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E. PHILLIPS OPPENHEIM

JEZEBEL OF VALLEY FARM

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RGL e-Book Cover 2014©

A NICHOLAS GOADE STORY

Collected in
Nicholas Goade, Detective, Hodder & Stoughton, London,1927
Reprinted in The Grand Magazine, Dec 1932

This e-book edition: Roy Glashan's Library, 2014
Produced by Paul Moulder and Roy Glashan

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The Grand Magazine, Dec 1932, with reprint of "Jezebel of Valley Farm"



FROM the depths of the sylvan repose and the almost uncanny quiescence of the winding lane which curled its way around the side of Tanton Beacon and dropped into the valley beyond, Goade, in his little car, still hot and puffing with the long climb, passed suddenly into an atmosphere of drama. The last turn had brought into view a prosperous-looking farmhouse, built of grey stone with low, mullioned windows overgrown with ivy, and red-tiled roof, soft with age. The place had an air of prosperity. There were at least a dozen fat stacks, a large orchard, the trees of which were laden with fruit, a well-kept looking farmyard, a row of labourers' cottages at a decent distance. In the lane just outside the front gate stood a tall man, dressed in farmer's homespun clothes, breeches and gaiters, a man of somewhere about fifty years of age, ruddy of complexion, at times, perhaps, benevolent of appearance, but just now a man possessed by an ungovernable fit of rage. His right hand gripped a riding whip by the butt. There was murder in his blue eyes as he gazed at the man who was standing a few yards away, close to a small yellow caravan from which he had apparently descended. The latter's black hair, his olive complexion, his lounging, self-assured bearing, were all characteristic of the gipsy. He stood with his back to the broken window of his caravan, and, though he seemed not to have troubled to put himself into an attitude of defence, his eyes were stealthily watching the farmer. Goade, his brakes smelling hot from the long and winding descent, drove on a few more yards, and came then perforce to a standstill as the caravan, one wheel of which was already in the ditch, blocked the way. As he sat there for a moment, he realised that the two men who had first engaged his attention were not the only persons concerned in the little drama. A couple of farm labourers, looking sheepishly ill at ease, were standing a few yards away from the caravan, and, farther in the background, leaning upon the gate and looking out upon the scene with apparent amusement, was a tall, largely made woman, with smoothly brushed black hair and flashing brown eyes. She wore a rose-coloured gown—a strange piece of colouring in the landscape of greens and golds. Her lips, parted now in a lazy smile, were almost unnaturally scarlet. She had the air of a pleased onlooker, and she appeared to view Goade's arrival with disfavour. The latter, with a little sigh, descended from his car. For a brave man—a man who had never shirked a fight when it was necessary—he disliked disturbances of all sorts. His superficial apprehension of what was passing seemed to him to presuppose a commonplace and sordid little tragedy. The farmer had probably married a gipsy, and this was one of her former companions come to beg, borrow, blackmail, or perhaps to revisit an old sweetheart. Flip, trotting importantly at her master's heels, and sensing something unusual, glanced from side to side as though to realise its cause, permitting herself a short bark of enquiry. Goade translated her curiosity into words.

"Is there any trouble here?" he asked. "There is scarcely room for me to pass."

"If those men of mine had the guts of rabbits," the farmer declared angrily, "they'd topple his bloody caravan into the ditch and make room."

The supposed gipsy turned towards Goade with a whimsical smile.

"You perceive," he remarked, "that for no reason I can imagine I have become an object of distaste to this worthy farmer. I never saw him before. I cannot conceive in what manner I can have offended him. Yet on my applying at the house for assistance—you see I have had the misfortune to get one of my wheels in the ditch traversing this abominable lane—I seem to have stumbled into a veritable hornets' nest. You appear to be a reasonable person, sir. Ask him yourself in what way I have offended. Ask Madame there, who mocks me from the gate, whether she has ever seen me before. Ask those two clumsy-looking louts hanging about behind why they refuse to help restore my—shall I call it caravan?—to a state of equilibrium."

Goade stared at the speaker for a moment without reply. His attire was homely enough, but after all the tweed coat was well-cut, and the remnants of a shabby tie were suggestive of some well-known colours. His shirt, though of coarse flannel, was clean; the knickerbockers and shoes, although ancient, might well have been those of a country gentleman. More significant still, the voice with its slight drawl was most distinctly the voice of a person of culture.

"What's wrong?" Goade asked the farmer. "Why don't you let your men help move the wagon?"

The woman suddenly lifted the latch of the gate and strolled out. She walked with delightful freedom and a faint swaying of the hips suggestive of foreign origin. Goade watched her in unwilling admiration.

"I will tell you," she said. "My husband spends half his days and nights in terror of the gipsies. Why, I do not know, for I am one and they are people without evil in their hearts. And yet I do know. Shall I tell these gentlemen, John?"

"You can tell them what you damn well please," the farmer answered surlily.

"My husband has no manners," she sighed, "and his temper is bad. Now I will tell you why he becomes furious when a gipsy passes the house."

She paused for a moment. She had addressed herself at first to Goade. Now she turned from him and her eyes sought the eyes of the other man.

"A year ago," she recounted, "there came along this way an old woman telling fortunes—a poor old soul she was, but with those things in her which none can understand. It was harvest time and my master there was merry. He would have his fortune told and mine, and he heard what I think has sometimes made his life a torture to him. The woman told him that the day would come when I should leave his roof, and the man who carried me away would be one of my own race."

Again she paused, and her eyes, as she laughed across at the stranger of the caravan, were aflame with a curious light. There was mockery and challenge there, also a shade of wistfulness. She shrugged her shoulders.

"Your fortune teller was indiscreet," the man of the caravan remarked, smiling.

"Bloody old witch!" the farmer muttered.

"Alas," she went on, "the mischief was done when first she opened her mouth. My husband believed her. Since then he has lived in terror of the day when the prophecy should come true. That, sir," she concluded, "is the cause of his inhospitality, though why he should take you for a gipsy, except that you have the dark hair and skin, and the caravan of a pedlar, I cannot say. Are you a gipsy, Mr. Pedlar?" she demanded, with an insolent little toss of the head.

Once more the eyes of the two met across the road, and this time the farmer's grip of his riding crop tightened.

"Madame," the man replied courteously, "if I am a pedlar, see my wares."

He unfastened one side of the yellow travelling van, disclosing the interior. There was not a single article of merchandise visible of any sort—a neatly rolled-up little bunk, one or two water colours and prints upon the walls, bookcases filled to overflowing, a small stove and a cupboard full of crockery. The farmer drew a step nearer and looked in, frowning. The woman boldly leaned head and shoulders through the open space.

"It is a very pleasant home," she murmured. "I take back my words, sir. I do not believe that you are a pedlar."

The air of strain seemed to have departed. The farmer stood sheepishly in the road. The owner of the caravan tapped a cigarette against one of the wheels and lit it. Goade, who was quick to notice such things, realised that the tobacco was of choice quality.

"The fact of it is," the stranger confided, "that I don't know how to peddle, or perhaps I might. My efforts at making a living—a very necessary thing to me, for I am a poor man—are confined to a little—well, I will dignify it and call it literary work. It was in my attempt to conclude a short article on this part of the country that I forgot to watch where I was going, and allowed this patient but unenterprising beast of mine to shy at a cockerel and place me in this unfortunate predicament."

"I think the best thing we can all do," Goade suggested to the farmer, "is to help him get clear. His wheel is sinking lower every moment."

"If he'd said at first that he wurn't no gipsy," the farmer grumbled, "there'd have been naught of any disturbance. No gipsy will I have around the place, or on my land, which is well known, and them as calls my wife a gipsy lies. She's naught to do with them, or of them. She's my properly wedded wife, as all should know who live in these parts, and, if she were gipsy-born afore, she be naught now but a proper Devon woman. Come on Bill there, and you, John! Put your shoulders to it."

The united efforts of the little company, aided by the horse, succeeded in bringing the caravan into the middle of the road. The farmer glanced towards Goade.

"You'd best turn in at my gate for a minute," he advised. "It's a narrow part here, narrow even for one wagon with a team. You can drive round the front of the house and out'en the gate top end of meadow, and you'll be ahead of him. If you don't do that you won't be able to pass for a matter of three miles."

"The farmer's advice is good," the owner of the caravan agreed. "I am a slow traveller. I find it restful."

The incident appeared to be at an end. The labourers trooped off. The farmer stepped back and opened the gate for Goade.

"What do you think on 'im?" he asked confidentially. "He has the quality speech, but he be as much like a gipsy as any I ever seed."

"It is clear," Goade replied, "that he is a person of education. I think I shouldn't worry any more about him."

Goade drove through the farmyard and round the front of the prosperous-looking house. The woman stood by the other gate. She opened it for him, and as he drew near she laughed up into his face.

"Give me your little white dog," she begged. "I need company here."

Goade shook his head.

"I couldn't part with her," he said, "I should be too lonely."

"Lonely!" she replied, lingering a little over the word. "No man ever knows what loneliness really is."

He passed through the gate, raised his hat, and waved his hand to the owner of the caravan who was seated, ready to start. At the top of the long ascent, Goade found the water in his radiator boiling and stopped for a moment. He looked backwards. Only the woman remained, leaning against the gate in almost the same attitude as when he had seen her first, except that her head was turned in his direction. Somewhere between him and her the caravan was slowly mounting the hill.

An hour or so later, Goade was eating bacon and eggs and drinking beer in the small coffee room of the King's Arms at Dunstowe, when he was attracted by the resounding echo of heavy hoofs passing underneath the arched entrance outside into the inn yard. He glanced up. It was the caravan with its owner upon the box seat. A few minutes later the latter strolled in and greeted Goade pleasantly.

"Like the tortoise," he announced, ringing the bell, "I have arrived."

"Are you spending the night here?" Goade enquired.

The newcomer ordered a double glass of sherry and some supper from the girl who had answered his summons. Then he turned back towards Goade.

"I am not sure," he answered. "Perhaps I may hire another horse and drive through the night. And yet," he went on, after a moment's pause, "I know I shall do nothing of the sort."

He threw himself into an easy-chair with an air of complete exhaustion. There were faint purple lines under his eyes. He had the appearance of a man who had taxed his strength to the uttermost.

"You look as though you had been walking up these hills," Goade remarked sympathetically.

"I don't remember what I have been doing," the other confessed. "I only know that I am here and that it has seemed a very long distance."

"How far are you going?"

The owner of the caravan shook his head.

"I never know," he answered. "When I start I go on. If the humour seizes me I shall travel to Land's End, or again, the day after to-morrow I may feel like Piccadilly. To-night I have rather the fancy that there are unexplored lands in front of me."

"I should sleep here to-night and have a rest if I were you," Goade advised. "You'll find everything very comfortable. By the by, my name is Goade—Nicholas Goade. What might yours be?"

"I am Mr. X," the stranger announced. "I sign my articles—some of which you may have read—just 'X.' I enter my name in the hotel books—it excites curiosity—as 'Mr. X.' The licence for my caravan, alas, requires a larger amount of confidence on my part. I must confess that you will find inscribed upon my cards the name of Lauriston—Spencer Lauriston—a harmless name, I think. Certainly not of gipsy origin."

Goade smiled.

"You're still thinking of our ridiculous farmer friend," he observed.

"Was he ridiculous?" the man reflected. "I don't know. He may have been right. My grandmother was a Spaniard and there were stories about her—one never knows. Parts of oneself may sleep for years and be suddenly awakened. Perhaps, after all, Mr. Goade, the farmer was right. Perhaps I am a gipsy."

"Your education—" Goade began.

"True," the other interrupted. "I was at Winchester and Balliol. Yet, after all, there was that Spanish grandmother."

They brought him the sherry. He drank it eagerly, and watched the girl lay a place for his supper.

"A curious little comedy that into which we both stumbled," he continued, leaning back with his hands clasped behind his head. "A scene for a painter almost; the woman so terribly unusual, with her flaming colour, her air of disdain, the farmer—the old fool!—who had drunk the wine of witchery and married the strange woman. I wonder what the end of it will be?"

"A tragedy, perhaps," Goade ventured, "or a comedy. They are never far apart. The makings of either are there. It depends whether the woman's spirit outlives the bucolic impenetrability of her surroundings. If it does there may be trouble. If it does not she may sink into kinship with her environment. A toss-up, I should say."

"Are you married, Mr. Goade?"

"I am not."

"Neither am I. Perhaps we are wise men. A successful marriage entails a terrible assimilation—an assimilation which means death to romance. Here am I," he added, rising to his feet, "talking nonsense instead of eating my bacon and eggs. What a pity I didn't arrive half an hour earlier," he went on, as he took his place at the table. "We might have supped together. As it is, do not leave me. I have no desire for solitude this evening."

Goade lit a pipe and stretched himself in an easy-chair.

"I'll stay with pleasure, if you don't mind my pipe," he acquiesced. "I shouldn't think you often bother about an inn. The interior of your caravan looked most attractive."

"I found no common land between here and the scene of our little adventure," Spencer Lauriston confided, "and my manner of travelling, coupled with my complexion, makes me unpopular with all the farmers. Nothing can induce them to believe that I am not a gipsy, and that I have not an eye to their poultry, their eggs, their rabbits, and possibly their wives. Anyhow, I had a fancy to sleep in a bed to-night. My bunk is comfortable enough, but a little cramped. When I am restless, I find it difficult to settle down... What's that, I wonder—a runaway?"

There was the sound of a galloping horse in the street. They both looked out of the window. A young man almost threw himself from a great bay mare, all sweat and lather, and rang the bell of a house opposite—a clean, white-fronted house with a brass plate.

"A Sherlock Holmes," the stranger remarked, "might divine that that is the abode of the local doctor, and that there has been some sort of an accident."

The door was opened by a maid of neat appearance in white cap and apron. The young man vanished inside, leaving the horse unattended in the street. The latter, after a moment or two, crossed the road and came clattering up under the archway.

"A further effort at divination," the owner of the caravan continued, "might lead one to the supposition that the rider of that horse was accustomed to seek refreshment here... We were evidently right—a doctor."

Some green gates adjoining the house opposite had been opened and a small car emerged. A professional-looking personage hurried out of the door, dragging on his coat even as he took his seat, and the car instantly disappeared. The young man crossed the road—a tall, stalwart-looking youth, sunburnt and yellow-haired, but with a strange drawn look in his face, and curiously set eyes. Even as he reached the pavement they could hear the sound of eager questioning voices. Mr. Spencer Lauriston opened the door of the room. The landlady, an ostler, a waitress, and the newcomer were standing in a little group. They seemed to be all talking together, but the note of their voices was uniformly tragic.

"Has there been an accident?" the owner of the caravan asked.

They turned towards him. The waitress hurried away to the taproom to draw beer. The landlady answered the question.

"This young gentleman here," she announced—"Mr. Delbrig, the corn factor—he do have brought terrible news, if so be that it is true. He have ridden from the Valley Farm, "seven miles from here, to fetch a doctor to Farmer Green."

"And no doctor ain't going to be any good either," the young man declared in an awe-stricken tone, his eyes fixed upon the foaming tankard which the girl was bringing out. "Right queer I do feel about it all. If ever I seed a dead man in my life, he do be dead."

"A stroke?" the stranger enquired.

The young man, who was busy drinking, made no response. It was not until he had finished the tankard that he looked around. His eyes were still set and glassy.

"Never had a day's illness in his life, didn't Farmer Green," he replied.

"An accident?" the stranger suggested.

"It's what we never have had in these parts that I can call to mind," the corn factor declared, his voice shaking a little—"it's just murder."

The landlady screamed.

"You mean to say that some one has murdered Farmer Green! Not his—"

The woman stopped short. Some unspoken thought seemed to be in the minds of all of them.

"He has either been killed, or he's killed heself," the young man said simply. "I reckon the coroner will decide who done it."

The owner of the caravan turned back towards the bar parlour to find that Goade had been listening over his shoulder. He lit a cigarette and rang the bell.

"After all, then," he observed, "it was tragedy, not comedy, which was in the air this afternoon. Our friend with the violent temper must have been Farmer Green. I saw his name upon a wagon."

"The man," Goade added, "who took such a violent dislike to you."

The owner of the caravan shrugged his shoulders.

"He mistook me for a gipsy," he remarked.

A somewhat curious silence ensued between the two men. Goade resumed his seat in the easy-chair and, relighting his pipe, commenced to smoke thoughtfully. His companion seemed afflicted with a fit of restlessness. He walked up and down the room with his hands in his pockets, a curiously abstracted expression upon his face, his eyes almost unnaturally bright. Once or twice he muttered to himself. Finally he threw open the window and leaned out, gazing at a sign upon the other side of the way.

"The long arm of civilisation," he observed, "reaches us even here. A garage, I see—cars for hire. I wonder—"

He turned away and left the room a little abruptly. Goade, after a few minutes, also rose to his feet and, crossing the cobbled yard, made his way to the smoke-room opposite. As he had expected, the young man who had ridden in was still there. Most of the other habitués had rushed off homewards to tell the news of this lurid happening. The young man was seated in the corner with folded arms, and not all the beer he had drunk had driven for a moment that unnatural look of terror from his face.

"Is the doctor back yet?" Goade enquired.

"Ten minutes ago," the landlady replied.

"And the man Green?"

The landlady shook her head.

"It was the truth as Mr. Delbrig did tell us," she declared. "Shot right through the chest, he was. The doctor said he must have died immediate."

"Whereabouts did it happen?"

"Upstairs in the farmhouse," the young man interposed, "just across the threshold of his bedroom."

"And Mrs. Green, where was she?"

"They do say that she were down in the dairy. Anyway, it were she who called out when she heard the shot and gave the alarm. It'll all have to come out at the coroner's inquest."

Goade sat down by the young man's side and ordered drinks.

"You don't think he could have done it himself—that it could have been an accident?" he enquired.

"It bean't so easy to shoot yourself in the chest with a double-barrelled shotgun," the latter answered. "Howsomever, if there was no one else to say who done it, suicide they may decide it was. Farmer Green were a man with a rare uncertain temper, and when he was fiery he were capable of any sort of foolishness."

"Are the police over there?"

"Six on 'em. They're trooping in from everywhere."

"No arrests yet?" a quiet voice asked from the young man's other side.

Goade glanced up. The owner of the caravan had entered the room unnoticed.

"Not yet," Delbrig muttered, "but if it is ordained that any one should be arrested at all, I reckon it won't be long. I heard the inspector say—and he be a powerful shrewd man, the inspector—that there wasn't much there to puzzle a knowing man."

Outside, the church clock struck the hour. The landlady turned down the gas behind the bar.

"Sorry, gentlemen," she said briskly, "you two who are spending the night here can sit as long as you like in the bar parlour on the other side, and Mr. Delbrig, too, if he's a mind. There's nobody will be harsh on him after the ride he's had, and Ned says the mare won't be fit to start again for a hour."

The young man shivered.

"I'm none so edgy on getting back," he admitted.

"Come across and have a drink with us then," Goade invited, leading the way.

Arrived in the little parlour they seated themselves around the table, upon which was a bottle of whisky and three glasses. Goade helped every one plentifully. The young man rose abruptly to his feet, wiping the perspiration from his forehead. His eyes were still filled with an altogether unnatural light.

"God, it's hot in this room!" he muttered.

He strode to the window and threw it further open. Then he returned to his place and swallowed half a tumblerful of the whisky and soda. The night air rippled softly into the room. The silence of the village street was so intense that they could hear the sound of a waterfall from the hill behind.

"Murder," Mr. Spencer Lauriston observed, lighting a cigarette, "is one of the remaining dramatic episodes of an existence which commences to lack variety. Take a murder such as this, for instance—in an out-of-the-way corner of the world where one could scarcely believe that such a thing was possible. I am not sure that I altogether fancy my own position. Our friend here," he added, touching Goade upon the arm, "is unfortunately a witness to the fact that some sort of a disagreement between the farmer and myself was certainly in progress when he passed. Very well. A quarter of an hour later I leave. That must have been, say, five o'clock. Supposing I drove up the hill for a mile or so, left my caravan by the side of the road, descended the hill once more, and made my way to the back of the farmhouse. I should have had plenty of time to enter it, conceal myself for a time, shoot the farmer, steal back again up the hedgerows, and arrive here in my caravan at just the hour I did arrive. It is an uncomfortable reflection."

"What did you quarrel with the farmer about?" the young man demanded.

"I had no quarrel with him," the other rejoined firmly. "It was he who took a very violent dislike to me. He seemed to imagine that I was a gipsy, and that therefore I had come after his wife. The man was a fool. Why should he put me down as a gipsy just because I drive a yellow caravan and because much travelling has tanned my cheeks. I don't speak like a gipsy, do I, Mr. Goade?"

"You do not," the other admitted.

"Nevertheless—" the man of the caravan began.

He stopped short. Through the open window, along the silent road which led to the village, they heard the beat of a horse's hoofs. The sound grew more and more distinct. A cart rumbled into the village street. Lauriston looked out of the window. The twin lights of some vehicle were close at hand now. A moment or two afterwards it pulled up outside.

"Late travellers!" he murmured, a flash of curious excitement in his eyes.

The horse's hoofs struck harshly upon the cobbles, the wheels creaked and groaned. Then there was silence—a voice—the door of the room was opened. The farmer's wife, with a light coat thrown loosely over her rose-coloured gown, entered the room. She flung it off as she entered. More than ever one realised the beauty of her body, the restless glory of her eyes.

"I couldn't sleep there!" she exclaimed. "I had to come away."

Spencer Lauriston shook his head. He was standing up, one hand gripping the mantelpiece. His eyes drew hers and held them. From that moment neither looked at any one else.

"A rash proceeding," he warned her. "Supposing one of us three—I, for instance, or Mr. Goade here, or our young friend whose name I have forgotten, who came for the doctor—had been the man whom the police were wanting, see how you bring the crime home. A French examining judge would find something magnificent in this situation. He would watch your eyes to see on whom they turned, on whose lips your kiss might fall—the guilty man!"

She laughed across at him, and a challenge flashed out of her shining eyes.

"Why do you talk like that?" she mocked. "You are not afraid. You do not know what fear is."

"I am not afraid," the man of the caravan assented. "Come!"

She turned at once and followed him. He opened the door and looked back.

"Good night, gentlemen!" he said.

Young Delbrig, the corn factor, staggered across the room.

"What's this?" he cried wildly. "Mona, where are you going?"

The door closed behind them. There was the sound from outside of a rippling, mocking laugh. The young man flung himself against the door, only to find that it had been locked. He sprang to the window, but it was too small for him to push his way through it. Outside they saw the flashing of the lights down the street. Already the car was climbing the hill. Great drops of sweat stood out upon the young man's forehead. He tore at the casement until his fingers bled.

"And I killed him for this!" he gasped. "I killed Farmer Green, who had never done me no harm. She always swore if she were free she'd be mine. I killed him—and she's gone! Hell blast her! The Jezebel!"

He was shaking with fury, hysterical with an overmastering passion. Goade held him in a grip of iron. Down the deserted street, white now in the moonlight, came the heavy tramp of the constable and the inspector.


THE END


Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
Go to Home Page
This work is in the Australian public domain.
If it is under copyright in your country of residence,
do not download or redistribute this file.
Original content added by RGL (e.g., introductions, notes,
RGL covers) is proprietary and protected by copyright.