I is for Inspector. Inspector Crowner’s arrival is awaited with eager anticipation in Cadblister Parva.
“Do you think they’re expecting us, Mug?” Asked Inspector Crowner of his Sergeant as their cab (which they’d hired at the station at Great Blister, and pressed into service after arduous negotiations that had frequently descended to the level of threats) finally clacked its way into Cadblister Parva. It was, technically, morning, but no sign of this had yet manifested itself. It was snowing again.
“I couldn’t say, sir,” said Sergeant Earnest Mug, woodenly.
“That was a rhetorical question, Sergeant. They are expecting us. Observe!” And he pointed dramatically to a group of people standing outside a building that, by its swinging sign, Inspector Crowner immediately deduced to be The Yeoman’s Arms. “If that isn’t a reception committee, I’m a Dutchman.”
“Ah. Yes, sir.”
“Hoy! Cabbie!” Cried Inspector Crowner. “Pull up, man. Thank you.” And he began to gather up his various bags.
“They’ve spotted us,” Mug said. There was a trace of fear in his voice. “They are coming.”
“Well, let’s see what they want,” said Crowner, stepping out of the cab. He handed the driver his pay, and Sergeant Mug barely had time to join his chief in the snow before the horse had turned and the trap clattered away back to Great Blister, and what the driver had called ‘civilization.’
“Are you looking for us?” Called Inspector Crowner to the mob as it approached. He squinted, trying to discern details through the obscuring snow. “I am Inspector Crowner, and this is my Sergeant, Earnest Mug.”
“You there!” A young man with a lovingly-tended mustache and a fine top hat emerged from the whiteness of the air. “You’ve jolly well got to get Verity out of jug. Only a bally lunatic would think of arresting her, you know.” He glared.
“For murder, at any rate,” said a handsome man of middle age, as he, too, stepped forward and became visible as something other than a man-shaped shadow. He wore a clerical collar- presumably this was the Vicar. He seemed gently amused as well as greatly worried. “I believe that they do arrest Suffragettes sometimes, for various reasons,” the Vicar continued. He turned to the top-hatted young man. “But my dear Gerald, this man didn’t order the arrest, you know. At least, I doubt it.” He surveyed Crowner thoughtfully through thick round spectacles. “I am Augustus Meadows, Vicar of Cadblister Parva. This” and he gestured at the glaring young man “is Gerald Crabtree, Viscount Diddums, and now Lord Cadblister. This” he made another flapping gesture, at the woman who had suddenly appeared next to the Viscount, “is Lady Belinda Crabtree, sister of Gerald. They are, as you may already have deduced, the son and daughter of the murdered man.” Three more persons emerged from obscurity. “This is Doctor Brandwood, this is Mrs. Grace Merriweather, and this is Miss Marge Bantree. And we are all rather worried just at moment. You see, our worthy local constable has arrested my daughter. For murder.” He shook his head at this folly. “The poor man no doubt wanted the glory of arresting the murderer before your arrival.”
Viscount Diddums let out a sort of growling sound. “I demand her instant release! I insist, absolutely insist! See to it at once, my good man.”
“We all insist,” said Mrs. Merriweather. “Really, the idea of that child languishing in a cell! What if she catches something?” Everyone started talking at once. Inspector Crowner held up a hand.
“Mug!” He said. “Get us unpacked and go over the preliminary facts received from Colonel Crabbit. Once you’ve done that, get your head down for an hour or so.” He turned to the mob. “And as for your- request,” and he eyed the Viscount frostily, “I can’t promise anything, you know. However, it does sound as though the local man has perhaps acted over-hastily. I will find out. Could someone point out the police station to me?” The Vicar indicated that it was just next door to the inn. Crowner nodded. “Thank you. And now, I think the place for you good people is in bed.”
Mrs. Merriweather and Miss Bantree wandered off into the snow. The Doctor melted away into the Inn. The Vicar shimmered and vanished, though this was possibly some Ocular Illusion, and due to the heavy charge of snow in the air and the resultant poor visibility. But Viscount Diddums still stood, feet planted, glaring horribly. His chin jutted. His breath came out of his nostrils in two mighty clouds, like a dragon in an illustrated book of fairy tales.
“I” said the Viscount “am coming with you.”
Inspector Crowner raised an eyebrow. “If that is your attitude, my Lord, I shall go to bed.”
“I have been travelling all night in unpleasant conditions, and I can think of nothing nicer than a few hours’ sleep.” And Crowner started to walk towards the Inn door.
Crowner turned. “I am tired and I am cold and I am wet. If you think that I am going to add ‘ I am ballyragged by Viscounts’ to this list of maladies, you are mistaken. If you come with me, you will storm and rage and throw your weight about, and you will probably thereby delay the release of this Verity Meadows by several hours, if you don’t muck the thing up so badly that it can’t happen at all. You will certainly irritate me. I am unwilling, at the moment, to tolerate any of this. If you will withdraw and let me do my job, I shall go to the police station and see what can be done. If not, I am going to bed.” And he raised both of his eyebrows, in inquiry.
“Gerald,” said Lady Belinda, as she firmly grabbed his arm, “the man is right. Let him do his job.”
The Viscount, looking mildly stunned, allowed his sister to lead him away. He turned back once and made a muttered apology for his behavior. He was, he said, greatly upset. Then brother and sister vanished into the snow. Crowner smiled an impish smile, and then turned on his heel and went to the door of the police station. He knocked, quite resigned to a long wait while this Constable Wilkins got out of bed.
He did not, in the event, have a long wait. The door was thrown open with some violence by a red-eyed man whom Crowner provisionally identified as Constable Wilkins, though at the moment he looked more like an occupant of a cell than the man with the key.
A Music Hall ditty, sung badly but with enthusiasm, wafted out of the station into the chill winter air. Crowner raised an eyebrow. Could this Constable Wilkins be having a Drunken Carouse, and that within the pure walls of this rural temple to Law and Order?
“Yes?” The blear-eyed man bellowed.
“Are you Constable Wilkins?”
The man stared. “And who might you be? The Yard, is it?” Crowner allowed that it was. “You’d best come in then,” said Wilkins, with a weary and sullen remnant of smugness, “I have the murderess in my lock-up, and a young man as was probably in on the plot with her, and is a public menace for certain sure. And the sooner you get them out of here, the better I’ll like it.”
The singers sang on.
Oh! I do like to be beside the seaside!
I do like to be beside the sea.
Wilkins led the way down a long and narrow hall. Crowner thought that the Constable was saying something, but the sound of raucous singing was by this point so loud that he couldn’t be sure.
I do like to walk along the prom, prom, prom.
Hear the brass bands play, “Tiddle-e-om-pom-pom”!
Oh! I do like to be beside the seaside,
Right beside the side of the silvery sea.
Constable Wilkins threw open a door at the end of the hall and stood aside, to allow Crowner to pass within. But for the moment, Crowner stood in the doorway and took in the scene.
One side of the room was a long and somewhat narrow cell, currently occupied by a young lady of striking (though at the moment somewhat moth-eaten) appearance. The other side of the room appeared to be an office. A young man with a black eye sat in a large chair behind a desk. He appeared, in fact, to be handcuffed to it. Both of these persons were singing. The young man was stomping his feet rhythmically; the young lady was slapping the bars of her cell.
Oh! there’s nothing else beside
That I like to be beside,
Beside the seaside,
Beside the sea!
Crowner walked into the room. Both young persons eyed him defiantly, their mouths open, preparing, presumably, to let rip with another verse.
“Don’t,” Crowner advised them.
“Who are you?” Asked the young lady, presumably Miss Verity Meadows.
“I rather think,” said the young man, “that we are in the presence of Scotland Yard. I,” he continued, “am Randall Grudge, bastard son of the murdered man. This is Miss Verity Meadows, the overly quixotic daughter of our Vicar. I would shake hands, sir, but-” and he shrugged, and nodded his head ruefully down at his manacled hands. “I appear to be unable to do so.”
“I am Inspector Crowner. I have met your father, Miss Meadows, and I also seem to have met your half-brother and half-sister, Mr. Grudge. They, and assorted others, were waiting in ambush for me, and nothing would do but that I should immediately secure your release. By ‘your,’ I mean Miss Meadows. No one mentioned you, sir.” Crowner was interested to see the unpleasant smile that this rather rude remark had produced on the face of Mr. Randall Grudge.
“People rarely do,” Mr. Grudge said. Crowner nodded.
“Ah, yes. You aren’t a fit subject for polite company,” he said, his voice friendly. “I see.” He turned to Constable Wilkins. “What is the evidence against these persons, Constable?” This remark was delivered with awful majesty.
“Well, Inspector. At midnight, on the nail, so to speak, on the night of the crime, I was doing a patrol up Main Street, being uneasy in my mind, like. I don’t know if Colonel Crabbit informed you-”
“The village meeting? Yes, yes. Get on, man, get on! I’ll tell you if I need local footnotes.”
“On patrol, I saw this here-” and he pointed to Randall Grudge “going up the lane to the Hall. The lane where-”
“Where the Doctor later found the body. Yes. Go on.”
“It were known that he’d quarreled with his Lordship not an hour before. So when the body were found, I thought of him first.”
“I see. And when you saw Mr. Grudge on the road, did he see you?”
“We exchanged remarks, sir.”
Crowner nodded brightly. “And then he went up the lane and immediately murdered his father, knowing you’d seen him. Really, Mr. Grudge, you are an obliging assassin.”
Randall Grudge grinned fiercely but said nothing.
“What, Constable, made you change your mind?” Crowner asked.
“Miss Verity Meadows’ confession, sir,” said Constable Wilkins woodenly.
“Oh, she confessed, did she?” Crowner eyed the young woman with surprised reproach.
“Good as, sir. She came to me yesterday afternoon and said as she understood I thought Randall Grudge had done the murder. I said that was my business. She then told me that she’d met him coming down the lane as she was starting up it, and that there’d been no body in lane.”
“I see. And you viewed this as a confession to the murder?”
“Well, sir. I thought she probably figured that Randall Grudge wouldn’t keep mum about her being on the scene of the crime forever. I mean, he’s not likely to, is he? So she thought she’d tell me the part that Grudge knew. Get in first, like.”
“She’s the last person as was known to be in lane, Inspector.”
“Yes, I quite see your reasoning.” Constable Wilkins looked complacent. “I think you’ve blundered, rather, but I quite see your reasoning.”
Constable Wilkins muttered something.
“And why is this young man here?”
“He came knocking at station door two hours or so after I’d arrested Miss Meadows. He said,” and Constable Wilkins scowled horribly, “he’d come to confess. I let him in. He, knowing where the lock-up is located in station,” this was delivered with dark significance, “made right for this here room and sat himself down in my chair. We had words. All three of us had words. The burden of his song was that I had no manner of real evidence against Miss Meadows, though he had other remarks as I won’t repeat. When I saw he wasn’t meaning to confess to anything, I asked him to leave. He asked me if I fancied my chances. I didn’t. Then he asked Miss Meadows if she fancied a bit of civil disobedience, and she said she did. They began a-caterwaulin’. I attempted to go to sleep, and found I could not, not with that racket. I came down again to find Grudge attempting to pick the lock of the cell. I handcuffed him forthwith.”
“Yes, very good,” said Crowner. “Now un-handcuff him.”
“And let Miss Meadows out of that cell.”
“How do you think your Chief Constable will receive the news that you are refusing to co-operate with officers from Scotland Yard? He called us in; I imagine he would be annoyed with you.”
“Yes sir.” Constable Wilkins, sadly, and with insubordinate slowness, got out his great ring of keys and did as he was bid.
“Now,” said Crowner, surveying the two young people with dislike, “I am going to bed for a hour or two. I suggest that you do the same. Good day.” And Inspector Crowner turned and left the building without another word.