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Our Library => Patricia Wentworth - The Key (1944) => Topic started by: Admin on September 29, 2023, 01:18:07 pm

Title: Chapter Twenty-Seven
Post by: Admin on September 29, 2023, 01:18:07 pm
MISS SILVER had a busy afternoon. Lunch was not a comfortable meal. Florence had taken a great deal of trouble and everything was very nice, with good country vegetables, a plum tart, and the best she could do with the meat ration, but however well balanced you are, it is difficult to enjoy a meal with someone sitting opposite who looks as if she has just received a death sentence and has braced herself to endure its instant execution.

Miss Brown was more like Medusa than ever. Her eyes remained fixed upon her plate, but she did not eat. She merely pushed the food about in a jerky, mechanical manner. When it was apparent that the plum tart with its really very nice custard made from egg substitute was to share the same fate as the curried mince, the baked tomatoes, the beans and potatoes of the first course, Miss Sophy could bear it no longer. She said, "Medora----" in a pleading voice.

Miss Brown's face remained blank---eyes cast down, heavy black hair shading the marmoreal brown, heavy black lashes shading the marmoreal cheek. It certainly was exasperating to the last degree. Quite suddenly Miss Sophy lost her temper. Her voice, incapable of being loud, shook with vexation.

"Medora, you'll be ill, and nothing puts Florence out like leaving what she has cooked---and I'm sure I don't wonder when you think about the Navy having to bring everything hundreds of thousands of miles, except the plums and the vegetables which are out of the garden, but it would be all the same if they weren't! And what good you think you do, making yourself ill like this, I don't know, but you are making me very unhappy---very unhappy indeed!" She screwed up her eyes, and two bright little tears popped out.

Miss Brown's black lashes lifted, disclosing sombre eyes. She said in a deep whisper, "I am sorry---I had better go," and with that pushed back her chair and went out of the room in an unhurried, sleep-walking sort of way.

Miss Sophy burst into tears.

When she had been consoled and lunch concluded, Miss Silver betook herself upstairs. Her tap upon Miss Brown's door was so briskly followed up that she was well into the room before her entry was perceived. It occasioned so much surprise as to shake that cold control.

Miss Silver coughed in a deprecating manner.

"I have come to have a little talk with you. Shall we sit down?"

Miss Brown shook her head.

"You are a detective. I have nothing to say."

Miss Silver surveyed her compassionately.

"You are very unhappy, are you not?"

Miss Brown turned abruptly and walked over to the window. She stood there looking out, but she saw nothing. A sudden rush of tears blinded her. She neither moved nor did anything to wipe them away. They remained a distorting crystal through which the outside world had no form nor meaning.

Miss Silver stood where she was and waited. After a moment she said, "It will be more comfortable if you will sit down. It does not matter if you are crying, but I think we must talk."

There was a slow negative movement. Miss Silver said briskly, "Let us be practical. When something has happened it is no use trying to remain in the past, or to refuse to accept what the present demands of us. I think Mr. Harsch was your friend. He is dead, and you cannot bring him back. Mr. Madoc is not dead---yet. He is alive, but he is in a very serious position. For some reason you have made up your mind that he shot Mr. Harsch. I want you to tell me why you think so."

Without turning round, without moving at all, Miss Brown repeated what they were all so tired of hearing.

"I have nothing to say."

Miss Silver sighed.

"That is not at all practical, I am afraid. If Mr. Madoc is guilty, your silence will not prove him innocent. There is a strong case against him. If he is innocent, any fact you can contribute will help to prove him so. One is not always the best judge of what is helpful to a person in whom one is interested. I beg of you to give me the chance of arriving at the truth. There is a good deal about this case which cannot be explained on the supposition of Mr. Madoc's guilt. Be frank with me, and I do not believe that you will regret it."

Miss Brown continued to stare at a formless world through the distorting crystal of those unfallen tears. She made again the faint movement of the head which said "No."

Miss Silver said in her quiet, pleasant voice, "You are making a grave mistake. Have you considered that the prosecution can call you as a witness, and that you can be compelled to speak? Even if you were prepared to refuse and to incur the penalty for contempt of court, your very refusal would tell most terribly against Mr. Madoc. Prosecuting counsel would be able to put questions which, in the absence of an answer, would strengthen the case for the Crown. You have no means of escaping this. You cannot avoid being called as a witness."

Miss Brown turned round with a sudden quick movement. The tears which had blinded her fell unregarded. Her eyes blazed with something like triumph. She said in her deep, full voice, "They can't call me as a witness. I'm his wife."

Miss Silver said, "Dear me!" and then, "Pray let me beg you to sit down. It will be so much more comfortable for us both. I have always noticed when a conversation of any importance is carried on standing that it tends to become dramatic. Let me beg of you to be seated."

Miss Brown walked over to a chair and sat down. Quite suddenly she was glad to do so. The stiffness had gone from her limbs, she felt relaxed and weak. She became aware that she had had very little food for days. She leaned back and shut her eyes. She heard Miss Silver leave the room, and presently she heard her come back again. A cup of soup was held to her lips. When she had drunk it she was encouraged in a kind, matter-of-fact way to partake of warmed-up mince and vegetables. After which she found Miss Silver looking at her in a friendly manner.

"Now why did you not tell Sergeant Abbott what you have just told me?"

"I don't know."

Miss Silver coughed.

"It was not very wise. But when one has kept a secret for a long time it tends to become a habit."

Miss Brown said, "Yes."

"Will you tell me when you were married, and where? There must be proof, or you cannot be protected from giving evidence."

"Five years ago---in London---the Marylebone Register Office---June 16th. We didn't give it out because he was waiting for a job. We couldn't really afford to get married, but we were very much in love. It wasn't anyone's business but our own. He had his sister to support. I went on with my work, and he went on with his. We met when we could. Sometimes there were week-ends." She spoke in short, detached sentences, and in an absent voice as if she were looking back over those five years and remembering bit by bit. What no one could have known was just how much relief it brought her to remember and to speak.

She pushed back her heavy hair and let her hands fall again in her lap.

"We quarrelled of course. We weren't young enough to live that sort of life. When you are not young you want a home, companionship---everything that is normal. We couldn't have it. Somebody else got the job that he was hoping for. He couldn't support me unless he stopped supporting his sister. He couldn't do that. The quarrels got worse. He has a very bad temper, but I could have managed if we had had a normal life. We couldn't have it. It all came to an end about three years ago. He didn't even write. Then I heard he had got this government job. I thought if we could meet again. But I couldn't leave my post---I couldn't afford to do that. Then the old lady I was with died and left me some money---enough to have made all the difference if it had come before. I went on thinking about coming here. A friend of mine helped me to meet Miss Fell, and I came here just over a year ago. At first I thought it was going to be all right. Then we quarrelled again. He began to make scenes about Mr. Harsch." She pushed back her hair again and looked wretchedly at Miss Silver. "There wasn't any reason for it---there wasn't indeed. We talked about music, and sometimes about Evan---we both loved him. But he is so difficult. I think he was jealous of both of us. That evening he knew Mr. Harsch had gone to the church to play the organ. He came down to see if I was there, and he took my key just as that boy says he did. And I don't know---I don't know what happened after that."

"Then we must find out," said Miss Silver in a brisk, and cheerful voice.