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Our Library => Patricia Wentworth - Pilgrim's Rest (1946) => Topic started by: Admin on September 08, 2023, 09:24:55 am



Title: Chapter Ten
Post by: Admin on September 08, 2023, 09:24:55 am
FRANK Abbott came down next day. He was closeted with March and Miss Silver for half an hour, after which Robbins was sent for. He came in looking very much as usual. Features so marked and a complexion so sallow do not readily give a man’s feelings away.

Frank had his notebook ready, and wrote in it as the questioning went on.

“You know that a body was found in the cellars yesterday?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Do you know whose body it was?”

“I suppose, sir, that it would be Mr. Henry.” He cleared his throat. “It was a great shock to us all.”

“What makes you suppose that it was Mr. Henry Clayton’s body?”

“It is generally supposed, sir.”

“I asked what made you suppose so.”

“I can hardly say---it came into my mind.”

“You heard that a body had been found, and it came into your mind that it was Mr. Clayton’s body?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Why?”

“It was a very strange thing, his disappearing like that and never being heard of. It couldn’t help but come into my mind.”

“Who told you of it?”

“I heard two of the policemen talking.”

“And you told your wife?”

“We both heard what they said.”

March sat behind the table. Frank Abbott wrote. Miss Silver knitted placidly. Robbins, who had taken a chair with some reluctance, sat on the edge of it as stiffly as if he had a ramrod down his back. His linen house-coat made marked contrast with the dark pallor of his face and the strong black hair heavily streaked with grey. March thought, “An odd face. I wonder what’s going on behind it.” He said, “Did you use these words to your wife---‘It fare to serve him right’?”

“Why should I say that?”

“Your wife told Miss Elliot that you did.”

“Mrs. Robbins was very much upset, sir. She’d known Mr. Henry from a boy. I don’t know what she said to Miss Elliot, but she was in that state she might have said anything---right down hysterical.”

March leaned forward.

“You haven’t really answered my question, Robbins. Did you use those words---‘It fare to serve him right’?”

“Not that I can remember, sir.”

“Had you any reason, or did you think that you had any reason, to use such an expression with regard to Mr. Clayton?”

“Why should I, sir? I’d known him since he was a boy.”

March leaned back, frowning a little.

“I’m sorry to touch on a painful subject, but I must ask you whether you considered Mr. Clayton was responsible for any trouble you had had in your family.”

“I don’t know what you mean, sir.”

“I’m afraid I can’t accept that. You did have trouble, didn’t you, over your daughter? I am asking you if you thought that Mr. Clayton was responsible.”

The man’s face did not exactly change. It hardened. The deep lines were deeper.

“We never got to know who was responsible.”

“Did you suspect Mr. Clayton?”

“We didn’t know who to suspect.”

“But it is true, is it not, that in January ’41 you had news of your daughter being in London and went up to see her?”

“Who told you that, sir?”

“Mr. Roger Pilgrim informed Miss Silver.”

Robbins turned towards the clicking needles.

“Then I suppose he told you, miss, that my daughter was killed in an air raid.”

Miss Silver coughed.

“He told me that you saw her in hospital before she died.”

“It wasn’t exactly a hospital---more like a First Aid station, miss.”

“But you saw her there.”

“Yes, miss.”

March resumed.

“Did she tell you that Mr. Clayton was the father of her child?”

The dark face remained harsh and inexpressive. The eyes dwelt on a point a good deal lower than the eyes of the person to whom he spoke. He said, “She was dying when I got there. She didn’t tell me anything.”

Miss Silver coughed again.

“Major Pilgrim told me that she was able to speak to you.”

Robbins turned that lowered gaze in her direction.

“No more than a few words, miss. She said ‘I’m going’ and asked me to look after the child---not knowing it was dead.”

March said, “She didn’t mention Henry Clayton’s name?”

“No, sir. There wasn’t time for anything like that.”

“Do you mean that you would have expected her to mention Mr. Clayton’s name if there had been time?”

“No, sir.”

“There was no grudge against Mr. Clayton in your mind---no suspicion that he had treated your daughter badly?”

“No, sir.”

“Then why did you use the words repeated by Mrs. Robbins---‘It fare to serve him right’?”

“I have no recollection of saying any such thing. It’s not an expression I should use, sir.”

March said, “Very well. Now, will you take your mind back to the night of Mr. Clayton’s disappearance. It was the twentieth of February, a month after your daughter’s death and three days before the date set for his wedding. I have your original statement here---I should like to go through it with you. There are one or two points where I think you may be able to help us.”

He took him through the telephone conversation of which he had overhead Henry Clayton’s part and the subsequent short talk in the hall.

“Mr. Clayton went out just as he was, saying that he wouldn’t be long, and not to wait up, as he would take the front door key and put up the chain when he came in?”

“That’s right.”

“Then you say that you went through to the kitchen to tell your wife that you would be late coming up. Why did you do that?”

“I was going to wait up for Mr. Henry.”

“Why?”

“He was inclined to be heedless, sir. Mr. Pilgrim was very particular about the door. I told Mrs. Robbins I should wait up, and I come back to the hall.”

“I see. Now how long do you suppose you were away from it?”

“Not very long, sir.”

“Cast your mind back and go over just what you did and said. See if you can’t get some idea of how long it would take.”

“I went across the hall and down the passage to the kitchen. Mrs. Robbins was in the scullery. I went through to her. So far as I remember, I told her Miss Freyne and Mr. Henry had some sort of a quarrel on by what I’d just heard Mr. Henry say on the telephone, but he was all set to make it up. I said he’d gone round to see her, and she said it was pretty late. We talked about it a little, and then I come back to the hall.”

“Do you think you were away five minutes?”

He thought for a moment.

“All of that, sir.”

“Ten minutes?”

“It wouldn’t be as much. Somewhere between the two is what I would say.”

“And when you left the hall. . . . Wait a minute, what sort of lock have you got on that front door? Does it lock itself when it’s shut?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Then Mr. Clayton wouldn’t have had to use the key to lock it when he went out.”

“Yes, sir, he would.”

“How’s that?”

“The old lock was still in use, sir. This one wasn’t put on till afterwards.”

March whistled.

“What was the key like?”

“A big old-fashioned key.”

“Well, let’s get back to you leaving the hall. Was the front door locked then?”

Robbins stared.

“Mr. Henry would lock it after him, I suppose.”

“Was it still locked when you came back? Did you try it before you put up the chain?”

“Yes, it was locked.”

“And from that time onwards the chain was up until---When did you open the door?”

“I couldn’t open it, sir. I must have fallen asleep in my chair, because I heard twelve strike, and when I woke up it was striking six. The door was locked and the chain was up. I waited till eight o’clock, and then I informed Mr. Pilgrim. We couldn’t open the door because the key was missing with Mr. Henry. We had to have the locksmith to it, and a new lock and key.”

Miss Silver gave her slight cough.

“Did you try the door before you went to speak to your wife?”

“No, miss.”

“Then how do you know that Mr. Clayton locked it afterwards?”

“That’s what he took the key for.”

“But you don’t know that he used it---do you? You have just said that he was inclined to be heedless. His mind was full of going to see Miss Freyne, he might very well take the key and forget to lock the door---or consider that it was not necessary to lock it, since he did not intend to be very long. That is possible, is it not?”

For the first time Robbins shifted his position, sat a little farther back in his chair, and set a hand on either knee. His face showed nothing. The right hand moved on the stuff of his suit. Frank Abbott thought, “She thinks someone went after him and brought him back. If anyone did that, the door must have been open---Henry couldn’t have locked it. That’s the only time Henry could have got back into the house without being seen, that somewhere between five and ten minutes while Robbins was away---unless it’s Robbins who called him back, Robbins who did him in. In which case he never left the hall at all---though why he should let Henry go out into the street and then call him back and knife him is just one of those things that don’t make sense. He couldn’t know that Lesley would be looking out of the window. I can’t make head or tail of it. I wonder if Maudie can.”

He heard Robbins say, “I don’t know, miss,” and he heard Miss Silver take him up.

“Robbins, no one would call you deaf, but I have noticed that your hearing is not at all acute. If Mr. Clayton had locked that door, you would not, I think, have heard the sound of the key turning?”

After a pause he said, “No.”

“You are not accustomed to hearing that sound, so you would not miss it. In fact you would not have known---you did not know---that Mr. Clayton ever locked the door.”

There was a longer pause. Then he said, “No,” again.

The questions went on, but they brought out no fresh evidence. Just at the end Miss Silver asked one which seemed quite irrelevant. “You served in the last war, did you not? Were you in France, or did you go out to the East at all?”

He said in a surprised voice, “I was a Territorial, miss. I got sent to India.”

She inclined her head.

“I remember---Territorial regiments were sent out there. You were there for the duration, I suppose?”

“Yes, miss. Mr. Pilgrim kept my place open, and I come back to it.”

As Robbins turned to leave the room, March called him back.

“Ever see this before?”

He was taking a key out of the piece of brown paper in which it had been wrapped. When it was free he laid it down on a sheet of paper---a handsome and distinctive piece of work, beautifully wrought with three lobes and a cockle shell in each.

Robbins stared at it gloomily and said, “Yes, sir.”

“Old front-door key?”

“Yes.” He paused, and added, “May I ask where it was found, sir?”

March looked at him very straight.

“Where do you think?”

“I suppose we could all make a guess, sir, but it isn’t a matter for guessing.”

“No---quite right, Robbins. It was found in Mr. Clayton’s pocket.”

+++

The first Judy saw of Frank Abbott was when she met him in the upstair corridor. They stood and looked at each other for a moment before he said, “March wants to interview Miss Janetta. I told him she’d want notice.” There was a fleeting spark of amusement. “There was an old lady in Dickens who expired murmuring ‘Rose-coloured curtains for the doctors,’ wasn’t there? Perhaps she was an ancestress.”

“Miss Janetta isn’t dying,” said Judy demurely. Then all of a sudden she shuddered. “Don’t talk about people dying---I just can’t bear it.”

“Well, she isn’t going to. You’ve just said so.”

He put an arm round her, took her along to the big empty state bedroom, and shut the door. When he had done that he put his other arm round her too and kissed her a good many times.

“Silly---aren’t you?” he said in an odd unsteady voice.

“It’s been horrid----”

“My child, I told you so, but you would come.”

He kissed her again. This time she pushed him away.

“Frank---who did it? Do they know?”

“Not yet. Look here, Judy, I want you to clear out.”

“I can’t.”

“Oh, yes, you can. You can come and do your work, but I won’t have you here at night. I’ll fix it up with Lesley Freyne---she’ll take you in.”

She said, “Penny is there. That’s all that matters.”

“Well, you matter to me. I’ll fix it for you.”

“No---I won’t go. I’m next to Miss Silver, and I can lock my door. Besides, who’s going to want to murder me?” Another of those shudders ran over her. “Don’t look at me like that. I’m not going.”

He said soberly, “I think you’re being stupid. If Jerome gets one of his attacks, you have a bad night. I hear he had one a couple of nights ago.”

“He didn’t have one last night.”

“Perhaps they gave him something to keep him quiet.”

“So they did the other night, but he had one just the same.”

He looked at her attentively.

“What was supposed to set him off?”

“Seeing Miss Freyne.” Judy’s voice was quite expressionless.

“He has one after seeing Lesley, but he doesn’t have one after Roger falls out of the window, and he doesn’t have one after they find Henry’s body. Does that seem odd to you?”

“Very odd.”

He kissed her again, lightly this time, and turned to the door.

“I mustn’t dally. There are moments when being a policeman palls. Go in and ask Miss Janetta when she will be ready to see March. And it’s no good her saying she isn’t well or anything like that, because he means to see her, and Daly won’t back her up.”

He waited, and he had to wait some time, but in the end she came out to say that Miss Janetta would see Superintendent March in twenty minutes, and she hoped that he would make his visit as short as possible, as she was feeling terribly prostrated.

Frank Abbott got back to the study to find Lesley Freyne there. She gave him her hand and a friendly smile, and he thought, as he always thought, what a nice woman she was, and what a pity she hadn’t married and had a pack of children of her own instead of having to make do with evacuees. Of course it was very nice for the evacuees.

He went to his place, took up his pad, and wrote down an interminable string of questions and answers. Sometimes he could have flinched for her, but she kept her quiet dignity and gave no sign, however near the quick the question must have cut. March was as considerate as he could be, but he had his duty to do, and to establish a motive for Henry Clayton’s death was part of that duty.

“Miss Freyne, you will appreciate that I have to ask you questions which you may find it painful to answer. In the statements which were made at the time of Clayton’s disappearance there were references to a disagreement which had taken place between you during the afternoon. Can you indicate the nature of that disagreement?”

“I am afraid not. It was a private matter.”

“A good many private matters have to be disclosed in the course of a murder case. When you made your original statement there was no reason to suppose that Clayton was dead. Now things are different. The body which was found in the cellars yesterday has been identified as that of Henry Clayton. His name is on a tab on the coat, and his signet ring has been identified by Jerome Pilgrim. There is no doubt at all that he was murdered. It seems likely that, for some reason, he returned to the house after having left it, and that he was stabbed in or near the lift going down to the cellars. The weapon was probably taken from one of the trophies in the dining-room and subsequently replaced. Examination has disclosed traces of blood close up to the hilt of one of the daggers. Scrapings from the floor of the lift show similar traces. In these circumstances, you must see that I have no choice but to press you. Anything that caused a disagreement between you and Clayton might throw some light on the motive for this crime.”

“I don’t think it could possibly do that.”

“You might not be the best judge. Will you not change your mind?”

She shook her head. “It wouldn’t be fair to do so. It might cause distress to an innocent person.”

“You mean that your quarrel was about a woman?”

“It wasn’t really a quarrel. It wouldn’t help you to know about it. We took different points of view about something---that was all.”

“Can you not particularize a little more than that? You need not mention names.”

She seemed to be considering. After a while she said, “Yes, I could do that. A case came up in conversation---I took one point of view, and Henry took another.”

“What kind of case was it?”

“The case of the unmarried woman who has a child. I took the point of view that the child had claims upon both the parents which should override everything else.”

“And Clayton?”

“He didn’t agree. He said of course the man must pay, but he didn’t admit any responsibility beyond that. It is what a great many men would say. There wasn’t any quarrel.”

March looked at her.

“Was the case you were discussing that of Mabel Robbins?”

She had a momentary colour in her face.

“No, of course not!”

“I don’t know why you should say ‘of course.’ You must have known the girl.”

“Oh, yes, I knew her. She was very charming.”

“Then it would have been natural that you should have her case in mind---wouldn’t it?”

“It was another case---a case in the papers.”

“It might have been another case, and yet you might have had Mabel Robbins in your mind. That would be natural, wouldn’t it?”

“Mr. March, do you really expect me to be able to tell you just what was in my mind three years ago?”

“I think you would know whether you had thought about Mabel Robbins. Come, Miss Freyne---you were reluctant to speak of this disagreement because you didn’t want to involve an innocent person. Will you assert that this person had no connection with the Robbins family?”

She said with composure, “No. I had better tell you. I was thinking about Mrs. Robbins---I have always been so sorry for her. I didn’t want to say anything to revive Mabel’s story. Please don’t misunderstand me. The case I discussed with Henry had nothing to do with the Robbinses, but I knew if I mentioned it that the Robbinses would be dragged in---as they have been now.”

He looked at her hard.

“Miss Freyne---did you know that Mabel Robbins was dead?”

“Yes---Mr. Pilgrim told me. He said the Robbinses did not want it spoken of. I never mentioned it.”

“But you knew. Did you know at the time of this disagreement?”

“No, I don’t think I did. I think Mr. Pilgrim told me afterwards.”

“You’re not sure?”

“Yes, I am sure that it was afterwards.”

“Did you know who was the father of Mabel Robbins’ child?”

“No.”

“Did Mr. Pilgrim tell you anything about that?”

There was a long pause before she said, “Yes.”

“Did he tell you that he thought Clayton was the father?”

“He said he was afraid of it.”

“Did he give you any reason for thinking so?”

She turned very pale indeed. She kept her voice steady, but it was very low.

“He said Robbins told him.”