Ellis Peters - George Felse 04 - A Nice Derangement of Epitaphs (9 page)

BOOK: Ellis Peters - George Felse 04 - A Nice Derangement of Epitaphs
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Hewitt gave him a brief, baffled look, and returned with a sigh to his summing-up.

“Well, we’ve got him to Wednesday morning. He worked on the churchyard extension, hedge-clipping and then scything, all the morning, or at least he was at work on it when Mr. Polwhele and Mr. Towne came home to lunch after their trip down to the vault. He had his meal in the vicarage kitchen, and went back to work, and he was there when Mr. Towne left to go on to Treverra Place. Both Mr. Towne and Mr. Polwhele agree that would be about a quarter to three. Mr. Towne exchanged words with Trethuan in the churchyard as he walked through. Mr. Polwhele saw him put away his tools shortly afterwards and leave. That was nothing unusual? He arranged his own work as he pleased?”

“Yes, I never interfered unless I wanted something special. He got through everything if you left him to it. He could be awkward if you tried to give him orders.”

“So it was nothing surprising if he was missing from round the church for a couple of days or so in mid-week. He fitted in his gardening jobs for Miss Rachel as he thought best. And it looks as if he did go down to Treverra Place that same day, after he left the churchyard. Anyhow, the next we hear of him is there. About four o’clock he brought into the house a basket of plums he’d picked, told Miss Rachel he couldn’t stay longer on the job then, but he’d come in next day and get in all the plums and apricots for bottling. Then he left. She saw him start down the drive. And so far that’s the last we do know of him, until he turned up this morning in Treverra’s coffin. According to the doctor’s preliminary estimate, he was dead probably before nine o’clock, Wednesday night. Well, gentlemen, that’s how it stands. Has anyone got anything to add? No second thoughts?”

“Yes,” said Sam Shubrough, and: “Yes,” said Simon at the same moment. They looked briefly at each other, and Simon waved a hand: “After you!”

“I’ve got a key,” said Sam modestly. “One that belongs to that vault. I never bothered to mention it, because it wasn’t needed, Miss Rachel was providing the one for official use. But it’s plain now that you need to know about all the ways there are of getting in there, since somebody did get in and dump a body. So that’s it. It’s the only other key I
of, and I’ve got it. I’ll turn it in if you want to have it in your own hands.”

Hewitt closed his notebook with a movement of terrible forbearance. “Oh, you have a key. Well, that’s helpful, at any rate. Would you mind telling us how you got it in the first place?”

“Not a bit. When I was a kid, St. Nectan’s was our favourite playground. I found the key, once when we dug our way into the church for some game or other. It was down in the sand, under a nail on the wall, where I take it it used to hang. The wire on the bow was frayed through. I brought it home and cleaned it up, and it didn’t take me long to find out it fitted the Treverra vault. We were a bit scared of going in,” said Sam, smiling broadly under cover of his whiskers, “but sometimes we did. I’ve had the key ever since. It’s in a bunch on a nail in my shed right now.”

“Where, I take it, anyone could get at it? Do you keep the shed locked, even?”

“No, there’s nothing special in it, and anyhow, we don’t lock things, you know that. So I suppose anyone could get at it. But he’d have to know it was there, or else have an extraordinary stroke of luck, happening on it and finding out where it fitted. Do you want me to turn it in? I’ll go and get it right now, if you’ve finished with me for the moment.”

“If you’ll be so good.” And there were not now, and there never would be hereafter, any awkward questions about how, and how often, that key had been used. Hewitt was after a murderer, he was not going to be side-tracked. Sam rose and left the conference with only one bright, backward glance in Simon’s direction.

“Now, Mr. Towne, you were going to add something, too?”

“Yes, I was. I didn’t think much of it at the time—I don’t now, for that matter—but you know all the talk there was when I first let it get round that I meant to open the Treverra tomb? A lot of people went off at half-cock, as usual, about the attempt being irreverent and blasphemous, about how a curse would fall on us, and so on. You must have heard it. Then when we made it known that it was a serious project, and the bishop had given permission, and Miss Rachel was positively egging us on, then all the fuss died down. All but this chap Trethuan. Well, of course, he was the verger, and I made allowances for certain prejudices, but he did begin to be a bit of a nuisance. He took every occasion he could to buttonhole me and try to persuade me to drop it. At first he just denounced it as ungodly, and said there’d be a judgment if we went ahead. Then he began to get threatening. I listened politely at first and made soothing noises, but I got tired of it finally and gave him the brush-off. But he didn’t give up. He got more urgent.”

“And was that what he spoke to you about on Wednesday,” asked Hewitt, “when you came away from the vicarage?”

“It was all he ever spoke to me about. He saw me coming through the churchyard, and he came and stood right in the path, blocking the way, with the scythe in his hand. Something between Father Time and Holbein’s ‘Death’,” said Simon wryly, “that long, bony man with his lantern face, clutching a scythe and pronouncing doom.”

“Did he actually threaten you?”

“Physical threats? Not exactly. Just hints that I should regret it if I went ahead. But he did seem desperately disturbed about the whole thing, as if it was a matter of life and death to him.”

“And what did you say to him?”

“Told him to do his worst, of course. Bring on your lightnings, I said, and pushed past him and left him standing there.”

“By the Vicar’s account,” said Hewitt sharply, “he didn’t stand there long. He didn’t, by any chance,
you to Treverra Place? He turned up there shortly afterwards.”

“If he did, I never looked back to see. I didn’t see him at the Place, either, I didn’t know he was there. I spent the next hour or so with Miss Rachel, sitting talking in the garden. So it must have been after I left that he took his plums into the house and talked to her. I left around four o’clock, I suppose.”

“You didn’t say anything about Trethuan’s queer behaviour to the old lady?”

“No, why should I? Oh, because it was her pet project—no, I didn’t. I’d forgotten all about him by then, and anyhow, why bother Miss Rachel with it? We weren’t even talking about Treverra that day, only about personal things.”

“And after you left?”

“I hadn’t brought the car out that day. I walked down into Maymouth for some cigarettes, and then took my time walking back over the Dragon’s neck on my way home to Pentarno to tea. And that’s when I came upon George’s boy and our Paddy, down on the Pentarno beach. I saw them from the road and ran down to them. Dominic had just hauled Paddy out of the sea. And that reminds me,” he said, stricken, “of why he said he went out so far. He said he’d seen a man in the sea.”

“A man in the sea?” Hewitt’s head jerked up smartly at that. “This is the first I’ve heard of any man in the sea.”

“We didn’t believe there ever was one. But, my God, now I’m beginning to wonder. It’s like this, you see. There were these two boys, and it seemed Dominic had seen Paddy swimming dangerously far out off the point, and felt he ought to go and bring him in. But when he did, Paddy up and swore he thought he’d seen a body going out with the tide, and was trying to reach him. Dom and I went in again to see if we could see anything of him, but never a sign. Neither of us thought there was anything in it. But now—if Trethuan really drowned in the sea, as it seems he probably did—”

“About what time would that be?”

“Past five, maybe as late as half past, or even a little later.
it have been? As early as that?”

“And only young Paddy actually claims he saw anything?”

“Even he wasn’t positive. But he was worried. I promised I’d notify the coastguard, just to satisfy him, and I clean forgot. Not believing in it, you see, and then there was no report of anyone missing. I wish now I’d taken it more seriously.”

Hewitt looked at Tim. “We’d better get hold of your boy, Mr. Rossall, and let him tell his own story. There may be nothing in it, but we can’t afford to miss anything.”

“I’ll call him and tell him to bike over here. He’ll come like a bird.”

“Do. And maybe we’d better get your boy, too, Mr. Felse. He was on the scene before Mr. Towne arrived, there just may be something he can tell us.” He handed the telephone across his desk, and Tim dialled his own number.

And thus began the great hunt for Paddy Rossall.


“No, he isn’t,” said Phil. “He didn’t come home to lunch. I took it for granted he’d sneaked round to the dunes to watch your operations from a distance, since you wouldn’t let him in on the ground floor. Maybe he cadged a lunch with Aunt Rachel. Try there. I’m waiting for those apricots, the monkey!” She added at the last moment, with the first faint and distant hint of anxiety in her voice: “Call me back if you find him, Tim, won’t you?”


“No, he isn’t,” said Miss Rachel, with some asperity because of her own irrepressible conscience. “Tamsin took a snack out to him about half past eleven, and he’d already filled his basket and gone. Naturally I took it he’d taken them home to Phil. Oh—and he hasn’t been near the church, either? He’d want to keep out of sight, of course. Well, don’t fuss over him, Tim, that’s fatal. He’ll come home when he’s hungry.”

She replaced the receiver with unnecessary violence, and found Tamsin studying her very narrowly across the desk.

“I gather Paddy didn’t go home.”

“No, he didn’t. You said yourself where he’d most likely be,” snapped Miss Rachel.

“I know I did, but it seems he isn’t. And I didn’t know, when I published my estimate, what you’d been saying to him—did I?”

“You still don’t,” pointed out Miss Rachel, all the more maliciously for the alarm she couldn’t quite allay, and wouldn’t acknowledge. “He’ll come home when he’s got everyone nicely worried, that’s what he’s after. I’m not going to fall for that, if you’re stupid enough to buy it. Children are born blackmailers.”

He was perfectly all right, of course. He was simply hiding somewhere and sulking, and gloating over the uneasiness he was causing everyone. Well, it wasn’t going to work. He’d run away once, as a very small boy—like many another before him, in dudgeon over some fancied injustice. But he’d come home fast enough when it began to rain. Children are realists; they know which side their bread’s buttered.


“No, he isn’t,” said Dominic, surprised. “Have you got Dad there? No, not to worry, only we heard the rumours that are running round, and we couldn’t help wondering. But we haven’t seen anything of Paddy. Yes, of course I’ll come, like a shot. Well, I’ve been out there on the Head part of the morning, it
like a grandstand, but I haven’t seen hide or hair of Paddy. Look, suppose I scout round now, before I come down, and see if I can find out anything? No, there’s hardly anybody hanging about round the church now, only a handful of people who were late coming, but I’ll have a look there, too. Sure, I’ll be down as soon as I can make it.”


“He isn’t anywhere,” said Tim, banging down the receiver for the tenth time. Dominic was already with them by then, with a negative report and a curiosity that positively hurt him, though he was containing it manfully. “That’s all his closest friends crossed off. And he hasn’t had anything to eat! I don’t like it.”

Hewitt didn’t like it, either. His solid face, conditioned to the suppression of all feeling except the deceptive pessimism he used for business purposes, was letting anxiety through like a slow leak.

“He wouldn’t go off anywhere out of town without telling anyone. He isn’t irresponsible. It isn’t that he’d do anything harebrained. But anyone can have an accident.”

“I’m wondering,” said Hewitt heavily, “if he saw something else, when he saw—or thought he saw—that body in the water. Maybe without at all realising the significance of what he was seeing. I’m wondering if he saw
else, say up on the Head above the rocks, just at the crucial moment. Or whether somebody who was up there may
Paddy saw him, even if he didn’t.”

“You don’t think he could be in danger?” asked Tim, shaken and pale.

“I’d have said no, up to this noon. But now it’s all over this town that Trethuan’s body has turned up, and the hunt’s on. Whoever killed him will be pretty desperate now to remove anyone who may—even may—have noticed and recognised him, and may blurt out to the police what he knows.”

“Then we’ve got to find Paddy, quickly. My God, if anything happened to him—”

“Nothing will happen to him,” protested Simon strongly. “He’ll turn up soon, safe and sound, and with a perfectly simple explanation, you see if he doesn’t.”

But Hewitt was already on his feet, and reaching for the telephone. “I’d rather not wait, Mr. Towne. What was he wearing this morning? Oh, Blakey, I want every man we can spare, we’ve got a full-scale hunt on our hands. We’ve lost a boy—young Paddy Rossall, most of our fellows will know him on sight. Missing with a bike, since this morning. Yes, we need everybody.”

“Well, if it’s like that, you’ve got a handful of volunteers right here,” said Simon, solid and calm at Tim’s shoulder. “You’re the boss, where do we start?”


Tamsin turned from her uneasy pacing along the range of the library windows, and marched through the doorway into Miss Rachel’s sitting-room. The old lady looked up with a face resolutely complacent, and told herself for the twentieth time that day that young people nowadays had no stamina. No wonder all modern children were spoiled.

“They still haven’t found him,” said Tamsin. “I’m sick of this, I’m going down to help look for him.”

“You’re going to do nothing of the sort. Don’t be foolish. His parents are bad enough, there’s no need for you to start. The boy is where he went of his own will, you may be absolutely sure, and he’ll turn up when it suits him. When he’s demoralised everybody so much that he needn’t fear reprisals. Not before!”

BOOK: Ellis Peters - George Felse 04 - A Nice Derangement of Epitaphs
13.78Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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