And A Bottle of Rum (1949)
Stretched across the road was the body of a policeman.
On the way home one evening in the Romney Marsh, Bookseller Theodore Terhune and friend Julia are caught in heavy coastal fog. A passing lorry provides some guidance on the narrow country roads, but the night ends with intentional mishap and a dead body. It becomes clear that the constable’s death was not accidental, but what possessed Tom Kitchen to try to stop a lorry singlehandedly at 1am? His widow is frightened; local farms vandalized; his home ransacked. Suspicion centres around the Load of Hay, an ancient Dickensian pub full of unsavoury characters, and Terhune finds the clues may lay in the history of 18th century smuggling in the Romney Marsh.
The seventh in the Theodore Terhune series, first published in 1949.
By Bruce Graeme (pseudonym of Graham Montague Jeffries)
Introduction by J F Norris, vintage crime historian
First published in 1949 by Hutchinson & Co Ltd
Available February 15, 2022
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Excerpt from Chapter 1
Terhune was soon grateful for the torch; even with its help he was not able to hurry. The fog, which was salty to the taste, had evidently rolled in from the sea; though it did not reduce visibility to nil itrestricted one’s vision to little more than a matter of yards: Julia was in for an unpleasant drive home, he reflected miserably.
It took him, he estimated, just about double the time to complete the journey to the road that he had taken to cover the same groundearlier on. But there were no reproaches from Julia as he approached the car; only a relieved laugh.
“Don’t tell me, my pet, let me guess. You forgot to look at your watch.”
“Right first time,” he gasped. “I’m terribly sorry, Julie. I should have had more sense—”
“I never look for sense from you once you get sunk in your old books,” she jested. Then her voice sharpened. “You are panting, Theo—”
“I’ve been hurrying. How is the fog?”
“Bad enough. It started coming in from the sea as I left Folkestone. It’s been steadily getting worse ever since.”
“Isn’t it too thick for driving? If so, I’ll walk ahead.”
“I’ll switch on the fog-light.” The light, low-slung, spread an orange carpet across the road for a short distance ahead of the car; with its help it was just possible to distinguish the edge of the grass verge.
“I’ll just be able to see,” she assured him. “As long as it doesn’t get worse. I’ll probably have to keep in middle gear. Coming, Theo?”
As he passed behind the car in order to take the near-side front seat beside her he heard the throb of a motor exhaust from the direction of Dymchurch.
“Don’t move for a few moments,” he warned, as he entered the car.
“There’s something coming up behind us: it might be safer to let it get past before we start off.”
She laughed softly. “Good! I’ll let the other fellow do the work by following his tail-light.” She pressed the self-starter. At first the sound of the engine blotted out the noise of the car behind, but soon afterwards they heard it; simultaneously, they saw, through the rear window, the spreading white glow of approaching headlights.
“Here she comes,” he warned, as the glow rounded the corner. The lights came, but as they approached the gates of Pennyfields the hum of the engine slackened.
“Don’t say he is going to wait for me to lead him!” Julia exclaimed, as her car was enveloped in the white glare cast by the other’s headlights. She received a direct answer before her companion could think one up: the whine of the engine behind rose to a louder key as its driver pressed heavily down upon the accelerator. To the accompaniment of a loud, deep rumble which was possibly accentuated by the fog, the second vehicle thundered by; as it reached the orbit of the orange beam sent out by their own car they saw that it was a closed five-ton lorry.
Julia revved-up and swirled forward on to the crown of the road. But when she peered through the fog for a glimpse of the red tail-light she was unsuccessful. She accelerated slightly; and almost at once found herself in imminent danger of colliding with the lorry. She allowed the car to fall back just enough to keep the vague, uncertain outline of the lorry within the limit of her fog-light. Then she waxed indignant at the carelessness of the lorry-driver for having no rear light.
“He ought to be reported to the police,” she exclaimed, but with no intention of doing so herself. “It would have been so much easier to follow—”
The back of the lorry vanished from sight as it rounded a bend; Julia had to brake hard to avoid driving straight into the far hedge; the car rocked as it swirled round the corner. Her headlights picked up the outline; but only for a matter of seconds: the lorry disappeared again; once more Julia had to pull hard on the steering-wheel to keepthe car on the road. The brakes squealed as they skidded round another bend, this time a right-hand one.
“The man must be mad to drive along these roads at speed on a night like this,” Terhune exploded.
Julia leaned forward, and peered at the uncertain outline of the lorry. “At any time these roads are not fit for speed.” A note of grudging admiration underlined her next words. “He must be very sure of himself.”
The speedometer crept slowly upwards. If the lorry-driver’s skill was superb, Julia’s was scarcely less, although she did have the advantage of seeing the back of the lorry swing out of sight as it rounded a bend or corner, and so had just enough warning not to crash into the verge one side or the other. But even though she was ready to acknowledge the skill of the man in front, she wondered how much longer he would be able to keep up such a reckless speed: in all the many miles of roads which wound inconsequently about the Marsh she doubted where one could find a straight stretch of more than one hundred yards.
“He must know the roads very well,” she commented as, in cornering a right-angled bend, the bumpers of her car grazed the off-side hedge.
He grew alarmed for her safety. “Let the swine break his fool neck,” he urged. “We can find our own way back.”
She laughed with more excitement than he had ever known her betray. “If he can keep it up, my pet, I can.”
When the speedometer crept forward another point her expression turned grim, but she managed to keep the lorry within the powerful beam of her fog-light. Because of this they were eye-witnesses of what happened. One of the flaps at the rear opened; and, for a few seconds, they saw an orange-tinted face grimacing at them through the flowing stream of fog which swirled about in the lorry’s wake. Then two hands appeared, each holding several objects which they were unable to identify. Something flashed in the orange glow. There was a thunderous report. The car lurched about like a drunken man, mounted the near-side verge and crashed into the thick hedge: theengine spluttered, and faded out. The sound of the lorry’s exhaust gradually died away; its deep roar seemed to hum a paean of triumph.