in a funny little office who keeps my letters till
I want them. He's called Bing, Parry, Parry, and Bing, but I don't think
he is any of them, actually.'

'Then you had better go and see him and tell him what you have done.'

'All of it?'

'The relevant bits. You can probably leave out the quarrel at the Swan,
and anything else that you're particularly ashamed of.' She reacted to
that, he noticed. 'But don't leave out too much. Lawyers like to know; and
they are almost as unshockable as the police.'

'Have I shocked you, Inspector?'

'Not noticeably. You've been a pleasant change from the armed robberies
and the blackmail and the confidence tricks.'

'Shall I see you when I am charged?'

'No. A lowly sergeant will be there to give evidence, I expect.'

He took his hat and prepared to go, looking once more at the one-man show
of the West Highlands.

'I really ought to take a picture with me as a souvenir,' he said.

'You can have any one you want. They are going to be obliterated anyhow.
Which would you like?' It was obvious that she did not quite know whether
he was serious or not.

'I don't know. I like Kishorn, but I can't remember Kishorn being as
aggressive as that. And if I took the Cooling there would be no room for
me in the room too.'

'But it's only thirty inches by----' she was beginning, and then
understood. 'Oh. I see. Yes, it is intrusive.'

'I don't think I have time to wait and choose. I must leave it, I'm
afraid. But thank you for the offer.'

'Come back one day when you have more time and choose at your leisure,'
she said.

'Thank you. I may do that.'

'When the court has made an honest woman of me.' She went to the stairs
with him. 'It's a bit of an anti-climax, isn't it? To set out to kill
someone and end with breach of the peace.'

The detachment in this caught his attention, and he stood for a long
moment looking at her. After a little he said, as one giving judgment:
'You're cured.'

'Yes, I'm cured,' she said sadly. 'I shall never be green again. It was
lovely while it lasted.'

'It's nice grown-up, too,' Grant said comfortingly, and went away down the
stairs. When he opened the door he looked back to find that she was still
there watching him. 'By the way,' he said, 'what are accessories?'

'What? Oh!' She laughed a little. 'Belts and bibs and bows and brash
little bouquets for women to put in their hair.'

'Goodbye,' Grant said.

'Goodbye, Detective-Inspector Grant. I am grateful to you.'

He went away into the sunlight, at peace with the world.

As he walked down to the bus stop a lovely mad notion came to him. He
would ring up Marta and ask her if she wanted another woman for Saturday
night, and she would say yes, bring anyone you would like, and he would
bring them Lee Searle.

But of course he could not do that. It would be sadly unbecoming in an
officer of the Criminal Investigation Department; indicating a lightness
of mind, a frivolity, that could only be described as deplorable in the
circumstances. It was all very well for the Lee Searles of this world,
people who had not yet quite grown up, to indulge their notions, but for
adults, and sober adults at that, there were the convenances.

And of course there were compensations. Life was entirely constructed of
compensations.

The fantastical was for adolescents; for adults there were adult joys.

And no joy of his 'green' years had ever filled his breast with a more
tingling anticipation than the thought of Superintendent Bryce's face when
he made his report this morning.

It was a glorious and utterly satisfying prospect.

He could hardly wait.



THE END



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