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Our Library => Patricia Wentworth - The Key (1944) => Topic started by: Admin on September 30, 2023, 11:23:18 am

Title: Chapter Thirty-Seven
Post by: Admin on September 30, 2023, 11:23:18 am
IN THE Governor's office Evan Madoc wrote a fierce black signature at the foot of his statement.

"There you are!" he said without any respect at all. "And now, I suppose, you will do your best to hang me!"

Miss Silver gave a faint hortatory cough. She rose to her feet with the air of a teacher dismissing a class. A spark of angry humour came and went in Madoc's eyes. She smiled at him as she came over and gave him her hand.

"I hope I shall see you again very soon," she said, and felt the long nervous fingers twitch.

She went out, and was presently followed by Sergeant Abbott, who tucked a hand inside her arm and took her out to lunch at the Royal George, which is the gloomiest and most respectable hotel in Marbury. It has a Regency front, a rabbit warren of older rooms with low ceilings and uneven floors all on different levels at the back, whilst its interior decoration perpetuates the taste of the great Victorian age. In the immense dining-room, where before the war Hunt Suppers were wont to be served, only some half dozen tables were occupied. Established by one of the heavily curtained windows, and served with watery soup in tepid plates, they were as free from being overheard or overlooked as if they had been in the middle of the Sahara.

Miss Silver undid her jacket, disclosing the fact that she was wearing a bog-oak brooch in the form of a rose with a pearl in the heart of it. Sergeant Abbott gazed at her with rapture.

"Maudie, you're marvellous!"

The neat, prim features endeavoured to preserve a proper severity. They failed. With the smile which she would have bestowed on a favourite nephew, Miss Silver attempted reproof.

"My dear Frank, when did I give you permission to use my Christian name?"

"Never. But if I don't do it sometimes I shall develop an ingrowing, inverted enthusiasm---an inhibition, or a complex, or one of those things you get when you are thwarted. I've always felt that it was particularly bad for me to be thwarted."

"You talk a great deal of nonsense," said Miss Silver indulgently.

Aware that young men do not talk nonsense to their elders unless they are fond of them, her tone did nothing to discourage him. He therefore continued to talk nonsense until the waiter removed their soup plates and furnished them each with a small portion of limp white fish partially concealed by a sprig of parsley and a teaspoonful of unnaturally pink sauce. It all tasted even worse than it looked. Frank apologized.

"They have much better food at the Ram, but we couldn't very well go there in the circumstances. The local Superintendent tells me their Mrs. Simpkins can make you believe that Hitler had never been born, and that you are really eating pre-war food. Simpkins is the proprietor."

Miss Silver inclined her head.

"Yes. Miss Fell informs me that Mrs. Simpkins used to be old Mr. Doncaster's cook. They were very well off in those days, but when he died they found that his income was largely derived from an annuity."

Frank looked at her sharply.

"You've been concealing things---you always do."

Miss Silver coughed.

"I did not wish to prejudice your enquiries at the Ram. Pray tell me if they have had any result."

He leaned forward.

"Well, I think so. But whether we're any forrader, or what we're heading for, I don't pretend to say. Everybody there could pick out Bush. They know all about him. They know his sister Mrs. Grey, and they say he always comes in for a drink if he's in Marbury. Nobody is prepared to swear that he did come in on the Monday in question, but they all say he'd have been sure to if he was over at the Greys'. Then there's Miss Doncaster. They all recognized her and could name her---said she always came in for tea when she'd been shopping."

"Yes---Miss Fell told me that. They give very good teas even now. All the food at the Ram is good, though it is such a shabby-looking place."

Frank shook his head at her.

"Well, well---don't let us dwell upon it---all is over for to-day. Let us continue---we were doing Miss Doncaster. They are sure she was in on that Monday, because she kept Mrs. Simpkins talking until she missed a bus, and Mrs. Simpkins wasn't at all pleased. She was going out to see a sister at Marfield, and she told me it was just like Miss Doncaster, and that she was a good deal put about. And now we come to Mr. Everton--and that's where we don't get anywhere at all. He might have been in, or he mightn't. They didn't know him. He wasn't a customer, and, as the porter remarked, 'One gentleman looks very much like another in our hall'. And that's the truth---it's narrow, it's dingy, and it's dark. He said there was always a coming and going about tea-time. Gentlemen generally had it in the Coffee-Room, especially if they wanted something substantial. Mrs. Simpkins would fix them up a sausage and fried vegetables or something like that. But as to who was in on what day at the beginning of last week, he couldn't say. In fact none of them could. When I asked whether Mrs. Simpkins having gone off that afternoon to see her sister was any help, they brightened up a bit and remembered a gentleman who might have been a commercial traveller. And the new kitchenmaid had done him a scrambled egg on toast, and Mrs. Simpkins had put it across her when she came home, because she said those dried eggs wanted handling, and the Ram had got its name to keep up. But though I pressed like mad, no one seemed to be able to reconstruct the gentleman, or to remember who else had been in, and nobody picked Mr. Everton out of any of the photographs. The whole affair is exactly like this revolting sausage---pale, profitless, and imponderable."

Miss Silver was pleased to be encouraging.

"I think you did very well."

Frank Abbott shook his head.

"There are just two points---I've saved them up to the end. If nobody remembers Everton at the Ram, nobody remembers Harsch either, yet we know that Harsch went in and came out. Even at mid-day that hall is like a tomb. But---and this is the second point---as soon as you open the Coffee-Room door bright light streams out. There are two good windows there, and they face that door. Suppose Harsch came up to the Coffee-Room door and saw it open, he would be facing the light---facing whoever was coming out---facing anyone who was still in the room. But what would he see himself? I tried it out with the porter. The light hits you suddenly. Anyone coming out of the room in the ordinary way appears as a silhouette, but with some light striking the right side of the face and figure. If the opening door of which Harsch spoke to Janice Meade was a real door opening in the Ram, then that's what he would have seen---a silhouette, light striking at an angle on the side of the head, the cheek, the jaw, the shoulder. Not very much to go on, you know---nothing to take to the police---but enough to give you a horrid shock if it was what you had seen before, perhaps many times, when you were in your cell in the dark in a concentration camp and the door opened from the lighted corridor to let one of your tormentors in." He broke off with a slightly conscious look. "You know, you'll ruin my career. You're not safe---you're contagious. You start me off enthusing and romancing till I'm not sure whether I'm a policeman or someone in a propaganda film. And what the Chief would say if he heard me just now, I only hope and trust I shall never know. I think we'll switch over to Madoc. What about Harsch's notes and papers---did you get anything out of him?"

Miss Silver inclined her head and said, "Certainly."

"You didn't! You ought to be a lion-tamer! And not a single scratch? You've no idea how he reared in the air and clawed when the Chief had a go at him. We retired with bowed and bloody heads but no information."

Miss Silver looked serious.

"Mr. Madoc's temper is regrettable, and he has very bad manners, but fundamentally he is, I believe, an acutely sensitive person who is very much afraid of being hurt. His temper and his rudeness are a kind of protective armour."

Frank looked astonished. Then he laughed.

"And you dug him out of his armour like a winkle out of its shell! Well, what about those papers? Where are they?"

"I may say that Mr. Madoc displayed a good deal of intelligence. When not clouded by passion his reasoning powers are excellent. Like Janice Meade he was unable to believe that Mr. Harsch had committed suicide. If he had been murdered, the motive which immediately sprang to mind was the possession of the notes and formula of harschite. He collected everything that he could find and went into Marbury by an early train on Wednesday morning. He admits frankly that his motive was partly the desire to get Mr. Harsch's papers out of the way before Sir George Rendal came down. He was not sure what powers the War Office might have. He wanted to see a solicitor, and he wanted time to consider his position---as a pacifist, as a government employee, and as Mr. Harsch's executor."

Frank Abbott listened with interest.

"What did he do?"

"He visited a local solicitor, Mr. Merevale, after which he proceeded to the Marbury branch of Lloyds bank where he handed in a large sealed envelope for safe custody."

"Then the papers are at Lloyds?"

Miss Silver smiled.

"The envelope contained nothing but blank foolscap, but on his way home he called at the General Post Office and registered a second envelope addressed to the head office of the bank in London---a very intelligent move. The papers are there."

Frank lifted an eyebrow.

"Has anyone told you that there was an attempt to burgle the Marbury branch on Saturday night?"

Miss Silver said, "Dear me!" And then, "I am not surprised. How providential that the papers, thanks to Mr. Madoc's foresight, were in London."

Frank gazed appreciatively.

"Well, you have him charmed! He'll be eating out of your hand like the rest of us! By the way, I suppose he hasn't had a change of heart about handing harschite over to the government?"

Miss Silver beamed.

"How strange that you should ask me that. We had time for quite a nice long chat whilst we were waiting for you, and he informed me quite of his own accord that, on thinking it over, he had come to the conclusion that as Mr. Harsch's agent he was bound to act as Mr. Harsch himself would have acted, quite irrespective of his own convictions, which he took pains to inform me, remained unchanged."

"And you had nothing to do with it, I suppose! It's a fascinating subject, but we mustn't dally. I want to talk about Madoc's statement. I don't know what arts you used to get him to make one, but you know the Chief's always expecting to see you fly out of the window on a broomstick. But to come back to the statement---it's a bit of a facer, isn't it? I haven't had time to think it out yet, but if he's right about the distances, then Bush is out of the running as far as Harsch is concerned. And Madoc being out of the running for Ezra Pincott, that leaves us with the person who left the churchyard on the Green side with Ezra hot in pursuit. Madoc says this person may have been male or female, nobody but Ezra being near enough to say which. Difficult to avoid the conclusion that Ezra did see not only that but a damning bit more, that he tried a spot of blackmail on the strength of it, and that he got himself bumped off."

"That is so."

"Well then, where do we go from there?"

"With the Chief Inspector's approval, I would suggest a further interrogation of Gladys and Sam. They went for a walk round the Green, probably entering the churchyard at some time after ten minutes to ten. Gladys says she did not take any notice of whether there was a shot or not, which points to their being at some distance from the church at the time. She thinks they had been getting on for ten minutes in the churchyard before Bush came out and the clock struck ten. They must have got there after Bush, as they did not see him enter the church. Now I would like very much to know whether they started out for their walk by the road which passes the houses, or whether they took the round in reverse and came back that way. If this was the case, I think it possible that they may have met the person Mr. Madoc did not recognize---the person who left the churchyard almost immediately after the shot was fired."

"Wouldn't they have said?"

Miss Silver coughed.

"Anything very familiar may easily be disregarded. For instance, the church clock at Bourne chimes the quarters. How many of the people in those houses round the Green really hear it? I have asked a number of them, and they say they hardly ever notice the chimes. In the same way, I think it is possible that Gladys and Samuel might have encountered someone whom it would be quite natural to see at that time and in that place without really noticing them at all. There is a pillar-box just opposite the Rectory gate. If, let us say, Mrs. Mottram, or Dr. Edwards, or Miss Doncaster, or Mr. Everton, or the Rector, were observed either coming or going between his or her own house and this pillar-box, what would be the natural conclusion? You see, it is as easy as that---those young people would not have attached the slightest importance to such an encounter."

Frank looked dubious.

"I should have thought they would have mentioned it."

Miss Silver smiled.

"Have you found that village people are at all apt to volunteer information? That is not my experience. They may, or may not, answer a direct question, but they rarely volunteer anything. There is an instinct of secrecy which is bred into their very bones. There are well-known cases where what was common knowledge on the subject of a crime has never reached the authorities even after a couple of generations. In the present case, however, we have to deal with good-natured, artless young people, and I think a direct question or two might elicit the facts."

Frank nodded.

"It shall be done. Now what about these times? They run pretty fine. I'd like to go over them with you." He paused as the waiter took away their plates, and got out his notebook. When the stooping elderly figure had gone away down the long room, he bent the book back to make the pages stay open and leaned across the corner to Miss Silver. "I've roughed it out here from the statements. Some of the less important times are guesswork.

8.50--Cyril gets out of the window.
9.20--Cyril to Cut (approximate).
9.30--Medora Brown to Cut.
9.31--Madoc to Cut. Row between them. Organ still playing.
No evidence that it was heard after this.
9.34--Exit Medora to house, and Madoc with key.
9.35--Cyril to bed.

Now this is where Madoc's statement comes in."

He wrote upon the opposite page, and then read out what he had written:

"9.43 approx.--Madoc re-enters Cut. Ezra already there.
 9.45--Harsch is shot, on the second chime of the quarter."

He looked up.

"Madoc says he stood where he was until the third chime had gone. Says he didn't see Ezra till after that. He thinks they both of them waited as long again before they moved. Then he saw Ezra run, and come to the door and open it. Now how long would that take? Madoc was level with the main block of the church---that would give him about a hundred yards to go, and Ezra perhaps eighty. The chimes take five seconds each---say twenty seconds before either of them moves, and twenty seconds for Ezra to reach the door and get it open. Well, there he is, looking in---and it's forty seconds since the shot was fired. What has the murderer to do in that forty seconds? He has fired the shot, and Harsch is dead. He's got to wipe the pistol, get Harsch's fingerprints on it, let it drop, and scoot back the way he came. None of that would take more than forty seconds, would it? Ezra might have seen him coming out of the church. I think he must have, but we'll have to pace it and time it on the spot. Well, Ezra sees him, but he doesn't see Ezra---he wouldn't have come out of the church if he had. He runs for the gate on to the Green. That's the really dangerous part of the whole show, but he's got to risk it. There's a diagonal path from the church door to the gate, and it's not very far. Ezra would have to go across country or a long way round. He hears Ezra running, but he gets to the gate and slams it. But Ezra has recognized him, and presently he tries a spot of blackmail and gets bumped off. So now we don't know who the murderer was. I don't think it was Madoc, because, a, it would be absolutely pointless for him to incriminate himself by saying he came back if all the rest of it was a string of lies; and, b, he certainly didn't kill Ezra, because he was under lock and key in Marbury jail." He looked up and grinned. "Nice to have something you can feel sure about, isn't it?"

Miss Silver was giving him a very flattering attention.

"Pray continue."

"Well, I don't think it was Bush either. It can't be if Madoc's statement is true. And why should Madoc go out of his way to incriminate himself by admitting that he came back, unless he really couldn't hold his tongue and let an innocent man be arrested? Which brings us back to the timetable again.

9.46--approx.---Madoc looking into churchyard.
That gives him three minutes to walk back along the Cut and see Bush enter the churchyard by the main gate, and Bush one minute to come round the church and in at the side door.
9.50--Bush finds the body.
9.52 approx.---Gladys and Sam to the churchyard.
9.58--Bush comes out of the church and locks the door.

How's that?"

"Excellent," said Miss Silver.