Fellows looked at Ian in surprise. “You have experience of this?”
Ian pulled in his line and cast it out again, the quiet swish the only sound as they waited. Elliot thought Ian wouldn’t answer, but then he said, “A man at the asylum had himself declared insane to get away from an uncle who was trying to kill him. The uncle wanted his inheritance.”
“The uncle got it then,” Fellows said. “If this man was declared mad, the money would be passed to the uncle as soon as he was committed.”
“He didn’t care. He wanted to stay alive.”
“Hell of a way to do it,” Fellows said. “Mr. Stacy could have done a similar thing—taken advantage of the confusion after the earthquake and lain low. If he knew the area and the people and how to blend in, no one might notice him slip away. A report would be filed declaring him officially missing or dead. End of the matter.”
“Though I don’t know why Stacy would want to be thought dead,” Elliot said. He stood his fishing pole on its end and worked out a small tangle of line. “Or why he’d come here to watch me.”
“That I don’t know. Would you like to hear more?”
Fellows sounded patient, but Elliot knew that putting together what information he had gathered had taken the man much time and trouble.
“I would. I thank you for this.”
“It is my job. And your sister can be…very persuasive…when she wants a thing done. A man calling himself Mr. Stacy and fitting his description took rooms in a boarding house in London a few months ago. He never gave the landlady any trouble, she says, and then one day he went out and didn’t return, leaving his things behind. But he’d paid up a few more months in advance, so the landlady didn’t worry.”
“Did anyone see him leaving London? Traveling to Scotland?”
“Of course not. Only in fiction does the detective find the helpful porter who remembers every person who gets on and off every train between here and London.”
“In other words, he’s gone to ground,” Elliot said.
“Waiting for your wife’s fête to end before he hunts you again?” Fellows asked. “Kind of the man.”
“I’m sure he intends to strike at the fête. Strangers roaming the grounds, everyone welcome, perfect opportunity.”
“I suppose your wife cannot be convinced to cancel it.”
Elliot let himself smile. “My wife is very determined.”
From the water, Ian laughed. It was a warm laugh, though he didn’t look up from his line. “My Beth is like that.” The fondness in his voice could not be clearer.
Elliot and Fellows watched Ian until he turned away, his kilt moving in the breeze, to find another fishing spot a little way down the bank.
“He’s a different man,” Fellows said in a low voice. “Since he married.”
Elliot could say the same about himself. In the scany fortnight he’d had a wife, the tightness in his body had begun to unwind. The nightmares still came, but he woke from them to Juliana’s soothing hand, her voice, her kiss…
Fellows snapped fingers in front of Elliot’s face. “You still with me, McBride?”
Elliot drew a breath, and forced himself not to slam the man’s hand out of the way like an irritated tiger. “Thinking of wives.”
“Hmm.” Fellows’s brows lifted and he looked away, as though he were thinking of someone too. “Do you want to know about this Dalrymple?”
“Yes. What did you find out?”
“Nothing. Absolutely nothing. I found no evidence that a George Dalrymple, married to an Emily Dalrymple, exists.”
“Then who the devil is he?”
“Who knows? If he tried to blackmail you then he’s a crook or a confidence trickster, and such people often take false names.”
“Dalrymple somehow got himself a copy of the death certificate declaring Stacy dead, but Stacy shot him before he could give it to me.” Elliot wondered whether Stacy had not wanted Elliot to see the paper or whether Stacy had just been annoyed at Dalrymple. He’d aimed for Dalrymple’s hand, nothing more. “The Dalrymples have been keeping themselves to themselves since the event, I’ve noticed.”
“I’ll have a look at him, though,” Fellows said. “I might recognize him. I have a good memory.”
Ian laughed again from down the bank, this one short, and possibly ironic.
“Anything else?” Elliot asked.
“That is all I’ve discovered so far.”
“That’s a hell of a lot.” Elliot started winding up his line. “I thank you.”
Fellows watched him in surprise. “You are returning to the house? What about the jumble sale?”
“I’ve only been married a short while,” Elliot said. “But I’ve learned the importance of keeping the lady happy.”
Fellows nodded, brows rising, and Ian’s laughter floated back at them once again.
Fellows fell into step with Elliot as he shouldered his pole and sought the path to the house, but Ian remained, fishing in silence, paying no attention to the others’ departure.
The grounds were full of people when Elliot and the inspector returned. Hamish, out of hiding now that the storms were over, was busy walking about and glaring at everyone. Elliot had emphasized to Hamish that if he saw anyone at the fête he didn’t recognize, he was to run and find Elliot.