Connie. She’s an under-weather, nervy sort of piece, and I wish you could leave her alone.’

‘She’s got to come across,’ said Gavin briefly. ‘We’re after a murderer, and a pretty beastly one. Can’t spare people’s feelings if it means we’ve got to let him go.’

‘I know. But it’s beastly, all the same, that the innocent should have their lives spoilt because of nasty old men like Mr Tidson.’

‘Talking of Tidson, I wish I knew what he’s playing at, to get himself arrested like this. It almost looks as though he has reason to need protection, and, if that’s so—Well, I wish I could see through his game.’

It was not at all easy to find out Mr Tidson’s game. He was brought up in front of a kindly and puzzled justice of the peace next day, and, having made a bitter little speech to which the bench listened gravely and with great courtesy, he refused to pay a forty-shilling fine. The magistrate, clicking his tongue, was about to proffer the alternative of seven days’ imprisonment when an official whispered in his ear. Mr Tidson’s fine, it appeared, had already been paid, and Mr Tidson, looking dazed and frightened, was dismissed. He began another speech, but any protest he may have seen fit to make was smothered by the fatherly hand and arm of a gigantic police constable, who removed him almost bodily from the court as the next case came up for hearing.

‘Did you pay the fine?’ enquired Gavin of Mrs Bradley.

‘I was about to put the same question to Laura,’ she replied. ‘We are on the verge of interesting disclosures. The plot thickens to breaking point.’

‘I certainly didn’t pay it,’ said Laura. ‘I should think Crete must have sent the money. She’d hardly want her husband in jug.’

Enquiry, set on foot by Gavin, proved that the philanthropist who had paid the two pounds was a young lady. The description, which followed, of her size, appearance and apparent age, certainly would not fit Crete but might have fitted Connie Carmody.

Gavin immediately telephoned to Miss Carmody, and discovered, as he had expected, that Connie was no longer in the flat. Her bed had not been used, and her aunt could not account for her disappearance.

‘Well, that beats everything,’ said Gavin. ‘I suppose she had better be found at once. And now, what about this Tidson?’

‘He has gone to see Crete, at the Domus,’ Mrs Bradley replied. ‘Let us both go to see him.’

Mr Tidson, Mrs Bradley was interested to discover, was in a remarkable state of terror. He could not answer any questions. He merely begged them to save him, but omitted to mention from what.

Gavin commented on this. ‘That chap,’ he said confidentially, ‘will cut his own throat before we hang him if we’re not mighty careful. What do you think?’

‘As you do,’ Mrs Bradley responded. ‘Nevertheless, I am inclined to leave him to his fate.’

‘Yes, but why should suicide be his fate? What’s he been up to? How do you account for the wind-up?’

‘Well, I doubt if it means a guilty conscience. I don’t believe Mr Tidson is troubled by conscience at all. No, I think we are watching the unfolding of an interesting logical sequence of events.’

‘But where the devil is Connie?’

‘Here in Winchester, I imagine, lying in wait for the unfortunate Mr Tidson, instead of (as he had hoped and planned) for her half-brother, Arthur Preece-Harvard. I let the boy come back to school here because I knew he was not in danger from Connie, and Mr Tidson, who has such a powerful motive for putting him out of the way, will never dare to touch him while we’re here. It is a situation I shall watch with peculiar relish.’

‘What are you getting at?’ asked Gavin. Mrs Bradley cackled.

‘Once upon a time,’ she said, ‘there was a man who incited another man to murder their mutual enemy. But the second man, victim of the fearful poison engendered by the promptings of the first, killed, not his enemy, but the man who had slain his conscience. What do you think about that?’

‘I see the point of it,’ Gavin answered. ‘You believe he’s been inciting Connie Carmody to kill young Preece- Harvard, and has spent his time in Winchester demonstrating to her how easy it is to commit a murder without being found out.’

‘Well,’ said Mrs Bradley, careful not to express agreement with this, ‘I don’t know about that. No doubt it would suit Mr Tidson very nicely if Connie (or anyone else) would put Arthur out of the way and leave him to inherit the money. But, of course, he made a mistake if he supposed that Connie entertained feelings of hatred for the boy. Connie, in point of fact, adores him, as she has done from their earliest years.’

‘Then why in the name of goodness hasn’t she given old Tidson away to us weeks ago? If she’d spilt the beans we could have acted upon her information.’

‘Connie, you must remember, is not only young; she is unversed in the ways of the world. She did not think we should believe her. She distrusts people – who can blame her? The world has not treated her too well. Besides, she is intelligent enough to realize that we could scarcely interfere with Mr Tidson’s plans until something more than she could tell us was proved against him.

‘In other ways she is not a clever girl, and she is also remarkably obstinate. It was not easy to persuade her that her best course was to go away from Winchester for a bit, and she would not have consented (even although she was terrified of Mr Tidson) if Arthur had not been safely tucked away in Bournemouth. I knew she would return to Winchester as soon as the College re-opened after the summer, and I have no doubt that she is here, that she paid Mr Tidson’s fine, and has turned the tables on him by making him fear her as much as – in fact, a good deal more than – at one point she feared him.’

‘Do you think she led Tidson up the garden, then, and allowed him to believe that she would kill Preece-Harvard when the time came?’

‘I don’t know. She was evidently horrified by him, not only because of his motive for having Arthur murdered, but sexually, of course, as well. I don’t think a young man like yourself can begin to fathom the depths of that kind of horror, which is far more than merely physical. She probably allowed him to think that she would act in accordance with his suggestions.’

‘Both kinds? Ah, I begin to see daylight. I suppose that accounts for the visit of the “ghost”, after which she insisted on changing rooms with you.’

‘The “nun” was undoubtedly Mr Tidson.’

‘Oh, yes, the apparition that squeaked. Always a very phony story.’

‘And it accounts, too, for the visitant at whom I hurled the nailbrush. That was undoubtedly Miss Carmody, who came to find out what was going on.’

‘Then why the black eyes of the others?’

‘Thereby, I fancy, hangs a tale. Anyhow, that ludicrous situation spiked poor Miss Carmody’s guns, as Mr Tidson knew it would. An elderly maiden lady cannot afford to look ridiculous if she values her self-respect. I saved her by taking her off to Bournemouth for the day.’

‘Not knowing that the Preece-Harvards were there?’

‘Not knowing at that time that the Preece-Harvards were there. It must have given Mr Tidson a shock when he knew where we had been, for I have little doubt he knew where Arthur was.’

‘What about that flat on the Great West Road? An address of convenience, no doubt?’

‘Yes. The letter about the naiad came from there, and Connie had a key which Mr Tidson may or may not have given her at some time.’

Laura groaned.

‘Yes,’ said Mrs Bradley, ‘quite a horrid person, Mr Tidson, and Connie is—’

‘Connie must be a dope,’ said Laura roundly. ‘The thing is, we ought to find her before she can do Mr Tidson any harm.’

‘I’d leave him to it,’ said Gavin. ‘The wicked old villain!’

‘For murdering the boys, hoping that Connie would kill Arthur, or for trying to seduce Connie?’ Mrs Bradley ironically enquired.

‘The last, of course,’ Gavin vigorously and honestly replied. Mrs Bradley and Laura laughed, and the latter observed, as she tucked her strong arm into his and affectionately dug her elbow into his side:

‘Spoken like a man and a mutt!’

‘Yes, well now,’ said Gavin, ‘after all that, what about him?’

‘I think,’ said Mrs Bradley, ‘that our best plan might be to await him. He’s bound to turn up.’

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