A Louse for the Hangman, Chapter Sixteen

A Louse for the Hangman


It was again through the Press that Carolus learnt the latest move of the police.  Piggott had been charged with the murder of Lord Penge.
He read the news without comment and went out to find Gribbley.  The chauffeur was surly now.
“What are you going to do about it?” he asked Carolus.
“I’m going to see Piggott.”
“In the nick?”
“Yes.  He’ll be at Brixton Prison on remand.  Do you think you can arrange for me to visit him in four days time?”
“I’ll try.  But what’s the reason for all that delay?”
“The something I must do first.”
“Don’t hurry yourself, will you?” said Gribbley with angry sarcasm.
“On the contrary, I don’t intend to lose any time at all.  I’m leaving for Scotland at once.”
“Look, Mr. Deene, don’t be funny, will you?  Piggott’s my mate, and I’m not in a mood for anyone to be funny.”
“I’ve never felt less like any kind of funniness in my life.  I’m going to Scotland with a particular purpose.”
“Connected with this?”
“Yes.  I’m going to Achendouroch.”
“The shooting lodge?  I’d like to know what you expect to find out there.  It’s a God-forsaken place.”
“What route do you usually take?”
“London, Nottingham, Leeds, Carlisle, Stirling.  That’s my way, though you’ll find plenty to argue about it.”
“From there?”
“Inverness and Dornoch.  That’s about the end of civilization.  From there you keep along the coastal road as far as Helmsdale, where you fork left.  Carry on for about twenty miles till you come to Auchintoul.  From there you leave anything that you might call real life.  You turn sharp right by a queer sort of a road through the mountains for about ten miles, till you’re halfway from Auchintoul to Gobernuisgeach.  You’ll find the shooting-lodge on its own there, the only building for miles.”
“What’s the total distance?”
“From here?  About six hundred and eighty miles.  If you make it by lunchtime tomorrow you’ll have done well.”
Carolus thought so, too, as his car streaked across the Highlands next morning.  He lunched at Dornoch, then set himself to do the last seventy odd miles.
It has been glorious spring weather till now, but during lunch there started a sudden downpour of rain, and he drove away through it.  He found the turning to the right at Auchintoul and had a curious feeling of fantasy as he sped eastwards.  ‘You leave anything you might call real life,’ Gribbley had said, and Carolus agreed with him.  This road, which no one seemed to use, threading its white metalled way across the hills was like a road across space.  For mile after mile it went without a sign of human habitation.  There was not even a sheep.  He felt he was driving away from life, leaving behind the sordid intrigues, the cruelty, the meanness of the case he was investigating and finding a new clear atmosphere.  The rain continued to pour down, and when he was approaching, as he hoped, the spot indicated by Gribbley he drove slowly, looking for any house that might be the shooting-lodge.
What he found was a track, even narrower and rougher than the road he was following, which led off to the right.  At the fork was a notice board, Achendouroch, but no sign of a house.  He followed this track for a slippery mile, and last saw the place he was looking for.  It was past three when he eventually pulled up in front of the fresh-looking, pleasantly proportioned house.
Immediately the front door opened and Lockyer hurried out.  Carolus watched narrowly, and saw the tutor look in the car before speaking. 
“Have you come alone?” he asked, without the civility of a greeting.
“Yes,” said Carolus.
“Why?  Why have you come?”
The rain was pouring down on Lockyer as he shouted through the car window.
“Wouldn’t it be better to discuss that in the house?” suggested Carolus mildly.
“Yes.  Come in.  Come in.”
Lockyer bolted across to the front door, and Carolus followed him.  He was relieved to see a fire burning in the grate of a comfortable room with big chintz-covered arm-chairs.
“Where is Lord Penge?” asked Lockyer.
Carolus watched his face.
“Dead,” he replied.
There was a short silence.
Then Carolus went on:  “He was found shot through the head.  He was on the floor of the garage in which you kept your car.”
“The day before yesterday.  In the morning.”
Carolus said no more, but watched Lockyer.  The man seemed stunned, but Carolus had never thought him stupid or incapable of dissimulation.
“You . . . mean this?  It’s true, isn’t it?  I can scarcely . . .”
Carolus handed him one of the newspapers he had brought in from the car.
Lockyer’s next shock was the news of Piggott’s arrest.
“Piggott arrested!  Why Piggott?”
“Obviously because the police think he did it.  But they found him immediately.  They haven’t found you yet.”
“Me?  What have I got to do it?”
“That’s a question which you will have to answer quite a number of times, I think.  Suppose you start now.  How do you come to be up here?”
“How did you know I was?” countered Lockyer.
“I didn’t know for certain.  But when you saw Ronald you had to go back to Lord Penge because you had forgotten the key of the house.  What house could that have been except this place?”
“I see.”
“Besides, I don’t under-rate you.  I don’t think you’re such a fool that you imagine you could hide long in England if the police wanted to see you.  You had to be somewhere when you didn’t know they wanted you.  Somewhere where you wouldn’t see a paper.  You still haven’t told me what brought you here.”
“Penge, of course.  He took me along to the library that evening and gave me my instructions.  For the first time I thought he was really jittery.  He said he was going to get away from Highcastle, away from the family and everyone, and come here.  No one was to know where he would be.”
“Except you?”
“That’s right.”
“Why you?”
“I don’t know.  He trusted me, I suppose.”
“More than his son, for instance?”
“It doesn’t sound very probable, does it?”
“That’s what he said, anyway.”
“If that was so, why didn’t he go with you at once?”
“I asked him that.  In fact I tried to persuade him.  You were to blame for that.  You had told him he was safe that night.”
“I had told him nothing of the sort.  But go on.”
“He said he would leave next morning.”
“How?  By car?”
“I don’t know.  He didn’t say.  He just told me that he was tired of living under a threat.  He was coming up here, where it wouldn’t be hanging over him.  ”
Lockyer thought for a moment, then turned rather aggressively to Carolus.
“He said you knew who had sent those letters and who had shot Ratchett.”
“He was quite right.”
“Then why the hell didn’t you have him arrested?  The old man would be alive now.”
“And you wouldn’t be wanted by the police.”
“I?  Don’t talk nonsense!  What do they want me for?”
“According to the usual official verbiage, they ‘think you could assist them in their enquiries’.”
“How?  I wasn’t there.”
“They can’t fix the time of death to a minute.  Your time of departure from Highcastle comes well within the range of time during which the murder could have been committed.  In other words, you have no alibi.  Added to that there is what appears to be a flight.  That doesn’t look well.”
“It wasn’t a flight at all.  Penge told me to come here and get the place ready for him.  There is an old couple permanently in the house, but there are always endless preparations necessary for a stay here.”
“I should think so.  Well, it’s not a bad story.  I haven’t heard Piggott’s yet.  His departure looked like flight, too.  But he was unlucky.  The gun was with him.”
“Again which had killed Penge?  Then surely there’s no question?”
“There’s a great deal.  The gun could have been planted.”
“By whom?”
“You, for instance.”
“Damn you, I tell you . . .”
“It’s not I who has to be convinced.”
“I see now I ought never to have left without Penge.  There was no serious reason why he shouldn’t have come.”
“Can you suggest what can have made him go out to the garage that night?”
“After I had left, you mean?”
“Or before?”
“You don’t suggest I persuaded him to come out to the garage, do you?”
“No.  I don’t think you persuaded him.”
“Well, then?”
“Something caused him to go out there.  I think he went with you.”
“You’re wrong.”
“You’re lying.”
Again there was silence.  The rain had ceased now.  As they sat there a bony woman in a shawl asked from the door whether they wanted tea.
“Yes, yes,” said Lockyer absently.
After a moment Lockyer sat up and spoke earnestly:
“Look here, Deene, I’ve never liked you and I resented you hanging about for no reason but curiosity.  But I don’t think you’d deliberately get anyone into trouble.  Tell me, where was Lord Penge when he was shot?”
“In the garage behind the place where your car and the truck usually stood.”
“Is that sure?  He couldn’t have been carried there and dumped?”
“The wall shews where the bullet hit it behind his head.”
“Then I am in a spot, because as a matter of fact he did come out to the garage with me.  I couldn’t understand it at the time and I don’t now.  He said he wanted to see me safely away.  The car might not start, or some rubbish.  When I got the car out I offered to go back to the house with him, but he waved me off.  I left him standing just in front of the doors of the garage and started my journey.”
“And didn’t turn back?”
“No.  I drove like hell.  What does it mean, Deene?”
“You’ll have a lot of questions to answer.  I heard the two of you pass under my window, and I’ve already reported it to the police, so it’s useless for you to say that you went alone.  I didn’t see you, of course, but I don’t know what other pair it could have been.”
“No.  I shall tell the police exactly what happened.”
“I should certainly do that.  Whatever the consequences.”
“I suppose I ought to return to Highcastle straight away?”
“I think so.  Yes.”
“There’s a room which was got ready for Penge which you can have tonight if you like.  Then we can both start back tomorrow morning.”
Carolus paused.
“Thank you,” he said at last.  “I should like to stay.”
The gaunt woman brought tea.  Knowing the family penchant for the typical, the traditional, the true-to-type, he half expected her to start talking about Bonnie Prince Charlie, or pixies, or Sir Compton Mackenzie, or the island that likes to be visited or something of the sort.  She would at least speak Gaelic or in a dialect so obscure that only her husband could understand her.  But she brought several tray-loads of viands to a table on the other side of the room, said “There’s your tea” and departed without so much as a step of a highland fling or a gesture to ward off evil spirits.
“She’s from Battersea,” explained Lockyer.  “Her husband is an old crofter, though.”
She had evidently absorbed enough of Scottish customs to make the tea-table a place for a quite intimidating display of biscuits, scones, cakes and curious discs containing oatmeal, all of which, Carolus believed, had their own names.  There were eggs and jam, fruit and jelly.
“Mrs. MacKennageall wants us to make what she calls ‘a good tea’,” said Lockyer chattily.
But it was Carolus who now appeared silent, or perhaps only thoughtful.  Having asked Lockyer the questions he needed to ask and received his replies, he seemed to want no communication with the man.  Left to himself, he went to the bookshelves to see what they had to offer, and for the rest of the evening scarcely looked up from Ferdinand Schevill’s History of Florence from the Founding of the City through the Renaissance.
On the following morning at six-thirty or so he started southward, and reached Highcastle for lunch on the following day.  He told no one he had seen Lockyer or that the tutor was on his way and gave no explanation for his absence.
There was no sensational here.  The case, in fact, seemed to have run into an ominous calm.  The family life went on and, except for the absence of Lord Penge, Piggott and Lockyer, very little change was noticeable from that life a week ago.  Carolus had already claimed to know the truth and to have posted details of it to an unknown address.  The threat in the letters had been fulfilled.  It seemed that anything startling now must come from police action.
After lunch he called Chilham aside.
“I’m going over to see your son,” he said.
“Is that necessary, sir?”
“Yes, Chilham.  Quite necessary, as I think you understand.”
“You know his address?  I’ll write it down for you.”
He found young Chilham alone in surgery.  He was a tall, rather heavily built man with good grey eyes and a firm chin, a man not easily rattled, Carolus decided.  He told him his name.
“Oh yes, I know about you.  Hang on five minutes, will you, till I finish my surgery time and we can go across to the pub for a drink?  I’ll certainly tell you anything I can.”
Over two pints in a quiet corner of the bar Carolus said, “Perhaps it would save time if I told you what I know already.  I know that you and Hermione wanted to become engaged and that Penge was against it.  And I know that you were at Highcastle on the night Penge was murdered.  That’s about all.”
“It’s quite enough.  Yes, I was over there.  You see, Hermione couldn’t come to visit me here.  The district nurse is a bitch and well . . . you know the sort of situation . . .”
“You mean she thinks she ought to be the doctor’s wife?”
“Something like that.  Anyway, once before she ’phoned Penge when she saw Hermione’s car here.  So if we meet at all we have to make it somewhere away from both our homes.  But that night I had to see her.  I ’phoned and told her I was coming.  She said I should never get into the place because of the police.  But I don’t suppose you want to know all this?”
“I’ve got a pretty good idea of it already.  You arrived at seven and finally left between twelve and half-past, didn’t you?”
“That’s it.”
“Did you see anyone there besides Hermione and Spotter?”
“I didn’t even see Spotter.  I certainly didn’t see my father or anyone else.”
“You left your car in the village and came on foot across the park?”
“And you met no one?  No one at all?  Please be quite sure of this.”
“I am quite sure.”
“You haven’t the slightest idea who killed Lord Penge?”
“If I had it would be a sheer guess.”
“Would it, Dr. Chilham?”
“Then there is nothing else I need to ask you.”
“There’s one thing I’d like to ask you, though.  Out of curiosity.  How did you know I was there that night?”
“That’s very simple.  I saw you.  Does that mean you want to add anything to what you have told me?”
“No.  Nothing.  Tell me, will Piggott be found guilty?”
“If he’s ever before a jury I think it highly likely.”
“You’re very cryptic, Mr. Deene.”
“Yes.  I could put it rather more strongly about you.  You see, I believe you know who shot Lord Penge.”
Dr. Chilham shrugged.
“I think this is a rather pointless conversation,” he said.
In less than half an hour Carolus was talking to Gribbley.
“Have you arranged my visit to Piggott?”
“Yes.  It’s for tomorrow.  You go as one of his solicitors.  Here’s the card.”
“Have you seen him?” asked Carolus.
“Yes.  I’ve been up.  He’s quite cheerful.  Doesn’t seem to take it seriously.”
“I think he’s making a mistake there.”
“You can’t believe there can be anyone so bloody silly as to think he did it.  He doesn’t even believe the police do.  He says they must be holding him with some other object.  To make someone else talk or something like that.”
“Does he?  That’s interesting.”
“Anyway, you’ll see tomorrow.  Did you find out anything at Achendouroch?”
“Yes.  All I needed.”
“I wish you’d get a move on.  Spill the whole beans and get young Piggott get out of there.  If you know who it was, you’ve only got to say, haven’t you?”
“It’s not as simple as that.  I’ve got to be able to convince not only the people connected with the case but the police as well.  But I think when I’ve seen Piggott I shall be able to do so.  ”
“Hope you do,” said Gribbley, and Carolus left him staring sulkily at the polishing leather in his hand.