‘I shouldn’t think so. Ferdinand Lestrange would be called for the defence in that case, I should imagine, and he doesn’t very often lose the day. But you be careful. I don’t want an idiot wife. Being bashed over the head is apt to produce some effect on the intelligence, you know, and if Tidson were to get busy again with a brickbat—’

‘To change the subject,’ said Laura, ‘don’t you think something more could be done from the Bobby Grier end of this business? I believe Mrs Grier is frightened. Couldn’t you frighten her a bit more? And those kids who said a man with a panama hat took Bobby away and drowned him – Oh, yes, I know the baby one said it was a lady, but that doesn’t count for anything.’

Gavin looked dubious.

‘I might get something,’ he agreed, ‘but what would it be worth if I did? I can’t bring kids into court with a tale like that, and, if I could, I wouldn’t want to.’

‘Who’s asking you to bring them into court? You’ve only got to get them to recognize Tidson as the man in the panama hat, and then you get on with your proofs. They’re bound to be circumstantial, but you can’t help that.’

‘Not good enough. Haven’t you read any witchcraft trials? Kids will say anything if the idea is put into their heads. And, suppose the kid sticks to his “lady,” where is that going to get me?’

‘So the hat’s no good? And I got all wet and muddy retrieving the beastly thing!’

‘I’m not saying the hat’s no good. Crete has agreed that it’s Tidson’s. He’ll have to explain how it got there at a time when Crete was half drowned.’

‘Which he will like a shot, the same as Crete did. She was much too fly to be caught out over the hat. He’ll say it blew off when he was fishing, or else that he took it off, and then, in the excitement of hooking a trout, forgot all about where he’d left it. You’d have to believe him. And, if you didn’t, a jury would. You’re right. The hat is a washout.’

‘I’m going to have a go at him,’ said Gavin. ‘Drunk and disorderly? I wonder?’

But, as it happened, there was no need for any such charge. Mr Tidson was apprehended, and charged the very next day, for travelling on a train without a ticket.

‘There’s something damned phony about this,’ said Gavin, when he heard of it from the police station; for Mr Tidson had added to his misdeed by striking the ticket collector on the nose. ‘What the devil is he up to? He’s done this for the purpose, I should guess, and the purpose was not to save his railway fare. Something’s blowing up. I wonder what?’

‘I should say it’s blown,’ said Laura. ‘Crete’s told him about her two talks with Mrs Croc. and something about them has scared him. You go and sort him, my lad. This might be a gift from the gods. I wonder what Mrs Croc. has got to say? Oh, and I’ve got a job to do.’

She picked up an attache case, opened it, and displayed a transparent light-green waterproof, a wrap-over skirt and a blouse.

‘What the hell?’ enquired Gavin. Laura grinned and pushed the clothes into the case.

‘Three guesses,’ she said, ‘and you ought to get it first pip.’

‘But where did you get them?’

‘They’re mine, duck. I’m going along to the river to find out how easy it is to sink clothes in some deepish pool. Then I’m going to find exactly where Crete parked hers. That wasn’t a suicide attempt. It was some elaborate eyewash. You wait and see what she does next.’

Chapter Twenty

‘He rushed through a long bed of weeds, and then walloped about distractingly . . .’

J. W. HILLS (A Summer on the Test)

CRETE’S next action was somewhat astonishing. Mrs Bradley remarked that as Arthur Preece-Harvard would be in Winchester on the morrow, Crete had arranged with the management of the Domus to have a private nurse, or, rather, two nurses, who would be with her night and day.

‘But what’s she afraid of?’ enquired Gavin. ‘It almost looks as though she’s afraid of her husband, after all. Do you think he did push her in? It seems queer if he did, considering she went prepared to be the nymph, and—’

‘No, I don’t think he did. And I don’t think she’s afraid of him. The nurses will provide her with an alibi, of course, if young Preece-Harvard comes to any harm in Winchester. That is partly what the nurses are for, and that, I imagine, is what the semi-suicide was for. Crete is not going to involve herself any further in her husband’s affairs.’

‘But this means she knows an attempt will be made on the boy, and fairly soon! Who are the nurses? Do you know?’

‘One has been provided by the doctor whom the hotel called in for Crete, and who usually attends at the Domus if anyone on the staff or among the visitors is suddenly taken ill, and the other is the sister of Lucy, the chambermaid. This sister is well known to the management, and has obliged in this way before.’

‘I’d better have a look at them, I think, although they both sound innocent enough. Still, it wouldn’t do to take chances. But, tell me, what do you make of Tidson? I could understand him cheating the railway company, but what about him slugging a ticket collector?’

‘I know,’ said Mrs Bradley. ‘It isn’t in character. And what isn’t in character is always interesting. Have you interviewed him since he was arrested?’

‘No. It’s the local beak’s job. He’s being held on the charge of assault. He paid up the money for the fare, apologized, referred to sudden temptation and said he’d always been honest. I don’t suppose the railway company will prosecute, but for the assault he’ll get forty shillings or seven days, I should think. It wasn’t really a serious case.’

‘It’s a very curious one. I wonder what Connie Carmody is doing?’

‘I don’t suppose she’s doing anything much. She’s with her aunt at the flat in London, isn’t she?’

‘I’ll tell you what,’ said Laura to Gavin, a little later on, ‘I still say it’s a pity we can’t prove what was in that letter that was handed to Crete from that car, and I still say it’s a pity we don’t know a little bit more about that flat on the Great West Road that Connie went to when she fled from the Domus.’

‘Oh, I don’t know. She had nowhere to run to except there or to Miss Carmody’s place, and she guessed we should find her if she went back to where she had come from. She knew old Tidson wasn’t very likely to turn up, and she couldn’t have foreseen that you would. The only part of the business that seems suspicious to me is that she had enough sense not to throw the stone into the river, so that the fingerprints and the dog’s blood were still on it for us to test. That does look guilty.’

‘Yes, it’s altogether too clever.’

‘I’m going to bounce the secret of that dog-killing out of Connie. It couldn’t have been done for revenge. She never even saw Tidson with the dog!’

‘You’d much better leave her to Mrs Bradley, you know.

You can’t possibly hold her for questioning, although I agree she deserves it.’

‘Oh, there are ways and means,’ said Gavin, easily. ‘We can charge her with stealing the dog. I suppose she did steal it, in a way. It will be enough reason for questioning her a bit. We can say that we think the death of the dog may have some bearing on the murders. That won’t be untruthful, will it?’

Laura looked doubtful, and said:

‘The old lizard told her about the dog, hoping she’d make it a substitute for Tidson, and she did. And I don’t believe you could arrest her for stealing it unless Mr Tidson makes a charge, and you know he won’t!’

‘I don’t know anything of the sort!’

‘All right, all right. You know your own business best, and I don’t need to agree with all you say. To my mind it’s a frame-up, and I’ve said so. Still, if you have to do it, that must be that. I admit that I feel rather sorry for this

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