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Chapter Eighteen

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« on: September 09, 2023, 02:37:19 am »

AS Frank Abbott passed through the hall he was aware of Miss Silver at the morning-room door. She seemed to be emerging, but as soon as she saw him she stepped back. As she continued to hold the door open and looked at him with a smile, he rightly supposed that he was being invited to enter. When he had done so she closed the door and moved away from it.

“I am glad to have seen you. I was coming to ask Superintendent March whether a search of the other rooms was intended.”

The formality amused him. Superintendent March! And she had been calling him Randall under all their noses for the last half hour! He wondered whether it was decorum or disapproval which dictated the change.

He said, “I don’t think so,” and saw her purse her lips. There was no doubt of the disapproval now.

“Frank, it is of the first necessity that Miss Janetta’s room should be searched, and immediately. The Superintendent has seen Miss Day, has he not?”

“Yes, he’s seen her.”

“Will you tell me what passed---what he said to her, and she to him?”

“Well---I don’t know----”

“Was the subject of hashish mentioned? Indeed you must tell me. It is of the first importance.”

“Well----”

She interrupted.

“Was it mentioned?”

He smiled at her.

“You don’t give me time---do you?”

She said very gravely, “There may be no time at all. Was it mentioned?”

“Yes, it was.”

“Pray tell me what was said.”

“March asked her about Robbins---whether she knew that he had this drug, and whether she had ever seen him under its influence. Then he asked her whether she had ever suspected that Jerome was being doped.”

“What was her answer?”

“She was much overcome. She exclaimed, ‘How wicked!’ ” His voice was dry in the extreme.

Miss Silver said, “That would be enough to put her on her guard. I am persuaded that she has a supply of the drug. She will now take the first opportunity of getting rid of it. It may already be too late, but Miss Janetta’s room should be searched at once.”

“Why Miss Janetta’s room?”

Her look reproved him.

“My dear Frank, it is surely the obvious place. If you had an illicit drug to conceal, would you ask a better place than the room of a malade imaginaire? Miss Janetta enjoys her ill health and affords it a full complement of medicaments---the array of bottles in her room is quite staggering. How easy to hide the pin you wish to conceal in a box full of somebody else’s pins! If I were in Miss Day’s predicament I would certainly have placed my stock of cannabis indica in one of Miss Janetta’s pill-boxes, and if I had not already removed and destroyed it I should at this moment be engaged in doing so.”

He found the suggested picture an entrancing one. Maudie, the soul of rectitude, in possession of an illicit drug---Maudie suspected by the police and driven to the destruction of her secret store! The vision was delectable in the extreme. He gazed at her with admiration and said, “You know, you’re wasted on virtue. You’d have made the most marvellous criminal.”

“My dear Frank!”

He made haste to placate her.

“Don’t crush me---I’m a sensitive plant. I’m just having a spasm of being glad you’re not on the other side. Murder as one of the fine arts wouldn’t be in it.”

She shook her head at him. “There is no time to be lost. Will you go to the Superintendent----”

“It wouldn’t be any good. It would only put his back up. He never did like the idea of searching that room. It’s the sort of thing that gets the police a bad name---invalid old lady prostrated with grief howked out of bed and into hysterics. Nobody but you would have screwed him up to it in the first place. Mind you, to do him justice, I believe he’d face up to any amount of adverse criticism if he thought it was called for in the way of doing his job, but he’s dead against stirring up a lot of trouble for what he thinks is no reason at all. He gave in to you and ordered the search because he respects your judgment even when he doesn’t agree with it. But all this was before Robbins went out the window. As far as March is concerned, that alters the whole case and puts a full stop to it. If you ask him to have Miss Janetta’s room searched now, he will say no. He won’t like saying no to you, and he won’t like being put in the position of having to say it. Speaking very respectfully, I would suggest that it isn’t good tactics to ask for something that you know will be refused. You lose---prestige. And prestige is always the ace in your hand when you are playing this kind of game. No good throwing it away, you know.”

She appeared to consider this gravely. Then she said, “I did not contemplate making the request myself. I seem to remember suggesting that you should do so.”

He broke into unabashed laughter.

“All right! He’ll bite my head off, but I don’t know that I care. I must remember to tell the Chief when I get back. He thinks I can do with quite a lot of taking down.”

Miss Silver regarded him indulgently, but ignored his last remark. She observed brightly that there was no time like the present, and that if a search was to be effective it must be carried out without delay.

Frank turned to the door.

“All right, I’ll ask him---play the idiot boy, I think, and assume that the instructions stand. But there are no flies on March. I shan’t get away with it, but no matter.”

As Frank had surmised, he did not get away with it. His very creditable assumption that the search of the house would now proceed, and that it would be as well to take Miss Janetta’s room next and get it over, was quite firmly disposed of. March did not exactly say “Nothing doing,” but the effect was clearly conveyed. He then passed to his interview with Jerome Pilgrim, and stated that he had asked Miss Day to come down to the study as soon as she was disengaged.

“She’s doing something for Miss Janetta at the moment, but she said she wouldn’t be very long. When she comes down I shall show her the letter which was found in Clayton’s room and ask her what about it. Miss Silver can be present. Do you know where she is?”

“Yes, I’ve just left her.”

March did not attempt to conceal a smile. “So I imagined! What does she expect to find in Miss Janetta’s room?”

Frank looked over his shoulder. They were in Roger Pilgrim’s room, and he wasn’t certain that the door had latched. When he had made sure, he said, “Hashish---bhang---cannabis indica---placed there by Miss Day on the well-established principle of hiding a blade of grass in a hay-field. I’m told the place is a regular chemist’s shop.”

“There is certainly a good deal of what Miss Silver might describe as medical paraphernalia.”

Frank cocked an eyebrow.

“If you want to quote Miss Silver, I can do it more directly than that. She says if she were Lona she’d be right on the spot at this moment getting rid of the stuff. And right on the spot is just where Lona is. What’s the betting that Miss Netta’s fire is at this moment burning with an exotic eastern flame? I don’t know what hashish burns like, but I should expect it to be something in the green or violet line.”

March looked at him hard.

“You don’t mean to say you believe this fantastic story!”

He got a shrug of the shoulder.

“Believe it, or don’t believe it. There isn’t any proof, and I don’t see how there can be. And there is a most convincing scapegoat. Nobody is going to look past Robbins to find a highly chimerical murderer lurking in the background. But it’s rather a staggering thought that perhaps, after all, there is someone there.”

“It would be.” March’s tone was studiously quiet.

“Someone who bumped Henry off in a fit of temper, contrived old Pilgrim’s death, pushed Roger out of the attic window, and then was all ready with her scapegoat. Talk about a ram in a thicket, Robbins fits the part to a hair---hashish in the wash-stand drawer, Henry’s wallet in the chest, and a most convincing suicide to wind up with. Maudie says it happened like that. I don’t say she’s right, but I’ve got a very strong inhibition about saying she’s wrong. And if she isn’t wrong----” again that slight shrug of the shoulder---“if she isn’t---well, we’re letting something loose upon the world. That’s one thing. And here’s another---tigress having tasted blood and got away with it. Cheery prospect, isn’t it? And not a thing that we can do about it so far as I can see, unless that letter knocks her off her balance and she gives herself away.”

March said, “That wouldn’t get us very far. She might have written that letter, or twenty others, and yet have no hand in Clayton’s death.” He changed his tone abruptly. “Let’s stick to facts. There’s a case against Robbins that would satisfy any jury in the world. There is no case at all against Lona Day.”

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