Authors: Margery Allingham
Even in his uncertain state Campion realized that the request was extraordinary from a policeman to a layman. It seemed hardly likely that Hutch had reverted to the ancient custom of confronting the suspected murderer with the body of his supposed victim, and it went through Campion’s mind for one wild moment that he might himself be some sort of eminent pathologist, but he dismissed the theory immediately since the idea conjured up no answering memory.
Yet, as they stood in the brightly-lit bedroom, overcrowded with furniture and still full of the medicine bottles, books, and intimate personal impedimenta of the dead man, again Campion was touched with that sense of the familiar. He knew the scene was pathetic and expected it to be so. Moreover, he felt no qualms as he looked down at the body on the solid old-fashioned mahogany bed.
Anscombe was lying on his face and the pillows had been removed, so that his head received no support. He was still clothed in the light raincoat which he had worn in the car, and it and the suit beneath it had been cut to facilitate an examination of the larger vertebrae.
The four men, Campion and the Superintendent, Pyne and the sergeant, stood round the bed in complete silence. If Campion and the police were stolid, Pyne was rattled. His heavy cheeks were several shades paler and his paunch drooped. He whistled through his teeth.
‘Horrible,’ he said. ‘He’s broken his neck, hasn’t he? How on earth did he do it?’
The Superintendent turned away from the sprawling body with the dreadful unnatural angle of the head and looked at Campion earnestly.
‘There’s a little bit of a lawn on the left of the drive,’ he said. ‘I don’t know if you noticed it? It’s very dark there, hidden from the road by the wall. Well, in the middle of this lawn there’s a sort of ornamental basin, a lily-pond I think they call it. It’s in a saucer-shaped hollow and there’s a ring of very shallow brick and stone steps leading down to the actual water. We found him on his back, lying across the flight, if you see what I mean.’
‘As if he’d slipped on the lowest step and hit the back of his neck on the highest?’ Campion put the question without noticing the clarity of the picture in his mind.
‘Exactly,’ said Hutch and glanced meaningly at the body.
‘What an astonishing thing to do!’ The explosion came from Pyne. ‘In the first place what was he there for?’
‘That’s what we’re hoping to find out, sir,’ said Hutch shortly and he looked again at Campion, who, catching the expression in his eyes, could not make up his mind if it was suspicion which he saw there or merely anxious enquiry.
At any rate he did not let it bother him. At that particular moment he had something even more alarming to consider. Ever since he had first seen the body he had felt less lost and more sure of himself, as if the dark curtain across his brain were already practically transparent, and now it had come
him up out of the shadows, but with all the conviction of certain knowledge, that he knew perfectly well how the man had been killed and what the weapon was which had murdered him. He did not attempt to argue with himself. He simply knew two things for facts, just as he knew that milk was white and ink was black. He knew that Anscombe had been struck from behind on the base of the skull by a man of full height and considerable strength. The blow must have dislocated the vertebrae and the actual cause of death was probably asphyxiation. Moreover, the murderer must have been experienced: that was the certainty which stood out in his mind. The murderer was an old hand, a killer, a professional. As for the weapon, it must have been a length of lead pipe, possibly stocking-covered since there was no mark on the man’s collar.
Campion could see the thing quite distinctly in his mind, a long thin murderous bludgeon bound with bicycle tape as like as not.
The Superintendent’s questioning eyes still resting upon him brought him out of his reverie with a jerk and he felt his clothes clinging clammily to his body as a possible solution to this new mystery presented itself. Suppose he
slugged the policeman? Suppose not only that, but that he had also slugged Anscombe? That was what had happened to Anscombe all right; he had been slugged.
Campion collected himself. It was absurd. He could not have done it. Even if his mind was not playing him monstrous tricks he could not have done it in the time. Amanda knew. Amanda had said distinctly that he had come back at once.
The Superintendent was waiting, his comic country face as grave as a judge’s.
‘We found him on the steps,’ he said. ‘The doctor’s still waiting to think over his opinion. What would you say, Mr Campion?’
The younger man stood still, moistening his dry lips with the tip of his tongue. At that moment, if it had not been for one thing, he would have made a complete statement of his
and the terrors crowding through his head. The thing that prevented him was the letter in his pocket. A glimpse of Pyne’s worried fat face had reminded him of it just in time. Pyne must know. After that deliberate question about the 15 on the gatepost, Pyne must know. He must get Pyne alone. He forced himself to eye Hutch calmly. It was a touchy business, God knew, like handling high-explosives in a fire.
‘If Anscombe fell rigidly,’ he said, ‘arching his back to regain his balance, you know, then he just might have done it like that. Still, we’re in the hands of the doctor, aren’t we?’
He could have bitten out his tongue for using that ‘we’. He had no idea why he’d done it. The moment it left his lips it stuck out like a signpost. However, if Hutch saw it he ignored it. He seemed relieved but unhappy.
‘Yes,’ he said, sighing. ‘That about sizes it up. Would you care to see the steps?’
Since he had clearly made up his mind to show them, there was no way of avoiding the inspection, but as they crowded into the little pit of darkness at the side of the house and stared by the light of muffled torches at the meaningless jumble of stones and bricks, as unreal and confusing as pantomime scenery in the unnatural glow, Campion edged closer to Pyne. It was difficult to choose a sufficiently non-committal opening but at last he ventured a sighting shot.
‘Not much like the old days,’ he said heartily.
Pyne seemed engrossed with the exhibit, or at any rate he took some seconds to reply. Then his cheerful murmur came briskly out of the darkness.
‘When we were in the States together, you mean?’
‘Yes.’ Campion did not wish to be drawn into any further reminiscences until they had had time to talk, but it was not going to be so difficult after all. They were old friends; that was the main thing.
His immediate hopes were defeated a minute or two later, however, when they were all three walking back to the Principal’s house together. At the Institute gates Pyne took his leave somewhat abruptly.
‘I must get back at once,’ he said. ‘You know what work is, Superintendent, and you know where to find me if you want me, don’t you? I’ll see you in the morning, Campion. This is a bad business, Super. I believed it’s turned me up a bit. I’m a novice, you know. I feel like a kid at the hunt who’s been blooded.’
He stumbled off down the road, the policeman looked after him and laughed soundlessly.
‘I’m afraid we’ve upset that stomach of his,’ he said. ‘Serve him right for nosing in. Look here, Mr Campion, I shan’t come back with you now because I’ve got to wait for the Chief. I don’t know what’s delaying him. He ought to have been here hours ago. I only came along here because I wanted a word with you in private if I could get it. I wasn’t quite accurate up at the house when I said we hadn’t found the parcel. I wanted an excuse for getting hold of you. We had found it, of course, just exactly where you’d put it. I didn’t want to go into it up there because in some ways it’s rather peculiar, and I thought you might be particularly interested. Do you know what it contained?’
He bent closer and a trick of the light gave his face a menace which it did not normally possess.
‘Close on four thousand pounds in cash,’ he said softly. ‘I found it interesting because we had another case earlier today in Coachingford when a lot of money cropped up. It’s been a very funny business altogether over there, with one of our fellows laid out and an unknown in hospital. When I come along I’ll tell you about it.’
To Campion it seemed that the great starry arc of the sky above him reeled over and back like the lid of a bacon dish, but if the Superintendent knew what he said his game of cat and mouse was inhumanly effective. He gave no sign of meaning more than his actual words, but just before he turned on his heel and left his victim to go up the drive alone he made one further remark which was, if anything, even more annihilating than the first.
I wonder at that fellow Pyne sticking to us like that,’ he said earnestly. ‘Curiosity seems to drive some people off their
He only met you three days ago. He told me that himself last night. And he doesn’t know me at all. You wouldn’t think any man would thrust himself forward like that, would you? I’ll be seeing you later, then.’
‘I’M AFRAID HUTCH
has let us down. It’s abominably late.’
Lee Aubrey broke a long silence with the remark, which he delivered with an effort, as if he had been thinking of it for a long time. He, Campion, and Amanda were sitting round the fire in the drawing-room with the candles burning low and the uncomfortable silence of the night bearing down upon them. They had been there for perhaps an hour. Campion had returned from Anscombe’s house just as the dinner guests were leaving and had found himself let in for a more or less formal
, his host the one person in the way.
He was more than anxious to talk to Amanda alone. Every time he set eyes on her she became clearer and dearer to him. Whatever other values were upset, whatever other mistakes he made in this new nightmare world of his, she was real and solid, a living part of that self which he was rediscovering so painfully.
She was sitting curled up in her chair between the two of them, very much alive but gloriously composed. She looked very young and very intelligent, but not, he thought with sudden satisfaction, clever. A dear girl.
girl, in fact. His sense of possession was tremendous. It was the possessiveness of the child, of the savage, of the dog, unreasonable and unanswerable. He glanced irritably at Aubrey.
The great man had risen and was leaning against the mantelpiece. He was frowning at first but then once more that little smile of tolerant self-contempt curled his narrow lips. Suddenly he laughed.
‘Well,’ he said, ‘we’ve thrashed it all out, haven’t we? Anscombe appears to have fallen down and broken his neck: that’s all it amounts to. I’ll go up and see poor old Miss Anscombe in the morning. Until Hutch condescends to report we can’t do anything else. You look fantastically tired, my dear fellow. Why don’t you go to bed? Amanda and I will give the wretched Hutch another half hour. Don’t you think so?’
The final question was put directly to Amanda and as he looked at her his expression softened so much that the change was positively theatrical. However, he seemed quite unconscious of betraying himself and it was as if he were not in the habit of considering himself objectively ever.
Amanda avoided his eyes and might almost, for the light was deceptive, have blushed. Her involuntary behaviour seemed to annoy her, however, for she looked at him squarely.
‘Very well,’ she said.
Campion sat up. In the ordinary way he might well have been startled, for there are few hosts who send their guests to bed so blandly, but now, in his confused state, he was bewildered. Aubrey had spoken with authority, like – yes, that was it – like royalty, or a headmaster; not with rudeness, but as if he had special privileges.
At first Campion had every intention of refusing baldly and of forcing himself upon them, but Amanda swept the remaining ground from under his feet.
‘Good night, Albert,’ she said.
He went up to his room and sat on his bed with the door open, as if he were a schoolboy in the throes of a first love affair. Until that moment he had not properly assimilated her announcement of earlier in the evening. So many things had happened since then and the dreamlike quality of his new existence had seemed to allow of lightning changes of front and back. Now, again, it returned to him that Amanda was real, and, being real, she was consistent, the one concrete thing in a world of fantasy. She meant what she said. She was not going to marry him. Beside this actual disaster
the other inconsistencies – the mad cat-and-mouse behaviour of the police, the too friendly Pyne who had tricked him into a betrayal and then disappeared on heaven knew what tortuous and subversive mission – faded into fantasy. On the top of his blinding desolation crept a new fear. It was a fear for Amanda. It occurred to him that it was the first completely unselfish thought he had had since the disaster, or, of course, ever in his life for all he knew. It was linked with something he knew about her, some vulnerability he had forgotten, and with something he knew about Aubrey. There was something from which he must protect her. She was a responsibility of his, quite as much a responsibility as that other which was rapidly assuming such enormous proportions. Apparently he was a responsible person. It seemed a pity he had lost half his mind.
He got off the bed and walked out into the upper hall. He strode up and down there for what seemed an eternity, his footsteps deadened by the heavy carpet. The lights were very bright, with the cold brilliance which seems to be a part of the middle of the night, and when the drawing-room door opened he walked over to the banister without hesitation and looked down.
‘Good night, Amanda.’
Aubrey’s deep delightful voice was soft and packed with meaning. He was leaning against the doorpost with his head bent and a lock of his thick hair drooping boyishly forward. He had taken Amanda’s hand and was swinging it backwards and forwards in the careless inarticulate fashion which Gerald du Maurier used to use so effectively in so many of his scenes. He was not a man who would ever appear handsome, but his whole pose was negligently graceful, which was odd in such a large-boned loosely constructed figure.