Dead for a Ducat
“Mind if I smoke?” said Poppy Munn when she had made herself comfortable.
“How long have you been employed here?”
“Two years, about.”
“Your father is James Munn, the jobbing builder?”
“Where do you get your jobbing? My father’s a contractor. Specializes in restoration work. Period houses. My mother is President of the Women’s Institute. My young brother is at the Queen’s School, Newminster, where Mr. Deene teaches.”
“I see,” said John Moore coldly. “With such distinguished connections, I wonder that you condescend to work here as a housemaid.”
“Assistant housekeeper,” corrected Poppy. “I know. It is rather absurd. But I like Lady Pip, and until I finally decide whether to marry Eddy Bretton I might as well do this as anything else.”
Moore seemed to hesitate, then took a friendlier tone.
“We have rather gathered during my talk with Mrs. Swillow that this is very much a house for sweets.”
“Gosh, how right you are! It’s quite revolting. One’s as bad as the other. Lady Pip with her boxes of chocolates, May Swillow with her sticky little packets and even Darryl sucking and chewing like a schoolboy.”
“You didn’t join these orgies?”
“No. I prefer a cigarette. Healthier in the long run.”
“You think they spoil your meals?”
“I just don’t like them. But they didn’t spoil their meals. I should describe Darryl as a gross eater.”
“Am I right in thinking that Mr. Montaccord was being somewhat attentive to you?”
“That’s one way of putting it. If you mean trying to grab me whenever I passed and putting his flabby paws on me whenever he got the chance, you’re right. But he got no change out of me. Not my type at all.”
“Was your fiancé aware of this?”
“Eddy? Yes. I told him.”
“What did he say?”
“Said he’d shake the guts out of that mealbag if I had any more of it. He would have, too. That’s what I like about Eddy. A simple rustic type. I shall probably marry him, I think.”
“It sounds ideal,” remarked Carolus. “Did he ever come here?”
“Not often. He’s a mechanic at the garage—well, he’s got an interest in it now. He works pretty hard in the daytime, and I usually finish at five. Once or twice when I’ve stayed late to help with a dinner-party he has called for me.”
“But he knew the family?”
“Oh yes. They all took their cars to his garage when they wanted anything.”
“You knew Mrs. Montaccord, of course?”
“Lanie? Yes. Good type. I like her. No nonsense about her. She was divorcing that flab, you know. Or he was divorcing her, or something. They haven’t lived together since I’ve been here, anyway”
“Did Mr. Montaccord have much to say to you? Apart from the . . . advances you describe?”
“He had too much to say. Had the neck once to suggest that I should go to London with him. Gave me all that city lights stuff. I don’t know London well, but the day’s past when a girl is a country miss until she has lived there. I went to one of the big West End dance-halls once, and if anything is provincial that is. Oh yes, Darryl had plenty to say. But he frankly didn’t interest me.”
“What does, I wonder?” asked Carolus.
“Well, I like television,” admitted Poppy.
“I might have known. Go on, John.”
“There’s nothing much else I want to ask unless you can make any suggestion about the scullery window.”
“Nope. Except that I can’t believe May Swillow left it open. She’s a painfully conscientious soul.”
“Not a bit. If there’s anything else you want to know don’t be afraid to ask.”
“I shan’t be,” John Moore told her. There is one other thing, as a matter of fact. You say that you and your fiancé went to the village dance that night. Did you leave it at all during the evening?”
“Yes. We took a breather in his car.”
“What time did you get home?”
“Now you’re just being nosy. Still, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t know. We drove out afterwards for an hour.”
“And reached home?”
“Must have been about one.”
“That’s all right. Be seeing you.”
Poppy Munn put out her third cigarette and left the room.
“How do you like that young woman?” asked Carolus.
Moore answered quite seriously.
“Not at all. Not at all,” he said.
Soon afterwards he closed his notebook and with a quick nod to Carolus went out to his car. Carolus heard him drive away.
It was then, he thought afterwards, in the little time he had alone after the questioning of May Swillow and Poppy Munn, that he decided one issue in his own mind. The death of Darryl had been one of two things—suicide or murder. In this case the third possibility in so many violent deaths, accident, could not possibly arise. A gun doesn’t come to be on a man’s bed by accident. And between suicide and murder he now decided. Darrell Montaccord had not killed himself. The selfish, indolent and greedy man he had known and heard described was the least likely person to take his own life.
Besides, there were too many odd bits of evidence with no comprehensible explanation. The rum-and-milk glass, for instance. That could not be dismissed as a detail, whatever the truth of it was. Someone with considerable presence of mind had taken advantage of his absence from the room for a few moments to remove it. Then the gloves. They were large for a woman; a man could have put them on if he had small hands like those pale, fat little hands of Darryl Montaccord’s. Then there was the matter of the scullery window, for which there were several explanations, none of them connected with suicide. Altogether, in his own mind, at least, he was sure Darryl had been murdered.
The rest, he reflected, would come. Why that seemingly useless flabby man had been killed and by whom—these made the crux of a pretty problem. He was going to enjoy it. There was no hurry, for he was pretty sure the police would be satisfied that Darryl had killed himself and the Coroner’s verdict would be suicide. He would have this to himself, as it were, a chess problem rather than a game of chess. He could—he found himself smiling at the thought—work on it in the evenings.
At that moment Lady Pipford and her daughter came into the room. Carolus knew Elaine and agreed with Poppy that there was no nonsense about her. She was a handsome woman with cool grey eyes, a good profile and a certain elegance which persisted even when she wore, as she did now, what are paradoxically called ‘sensible’ country tweeds.
She gave Carolus a pleasant smile and a friendly greeting. He reflected she you made one more person connected with the dead man to whom his death seemed a matter of complete indifference. Somewhere, he supposed, Darryl Montaccord must be mourned by someone, since no human being, surely, can live wholly unloved. But it certainly was not in this house.
“You’ll have tea, Carolus? They’re just going to bring it.” Lady Pipford looked radiant and spoke as though this were an altogether delightful occasion. “I suppose we’ve got to put the light on. Who is going to say ‘the evenings are drawing in’?”
“What do you think about Darryl now?” asked Lanie chattily.
Carolus wondered what the effect would be if he answered in an equally conversational tone that he believed Darryl had been murdered. But he resisted the temptation.
“I don’t know what to think,” he answered fatuously.
“He was quite mad, you know,” said Darryl’s wife, clearing a table for the tea-tray.
“Oh. Was he?”
“Quite. Only in a sullen, neurotic way. Freud would have had a word for it.”
“I did not know him well,” said Carolus. “But I never thought that.”
“Well, I did know him well, and I am sure of it.” There was certainly no nonsense about Lanie. “Mad as a hatter. Egomania. Didn’t mother tell you?”
“No,” said Carolus.
Lady Pipford smiled.
“I thought you knew everything, Carolus,” she said. “You were so busy questioning me about gloves and the scullery window I haven’t had a chance to tell you about Darryl.”
“What were the symptoms?”
“Sullenness, depression, long periods in which he wouldn’t speak to anyone. Then we used to hear him laughing aloud in his own room. Once I heard in crying. ”
“This is all quite new to me.”
“And of course, he was obsessed with money.”
“That’s a common obsession.”
“Not as Darryl had it. When he did talk it was about nothing else.”
“I wanted to ask you about that,” said Carolus. “Had he any particular reason to worry about money just now?”
The two women exchanged glances.
“I don’t see why Carolus should not know the whole thing,” said Lanie.
“Nor do I. It was like this, Carolus. When Darryl married Lanie he was an entirely different person. You hadn’t come to Newminster then, or you would know this. It’s almost impossible to see in that drooling creature who shot himself last night the man of six years ago. Darryl was charming, almost debonair and quite intelligent. We all liked him.”
Lady Pipford paused to eat a macaroon and pour out more tea for them all.
“We knew he had no money—he was amusingly frank about it. I offered to start him poultry-farming because although he had been trained as a chemist he was interested in that. But after they were married he did not seem to want to make the effort, and gradually became more spineless and lazy, till he developed into the man you saw lately. Lanie left him two years ago.”
“It was intolerable,” said Lanie. “I simply couldn’t go on. Besides, I’d met Roger Settle, whom I’m going to marry.”
“There was only one way to get rid of Darryl,” said Lady Pipford, unconscious of the curious interpretation which could be put on the words. “Buy him off. So I agreed to purchase for him a half share in a small Brighton hotel if he would divorce Lanie. It had to be done that way—he was too far gone in inertia and self-indulgence to go out and provide the evidence on which she could have divorced him.
“Anyhow, what does it matter nowadays? There isn’t such a thing as chivalry in the world, and women no longer want a man to sacrifice his ‘good name’ in order to save theirs. After a good deal of haggling, Darrell agreed. He would sometimes pretend he had forgotten all about it, sometimes refuse to leave his room, or say he could not decide, but in the end he signed the papers. It was costing me two thousand pounds, but quite worth it. Not only would Lani be quit of Darryl, but I’d get him out of the house.”
“So that’s why he was due to leave today.”
“Yes. For Brighton. The Happydowns Hotel. The divorce was coming up in the spring.”
“That explains a good many things. You think you could explain suicide on Darryl’s part?”
Lanie answered this.
“It was funk,” she said. “Sheer funk of having to make an effort. He’d got to the stage where the very journey frightened him. If May Swillow hadn’t packed for him, he would never have been ready. At the last minute he must have realised that he was not fit even to own a hotel.”
“I see. Tell me, Margaret, did he come into your Will?”
Since Carolus had found her alone in the house with the corpse of Darryl Montaccord, Lady Pipford had shewn not the slightest embarrassment at any question she was asked, but this one seemed to surprise or even startle her. She looked up sharply.
“Why?” she asked.
“I just wondered. A Will so often crops up in a case like this.”
“It had nothing to do with it. He didn’t even know.”
“I’m sure you mean well, Carolus, and I did ask you out here last night. But I really can’t see that this is any concern of yours.”
“Of course not. Unless you want me to try to find out about Darryl’s death, it is sheer impertinence on my part.”
“But I do want you to find out—if there’s anything to find.”
“I think there is.”
“I think Darryl may have been murdered.”
There was a very heavy silence.
“Do the police think that?”
“I don’t know. I certainly have not said anything to suggest it.”
“But what on earth has my Will got to do with it?”
“Perhaps nothing. But I do frankly think, dear Margaret, that you should let me do everything I can to clear this up. And for that I need all the facts.”
“Why not tell him, mother?” asked Lanie. “I don’t mind his knowing anything that concerns me.”
“Very well. When Darryl and Lanie were married, Carolus, I made a new Will. Its terms were very simple. There were a few legacies for friends and servants, a thousand for the Swillows, another thousand for the Vicar and his wife—they’re terribly poor, you know—and some small sums for others. But the bulk of what my husband left me I divided equally between my son Jason and Lanie. But because Lanie was marrying Darryl and I’ve seen so many marriages wrecked by the wife having all the money, I cut Lanie’s share in two—half to her and half to Darryl.”
“Did he know that?”
“Oh yes. What he didn’t know, though he may have guessed, is that about a month ago, when all this was pretty well settled, I sent for Geary. He’s a local solicitor who does odd jobs for me. I told him to make a new Will. Same terms except that all Lanie’s share went to her. Darryl was out.”
“You say he didn’t know this. Could he have known?”
“I suppose it’s possible. He was in his room at the time, down the corridor from my sitting room. He was a shifty brute, you know. He could have seen Geary arrived, because his window overlooks the drive. He could have shuffled down the corridor and listened at the door. He was quite capable of it. I’ve no reason to think he did, though.”
“He never asked you anything about the Will when you were making terms over the divorce action?”
“You don’t think if he knew about it, it could have contributed to his depression?”
“It never occurred to me.”
“I do,” said Lanie flatly. “Knowing Darryl. He was an inveterate money-grubber.”
Poppy came to take away the tea-tray, on which both cake-plates were now empty. When she had gone, Lady Bedford went to a Chinese Chippendale bureau and, unlocking a drawer, took out a box of chocolates. She removed the lid and set the box between her and Lanie. They both began to munch.
“Any more questions?” asked Lanie in a voice as businesslike as a large hard centre allowed her to make it.
“Yes, Lanie. Two or three. First, when did you last see your husband?”
That’s easy. At Christmas time two months ago I haven’t been down here since. I was waiting till he gone. Money used to come and see me in town.
Second, how did you first meet him?
“Oddly enough, through my brother Jason. You know he’s an analytical chemist? Brilliant, I believe. Darryl was at London university with him to study the same thing, but he never took his degree. Jason once told me that he could have been a good chemist if he had not been so bone-lazy. He failed every exam. But the two remained friends of a sort. I think Jason brought him down for a week-end first.”
“Yes, I see. Now one last question, Lanie, which may seem to you quite silly. If so, you must put it down to the enthusiasm of an amateur detective. It’s just the old stock question—where were you on the night of the crime? Last night in other words?”
Leaning gave a rather unnatural little laugh.
“It doesn’t seem silly to me. But actually it’s not very easy to answer. You see, I happened to have a flaming row with Roger Settle—the man I’m going to marry. I always do the same thing in a crise–– take the car and go to hell for leather out of London. Last night I ran up the great North Road.”
“How far did you get?”
“Buckden,” said Lanie, almost before the question was asked.
“Did you call anywhere?”
“Yes. A lorry-driver’s café near Biggleswade.”
“Then if we wanted to establish an alibi for you, however remote the contingency may seem, we could do so?”
“I doubt it. The place was packed.”
“I think you’re going rather far, Carolus. Why should Lanie want to establish an alibi, and an alibi for what?”
She popped in her mouth a large chocolate ornamented with a crystallized violet.
“Probably nothing. Let’s forget it, anyway. I must get home. I’ve got Dr. Tom and Phoebe coming in for drinks.”
“Give them my regards,” said Lady Pipford. “I’m so fond of them. The nicest people in Newminster.”
“What’s more, Lance is a very good doctor.”
It might be that Lady Pipford and Lanie would have spoken with less enthusiasm of Dr. Thomas and his wife if they could have heard him half an hour later flatly contradicting what they had said of Darryl.
Lance Thomas was a stocky, sunburnt man with a brusque manner, a keen sense of humour and a kind heart. He and his lovely wife were the most intimate friends Carolus had in the town. Lance, universally known as Dr. Tom, was the school doctor, and even Mr. Gorringer was comparatively subdued if an issue were joined between them.
“Mad?” he was saying now, as he took a drink from Carolus. “Nonsense! Sane as you or I. Saner than you, Carolus. What made those two women say he was mad?
Carolus repeated Lanie’s words about Darryl’s mental condition.
“The man was a glutton and a good-for-nothing,” agreed Lance Thomas, “but he was sane enough. I suppose they’re trying to account for his suicide—a thing no one can do.
“You were the family doctor?”
“They never seemed to need one. Old Lady Pipford hasn’t seen a doctor to my knowledge for twenty years. I did examine Montaccord about two years ago, and put him on a diet and physical jerks. I don’t suppose he attempted either. Is there anything interesting or doubtful about the suicide?
“A great deal,” said Carolus.
“Not a suicide, in fact?”
“You’re not going to start another murder hunt, are you Carolus?”
“You’ll be sacked this time,” said Lance. “Gorringer won’t stand for any more of what he calls ‘Deene’s unfortunate hobby’.”
“Do you really think Darryl Montaccord was murdered, Carolus?”
“Yes, I do.”