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Chapter Seventeen

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« on: September 09, 2023, 01:54:22 am »

RANDALL March took a glancing look at Frank Abbott, fixed his eyes upon Miss Silver’s face, and dropped the last remnant of the official manner.

“Look here,” he said---“what is all this? Have you, or have you not, got anything up your sleeve? In a word, what are you getting at?”

His gaze was met by one of reproach.

“Really, Randall!”

He gave a short grim laugh.

“What’s the good of saying ‘Really!’? I asked you a question, and I’m waiting in a perfectly respectful but determined spirit for the answer. I want to know whether you’ve got something up your sleeve, because if you have, I think you really must tell me what it is. On your own showing, this affair has cost four lives already. Whilst I am not entirely prepared to subscribe to that, you must admit that the business is far too serious---and dangerous---to play about with. If you know anything that I don’t know, I must ask you to let me have it.”

She gave him her sudden and most charming smile. Frank Abbott had once remarked that it would melt an iceberg or pacify a hyena. She said, “But of course---I would not dream of withholding information. I was about to tell you what I know, but I am afraid you may not think it of any great importance.”

“But you do?”

She allowed a considerable pause to elapse before she said, “Important---unimportant? These are words, are they not? If you are piecing together a jig-saw puzzle, a small piece may be important, and a large one unimportant, to the design. It would all depend, would it not, upon the grouping of the other pieces?”

Frank thought, “She’s got something. I wonder what it is. It’s something he isn’t going to like---she’s breaking it gently.”

March was smiling. “I won’t refuse the smallest contribution.”

She sat up straight, her hands still folded in her lap, her manner grave and intent---the teacher who addresses a problem which the class is going to find difficult.

“I have two small pieces of information and one exhibit. You may perhaps remember that Maggie Pell, who is Gloria’s elder sister, was in service here at the time of Henry Clayton’s disappearance---” She paused, coughed, and repeated the words with a significant variation---“at the time of Henry Clayton’s murder. She went into the A.T.S., and at the moment she is here on leave. She came up to see Miss Columba after lunch today, and I took the opportunity of having a talk with her.”

“And what did you talk about?”

“It occurred to me that the person who stabbed Henry Clayton and afterwards concealed his body would scarcely have escaped without stains, perhaps very considerable stains, upon clothing which would have to be cleaned or destroyed. I thought that Maggie might remember the disappearance of a garment or garments, and that she would probably remember whether a parcel had been sent to the cleaners. I questioned her, and she had quite an interesting story to tell. That is to say, it interested me, and I think it ought to interest you. On the day following what we now know to have been the night of Henry Clayton’s murder Miss Janetta Pilgrim was about to partake of her usual early morning cup of cocoa, when not only the cup but the whole contents of the jug were tipped over, with the result that the purple dressing-gown in which she was wrapped became very badly stained. The cocoa was, as usual, brought to her bedside by Miss Day, who is in the habit of making it in the bathroom, where she has a spirit-lamp. Miss Day was herself wearing a handsomely embroidered Chinese coat which she sometimes used as a dressing-gown. This also suffered from the deluge of cocoa. Miss Janetta was very much put out, and accused Miss Day of having tipped it over, but Miss Day told Maggie that Miss Janetta had done it herself. Later that day Miss Janetta told her to make up a parcel for the cleaners. There were a couple of dresses, not stained but in need of freshening, and there was the purple dressing-gown with the cocoa-stains upon it. Maggie asked Miss Day whether she wished to include her Chinese coat in the parcel, but she was told that it had been put to soak at once and the worst of the stains were out, though Miss Day was afraid that it would never look quite the same again.”

When she stopped speaking there was a silence before March said, “And what do you make of that?”

Miss Silver’s answer came quickly and firmly.

“That the garments of two people in the house were so deeply stained that one of them was sent to the cleaners and the other put to soak in water. That cocoa produces a stain which would more easily cover up and disguise a blood-stain than any thing else I can think of. That if there were blood-stains upon either of these garments, the tipping over of the cocoa provided a perfect excuse for sending one to be cleaned and soaking the other in water. That this adroit and ready use of a simple and domestic beverage argues no common degree of cleverness and resource. You were quite right, Randall, when you pointed to the danger of this affair.”

March looked at her.

“You are accusing Miss Janetta of murdering her nephew? Or Miss Day? Because a jug of cocoa is tipped over and two dressing-gowns are stained? It is fantastic!”

She showed no offence.

“I have made no accusation. I am concerned with probabilities and facts. Do you, or do you not, consider it probable that the clothes of Henry Clayton’s murderer would be stained with his blood? He is stabbed. His body must be dragged into the lift and dragged out of it again at the cellar level. It must be placed on the trolley, removed from it again, and packed into the trunk where it was found. The weapon must be handled, cleaned, and replaced. Do you think that all this could have been done without leaving stains upon the murderer’s clothing?”

“Probably not.”

She inclined her head.

“You were not bound to grant the probability, but you have granted it. You are bound to grant the fact that next day there are two stained garments in the house. It is true that an excellent excuse for the stains is forthcoming, but can you think of anything that would be easier to provide? Anyone can tip over a jug of cocoa. One of two women did.”

His voice hardened.

“And how many times a day, on every day of the year, is something spilt and something stained?”

Miss Silver coughed.

“My dear Randall, you are supplying my reason for not being overanxious to produce this episode for your criticism. It does not suit the theories which you have formed, and it is very susceptible of being explained away. As I am anxious to be perfectly fair, I will inform you that if Robbins’ coat or any other of his garments had been stained, there would have been no need to have recourse to a cleaner. It is a fallacy to imagine that blood-stains are very difficult to remove. If soaked in cold water before they are dry they come out easily enough, and a dark woollen material would show no after trace. Mrs. Robbins is reputed to be a skilful cleaner and presser. Robbins can hardly have been a manservant for thirty years without himself knowing something of these two useful arts.”

March smiled and said, “Thank you!”

Frank Abbott was not writing now. He leaned back in his chair and enjoyed his Miss Silver---the perfect fairness of her mind, its just and equal balance, her avoidance of the easy score, the snatched advantage. He saw her return March’s smile.

“Well, I have given you the first of my two small pieces of information. You do not think much of it. I will now pass to the second. You are probably aware that I am occupying the bedroom which used to be Henry Clayton’s. No one had slept in it since he did. It struck me that owing to the shortness of staff the room, though tidy and clean, might never have been very thoroughly turned out. I made some discreet enquiries, and discovered that this was so. The chimney, for instance, had not been swept. In fact, the only bedroom chimneys attended to were those in Captain Pilgrim’s and Miss Janetta’s rooms, where fires were regularly lighted. In view of this I considered that it might be worth while to make a thorough search of the room.”

Frank said, “We did go through all Clayton’s things, you know.”

She gave her little cough.

“I supposed that you would have done so. But it was not then known that he was dead, and I thought it likely that any search would have been confined to going through his papers, most of which would be in London.”

He nodded.

“We didn’t find anything here, or for that matter in town. The people where he lodged said he had been tearing up and getting rid of quite a lot of papers and letters just before he came down here. Spring-cleaning before getting married, I expect---goodbye to the bachelor life. Anyhow we didn’t find anything. Did you?”

Miss Silver was not to be hurried. She turned to March.

“When you went back to Ledlington this afternoon I retired to my room, locked the door, and began my search. I had provided myself with a dustpan and brush so as not to leave any traces. Even when rooms are receiving the most thorough and competent attention a complete turn-out of shelves, drawers, bookshelves, and cupboards will produce a surprising amount of dust and debris. I went through everything, and I found nothing. There is a tall bookcase beside the fireplace. I took out every book and shook it face downwards with the pages spread. One or two small pieces of paper fell out into the hearth. As I did not wish to be seen emptying the dust which I had collected in my pan, I opened the window and tipped it out—an untidy practice which I do not defend, but which I considered in the special circumstances to be justified. I could not, of course, dispose of the small pieces of paper in this manner, so I had left them on the hearth, intending to gather them up. One of them was a good half sheet of notepaper doubled over. When I turned round from the window it had disappeared. Another small piece was actually in the air and on the point of vanishing up the chimney on the strong draught between it and the window. I closed the casement. One of the pieces then came down into the grate, but the doubled-over sheet did not. When I investigated I found it caught up on a brick ledge running round the chimney just out of sight. I used my brush to bring it down, and there came with it a letter, charred at the edges and down one side, but still quite legible.”

Both men leaned forward. Frank said, “A letter to Henry?”

“I believe so. I believe that he made an attempt to destroy it by laying it on the hearth and setting light to it. If the window was open at the time, the draught would have taken it up the chimney. Lodged against the damp brick---an unused chimney does become very damp---it did not continue to burn. The contents are quite legible.”

March put out a hand.

“Where is it?”

“I will get it.”

When she had left the room Frank Abbott gave March a quizzical look.

“She hadn’t made up her mind about letting you have it or she’d have brought it with her, so it can’t be plain evidence. There must be a snag somewhere, and I’m wondering what it is.”

March looked past him.

“Well, we shall know in a minute.”

It seemed longer than that before Miss Silver came back. She held edge upwards a piece of clean foolscap neatly folded in half. Laid out flat, it disclosed a sheet of writing-paper considerably discoloured by scorching. The top left-hand corner had been burned away. The paper had once been white. It was of a cheap quality and of the size which, doubled once, will fit the ordinary square envelope. So much could be seen at a glance. But as Frank came round to lean over March’s shoulder, a second glance informed him that his suspicion was correct, and that there certainly was a snag. To start with, if there ever had been a date it was gone. It may have been up in the left-hand top corner, or it may not, but the left-hand top corner wasn’t there. There was no heading. There was no form of address, and the writing, carried out in pencil, looked as if it had been done by a child of seven---the letters, the unformed capitals which such a child would make. Plain enough, but not easy to read because of the slight contrast between the pencil and the scorched page. By tilting the pad and getting it aslant to the overhead light March made the thing legible. It ran:

“I must see you again just this once more to say goodbye. You owe me that. As soon as it is safe. I shall be waiting. I must see you just once more. Burn this.”

After a pause he said, “Well, well, are you prepared to place any particular construction on this letter---I suppose we’ve got to call it a letter?”

Miss Silver took this temperately.

“I should prefer to hear your own construction.”

With the remark that Henry was certainly a bit of a lad, Frank Abbott went back to his seat. March, conscious of anger and desirous of concealing it, looked hard at the paper and laid it down.

“It has neither address nor signature, the writing is disguised, and it bears no date. If Henry Clayton habitually occupied that room, there is some presumption that it had been sent to him, and that he tried to burn it---as requested. There is absolutely no evidence as to the writer, or to the time at which it was written. Clayton may have had the thing for years---months---weeks. He may have brought it down from London with him. He may have been clearing up here, as Abbott tells us he had already done in town. He was going to be married in three days’ time, and he wouldn’t want to have this sort of oddment lying about.”

Miss Silver coughed.

“The letter says, ‘Burn this,’ and we find that an attempt had been made to burn it. This does not support the idea that it had been kept, and belonged to an earlier date.”

March looked at Frank.

“You knew Clayton. How would he have been about a letter which a woman asked him to burn---punctilious, or careless?”

Frank’s left eyebrow rose.

“That’s a pretty difficult thing to answer. Strictly off the record and between ourselves, Henry was a careless chap---anyone who knew him would tell you that. And what strikes me is this, the woman who wrote that letter knew it, or why trouble to disguise her hand? It wasn’t to deceive Henry. The only possible inference is that she knew he was careless and was afraid of his leaving her letter about. Printing is finger-breaking work---she didn’t do it for fun. But---and this is a big but---if Henry got a letter like that three days before his wedding, I think he would have burned it---or tried to.”

“We have no idea when he got it,” said March wearily. “I’ll get the handwriting experts on to it, but I don’t suppose they can do anything with these printed capitals. As to fingerprints, after a scorching and three years of a damp chimney, it’s no good expecting to find any.”

Miss Silver had remained standing. She said, “Will you show Miss Day this letter in my presence?”

“Miss Day?” His brows drew together.

“Miss Lona Day---who had to soak her Chinese coat in water on the morning after Henry Clayton was stabbed and his body concealed in the cellars. Miss Day who was in and out of Captain Pilgrim’s room, and may very easily have been out of it at the moment when Roger Pilgrim fell from that attic window. A stair goes up to the attic floor between her room and mine. I advise you to see how long it would take an active person to ran up to that attic and down again. Remember that Miss Freyne says she saw Lona Day at the end of the passage after leaving Roger Pilgrim, although Miss Day says she did not see Miss Freyne. But if she did see her, she would know that Roger was alone. She had only to run up those stairs and down again. The attic window was open, and the sill was low. Any excuse that would direct his attention to the garden would serve. It would require very little force to push him off his balance.”

“My dear Miss Silver!”

She stood her ground.

“All this applies equally to the case of Robbins, with this significant addition---he came to the door of Captain Pilgrim’s room, and there, but out of Captain Pilgrim’s hearing, he spoke to Lona Day. We do not know what he said to her. She says he asked to see Captain Pilgrim, and that she told him he was resting. That is very likely. But, Randall, why did he want to see Captain Pilgrim? On the supposition that he was the murderer, I find it inexplicable. If he was guilty he should have had one object in view---to reach his room before the police began to search it.”

“The police were already searching it.”

“That is true. But he had wasted twenty minutes quarrelling with his wife. He knew that he was suspected by the police. If at this juncture he tried to reach Captain Pilgrim, I think it was because he knew something, and was no longer prepared to hold his tongue about it. Suppose for a moment that he knew something about Miss Day---something that connected her with the death of Henry Clayton. You have to remember that he was on duty in the hall that night, that he believed Henry Clayton to have seduced his daughter, and that now, a bare month after that daughter’s tragic death, Henry Clayton was at Pilgrim’s Rest to marry another woman. If he had seen or suspected something that night, do you not think it very possible that he would hold his tongue? But now it is too dangerous. He is aware that he is himself suspected by the police and he goes to his master to make a clean breast of what he knows. As I said before, we cannot tell what passed between him and Miss Day. He may have warned her that he could no longer hold his tongue. He must, I think, have said something which made her take a desperate risk to silence him.”

Frank Abbott leaned forward.

“Are you suggesting that it was she who locked us in?”

She said soberly, “I think so. I am unable to see why Robbins should have locked the door. Even if he had been seen, he had only to rush into the next room and fling himself from the window. But if it was he who looked in, he would know that you had not seen him. If it was his design to commit suicide, he had all the time he required. I do not believe that he had any such design. I think he went upstairs to go to his room. Hearing that the police were there, he turned in next door to wait till they had finished. And there he met the same fate as Roger Pilgrim.”

March leaned back.

“Will you be offended if I congratulate you on your imagination? But you know, it won’t do. It’s an enthralling bit of fiction, but I’m a policeman and I’ve got to stick to facts. You haven’t a leg to stand on---you really haven’t. And what’s more, you know you haven’t. The only shred of fact in the whole of that very interesting piece of special pleading is that Robbins went to Jerome Pilgrim’s door and asked to see him. You find this inexplicable, but speaking for myself, I do not expect to follow all the mental processes of a murderer who is about to commit suicide. He may have had some wild idea of confessing, of being helped to get away---I don’t know, and to tell you the honest truth, I don’t much care. He had a strong enough motive for taking Clayton’s life, he had all the opportunity anyone could want, and the whole night in which to clear up after the crime. When you add to this that he was, at least occasionally, in the habit of taking hashish, a drug capable of producing mental derangement with in some cases homicidal tendencies, and, as a climax, that Clayton’s wallet has been found hidden in his room, I think you would have to go very far to find a jury who would not convict him, or anyone who would feel a moment’s uneasiness at their doing so.”

Miss Silver stood with her fingertips resting lightly on the edge of the table. She smiled benignly and said, “Ah, yes---the wallet---I meant to tell you about that. It is extremely interesting.”

March restrained himself.

“What did you mean to tell me?”

“A very interesting fact, Randall.”

“Well?”

She gave her slight cough.

“In our previous discussion we were upon rather theoretical ground. As you produced the supposition that Robbins had concealed the wallet amongst his papers, I met theory with theory and held back my fact. To tell you the truth, I was doubtful of its reception and hoped to be able to reinforce it. Now that so much else has come out, I see no reason why I should not tell you what I know.”

“I am glad about that. What are you going to tell me?”

“That the wallet was certainly not in that chest of drawers this morning.”

Frank Abbott’s faint sarcastic smile went out. March said, “What!

“It was not there when I searched the room this morning.”

“You searched the room this morning?”

“Yes, Randall. I removed all the drawers from the chest, and I searched every drawer. The wallet was not then in any of them, nor was it lodged in the frame where Frank and Sergeant Smith found it this afternoon.”

March looked at her severely.

“You know, you really had no business----”

She gave him a disarming smile.

“I am aware of that, and prepared to hear you say so.”

Frank Abbott’s hand went up to his mouth. He heard her say, “That of course is why I preferred to hold my fact in reserve.”

March was frowning.

“And now we’ve got it, what does it amount to? Evidence that Robbins concealed the wallet when he knew that the house was to be searched?”

Miss Silver shook her head.

“No, Randall---there was no opportunity after that. You spoke about the search to Captain Pilgrim and sent Judy Elliot for Frank and Sergeant Smith. Robbins was then downstairs. Mrs. Robbins tells me that he heard Judy give her message, and immediately after that the front-door bell rang and he went to answer it. As he crossed the hall he met Captain Pilgrim and asked him whether it was true that the house was to be searched. When he had let Miss Freyne in he came back to the kitchen, where he remained until Miss Columba took him to the morning-room. Before he had any opportunity of getting to his room Frank and Sergeant Smith were there.”

She spoke in a pleasant, reasonable manner, but March’s frown deepened.

“Then he put it there earlier---that’s all. He would most likely be up in his room before lunch. The wallet could have been hidden in the back of the chest then---or after lunch. I can’t pretend to give the exact moment, but there was plenty of time between your search and the official one.”

She bowed her head as if admitting agreement.

“Plenty of time, as you say. And what motive? I cannot find one. Whereas Miss Day’s motive would be very strong. Since it is certain that the wallet had been placed in the chest only a very short time before it was found there, you have, I think, to consider the motive very carefully. You have also to consider why so incriminating a piece of evidence was preserved. I believe that it was Miss Day who kept it, and that she did so with the intention of using it to divert suspicion from herself. If Robbins had been guilty he would have destroyed it long ago.”

March waited until she had finished. Then he said with evident restraint, “I am sorry, but I simply cannot agree. You have built up an ingenious theory without any evidence to support it. As you know, I have a great respect for your opinion, but you would not expect me to accept it against my own judgment. To my mind there could hardly be a clearer case.”

Miss Silver shook her head slightly.

“Thank you for listening to me so patiently,” she said. “I must not take up any more of your time.”

She went to the door, smiled at Frank Abbott who stood there to open it for her, and was gone.

+++

March went up to see Jerome Pilgrim, and went alone. Miss Silver had not convinced him, but she had disturbed his mind. The suggestion that after three, and possibly four, deaths the person responsible for them had remained unsuspected and was still at large was calculated to plant a thorn, and a very uncomfortable and irritating thorn at that. To vary the simile, he was in the position of a man who does not believe in ghosts, but does not rest easy in a haunted house.

He found himself sitting opposite Jerome and saying, “I’m sorry to bother you.”

“Not at all. I wanted to see you.”

“I’m afraid this must have been a shock.”

“To us all. It doesn’t seem possible that it was Robbins, and yet I suppose----”

“I can’t see that there’s any doubt about it. But I’m anxious to know what you heard.”

Jerome lifted a hand from the arm of his chair and let it fall again. “I can’t be sure that I heard anything.”

March looked over his shoulder.

“You’ve two windows looking out that way.”

“Yes.”

“You had the wireless on?”

“Miss Day had turned it on. I wasn’t listening.”

“What was on---music?”

“It was a band programme. I’ve looked it up since. I couldn’t have told you if I hadn’t.”

“That argues an uncommon degree of abstraction doesn’t it? Were you reading?”

“No. I was---thinking of other things.” After a moment’s hesitation he continued. “As a matter of fact Miss Freyne and I had just become engaged---my mind was entirely taken up with my great good fortune. I’m afraid I was for the time being completely oblivious to what was going on around me. As this is not exactly the moment to give out the engagement, I shall be glad if you will keep it to yourself.”

March said sincerely, “I’m very glad. I can see no reason why it should be mentioned until you wish it.”

“Well, that’s the position---I don’t know whether I heard anything or not. I have an impression that I did, but nothing to swear to.”

“Will you tell me just what happened from the time Miss Freyne left?”

“Certainly. I came up here, found Abbott and Smith had finished and gone upstairs, and sat down where I am now. Miss Day came in in rather a fuss---an excellent nurse but rather inclined to pull on the leading-rein----”

March interrupted him.

“What do you mean by ‘in rather a fuss’?”

Jerome laughed.

“She thought I’d been doing too much, scolded me about it, and ordered me to rest. She switched on the wireless and went off to get my tea.”

“Did she come back again?”

“Yes. She was here when Robbins came to the door.”

“Did you know it was Robbins?”

“Yes---I heard his voice.”

“Did you hear what he said?”

“Only that he wanted to see me. I wish now----” He broke off, frowning. “He was upset about the search, you know. We met in the hall when he was going to let Miss Freyne in, and he asked me about it then. I thought he would just be wanting to harp on it, and I wasn’t feeling like a wrangle, so I let Lona send him away.”

“You didn’t hear what she said to him?”

“No, just their voices. She went out of the room and shut the door.”

“How long were they talking? Have you any idea?”

“I don’t know that I have---I wasn’t really attending. I do remember a vague impression that Robbins was making rather a song and dance about it.”

“You thought it was Robbins who was doing the talking?”

“I had that impression. Look here, why not ask Miss Day about it? She’ll know.”

March nodded.

“Oh, yes. I just wanted your side of it. What happened next. Did Miss Day come back?”

“Almost at once.”

“Did she stay?”

“No---just said Robbins wanted to see me and she’d told him he couldn’t. Then she went off to get my tea.”

“And how long was she away that time?”

Jerome smiled disarmingly.

“I’m afraid I have no idea. That was where I rather lost myself.”

“When Miss Day did come back, did she seem just as usual?”

“No---she was upset and trying to hide it. I could see at once that something had happened. She brought in my tray and set it down, and I said, ‘What’s the matter?’ She went over and turned off the wireless and said, ‘It’s no good---you’ll have to know.’ I said, ‘What is it?’ and she told me Robbins had committed suicide.”

“She was upset?”

“Who wouldn’t be? He’d just been speaking to her. I suppose it means he did Henry in, but I don’t seem able to believe it.”

March leaned forward.

“Look here, Pilgrim, will you give me a straight answer? Clayton was, I gather, a philanderer. Did you ever suspect that he took an interest in Miss Day?”

“I should have said he hardly knew her.”

“That sort of thing isn’t always a matter of time. The fact is, a letter has turned up---lodged in the chimney of the room Clayton used to occupy---the one Miss Silver has now. An attempt had been made to burn it, but the draught had carried it up the chimney. Miss Silver suggests that it was written by Miss Day.”

“Surely the writing----”

“I’m afraid not. It’s written in pencil with the sort of clumsy capitals of a child’s copybook---no date, no address, no signature. It says, ‘I must see you just once more to say goodbye. As soon as it is safe. I shall be waiting. I must see you just once more. Burn this.’ ”

Jerome’s shoulder lifted.

“Well, you know, it might be from anyone.”

“So I told her.” March’s tone was dry. “Imagination has its uses, but women have too much of it---they work it to death.”

Jerome gave a short laugh.

“I wonder how many letters of this sort Henry had had in his time. I should say the only novel feature was the attempt to disguise the handwriting. Women are not generally so discreet, especially when they are working up for a final scene.”

“You think it was that?”

“Looks like it.”

There was a moment of silence. Then March said, “Then you never saw any sign of mutual attraction between Clayton and Miss Day?”

“It never came into my head. Henry had that sort of manner with women---he looked at every girl he met as if he were head over ears in love with her. And of course they fell for it.”

“Do you mean that he looked like that at Miss Day and she fell for it?”

“My dear March, he looked like that at my Aunt Columba---he looked like that at old Mrs. Pell, Pell’s mother, when she wasn’t far short of a hundred---he looked like that at Mrs. Robbins. And they all fell for it. I don’t suppose Lona was any different from the rest, but as to anything serious---as you say, Miss Silver has too much imagination.”

All the same, when March came out of Jerome’s room and saw Judy Elliot at the end of the passage he walked to meet her.

“Will you do something for me, Miss Elliot?”

“Of course.”

“Could we go into your room for a minute?”

They went in. He left the door open, standing just inside where he could see the corridor and the door opening on the back stair.

“I just want to time something. I want to know just how long it would take anyone to run up those stairs, lock Mrs. Robbins’ door, go into the next room as far as the window, and come back again. I want to time you whilst you do all that.”

Judy looked doubtful.

“I think Mrs. Robbins is up there asleep.”

“Well, try the locking business with one of the other doors. You had better go up first and prospect. I want you to know exactly what you are going to do, and to do it as quickly as you can. You don’t need to go into the first room, only open the door just far enough to get the key, then put it in on the outer side and turn it in the lock. After that go into the attic from which Major Pilgrim and Robbins fell, walk across it to the window, stand there whilst you count ten, and then come down as fast as you can. I want you to start from just outside Captain Pilgrim’s room and come back there. Abbott says you’re to be trusted. I’m checking up on something, and I don’t want it talked about.”

Judy gave a little nod. “I won’t talk.”

“All right. Now go off and have a look at the course!”

When she came back he sent her to the end of the passage.

“Turn when you get there, and I’ll take the time from that.”

A minute later she passed him running lightly, and was out of sight on the stairs. Standing there and listening, he could hear her. But if he hadn’t been listening. . . . He wondered. And if she had taken off her shoes, there wouldn’t have been anything to hear at all. The old builders built well and solidly. Not a stair had creaked, and the walls were thick.

He stood looking at his watch, and heard the light footsteps come again. She was back to where she had started in just two and a half minutes.

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