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Chapter Twenty-One

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« on: July 15, 2023, 01:06:00 pm »

SARAH collected all the pieces of newspaper and carried them away to her own room. She left the bricks neatly piled on the hearth, and she thought she could stuff the Daily Flash carelessly into the grate when she had finished reading what it had got to say about the murder of Emily Case. She could not really disguise from herself the suspicion that the reason why Mr. Morgan Cattermole had walked out of the house before breakfast yesterday, taking all the papers with him, had something to do with a desire that Sarah Marlowe should not learn that the police were anxious to interview her. So much had happened in the last twenty-four hours that now for the first time she really allowed this suspicion to take definite shape in her mind. It had been there all the time of course, as moisture is in the air before it condenses into rain.

She laid out the sheets of newspaper, and found what she was looking for on what had been the middle page. It was quite a short paragraph. It said,

   The police are anxious to interview a young woman who spent about three quarters of an hour in the first-class ladies’ waiting-room at Cray Bridge between 5.15 and 6 p.m. on the evening of Thursday, January 26th.

There followed an alarmingly accurate description of Miss Sarah Marlowe. No one who knew that she had been travelling up from Craylea on Thursday evening could possibly have failed to identify her with the young woman whom the police desired to interview, and no one who read the rest of the paper could fail to link this desire with the murder of Emily Case.

The paper seemed quite full of the murder of Emily Case. There were photographs of her, mostly quite unrecognizable, of the sister with whom she had been going to stay, of the sister’s cottage, of the railway station at Ledlington, of the compartment in which the murder had taken place, and of Mr. Snagg, the porter who had discovered the body.

With every line that Sarah read the shadow of Emily Case, whom she had seen once and with whom she had exchanged a few brief sentences, seemed to grow longer and darker.

She sat there, and acknowledged tardily that Henry had been right---she ought to have gone straight to the police and given them the oiled-silk packet. She had a tolerably clear idea that if she had taken this course she would not at this moment be marooned in a disagreeably isolated house, cut off from the world, the police, and Henry Templar by impassable and ice-bound roads.

If the roads were impassable it was no good expecting Henry to arrive and rescue her, and if Henry didn’t arrive, what was she going to do? She had not the very slightest idea. Of course she was probably frightening herself about nothing at all. Morgan Cattermole was almost certainly a bad lot. Even his brother and sister barely disguised the fact that he was a black sheep. That being so, it was not difficult to guess who had opened the oiled-silk packet while she was out of her room last night. But to open it he would have had to look for it, and to look for it would mean that he had known it to be in her possession. And how could anyone know that?

Sarah thought about the footsteps on the foggy platform. Anyone walking up and down there might have looked through the chink where the blind had slipped and seen Emily Case and Sarah Marlowe. She remembered how Emily’s head had turned and her eyes had watched that crack whilst the footsteps receded in the dark. The man who had followed Emily Case and murdered her for the packet which she had put in Sarah’s bag might have guessed at its being worth his while to trace the girl who had been closeted for nearly an hour with his victim.

But it couldn’t have been Morgan Cattermole. A voice said softly and coldly, “And why not?” She had no answer to this. Only if he had traced her he was much cleverer than the police, who had not managed to do so. There was certainly something very suspicious about his sudden arrival and the tampering with the oiled-silk packet.

But, Morgan gone, why should Wilson Cattermole transport them all to this inaccessible place? It might be the merest coincidence, or it might not. She could look back over the four months she had worked for him and find as many instances of a sudden whim translated into action. No, she really could not find it in her heart to suspect Wilson. The Reverend Peter Brown was another matter. Since Wilson and he had never met before, how and when had he known John Wickham? The longer she thought about it, the more the tone of that casual “I wanted a word with you” declared not only a previous but an intimate acquaintance.

If it was Wickham who had followed her. . . . The thought struck a spark from her mind, and went out as a spark goes out in the dark. Bundling the sheets of newspaper together, she went back into Miss Cattermole’s room and stuffed them down into the grate upon the still warm ashes. If they were to burn, so much the better, but whether they burned or not, they would not be fit to use again. She might therefore hope for fresh wrappings on the bricks tonight.

Joanna, in a robe-like garment of peacock blue, was putting on her string of lapis lazuli beads and mourning because they were not purple and she could so easily have brought her Aunt Phśbe’s amethysts.

“It all comes of being in a hurry---one always does the wrong thing.”

As she followed her downstairs Sarah wondered whether she had done the wrong thing about the papers from the oiled-silk packet. If it came to that, she wondered if any of the people through whose hands the papers had passed had done the right thing. They had all been in a hurry because they had had to be in a hurry. The young man in the train had been in a hurry when he gave them to Emily Case---and perhaps he was dead, and perhaps he wasn’t. Emily Case had been in a hurry when she put them into Sarah’s bag---and she was certainly dead. Sarah Marlowe had been in a hurry when she had ripped open the packet and taken out the folded envelope with all those names and addresses in it. She had been in a hurry when she took them out and when she put the envelope back again with some nice plain foolscap inside it. And very appropriate too. It had given her a good deal of pleasure ever since to imagine Morgan Cattermole’s feelings when he opened the envelope. And the best part of the joke was that he wouldn’t be certain, and nobody else could be certain, that she had changed the papers. The young man in the train might have changed them---or Emily Case---or Sarah Marlowe. But nobody could be sure that it was Sarah Marlowe, and nobody---nobody except Sarah knew where those names and addresses were now. The oiled-silk packet was under her pyjamas in the middle drawer in London, and what was inside it now was Morgan Cattermole’s affair. He had thought he was fooling her, but she had fooled him first, and by now he must know that he had been fooled.

Sarah thought, “If he turns up here, I shall have to look out for squalls.” And with that they were in the dining-room, and everyone was saying good-morning and beginning to talk about the weather. “No getting out today, I’m afraid.” . . . “Oh, yes, dreadfully cold” . . . “I remember in ’94” . . . “Grimsby says there’s an inch of ice on the roads” . . . “Not a chance of the Sunday papers, I’m afraid.” . . .

Sarah realized with a shock that it was Sunday. She had been thinking of Henry going to his office and not being able to get away until the evening, and all the time it was Sunday and he could have got away as early as he liked if it hadn’t been for the ice on the roads.

“Grimsby says it’s very bad indeed,” said Mr. Brown. “He tried to get across the yard to the coalshed, but he couldn’t keep his feet. He is putting down ashes now, I believe.”

In the light of what Wickham had said, Sarah wondered whether it was fair to blame the ice for the fact that Grimsby found it difficult to keep his feet this morning. She felt rather curious about the Grimsbys, and anxious to see them.

As she was crossing the hall after breakfast she had at least part of her wish. Grimsby came out of a green baize door behind the dining-room and went across to the Reverend Peter’s den with a scuttle of coals. It was a very large scuttle, well piled up, and he carried it as if it had been a basket of eggs. He wasn’t very tall, but he looked as strong as a bull, with an immense chest and long arms, a dark empurpled face, and black hair growing low on his forehead. His looks were not improved by a nose with a badly broken bridge and small, bloodshot eyes. Sarah thought, “He’s dangerous. I wonder what he’s like when he’s drunk.”

He looked at her sideways as he went past. It was the look of a vicious animal---sullen, with a spark of violence. If he had been a dog, there would have been a growl in his throat and his hackles would have been up. Sarah felt she would have been happier if he had been on a chain in the yard.

She went on up the stairs, and saw Wickham in the open doorway of Miss Cattermole’s room. He had a pile of bricks on his arm, and when he saw her he went back a step.

“I’m just taking these away. Will you be wanting them again tonight?”

Sarah said, “Yes please,” and then, “But you oughtn’t to carry them. Make Grimsby do it. After all, it’s his job.”

He actually laughed.

“Have you seen him? I think I make a better chambermaid.”

“You oughtn’t to carry them.”

“This arm’s all right.”

“Are you all right this morning---really?”

He nodded.

Quite suddenly, without the slightest intention and to her own surprise, Sarah said, “Is it true---you were in prison?”

He balanced the bricks thoughtfully. His colour was much better today. She noticed that, because she was looking to see whether it changed. It didn’t, nor did his voice. He said, “Oh, yes. Mr. Cattermole told you yesterday in the car, didn’t he? He has made up his mind that you can’t hear through the glass, but of course you can. I heard him telling you.”

It was Sarah whose colour rose in a burning flush.

Why?” she said.

John Wickham smiled quite pleasantly.

“Why does one rob banks? To get money. Pure case of demand and supply. Unfortunately I didn’t get away with it, so I’m a little disenchanted with the ways of crime. Would you like to reform me?” He laughed and went past her and across the landing.

Tears of pure rage stung in Sarah’s eyes. At least she told herself that there was nothing in her heart but anger. If they were once out of this place she need never speak to him again. That was one thought. There were others.

She began to tidy the room. Miss Cattermole had an unusual talent for untidiness. She could impart a dishevelled air to any room in the least possible space of time. The things she had worn the evening before were strewn up and down the length and breadth of this one. It was certainly not a secretary’s job---and Mr. Cattermole’s secretary at that---to collect these widely diffused garments and dispose of them in drawers and cupboards. But on the other hand, it didn’t seem to be anyone else’s business either, and Joanna certainly wouldn’t do it.

When everything had been put away she went back to her own room. The door which she had left shut was wide open. Wickham was very busy collecting the bricks which she had left piled up beside the hearth. It occurred to her to wonder how long he had been there, and whether he had been waiting for her. She came just inside the door and stood there, expecting him to go.

He came towards her slowly with the bricks piled up on his arm. Without lowering her voice Sarah said, “You need not trouble---I shan’t want them tonight.”

“Oh, I think you will---and it isn’t any trouble at all.”

Sarah made no answer.

Just before he came level with her he dropped his voice and said, “You asked me something just now, and I answered you. If I ask you something, will you answer me?”

“I don’t know. What is it?”

“You go down to Craylea when you have a holiday, don’t you? Were you there this week?”

She moved a little farther from the door, and he followed her.

“Suppose I was?”

“When were you there? What day did you come back? Thursday---was it Thursday?”

“Why do you want to know?”

She saw his face change.

“Because I do---because it’s important. Do you want me to ask Mr. Cattermole?”

Sarah felt shaken where she should have been angry. She was so sure she ought to be angry that she achieved a cold, rebuking look as she said, “I think you are behaving very strangely.”

He took no more notice of that than if she had been a child.

“Did you come back on Thursday?”

“Yes, I did.”

“By way of Cray Bridge?”

“There isn’t any other way.”

“What train?”

A bright sparkle came into Sarah’s eyes. She said, a little too sweetly, “The 5.17 from Cray Bridge.”

The sparkle met an answering one.

“Sure about that?”

“Quite sure.”

“You left Cray Bridge at 5.17?”

“That’s not what I said.”

“Then you didn’t leave at 5.17. When did you leave?”

The sparkle died.

She said in an uncertain voice, “There was a fog.”

“When did you leave Cray Bridge?”

“Why do you want to know?”

“I’ve got to know, and if you don’t answer me, well, that’s answer enough. I think you didn’t leave until six o’clock.”

She walked away past him to the window and stood there looking out. She heard him come up behind her, but she did not turn. He said very quick and low at her ear,

“Did she give it to you? For God’s sake tell me if she gave it to you! Are you such a fool as to think that you can play a lone hand like this?”

She said in a slow, bewildered voice, “I don’t know what you mean----” because that is what Sarah Marlowe would have said if she really had not known, and that is how she would have said it.

Well, it wasn’t any use, because he came back at her with a contemptuous “You know perfectly well! What have you done with it?”

She found that she didn’t know what to say. She couldn’t keep her anger. She couldn’t act well enough to take him in.

He spoke with a fresh urgency.

“Sarah---for God’s sake tell me! It’s not safe---you’re not safe. I tell you I’ve got to know!”

And then, before she could answer, there came Joanna’s voice, calling plaintively from the stairs.

“Sarah---Sarah---where are you? They say the roads are dreadful and we can’t possibly get away. They say it’s dangerous.”

Wickham turned and went out with his load of bricks. His voice came back to Sarah from the landing,

“No, I’m afraid you can’t go, madam. Mr. Cattermole is quite right---it would be dangerous.”

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