Dead for a Ducat
On Saturday Carolus set off for London. He intended to see Jason Pipford, and hoped to find him at his Bloomsbury flat. He had the address—number 18 Loughlin Street—but he had no appointment. He did not expect to be welcomed at the scientist’s home.
The door was opened by a boy of twelve, evidently Jason’s son. Carolus reflected with some amusement that there was no more uncomplimentary term for a small boy than studious-looking, and that is exactly what Pipford junior was. His lank hair was carefully combed, his face long and pale and he wore glasses
“Yes, my father is at home,” he said in answer to Carolus. “Will you come in?”
Carolus followed him up a staircase, for Jason, it seemed, occupied a flat higher in the house. There was a smell of past meals and years of stale living about them as they ascended, and when they passed through the open door of Jason’s flat was intensified. Not long ago, one could not help knowing, a meal had been cooked and eaten in which cabbages had had their doubtless healthy but not very fragrant place.
“Will you wait in here, please?” said the small boy. “I’ll tell my father.”
He opened a door, and Carolus found himself in a characterless and fireless drawing-room. In a few moments Jason entered.
Carolus felt that he was dimly apprehensive, yet he clearly intended to shew that he considered this an intrusion.
“Good afternoon,” he said coldly, with one of his long blinks. “I think I should say that if your visit has any connection with the events at Mincott, I am not prepared to discuss them. You already know my views and my mother’s.”
“It has,” said Carolus. “I have come entirely for that reason. There are some questions I must ask you.”
“Then this is an intrusion, Mr. Deene, and I don’t intend to support it. You have no right whatever to break into my privacy in this way.”
“Of course I haven’t. I don’t claim any right. I’m interested in getting at the truth, that’s all. And it seems that you wish to prevent me from doing so.”
“Prevent you? It has nothing whatever to do with me. Or you, for that matter. It is a matter for the police.”
Carolus saw that before long he must play his trump card.
“Then why, I wonder, have you been so very evasive with the police?”
“That is impertinent. I have told the police all I know.”
“Not quite, Mr. Pipford. You have not told them—or me—that you were in Mincott on the night of Darryl’s death.”
If Carolus were expecting drama, he was disappointed. Jason blinked, but his manner remained unchanged.
“I have not told them because it has nothing whatever to do with them. It was a matter entirely between my mother and myself.”
“You think they would take that point of view?”
“I haven’t the slightest idea or interest. I have no information for them in a matter of Montaccord’s death, and that is the only thing that concerns them.”
“Or in the matter of May Swillow?”
“I beg your pardon?”
Resisting then completion to say vulgarly “You ’eard,” Carolus said—“And no information that would assist them to understand May Swillow’s?”
Jason for the first time shewed traces of confusion.
“I was nowhere near Mincott when May Swillow died.”
“Certainly not. But let’s face it, you have not been frank with them or me. I’m making no accusation beyond that. However, I tell you I’m going to thrash this thing out with or without your information. If you have nothing serious to conceal, why not be frank now? I am, after all, an old friend of your mothers. It’s so dam’ silly to get on your high horse.”
“Mr. Deene,” said Jason, “you surely must realize how unpleasant it is for me to be interrogated by a schoolmaster who makes a hobby of criminal investigation. I admit that there are certain facts I have not wished to give, and you seem to have got hold of some of these. But this probing of yours is unwarranted.”
“I am afraid I don’t think so. Finding the truth is the only important thing.”
Jason appeared to consider for a moment.
“What do you want to know?” he asked at last. “I do not undertake to add to your questions, but I am prepared to hear them. Please sit down.”
Carolus did not intend to hurry.
“You are an analytical chemist, Mr. Pipford?”
“You have a laboratory?”
“Have you any quantity in it of cyanide of potassium.”
“Have you been asked for any recently by any unauthorised person?”
“Would you know if any were missing?”
“Is it difficult to obtain cyanide of potassium?”
“It isn’t easy. But it has certain commercial uses. It is used in electro-plating, for example.”
“It would not be sold by any chemist?”
“Not without proper authority and a signature in the poison book.”
“I see. Now about that Tuesday. It was planned that you should go down, I believe?”
“I asked you about this before. It seems curious that you should have wished to go down for Darryl’s departure. He was by now extremely unpopular in your home.”
“As a matter of fact it was my mother’s idea. She guessed that at the last minute there be some nonsense about it, and wanted me to be there to be quite sure Darryl went.”
“Yet when there was nonsense and Darryl did decide to postpone his departure, she told you not to come, after all?”
“That is so. She seemed quite resigned to his staying. She rang me up at my laboratory and told me not to trouble to come down. Nothing whatever could be done about it. Darryl had decided to stay another week, and that was that. She was most impressive.”
“Still, you went?”
“Unfortunately, yes. I should have known that my mother is not a woman to change her mind. I believed I could get rid of Darryl for her, and decided to catch the last train down. I reached the house shortly after eleven.”
“How did your mother take that?”
“My mother is a woman of much character, Mr. Deene. All my life I have suffered from it. She brooks no opposition. That night she had told me not to come and counter to her instructions I had arrived. She was exceedingly angry. She insisted that I should immediately hire a car and go back to London.”
“At what time was this?”
“I reached the house, as I say, shortly after eleven. I left it, in Bretton’s taxi, before half-past.”
“Did you see Darryl Montaccord?”
“No. I understood that he had gone to bed.”
“You knew nothing of his death till next day?”
“You saw no one while you were at Mincott House except your mother and Bretton?”
“Then why on earth didn’t you tell me all this at first? Or at least tell the police?”
“My mother insisted most firmly that I should not do so. She was quite inflexible on the point. No one was to know I had been down to Mincott. She said, and quite rightly, that it would waste a great deal of my time if I had to attend the inquest and so on. My time is extremely valuable, Mr. Deene.”
“I have no doubt. But surely, since as you say this is a police matter, you should have told the police. Why do you think your mother felt so strongly on that point?”
“My mother’s hatred for the police is a matter of family history, Mr. Deene. I have no objection to relating it if you wish.”
At this point the door opened and a dark, angular woman all flat hips and shoulders, came in.”
“Do come through to the fire, Jason . . .” she began, without waiting to be introduced.
“My wife,” said Jason, with neither pride nor apology. “Mr. Carolus Deene.”
“How d’you do? You can’t sit here in the cold, whatever it is you want to talk about,” said Mrs Pipford. “Come into the other room.”
There was something ungracious in her matter, as there was ungraceful in her bearing.
“I’ll take my work upstairs,” she said when they had entered a sitting-room dominated by three-piece suite. “And leave you to get on with it.”
“There is no necessity for that,” said Jason primly. “I was about to tell Mr. Deene something about my mother which you already know.”
“I’m sure I don’t want to be inquisitive.”
“No one has suggested that you are inquisitive, Felicity,” said Jason.
“I mean, if you would rather I went upstairs while you’re talking . . .”
Jason gave one of his longest blinks. Watching him fascinated, Carolus counted One—Two—Three while the eyes remained closed.
“My dear, you must do precisely as you wish. Mr. Deene wanted a few details that would help him clear up matters at Mincott, and I have given them to him. He now wonders why my mother had such violent prejudices against the police, and I am about to tell him.”
“I’ll stay if you want me to, then,” said Felicity Pipford, and Carolus could not help feeling some sympathy for Jason. “Only I hate intruding when anyone wants to be alone.”
It was Carolus who in desperation cut short these protestations.
“You were going to tell me about your mother,” he reminded Jason.
“Yes. This happened many years ago, during my father’s lifetime. My father was a man of considerable enterprise, Mr. Deene. He was a pioneer motorist and aviator. Some of his flights are on record as making history. He was the first man to make the journey from Paris to Constantinople in a motor-car. He was a fine shot and, oddly enough, something of an orator. He and my mother were well-matched and exceedingly fond of one another. They shared many adventures and were completely in one another’s confidence. My mother has often said that they had no secrets from one another at all.”
“I don’t know whether you mean to imply . . .” began Felicity, but Jason, shewing a little of his mother’s spirit, cut her short.
“I mean to imply nothing. I am telling Mr. Deene certain facts about my father and mother.” He turned to Carolus. “They were both—shall I say?—socially-minded. They liked going to functions of every kind, and my father was much in demand as a public speaker. They had a London house then as well as Mincott, but my mother sold that after my father’s death. If my father had one failing, it was The Bottle.”
Carolus nodded. He had heard this on the late Sir Ajax Pipford.
“He was not a drunkard,” continued Jason, “or anything of the sort. My mother says that she never saw him intoxicated but he could drink an enormous amount without actually collapsing. There’re people like that, you know. Never really drunk, yet after they have their first drinks never quite sober.”
“I know I’ve got a poor head for drink,” put in Felicity, in an injured tone. “It’s not my fault. I wonder why you always want to rub it in?”
Jason wisely ignored this.
“One evening my father and mother were returning to Mincott from London after some function at which my father had spoken. They had a Daimler a car then, and my father was driving. In Newminster High Street there was a smash, according to my mother entirely the fault of your driver, who shot out of a side street without warning. It appears that neither my father-in-law mother was at all badly hurt, but that in the other car, and Austin Seven, a woman receives some injury and afterwards died hospital. Again, according to my mother, she was a very sick woman when this happened and would have died very soon in any case. But it enabled the most serious charges to be brought against my father.
“My mother maintains that there had been a violent disagreement between him and the Chief Constable some weeks earlier, and that the latter took advantage of the incident. Medical evidence was produced to shew that my father was under the influence of alcohol, and there were a great many police witnesses. My mother says that perjury was committed by at east four of them, and certainly that my father, to use an Americanism, was framed. And all events, he was sentenced to nine months imprisonment, and his subsequent appeal dismissed. It is affected both my mother and me. She cannot bear policemen. I cannot bear motor-cars.
“I know I’ve tried to persuade you to buy one,” said Felicity. “But only for the children’s sake. I’ve told you I won’t mention it again, so don’t know why you want to bring it up.”
“With my mother it is almost an obsession, Mr. Deene. In no circumstances—in no circumstances at all—would you call in the assistance of a policeman, I believe. She is not an embittered woman, but on this point she remains as bitter as when it first happened.”
“That is very interesting. I had heard some vague rumour of it, but I’m glad to know just what happened.”
“I shall be obliged if you will regard it as in confidence,” said Jason. “We never discuss it in the family now, and I do not wish it to be recalled from the past by anyone else.”
“I offered to go upstairs . . .” began Felicity.
“Of course I will say nothing about it,” promised Carolus. He was wondering at what point Jason would be driven to turn to his wife and shout, as he, Carolus, would have been long ago.
There was a pause, after which Carolus appealed to Jason.
“Is there nothing more you can tell me? Nothing that will help me understand how May Swillow came to die?”
“You know that she was poisoned by cyanide of potassium?”
“And you can make no helpful suggestion at all?”
“I’m afraid not.”
Carolus stood up, and after Felicity had again protested that she had no wish to listen to the conversation, had indeed offered to withdraw, he managed to take his leave.
But he had not quite finished with the Pipford family for the day. He drove down to South Kensington, where Lanie Montaccord had a flat. He did not expect to be much wiser factually after hearing her answers to certain questions, but he believed he might be able to sense something in the manner or gather some scrap from a chance remark let fall. At all events, he thought that he should see her.
He found her with a handsome man in his forties whom she introduced as her fiancé, Roger Settle. She shewed none of Jason’s reluctance to discuss events at Mincott, and her flat was comfortable and furnished with some taste, a pleasant change from the gloomy gloomy stylus of Loughlin Street.
“Have a drink?” she suggested, and both Settle and Carolus accepted that.
“Carolus is a sleuth,” explained Lanie to Settle. “He’s trying to find out who killed my mother’s housekeeper.”
“Rarla?” said Settle.
“Who have you been interviewing?” asked Lanie chattily.
“Jason,” returned Carolus.
“Oh no! In that awful flat? How did you get on with Felicity?” “Quite well. Jason told me some interesting things. He was in Mincott on the night your husband died.”
This silenced Lanie for a moment, but she soon seemed to recover.
“was he? He didn’t tell me. Let me call you another drink. I wonder what you want to know from me.”
“It’s very simple, really. I want to know about a box of chocolates.”
That really went home. Lanie was visibly shaken. When she spoke she seemed to bring the word out with difficulty.”
“Which?” she asked.
Carolus followed his advantage.
“Not, at the moment, the one your mother had locked in the bureau cupboard, nor the one in your husband’s baggage . . .”
“Was there one?”
“So I understand. A two-pound box of Windsor chocolates.”
“S’traordinary thing,” said Settle.
“I mean the box of chocolates you sent May Swillow on Wednesday of last week.”
For a moment Carolus hoped she was going to put up a denial. That would have been revealing.
“Yes, Lanie, you. Don’t you remember?”
“Of course! It was after I been down there.”
“The day you returned.”
“So it was. I usually sent May something after staying there. She preferred it to being tipped. And what could have pleased her more than a box of chocolates?”
“Only a larger box of chocolates,” said Roger Settle, uttering more than a word or two for the first time.
“Have you ever sent one before?”
“No, I don’t think I had. I hadn’t been down for a long time. I wouldn’t go while Darryl was there.”
“Do you remember what kind of chocolates they were?”
“Yes, Forkinson’s Royalty. Quite good. I prefer Black Magic myself. Or even Cadbury’s Tray. But she liked a showy box and masses of cream centres.”
“Revolting,” said Roger Settle.”
Carolus could not resist a wholly irrelevant question.
“Are you a sweet-eater?” he asked Settle
“Well, I don’t mind walnut Brazils,” said Settle at once, “and those nobbly things with nuts in them. Then crème-de-menthe pastilles . . .”
“You ought to be very, very happy together,” said Carolus, and turned to Lanie. “Do you remember where you bought these chocolates you sent to May Swillow.”
“Yes. That little shop by the East Kensington Underground Station. Keffler’s it’s called. I got them on my way home.”
“Did you have them wrapped up there?”
“No. They were awfully busy. I brought them home, wrapped them myself and sent them off when I went out.”
“You took a lot of trouble over this present for May Swillow.”
“I was quite fond of the old thing. She loved a bit of drama, but she had a good heart.”
“Do you see much of your brother?”
“Not more than I can help. Jason is so drably a scientist, and Felicity’s a pain in the neck.”
“Did you ever visit his laboratory?”
“I have done. Not for some time.”
“Did you?” Carolus asked Settle.
“No. Stinks,” said Settle.
Carolus finished with appeal to Lanie to persuade her mother to leave Mincott.
“It’s no good, Carolus. You know her by now. When mother says no, there’s nothing to be done.”
He argued a little more, but he knew before he began that he was defeated. Lady Pipford was immovable.