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Authors: Gladys Mitchell

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A Javelin for Jonah

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A Javelin for Jonah
Mrs Bradley [47]
Gladys Mitchell
Joseph (1974)
Tags:
Mystery
A Javelin for Jonah
Gladys Mitchell
Beatrice Adela Lestrange Bradley 47
1974

A 3S digital back-up edition 1.0
click for scan notes and proofing history

Contents

By the same author

dead man’s morris

come away death

st. peter’s finger

printer’s error

brazen tongue

hangman’s curfew

when last i died

laurels are poison

the worsted viper

sunset over soho

my father sleeps

the rising of the moon

here comes a chopper

death and the maiden

the dancing druids

tom brown’s body

groaning spinney

the devil’s elbow

the echoing strangers

merlin’s furlong

faintly speaking

watson’s choice

twelve horses and the hangman’s noose

the twenty-third man

spotted hemlock

the man who grew tomatoes

say it with flowers

the nodding canaries

my bones will keep

adders on the heath

death of a delft blue

pageant of murder

the croaking raven

skeleton island

three quick and five dead

dance to your daddy

gory dew

lament for leto

a hearse on may-day

the murder of busy lizzie

First published in Great Britain by Michael Joseph Ltd 52 Bedford Square, London, WC1B 3EF

march
1974

second impression may
1975

© 1974 by Gladys Mitchell

All Rights Reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior permission of the Copyright owner

isbn
0 7181 1193 1

Set in ten on twelve point Times by Thomson Press (India) Ltd, and printed in Great Britain by Hollen Street

Press on paper supplied by P. F. Bingham Ltd and bound by James Burn at Esher, Surrey.

To

Jehane, with love

I wait for thee in thine own garden.

I tune the lute for thee.

Edward Carpenter

chapter
1
On your Marks

O
f course, we have to be on Christian name terms here,” said the Warden.


Have
to be, sir?” said Hamish Gavin.

“It promotes confidence and mutual esteem between students and staff.”

“I see, sir.”

“Gassie, my dear fellow.”

“I beg your pardon, sir?”

“Not ‘sir’, but ‘Gassie’.”

Hamish remembered that the Warden’s name was Gascoigne Medlar.

“I beg your pardon, sir. I did not understand,” he said. “By the way, is it true, sir, that entry to the College—to Joynings—is restricted to people who show aptitude for athletics and swimming?”

“And gymnastics, of course. Well, roughly, yes. It is so much easier to keep such types out of mischief, you see. Now, as to your own name…”

“Yes, sir?”

“Perhaps you will not take it amiss if I suggest that Hamish is a little unusual so far south of the Border.”

“I am not sure that it is so very usual north of it either, sir.”

“Well, not to beat about the bush—it is not my habit to creep all round a subject—could we perhaps call you James while you are with us?”

“Certainly, sir, if that will ease my stay.”

“Right. Fine. Well, now, James, I hope you realise that this place is not altogether what one is accustomed to think of as a college, not even in the way some of our great public schools use the term.”

“Indeed, sir, I am under no illusion. Your letter was most explicit. I understood from it that Joynings is a privately-owned Borstal institution.”

“It would be going to extremes, James, thus to describe my creation—I may say, my life-work,” said the Warden coldly. “None of our students has
ever
been in contact with the police. We have the sons and daughters of some of the highest families in the land, people of excellent social standing, people who—oh, well, no matter. We house and educate, among others, young men who have been expelled from their public schools, often for quite trivial offences, and young women similarly uprooted. We also take students who are, for one reason or another, out of parental control and unfitted to govern their own lives…”

“Drug-pushers? Lay-abouts? Sleepers-around?” asked Hamish helpfully.

“Victims of circumstance. Products of broken homes. Misfits in the great mosaic we call life, James. Unfortunates who possess false or insufficient clues to the Great Crossword Puzzle. That is the way to describe the majority of our students, I think. Ours, we like to believe, is a work of rehabilitation and of healing. We are sociologically viable. We…”

“Yes, sir, I quite understand. And what part am I to play? My time-table, perhaps—?”

“Oh, you had better ask Henry,” said the Warden. “Henry will know. He sees to all that kind of thing. It is regrettable that you are to be with us for so short a time. You take up residence abroad at the end of October, I believe.”

“Yes, sir, to brush up my languages.”

“I am told that you are expecting to enter the diplomatic service. Do you really think it a wise choice?”

“I have no idea, sir. I believe my mamma made it for me, and I dislike to hear her criticized adversely.”

“You have already interrupted my discourse twice in order to interpolate remarks which I should hardly describe as diplomatic. That is all I meant, James,” said the Warden, giving Hamish, this time, a wintry smile. “To pass on; to pass on. I hope you will settle down here, even for so short a stay. We like people to grow roots. Roots, you know, make for the total stability of the plant or tree.”

“Alas, sir, I fear that the rain will pass over me and I shall be gone and the place hereof will know me no more.” Hamish spoke these flippant words aloud, but added mentally, “And a good thing, too.” He already slightly disliked the Warden and he had a feeling that the Warden already more than slightly disliked him.

“You have a great deal of self-confidence, I perceive, James,” went on Gascoigne, ignoring the picturesque scriptural allusion. “I imagine that you are highly qualified in other directions, too.”

“For life, sir, or for the diplomatic service?”

“I was thinking, strangely enough, of your duties here, James, I have a parochial outlook, I fear. Still, however unworthily I may sustain the role, I do happen to be the head man of my little domain.”

“Oh, quite, sir. After all, it is better to be first in a small Iberian town than second in Rome.”

“I fail to detect the relevance of that remark, James.”

“I understood that you were once the second master of Isingtower School, sir.”

“Oh, that! Past history, my boy. A great deal of water has flowed under the bridge since my Isingtower days.”

“Yes, of course, sir. Have I your permission to go to Henry and ask what my duties here will be?”

“Oh, lectures, you know, in French and German. You will have to find out how much the students are prepared to take, of course.”

“No doubt they will be prepared to take whatever I am prepared to give, and that will be of my plenty, sir, I assure you.”

“You are extremely self-confident, James.”

“So you have already been kind enough to say, sir.”

“I understand that you obtained your Blue for boxing,” said the Warden, changing the subject with some abruptness.

“Yes, sir. There was not a great deal of boxing talent when I was up.”

“You may find it useful, I am afraid.”

“I am prepared to employ all my talents, such as they are, in the service of the College while I am here, sir.”

“That is splendid, James. I am delighted. By the way, I believe we need a coach for the men’s aquatics. Do you swim?”

“Like a dolphin, sir, or so my mamma has said.”

“Those animals,” said the Warden, “are said to rival man in intelligence.”

“I am sure they surpass him in good nature, sir, and they are also said to have a tremendous sense of humour.”

“Yes, well, off you go to find Henry,” said the Warden hastily. “He will be on the field. Look for a small, spare, wiry man wearing an atrociously loud checked tweed cap with his light-blue blazer.”

With this description to aid him, Hamish found Henry without difficulty. He introduced himself.

“I’m Gavin. Mr. Medlar sent me out here to ask what you want me to do.”

“Well, first,” said Henry, “while you’re talking to me, keep your eye on those blokes who are throwing the discus. Ever been hit by a discus?”

“No, nor bitten by a shark, I’m glad to say.”

“Either can happen to you here. One of those lads has got it in for me, so, although I can’t guarantee where a discus is going to fetch up, I’m not taking chances with this lot.”

“Couldn’t you move out of orbit?”

“No, because I’m measuring the throws. What did you want to see me about, did you say?”

“I was told you’d know what my duties are.”

“Let’s see, you’ve come to replace Merve while he’s in hospital. That means French and German, unless you’ve something more exciting to offer.”

“Russian and Chinese?”

“Are you serious?”

“Perfectly serious.”

“Oh well, that would make a change, then.” He left Hamish’s side to mark where a discus had ploughed into the turf. When he returned he said, “And, of course, you’ll be wanted mostly for the swimming. We aim to tire ’em out, so everybody here has to sweat like hell at something or other. Nothing like aching muscles to take the glamour out of a spot of mayhem.”

“I gather that you don’t go in for a summer vacation here. I was told that my work will be continuous until I leave in October.”

“That’s right, in a way, but the staff take turns at going on furlough. You’ll get your turn in September, when Merve used to have his. The students are never let out on the loose until they leave, of course.”

“And when is that?”

“When their people ask for them back, or when they reach the age of twenty-three. Not many stay as long as that, though. The fees are too heavy, I suppose. What did you make of Gassie?”

“He wants me to be known as James.”

“That’s hardly an answer—or is it?”

“I really think it is.”

“He’s an idealist, you know. At least, he thinks he is, but if one of the students clobbered him I fancy the Old Adam would soon pop up and show fight. Still, there’s not much fear of that. Keeps himself
to
himself, does Gassie. The only contact he has with the students, apart from trousering the vast sums their parents pay to keep them here, is to sympathize with their troubles and promise them to get rid of any member of staff who has brought those troubles about. Which same he does.”

“Good Lord!”

“Don’t worry. He’s seldom called in to arbitrate. The students prefer to deal with matters themselves if any cloud appears on the horizon.”

“As witness my predecessor? Was he a cloud?”

“Merve? Oh, well, I must admit that, when he stirred himself, Merve was a bit of a sadist. His methods might have intimidated little prep-school boys, but he ought to have known better than to think they would answer with this lot. After all, he used to be one of them. He ought to know how they tick.”

“Do the students gang up on us, then?”

“Occasionally. Not on the whole. They’re individualists and, of course, as you’d expect, extremely selfish. There’s not much brotherliness here.”

“Oh, well, anything to get away from the trade-union movement,” said Hamish.

“Duck!” cried Henry, as a discus flew dangerously close to their heads. Recovering himself, he marked the indentation where the missile had landed. “A hundred and eighty-one feet!” he said exultantly. “That was Rixie. I may venture to book him.”

The athlete came galloping towards them, a tall, long-haired youth wearing a string vest and track-suit trousers.

“How about that, then?” he demanded. “Good enough fqr the book?”

“Good enough for the book,” said Henry. He produced a notebook from his blazer pocket and inscribed the young man’s name. “Allow me to present you to James, who is going to introduce you morons to Russian and Chinese as soon as he gets the chance.”

“Mitt, James,” said the youth, extending a large, grimy hand. “Rixie here.”

“That was a damn fine throw,” said Hamish, shaking hands with him.

“A
bloody
fine throw,” amended the youth. “Guess I’ll call it a day now, Harry boy. It might discourage me if the next one fell a bit shorter. Besides, along comes Jonah. I don’t want to be ill-wished.”

“Is he typical of the men-students?” asked Hamish, as Rixie cantered away.

“Except for the fact that they’re mostly delinquents, there isn’t a type,” replied Henry. “Rixie slaughtered his father. It was brought in as accident, but his mother told us a few things and there’s no doubt whatever in my mind that it was murder. However, according to our standards, he’s almost a model student so far as conduct is concerned, and reasonably intelligent as well. On the whole our academic standards are not high. Gassie, in fact, lives in apprehension of the day when some wayward genius—a Shelley or a youthful Einstein—will turn up and have to be catered for, but it hasn’t happened yet. Hullo, Jonah! Finished for this afternoon?”

“I think so,” replied a stout man in a singlet and white flannels, an athlete, Hamish decided, who was running to seed. “I’ve just dislocated Derry’s right wrist. I didn’t mean to, of course, but I’m afraid I’ve made the other chaps angry, so I thought I’d better clear out of the gym for a bit and give Derry time to cool off at the hospital.”

“His
right
wrist? But he’s our shot-putter against the Squadron Club on Saturday!” groaned Henry. “What a fool you are, Jonesy!”

“Well, dammit, he did ask for it! He chucked an Indian club at me. He’s not one of my squad, either. So I got hold of him, and that’s how it was. See you later, I expect.” He left them and sauntered off.

“So there you have the Jonah of this establishment,” said Henry. “Well, the discus people appear to have packed up, so let’s go along in and have some tea.”

“What did Rixie mean about being ill-wished?” asked Hamish.

“What I’ve just said. Jones is literally a Jonah. If he weren’t Gassie’s brother-in-law we should have seen the last of him long before this. Mind you, if only he didn’t put this hoodoo on the works, he ought to be worth his place. He
could
be a first-class gymnast. Of course, he drinks—that’s his trouble— and it’s a funny thing that, no matter what goes wrong or what accident happens, somehow or other Jones is responsible for it. It’s uncanny—the way, without any evil intention whatsoever, he can manage to bish things up.”

“Are you sure there isn’t evil intention?” asked Hamish. “My mamma,” he went on, “is secretary to a psychiatrist who is consultant to the Home Office, so I’ve been brought up to have a suspicious mind. My father, moreover, is an Assistant Commissioner of Police, so you see, with one and the other, I’m bound to be somewhat biased.”

“I should keep quiet about your connections if I were you, then. You don’t want the students to mark you down as a copper’s nark.”

“I thought none of them had ever been in trouble with the police.”

“That’s not their fault,” said Henry drily.

“What about if they abscond? Do you get much of that sort of thing?”

“Oh, very seldom, very seldom indeed. You’re thinking of the police again, aren’t you? But we don’t call in the police if a man or a girl runs away. We merely inform the parents and leave them to cope.”

“Even if a man and a girl ran off together?”

“Oh, yes. We accept no responsibility at all. The parents understand that from the beginning. Old Gassie, who, as you’d expect when he runs a place like this, is a politician, points out that they’re lucky to have a college willing to take their delinquent offspring. If they won’t admit that, then he washes his hands of them. There’s nothing like coming it a bit, you know. Gassie’s no good at all in some ways—for instance, if you run into trouble, it’s not the least bit of use to think he will back you up—but he does know how to handle the parents. ‘Take it or leave it,’ he says in effect. ‘If you care to send your naughty lad or girl here, we’ll do our very best to keep him or her happy and out of mischief, but, apart from that, we promise nothing.’ Makes ’em sign on the dotted line, too. Of course, he can afford to high-hat them. We’re not allowed by our constitution to take more than a hundred students at a time, so he can lay down the law more or less as he pleases. We’ve always got a waiting-list, you see.”

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