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John Creasey - The Toff on The Farm

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JOHN CREASEY

The Toff On The Farm

Copyright Note

This e-book was revised by papachanjo. I only adjusted the formatting and corrected some errors.

I am trying to create at least an ample collection of all the John Creasey books which are in the excess of 500 novels. Having read and possess just a meager 10 of his books does not qualify me to be a fan but the 10 I read were enough for me to rake up some effort to scan and create these e-books.

If you happen to have any John Creasey book and would like to add to the free online collection which I’m hoping to bring together, you can do the following:

Scan the book in greyscale

Save as djvu - use the free DJVU SOLO software to compress the images

Send it to my e-mail: [email protected]

I’ll do the rest and will add a note of credit in the finished document.

from back cover

The award-winning John Creasey is the stupor mundi of the mystery- writing field. Incredibly prolific and always astonishingly good, he is the creator of Gideon, Inspector West and many another internationally-famous fictional sleuth. But curiously, one of Mr. Creasey’s own favorite creations is all but unknown on this side of the Atlantic. This is the Honorable Richard Rollison. “the Toff.”

The Toff belongs to that great race of gifted amateurs who once dominated detective fiction—Sherlock Holmes, Lord Peter Wimsey and the Saint are three disparate examples— but who, in recent years, have been largely eclipsed by professional policemen. secret agents and private eyes. How much was lost when the “great detectives” gave place to lesser breeds is delightfully demonstrated in the Toff series and perhaps nowhere better than in The Toff on the Farm.

Here we have a fine display of the ingredients which give the Toff stories so much of their charm: the highborn Toff, omnicompetent and equally at home in every social stratum; Jolly, his impeccable “gentleman’s gentleman” ; a variety of highly unpleasant villains; a swift succession of incidents ranging from the violent to the absurd; and even, for good measure, a wonderfully unlikely American named “Tex.” Light, deft and suspenseful. The Toff on the Farm provides a full measure of highly satisfactory entertainment.

Table of Contents

 

Copyright Note

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1

FARM FOR SALE

“Of course, what you ought to do is buy a farm,” declared Montagu Montmorency Morne, “Think what it would do for you. Fresh eggs and milk every morning, grow your own bacon in your own backyard, all kinds of juicy fruit straight from tree or bush into the consumer’s mouth. It’s the healthiest occupation ever thought of, and remember what it would do to your income tax.”

He paused; and beamed.

“What would it do to my income tax?” inquired the Honorable Richard Rollison, politely.

“Cut it in two, old boy. Halve it. Bound to. Slap all the cost of living down on the expense sheet. Don’t tell me you didn’t know. Buy the place, put in a manager, run it at a spanking loss, and set the loss against the old income from the family fortune, not to say the staggering fees from the profession, occupation or vocation of detecting. I just can’t understand,” declared Montagu Montmorency Morne with great solemnity, “why you’ve never thought of it before.”

“I didn’t know anybody who had a farm to sell,” murmured Rollison.

“My dear old chap, don’t be churlish. It’s not my farm and you don’t know her. She’s a pet and she’s a peach but she wouldn’t pay a penny in commission. I am not in this for what I can get out of it,” went on M.M.M. righteously, while striking a pose which was vaguely reminiscent of Napoleon, “but simply in the interests of my friends.”

“You forget,” said Rollison sententiously, “that London is my home.”

“And the old farmhouse could be the home from home,” boomed M.M.M., his eyes acquiring a brilliant light. He drew a little closer to Rollison, put his head on one side, and made it obvious that he was now carrying out a strict appraisal, “I knew it,” he went on, with great earnestness. “Your eyes are lack lustre. The spark of greatness is fading fast. Your genius is at stake. You need rest, a week or two in the country every other week-end, tramping the meadows and the copses with a gun under your arm and a faithful retriever at your heels. You need to sniff the fresh and wholesome country air, hve under the bright blue sky, sleep within the sight and sound of nature, and eat and drink “

“Fresh milk, fresh eggs and bacon grown in my own backyard.”

“You see,” said M.M.M. triumphantly. “You admit it.”

Rollison chuckled.

“At the very least, you could look the place over,” urged M.M.M. “It’s only about an hour and a half away from London. I’ll drive you.”

“Not in a thousand years !”

“But I’m good, safe, and reliable. I passed my test.”

“The examiner must have wanted to buy a farm, cheap.”

“He wasn’t interested in farms,” said M.M.M. dreamily, “but I did happen to know that he’s looking for a flat, and I mentioned that a friend of mine had one just about where this chap wanted to Hve. If you can’t do a man a good turn once in a while, what is the point in Uving?” asked M.M.M., now virtuously. “All right, we’ll go in your car.”

“Why are you so anxious to get me down on the farm ?” demanded Rollison.

“My dear old Roily, I’ve told you. That dullness in the eye, the pallor of the cheek, the lack of snap in the old reflexes, they’re not like you. You need pep. The world-renowned Toff mustn’t begin to slip, you know. At any moment the greatest investigation of your career might come walking in at that door.”

The door opened.

“Coffee, sir,” announced Jolly, manservant to the Honorable Richard Rollison. He came sedately into the large room which overlooked the tall, grey, gracious houses of Gresham Terrace, Mayfair, and placed a silver tray with silver coffee pot and cups of Sevres china on a small table between the two armchairs.

“Jolly,” said Rollison, “Mr. Mome wants us to buy a farm.”

“I’m sure it would be a very nice farm, sir.” Jolly was elderly to look at, had a lined face, the appearance of the dyspeptic, and the kindly eyes of a sheepdog whose chasing days were over. He was immaculate in black jacket, grey cravat with a diamond pin, and grey striped trousers. “Will that be aU?”

“Not quite. Do we want to buy a farm, by any chance?”

“To tell you the truth, sir,” said Jolly, in a neutral voice, “I do not recall that we have discussed the matter since the year nineteen forty-six, when you may recall that we investigated some unconventional behaviour of fowls at a chicken farm.” The manservant turned solemnly towards one long, high wall, which was unique not only in London but in the whole wide world. This was the Trophy Wall. Secured to it in a variety of ingenious ways, were souvenirs of the many cases in which Rollison had been involved as chief investigator. This had not always been with the approval of the police.

Montagu Montmorency home watched Jolly and the wall as if he was hypnotised. He saw the hangman’s rope, against which Jolly brushed, to make it swing with almost ghoulish slowness. He saw the lipstick container which hid poison, the palm-guns, the knives which ranged from carving knife to a genuine Toledo stiletto, the blunt instruments the tubes of poison, the nylon stockings and the pieces of string—each of these in some way or other a lethal weapon. And he saw the top hat with a bullet hole through the crown and a few of Rollison’s hairs stuck to it, actually cut off by the bullet. There were other things, among them a cellophane envelope inside which were a dozen or so brightly-coloured feathers from the neck of a Rhode Island Red.

“I distinctly recall that when we placed this trophy in position, sir, you said that country life no longer attracted you, and that London was the place for us.”

M.M.M. jumped up. That was quite a feat, for he was a plump young man with one real and one aluminium leg. His round, red face was earnest and his blue eyes aglow.

“Now, be fair,” he urged. “You can’t judge this farm by a chicken farm. They’re not in the same field. Given a plot of land, a few half-addled eggs and an incubator, anyone can rear fowls, but I’m talking about a man-size farm. It grows nearly everything from cows to cabbages. The farmhouse is three hundred years old, too, a positive period gem.”

“Most attractive, sir, I’m sure,” said Jolly, and added to Rollison, “Is there anything else you require?”

“Not now, Jolly.”

“Thank you, sir,” said Jolly, and retired while Rollison leaned forward to pick up the coffee pot. M.M.M. stared first at Jolly’s straight back and then at the closed door, and said in a tone of bewilderment:

“It’s true, then.”

“What’s true?”

“That Hollywood offered you ten thousand a year for Jolly.”

“Black or white?” asked Rollison.

“Does he change colour?” demanded M.M.M., wilfully obtuse, and limped to his chair and dropped into it, took a cup of coffee and two chocolate biscuits, and went on : “I shouldn’t really, my waistline’s expanding at a rate of one button every two weeks. Roily, I’ve been thinking. How is it that a handsome, well-set-up, active, virile, immaculate, wealthy man like you has never married? Don’t tell me; I think I can read the reason in your eyes. You have never found the right woman. Plenty of pets for a peccadillo or two, but never one with whom you felt you could share your life. I know the reason. You have been starved of real beauty. All the women you know here live in a kind of half world of their own, a positive demi-monde de Londres. Slinky, pale, erzatz beauties, they sleep during the day and creep out of their rabbit warrens by night, taking a cab or a car for fear of breathing in a little faintly fresh air, leaning against bars or dancing with lethargic “

“Why do you want me to go and see this farm?” asked Rollison, firmly.

“Well, at least I got the message over, I thought you weren’t ever going to tumble to it.” M.M.M. sipped his coffee, and nibbled another chocolate biscuit. “As a matter of fact, old boy, it’s owned by a buddy of mine and his sister. They inherited it as the sole relic of the Selby family fortune. The trouble really began when they tried to sell it. Mind you, I use the word ‘trouble’ in a strictly limited sense. For you it wouldn’t be any trouble at all, but for Alan and Gillian Selby it’s a headache. I mean, why should the old Scarecrow want to frighten customers off?”

“Ah,” said Rollison, straight-faced. “Does he, then.”

“Positively. And don’t get anything wrong, the Selbys are not mean. They’ve offered the old Scarecrow a cottage, rent free, damned decent of them to my way of thinking, but he won’t hear of it. Whenever a prospective buyer goes to look over the place, he casts doubts on the Selbys’ rights to the deeds, says there’ll be trouble in store for any new owner, because he’s taking it to court, and then he asserts that the place is falling to pieces and the well-water isn’t fit to drink and there’s no main water yet. He says the plumbing won’t plumb and the ceilings are falling down, and at the slightest hint of rain, it comes through the roof at a dozen places. I mean,” asked M.M.M. most earnestly, “do you think it’s right, old boy?”

“I think they could get him out if they went to law about it.”

“He’s been tenant of the farm for thirty years, he knew the Selby’s parents well, and when they were young they used to call him Uncle Silas. I mean, when you’ve called a man Uncle Silas, you can’t very well have the law on him, can you ? Even if it were on your side. And is it ? He has a long lease and pays his rent. He simply won’t give up the farm, although he’s too old to run it properly.”

“Why won’t he give it up ?”

“That’s why I want you to buy the place,” said M.M.M. “If you bought it you’d have every right to go down there and investigate. But you’d have to buy it so that you wouldn’t be committing trespass, or anything like that. I mean,” he added, glancing at the Trophy Wall, “I wouldn’t like to encourage you to break the law, old boy. It’s going for a mere song.”

“Sing it.”

“Sixpence.”

“Stop fooling.”

“I’m serious,” asserted M.M.M, “A simple contract to buy, signed over a sixpenny stamp, is all that’s needed. Then you would be entitled to look over the place, and within reason do what you liked. Really all you need is something to wave in the Scarecrow’s face. I know that these days you’re a professional investigator, and if a millionaire wants your services, why shouldn’t he pay you a fortune ? But this is different. Alan Selby plucked me out of that burning crate, but for him I wouldn’t be here to tell the tale. And I know that I have no legal claim on you, but here I shamelessly exert a moral right,” went on M.M.M., his smile now a little strained. “I introduced you to Champagne Charlie, and if you didn’t get a whacking great fee out of him, it’s Jolly’s fault. Best I can offer you is a lunch at Chiro’s and free milk for the rest of your life if you can prise the Scarecrow away from that farm. I assume you are already supplied with free eggs.”

“I’ll have the eggs as well,” murmured Rollison.

Montagu Montmorency Mome’s plump face lit up as if the sun were shining on it, and his blue eyes made him look like a babe in arms.

“You’ll do it?”

“I’ll go and have a look at the place, anyhow.”

“Bless your little nylon socks ! Roily, I don’t mind admitting that’s a great relief, I didn’t think you’d bite. Tell me, did my spiel melt you, or was it my appeal to your stem sense of duty?”

“Neither,” answered Rollison promptly.

“Eh?”

“Neither.”

“Then what?”

“About six months ago, when you were in hospital, I came to see you,” explained Rollison. “Remember? There was some loose talk that you weren’t going to survive, and I wanted a last look into your blue eyes, so I came along. And coming out of the ward as I reached it was “

“Oh, no,” groaned M.M.M. “Gillian Selby in the flesh.”

“In point of fact, she was wearing a most attractive suit which looked as if it had come from Paris.” Rollison poured out more coffee, and went on briskly : “Anyone as beautiful as that has to be helped out of trouble.”

“The difficulty with you is your all-seeing eye,” complained M.M.M., with a touch of bitterness. “You’ll probably go down to Selby Farm, take one look at the Scarecrow, and say he won’t get out because he’s haunted by a sixteenth-century witch who tells him he’ll expire if he ever spends a night outside its four walls. When will you go?”

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