Read Death of a Fool Online

Authors: Ngaio Marsh

Tags: #Fiction, #General, #det_classic, #Mystery & Detective, #Police Procedural, #Police, #England, #Alleyn; Roderick (Fictitious character)

Death of a Fool (20 page)

BOOK: Death of a Fool

“In the end,” Alleyn suggested, “did Ernie make mischief, or what?”

“So he did, then. After Camilla came back, ’twas.”

“Why then, particularly?”

“Reckon he knew what was in the wind. He’s not so silly but what he doesn’t notice. Easy for all to see Mr. Ralph’s struck down powerful strong by her.”

“But were they ever seen together?”

“No, not they.”

“Well, then —”

“He’d been courting her in London. Maids up to castle heard his great-auntie giving him a terrible rough-tonguing and him saying if Camilla would have him he’d marry her come-fine-or-foul.”

“But where,” Alleyn asked patiently, “does Ernie come in?”

Ernie, it appeared, was linked up with the maids at the castle. He was in the habit of drifting up there on Sunday afternoon, when, on their good-natured sufferance, he would stand inside the door of the servants’ hall, listening to their talk and, occasionally, contributing an item himself. Thus he had heard all about Dame Alice’s strictures upon her great-nephew’s attachment to Camilla. Ernie had been able, as it were, to pay his way by describing his own encounter with Ralph and Trixie in the copse. The elderly parlour-maid, a gossip of Trixie’s, lost no time in acquainting her of the whole conversation. Thus the age-old mechanics of village intercommunication were neatly demonstrated to Alleyn.

“Did you mind,” he asked, “about this tittle-tattle?”

“Lor’, no,” she said. “All they get out of life, I reckon, them old maidens.”

“Did anyone else hear of these matters?”

She looked at him with astonishment.

“Certain-sure. Why wouldn’t they?”

“Did the Guiser know, do you think?”

“He did, then. And was so full of silly notions as a baby, him being Chapel and terrible narrow in his views.”

“Who told him?”

“Why,” she said, “Ernie, for sure. He told, and his dad went raging and preachifying to Dame Alice and to Mr. Ralph saying he’d tell Passon. Mr. Ralph come and had a tell with me, axing me what he ought to do. And I told him, ‘Pay no ’tention: hard words break no bones and no business of Guiser’s, when all’s said.’ Course,” Trixie added, “Mr. Ralph was upset for fear his young lady might get to hear of it.”

“Did she?”

“I don’t reckon she did, though if she had, it mightn’t have made all that differ between them. She’m a sensible maid, for all her grand bringing-up: a lovely nature, true’s steel and a lady. But proper proud of her mother’s folk, mind. She’s talked to me since she come back: nobody else to listen, I dessay, and when a maid’s dizzy with love, like Camilla, she’s a mighty need to be talking.”

“And you don’t really think she knew about you and Mr. Ralph?”

“Not by my reckoning, though Mr. Ralph got round to thinking maybe he should tell her. Should he make a clean breast of it to Camilla and I dunno what else beside. I told him it were best left unsaid. Anyway, Camilla had laid it down firm they was not to come anigh each other. But, last Sunday, he seen her in church and his natural burning desire for the maid took a-hold of him and he followed her up to Copse Forge and kissed her and the Guiser come out of the smithy and seen them. Camilla says he ordered her off and Mr. Ralph told her it would be best if she went. So she did and left them together. I reckon Guiser gave Mr. Ralph a terrible tonguing, but Camilla doesn’t know what ’twas passed between them.”

“I see. Do you think the Guiser may have threatened to tell Camilla about you?”

Trixie thought this extremely likely. It appeared that, on the Monday, the Guiser had actually gone down to the Green Man and tackled Trixie herself, declaiming that Ralph ought to make an honest woman of her. For this extreme measure, Trixie said, perhaps a thought ambiguously, there was no need whatever. The Guiser had burst into a tirade, saying that he wouldn’t hear of his grand-daughter marrying so far “above her station,” and repeating the improper pattern of her mother’s behaviour. It could lead, he said, to nothing but disaster. He added, with superb inconsistency, that, anyway, Ralph was morally bound to marry Trixie.

“What did you say to all that?” Alleyn asked her.

“I said I’d other notions.”

He asked her what had been the outcome of her interview with the Guiser and gathered that a sort of understanding had been arrived at between them. An armed neutrality was to be observed until after Sword Wednesday. Nobody could do the Betty’s act as well as Ralph and for the Guiser this was a powerful argument. Towards the end of their talk, the old man had become a good deal calmer. Trixie could see that a pleasing thought had struck him.

“Did you discover what this was?”

“So I did, then. He was that tickled with his own cunning, I reckon he had to tell me.”


“He said he’d make his Will and leave his money to Camilla. He said he’d make Mr. Ralph do it for him and that’d stop his nonsense.”

“But why?”

“Because he’d make him lay it down that she’d only get the money if she didn’t marry him,” said Trixie.

There was a long silence.

“Trixie,” Alleyn said at last. “Do you mind telling me if you were ever in love with Ralph Stayne?”

She stared at him and then threw back her head. The muscles in her neck swelled sumptuously and she laughed outright.

“Me! He’s a nice enough young fellow and no harm in him, but he’s not my style and I’m not his. It were a bit of fun, like I said, and natural as birds in May: no offence taken either side.”

Thinking, evidently, that the interview was over, she stood up and, setting her hands at her waist, pulled down her dress to tidy it.

“Have you got a man of your own?” Alleyn asked.

“So I have, then, and a proper man, too.”

“May I know who he is?”

“I don’t see why for not,” she said slowly. “It’s Chris Andersen. Reckon you saw us a while back in the lane.”

“What did the Guiser have to say about that?”

For the first time since he spoke to her, Trixie looked uneasy. An apple-blossom blush spread over her face and faded, Alleyn thought, to an unusual pallor.

“You tell me,” he said, “that the Guiser thought Mr. Stayne should marry you. Did the Guiser know about Chris?”

She hesitated and then said, “Reckon he knew, all right.”

“And objected?”

“He wasn’t all that pleased, no doubt,” she said.

“Did he have an argument about it with Chris?”

She put her hand over her mouth and would say no more.

Alleyn said, “I see you can keep things to yourself and I hope you’ll decide to do so now. There’s something else I want you to do.”

Trixie listened. When he’d finished she said, “I reckon I can but try and try I will.”

He thanked her and opened the door for her to go out.

“A remarkable young woman,” he thought.

Fox, who had enjoyed a substantial high-tea, sat on the edge of the bed, smoked his pipe and watched his chief get ready for his dinner-party.

“The water’s hot,” Alleyn said. “I’ll say that for the Green Man or Trixie or whoever stokes the boilers.”

“What happened, if it’s not indiscreet, of course, with Trixie?”

Alleyn told him.

“Fancy!” Fox commented placidly. “So the old boy asks the young solicitor to make out the Will that’s planned to put the kibosh on the romance. What a notion!”

“I’m afraid the Guiser was not only a bloody old tyrant but a bloody old snob into the bargain.”

“And the young solicitor,” Mr. Fox continued, following his own line of thought, “although he talks to us quite freely about the proposed Will, doesn’t mention this bit of it. Does he?”

“He doesn’t.”

“Ah!” said Fox calmly. “I daresay. And how was Trixie, Mr. Alleyn?”

“From the point of view of sex, Br’er Fox, Trixie’s what nice women call a-moral. That’s what


“She’s a big, capable, good-natured girl with a code of her own and I don’t suppose she’s ever done a mean thing in her life. Moreover, she’s a generous woman.”

“So it seems.”

“In every sense of the word.”

“That’s right, and this morning,” Fox continued, “Ernie let on that there were words between Chris and the old man. On account of Trixie, would you think?”

“I wouldn’t be surprised.”

“Ah! Before you go up to the castle, Mr. Alleyn, would there be time for a quick survey of this case?”

“It’ll have to be damn’ quick. To put it your way, Fox, the case is going to depend very largely on a general refusal to believe in fairies. We’ve got the Guiser alive up to the time he ducks down behind the dolmen and waves to Ralph Stayne (if, of course, he did wave). About eight minutes later, we’ve got him still behind the dolmen, dead and headless. We’ve got everybody swearing blue murder he didn’t leave the spot and offering to take Bible oaths nobody attacked him. And, remember, the presumably disinterested onlookers, Carey and the sergeant, agree about this. We’ve got to find an answer that will cover their evidence. I can only think of one and it’s going to be a snorter to ring home.”

“You’re telling me.”

“Consider the matter of bloodstains, for instance, and I wish to hell Curtis would get here and confirm what we suppose. It the five brothers, Begg, Otterly and Stayne had blood all over their clothes it wouldn’t get us much nearer because that old ass Carey let them go milling round the corpse. As it it, Bailey tells me they’ve been over the lot and can’t find anything beyond some smears on their trousers and sleeves. Begg, going on his own cloak-and-dagger experience in Germany, points out that the assailant in such cases is well-enough bloodied to satisfy the third murderer in
. And he’s right, of course.”

“Yes, but we think we know the answer to that one,” said Fox. “Don’t we?”

“So we do. But it doesn’t get us any closer to an arrest.”


motive. (Why, by the way, don’t we employ that admirable American usage?) I
it. The case is lousy with motive. Everybody’s got a sort of motive. We can’t ignore it, of course, but it won’t bring home the bacon, Br’er Fox. Opportunity’s the word, my boy. Opportunity.”

He shrugged himself into his jacket and attacked his head violently with a pair of brushes.

Fox said, “That’s a nice suit, Mr. Alleyn, if I may say so. Nobody’d think you’d travelled all night in it.”

“It ought to be Victorian tails and a red silk handkerchief for the Dame of Mardian Castle. What’ll you do, Fox? Could you bear to go down to the forge and see if the boys have unearthed the Guiser’s wealth? Who’s on duty there, by the way?”

“A fresh P. C. Carey got up by the afternoon bus from Biddlefast. The ambulance is coming from Yowford for the remains at nine. I ought to go down and see that through.”

“Come on, then. I’ll drop you there.”

They went downstairs and, as they did so, heard Trixie calling out to some invisible person that the telephone lines had broken down.

“That’s damn’ useful,” Alleyn grumbled.

They went out to their car, which already had a fresh ledge of snow on it.

“Listen!” Alleyn said and looked up to where a lighted and partially opened window glowed theatrically beyond a light drift of falling snow. Through the opening came a young voice. It declaimed with extraordinary detachment and great attention to consonants:

“ ‘
Nine-men’s morris is filled up with mud.’ 

“Camilla,” Alleyn said.

’s she saying!” Fox asked, startled. Alleyn raised a finger. The voice again announced:

 ‘Nine-men’s morris is filled up with mud.’ 

“It’s a quotation. ‘Nine-men’s morris.’ Is that why I kept thinking it ought to be nine and not eight? Or did I —”

The voice began again, using a new inflexion.

 ‘Nine-men’s morris is filled up with MUD.’ 

“So was ours this morning,” Alleyn muttered.

“I thought, the first time, she said ‘blood,’ Fox ejaculated, greatly scandalized.

“Single-track minds: that’s what’s the matter with us.” He called out cheerfully, “You can’t say, ‘The human mortals want their winter here,’ ” and Camilla stuck her head out of the window.

“Where are you off to?” she said. “Or doesn’t one ask?”

“One doesn’t ask. Good-night, Titania. Or should it be Juliet?”

“Dr. Otterly thinks it ought to be Cordelia.”

“He’s got a thing about her. Stick to your fairy-tales while you can,” Alleyn said. She gave a light laugh and drew back into her room.

They drove cautiously down the lane to the cross-roads. Alleyn said, “We’ve got to get out of Ernie what he meant by his speech from the dolmen, you know. And his remark about Chris and the old man. If a propitious moment presents itself, have a shot.”

“Tricky, a bit, isn’t it?”

“Very. Hullo! Busy night at the smithy.”

Copse Forge was alert in the snowbound landscape. The furnace glowed and lights moved about in the interior: there was a suggestion of encrusted Christmas cards that might open to disclose something more disturbing.

When Alleyn and Fox arrived, however, it was to discover Simon Begg’s car outside and a scene of semi-jubilant fantasy within. The five Andersen brothers had been exceedingly busy. Lanthorns, lighted candles and electric torches were all in play. A trestle-table had been rigged up in the middle of the smithy and, on it, as if they bore witness to some successful parish fete, were many little heaps of money. Copper, silver, paper: all were there; and, at the very moment of arrival, Alleyn and Fox found Dan Andersen with his brothers clustered round him shining their torches on a neat golden pile at one end of the table.

“Sovereigns,” Dan was saying. “Eleven golden sovereigns. There they be! Can you believe your eyes, chaps?”

“Gold,” Ernie said loudly, “ain’t it? Gold.”

“It’ll’ve been the Grand-dad’s, surely,” Andy said solemnly. “He were a great saver and hoarder and the Dad after him: so like’s two cherry stones. As has always been recognized.”

A little worshipful chorus mounted above the totem brightness of the sovereigns. A large policeman moved nearer the table, and out of the shadows behind the forge came Simon Begg, wearing the broad and awkward smile of an onlooker at other people’s good fortune.

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