Jack on the Gallows Tree

Jack on the Gallows Tree

the space of an hour or two the dead bodies of two elderly ladies, Miss Sophia Carew and Mrs. Westmacott, were discovered in the vicinity of the town of Buddington-on-the-Hill; both women had been very recently murdered; death in each case had been caused by strangulation; each was found lying at full length clasping in her hands the stem of a Madonna lily. As far as anyone knew there was no connection between the two women; they had never met each other; although both were well-to-do there was no evidence that a beneficiary from the will of one could expect any benefit from the will of the other.

The work of a maniac? Could there be two murderers planning together their foul deeds? It falls to Carolus Deene, the inimitable schoolmaster—who was supposed to be taking it easy, recuperating from a severe attack of jaundice—to unravel the knot of mystery and prove himself once again a master detective.

By the Same Author:

Case for Three Detectives

Case without a Corpse

Case with No Conclusion

Case with Four Clowns

Case with Ropes and Rings

Case for Sergeant Beef

Cold Blood


At Death's Door

Death of Cold

Death for a Ducat

Dead Man's Shoes

A Louse for the Hangman

Our Jubilee is Death

Furious Old Women

A Bone and a Hank of Hair

Die All, Die Merrily

Nothing Like Blood

Such is Death


Death in Albert Park

Death at Hallows End

Death on the Black Sands

Death at St. Asprey's School

Death of a Commuter

Death on Romney Marsh

Death with Blue Ribbon

Copyright© 1960 Propertius Co.

First American Publication 1983

Second printing 1988

Published by

Academy Chicago Publishers

425 North Michigan Avenue

Chicago, Illinois 60611

Printed and bound in the USA.

No part of this book may be reproduced in any form without the express written permission of the publisher.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Bruce, Leo, 1903-1980.

Jack on the gallows tree.

I. Title.

PR6005.R673J3 1983 823′.912 83-3746

ISBN 0-89733-071-4

ISBN 0-89733-072-2

For three wild lads were we, brave boys,

And three wild lads were we;

Thou on the land, and I on the sand,

And Jack on the gallows tree!


Guy Mannering


“Torquay Deaths: Man Questioned,”
read out Mr Gorringer in a voice stern with disapproval.

“Drink your tea before it's cold, dear,” said his wife. “I don't know what you're worrying about. There's always something in the papers.”

Mr Gorringer, headmaster of the Queen's School, New-minster, cleared his throat with an enduring and significant rumble.

“In the circumstances, my dear, I have every cause to worry. Every cause. All the acts of violence this morning seem to have taken place at seaside resorts.”

“Well?” said Mrs Gorringer, whom her husband considered a witty woman, though not, fortunately, at breakfast time.

“You are doubtless aware that my Senior History Master, Carolus Deene, is being sent by his medical adviser for a period of recuperation by the sea after a severe illness. Hm.
Bournemouth Model Found Dead. Police Search for Man with Arm in Plaster.
It's a serious matter.”

“But surely, if Carolus is recovering from jaundice he won't have time or energy to get mixed up in anything of that sort?”

Mr Gorringer set down his large teacup.

“In some years of experience of Deene, my dear, I have never known him in any circumstances to lack the energy or the time for his sordid hobby. If he finds himself within reach of a corpse—I speak figuratively, of course—he will become involved in details which are most unfitting in an
assistant of mine here at Newminster. If he catches so much as a whiff of murder he will be on the scent with all the persistence and gusto of a dachshund in search of truffles.”

“Do dachshunds search for truffles?”

“I have always understood so. It explains their extraordinary shape, no doubt. Can you wonder at my anxiety?
Scarborough Case: Woman Charged.
It's nothing short of disturbing.”

“Oh, I don't know,” said Mrs Gorringer. “I don't see it does much harm. It's a hobby, like any other. It seems to bring the school's name forward, if anything.”

Mr Gorringer addressed his wife as though she were the Board of Governors.

“I do not fail to realize that Deene's book
Who Killed William Rufus? And Other Mysteries of History
enjoyed considerable popularity among readers of a certain class,” he said. “I am perfectly aware that his reputation extends beyond the confines of our academic backwater. I recognize that as a teacher he is both talented and assiduous. But I cannot for a moment accept the fact that these excursions of his into contemporary crime do anything but besmirch the fair name of the Queen's School. It has come to my ears that even while on his sickbed in the school sanatorium he was engaged in reading a work called
The Etiology of Delinquent and Criminal Behaviour
by an American writer no doubt suitably named Walter C. Reckless. What am I to say to that? Now that he is to be sent to the seaside, I feel something very like alarm.”

“Why not get Dr Tom to suggest somewhere else? A resort in which they don't murder one another?”

“It is not so easy as you imagine, my dear. These unfortunate cases seem positively to follow Deene. However, I will as you suggest have a word with Dr Thomas. It may be some retreat can be found from which Deene will find it hard to escape.”

Mr Gorringer rose and set his mortarboard firmly on
his head so that his large red ears protruded over the lower part of it. He pulled on his gown and in a short while was crossing the school quadrangle at a swinging yet dignified pace.

On reaching his study he rang for the school porter, a disgruntled individual called Muggeridge, who resented his orders to wear a uniform that included a gold-braided silk hat.

“Yes?” sighed Muggeridge when he appeared. Mr Gorringer ignored this.

“Good morning, Muggeridge,” he said brightly but firmly. “I want a word with Dr Thomas.”

“He's not here.”

“I am perfectly aware that Dr Thomas does not come to the school until eleven o'clock, Muggeridge. When he pays his call be so good as to ask him to see me, please.”

“If I can catch him I will. He dives in and out like a jack-in-the-box sometimes.”

“Just make a point of it,” said Mr Gorringer loftily.

The porter turned to go.

“Oh, by the way, Muggeridge. There is something I have frequently intended to ask you. What is your Christian name?”

“Mal …” began the porter.

“Don't say it!” said Mr Gorringer in some alarm.

“Malachi, if you want to know. It's not my fault and I told my father about it years ago. Saddling anyone with …”

“That will do, thank you, Muggeridge. You may go.”

At eleven o'clock the headmaster was again seated at his large desk, apparently absorbed in the papers before him. When the doctor entered he looked up and spoke affably.

“Ah, Thomas,” he said. “I wanted a word with you. Pray take a seat. How is our friend Deene?”

“He's all right,” said the doctor carelessly. “I'm packing him off in a day or two for a fortnight's sea air.”

“It was that which I wished to discuss with you. After his unfortunate illness he is doubtless in a somewhat weak condition?”

“Oh, Carolus has a tough constitution. He will be fit as a flea in a week or ten days.”

“By which time our term will be finished. Where did you think of recommending him to go?”

“It doesn't matter much, really, so long as he gets some good air. Torquay, perhaps. Scarborough. Bournemouth. Wherever he likes.”

The headmaster winced.

“I cannot help but feel,” he said, “that he would be better suited by one of the inland spas.”

“Oh. Why?”

“You are perhaps aware of his predilection for involving himself in criminology? It would surely be disastrous to his health if at this time when he so sorely needs rest he were to be brought in contact with something which would disturb his repose and retard his recovery?”

Dr Thomas smiled.

“I don't know. He likes that sort of thing. It might do him a power of good.”

“There is another aspect of the matter,” said Mr Gorringer. “I have the good name of the school to remember. Our coastal resorts seem just now to provide an abundance of such cases as we wish Deene to avoid. Can we not conspire to suggest Malvern perhaps? Tunbridge Wells? Cheltenham Spa? Harrogate? They seem pleasantly free from the deeds of violence by which our patient is attracted.”

“I daresay an inland resort would be just as good for him,” admitted the doctor. “I could send him to Buddington-on-the-Hill, if you like.”

“I should be immensely obliged,” said the headmaster. “Immensely. It is, I believe, a quiet little town in peaceful surroundings.”

“All right,” said Dr Thomas, rising. “I'll tell him. There's a passable hotel there.”

“Do you not think a nursing home might be preferable?”

“It might, but Carolus wouldn't stay in it. I must run. I'll do what I can.”

But this did not altogether reassure the headmaster. He was noticeably thoughtful during the morning and when he passed the music master in the cloisters his “Ah, Tubley …” seemed positively absent-minded.

Towards the end of the afternoon he again summoned Muggeridge.

“At what time is the evening paper on sale?” he enquired.

“It's out now,” said the porter. “But I can tell you what won the two-thirty.”

“Do not be impertinent,” said Mr Gorringer. “You are perfectly aware that I take no interest in horse-racing. It would ill befit my position.”

“I don't know. Some of them do all right,” said Muggeridge darkly.

“You are not referring to the staff, I trust?”

“Hollingbourne brought up a double yesterday. But he's not often lucky. Some of the boys study form better than him.”

Mr Gorringer controlled himself, for he was anxious to know more.

“Really?” he said with elephantine casualness. “That surprises me.”

“It didn't ought to. Young Priggley's a consistent winner. I feel like following him sometimes.”

“That will do, thank you, Muggeridge. Now kindly purchase the evening paper, which I need for quite different reasons.”

The porter sighed and went out while Mr Gorringer made a note in the small pocket-book he carried. ‘See Priggley. Horse-racing', it ominously read.

When his newspaper came he studied it with care. He found that at Torquay, where a family of three had apparently been killed by poisoning, the person previously questioned had now been charged with murder. He was, according to the news-sheet, a wealthy numismatist from Gateshead. At Bournemouth the man with his arm in plaster had been taken to the local police station and was still there ‘up to a late hour' last night. The Scarborough case looked even more open-and-shut and ‘the woman', a Birmingham housewife, had been remanded in custody.

Mr Gorringer sighed and after glancing at his watch set out for the school sanatorium. His best course, he felt, was to see Carolus Deene for himself and if necessary make a personal appeal. He did not want his anxiety to last throughout the coming Easter holidays, which he planned to spend as usual at the Sandringham Private Hotel at Brighton. He dreamed of a promise from Carolus Deene which would allay his fears.

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