Authors: Edmund Crispin
This object eventually turned out to be the property of Broderick Thouless, the composer. Through a tortuous sequence of
bastardies Thouless was descended, or imagined he was, from William Augustus, Duke of Cumberland, the victor of Culloden; and it was Cumberland the bust purported to represent, It stood normally on a mahogany pedestal in a corner of honour in Thouless's parlour, but since he was currently engrossed all day and every day in working on a film called
he did not, as it happened, enter this room for a full forty-eight hours previous to discovering his loss and telephoning an indignant complaint to Glazebridge police station, which he did practically simultaneously with the bust's re-appearing in the Old Rectory. In the commotions consequent on Routh's murder it took the police some time to make the necessary connection, and it was not, therefore, until evening that Thouless was visited by Detective-Inspector Widger, who by then was working under Chief Detective-Inspector Ling from County Headquarters.
âNow, sir, as I understand the matter, you keep a window open in here night
day. I mean, day
âYes, that's right. For air.'
âUnwise of you, sir, if I may say so.'
âPermits of burglarious entry all the way round the clock,' said Detective-Constable Rankine, whom Widger had unwillingly brought with him. âThough not, of course, properly speaking burglarious unless after dark.'
âPoor fellow's never boned up on the 1968 Theft Act,' said Thouless unexpectedly.
âQuite so.' Solidarity or no solidarity, Widger was not wholly without
at seeing his informative colleague discomfited for once. âRankine, you've put your foot in it there. How you ever passed your examination for the C.I.D. -'
âThe 1968 Theft Act, sir, had for its chief intention the -'
âLater, Rankine, later. Just now, for the moment, if you think you've quite finished, I'd like to ask Mr Thouless something else. What you're saying, then, sir, is that the bust could have been stolen at any time during the last two days.'
âYes, yes, of course. I keep telling you so. When can I have it back?'
âNot yet awhile, sir,' said Widger. âThere are tests to be made - fingerprints and so forth. Reminding me that we'll have to
take your fingerprints, for elimination purposes. Your cleaner's, too.'
âMrs Dunwoody's? She's been away ill for days now. Cleaners,' said Thouless testily, âhave very little natural resistance to infection, I find.'
While his fingerprints were being taken, he explained about Hagberd, who sometimes did gardening jobs for him. He had drawn Hagberd's attention to the bust, he said, as a matter of family pride, approximately a fortnight ago, taking the opportunity to give an account of Culloden and its aftermath, and Hagberd had seemed greatly impressed with Cumberland's nickname. âButcher,' he had kept muttering, âButcher, Butcher,' until Thouless, alarmed, had shooed him back to his hedging. In view of this it seemed at least possible - Thouless now told Widger - that it was Hagberd who had been responsible for the theft of this intrinsically not very valuable lump of marble.
And with this Widger was able to agree, for since morning it had become a moral certainty that Hagberd was guilty, if not of Routh's actual murder, at any rate of disassembling him and lugging his severed head round the neighbourhood; chief factor in this decision was the discovery of a knife, a saw and a hatchet - all of them blood-stained, all of them bearing Hagberd's fingerprints and no one else's - buried in a heap of Glo-Coal in an out-house at Hagberd's cottage. The man himself remained for a long time elusive. In Constable Luckraft's opinion, eventually proved correct, he hadn't gone into hiding or fled, but simply happened to be away on his own somewhere, working at something; and it wasn't until ten in the evening that he was at last located and taken into custody. In the meantime he had made further arrangements about Routh's head, and these had manifested themselves to an evening angler, a local unemployable called Don Goodey, who was futilely attempting to poach trout from a reach of the Burr where nothing was known to have been taken since the year of Alamein. Dozing over his wet fly, Goodey was roused by - as he said afterwards - âa Presence', and on opening his eyes found himself confronted by a raft - in fact, a packing-case lid - which was nudging the bank by his feet; on this was Routh's gory head, secured upright by long nails driven in aslant, and staring at Goodey's
toe-caps âas if in entreaty'. Too unnerved by this dreadful apparition to respond to its voiceless plea, Goodey had uttered a loud cry of terror, kicked the raft away from him into the current, dropped his rod and fled from the spot in search of suitable assistance. This, however, hadn't been close at hand, so that by the time the investigating party returned to the scene of the occurrence, the raft had vanished downstream towards the confluence of the Burr and the Glaze.
Attempts were made to recover it, but in vain. It was glimpsed just once more, in twilight, as it bobbed along in midstream past the Creamery in Glazebridge, but was identified only later by hindsight. After that it presumably either sank or else went on down river to Glazemouth and was carried out to sea. In any case it vanished completely, never to be seen again.
The sequence of events, then, was as follows.
Sunday or Monday:
Cumberland bust stolen from Thouless's parlour.
: Routh murdered.
Monday night/Tuesday morning:
Corpse dismembered and moved, and head taken away. (According to the medical evidence, the dismembering had been done between six and ten hours after death.)
Tuesday, 6.30 a.m.:
Corpse discovered by Prance.
Tuesday, 10.00 a.m.:
Head in Mrs Leeper-Foxe's dining-room.
Tuesday, 10.10 a.m.:
Bust in Mrs Leeper-Foxe's dining-room.
Tuesday, 8.20 p.m.:
Head entreats Goodey.
Tuesday, 10.00 p.m.:
Tuesday, 10.15 p.m.:
Head water-borne through Glazebridge.
Apart from these undeniable facts, however - these, and the discovery of Hagberd's tools in the Glo-Coal - the harvest of evidence was meagre. Hagberd had managed to wander round the district all day without being observed more than twice, and then in quite normal, innocuous contexts; he had no alibi either for the murder or for the Leeper-Foxe
- but come to that, nor had quite a number of other people; his fingerprints
were on the bust, but then, so were Thouless's and those of his housekeeper Mrs Dunwoody. Even so, no one - in view of Hagberd's known preoccupations and antipathies - had any real doubt that the posthumous attentions Routh had received were the work of his mazed ex-employee, and he was therefore charged with conspiring to conceal a body: grotesque, as the Major remarked, when you considered the trouble he had gone to to display it to the widest possible audience.
As to the murder charge, that came later, after Hagberd had exhausted everyone by saying over and over again that he might have killed Routh, and then again he mightn't; he would have to wait and see, he added enigmatically. He said the same thing about the dismembering, driving even his own solicitor (supplied by Clarence Tully) to the limit of his patience by his constant repetitions. But these equivocal postures failed to save him. True, no one - not even the Director of Public Prosecutions - was wholly convinced that the felling of Routh had been Hagberd's doing; the murderer's behaviour, as attested by Anna May, militated against this supposition, as also did the fact that the wrench taken from Constable Luckraft's motorcycle proved to have been carefully wiped clean of prints: if that, then why not the implements hidden in the out-house? On the score of motive, however, the case against Hagberd was strong, and since it was evident that unfitness to plead would obviate anyone's having to arrive at a final verdict, the charge was proceeded with, and after the usual psychiatrists' reports, a judge sitting in chambers consigned Hagberd to an indefinite period in Rampton. His peculiar behaviour with regard to the corpse would have necessitated something of the sort anyway, so that even those who thought him innocent of murder had no need to feel that they must repine.
This is a riotous assembly of fashionable people, of both sexes, at a private house, consisting of some hundreds, not unaptly stiled a drum, from the noise and emptiness of the entertainment.
Advice, a Satire
âWell, Well,' said Fen.
He folded up the last of the
Western Morning Newses,
shuffled the pile together and put it back on the floor. Beside him on the chesterfield the cat Stripey had rolled over on to his back and was sleeping with his paws in the air, at intervals offering up faint moans of pleasure or dismay: possibly he was empathizing, in dreams, the mixed emotions of the females he dutifully trod. Late-rose-scented, a gentle breeze stirred the Dickinsons' living-room curtains. All around stood post-war British fiction, unstably heaped, cross-lit by autumn sunshine.
âMortimer, Penelope,' Fen said.
âDifferent again,' he told the cat, âdifferent again is Penelope Mortimer, whose achievement is marred, is heightened, has been to, in part derives from.' He stroked the cat's stomach, stopping the moans and inducing instead a jerky, metallic purring, like small cog-wheels unsatisfactorily meshed.
âIn part derives from an acute apprehension of,' Fen muttered.
A flood of light had not, he found, been thrown on the Routh-Hagberd affair by his consideration of it. Floods of light were evidently going to have to wait until such time (if ever) as more facts emerged. Was it worth going out into the highways and byways, and inviting more facts in? Fen felt reluctant to do this, not so much because he believed Hagberd guilty of murder - that, he thought, was a decidedly doubtful attribution - as because the case still seemed to him bizarre rather than challenging, its fishiness psychological, not evidential. Besides, the
police, themselves none too sure that it had been Hagberd who had coshed Routh, would certainly have considered alternatives and ferreted for clues to support them. Putting out a random sweep in the hope of netting undefined further information would therefore almost certainly be supererogatory as well as wearisome.
The telephone rang and Fen answered it. âYur,' a voice said, âus wants a cow done.' Fen gave the voice the number of the Artificial Insemination Centre, which closely resembled the Dickinsons' number, rang off, glanced at his watch, and saw that he must leave now if he was to arrive at the Fete in time for the opening. He got up, giving Stripey a farewell pat. Stripey started awake and at once began angrily licking his stomach where Fen's hand had touched it.
âAn acute apprehension of everyday reality,' Fen said, crouching his way out of the cottage. Whom had the sentence been going to be about? Never mind, it would do for almost anyone.
He passed Youings's pig farm and Thouless's bungalow, both seemingly deserted, and arrived at the junction of his lane with the lane which led from the Glazebridge direction through Aller to Burraford; this brought the Pisser's noise into earshot again. Suddenly a figure appeared round the bend, moving rapidly towards him. It was a great bandy-legged ape, wearing an ankle-length woman's black bombazine dress and carrying a cricket bag. It was the Rector.
âIs there going to be fancy dress?' Fen asked, stopping him.
âNo, there isn't. This is for the fortune-telling,' said the Rector. âI'm an old gipsy woman and I tell fortunes in a tent. Saves me having to walk about all the time, chatting people up.'
âI thought that the Church had set its face against divination.'
âYou've been seeing too much of the Major,' the Rector said, amiably enough. âDo you know what he does? He posts me ecumenical pamphlets under plain cover. Thinks I don't know who's sending them. Still, a very good chap, the Major, in his limited military way. And he has a point.'
âHas he? What sort of point?'
âSays anti-popery puts me in some very dubious company,
like that dreadful fellow in Northern Ireland, and Cooper.'
âWho on earth is Cooper?'
âAnthony Ashley Cooper. My family agreed with his ideas on religion, but they always said the man himself stank.'
âYou're referring,' said Fen with restraint, âto the reign of Charles II?'
âAm I? Yes, I suppose I am. Queen was a Portuguese girl -Popish, of course - and the Duke of York was whiffy with incense from morning till night. Good seaman, though. Anyway, as I say, my family thought this man Cooper was a horrible little cad.'
âThe same opinion seems to have been held by Dryden.'
âDryden was a horrible little cad too,' said the Rector, âand I'll tell you another thing: if we go on standing here like a couple of wax images we shall never get to the Fete at all.' They set off along the lane. âNo, bless you, I don't
anything,' said the Rector, reverting to the fortune-telling. âI just pass on gossip. Harmless gossip, of course,' he specified. âNice dress, isn't it? It belonged to my grandmother.' He hitched the skirt up to his knees and broke stride to do a couple of inchoate can-can kicks.
Fen saw that what he had at first mistaken for a fichu was in fact the Rector's clerical collar. âHow do you manage the bosom?' he asked.
âRugger socks, rolled.'
âDo they stay up?'
âThey usedn't to,' the Rector admitted. âBut then I bought myself a forty-two bra, C cups, so they're all right now. The straps are painful, though, cut into your shoulders like knives. Can't think how women stand them. However, nowadays they keep their busts up with wax injections, or so I'm told. I don't put the hat and veil on till I actually start.'