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Authors: Edward Marston

Tags: #Detective and Mystery Fiction, #Historical

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BOOK: Timetable of Death
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‘Is that you, Leeming?’ he demanded.

‘Yes, sir.’

‘What the devil are you doing here?’

‘Inspector Colbeck sent me to deliver this report,’ said Leeming, stepping forward to put the envelope on the desk then jumping back as if he’d just put food through the bars of a lion’s cage. ‘He sends his regards.’

‘Does he, indeed?’

Tallis opened the letter and read the report with a blend of interest and exasperation. His grunts of disapproval were warning signals. Leeming was about to become the whipping boy yet again.

‘So,’ said Tallis, glaring at him, ‘the Inspector is scouring the Midlands for an unusual top hat and you have been amusing yourself by pushing a wheelbarrow uphill. Is that the sum total of your achievements?’

‘There’s more to it than that, sir.’

‘Then why is there little else in the report?’

‘The missing top hat and the wheel marks of a barrow in the churchyard might turn out to be useful clues.’

‘Then again, they might not.’

‘We shall see, Superintendent. Does the inspector make no mention in his report of Gerard Burns, one of our suspects?’

‘Yes, he does,’ said Tallis, ‘but Colbeck seems more interested in telling me about his ability as a fast bowler than about his potential as a killer. And what’s this nonsense about a search for Miss Lydia Quayle?’

‘The inspector believes that she will give us information that can’t be obtained elsewhere. In the shadow of a murder, you expect a family to retreat into itself but, in this case, they’ve shut us out completely. Inspector Colbeck called at the house and had short shrift from Stanley Quayle. He’s the elder son. You’d have thought he’d have wanted to help those of us who are trying to catch the man who murdered his father but he’s shown no interest. His sister may be able to tell us why.’

‘Lydia Quayle had a disastrous relationship with this fellow, Burns.’

‘That’s why it’s important to find her, sir.’

‘You and Colbeck were sent to Derby to solve a heinous crime. I don’t want the pair of you poking into a misalliance between a gardener and a lady who should have known better. This is work for detectives of another kind,’ said Tallis with utter contempt. ‘I refer to that odious breed of private investigators that enjoy peeping through keyholes and eavesdropping on conversations. We are dealing with murder, Sergeant, not with sexual peccadilloes.’

‘The inspector called it a true romance.’

‘Well, he’d better not do so in my hearing.’

‘They must have loved each other to take such a risk.’

‘Don’t you dare invite me to speculate on the stratagems to which they resorted,’ said Tallis, leaning forward aggressively. ‘This attachment was never going to be sanctified by marriage. All that it did was to estrange a young woman from her family and give a dissolute fast bowler a reason to hate her father.’

‘Oh, he wasn’t dissolute, sir.’

‘Don’t argue with me, you idiot!’

‘Inspector Colbeck described him as a responsible person.’

‘And look at what he was responsible for!’

‘It happened years ago, sir.’

‘He ruined this young lady’s life and drove her apart from her family. And now,’ he continued, glancing at the report, ‘he’s had the gall to get married.’

‘It’s not a crime,’ retorted Leeming, emboldened by the scorn in Tallis’s voice. ‘If it is, you must arrest the inspector and me because we’ve both found someone with whom to share our lives. What happened between Gerard Burns and
Lydia Quayle has a direct bearing on this case. One of them has been found,’ he stressed. ‘It’s important that we track down the other.’

Tallis was so stunned by the unaccustomed forthrightness of his visitor that he could find nothing to say. Instead, he scanned the report again so that he could take in the fine detail. When he’d finished, he looked up at Leeming.

‘As you wish, Sergeant,’ he said, chastened. ‘Find the lady.’

 

Though Ilkeston was in Derbyshire, it was much closer to Nottingham than it was to the county town that Colbeck had just left. It was an archetypal industrial community, owing its wealth to coal, ironworks and textile manufacture. When he got his first look at the place, Colbeck despaired of ever finding a cricket pitch there. It was so defiantly urban that the few trees he could see were like nervous guests afraid to step fully into a room. The ironworks stood at New Stanton to the south of the town and it soon made its presence felt. One of the three blast furnaces on the banks of the Nutbrook Canal suddenly boomed out and made the ground quake. Colbeck mused that even an experienced bowler like Gerard Burns would find it hard to maintain the rhythm of his run-up if disturbed by the deafening noise from the Stanton Ironworks.

The cab driver had a pleasant surprise for him. There was indeed a cricket pitch half a mile out of the town and he spoke fondly of it. Colbeck asked to be taken there. Having watched matches at Lord’s Cricket Ground in London, he was bound to compare the Ilkeston equivalent unfavourably with it. Small, oval and encircled by trees, it also served as a
park and a few tethered goats were grazing on it. Yet it was relatively flat and had a pavilion of sorts, a long wooden shed with a verandah in front of it. An old man was coming out of the pavilion. When Colbeck approached him, he discovered that he was talking to the groundsman.

‘How often are matches played here?’

‘Not often, sir.’

‘Is there a regular team here?’

‘Not really, sir.’

‘How much money is spent on the upkeep of the ground?’

‘Not much, sir.’

‘I see that you’ve got goats here.’

‘Better’n sheep, sir – far less dung.’

There was an element of pride in the man’s voice. What was a rather sorry pitch in Colbeck’s eyes was a source of pleasure to him. It was he who kept the grass cut and marked everything out. Ramshackle as it was, the pavilion had a fairly recent coat of white paint.

‘You had a match here a few days ago.’

The man chuckled. ‘We beat a team from Matlock, sir.’

‘Why was that?’

‘We ’ad best bowler in’t county.’

‘Gerard Burns?’

‘Aye, thass ’im.’

He went into rhapsodies about the game and described how none of the Matlock team could handle the speed, aggression and accuracy of Burns’s bowling. The Ilkeston team was gathered from the surrounding area. Miners, ironworkers and those employed in textile factories showed little interest in cricket. They saw it as a game for gentlemen
and preferred rougher sports. Yet a cluster of spectators had turned out to watch Ilkeston destroy Matlock.

‘It were a treat, sir.’

‘I wish I’d seen Burns in action,’ said Colbeck. ‘I’ve heard a lot about him.’

‘The lad were champion.’

‘What happened after the game?’

‘We drank till we dropp’d.’

The old man’s reminiscences were so filled with excitement and spiced with the local dialect that Colbeck didn’t understand much of what he said but he heard the salient details. Burns had been invited to join the team by someone who’d seen him play for Nottinghamshire and knew of his move to Melbourne. It had taken time to persuade the gardener to represent Ilkeston as a guest player but, once he’d committed himself, he gave of his best. The celebrations went on into the evening and Burns had drunk more than his share of beer.

‘Then he went back to Melbourne, I suppose,’ said Colbeck.

‘No, sir. I were on’t cart wi’ ’m when it took us ter station.’

‘So where did he go?’

‘Derby.’

Colbeck felt a minor thrill of discovery. Flushed with alcohol, Gerard Burns sounded as if he had been in the right place and at the right time to kill the man he hated. How he had contrived to get Vivian Quayle to Spondon was not so easily explained. Nobody had been able to tell Colbeck where exactly Quayle had been in the twenty-four hours leading up to his murder. He was as ubiquitous as he’d been industrious. Was it possible that Burns had somehow
become aware of the man’s movements that night? He had, after all, returned to what was part of the Quayle fiefdom. The coal mines in Ilkeston and beyond were owned by the family. They employed large numbers of people from the town. Burns would have been well aware of that. Was that the reason he’d come to Ilkeston in the first place?

Colbeck’s speculations took him all the way back to the railway station. When he descended from the cab, he paid the driver and thanked him for his help. He was just about to walk away when a carriage rolled past nearby. The passenger could be seen clearly. He appeared to be wearing funereal garb but it was his top hat that made Colbeck stare. Tall and with a delicately curved brim, it looked remarkably like the one missing from the murder victim. At that moment, the passenger turned his head idly in the direction of the detective and there was a searing moment of recognition between them.

Colbeck was looking at the face of Stanley Quayle.

When Caleb Andrews called in unexpectedly at the house, his daughter was on tenterhooks, fearing that Victor Leeming would soon turn up as well and that the two men would meet. There would be no way to get rid of her father then. He’d insist on knowing the latest developments in the case and – after a volley of derisive comments about the Midland Railway – he’d offer his help in the investigation. Madeleine was therefore greatly relieved when he announced that he was off to visit a former colleague from the LNWR.

‘He should have retired years ago,’ said Andrews, disparagingly. ‘Silas always had poor eyesight and he was slow to react to things. You can’t be in charge of a locomotive when you’re like that. It’s how accidents happen and he’s had a few of those. I was different,’ he went on, thrusting out his chest. ‘My eyesight was always perfect and I had a quick brain. I’m still as fit as I always was, Maddy. I could go back to work tomorrow.’

‘You’ve put all that behind you, Father. Enjoy your retirement.’

‘I need something to keep me active.’

‘You talked about getting an allotment.’

‘That wouldn’t suit me.’

‘What would attract you?’

‘You know the answer to that. Whenever he starts a new case, I’d like Robert to call on me for advice. I’ve lived and breathed railways, Maddy. I
know
things.’

‘Then you can discuss them with Silas Pegler. You’ll have shared memories.’

‘You can’t have a serious talk with Silas,’ he complained. ‘He’s a likeable old fellow but he’s got no conversation.’

What that meant, she knew, was that her father dominated any discussion with his friend and allowed him few opportunities to speak. It was a situation she’d seen with virtually all of his railway colleagues. Andrews was a fluent talker but a bad listener. Eager to send him on his way, she made no comment and he eventually took his leave. They exchanged a farewell kiss then she waved him off from the doorstep. His departure was timely. Five minutes later, Victor Leeming arrived. He and Madeleine adjourned to the drawing room. The sergeant was in an almost ebullient mood.

‘How did you get on with the superintendent?’ she asked.

‘I put him in his place for once.’

‘You told me that it was like facing a firing squad.’

‘I was the one with a rifle in my hands this time,’ he bragged. ‘When he said that there was no need to find Lydia Quayle, I made him see that it was vital.’ His buoyancy faded. ‘We’re now left with the small problem
of exactly
how
to find her, of course. London is a huge city with a population of over three million. She could be anywhere.’

‘Didn’t Robert give you any instructions?’

‘He simply told me where to start.’

‘And where is that?’

‘We have to visit some libraries,’ he explained. ‘How much has the inspector told you about the case?’

‘His letter was very detailed,’ replied Madeleine. ‘I know about the friendship between Miss Quayle and the gardener, and I know that she was sent abroad by her father to keep the two of them apart.’

‘Inspector Colbeck learnt something about her travels from Burns. He said how fondly she’d always talked of Italy. That’s the most likely place she’d have gone. Burns had no way of confirming it, of course, because they’d lost touch completely, but it’s logical. He told the inspector something else about her as well.’

‘What was that, Victor?’

‘Lydia Quayle loved reading. She was always talking about the latest thing she’d read. When it was the gardener’s birthday, she gave him a book of poems.’

Madeleine smiled inwardly. Early in their relationship, Colbeck had given her a poetry anthology. She had read something from it every night. In her case, it had been a treasured gift but she doubted if the gardener got quite as much pleasure out of the volume he’d been given.

‘I can see how my husband’s mind is working,’ she said. ‘A young woman with a passion for books is likely to borrow some on a regular basis. If she lives alone, she’ll have plenty of time for reading and she’s now free from the
social commitments that she must have had when she lived at home with her parents.’

‘I’m not a reading man myself,’ said Leeming, apologetically. ‘I don’t have a leaning that way. As for libraries, I wouldn’t even know where to find one.’

‘Then we must start with the London Library. That’s in St James’s Square.’

‘I’ve never had call to go there.’

‘There’s the British Museum, of course, but that’s for more scholarly books and I don’t think you’re allowed to borrow them. It seems to me as if Miss Quayle would be more interested in reading novels, books of poetry or something about Italy, perhaps. She may also buy books, I daresay, but an avid reader would also belong to a library.’

‘You’re starting to sound like the inspector.’

‘I’m trying to think like him, that’s all.’

‘I never tell Estelle anything about my work. It would only upset her to know how much danger we come up against. Besides, there’s no point. She wouldn’t be able to do what you can do.’ He grimaced. ‘I hope we’re lucky, Mrs Colbeck. I’ve just thought what would happen if we
don’t
find the woman.’

‘You’d have to go back to the superintendent and admit that you failed.’

Leeming gulped at the prospect. ‘It’d be worse than a firing squad in that case. He’d let loose the artillery on me.’

 

An atmosphere of gloom and apprehension pervaded the whole house. Servants moved about in silence as if frightened to speak. The murder of Vivian Quayle had had a profound effect on them and on those who worked outside on the
estate. If someone as important and as well protected as their master could be killed, they worried about their own safety. Family members and servants all wore funereal attire. When Agnes helped her mother slowly downstairs, there was a rustle of black taffeta. Though her daughter advised against it, Harriet Quayle insisted on being taken out for a drive. Having been penned up indoors for days, she said that she felt that the house was oppressive and that she needed fresh air.

‘At least, let me come with you,’ volunteered Agnes.

‘I prefer to be alone.’

‘But what if you’re taken ill?’

‘Stop fussing over me, Agnes.’

‘I worry about you.’

‘If anything untoward happens,’ said Harriet, ‘I’m sure that Cleary will bring me back at once. I just want to experience
freedom
.’

It was a strange word to use but Agnes knew that her mother was more than capable of coming out with odd remarks or making peculiar demands. There was a capricious streak in her that had not been entirely quelled by almost forty years of marriage to one of the leading industrialists in the county. The butler was there to open the door wide for them and the driver was standing beside the landau with its door opened and its step folded down. When he saw the old lady emerge, he hurried across to her and offered his arm. Harriet took it gratefully.

‘Thank you, Cleary,’ she said. ‘You can let go of me now, Agnes.’

‘You’re not to stay out for long, Mother.’

‘I just want to be able to breathe again.’

‘Take good care of her, Cleary,’ said Agnes.

‘Yes, Miss Quayle,’ he replied.

Cleary was a tall, thin, lithe man in his thirties with a gaunt face and a dark complexion. Though he’d been born in the area, he had a slightly foreign look to him. After helping his mistress into the carriage, he put a blanket over her legs even though it was a warm day. Agnes watched as he climbed up on the box seat and used a whip to set the horses in motion. As the vehicle swept off, its wheels made a loud scrunching noise on the gravel that sounded almost sacrilegious near a house of mourning.

Agnes went back into the building in search of her younger brother. She found him in what had once been their father’s study, poring over some documents. When he looked up at her, she gave a sigh of despair.

‘I couldn’t stop her, Lucas.’

‘We must give Mother her head.’

‘She can be so determined.’

‘It’s a family trait,’ said Lucas Quayle. ‘You don’t build empires with a faint heart. Everything that Father achieved would have been impossible without Mother. Until her health collapsed, she helped him a great deal in the early days. That’s why it was such a strong marriage.’

Agnes made no reply. Talk of marriage always embarrassed her. Shorn of her own chances by her lack of appeal to the male sex, she’d been compelled to look after her mother and put up with the old lady’s idiosyncrasies. Nobody else in the family, she felt, understood how unfair it was on her. She got scant reward and was taken for granted by everyone. She recalled how quickly her mother had abandoned her to take Cleary’s arm instead. That kind of petty rebuff had
happened a hundred times. It might, however, be about to end soon.

‘The doctor is very worried about her,’ she said.

‘We’re all worried, Agnes.’

‘He doesn’t think she’s taking the tablets he’s given her.’

‘You should know if that’s the case.’

‘I can’t stand over her every minute of the day, Lucas.’

‘No, no, I accept that.’

‘It’s almost as if she’s … inviting death.’

‘Don’t be melodramatic.’

‘Her behaviour has been so weird since we learnt about Father.’

‘I suspect that all our behaviour has been like that, Agnes. I know that mine has. I’ve been swinging between grief and anger like a pendulum. And you’ve seen how tense Stanley has become. It’s an abnormal situation,’ said Lucas. ‘We’re bound to react in abnormal ways.’

Agnes nodded. She could talk to Lucas in a way that was impossible with her other siblings. While Lydia had taunted her, Stanley had largely ignored her. Lucas at least seemed to notice that she existed.

‘What are the police doing?’ she asked.

‘That’s something I want to know as well,’ he said, decisively. ‘When the detective came from Scotland Yard, I wasn’t even allowed to meet him. Stanley had him out of the house in minutes. We should have helped the inspector. We know things about father that nobody else could tell him.’ He stood up. ‘In fact, in half an hour, I’m catching a train to Derby to meet this Inspector Colbeck.’

‘Have you told Stanley?’

‘I don’t need his permission, Agnes.’

‘He’ll think that you do.’

‘Well, he’s not here to stop me, is he? I’ll do as I please.’

‘Where is he?’

‘Stanley went into Nottingham to sort out the funeral arrangements. After that, he was going to call in at a pit near Ilkeston.’

‘Why is he doing that?’ she cried with sudden annoyance. ‘It’s so typical of him. Our dear Father was murdered and all that Stanley wants to do is to visit a mine. Doesn’t he
care
, Lucas? He’s supposed to be in mourning.’

 

Because he was wedded to his work, Stanley Quayle saw little of his wife and even less of his children. They formed a decorous background in his life. Even the death of his father could not keep him away from one of the family pits. His visit to the funeral director had been short to the point of rudeness. He’d simply given the man a list of requirements he’d written out, answered a few questions from him then gone off to Ilkeston. Keeping on the move, he discovered, was a useful distraction from the sorrow enveloping the rest of the family. Someone else could deal with the cards and the messages of condolence that kept coming in. He had more important things to do.

The glimpse of Inspector Colbeck was worrying. He could think of no reason why the detective should be in Ilkeston. What he’d seen in the man’s face was a fleeting suspicion and it was as disturbing as it was irritating. It was almost as if Colbeck had just had something confirmed in his mind. Quayle had been at pains to keep his distance from the investigation and he made sure that nobody else in the family was involved. Lucas, in particular, was likely
to be thoughtless and indiscreet. Family secrets best kept hidden could unwittingly be revealed and it could lead to embarrassment.

As the carriage turned in through the main gates of the estate, he made a mental note to speak to his brother again and impress upon him the need to close ranks. The outside world should know nothing of the rift with Lydia, for instance, or of the other ugly skeletons in the closet. Stanley Quayle was an expert in repression, hiding things from the past so cunningly that nobody even knew that they were there. Reclining in the carriage, he rehearsed what he was going to say to his brother. It never occurred to him that at that very moment Lucas Quayle was on his way to Derby and that it was too late to rein him in.

 

The visit to the London Library was an overwhelming experience for Victor Leeming when he called there that afternoon with Madeleine Colbeck. He’d never seen so many books before. Endless shelves were packed with a variety of reading matter for those who used the place regularly. Leeming had very few books in his own home. Colbeck had an extensive and wide-ranging stock but his collection could not compare with what was on display in the library. In reply to a polite enquiry, the man on duty behind the desk refused point-blank to reveal the names of their subscribers. It was only when Leeming explained that he was involved in a murder investigation that he got some cooperation. The man searched through the long list of readers but he was unable to find the name of Lydia Quayle among them. Reluctantly, Madeleine and the sergeant withdrew.

‘We’ll have to try elsewhere,’ she suggested.

‘What if she
does
use this library?’

‘Her name was not on their list.’

‘I know that, but perhaps she’s using a different name now. If she’s cut herself off completely from the Quayle family, she might have taken on another identity. It’s something that criminals often do.’

‘She’s not a criminal, Victor.’

‘The family seem to treat her like one.’

As they came out into St James’s Square, he glanced nervously up and down in case any policemen were about. If he was recognised by one of them, it might be reported to Scotland Yard and he would have to answer awkward questions about why he was seen in the company of a woman when he was supposed to be conducting a search on his own. When an empty cab came in sight, he flagged it down. Madeleine gave the driver an address in New Oxford Street and they climbed in.

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