A Bone and a Hank of Hair, Chapter Eighteen

A Bone and a Hank of Hair


Cara Myberg had died of an overdose of luminal, a phenobarbital, but whether this were self-administered or not could not be decided at the inquest.
Carolus, abandoning his hope of a period of relaxation, once again put himself into the position of Rathbone in the hope of discovering his whereabouts.  He imagined that the man, after hearing of the arrest of Oscar Gordon and realizing that it was almost certainly in mistake for himself, would feel very much more watched and observed any reality he was.  He saw him in London, not daring to register at a hotel, not daring to walk about the streets—though either might be safe enough—which in despair and the agonies of fatigue.
Where would he, where could he go?  Last time he sought for a refuge, he had gone back to a place he had known in the past, the Lascelles Private Hotel.  Was it too much to hope that now, half-crazy with fear, miserably tired, he might do the same?  If so, it would not be to Lewisham, the scene of his unhappy boyhood, which he probably had not visited for years, and it could not be to Bolderton.  Hastings was unlikely for he would remember Miss Ramble, who would certainly happen to be sitting in a window.  But—it was a long chance—he might seek a brief rest at Glose Cottage.  He had the key, he knew that Carolus was no longer there.  In his dazed mind it might seem at least a place in which to stretch himself out to sleep.  To reach it would not mean taking any great chances.  When he had lived there, he had a car and would not be known to the railway staff.  He could walk over from Tunney’s Halt in twenty minutes and at least find a temporary peace.
But Carolus had a better reason for going back to Bluefield.  There had come back to him something Mr. Toffins had said about rubbish being tipped down a disused mine-shaft, and he had decided to know a little more about this.  What an incompatible way of getting rid of . . . anything!  If it served a large area, there would be tons of rubble and ash, of refuse of every kind tilted on top of whatever had been dropped.  It would become virtually irrecoverable.  A corpse, for instance—it would take a major mining operations and weeks of work and then the results would be dubious.
He drove down to Bluefield next afternoon, and at opening time received a rather cold greeting from Mr. Lofting behind the bar of the Stag.  Carolus compared him unfavourably with the landlord of the Porthaziel Hotel, who was a sound professional licensee and knew how a conversation should go between himself and a customer.  Mr. Lofting just now was busy with a youngish man wearing one of those silly little caps which looked as though it been made for H. G. Wells to wear for cycling as a young man.  Under it was an uncouth moustache.
“I thought as soon as you came in,” said Lofting to this customer, “that’s an Old Ravenstonedalean tie.  I see you were in the NBLI, too.  He has scarcely a glance for Carolus, so enraptured was he with his other visitor’s insignia.
“Heard nothing more of Rathbones, I suppose?” asked Carolus firmly.
“Not a thing,” said Lofting briefly before turning back to his new acquaintance.  “You must have been in Bangalore in ’44 them?  I thought I knew your face.  Decent crowd at HQ, weren’t they?”
Soon Mrs. Luggett waddled in, and Carolus could buy her ‘a nice drop of stout’ she said, because she didn’t fancy draught beer in this weather.  “You soon gave up living out there,” she wheezed.  “I thought you would.  And just after I got the place a bit decent.”
“Still, I expect you have plenty to do elsewhere,” said Carolus.
“Well, I have and I haven’t, as you might say.  I don’t mind giving any place a dust-over when it comes to that.  I never take any notice of what’s said.”
“What is said?”
“Well, about Rathbones and that.  Mind you, I never cared for that place, even if she wasn’t buried under the floorboards.  It had a nasty sort of smell with it, hadn’t it?” She breathed stertorously before she finished her stout.  “That’s better!” she announced.
“What about a short?” asked Carolus.
I don’t mind a rum,” said Mrs. Luggett, making a special concession in favour of the spirit, as though whisky or gin would be highly unpleasant to her.  “This cold weather seems to get into your bones, doesn’t it?”
It would have a long way to go with Mrs. Luggett, Carolus thought, but just then Mr. Toffins came in and joined them.  “You back, are you?” he said jovially.  “Still asking about Rathbones?  Last time you were here, it made me laugh to hear you go on about them.  From all accounts it wasn’t his wife that was here with him at all, then?”
“I don’t take any notice of that, said Mrs. Luggett equably.  “Wife or no wife, I don’t believe he done for her.”
“No, but it’s funny to think of him living with another woman and her buried where they lived before, or all that was left of her, according to what the papers say.”
“Mr. Toffins,” put in Carolus, “when I was here before, you mentioned something about a disused mine-shaft being used for refuse?”
“That’s right.  Out at Grayfield, it is.  They all come here to tilt their rubbish from Canterbury, Folkestone, everywhere.”
“A good many lorries tilt there every day?”
“Scores of them.  And it never will fill up.  The mine hasn’t been worked for I don’t know how many years.  They say there’s no bottom to it, but that’s just a tale.  Anyhow, all that refuse goes right down out of sight and it’s been going on for years now.”
“Is the place enclosed?”
“Now it is.  Barbed wire and a night watchman and everything.  But that’s only recently.  A matter of a week or two before Christmas a horse and cart went to tilt when there was no one there and slipped back, it seems.  The horse lost its foothold and down it went.  Luckily the carter was standing clear or he’d have gone to perdition.  So since then they’ve fenced it off and put a watchman on it, because you never know what might have gone down.”
“You don’t,” agreed Carolus.
“I often laugh when I think that you could drop this whole village down there and no one the wiser.”
“And not much lost, if you ask me,” said Mrs. Luggett, chuckling to make her chins crease and swell.
“Do you ever pass Glose Cottage now?” Carolus asked her.
“Of course I do.  Every time I go home.  My place is beyond there towards Tunney’s Halt.  I told you that.”
“You should see her on her old bike!” said Mr. Toffins.  “You’d split your sides laughing.  She doesn’t half skip along though.”
“You don’t need to be shrivelled up to nothing to ride a bicycle,” said Mrs. Luggett.
“I suppose you never see anyone near a Glose Cottage now?” Carolus pressed.
“Not since you left, I haven’t.”
“You’d notice it if anyone was there?”
“I should see the smoke and that, I suppose.  I shall have to take a look since you’re so interested.”
“Thank you,” said Carolus, and went up to the bar again.  He felt like apologizing to Mr. Lofting for his spotted and un-significant tie, his lack of a blazer badge, his general failure to belong to the associations, clubs, societies, and regiments which would have endeared him to the innkeeper.  But he feared wartime reminiscences and old school fellowship too much to admit to Stonyhurst, Balliol and the Commandos, his modest record.
“This gentleman thinks he remembers meeting you in Tobruk, old man.”
Carolus shook his head.
“What mob were you with during the war?”
“Ministry of Information,” said Carolus, and ended a beautiful friendship.  It was doubtful, in fact, whether Mr. Lofting would let Carolus a room for the night, and he handed the matter to his wife as if to say that accommodation for such as this was beneath his notice.  But next evening, as Carolus sat in the bar, Mrs. Luggett waddled in and, flopping breathlessly into the seat beside him, gave him the news he had scarcely dared to expect.
“There’s someone in there,” she gasped.  “Unless it’s her walking shadow, poor thing, come back as they say they do to the place they knew last.  Mind you, there’s no smoke out of the chimney or anything.  Oh, dear, that last pull up the hill will be the death of me.  I feel as though I shall never get my breath again.  Well, yes, I will have a nice drop of stout and see if that does any good, Otherwise I’m sure I shall be done for.”
When Carolus brought her stout, she lowered its level in her glass by several inches.  “That’s better!” she sighed.
“You were telling me about Glose Cottage.”
“Yes.  This afternoon it was.  After you asking about it, I had a good look as I came by this evening.  I didn’t stop or anything but peeped sideways, as you might say, not to be noticeable if there were people watching.  Anyone my size can’t go twisting and spinning this way and that like a teetotum.  Still what I saw, I saw, and there’s an end of it.”
“What was it,” asked Carolus obligingly.
“Well, it was someone, I can’t say more than that.  Someone moving about.  I didn’t gamble too hard, but I’m not making any mistake.  It wasn’t just reflection on the window.  I rode on pretty smartly as soon as I’d seen it, you may be sure of that.  It was enough to give anyone the shudders to think of someone in that place right out there.  But tonight when I came by I took a good look.  I thought they might be a light burning.  At first I was almost sure there wasn’t.  It looked dark as the grave.  Well, thanks, I don’t mind a drop of short when I remember what I’ve seen.  It’ll help to pull me together.  I thought it first I should never be the same again.”
Mrs. Luggett wasted no time over her rum when she got it.  It went down in a trice and there was a deep if breathless appreciation in her “That’s better!”
“Yes, it quite upset me what I saw,” she said, returning to Glose Cottage.  “Because it didn’t seem like anything at first and only after I’d had a good look could I make it out.  There was no light burning.  Oh, no!  Whoever it is in there’s too artful for that.  But after a minute I saw a sort of red glow.  I thought to myself, so that’s what they’re up to.  Waiting till after dark when no one can see the smoke coming out of the chimney, then lighting a fire.  If that’s not artful, I don’t know what is.”
Carolus went to the telephone, and after a time succeeded in speaking to Mullard at his home in Sidcup.
“I’m not giving you any definite information this time,” he said, “and I won’t be held responsible for anything that may come from my suggestion.  But I think that if you come down to Bluemfield very early tomorrow morning you will find Rathbone in the cottage he used to occupy.”
Mullard was characteristically indignant.  He hadn’t had a decent night’s sleep for days, he said, now this.  How reliable was the information?
“It’s not information at all,” said Carolus.  “It’s just a friendly suggestion.  It may lead to nothing whatever.”
Mullard’s indignation grew.  He couldn’t think why he had ever listened to Carolus.  Here was this nonsense about Bluefield which, Carolus knew very well, he could not conscientiously ignore, yet which might lead to another wild-goose chase.
“Yes.  It might,” said Carolus mercilessly.
Was Mullard to get others out in the small powers and perhaps look a fool for doing so? This was the sort of thing Mullard most disliked about amateurs.  Carolus kept maddeningly cool.
“I see your difficulty,” he said.  “But I’ve no intention of solving it for you.  I simply tell you I have reason to think Rathbone may be there.  I’m not particularly interested one way or the other.  Catching criminals is not my job.  I’m a dabbler and a theorist, not a policeman.  But if you do come down, please come to breakfast with me at the Stag and, if it interests, I’ll tell you what I think about the whole thing.”
“That,” said Mullard with bitter sarcasm, “will be most enlightening, I’m sure.  I suppose you know what has happened to be other women in this case?  The Hastings one and the Bluefield one?
“Oh, yes,” said Carolus, “I know that.  Also the Montgolfier Street one, the Marie Louise Avenue one, the Lascelles Private Hotel one, Anne Rathbone’s sister and Anne Rathbone herself.”
“You are omniscient.  If I find Rathbone at Glose Cottage, I will accept your invitation to breakfast,” said Mullard; “and we will hear this remarkable piece of romantic fiction.”
Carolus was smiling as he put down the receiver and took it up again to ask for a Newminster number.
“This is the Headmaster’s House of the Queen’s School, Newminster,” came the answer in a churchyard voice.
“Hello, Headmaster,” said Carolus gaily.  “This is Deene.  I wondered whether you would like to hear the end of this affair?”
“You have completed your investigations?  You have worked out your theory?”
“One that satisfies me, anyway.”
“Ah!  And you intend to elucidate it for the benefit of those concerned?”
“I don’t know who will benefit.  I’m going to give the investigating CID man my explanation.  No one else will be there unless you like to come.”
“Where and at what hour?”
“Here in the Stag at Bluefield.  Perhaps you would breakfast with me tomorrow?”
“But how, my dear Deene, do you suggest I should make the journey?  You with your large automobile speak lightly of such jaunts.  I have no means of transport.”
“Surely . . .”
“Unless a certain Mrs. Carruthers, the parent of that rather unpromising boy in the Lower Third, can be prevailed upon to run me down.  She has frequently hinted that her car is at my disposal.”
“Do that,” said Carolus, “and I’ll drive you back.  What about Mrs. Chalk? It was she who put me on to this case.”
An almost passionate tone came into the headmaster’s voice:  “Mrs. Chalk has only recently gone to stay with some relatives of her own in the salubrious town of Clacton-on-Sea.  As a matter of fact, I went so far as to hint, lightly and tactfully of course, that she had perhaps misgauged our modest invitation.  I think it would be most unwise, most unwise, to interrupt her visit.”
“Just as you think,” said Carolus.  “I’ll expect you about nine.”
He went to make the difficult approach to Mr. Lofting.  He had to ask for a breakfast party from the innkeeper who now thought him of lesser breeds without the Law.  He explained his difficulty.
“I don’t know whether the wife will do it,” said Mr. Lofting sulkily.  “Who did you say they were?”
“Mullard is a CID man,” said Carolus hopefully.  “Old Hendon Police Collegiate, if that’s the right term.”  This made little impression.  “The other is my boss.  Headmaster of the Queens School, Newminster.”
“Is he, by Jove?”
“Yes.  An Old Newbiggin-on-Lunean, I believe.”
“That’s different.”
“London University,” pressed Carolus.  “Rowed, I seem to remember, for Lechlade-on-Thames Second Eight.”
“War service?” asked Mr. Lofting.
“Home Guard!” said Carolus triumphantly.
“I dare say we can manage it.  Nine o’clock, you say?  Yes.  I’ll speak to the wife.”
Carolus slept soundly, quite undisturbed by the thought of the ugly little scene which he anticipated at Glose Cottage very early in the morning; but at barely half-past eight, when he came down to the small sitting-room behind the bar, he found Mullard awaiting him.
“Yes, we got him all right.  I felt almost sorry for the poor wretch.  He’d been lying up there eating what was left of the tinned stuff in the house and sleeping on a damp bed.  He hadn’t shaved for days and looked a pitiful specimen altogether.  But then, I believe most of these wife-murderers do.”
When Mr. Gorringer arrived and he and Mullard had been introduced, they all three ate with a hearty appetite the ample breakfast Mrs. Lofting provided.  When the table was clear, the headmaster turned eagerly to Carolus.  “We are all ears,” he said, and for his own part it was nearly true.
“I scarcely know where to begin,” Carolus reflected.
“Better begin with Anne Rathbone,” suggested Mullard.
“Yes, tell us first, my dear Deane, how Rathbone killed his wife.”
“But he didn’t,” said Carolus gently.
“I beg your pardon . . .” began Mr. Gorringer.
“Rathbone didn’t kill his wife.  On the contrary he used every means, some of them quite extraordinary, to keep her alive.”