Death of Cold
For once, it was Carolus who sought out the headmaster. He walked back from chapel with him.
“You will be pleased to hear that there will be no publicity,” he said a little bitterly.
“Ah,” said Mr. Gorringer. “And what does that portend, my dear Deene? Don’t tell me you have failed to ‘get your man’, as I understand the expression is among persons concerned with these matters.
The headmaster appeared to be at high good humour, his great ears were flushed with pleasure. Carolus made no direct reply.
“A third dead body was found last night,” he said.
“Really!” exclaimed Mr. Gorringer. “Isn’t that overdoing it somewhat, my dear Deene? Two murders in sequence are not, I understand, uncommon. But a third seems almost ostentatious. Who was it this time?”
“The young doctor for whom I was investigating.”
“Ah! But does that not suggest something like carelessness on your part?”
“I certainly did not anticipate it.”
“No. I don’t suppose you did. But you assure me that you will have no public connection with the case, as in that unfortunate local affair? You know my feelings on that.”
“Yes, I know. You may rest assured that no one will know I have been connected with the thing. The police are only too anxious that nothing of the sort shall transpire.”
“Spel-endid,” said Mr. Gorringer loudly. “Presumably you have your theory to account for all this violence?”
“And you had given the police the benefit of it?”
“When do you propose to do so?”
“Ah. Do you know, my dear Deene, I am half inclined to lend my presence to the occasion? In the interests of the school, I mean. To assure myself that no word reaches the ears of the Press. And also, I own, with a touch of natural curiosity.”
“Perhaps, yes. I fear you have failed to realize, my dear Deene, that beneath this gown and mortar-board their beats a very human heart. I cannot fail to feel a certain interest in the results of your investigations, much though I deplore your wilful connection with matters so out of keeping with the responsibilities of my senior history master. It is, perhaps, a weakness of mine, but I should like to listen to your elucidation.”
“I am meeting with the police in a bar,” said Carolus warningly.
“Most appropriate,” boomed Mr. Gorringer. “A case of this kind could scarcely be recapitulated anywhere else. Besides, it is many miles from our quiet town, and I shall not, I assume, be recognized as the headmaster of the Queen’s School, Newminster. I make no demur at the rendezvous you have chosen.”
“There will be a pretty miscellaneous audience,” said Carolus. “All the people who have been, or are still, suspects.”
“Entendu! ” cried Mr. Gorringer. “You could ill make such a statement without their presence. It will be interesting to meet them.”
Carolus made one last attempt to discourage the headmaster.
“I have promised Priggley that he shall come,” he said.
“A very sensible step,” pronounced Mr. Gorringer, contradicting, in his enthusiasm, many previously held opinions. “It is an excellent thing for the senior boys to have their interests widened. I often think our system is too much hic, haec, hoc. Too hidebound. Too severe. Let them see something of the world which awaits them when their school days are no more. ‘I cannot praise a fugitive and cloistered virtue.’ An excellent notion of yours, my dear Deene, thoroughly in keeping with your modern outlook. You will, I assume, be driving down to Oldhaven.”
“Then I will venture to propose myself for a seat in your large automobile. I shall enjoy this little break in the term’s curriculum, I make no doubt. Now about the Middle Fourth’s history period on Fridays. I have been discussing with Hollingbourne a small change in the time-table. Perhaps you would put yourself in accord with him? A third murder, eh? Very violent and extreme. It will be interesting to see how you account for it.” He caught sight of the music master running for cover and hailed him boisterously. “Ah, Tubley . . .”
So that evening after school Carolus set out for Oldhaven with somewhat incongruous passengers. Beside him in the Bentley Continental sat Mr. Gorringer, while in the back seat Rupert Priggley disported himself.
There was a busy hour or two after their arrival, for Carolus insisted on the presence of everyone connected with the case. He had already been on the phone to Violette Bonner, who agreed at once to set up for Oldhaven.
“I do not feel I wish to travel alone,” she said. “I shall bring my little maid with me and stay the night at the Queen’s Hotel, as on the previous occasion. I feel I owe it to Poopy’s memory to be present.”
Carolus had also phoned Lily Wirral and her husband and Mr. Slicker, who had readily agreed to the use of Gladys Rowlands’s bar for the gathering. Now he had to round up, as Rupert Priggley put it, all the others.
Mrs. Thump was not very enthusiastic about the occasion.
“I’ve had a Bad Day,” she said, without more precisely specifying the nature of her reverses. “But I suppose I better come and hear what it was all about.”
Mrs. Hammock, the Original Gypsy Lee, was less grudging.
“I should like to hear about it ever so much,” she said. “So would my husband. He’s a one for anything like that. Soon as ever we’ve had our tea and had time to get ready we’ll be down.”
At Mr. Tiplock’s he found the shop shut and had to ring at the side door. It was furtively opened a few inches by Tiplock himself.
“Oh, it’s you. Got anything for me?” he whispered. “No. You came about Wirral, didn’t you? I was mixing you with someone else. What is it this time?”
Carolus told him.
“Of course I’d like to be there,” he said in a low voice. “Trouble is, what about Her? She’s bound to think it’s something to do with business.”
At that moment, indeed, the shrill voice of Mrs. Tiplock became audible from the landing above.
“Who is it?” she called raucously.
“Only a gent on business,” said Tiplock.
“Well, tell him you don’t want any and come back and have your tea. I’ve told you this before. We don’t want . . .”
“All right, chum,” said Mr. Tiplock to Carolus. “I’ll be there. I may have to bring her, though.”
John Rowlands also made the stipulation that his wife should accompany him.
“It’s all apiece with the sort of mumbo-jumbo she believes in. I’ve told her if she can believe in Church and that, there’s nothing she can’t believe. I should like to hear you proving it was murder.”
Old Hammond looked saltily merry when he heard.
“So you’re going to chart it out,” he said. “I’ll stow myself in a quiet corner and no doubt have a chuckle or two to myself. And old sea-dog like me is not much put out by a couple of deaths, you know.”
“Three,” Carolus pointed out.
Mr. Grool nodded silently at the invitation.
“If you really know what put an end to Wirral,” he said. “I should like to hear it.”
Mr. Swipely, the bathing-hut attendant, was hard to find, since he was employed by the corporation only in the summer, but he too agreed to attend. So did Clocker Starkie, the boy who had sold Wirral his last newspaper. This youth also asked whether Carolus wanted Len and his mother to be present.
“You know, tosh, the one who saw him talking to the red-haired piece of homework on the landing-stage that afternoon.”
“All right,” agreed Carolus.
A slight problem was presented by Bridger, since Paul Wirral would be present with Lily. But by a masterstroke of diplomacy Carolus persuaded him to escort Mrs. Thump so that Carolus would not have to face such a notable absentee.
Mrs. Kemp agreed instantly to come and hear the fate of her friend, and Mr. Slicker, the pier manager, said “Certainly, old boy.”
It was to be a very complete gathering. But first Carolus had to face dinner with the headmaster at the Aberdare. From this Rupert Priggley tactfully excused himself.
“I will get a sandwich somewhere,” he said. “Be waiting for you in the bar afterwards.”
“You’ll be nothing of the sort. You’ll sit in the lounge.”
“Why? The barmaid in the American Snuggery is rather a cup of tea.”
“You’ll behave yourself in front of the headmaster.”
“What a drear you are, sir. All right. I’ll wait in the lounge.”
In the dining-room the headmaster expanded notably.
“Ah, Deene, you have a good appetite, I trust? Let us see what the new catering in English hotels can do for us. To attract foreign tourists, I am given to understand. Hm. Pea soup. Nourishing, I make no doubt. Cod fillets. A very sustaining meal, you will agree. Croquettes of veal or cold mutton with salad. One cannot help questioning the wisdom of offering such a very simple repast. This is reputed to be the best local hotel. I could have fancied a less hum-drum meal.”
Carolus, for the first time since his discovery last night in the beach-hut, smiled thinly.
“Particularly when the soup is tinned and thinned with poor stock, the cod is glutinous and smothered in batter and the croquettes have about ten per cent. of twice-cooked meat in them. But there is an orange blancmange to follow.”
The headmaster looked sour.
“However,” he said more cheerfully, we did not come down here to find an unusual dinner, but to hear some unusual details of crime. Are you quite ready to deliver your exposé ?”
“You will name the murderer?”
“There is only one?”
“You will substantiate your accusation with facts?”
“In the presence of all the suspects?”
“The police will be present, prepared to make the necessary arrest?”
“What about the widow of the last victim, Deene? You surely have not invited her?”
“No,” said Carolus.
“She knows, of course?”
“Yes, she knows. She happens to be a very courageous woman, headmaster.”
“You have seen her since it happened?”
“No. I’ve spoken to her though. I admire her more than I can say.”
“Indeed? Well, well. It is perhaps better, though, that she does not join us, since she’s not a suspect. The only person, it would seem to me from what I have learnt, who is not.”
“I suppose the only one.”
The headmaster masticated vigorously for some moments.
“It should be a remarkable occasion.”
“It will,” said Carolus quietly.
And by all who were present in the Elizabethan Bar the evening it was admitted that it was. They gathered according to schedule, and when Carolus and the headmaster arrived there they found their guests awaiting them. There were some marked divisions between groups, but there seemed to be a good deal of excited chatter.
“Now then, Mr. Deene,” said Sergeant Cotter brusquely. “Let’s have it. No beating about the bush. You say you know all about it.”
Mr. Gorringer joined in.
“We are all ears!” he exclaimed superfluously.
“Very well,” said Carolus. “I’ll do my best.”
He glanced at his notes, then began to talk quietly.