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Authors: Edmund Crispin

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BOOK: The Glimpses of the Moon
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Fen would get on with the brawn that very evening, he thought. Meanwhile, the interior of the small refrigerator being almost entirely filled with shin of beef, he left the pig's-head sack beside it, adopted his Quasimodo crouch and ducked successfully back into the kitchen. Here he paused by the mirror, from which, not unexpectedly, his own face looked out at him. In the fifteen years since his last appearance, he seemed to have changed very little. Peering at his image now, he saw the same tall lean body, the same ruddy, scrubbed-looking, clean-shaven face, the same blue eyes, the same brown hair ineffectually plastered down with water, so that it stood up in a spike at the crown of his head. Somewhere or other he still had his extraordinary hat. Good. At this rate, he felt, he might even live to see the day when novelists described their characters by some other device than that of manoeuvring them into examining themselves in mirrors.

His entry into the living-room shook the ancient floor-boards and disturbed a mixed pile of Duffy, Powell and Naipaul, which collapsed in several different directions simultaneously. Other post-war British novelists, in other piles, held firm. On the chesterfield the second of Fen's animal responsibilities, a marmalade tom-cat called Stripey, lay heavily asleep. Stripey had returned earlier that morning exhausted after one of his three-day forays among the district females, expeditions which he seemed to Fen to tackle less for pleasure than because of some vague, oppressive sense of social responsibility, like a repentant long-term convict volunteering for medical experimentation. He was archetypically male, at once coarse, bumptious and pathetic.

Fen sat down beside him, letting his eyes wander over Snow, Mortimer, Manning, Fielding, Murdoch, Golding, Mittelholzer. He let them wander away again. Instead of criticizing other people's novels, he would write one himself. It would be entitled
A Manx Ca.

Now all that remained was to think of something for it to be about.

The veal-and-ham pie at The Stanbury Arms had been because of having missed breakfast. Digesting, it was deterring Fen from lunch. He decided to do without lunch, a policy he
would regret around about mid-afternoon. He felt like a hero continually arriving a good deal too late to save a succession of women in distress.

The Fête didn't open till 2.30.

Stripey slumbered on, resting his gonads so as to be fit for another public-spirited bout of propagation when darkness fell. With a sigh, Fen reached over the arm of the chesterfield and picked up a bundle of the
Western Morning News,
ten days' issues which had been lent him by the Major, but so far had remained unread. The fact was that Routh's murder, though admittedly
outré,
had somehow failed to snare Fen's interest. It had snared the Major's. When Fen had first moved into the Dickinsons' cottage, the Major, an early acquaintance, had talked about the murder often and at length, giving many minutiae which even as good a paper as the
Western Morning News
obviously hadn't the space to take cognizance of. But although the Major's extensive local colour had registered in Fen's retentive mind, he hadn't, up to now, felt any urge to disinter it and pick it over. Up to now, Routh's murder simply hadn't seemed to him mysterious enough to be genuinely interesting.

Was it, in fact, mysterious even after Gobbo?

Necessary to find out.

While Stripey twitched in his sleep and Ellis crept on towards the dry-stone edge of the world, Fen settled down to read what the
Western Morning News
had to tell him, supplementing its facts with the details supplied by the Major.

4. Prompt Hand and Headpiece Sever

I believe the right question to ask … is simply this: Was it done with enjoyment - was the carver happy while he was about it?

John Ruskin:
The Seven Lamps of Architecture

1

His parents dying when he was three, Hagberd was brought up in a Kalgoorlie orphanage which also acted as trustee for the small amount of money his father had left him. This money he spent, as soon as he was twenty-one, on four hundred acres inland from Esperance, on a herd of Herefords to graze them, and, as more or less of an afterthought, on a pre-fabricated shack for himself to live in. He had always got on well with animals, and the beef production thereabouts was at the time inconsiderable.

Other factors were not. With the Western Australia irrigation scheme still several years in the future, Hagberd found it desperately hard to water his cattle, even, let alone the pastures which kept them fed. Again, Australia lacks coprophages. Enormous expanses of it have none at all. The industrious beetles which elsewhere gobble up cow-pats as if they were coffee meringues have to be imported, and even then are liable to pine. Consequently, the cow-pats poison not only the grass they lie on, but also a quite extensive area round them.

With more money Hagberd might have survived - money for wells and ditches and an ingenious but expensive mechanical stand-in for the dung-beetles called McGlashan's Chemical Foraging Facility. With more money he could also have hired an assistant or two, instead of trying to do everything himself. But there was no more money to be had. After three years he abandoned the unequal struggle, sold the land and the herd for what they would fetch, and worked his passage to England.

It was reasonable that he should be temporarily disenchanted with farming. What was not so reasonable was that a man
deeply in love with hard work should take employment in a Midlands boiler factory. Flabbergasted to find that his fellow-workers knocked off every day at an hour when the edge of his own appetite for toil was still completely undulled, Hagberd had at first expostulated and then, when that had no effect, taken to staying on after hours in order to sweep up cigarette butts in the yards, mend the wire of the car-park fence, disinfect lavatories, whiten doorsteps and clean windows. Once, at 10.30 p.m., he was discovered polishing the floor of the Personnel Director's office, which by some mischance had been left unlocked. Five weeks and six strikes after his arrival, he was sacked. As far as the shop stewards were concerned, he might have lasted longer than that: his passion for work being clearly pathological, they bore him no resentment, and in any case he supplied a valuable pretext, Union-approved, for downing tools. The management, however, saw matters otherwise: there were enough pretexts for strikes already, without adding Hagberd to the list. From his office window the Managing Director watched the final departure, recoiling when Hagberd spat on the windscreen of the directorial Rolls Royce (but this, it turned out, was only in order to wash a bird-dropping off it), ringing frantically for his secretary when Hagberd paused to weed a large geranium bed near the main gate, and at length heaving a groan of relief as the lean, gangling figure disappeared into the traffic and the industrial murk.

Temporarily at a loss, Hagberd now decided to make a pious pilgrimage to Plymouth, where in 1809 an ancestor of his, a naval rating, had been hanged on Devonport dock for trying to push his Captain overboard instead of getting on with manning his gun against the French. So he came to Devon. And so, his thoughts turning again to farms and all the delightful beasts they supported, he in due course came to be employed in Burraford by Routh, with consequences which were to prove disastrous for them both.

Hagberd not only was an Australian cattleman, he looked like one. He was sinewy, lanky, long-armed, easy-striding. He wore broad-brimmed hats. His weather-beaten face was a yard of muddy pump-water, his nose a beak. He had small, intensely blue eyes, set very close together. His ears stood out like jughandles.
Routh was physically his antithesis - short, pulpy and white-skinned, with a compressed sort of face, the little ears and nose seeming as if tight-laced by invisible Sellotape.

And Routh was Hagberd's antithesis not only in the physical sense.

Routh was a very bad farmer. And when he thought it safe, he was deliberately cruel to animals. Routh liked hearing an animal scream.

Stalking about Routh's farm from before dawn to beyond dusk, doing the work of three men, Hagberd was at first unaware of this; and when his suspicions did eventually stir, he found it practically impossible to credit them. How
could
anyone want to give pain to an animal? No sentimentalist, Hagberd knew that rearing animals once in a while inflicts pain unavoidably. No vegetarian, he knew that the terminal few minutes in the slaughter-house often inflict fear. But so long as animals were alive, surely nothing within reason could be too good for them, could it?

The turning-point came when Hagberd discovered not only that Routh's visits to Longhempston, twenty miles away, were for the purpose of watching hare-coursing, but also that Routh had been a prime mover in getting this baneful recreation locally revived. There had been other things - among them, a Leghorn with both legs broken, a ewe in milk with a long strip of her wool and hide torn away, a starving mongrel stray with its ribs trodden in - but these might, after all, have been due to accidents or to predators. The hare-coursing was something else. Learning of it, Hagberd started keeping an eye on his soft-spoken employer, and so one day came on him enjoying himself privately with a two-month-old kitten.

Hagberd dealt with him thoroughly, left him lying in the muck of the yard, and went off to notify the R.S.P.C.A., taking the dying kitten along for evidence. But Routh had snipped and ripped with precaution. A fox, he said: undoubtedly the kitten had been mauled by a fox. The vet had reluctantly agreed that it just conceivably could have been, and the Society had equally reluctantly decided not to attempt to prosecute. Routh said that he should hope not. Here was he examining the poor little thing to see if anything could be done for it, and all of a sudden here
had been Hagberd, snarling and lashing out with his fists like a maniac. He, Routh, wouldn't take any action over the assault, he selflessly said, since Hagberd clearly wasn't right in the head. Not taking any action, he added (but only to himself), would also help to quash the likelihood of there being any really thorough-going investigation of the stimulating ways in which he chose to spend some of his spare time.

Hagberd left Routh, and went to work for Clarence Tully.

On a bleak morning of early February, the Major, out for a walk, watched Hagberd teaching a baby lamb to skip. Uttering strange antipodean yelps of encouragement, Hagberd was repeatedly jumping into the air, his great Wellingtons crashing down again into the icy slush, while the lamb watched him in timid fascination. By the time the Major hobbled back that way, ten minutes later, the lamb had caught on.

‘Look at that, then!' Hagberd called triumphantly. ‘Bucking like a brumby!' And the Major, though he frowned momentarily at this distasteful mention of horses, had to admit that it was a pleasant sight.

‘Heinz Spaghetti makes a meal taste great,' he sang, getting a curt but friendly nod from Hagberd, who, prevented by his incessant labours from ever watching television, simply assumed that this familiar neighbour had all of a sudden gone harmlessly mad.

Though Hagberd was very content with his job with Clarence Tully, his animus against Routh remained unabated. If anything, feeding on the fact that he was no longer in a good position to know what Routh was up to, and so he came to imagine more horrors than there actually were (Routh's deviation being perfectly controllable - like most such things - he was taking care to control it for the time being, as a matter of self-preservation). There was also Mrs Leeper-Foxe. A widow, Mrs Leeper-Foxe had been endowed by her late husband with a fat income from factory farms, and though too fastidious to have anything directly to do with them herself, undeniably was battening on de-beaked chickens, calves with induced anaemia and pinioned necks, pigs tearing each others' tails off in desperation at being unable to move, and other such martyrs to the British
craving for ever greater quantities of ever more and more tasteless, un-nutritious, hormone-adulterated meat. Compounding her heinousness, Mrs Leeper-Foxe associated with Routh. As a matter of fact they were thrown together willy-nilly because no one else would associate with either of them.

‘I don't approve of speaking ill of people,' the Rector said. ‘On the other hand, if you didn't speak ill of Routh, you'd never be able to mention him at all.' He added that Mrs Leeper-Foxe probably had several good qualities, though none of them had so far claimed his own attention, either directly or by hearsay.

Invited by Mrs Leeper-Foxe to take sherry with her, Routh put on his best blue suit and tugged his forelock, making it clear how honoured he was that she should deign to be gracious to a lowly creature like himself; his financial state was precarious, and he probably had vague hopes of persuading her to underwrite him in some way. As to her, she wallowed in Routh's respectfulness like a hippopotamus in a mud-bank. The unspeakable fawning on the ineffable, they sat together in what Mrs Leeper-Foxe called the withdrawing-room of the Old Rectory - which she had bought three years previously, and had redecorated at considerable expense - sipping Oloroso from minute glasses and deploring antiphonally the decay of the class structure. Not that Mrs Leeper-Foxe was in Burraford often or for long. She had two other houses; and in any case, being lazy as well as a donkey, she was deterred from frequent visiting by the mysterious unavailability of adequate domestic help.

‘Routh and Mrs Leeper-Foxe are soul-mates,' said the Major.

‘Hogwash.'

‘Routh and Mrs Leeper-Foxe are
Wahlverwandtschaften.'

‘You should spend less time reading Goethe, Major, and more reading the Bible.'

‘I read the Vulgate,' said the Major, who did nothing of the kind.

‘Old Red Socks'll get you in the end, you'll see. And you won't be able to say I didn't warn you, will you?'

‘No,' the Major agreed, ‘I certainly shan't be able to say that, shall I?'

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