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Chapter Forty

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« on: July 17, 2023, 07:14:22 am »

HEDGELEY police station had quite a busy time for the next hour. The wires hummed. A Chief Constable was got out of bed. There were conversations with London. And presently, after a longish wait, a car drove up from which Mr. Wilson Cattermole, Grimsby and his niece, and the Reverend Peter Brown were decanted.

Sarah found it all rather vague in her recollection next day. There was a very hot fire in the charge room. . . . If you sat close to it, you scorched, but if you moved away, the fierce cold that beat against the windows set an icy touch upon your spine. . . . There was a large red-faced policeman---he looked too big for his uniform---and there was a long, thin one with a beaky nose. . . . The Chief Constable had a bright striped muffler and a pair of keen blue eyes. . . . All their faces seemed to float in a thick white mist---they kept coming and going. . . . She made a statement, and when it had been read over to her she signed it---but she couldn’t see the paper, or the pen, or her own name. . . .

And then John was asking her about the papers and she was looking at him blankly, because the words were just words. When she tried to think about them they slipped away from her. There had been papers in an oiled-silk packet---John had been stabbed for them---Emily Case had been murdered---Sarah Marlowe had just escaped with her life. . . .

But the papers---that was what John kept on asking. . . . She had told Mr. Brown that they were at the bottom of the well, but that wasn’t true. “Sarah, where are the papers? You said you’d got them. Where are they?”

She had held them back from everyone for so long that it seemed as if she had no strength to let them go. Not now---not like this. The fire was so hot---her head went round. . . . She heard John say, “It’s no use---she’s all in. I’d like to take her over to the hotel and get them to put her to bed. . . .”

There was an interval, and then she was in a strange bed in a strange room. Someone had undressed her. There was a fire, and something hot to drink. Then sleep. She went down into it and lost everything.

When she woke up there was a cold daylight in the room. An engraving of Queen Victoria’s marriage hung upon the opposite wall in a narrow gilt frame. Underneath this picture upon the mantelshelf there were two large sky-blue vases with a raised pattern of gilt knobs. Between the vases was a clock in a wooden frame carved with edelweiss. The hands of the clock stood at half past ten. Sarah gazed at them. If it was half past ten on Monday morning, she had been asleep for about eight hours. The events of the last few days presented themselves to her with a curious effect of having happened to someone else, a long time ago.

She got out of bed, dressed herself, and went downstairs. As she turned towards the door of the stuffy sitting-room where she and Joanna had waited on the Saturday which seemed to have slipped so far into the past, John Hamilton came out. They stood for a moment and looked at each other. Then he took her back into the room and shut the door.

“I was coming up to see if you were awake.”

Sarah said, “I’m starving.”

She felt shaken---uncertain of herself and of him. The strange current which had always run between them was there, stronger and warmer than ever before. Sarah had met it with resentment, with resistance, with shame, and joy, and terror. Now all these feelings dissolved and were transmuted. The current flowed strong. And then all at once they were back where they had been yesterday. His hands fell on her shoulders and he was saying in an urgent voice, “The papers---where are they? There simply isn’t any time to be lost. You were all in last night. You have got them, haven’t you? You said you had.”

“Oh, yes, I’ve got them.”

“Hand them over then!”

She stepped back from him and pulled off the little pill-box hat. The crumpled veil gave it a disreputable air. He stared at it, frowning.

“What’s this?”

“My hat. The papers are sewn into it---they’re the sides of the pill-box. It was the safest place I could think of, and nobody guessed.”

Mr. John Hamilton emitted a loud triumphant war-whoop and embraced her.

“Sarah, I’ve kept on calling you a fool. I take it all back. You’ve been clever enough to diddle Paul Black and get away with it, and there aren’t many people who can say that. When we’re married----”

Sarah disengaged herself. Her cheeks were burning and her eyes shone.

“Who said we were going to be married?”

“I did. You heard me. I’ll come back and talk about it later. They want these papers and they want them quick.”

He put an arm round her, tilted up her chin, gave her a long, hard kiss, and ran out of the room, banging the door behind him.

Sarah looked at it. He had taken her hat. He had kissed her without a with your leave or by your leave. Her knees wobbled disgracefully.

She sat down on the nearest chair and said, “Well!

THE END
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