Dead for a Ducat
There was feeble sunlight next afternoon when Carolus set out to see Mr. Boater, a gentleman whose name had cropped up a number of times, a neighbour of Lady Pipford’s, an acquaintance if not a friend of the late Darryl Montaccord. Rupert Priggley, Carolus was thankful to know, was playing in a school Rugby match. Carolus felt cheerful and confident as he went.
“A nice afternoon for detection,” he reflected.
Mr. Boater was a bachelor who lived in a thatched cottage on a small income or pension, a beefy egotist with a stock of far-fetched information about himself which he released on small provocation. It would be difficult to extract from him anything relevant, Carolus knew, but he felt by conscience bound to try. He found Mr. Boater tending a bonfire.
“I thought you’d be along to see me,” he said. “I heard you’re looking into Darryl’s death. Murdered, of course. I said as soon as I heard what had happened—somebody’s murdered old Darryl. I remember a similar incident in Turkey . . .”
“Did you know him well?”
“Yes. Inside out. He reminded me of a man I knew when I was on The Times . . .”
“Did you often go up to the house?”
“Not while old Lady P. was there, the old Gorgon. She was so unbearably rude. I heard a slanging match once between two-taxi drivers in Rio de Janeiro, and I assure you it was nothing, nothing compared to Lady P. when she wanted to be insulting.”
“As she did to you, I take it?”
“She got as good as she gave,” said Monty Boater. “If there’s one thing I do pride myself on, it’s being able to find an answer. She might be able to talk to Darryl Montaccord as though he were a half-witted schoolboy—she couldn’t do that to me.”
“Is that how she talked to Darryl?”
“Of course. He was a fool to put up with it. If he knew the world as I do he’d have told her flatly what he thought.”
“You don’t think he ever did?”
“No. Not old Darryl. He was the kind who’d do his hating on the quiet. He did hate his mother-in-law, but I doubt if he ever shewed it.”
“You are not one of the people, Mr. Boater, who think that Darryl Montaccord was insane?”
“Old Darryl? Far from it. No fool, old Darryl, in more ways than one. I remember Northcliffe once saying to me, ‘Monty,’ he said, ‘never judge a fool by his face.’ I tell you Darryl knew how many beans make five, all right. He wasn’t insane. What he felt for his In-Laws was just plumb dislike. He blamed Lady P. for wrecking his marriage. He should have seen what I’ve seen them do with mothers-in-law on Ascension Island.”
“He never suggested anything like suicide?”
“No, no. Suicide? Gracious, no! Old Darryl was too fond of Number One for that. Tickled to death with life, old Darryl. Got himself a nice little billet there. He didn’t care what they thought of him. They could only put him out by paying. He laughed like a drain about it.”
“Did he know that Lady Pipford was cutting out of her Will?”
“Funny you should ask that. The late king of the Belgians once said to me . . .” Mr. Boater caught the expression on the face of Carolus and reverted. “Yes, funny you should ask that. I’ve only seen him half a dozen times in the last month, but I knew there was something umpty going on. He’d start sentences and never finish them. ‘If they think . . .’ he’d say, then seem to forget he’d been talking aloud. I don’t know what made me think it was something to do with Lady P.’s Will, but that’s the idea I had. Devil of thing, a Will. I know my great-aunt Ada Ponsonby-Drummond, who was supposed to be the original of Trilby before she married my great-uncle, used to say she’d never make a Will. Let ’em fight it out, she used to say, and by heavens they did! They’re still fighting, as a matter of fact. So Lady P. was cutting him out?”
“And you think he knew it?”
“Sure as eggs is eggs, old boy. Darryl was no fool. He knew which side his bread was buttered. But I don’t see him committing suicide, even if he was losing a few thousands of Lady P’s money. Too fond of the old tum for that. And a bit of skirt. He was quite looking forward to going down to Brighton, you know.”
“Indeed?” said Carolus. “You are the first person to think so.”
“Stands to reason. Getting out of that house in which old Lady P. treated him like the idiot boy and locked up her whisky at night. He couldn’t wait to start work in his hotel.”
“Then why did he wait? Put off going, I mean?”
Mr. Boater looked at Carolus rather sharply.
“Oh, you know about that, do you? Extraordinary thing. He was all set to leave on the following morning. As a matter of fact I was going up to have a farewell drink with him that night. He’d asked me some days before. But at about six o’clock on the day he died he rang me up and said he wasn’t going after all. Reminded me of a time in Cairo when I was just leaving for the Palace and they telephoned to say the King was indisposed.”
“Did he seemed pleased?”
“Who? Oh, Darryl. No, rather jumpy. Not himself at all.”
“Tell me, Mr. Boater, if you went up to see Montaccord while Lady Pipford was in the house, how did you avoid meeting her?”
“Simple,” said Monty Boater, with a grin. “Old Darryl used to leave the scullery window open. I’d pop in and we’d make for his bedroom, or, if the old dragon was in bed, the smoking-room. Then we might have a game of two-handed pontoon.”
“And that night?”
“That’s how it was to have been. But, as I say, Darryl put me off in no uncertain terms. ‘Not tonight, not tonight,’ he said as though he were a cat on hot bricks.”
“You couldn’t possibly be making a mistake about that, Mr. Boater?”
“A mistake? If there’s one thing I can say of myself, it’s that I am accurate in details. When I was working with Blériot they used to call me Meticulous Monty. No, I’m not making any mistake.”
“You’re absolutely sure it was Darryl’s voice on the ’phone.”
“Certainly. It was unmistakable. Darryl ’phoned me all right.”
“He didn’t later change his mind and ’phone again suggesting that you should come after all?”
“What is this? No, of course he didn’t.”
“And you didn’t go?”
“Up to the house.”
“No, no, no.”
“Or climb in by the scullery window?”
“What’s the matter with you, Deene? I’ve just told you that he cancelled that.”
“Yet the scullery window was found open that night.”
This seemed to impress Mr. Boater.
“Was it, by Jove? Odd, that. Damned odd. Can’t account for that. If old Darryl left it open it wasn’t for me.”
“You can’t suggest anyone else who used that way in?”
“I can’t. I don’t think there was anyone else. He certainly never mentioned anyone.”
“What in fact did you do that evening, Mr. Boater?”
“So we come to the old alibi, do we? I thought we might. When I was in the Shanghai Police Force the first thing we always found was that everyone connected with a crime had a cast-iron alibi.”
“And in this case?”
“I don’t know whether you’d call it cast-iron. I was fast asleep. Went to the Bull for a couple, and when they closed came straight home to bed. Up and snoring before half-past ten. I never have any difficulty in getting off to sleep. And old campaigner like me only has to put his head on the pillow and he’s away.”
Carolus prepared to leave Mr. Boater’s cottage. It was half-past three, and time he visited Miss Alicia Crick.
“Thank you,” he said, rising.
But Mr. Boater was not easily to be deprived of his last fling. It was not every day that someone would listen to him for an hour.
“I wish I could tell you more,” he said. “I know how difficult a job like yours can be. I started life in the Mounties, and we have plenty of investigation to do. If there’s one thing my friends have always said of me it is . . .”
Carolus was making fast for the door. Mr. Baker seemed to realize that he must make a supreme effort if he wanted to delay him.
“He didn’t want to put off going to Brighton,” he said suddenly, without completing his last sentence. “Something had happened to make him. Something that afternoon, I think.”
“Yes. So you said.”
“He liked a yarn with me, though. I could tell him . . .”
“Goodbye, Mr. Boater.”
“Goodbye. Yes, I could tell him a few things. When I was prospecting in Nyasaland . . .”
Carolus was now safely in the street. He gave Boater a parting smile which was intended to take in the whole history of Nyasaland and bid farewell in one.
“I was reputed . . .” he heard behind him. “It was said of me . . . I remember . . .” The jarring I’s pursued him out of earshot.
He walked across to Rosemary Cottage, in which, he knew, Miss Alicia Crick was expecting him.
The cottage was trim and four-square, built probably for a farm labourer of Queen Anne’s day. It had a warm red roof, And red tiles covered the upper half of its walls. Straggling bare limbs of wistaria were over it, and a climbing rose. The gate had a difficult catch, and the little pathway up to the front door was cobbled.
Miss Crick opened the door herself. She appeared to be taller than she was, for her skinny neck and arms and thin face gave her an appearance of having been stretched out in some way. She was a very healthy, active woman in her late fifties who could stride along as fast as a young girl and dig for two hours at a stretch. Her eyes were yellow-grey and a little watery, her cheeks hung in small flaccid pockets and her dentures appeared to be too large for her. None of this made her prepossessing, but she had a busy good-humour, a loud, cracked laugh and a decisive way of moving and speaking which saved her from being the worst kind of bore. Her passions were gardening, the fruits and flowers of the countryside, and all the fearsome processes of contriving, cleaning, cooking, preserving, drying, storing, brewing, distilling, bottling and pickling which are indulged in by ladies who have read too many old books of household management.
“Come in!” she said now. “I was expecting you. Mind your head—this is the only place to hang the dried tomatoes. Sit down for a minute. I’ve got something on the boil. Shan’t be a sec.”
She sped into the kitchen, leaving Carolus in a small drawing-room with several dozen glass jars, a collection of bottles with typewritten labels on them (Raspberry Ketchup, he perceived, and Beetroot and Celery Wine), some stone demijohns, a pile of dried flower-petals on a newspaper, some score doesn’t packets of seeds, some score of bulb-bowls and a pair of secateurs.
Miss Crick returned.
“There!” she said. “That’s finished the Angelica Liqueur. Now what do you want to know?”
“Anything you can tell me, Miss Crick, which might throw light on the death of Darryl Montaccord.”
“Let’s have a cup of tea first,” she said cheerfully, “while I see what I can rake up. No, sit still. I’ll just put this potpourri on the window-ledge and get these tubers out of the way, then I can lay the table. He was a terrible wet blanket, that Darryl. Lady Pipford took an interesting things and always wanted to know the how and why. He’d just sit there and never say word. Only last week I was explaining how to bottle chestnuts in syrup when I noticed he’d almost gone to sleep. A very dull man.”
“Yes I found him like that.”
“I’ll just go and make the tea. The kettle is boiling. I shan’t be a tick.”
She was soon back with a laden tray, and Carolus was faced with a number of coloured concoctions and a pile of bread and butter.
“Try this,” invited Miss Crick. “Tomato and cowslip jam. Or this—home-made vegetable savoury paste. Two lumps? I should think it was suicide, though. No one would bother to murder him.”
“That is, of course, the puzzle. What motive was there for killing Darryl?”
“One could understand people disliking him, even saying they’d like to murder him. I daresay I’ve said that before now. I remember once when he called an Amaryllis Belladonna I had given to Lady Pipford ‘that lily thing’, I felt like strangling the man. That was on her birthday—about three weeks ago. October the twenty-second.”
Carolus looked at Miss Crick’s strong brown hands and tough old figure and thought she was quite capable of it. She spent much of the life out of doors in all weathers, and in spite of her age had all the stringy strength of her kind.
“But that does not mean that I would have done it, of course. We say a lot of things we don’t mean. Have some of this currant cake. I dry my own black currants. On the other hand, I suppose someone might really do what they said.”
“Someone did” said Carolus shortly. “When did you see Darryl last?”
“Not since the dinner-party,” said Miss Crick very promptly. “That was about a fortnight ago. Quite an occasion, because I so seldom broke out at night. We all rather dressed up for it. It was all quite charming. Lady Pipford had done the flowers herself.”
“How did Darryl behave?”
“He doesn’t behave, as you know. Sullen, resentful, silly, whatever it is he just sits there. I was next to him at dinner, and we only exchanged about two sentences. ‘Do you ever go up to town, Mr. Montaccord?’ I asked. ‘Went up a fortnight ago,’ he replied. I tried to push on. ‘Did you see any shows?’ He looked more sullen than ever. ‘No I didn’t go for that,’ he said. After that I gave it up.”
“Let’s see, the dinner-party was on November second, wasn’t it? So, if Darryl spoke the truth, his visit to London was about the middle of October.”
“If he spoke the truth. He drank rather heavily. Nothing really noticeable. So, I thought, did Lady Pipford. Well, not heavily, but more than most women of her age would have taken. She ended with two glasses of Noyau. I gave her a bottle of my Strawberry Benedictine last year, but it left her quite indifferent.”
“You never saw Darryl again?”
“You went in to see Lady Pipford on the day of his death, I believe?”
“Yes. She was most put out by Darryl on that day. He had suddenly made up his mind not to leave for Brighton as he had planned. ‘He’s really intolerable,’ she said. ‘I did think we were quit of him.’ ”
“Had he only just told her?”
“I rather gathered so.”
“What time was your call?”
“About half-past five, I think. The Fleeces had just left.
“Thank you, Miss Crick. You have been most helpful. And thanks for my nice tea.”
“Not at all. You must come again in the daytime and see the garden. There’s not much to see at this time of year ––Iris stylosa and winter jasmine chiefly. I do love winter flowers.”
“That’s very kind of you.”
“You must take a pot of my plum-and-marrow chutney. And would you like some zinnia seeds? I’ve got such tons this year. But I expect your wonderful Mr. and Mrs. Stick do all that. . . .”
When Carolus reached his home that evening he rather doubted whether Mrs. Stick deserved the adjective. She met him with marked constraint. He knew that before long she would feel called upon to Speak.