The Floating Admiral
As he got into the boat, he noticed a folded newspaper, half sticking out of the dead man’s overcoat pocket. He took it out, gingerly, looked at it, and replaced it.
“Ah,” he murmured, “the Evening Gazette, last night’s late London edition. He wouldn’t get that here. The nearest place where it’s sold is Whynmouth.”
He would very much have liked to examine the contents of all the pockets of the dead man’s clothes, but felt he had better not. So he got out of the boat, sat down on the bank, and waited.
After a bit the sound of a car running along the main road was heard, and in a minute or two, four men came across the meadow; Neddy Ware, a police inspector in uniform, and two men in plain clothes, one of them a doctor, the other a detective-sergeant.
Inspector Rudge was a tall, thin man, with sallow, cleanshaven face. He came up to Hempstead.
“You haven’t moved anything?” he asked curtly.
Rudge turned to the doctor.
“I won’t do anything, Doctor Grice, till you have made your examination.”
Doctor Grice got into the boat and proceeded to examine the body. It was only a few minutes before he said:
“Stabbed to the heart, Inspector, with some narrow-bladed instrument—a thin knife or dagger. Death must have been instantaneous. There’ll have to be a post-mortem, of course.”
“How long has he been dead?”
“Some hours. He probably died before midnight.”
“Not at present, Inspector.”
“Very well. I’ll have a look now.”
He turned the body over, shifting it slightly.
“No sign of blood under him,” he said, “or anywhere else in the boat that I can see. Let’s have a look in his pockets—ah, it wasn’t robbery. Gold watch and chain—wallet full of notes—they were not after that. Evening paper here—last night’s date. That must be noted. Now—we’ve got to be as quick as possible. Tell me, Hempstead, what do you know about him?”
“He’s Admiral Penistone, sir. Retired. A new-comer hereabouts. Bought Rundel Croft, a big house on the other side of the river, a few months ago. Took up residence there lately. I believe he has a niece living with him. But it’s not in my district, sir.”
The Inspector turned to Ware.
“You say the boat belongs to the Vicar here?”
“How long would it take for the tide to bring it up from his place?”
“Forty to forty-five minutes,” replied Ware promptly, “with the tide as it is to-day.”
“I see. Now, the question is how are we to move him? We might pull the boat back against the tide. Won’t do, though. Those oars must be tested for finger-prints before they are handled. Let’s see—Vicarage on the telephone, Hempstead?”
“All right. I’ll go there now. I want to see the Vicar. We’ll phone to Whynmouth for an ambulance. Have to run him to Rundel Croft round by Fernton Bridge. You remain here, Hempstead, and if anyone comes along don’t let ’em touch anything. I shall want you, Sergeant—we’ll have to put you across the river from the Vicarage if we can get a boat there; I want you to mount guard over the Admiral’s boat and boat-house. Perhaps you won’t mind coming too, Mr. Ware. You may be useful. There! We’ll get a move on. Come along, Doctor.”
In a very short time the Inspector was driving the car down the short bit of road leading from the highway to the Vicarage. The front door of the latter faced the river, a lawn stretching down to the bank. Opposite, about a hundred yards from the bank, stood a large, red-brick, Tudor mansion, with a broad sweep of lawn in front and a boat-house.
The Inspector, the Vicar’s hat in his hand, got out of the car and rang the bell; the others followed. It was a few minutes before the maid, who evidently had only just come down, opened the door and said her master was not up yet.
“Will you kindly tell him that Inspector Rudge wants to see him at once. Say I’m sorry to disturb him, but it’s most important.”
“I’ll tell him, sir. Won’t you come in?”
“Thank you, no. I’ll wait here.”
“Hullo, I say, are you a policeman?”
He turned. Two boys had come across the lawn, aged, respectively, about sixteen and fourteen, dressed in flannel trousers and shirts open at the neck, and carrying bathing towels. They were regarding him eagerly.
“Yes,” he said, “I am.”
“Good egg!” exclaimed the elder, “just what we want, isn’t he, Alec? Look here; some blighter has taken our boat—cut the painter. Perhaps you’ve heard about it, though? Is that what you’ve come about?”
The Inspector smiled grimly.
“Yes—that’s what I’ve come about, young gentlemen,” he replied, dryly, “but you needn’t worry about your boat. It’s been found.”
“Hooray!” exclaimed the other boy. “Got the beggar who took it?”
“Not yet,” said Rudge, with another grim little smile, “that may not be so easy. Have you got another boat handy?” he asked.
“Only our old punt—she’s in the boat-house.”
“Well, do you two young gentlemen think you could manage to put my detective-sergeant here across the water in her? He wants to pay a call at Rundel Croft.”
“Rather!” Peter Mount looked with boyish admiration at the sergeant. “Is there going to be a man-hunt? Cheerio! We’ll help you. But you don’t suspect old Admiral Penistone of sneaking our boat, do you? He crossed back in his own last night. He’d been dining here, you know.”
“Oh, had he!” said the Inspector. “No, we don’t suspect him. Now—will you do what I asked?”
“Come on,” said Alec to Sergeant Appleton, “the tide’s running pretty strong, but we’ll put you across all right.”
They went down to the boat-house with the sergeant.
“Good morning, Inspector. Good morning, Doctor Grice—ah—it’s you, Ware, I see. What’s the meaning of this early morning deputation?”
The Vicar had come out of the house; a man of about fifty, of medium height, sturdily built, with clear-cut features and hair a little grey. He asked the question of the Inspector, who replied:
“I’ll explain directly, Mr. Mount. Is this your hat?”