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Chapter Twelve

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« on: September 08, 2023, 11:11:46 am »

MARCH frowned.

“I don’t know,” he said. “The weak point is the initial motive. The only one who can be said to have had one besides Robbins is Miss Freyne.”

Frank Abbott said, “Oh, no---not in character at all.”

“I agree. But we have to consider her. You see, I think it is quite clear that her disagreement with Clayton was a very serious one. I don’t mean to say that she wasn’t telling the truth about it---I think she was. But however much that disagreement began over an abstract case, I think it was quite impossible that those two people should have discussed it and disagreed over it without having Mabel Robbins in their minds, and this would mean that very passionate and bitter feelings might have been roused up. We don’t of course know whether Miss Freyne already suspected Clayton of having been the girl’s lover, but from her manner I thought so. It seemed to me that Mr. Pilgrim’s subsequent disclosure had not really taken her by surprise.”

Frank nodded.

“Henry was a bit of a lad all right---he’d be bound to be suspected. But you’re wasting time over Lesley---she’s one of the few people in the world who are constitutionally incapable of crime. But go on.”

“Well, apart from that, she could have done it. But it would have had to be planned---perhaps on the spur of the moment after he telephoned. She looks out of the window, sees him coming, and goes to meet him. They go back into Pilgrim’s Rest together. When they are in the dining-room she stabs him. She may have brought the knife with her, or she may have pulled one out of the trophy. It could have been done either way.”

Frank’s eyes were at their iciest, his manner indifferent in the extreme. Miss Silver knew him well enough to be aware that he was angry. She drew her wool through the last loop and laid her hands down upon the completed jumper with a small satisfied smile.

Frank said casually, “And when do you suggest that she locked the door? And how did she get out of the house when she had locked it? The key was in Henry’s pocket. If Robbins didn’t do the job himself, I take it we accept his statement that the door was locked and the chain up within ten minutes of Henry’s leaving the house.”

March nodded.

“That’s the weak point. Robbins would have had to let her out, or at any rate to lock up after her.” He smiled. “I am not seriously accusing Miss Freyne, you know---I agree with your estimate of her character. Well, now we come to the other people in the house. Miss Columba. The same general motive as the other relations, the same attachment to house and garden, but by all accounts a very particular attachment to her nephews. I really cannot see her murdering two of them. In the case of Henry Clayton, it is difficult to see any motive at all. This last consideration also applies to Miss Janetta. She is a vain and self-centered person without her sister’s integrity of character. She has just described her brother’s death to me as ‘providential,’ since it prevented him from alienating the property. But I really cannot see why she should have desired the death of Henry Clayton. I remember meeting him when I first came here, and I should say he was the type to be extremely popular with maiden aunts.”

Frank laughed.

“He was the blue-eyed boy all right! He had a way with him, you know---stole horses where other people couldn’t look over the hedge, and got away with it with a feather in his cap. But he did it once too often.”

March went back to his list.

“Jerome. Well, the only question here to my mind is whether he is subject to fits of insanity. If he is, he could have done it all. I gather that his physical state hasn’t changed very much. It would require a great deal of strength to stab a man with a sharp knife, to drag his body a short way, or to tip an unsuspecting person out of a window with a very low sill. No one who knew him would suspect him of doing any of these things if he was in his right senses. But the poor chap has had a bad head wound, and Daly tells me he gets what he calls nervous attacks. He says they are apt to come on at night after any exertion or excitement, that he hasn’t ever seen him in one himself, so he has only the nurse’s account to go by. On that, he says, there are no grounds for any suspicion of insanity. She says he has an aggravated form of nightmare, and wakes up very much distressed and dazed, but not at all violent.”

“That is so,” said Miss Silver.

A little surprised at what was quite a dogmatic statement, he turned in her direction.

“I have both heard him and seen him in one of these attacks, Randall. The sounds are in the highest degree alarming. On the occasion on which I heard them they suggested a man violently attacked and violently resisting. There was also at least one scream. I say ‘at least’ because I am under the impression that it was a scream which had awakened me. My room, as you know, is not far from his. I understand now why the rest of the family sleep in the other wing.”

Frank said, “Judy Elliot heard it too.”

“Yes, we both arrived in the corridor at the same time. Captain Pilgrim then appeared on the threshold of his room. His pyjama coat was torn open, he was clutching at the door posts, and he looked dazed and horrified. I reached him just as Miss Day came out of her room, which is opposite his. He was perfectly gentle, docile, and polite. When Miss Day told him that he had been dreaming again and had disturbed me, he was able to control himself sufficiently to say, ‘So sorry.’ ”

March nodded.

“Miss Day declares that these attacks never occur except in his sleep, and that he is never violent except in the first stage, when he thinks that someone is attacking him and hits out. As soon as he is awake he is only dazed and distressed. The shouting and calling out is a constant feature. It therefore doesn’t seem possible that he should have carried out a methodical murder like that of Henry Clayton, especially when you consider that it probably took place at quite an early hour when the rest of the household were either still awake or not yet fast asleep. Miss Day, for instance, says that she was reading in bed till past midnight, and that she heard nothing. I’ll take her next. She came here at the beginning of December ’43 to nurse Miss Janetta through an attack of influenza, and she stayed on to look after Jerome, who arrived from hospital on the twentieth. Henry Clayton came down for Christmas. She says she never met any of the family until she came here. Clayton was the merest acquaintance. She thought him very charming, but she naturally didn’t see very much of him, as he only came down at week-ends and spent most of his time with Miss Freyne. On the night of his disappearance, she says, she left Jerome listening to the wireless at about a quarter past ten and went and had a bath. She was back in her room by eleven and read till nearly twelve. She didn’t hear the front door shut, she didn’t hear anything. There doesn’t seem to be a shadow of a motive in Clayton’s case, and if she didn’t kill Clayton she didn’t kill Roger. If Roger was murdered, it must have been to prevent the sale of the house and the discovery of the previous crime. In fact I don’t feel able to believe in more than one murderer.”

Frank Abbott said, “I agree.”

March went on.

“I have left Mrs. Robbins to the last. You saw her and heard her statement. I don’t think it’s possible to suspect her. To my mind the thing that stuck out all through was her devotion to ‘Mr. Henry.’ Rather touching, I thought, poor woman. I think it is quite plain she more than suspected that it was Clayton who got her daughter into trouble. And look what she says.”

He picked up another of the sheets which lay before him and read from it.

“Mrs. Robbins’ statement----

“ ‘She never told me who it was---she never told me nothing about it, just ran away and hid. But if it was Mr. Henry, I wouldn’t blame her. He’d make any woman feel there wasn’t anybody else. She done wrong, and she run away and hid. But Mr. Henry might have made any girl forget the way she’d been brought up.’

“And if you’ll remember, that’s where she burst out crying and it wasn’t any use going on. For the rest, she said Robbins told her Mr. Henry had gone round to see Miss Lesley, and she went on up to bed and went to sleep and didn’t wake up till the morning. She didn’t hear anything, she didn’t even know that Robbins hadn’t come up. She’d had a lot to do all day, and she was dead tired and slept like a log.”

He laid down the sheet in his hand and shuffled all the papers together. “Well, there we are. There’s quite a case against Robbins, and none against anyone else.”

Miss Silver was looking at the door. She got up now and went to it. It opened upon a passage which almost immediately turned into the back of the hall. She went to the corner and looked round. There was no one to be seen. Away to the left a stair ran up to the bedroom floor. Other doors opened upon the passage, other doors opened upon the hall. She went back to the study, to meet looks of surprise and a question from March.

“What is it?”

She went over to her chair and gathered up the finished jumper before she answered him.

“I thought the door moved,” she said.

+++

It was at this moment that it was borne in upon Frank Abbott that three was no longer company. All the time that they had been together in the study he had been aware of something in Miss Silver’s attitude. He couldn’t put a name to it, but she wasn’t running true to form---he couldn’t get any nearer to it than that. If she agreed with what March had been saying, why not chip in and say so with a bright quotation from the late Alfred, Lord Tennyson, or a homemade moral of her own? If she didn’t agree, she had her own polite but quite pungent ways of saying so. Why, to quote out of her own book, should Maud be “faultily faultless, icily regular, splendidly null”?

And then all at once he got the idea. It was a case of “not before the child.” She wouldn’t disagree with Randall March or seem to criticize him in his own district in front of a junior officer from the Yard. Maudie had been very nicely brought up. She had spent a considerable portion of her adult life in bringing up the young in the way that they should go. She would rather die than display a lack of delicacy, especially if, as he suspected, she really had no solid grounds for either her delicacy or her disagreement. He thought perhaps it would be a good thing if the junior officer from the Yard were to make himself scarce. It occurred to him that he might achieve a word or two with Judy.

He said, “I’ll be around if you give me a call,” and melted from the scene.

Left alone, neither March nor Miss Silver spoke at once. He was putting his papers together, but presently he looked up from them to say,

“What is it?”

She had gone over to the fire and stood looking down into it, her knitting-bag slung over her left arm. At the sound of his voice she turned and said, “Shall you be using this room any more, Randall? If you will, I had better make up the fire.”

“No---yes---I don’t know. You didn’t answer my question. I said, ‘What is it?’ ”

“And what did you mean by that?”

“As if you didn’t know! You’re holding something back, and I’d like to know what it is.”

She stood where she was, looking at him with a grave and thoughtful expression.

“I am not happy about this case, Randall.”

He met her look with a very direct one.

“Nor am I. But I wonder if we mean the same thing. I should be glad if you would let me have your point of view.”

She said, “I do not think I have one. I will be quite frank with you now that we are alone. The death of Roger Pilgrim weighs upon me. He told the police that he believed his life to be in danger. He told me the same thing. He died. The police did not believe him---I did. I recommended a certain course of action which would, I think, have afforded him some protection. I refer to the sale of the property. I begged him to inform the household that he was not proceeding with it. Instead he made a very provocative declaration that the sale was going through.”

“Who was present?”

“Everyone---Miss Columba---Miss Janetta---myself---Judy Elliot---Miss Day---Captain Jerome Pilgrim---and Robbins. The scene took place at lunch.”

“Oh, there was a scene?”

“I think you might call it that. Miss Janetta flared up. If I remember rightly, she said that he couldn’t do it, and that there had always been Pilgrims at Pilgrim’s Rest. To which he replied with some heat that he was going to do it. I do not recollect whether he actually said, ‘No matter what anyone says,’ but undoubtedly that was the impression we all received. It was, I am afraid, a very unfortunate outbreak on his part.”

“Miss Freyne was not present?”

“No.”

“But Robbins was?”

“Yes.”

“How did he take it? Did you notice?”

“Yes---he appeared horrified. That would be natural, after thirty years’ service.”

He made a non-committal sound that neither agreed nor disagreed. Then he said, “Was the scene confined to Roger and Miss Janetta?”

“Yes. The others were, I think, shocked, but they made no protest.”

March said as if to himself, “Miss Janetta---it’s absurd----”

Miss Silver was silent for a time. She moved to put a piece of wood upon the fire. Then she turned back and said very seriously indeed, “Will you do something for me?”

“If I can----”

“I would like you to have Miss Janetta’s room searched.”

“Are you serious?”

“Quite, Randall.”

He looked at her with astonishment and dismay.

“This is a red herring with a vengeance! What do you expect us to find?”

“Small pellets---perhaps in capsules---perhaps made up into pills---perhaps still in the rough, in which case they would, I think, have a greenish appearance.”

A further access of surprise now ousted the dismay.

“My dear Miss Silver!”

She gave her slight cough.

Cannabis indica, Randall.”

He said in a stupefied tone, “That’s Indian hemp---hashish---what in the name of fortune?”

She coughed again.

“I may be wrong, but I do not wish you to accuse me of holding anything back. I have no evidence except that of my own impressions, and you will be quite justified in disregarding them.”

He said, “This would be a lot easier if I knew what you were talking about.”

“Jerome Pilgrim’s attacks, Randall. I was told about them before I came down here. They were said to come on after any excitement or exertion. After I had witnessed one of these attacks Miss Day, who was very much upset, declared that it was Miss Freyne who had this exciting effect upon her patient. She said how awkward it was, and how difficult it made her position here, because the whole family was so fond of Miss Freyne. She appeared to be in genuine distress. If she was speaking the truth, her position was really a very difficult one. I made some discreet enquiries later on, and heard of three other instances where an attack had followed upon a visit from Miss Freyne.”

March said bluntly, “Are you accusing Lesley Freyne of drugging Jerome?”

“Oh, no, I am not doing that---not at all. Too many hours elapse between the visit and the attack. It is not possible to relate them as you suggest.”

“What makes you think he has been drugged? And why hashish?”

She answered the last part of the question.

“The painful and distressing dreams. Cannabis indica is, as you know, an illicit drug. It is not in the British Pharmacopoeia, but it is occasionally prescribed abroad. A friend of mine found it amongst the ingredients of a prescription given to her in India. The quantity was extremely small---quite microscopic in fact---but it produced the most terrible and distressing dreams. I have also heard of other similar cases. When I saw Captain Pilgrim at the door of his room I received a very strong impression that he had been drugged.”

“Why should anyone want to drug him?”

“In order to separate him from Miss Freyne. That would be one reason. There might be another. The person who had killed Henry Clayton might find it very useful to provide a scapegoat. If a death from violence occurs, or has occurred, in a house which contains an invalid subject to acute nervous attacks, it is not too difficult to turn suspicion in his direction. As far back as three years ago neither of the two young girls employed here was willing to sleep in the house---Gloria Pell does not sleep in the house. And the reason given has been the alarming nature of Captain Pilgrim’s attacks. Would not this be useful to a murderer, Randall?”

Looking at her doubtfully, he said, “But---Miss Janetta---how in the world would she come by hashish?”

“That was naturally the first question I asked myself. If cannabis indica was being administered, who in the household could have been in possession of such a drug? There is no one who seems at all likely to be in touch with illicit drug distribution in this country. It has been for many years so strictly watched and so heavily punished that the risk, except to an addict who must have his drug at no matter what cost, is a very serious deterrent. There is no one in the house who can be suspected of being an addict. It then becomes a matter of past contacts which might have made a purchase possible somewhere abroad. Miss Day has been to India, Robbins spent nearly five years there during and immediately after the last war, and Miss Janetta wintered in Cairo in ’38/’39. Any one of these three people could, I imagine, have obtained the drug. What the motive may at that time have been, I am not prepared to say, but in India or in Egypt cannabis indica would be procurable. I do not wish to go farther than that.”

March said, “Miss Day----” in a meditative tone, and then, “In a matter of drugs one would naturally think first about the nurse. But what motive would she have for drugging her patient?”

Miss Silver coughed.

“There are several answers to that, Randall. She might wish to keep him---she might wish to keep a very comfortable situation. You will understand that I am not accusing Miss Day.”

He drew his brows together in a frowning line.

“Are you trying to link up this suggestion that Jerome Pilgrim is being drugged with the deaths of Henry Clayton and Roger Pilgrim?”

She said very soberly, “There is no evidence of a link, is there? There is, in fact, no evidence at all, only an unexplored possibility which I have asked you to explore. It may lead you into a blind alley---I am not prepared to say that it will not do so. But you will, I think, agree that when a serious crime has been committed anything abnormal should be investigated. It may not prove to have any connection with the crime, but that is no reason for neglecting it.”

“No, of course not.”

Miss Silver came up to the table and stood there, a small dowdy figure in olive-green cashmere. She said, “If Captain Pilgrim were being drugged, it would be an abnormal happening, would it not? But the sudden cessation of the drugging would be abnormal too.”

“What do you mean?”

“There has been no attack since the discovery of Henry Clayton’s body.”

“My dear Miss Silver, what does that amount to? We only found him yesterday?”

She coughed.

“I should have gone farther back. There has been no attack since Roger Pilgrim died.” She set a hand on the table and leaned towards him. “Randall, there has been no attack since the police came into the house.”

He smiled.

“No attack for two nights. Would that be so abnormal?”

It was the wrong answer. He was reminded of his schoolroom days. She said sharply, “You are not giving your mind to it, Randall. It has been stressed that these attacks are the result of excitement or exertion. Consider the events of the last two days---the violent death of one person---the discovery of the murdered body of another---the necessity felt by Captain Pilgrim of assuming his place as head of the family. Could there be anything more conducive to an attack? Yet no attack has followed. Captain Pilgrim has exerted himself beyond what anyone would have considered prudent. He insisted on seeing Miss Freyne and breaking the news to her. The interview could hardly fail to be a most distressing one, yet there have been no ill effects. You will say that a nervous invalid may be roused and taken out of himself by a shock. That would be a possible explanation. But there is another explanation which is also possible. The presence of the police in the house, the careful scrutiny of everything and everyone, might quite reasonably alarm the person who had been using a drug and deter him or her from incurring any further risk.”

March said, “Him---or her?”

“That is what I said, Randall.”

“Yes, but which?”

“That is not for me to say.”

He said gravely, “You’ve said a good deal. For instance, you offered an alternative reason for Jerome being drugged. You indicated that the attacks seemed to be connected with Miss Freyne. You suggested that someone wished it to be inferred that her visits had an upsetting effect. You said that someone might be trying to separate them. Have you any reason to suppose that there is anything between her and Jerome?”

“There is friendship and a deep affection---on his side, I think, a very deep affection.”

“Do you mean that he is in love with her?”

“I cannot say. I have, only seen them together on one occasion. He was like a different man.”

“And who would wish to separate them? His aunts, his nurse? You know, if it was just that kind of jealousy, there might be no connection with the murder.”

She inclined her head.

“Quite so.”

“The aunts might be possessive---Miss Columba in particular is obviously devoted to him. The nurse might want to keep her job, or she might be fond of him herself---there might be no more in it than a jealous woman’s trick. But why pick on Miss Janetta? She seems to me to have less motive than anyone else.” He looked at her enquiringly.

She did not speak. When he became aware that he would get no answer he pushed back his chair.

“Well, I must be getting along. I’m to have the reports on the two post-mortems. And then---well, then, I think, I shall come back with a warrant and arrest Robbins. I’ll leave Abbott and one of the men here---it had better be the sergeant. They can carry out your search. I suppose Miss Janetta can be induced to move into her sister’s room whilst it is going on. I think it must be done as part of a general routine job---less upsetting all round----” He broke off and looked at her shrewdly. “All the same I would very much like to know why you have asked me to have just that room searched. Why not Jerome’s room---the bathroom---and Miss Day’s?”

Miss Silver coughed primly, “Because I have already searched them myself.”

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