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Our Library => Patricia Wentworth - Pilgrim's Rest (1946) => Topic started by: Admin on September 09, 2023, 01:33:17 am



Title: Chapter Sixteen
Post by: Admin on September 09, 2023, 01:33:17 am
AS Lona Day went up the main staircase she met Miss Silver coming down, and stopped for a moment to enquire after Mrs. Robbins, and expressed pleasure at hearing that she was lying down and had fallen asleep.

“Judy is sitting with her.”

Lona Day said, “That is very kind. But then Judy is kind---isn’t she?”

She lingered for a moment as if she would have liked to go on talking, but receiving no encouragement from Miss Silver’s silence, she put up a hand to her head and said, “What a day! It feels like a year since this morning. I hope Miss Netta is having a little nap too---it will do her good. It is so sad that she and her sister are no help to one another. Well, I must go to my real charge, Captain Pilgrim. Those policemen will be coming up to see him any time now. He is being wonderful of course, but I can’t help feeling anxious about him.”

It was a pity that Frank Abbott could not have been there to hear his Miss Silver produce one of her moral maxims. She coughed slightly and remarked that anxiety produced an atmosphere sadly adverse to recovery. After which her beaded slippers took her firmly on her way.

Lona Day found her patient using the telephone extension in his room. She caught no words, but the tone of his voice was warm. As she came in, he said, “Yes---presently then. I’ll ring up when they’ve gone.” He hung up the receiver and turned, to meet an affectionate accusing gaze.

“You know you shouldn’t---you really shouldn’t.”

“And why not? If you think it’s restful to sit still and do nothing with this sort of thing going on in the house, well, I should say there was a hole in your training. You know, I am not really an invalid now.”

He saw the tears come into her eyes.

“It’s just that I’m---well, I expect it’s silly of me, but you’ve come on so far---I don’t want you to slip back. You mustn’t run before you can walk, you know.”

“I haven’t run very far---have I?” He leaned forward and looked at her. “Don’t think I’m ungrateful for all you’ve done for me, Lona, but I’ve got to walk. I don’t say anything about running yet, but you never know.”

The green eyes shining with tears met his.

“You mean that you don’t want me any more?”

Jerome Pilgrim had been an invalid for three and a half years, but for nearly twenty years before that he had been a personable and attractive man. He could recognize an emotional danger signal. He said in a cool, friendly voice, “My dear Lona, you are much too good a nurse to mean what that implies. You don’t want me to remain an invalid in order to practise on me, do you? To lose a patient doesn’t necessarily mean to lose a friend.”

He heard her say under her breath, “They all say that.” Then, more impulsively, “Oh, you know I didn’t mean it that way! You couldn’t really think so!”

He smiled. “I didn’t think so.”

“You mustn’t ever. There isn’t anyone in the world who wants you to get well as much as I do. You know, at first I didn’t think you would. Only a nurse mustn’t let herself feel like that, and when you began to get better I was so thankful. And then you didn’t get on as fast as I hoped you would, but I kept on hoping.”

Jerome had an uncomfortable feeling that the temperature of this interview was remaining obstinately high. He made another effort to bring it down.

“We all have a great deal to be thankful for. Do you know where the Superintendent is? I haven’t seen him yet, and I should like to do so. I think when he arrived you told him I was resting.” He smiled again. “That sort of thing isn’t necessary, you know. I am quite ready to see him as soon as he finds it convenient.”

For a moment he wondered whether she was going to flare up. She coloured, met his eyes with something of a blaze in hers, and then suddenly turned round and went out of the room, leaving him to reflect wryly that women were incalculable creatures. What a moment to choose for a scene! As if there was not enough without that! He supposed that all their nerves were strung up and ready to jangle at a touch. Only Lesley was herself---calm, strong, lovable, and loving. The thought of her was like fresh air to a prisoner, cool water to a thirsty man. The few words he had had with her on the telephone were a link with all that was wholesome, normal, hopeful. And presently she would come over, and they would have a quiet time together when all this police business had been got through.

He leaned back in his chair and gave himself up to thoughts of her and of their future.

Miss Silver entered the study with a slightly deprecating air. She found March looking over some papers, whilst Frank Abbott sat at the end of the table transcribing his shorthand notes. Both men looked up as she came in. Frank pushed back his chair.

“Pray do not let me disturb you.” This was to both of them. Then, to March, “If you have a few minutes to spare----”

“Have you something to tell me?”

She sat down, folding her hands in her lap. The fact that she had not brought her knitting with her appeared to mark the occasion with solemnity.

“I have been with Mrs. Robbins, Randall.”

“Had she anything to say?”

“A good deal, poor woman. I fear that her life has been a very unhappy one.”

If March felt some impatience, he knew his Miss Silver too well to make any attempt at hurrying her. She had her own ways of imparting what she had seen, and if among the gleanings there were opinions and deductions of her own, they were apt to disclose unexpected values. He therefore maintained a sympathetic silence, and was rewarded.

“She kept on saying that Robbins had been a hard husband to her. She blames him for their daughter’s disappearance, and most particularly for hushing up her death. As she put it, ‘It wasn’t nothing to be ashamed of to be killed in an air raid, and he did ought to have brought her back here to be buried---her, and the poor little baby that I never so much as saw.’ It appears that he did not tell her that he had news of the daughter, or that he was going to see her, but when he came back he told her that Mabel and the baby were dead. She said he was in one of his moods, and when he was like that you couldn’t turn him any more than if he had had been made of iron. I took this opportunity of asking her whether she knew if he used any drug, and she said there was some stuff he brought from India---he’d take it once in a while, and it would make him queer for days. But she said he didn’t use it much this last year or so. She thought the nurse frightened him about it. I asked if he had spoken to Miss Day about the drug, and she said yes, and she had frightened him. I asked her if she knew what it was called, and she said yes, it was an easy name to remember---‘bhang.’ And he had wanted her to try it when he first came back, but she never would.”

March nodded.

“That corroborates what Miss Day says. She mentioned a conversation with him on the subject of hashish when she first came here, and said she warned him not to go on taking it. What I can’t understand is why Robbins should have drugged Jerome Pilgrim---assuming that you’re right, and that Jerome was drugged.”

Miss Silver coughed.

“I feel quite sure that he was drugged, though I do not suppose that it will ever be possible to prove it.”

March said, “Well, there’s no need. I suppose that the case is closed. There will be a verdict of wilful murder against Robbins in the case of Henry Clayton, and of suicide in his own case. Accidental death in the case of Roger Pilgrim---and no one will ever know just what happened, though I suppose we can all make a good enough guess. Personally, I don’t believe Roger was murdered. He may have been, but that wouldn’t be my guess. I think he was suffering from persecution mania and his nerve went. It doesn’t matter now except to his relatives, and they can always salve their feeling with the theory that he turned giddy, which is the view I expect a jury to take. Robbins certainly murdered Henry Clayton and committed suicide when he knew that he was suspected and that the police had evidence to connect him with the crime. The wallet did the trick---there’s no doubt about that. By the way, I’ve just got it back. Redding has been going over it for fingerprints. I don’t suppose there’ll be anything inside, but now that we can handle it, I’ll have a look.”

The case was still in the handkerchief, but loosely wrapped. March laid it out flat upon the blotting-pad. There were two full-sized pockets and two small ones. The leather was good and fresh. The case had obviously been a new one---probably a wedding-present, three years ago. There was nothing in any of the four pockets, nor in the large outer one which ran the whole length of the wallet. March let it drop back upon the pad.

“There were no fingerprints,” he said.

Miss Silver sat up a little straighter.

“But it was clean, Randall.”

He was frowning a little.

“I don’t quite follow.”

“It was found at the back of the chest. The back of the chest was dusty. The wallet was clean. How long do you suppose it would remain clean with dust all round it?”

“Not long. But it needn’t have been there for long. The working theory is that it was somewhere at the back of the drawer, among the papers which filled the lower part of it, and that it got pushed over the broken-down edge when Mrs. Robbins was putting her husband’s shirts away.”

“You did not answer my question, Randall. I asked you how long you thought it could have been there without gathering dust.”

Frank Abbott had stopped writing. He sat pen in hand, his eyes on Miss Silver’s face.

March said, “I don’t know.”

“You are not, of course, in the habit of dusting your room. Any woman would tell you how quickly dust gathers upon any surface exposed to it. If the wallet had been in the place where it was found as much as an hour or two, it would, I think, have been dusty. If it had been there for twenty-four hours it would most certainly have been so. And it is five days since Mrs. Robbins last went to that drawer to put her husband’s laundry away.”

There was a little pause before March said,

“That’s not conclusive, you know. Robbins may have been to the drawer himself.”

“To take a shirt out. But that would not push the wallet over the broken edge at the back. That would only happen when shirts were being put into the drawer.”

“What are you implying?”

She looked at him very straight.

“I imply nothing, Randall. I state as a matter of certainty that Henry Clayton’s wallet was deliberately placed where it was found---and that not more than a few hours ago.”

March’s frown had deepened.

“You mean that Robbins hid it there?”

“No, I do not mean that. Why should he do so dangerous a thing? He could have burned it in the kitchen fire, cut it in small pieces and put it down a drain, to mention only two of the possibilities which would occur to a man of his intelligence.”

“You’ve got me out of my depth, I’m afraid. The case is a perfectly clear one. Robbins kept the wallet, heaven knows why, but if criminals never hoarded damaging evidence, a good many who are now in prison would be still at large. He kept it, and when he heard the house was going to be searched he hid it in what he thought was a perfectly safe place.”

Miss Silver coughed in a hortatory manner. He might have just shown up a sum containing a particularly glaring mistake. The simile occurred to Frank Abbott, who waited enjoyably to hear the error pointed out.

“I think not, Randall. You forget that Robbins had been a house-servant for more than thirty years. As long as this house was properly staffed it would be part of his routine to supervise the regular cleaning of many rooms containing chests with drawers, such as the two writing-tables in the study, the bureau in the morning-room, the big sideboard in the dining-room. At any special time, as in spring-cleaning, all these drawers would be removed and the framework thoroughly cleaned out. No one who had seen this happen year after year would expect a police search to be less thorough. I am quite unable to believe that Robbins placed the wallet where it was found.”

“Then who did?”

“Someone who meant it to be found there.”

March sat back in his chair. “There’s a perfectly clear case against Robbins, and you are trying to push it over.”

“I am giving you my own conclusions from the facts. Perhaps I should not do so. But look at the facts and draw your own conclusions. It is known before half past three that the rooms are to be searched----”

March interrupted her, “You say that it was known, but there’s no proof that Robbins knew about the search as early as that. I saw Jerome Pilgrim, told him I wanted to have a search made, and got his permission. He asked to have his room done first, rang for Miss Elliot. I asked her to fetch Sergeant Abbott and Sergeant Smith, which she did. Do you know that she saw Robbins and told him there was to be a search?”

“No, it was Captain Pilgrim who told Robbins. They met in the hall when Miss Freyne arrived. Robbins came out to the kitchen and made an angry scene with his wife. She said he was dreadfully upset about the search and very angry with Captain Pilgrim for allowing it, because he said it was a disgrace to the house. She said he went on and on about it, and told her the police suspected him, and it was all her fault for taking on so much about Mr. Henry.”

“But, my dear Miss Silver----”

“Wait a moment, Randall. Here you have his wife’s evidence that Robbins did know about the search and was very much upset about it, and that he knew he was suspected by the police. If he had known that Henry Clayton’s wallet was hidden in his chest of drawers, would he not have gone straight up to his room to remove it before the search could begin? Instead he goes out to the kitchen, where he stays for some time raging about the search and having words with his wife about her grief for Henry Clayton. Coming away from the kitchen, he meets Miss Columba, who takes him off to attend to the morning-room windows. Miss Freyne goes home, and Captain Pilgrim returns to his room. Robbins has allowed the search to go on for at least twenty minutes whilst he scolds his wife, and when he does go up it is not to his own room. Pray take particular note of this. He goes to Captain Pilgrim’s door, knocks on it, and is very insistent that he must see Mr. Jerome. Miss Day sends him away, and it is not until then that he goes up to his own room. Do you really believe that any man would behave like this if he knew that evidence which would hang him was concealed where the searchers were bound to find it?”