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Our Library => Patricia Wentworth - Unlawful Occasions (1941) => Topic started by: Admin on July 17, 2023, 06:32:05 am

Title: Chapter Thirty-Seven
Post by: Admin on July 17, 2023, 06:32:05 am
MISS Cattermole stirred and opened her eyes. She felt confused and giddy, and for a moment she did not know where she was. There was a feeling of strangeness. Not her own room or her own bed. Colder than Thompson ever allowed her room to be. And she wasn’t undressed. She was lying on the outside of a strange bed with a strange eiderdown drawn up under her chin. And her head was much too low. She liked plenty of pillows, and here she was with only one, and a shocking crick in her neck.

She pushed back the eiderdown and pulled herself up on the bed. The room was full of yellow lamplight, but she did not see the lamp until she looked to the right. There was a bedside table, and on the other side of the door a big dark chest of drawers with a lamp standing on it.

By the time she got as far as that she knew where she was. They were staying with the Reverend Peter Brown, and this was his best spare room. It was her room. Sarah was next door. There had been a séance in the haunted wing, and she had fainted. But she couldn’t think why. There must have been some malefic influence, because she had never done such a thing before. They must have carried her here and put her down on the bed just as she was. No, not quite---because she had been wearing her fur coat. She raised herself a little more and saw it lying across the foot of the bed.

She pushed the eiderdown right back and got up. It was very bad for a good coat to lie all in a heap like that, and as her conscience would certainly never permit her to buy fur again, she must take all the care of it she could.

She hung the coat up and went over to the dressing-table to see what time it was. A few minutes short of midnight. She wondered whether the séance was over. It came to her that she would just look into Sarah’s room and see if she was there. Deep in her own thought it was strange to her that she should have waked from her swoon alone. It was not what she would have expected of Sarah Marlowe. Sarah had always been most attentive.

She opened her door and looked out. The wall-lamp burned across the landing.

When she came to Sarah’s door she found it ajar. The room beyond was in darkness. She went a little way in and stood there, peering at the bed and listening to hear if anyone breathed. There was no sound at all, and when she came right up to the bed it was empty.

She went back to her own room and fetched a candle.

What the candle-light showed her was very puzzling indeed. Sarah’s fur coat hung over the back of a chair, and Sarah’s brown woollen suit lay folded on the seat. Her pyjamas and her dressing-gown were laid out on the bed. But where was Sarah? Her underclothes were not there, and nor was she. It was inconceivable that she should be walking round the house in her underclothes, yet it did not seem possible to escape from the idea. She had brought only the one suit, and it was here. Since Sarah was not here, it was impossible not to believe that she was somewhere else in her underclothes.

The thought of the bathroom presented itself hopefully to Joanna. Not really very nice to go along to the bathroom without your dressing-gown in a strange house, but it was so very close that perhaps this was what Sarah had done.

Candle in hand, Joanna proceeded to the bathroom, and found it empty.

As she came back, the confusion in her mind was shot with fear. Where could Sarah have gone, and where could she possibly be, without so much as a dressing-gown to cover her? When she came to her own bedroom door her hand was shaking so much that she felt unable to go on holding the candle. She set it down on the chest of drawers beside the lamp and went out on to the landing again.

Mr. Brown’s door stood open, and Wilson’s ajar. A light still burned in the lower hall. After hesitating for a little on the top step Joanna began to descend the stair, her long black velvet draperies trailing behind her. She held the banister and leaned upon it as she went. The trembling of her hands had spread to her whole body. All the evil that she had felt in this house seemed to be waiting for her at the bottom of the stair, yet it did not occur to her to turn back, because she had to find Sarah.

When she had reached the hall she stood there looking about her. The dining-room and drawing-room doors stood open facing one another. She turned to the right and went towards the den, and before she had taken half a dozen steps the sound of voices came to her, as they had come to Sarah a few hours earlier. She hurried forward, and then stopped dead. The door was not quite shut. She could see a thin streak of light along its edge, and she could hear what was being said on the other side of it.

It was the words she heard that stopped her. They were spoken by the Reverend Peter Brown. They were horrible, unbelievable words. She heard them quite distinctly, but she didn’t believe them. He said, “You took a risk over that Morgan business. Better drop it. Tell your sister he’s dead and have done with it.”

She didn’t believe it, but just to hear those two words together, “Morgan” and “dead”, made her feel quite sick with pain. And why should Wilson tell her that Morgan was dead? She had seen him only yesterday morning. She heard Wilson say, “I thought it very ingenious. And you know, Paul, there is a certain pleasure in acting a part when you can act it on your own stage, make your own entrances and exits, write your play.”

“Too ingenious.” Mr. Brown’s voice was brutally direct. “Too ingenious by half. Never be more elaborate than you need. The whole of this Morgan business is just a wanton elaboration. I never liked it, and you’ve got to cut it out.”

She heard Wilson snigger.

“Kill Morgan---my own twin brother? Oh, Paul!”

The Reverend Peter drew at his pipe.

“Did you ever really have a twin?”

Leaning against the jamb of the door, Joanna was shaken with a spasm of anger. Morgan---her darling Morgan! How dared he?

Wilson sniggered again. She hadn’t heard him laugh like that for years, and she had always hated it. He said, “Of course I had. You just ask Joanna! She never really cottoned to me very much, but she adored Morgan---in fact she does still. That is why he comes in so usefully. Do you suppose she would have pretended to be frightened and got Sarah down out of her room to keep her company---for me? Not a bit of it! She would have wanted to know why, and what did it all mean. But Morgan had only to ask.”

“When did he die?” said Mr. Brown abruptly.

Joanna’s heart gave a sickening lurch against her side. Wilson’s voice seemed to come from a long way off, but she heard it quite distinctly.

“A couple of years ago, in Australia. I didn’t tell her then, because I knew she would make a fuss, and later on I saw that he might really be very useful. The risk was negligible. If I could play the part well enough to convince Joanna, there really was no risk at all, and as it proved, I did play it well enough. Joanna was delighted, and there was Morgan---a most convenient scapegoat if anything went wrong. Take the other night. If Sarah had returned to her bedroom before I had completed my search for the packet and had found me there in my own proper person, there would have been a most damaging scandal, and she would have left the house before breakfast. But if she had found Morgan, it would have been Morgan who had to leave. She would have complained to me on my return. I would have deplored my brother’s behaviour and assured her that she would never be exposed to anything of the sort again. She would not have had the slightest suspicion that I was involved. Green put through a call to her, you know, whilst Morgan was there, and played her over a nice recording of my voice, all about posting a letter to you. She would have sworn in any court that I had been telephoning to her whilst Morgan was in the drawing-room with Joanna.”

Joanna Cattermole listened to all this with something more than her usual vagueness. She was to remember it afterwards. At this time there was nothing in her mind but pain---the kind of confused pain which follows upon a stunning blow. Morgan dead---two years ago in Australia---Wilson said so. And he had played at being Morgan to deceive her. If she did not take in the words, she took in the fact. With horror, but without surprise. Because long ago when they were all quite young he had pretended to be Morgan and taken her in. It had hurt and frightened her very much. Now he had done it again. And Morgan, her darling Morgan, was dead. She couldn’t believe it.

She forced herself to listen again. Perhaps it wasn’t really true. Perhaps Wilson would say so.

But they had stopped talking about Morgan. She caught Sarah’s name, and remembered that she had come down to look for her.

It was Mr. Brown who was talking. He said, “We shan’t have any more trouble with her. A night in that yard in her underclothes ought to finish her all right---I should think it will touch zero before morning. And then before she’s quite gone Grimsby can take the motor-bike in to Hedgeley and call old Dr. Smith. He’s been past his work these two years, but he can still sign a certificate, and that’s all there’ll be for him to do by the time he gets here. We can show him the car piled up, and Wickham in the ditch at the same time.” He laughed and drew at his pipe. “There won’t be any trouble. All he’ll want is to get back to a good hot fire. I suppose there’ll have to be an inquest, but weather like this is enough to account for anything.” He laughed again. “We’re in luck!”

She heard his chair grate on the floor as he pushed it back. She shrank and trembled against the jamb. The room was full of evil. If he came across to the door now and opened it, the evil would come with him and drown her.

But he did not come to the door. She heard him go over to the fire and kick it with his foot. With an oath which shocked Miss Cattermole very much he said, “I wonder if she’s unconscious yet.”