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Authors: Leo Bruce

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“Well, it was about a quarter to seven when mummy turned up.”

“Thank you, Miss Waddell. I think you said, Mr Waddell, that you called on Miss Vaillant after coming home?”

“I said I went to her house. I did so. In fact I had arranged to do on the previous morning.”

“Did you stay long?”

The vicar beamed good-humouredly. “I didn't stay at all. I didn't enter. Miss Vaillant was out. I rang several times without result.”

“That's interesting,” said Carolus seriously.

“Yes,” smiled the vicar, who seemed to think he had made a good remark, “Miss Vaillant was out.”

6

M
UCH
though Carolus wanted to meet Grazia Vaillant he felt it more important to see the Rumbles, husband and wife separately. In piecing together his picture of events that afternoon, in fixing times and forming an idea of where the various inhabitants of Gladhurst were likely to have been, he needed to hear what the Rumbles would tell him.

Another fine clear day found Carolus over at Gladhurst, making for the churchyard, since he understood that at this time the sexton would be working there. As he approached he heard a cheerful voice singing Rockin'
Along in the Breeze
.

He found Rumble, who stopped singing and looked up with a grin.

“You're the one who is going to find out who did for her, aren't you?” he said.

“I hope so,” returned Carolus briefly. Coming straight to the point, he said: “You found the body, I understand?”

It seemed that Rumble did not like this short cut across his reminiscences.

“I found the body,” he said, “but
how
did I find it? How was it I came to disturb the grave waiting for Mr Chilling? How is it Miss Griggs isn't down there now and no one the wiser?”

“Ah!” said Carolus who from many cross-examinations had learnt the value of this long-drawn monosyllable in such contexts.

Rumble grinned.

“There's a lot to know about burying,” he said. “And from what I hear we're not a patch on the ancient Egyptians. What do we do, when all's said and done? Make a box for 'em with brass fittings and drop it under
six foot of soil. Well, not six foot really because the ground doesn't have to be dug more than six foot down. I always do mine seven. Seven to the inch. That's how I came to know Chilling's had been tinkered with. I dropped my tape down the evening before and said to old Mugger who was helping me, there you are, I said, that's seven foot to the inch so Chilling'll have the best part of six foot on top of him when he's in tomorrow. Next morning when I measured it, it was scarcely more than five. So I said to myself this is funny, I said, something peculiar's been going on here and I jumped in and started digging down again. It wasn't two minutes before I came on Miss Griggs.”

Rumble smiled broadly.

“I suppose that was rather unnerving for you?”

“Well, you get used to anything like that in this job.”

“Do you really?”

“I've never found what you might call a recent one before but I've come on old ‘uns. Been there hundreds of years and not much left. It's not so bad as it was but my dad and grandad had the job here before me and I've heard it was a proper sardine tin before they enlarged the churchyard. There was vaults under the church cram-packed with coffins. You could smell it. Well, I think you can still, very often. Sort of musty smell. Outside in the old graveyard, which only went as far as that yew tree, they used to pop 'em in one on top of the other till they were only just under the surface. So it's not surprising that now'n again when I'm digging a new grave I come on something, is it?”

“I suppose not.”

“Though of course not like this. She was lying on her back and the earth had been just shoved in over the top. It looked as though it might have been done in the dark. It was lucky I looked; otherwise she'd have been under old Chilling till Judgment Day and that would never have done, would it?”

“Never,” agreed Carolus sternly. “What did you do when you found the body?”

“Nipped straight over to see the Reverend Waddell. Course, he was very upset. He got on to the police right away and I will say they weren't long in coming out. Then—you should have seen them. You've never seen such a pantomime in all your life. Every bit of ground was gone over inch by inch. They must have taken away a couple of hundredweight of soil. They was taking photographs and measuring up and examining the ground. But after all that, they said it was all right. We could go ahead burying Chilling that afternoon as arranged. That was a relief to everyone.”

“Why?”

“Well, the expense. He'd been taken over to Worsley's the undertakers at Burley and was Lying there. It all costs money. And though I believe he's left his widow comfortable no one likes to see it wasted, do they? Besides it was all arranged for that afternoon. Reverend Waddell was going to bury him himself. It would have meant time wasted. But the police seemed to understand that. They said it was all right to go ahead. So we did and Chilling's down there on his own. Just the one bell, he had, and the organist without the choir. All very nice but nothing extravagant. You should have seen it when the Miss Griggs's father was buried. That was a funeral. You'd have thought it was royalty. Of course he'd been very good to the parish. Fiver for me every Christmas and fifty quid in the Easter Collection. Not to mention other things.”

“Were you digging the grave on that Thursday afternoon?”

“That's right. Me'n Mugger.”

“What time did you finish?”

“Must have been well before four. It was beginning to get dark and you know what time that happens. I daresay we'd finished and put our tools away by half-past three.”

“Where did you put your tools?”

“In the furnace room.”

“Is that locked?”

“No. No need in a place like this.”

“So anyone can have used those tools to throw the earth over Miss Griggs's body?”

“I don't suppose anyone knew they were there. The police examined 'em all for finger prints and there was only mine on them.”

“I see. What did you and Mugger do when you'd finished?”

“I went home. He lives over the other side of the village. He left me near my cottage and went on.”

“While you were digging did anyone come to the churchvard?”

“Not while we were digging, they didn't.”

“But afterwards? Did you meet anyone as you came away?”

Rumble looked somewhat perplexed.

“It doesn't seem worth mentioning,” he said, “but as me'n Mugger left the churchyard we did happen to meet George Larkin and his son Bill.”

“Where were they going?”

“They went into the churchyard.”

“To the church?”

“I don't know. It was getting a bit dark and we wanted to get home.”

“Were you surprised to see the Larkins?”

“I was a bit. George isn't much of a churchgoing man though he does come sometimes on Sunday mornings.”

“Did you speak to them?”

“Just passed the time of day.”

“They didn't say where they were going?”

“No. They never say much, as you'd know if you went to the Black Horse. Anyhow we didn't stop and ask questions.”

“Have you ever seen them there before?”

“Can't say I have. But that's not to say they've never
been. No. I said good-night to George and Bill and went over to my home.”

“Was there anyone at your home?”

“Do you mean my old woman? There was no one else to be at home. No. She hadn't come back from Vaillant's then. She came in about five. I remember that because she said there was a light on in the church. Not often she'll bother to speak. She's a funny-tempered woman, my wife. Still, she did say that afternoon, there's a light on over in the church. So I went out to look and she was right.”

“What did you do about it?”

“I was just going over when I saw old Flo coming across.” Rumble paused to laugh reminiscently. “You know Flo?”

“By sight.”

“She's all right, is Flo. She's a good sport! Liked all round except by some of the wives. They hate her, some of them. Think their husbands are too friendly with her. Well, so they may be. Flo doesn't mind. Anyway, there she was. ‘It's only Mr Waddell,' she said, ‘I just saw him go in.' I asked her where she was going and she said wouldn't I like to know, then I heard my old woman coming so I shut the door to save trouble and argument.”

“Quite.”

“I didn't bother any more about the church till after I'd had my tea, then when I looked out the lights were off. So I walked over and locked up.”

“Did you look round before doing so?”

“No. I didn't go in at all. There was nothing to go in for.”

“You didn't meet anyone when you went across?”

“Not a soul.”

“Nor hear anything?”

“Nothing unusual.”

“Thanks, Rumble. You've been very helpful.”

Rumble grinned.

“Going to try the old woman?”

“There are one or two things I want to ask her.”

Rumble seemed amused at that.

“I wish you luck,” he said darkly.

“I gather you don't approve of Miss Vaillant's religious views?”

“It's not that. It's the work it makes. Processions and that. She wants to start burning incense all over the place. It was Commander Fyfe who stopped that by asking what the Insurance people would say about it. I've got my job as verger without dressing up in lace and carrying a banner on a pole. Besides people don't like it. The collections have fallen off since she started persuading the Reverend Waddell. We don't get the weddings we did, either. Baptisms are down. And Confirmations are nowhere. It all means less for me and it's little enough as it is. There was a lot of trouble last Ash Wednesday when she wanted the vicar to start smudging everyone's faces with charcoal. Have you ever heard anything like it? Miss Griggs, the old lady that's been done for, asked if she wanted to turn us all into chimney sweeps. The Reverend Waddell didn't know what to do.”

“What
did
he do?”

“Well, he did her and no one else. That was his way out of it. She walked about looking as though she'd been cleaning out the grate and forgotten to wash. She couldn't complain because she'd got what she wanted and Miss Griggs couldn't say much either because no one else had it. But they were like two tiger cats, those two. Never knew two women hate one another as they did and the vicar's wife hated the pair of them. Nice state of affairs.”

“Very.”

“You go across and see the old woman. She's at home now. But don't blame me if she won't let you in. She's very funny about things.”

“I can only try,” said Carolus.

“I hope you
do
find out who done it,” chuckled Rumble. “Though with no disrespect I can't help smiling
when I think how cross the old lady would have been if she'd known she was going to be banged on the head. She was one to fly into a fit of temper anytime. Well, all three of them were—Mrs Bobbin perhaps most of the lot. I often think it is a village for that. There was the lady who's Gone and her two sisters, and my old woman who is as bad as any of them, and that Miss Vaillant,
she's
got a temper too, and the vicar's wife and one or two more. Not old Flo, though. You never see her put out whatever happens. But Mugger's wife was another who flies off the handle at the least thing. You've never seen such tantrums as we have here. But it never bothers me. I just laugh.”

“Very sensible. Tell me, since you worked for her you must have known something of Miss Millicent Griggs?”

“Want me to tell you straight? “Rumble did. “That's what she was. Mean with her sisters and everyone else. Always
right
, if you know what I mean. Do anyone a nasty turn. Not like that Miss Flora who is sincere in what she thinks.”

“Thanks, Rumble.”

“Well, I wish you luck with my old woman. Only if I see you flying down the road in a minute I shan't be surprised.”

As Carolus left him he heard him singing blithely.
Hook, Line and Sinker
was the number he chose to volley among the gravestones.

Carolus decided that if he was to get any information from Mrs Rumble strategy would be necessary. He knocked loudly at the cottage door and when it was opened by a dishevelled and irritated woman with her mouth already open to abuse him he spoke before she could.

“I'm enquiring about a pair of galoshes,” he said.

The effect was as startling as he hoped. The lower jaw dropped farther and the eyes searched his. Then Mrs Rumble looked quickly up and down the street and said, “Come inside quick and let me shut the door.”

In a musty and cold front room she faced Carolus with a defensive expression.

“What galoshes?” she asked.

“Don't let's beat about the bush, Mrs Rumble. You know quite well what I mean.”

“I've never Took anything in my life,” she said. “Least of all out of the church.”

“No?”

“Certainly not. I wouldn't if you was to pay me. Things left behind in the pews and that.”

“What do you do with them?”

“If there was anything left behind I should take it to the vicar.”

“Did you take the galoshes to the vicar?”

“I was going to. Soon as ever I had a minute.”

“Did you tell him you'd found them?”

“Not yet, I haven't. I haven't had a chance to turn round.”

“When did you find them?”

“Last Sunday morning. That's the day before yesterday.”

“Where were they?”

“Pushed right underneath at the back of the church. They might have been there for weeks.”

BOOK: Furious Old Women
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