By the following evening Ross was wishing all the more that Demelza could have been there to coax him out of the megrim brought on by a miserable, unproductive day.
He had hated having to act like a magistrate – a role he had rejected long ago – interrogating each man who came before him. Some had been nervous, some sullen, a few resentful. But there was nothing he could identify which might point to any one of them as being guilty.
And he hadn’t finished yet – there were more to see tomorrow.
“I hope you had better luck,” he said to Harry as he sat smoking his pipe before the fireplace in the comfortable parlour of Drake’s cottage.
“Not a great deal. There are just two blacksmiths in town, so I enquired of them who might have mules or packhorses for hire, but they knew of no one in the area. Then I went down to the harbour and got chatting to the fishermen to find out if anything had been offered for sale cheaply – again, nothing.”
Ross leaned back in his armchair and closed his eyes, drawing deeply on his pipe. He was weary to the bone, not just from the long ride but from the unpleasant task he was being forced to undertake. Maybe he should have let Harry deal with it – he was quite capable.
“Maybe we should advertise a reward?” Harry suggested. “That might loosen a few tongues.”
“I’ll consider it,” Ross conceded. “Anyway, I’m going to bed. Perhaps things will look better in the morning.”
But they didn’t – they looked considerably worse. The four of them were still eating their breakfast when there was a loud rap on the door. Ellie, the housekeeper, hurried in. “If you please, Mr Drake, it’s young Alfie from the yard. Says he ‘as a message.”
Drake glanced at Ross, then nodded to Ellie. “Show him in.”
A thin young man came in, clutching a knitted cap between his hands. “Sur, I’m sorry, sur, but there’s been another one,” he blurted out. “Robbery, I mean. Mr Mably do tell me to come and fetch ‘ee.”
“Mr Mably?” Drake frowned. “Not Mr Kittow?”
“No sur, I’m sorry, sur, but Mr Kittow b’ain’t come down to the yard yet.”
“Oh… Thank you, Alfie. Tell Mr Mably that we’ll be down at once.”
The lad nodded nervously and backed out of the room. Drake rose to his feet.
“No, sit down and finish your breakfast,” Ross insisted. “A few more minutes won’t make any difference.”
Drake sank back into his chair, his face pale. “What can have happened to Robert?” Absently he picked up a roll and put it down again. “It’s not like him to be late in.”
“Perhaps he’s ill?” suggested Morwenna, though her face was just as pale.
Drake shook his head. “He would have sent a note.”
Ross understood their concern. Robert Kittow wasn’t just Drake’s assistant manager, he was also his son-in-law, married to his daughter Loveday for almost fifteen years and the father of three hopeful children - including Tommy, who had welcomed them on their arrival.
“I’ll walk down and see.” Morwenna hesitated a moment. “I’m sure he has nothing to do with what’s going on.”
“No, no, of course not,” Drake reassured her quickly. “Come down to the yard and let us know how he is.”
It was a silent trio who walked down the hill and across the long, narrow medieval bridge to the east bank. Each was deep in his own thoughts.
Like Drake, Ross found it hard to imagine that Robert Kittow could be involved in the robbery. He recalled a square-built, stolid man – Demelza had said he was ideal for Loveday, who like her mother had always been a quiet, shy creature, with the same dark brown, rather short-sighted eyes.
Of course his non-appearance at the boatyard could have a perfectly innocent explanation - but there was no denying that it was a very odd coincidence. Well, they would find out soon enough.
The boatyard was a short distance from the bridge, fronting on the river. It was bounded at the far end, beyond the dry dock, by the blank back wall of a cotton warehouse, and on the other two sides by a thick thorn hedge. It had a wide wooden gate which bore the sign Poldark & Carne, Boatbuilders.
Inside the gate was one large workshop and one smaller one, a storage shed, and a slipway and quay where an elegant forty-foot brig was awaiting the last of her trim before heading out to the open sea.
The yard was always busy, but today it was in uproar. Already there had been a fight between two of the carpenters because someone had said a wrong word to another. Ted Mably, the workshop supervisor, was standing in the middle of the yard with a piece of paper in his hand, frowning and anxious as men ran from the workshops to the shed and back to report to him.
“Oh Drake, Cap'n Poldark sur - thank goodness you’re here. It’s worse even than last time – a whole wagonload of stuff is missing. Most of the good cedar that was delivered just last Monday, that we hadn’t even started cutting for trim yet.”
“A wagonload?” Ross asked. “They didn’t come by boat?”
“No sur, I don’t b’lieve so. See – there’s been a wagon by here.” He walked them back to just outside the gate, to show them a distinct imprint of a wagon wheel in the soft grassy verge beside the gravel road. “We b’ain’t had no wagons along here for more’n a week.”
Ross nodded. “Well spotted. So, they broke open the gate?” He studied the wooden panels and the stout iron lock, but could see no sign of damage.
Mably shook his head. “No sur, that’s the strange thing. It were all locked up last night, same as usual, and it were still locked this morning.”
Ross glanced at Harry and Drake. “So they had a key,” said Harry.
“What about the set that are kept in the office?” Ross asked. “Are they still there?”
As one, they turned into the main workshop. The office was at the back, up a flight of open wooden stairs built against the wall. The door was still locked. They all looked at one another, then Drake drew a set of keys from his pocket and inserted one in the lock. It turned smoothly, and he pushed the door open.
It was a small, cluttered space, with a window overlooking the workshop and another looking out over the town. Ledgers fought for their place on the shelves, plans and timber samples littered every available surface. There was a desk and two chairs.
Ross took the seat behind the desk as Harry strolled over to the window and checked the shutters. They were firmly locked. He opened them and peered out.
“I can’t see anyone getting in this way,” he said. “It’s right out onto the main road, and that hedge would stop anyone getting a ladder up.”
Drake unlocked a cupboard and took out a strongbox. He unlocked that. Inside were some silver coins and a fold of paper bank notes – and a set of keys that matched his.
“Which leaves Kittow,” Harry said.
“Which leaves Kittow,” agreed Ross heavily.
Drake shook his head, his distress showing on his face. “I can’t see why he would do such a thing. Throw everything away like this…”
“We don’t know yet that he did,” said Ross. “Let’s wait and see what else comes up. What about the watchman? Was one posted?”
“Yes, sur,” said Mably. “It was Dan – Dan Couch.”
“And where is he?”
“He’s lying down, sur. He took a nasty crack to the head.”
“Can he say how it happened? Did he see anyone?”
“He says not, sur.”
Ross nodded. “Very well. I think we need to speak to him first, if he’s well enough.”
“I’ll go and fetch him, sur.”
A moment later he was back, accompanied by a man with a face as weather-beaten as old leather. The breeches he was wearing looked as if they belonged to a shorter, plumper man, and he had a rough blanket round his shoulders.
Ross recognised him as one of those he had questioned the previous day. He had answered then with a calm steadiness that reminded him of his miners and tenants back at Nampara - he really hoped he wasn’t mistaken in him.
“This is Couch, sur,” said Mably.
Ross nodded, and indicated to the man to take the seat opposite him. Drake and Mably had moved over to the far corner of the room, while Harry stood by the door, leaning against the wall, his feet a little apart and his arms folded across his chest. Ross reflected briefly that if a man had something to hide he would find that presence quite intimidating.
“So, Couch, how are you feeling?”
“I got a mortal headache, sur.” He touched his hand gingerly to the side of his head, where a large bump was showing beneath his tangled hair.
“No other injuries?”
“Don’t think so, sur. I’ll come brave soon enough.”
“Very well.” He spoke gently – there was nothing to gain by bullying the unfortunate man when he was already injured. “Do you feel up to answering a few more questions?”
“Thank you. First, tell me how you came to be on guard last night.”
“We all volunteered, sur. After that last big batch went missing, Mr Carne do figure it were someone as got in at night. We none of us liked that, sur – we all works hard here, from Mr Carne down, and it didn’t sit right that someone was coming in and taking what weren’t their’s. This is a good place to work, Cap'n Poldark, sur – ee and Mr Carne always do fair by we. So every one of us was willing to give a night to keep watch, like.”
“And why was it you last night?”
“We drawed lots, sur.”
“I see.” Ross glanced up at Mably for confirmation. He nodded. “So tell me what happened – from when the yard closed for the evening.”
“Ais, sur. Well, sur, I seen all the lads go. Mr Carne and Mr Kittow, they locks up the sheds like usual, and says goodnight to me. Then I goes to our little hut, where we brews up tea and that, and sits me down for a while. It were a nice evening, sur, and I sat watching the fishing boats come in, and the sun set, and all the stars come out, pretty as anything.”
“Yes, yes – so what did you do after it got dark?” He was accustomed to rambling explanations of this kind from his miners and farmhands – it took some degree of patience to get a story out of them.
“Well, I walked up and down for a bit, and then I sat for a bit and has another dish of tea, and then I walked up and down a bit more. It was all quiet, sur - there weren’t no one around. Then I hears a noise.”
“What time was this?”
“It’s hard to say, sur, me not having a pocket watch and all.” He scratched his rough cheek with dirty fingernails. “But I reckon it were coming on for midnight, near enough.”
“So what did you hear?” asked Ross. He suspected the man may have fallen asleep, but it seemed unfair to challenge him on that, at least for now. His story was more important.
“Like I said, sur – a noise. Like someone tapping. Tap-tap, tap-tap.” There was an earnest simplicity in his eyes; Ross found it difficult to believe that he was anything but honest. “At first I weren’t sure, then I hears it again. So I goes to have a look-see. And that’s when they must have scat me on me nod, sur – the next thing I remembers is waking up all wet in the bottom of the dry dock, and it were starting to get light.”
“And when they hit you, you saw no one?”
“No sur. I swear it on the Good Book.”
Ross nodded. As a story it had the ring of truth. Being tumbled into the dry dock would account for the blanket and ill-fitting breeches - there was often a little water in the bottom. He was fortunate that he hadn’t landed face down – an unconscious man could drown in even a few inches of water.
“What happened when you came round?”
“Well, sur, I were all dizzy for a while, and I were hard put to even climb out of the dry dock, so I just sat down for a bit. Then Nick Geake and Mark Nance came and found me and put me in these dry things, and sent urgent for Mr Mably.” He worked his mouth around his few remaining teeth. “I’m that sorry, sur. It were my job to be on watch, and I let ee down. I’m that sorry."
Ross shook his head. “You did your best, Couch. And that’s a very nasty bump on your head. Mably, get an apothecary to come and have a look at him, then send him home. He’s to have two days off with pay. But no drinking until Saturday, mind – that will only make you feel worse.”
“No sur. Thank ee, sur.” He rose to his feet and bobbed a kind of bow, and shuffled from the room.
Ross looked around at the other three men in the room. “Well, what do you think?”
“I think he’s telling the truth,” said Harry. “I doubt he could make up a story like that - he doesn’t seem like the brightest candle in the row.”
“He’s not,” Drake agreed. “But he’s a good worker. Diligent.”
“He certainly did take a nasty knock, to judge by that bruise,” Ross remarked, frowning. “It seems…”
His words were interrupted by the sound of light footsteps hurrying up the stairs. The door opened and Morwenna appeared, her face pale and her eyes wide behind her spectacles.
“Oh!” She gazed around at the four men, then ran into Drake’s arms. “Oh Drake. I don’t know what to make of it. Robert hasn’t been home all night.”
Drake stroked her back. “Come, m’dear,” he said gently. “Try to tell us slowly exactly what has happened.”
“Loveday is in pieces - she believes he has a mistress.”
Harry snorted with laughter. “Robert?”
Ross silenced him with a frown.
Morwenna swallowed a sob as Drake coaxed her into the chair recently vacated by Dan Couch. “Loveday said he’s been going out late these past few nights, giving her no explanation.” She clutched at Drake’s hand, gazing up at him with anxiety etched on her face. “She was afraid to ask him where he was going. Then last night he went out after nine, and didn’t come back. She waited up all night for him, but there’s been no sign.”
Drake squeezed her hand. “He didn’t leave a note?”
She shook her head. “Nothing.” She lifted questioning dark eyes swimming with tears, and looked from one to the other. “You don’t think… Surely you don’t think he could have had anything to do with the trouble here?” she pleaded. “Not Robert.”
Ross hesitated. He didn’t think it likely, yet he couldn’t say for sure that he did not. Somebody had used a key to open the gate and storage shed – and Kittow’s set was the only one unaccounted for.
With a sigh he shook his head. “We don’t know yet what happened. Look Drake, you take Morwenna back to Loveday’s and see what more you can find out. We’ll meet you back here later.”
Drake nodded, and helped his wife to her feet, tucking her hand into his arm as they walked down the stairs.
Ross leaned his elbows on the desk and steepled his hands. “Well, what do you think?” he asked.
Harry shook his head. “Seriously, I can’t see Robert being the type to have a mistress. But nor can I see him being the type to get involved in something criminal. Why would he? For the paltry amount he might make out of these thefts he stands to lose so much more.”
“I agree. Of course it could be that his disappearance has nothing to do with either of those possibilities. But… What I’m afraid of is that he was set upon by someone who knew he had the keys.”
“But what was he about, at that time of night?” Mably frowned. “He would have been at his Town Meeting on Monday evening, him being a burgess and all. But there were no Town Meeting last night.”
“We won’t know what he was about until we find him.” Ross spoke grimly. “Mably, can you spare any men from the work today?”
“I b’lieve so, sur.”
“Then set them to go around searching for any word or any sign of Kittow. As many of them as you can manage.”
As he left the office, Ross looked up at his son. “This is getting nasty,” he said. “Very nasty.”
The day did not improve. The hunt for Robert Kittow proved fruitless – no one in the town had seen him, no one could offer the slightest explanation for his disappearance.
Ross and Harry interviewed the rest of the workers one by one – Ross had grown weary of the task, and sat to one side as Harry dealt with it. But by the middle of the afternoon they had both reached the conclusion that it was a complete waste of time.
Drake had returned from Loveday’s with nothing to report except that the women were understandably much distressed. “Loveday had got herself into a taking, believing Robert had acquired a mistress, which is why she said nothing.”
“Surely she couldn’t seriously think that?” said Harry.
Drake shook his head. “Who knows how a woman’s mind works? We have done our best to keep the children from all the upset. Wenna is staying with her for this evening.”
Ross nodded. “I think that’s for the best. And perhaps you should be with them. Harry and I will take our dinner at the Swan.”
Drake looked grateful. “Are you sure?”
“Of course. If you hear anything, send us word.”
Before they left he gave instructions to Mably that all the workers were to receive an extra shilling’s pay in consideration of their willingness to act as watchmen, and Dan Couch to receive twice that.
“Of course the advantage to this arrangement,” Harry remarked cheerfully as they walked along Fore Street towards the inn, “is that we can have a jug of ale with our dinner. Uncle Drake is my favourite uncle – if you count that Geoffrey Charles is really not my uncle but some kind of cousin. But that Methody thing about not touching strong drink – that’s really not for me.”
“Then you can buy the ale,” said Ross.
The Swan was a comfortable inn, always busy but never too crowded. The landlord knew Ross well, and remembered Harry from when he was a schoolboy, visiting the boatyard with his father. “And so you’re married now, with a son of your own? My, how the years do fly.”
Ross and Harry ordered their dinner and went to sit down in a quiet corner.
“Mmm.” Harry sank a large gulp of his beer. “I was ready for this. It’s been a bad day.”
Ross leaned back against the upholstered bench and closed his eyes for a moment. It had indeed been a bad day, and they were no closer to finding out what had happened.
Yet a little to his surprise he found that, in spite of the unpleasantness of the day’s circumstances, he felt a certain contentment in spending this time with his son. Away from the domesticity of home, the presence – however welcome – of the women, he had been able to recognise him as a grown man, a father himself. And he had been impressed by him – by his intelligent grasp of what needed to be done, his calm authority when it was needed.
He was proud of him.
The landlord wasn’t long in bringing their dinner. By unspoken consent they did not discuss the business of the day while they ate, instead speculating on the impact of the recent works along the river bank.
“I don’t think it’s going to work as they hope,” said Harry. “It’s changed the way the river flows. If they get one decent storm, it could create a serious flood.”
“They could be a lot better off if the burgesses would cooperate with each other. This division between East and West Looe is no longer helpful. It’s effectively one town.”
“I’m not sure they could be persuaded to see it that way. They’re too fond of their own dignities.”
Ross laughed satirically. “It was ever thus!”
They had finished their dinner and were contemplating the virtues of an apple pie when there came the sound of a loud quarrel from over by the bar. Someone was demanding that the landlord serve him a noggin of gin, and mark it up on his slate. This the landlord was clearly disinclined to do.
“Get out of here, Clem Vigus. I’ve told ‘ee afore, many a time, there’s no more drink for ee unless ee pay on the nail.”
“Ee think I ain’t got the money?” the customer demanded belligerently. “I’ll have the money tomorrow – more than enough money. I’ll buy everyone in this place a drink tomorrow, see if I don’t.”
“Ais, well that’s tomorrow, so we’ll see,” the landlord countered. “Ee’ll get nothing tonight unless ee have the coin.”
Ross had drawn back sharply into the shadow of the corner. Harry glanced at him in surprise.
“Clem Vigus,” Ross explained in a quiet voice. “He’s the grandson of old Nick Vigus, who used to live in Mellin. Nothing but trouble, and his son and his grandson take after him. I didn’t know he was hanging around down here.”
The quarrel had come to a noisy end with Clem Vigus slamming his fist on the bar and then stomping out. Ross rose to his feet.
“Come on. This could be worth looking into.”
It was beginning to grow dark; there were few people about. Vigus was some way ahead of them, walking with the distinctive shuffling step of a man who had served a prison sentence with hard labour on the treadmill.
They followed him as he turned away from the river and struck up the hill and out of town. He had soon left the houses behind, taking to a rough track beneath the overhanging trees in the deepening dusk. There was still just enough light to keep him in sight.
They had been walking for about ten minutes when Harry nudged his father, and pointed to a fresh wheel rut at the side of the track.
Ross nodded. He was beginning to feel some discomfort from his ankle, but in his hurry he had left his walking stick behind at the inn. And what was worse, he had left his pistols on the table next to his bed back at Drake’s cottage.
But to his relief they did not have to walk much farther. Ahead of them Vigus suddenly disappeared from the track. Approaching cautiously, they found that he had entered an old woodman’s shack, almost derelict.
They eased up silently to the shuttered window. There were voices from within – two of them. Ross didn’t recognise either of them as belonging to Drake’s son-in-law. The glow of a candle shed some light, and through a crack in the shutters he could see two men sitting at a rough table – one was Vigus, the other unknown.
Harry touched his arm, and signalled with hand gestures that he would go to look round the back of the building. Ross nodded, and Harry disappeared without a sound around the corner.
Ross waited, trying to hear what the two voices were saying. They appeared to be waiting for someone – possibly the someone who was to buy their haul? The unknown man sounded agitated.
“I told ee I’d have no truck with murder. Ee can get hanged for that.”
“On’y if ee get caught. And we ain’t gonna get caught, see?”
“Well, I aint doing it, an’ that’s an end to it. Ee said we’d wait till she got here – she’ll decide what to do.”
Ross frowned. A woman was involved? He eased closer to the window again and peered through the crack. On the table where the two men were sitting were a couple of thick candles and the remains of a supper of bread and cheese.
And a pistol.
For the second time he cursed himself for leaving his own pistols behind. So much for being prepared for any eventuality. This could be difficult. He stepped back – and felt a sudden sharp stab of pain as his ankle twisted beneath him.
He grunted as he fell heavily to the ground, winded. Before he could pull himself up there was a scraping of chairs and a scuffle from the shack, and the two men erupted through the door. Vigus was holding the pistol in his hand.
“Well, dang me – we’ve got a prowler.” Vigus had a laugh as ugly as his face. “Danged busy-body poking his nose around. Wot you doing here, old feller? Eh? Come on, on yer feet.”
“Wait…” Ross had spotted a shadow moving silently around the far side of the shack. “My leg… I’ve hurt my leg.” He made as much fuss as possible trying to rise to his feet, not minding their smirking grins. So long as they were watching him…
The shadow moved swiftly. Vigus was felled with a single blow to the side of his head. Harry ducked as the other man swung wildly, his fist striking him in the stomach with a blow like a pile driver, followed by an uppercut to the jaw which sent him sprawling on the ground beside his mate.
Ross scuttled across the ground to grab the pistol. “Nicely done,” he said, a note of pride in his voice.
Harry laughed. “At least I learned something useful at Oxford. Even if it was in the boxing club rather than the lecture hall.” He held out his hand to help Ross to his feet. “Are you hurt, Papa?”
“It could have been worse.” He winced as he put his weight on his ankle. “Not a word of this to your mother.”
One of the men was stirring, and Harry hit him again, almost casually. “We’d better tie these two up. There’s some rope on the wagon – it’s round the back, still loaded with our timber.”
He was gone for just a few seconds, returning with a coil of rope, and quickly had the two men bound hand and foot. “We’d best get them inside,” Ross said. “I heard them say someone would be coming. We should gag them, too.”
The two men were coming round, to find themselves dumped like sacks of potatoes in the corner of the shack. As Harry looked around for something to use as a gag, there came a muffled grunting from a room at the back of the shack.
Ross snatched up one of the candles and followed Harry. The room was little more than a lean-to. There was a lumpy straw mattress on the floor, and what had looked at first like a bundle of rags was a man, bound at the wrists and ankles, with a sack over his head.
Harry hurried to release him. As he pulled off the sack, Ross instantly recognised the square, stolid face of Robert Kittow.
He sat up stiffly, rubbing his wrists and ankles. “Oh, thank you, thank you.” He dragged in a deep, gasping breath. Ross could see that his face was pale and glistening with sweat, though the evening wasn’t particularly warm. “Thank God you’re here. It’s been a nightmare.”
“Are you all right? Have you any injuries?”
“No - I don’t think so, just my head. They hit me – knocked me out.”
“That seems to be a habit of theirs.”
He looked up at them, blinking in the candlelight. “Ross? Ross Poldark? What… How did you get here?”
“I’ll explain in a moment. Can you stand?”
“Yes – yes, I think so.”
He was a little unsteady on his feet, so Harry helped him totter through into the other room, where he sat down heavily at the table.
“Are you hungry?” asked Ross, taking the other chair.
Kittow nodded. “I haven’t eaten since last night.”
“Then help yourself. You might as well have their supper, since they’ve treated you so badly.”
From the corner there were loud but ineffective protests as Harry tore up the sacking to make gags for his captives. Kittow seized on a hunk of cheese and bit into it like a starving man.
“There’s ale too, if you don’t mind sharing their jugs.”
“I’ll not be fussy…” His face suddenly contorted, and he doubled up. “Excuse me, I just… I must go…” He hurried unsteadily to the door.
“Keep an eye on him,” Ross said to his son.
“You don’t believe him?”
“Probably. But it won’t hurt to be careful. Besides, he may be ill – that’s a nasty bruise on his head, and it seems those two were none too gentle with him.”
But Kittow was back in two minutes. “Ah… I’m sorry. But I do feel better for that.”
“Do you feel ready to tell us what happened?” asked Ross.
Kittow sat down at the table again, and took another bite of his former captors’ supper. He was already beginning to look a little better. He took a long draught of the ale, and pointed at Vigus.
“That man,” he said. “His name is Clem Vigus. A couple of months ago he came down to the boatyard looking for a job. He seemed to be a strong young man, so I put him on for a month’s trial as a general labourer. But he was too often late or didn’t even come in to work at all, so I had to let him go.”
Vigus grunted aggressively through his gag.
“A couple of nights ago,” Kittow went on, “I was on my way back from a Town Meeting, and I saw him hanging around near the yard. It was late, almost ten o’clock. I had stayed after the meeting to talk to some of my colleagues about the possibility of building a new bridge – the old one is no longer wide enough for the needs of the town.”
“You saw Vigus near the yard?” Ross prompted to draw him back to the main topic.
“Yes.” He nodded. “Of course I wondered what he could be doing there, where he had no business to be. Especially at that time of night, and with all the thefts we’ve had recently. Anyway, I waited and watched him for a while, but nothing happened. But I was still suspicious, so the next night I went down at the same time to check – and he was there again.”
“Why didn’t you tell Drake?”
“I… felt in some measure responsible, since it was I who had hired him. And also… I had no clear proof. I was reluctant to accuse an innocent man.”
Ross considered that. It was in keeping with what he knew of the man – conscientious, deeply religious, and having shown no previous signs of possessing the imagination to make up such a story. “Very well – carry on.”
“Well, I had made up my mind to it that I would watch just one more night, which was last night. And there he was. So again I concealed myself in a doorway. And then… well, I must have been struck over the head. I know nothing more – I woke to find myself as you saw me.”
“So that’s how they got your keys?” asked Harry.
“Oh no – those I had left safe at home in my strongbox. I believe, from what I overheard, that they had a key. I can only surmise that when he worked for us, Vigus had access to a key and somehow was able to copy it.”
“That would be easy enough,” Harry said. “You make an impression in a wax tablet, and that creates a mould for the new key.”
Ross sent him a sidelong glance. “Is that something else you learned at Oxford?”
Harry didn’t even look sheepish. “Well, they did lock the gates damnably early.”
“Search them for the keys,” said Ross. “We need to be quick now – their accomplices may be here at any minute.”
Harry and Kittow set to the task – Kittow with perhaps a little too much enthusiasm. He found the keys in the pocket of Vigus’s breeches, and gave them to Ross. He examined them by the light of the candle. They did indeed look new – they would be useful evidence for the magistrates to see.
It was only a few moments later when the sound of horses’ hooves could be heard approaching. Ross checked the priming on the pistol, and handed it to Harry. “Take this and go round the back way,” he said. “Kittow, move your chair back a little from the light.”
He moved his own chair back, and snuffed out all but one of the candles. They waited as the horses came to a halt outside the door. Two people dismounted and stepped into the shack.
The first was a woman, quite plump, wearing a pea-green velvet riding habit and a tall hat with a rather extravagant feather. She was followed by a tall, thin man, slightly stooped as if always apologising for himself.
As the woman moved into the light, Ross studied her face with a frown. There was something faintly familiar about her.
“Vigus?” she demanded, peering at Ross. A grunt from the corner alerted her, and she spun round. “What…?”
She turned and took a step towards the door, but Harry had appeared there, his wide shoulders blocking it, the pistol in his hand.
She recovered swiftly, drawing herself up like an indignant hen. “What is the meaning of this?” she demanded. “Ambushing innocent travellers…”
“Rowella,” her companion pleaded. “It’s no good.”
Ross frowned as the cogs of ancient memory began turning in his brain. Rowella… “Rowella Chynoweth?” he queried.
“Solway.” She turned on her pathetic husband. “Why did you have to open your mouth, you great dolt?”
“I’m sorry, my dear…”
“I’m afraid he’s right, Mrs Solway. It’s no good. I suspect your unpleasant friends here in the corner will be more than willing to confess everything to the magistrates to save their own necks. Now, it’s getting dark, so let’s get back to town. I’m sure they’ll find some nice comfortable beds for you in the goal.”