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Chapter Nineteen

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« on: September 09, 2023, 02:55:37 am »

LONA Day opened the study door and went in. She saw Superintendent March sitting at the writing-table with the overhead light shining down on his thick dark hair, and on the well-kept hand which was laying down a sheet of foolscap as she entered. On his right, at the short end of the table, was Sergeant Abbott, pencil poised and pad ready. He looked up at her, but he did not rise from his seat. It was a long, cold look. Away to the left, detached, remote, and prim, Miss Silver was completing the third row of a grey stocking destined for her niece Ethel’s eldest boy. The blue jumper, finished off and nicely pressed, was now in a drawer which had once held Henry Clayton’s shirts. Tomorrow, if all was well, it would be packed up and posted. In spite of current events the timing was excellent. If the post office did its part, Mrs. Burkett would receive her birthday present by the first post on the morning of that anniversary.

Miss Day cast a fleeting glance at the ball of grey wool in Miss Silver’s lap. Then she came forward and took the chair she had occupied at a previous interview. As she did so, the telephone bell rang. March picked up the receiver. The ghostly rumble of a bass voice could be heard by the other three people in the room, but only he got more than that. He said, “What does she want?” and the rumble began again.

Presently he said, “Oh, well, I’ll be here. What time did you say? . . . I see---then she won’t be long. I’m not through yet anyhow.”

He hung up and turned to Frank Abbott.

“Someone coming out here to see me. They don’t know what she wants.” Then, “Well, Miss Day, I have asked you to come down because I have something to show you. It has been suggested that you may be able to help us with an identification.”

She looked faintly surprised.

“I? Well, of course if there’s anything I can do---but---I really don’t know----”

“Thank you.”

He lifted the foolscap and disclosed, lying upon a second piece, the sheet of scorched notepaper. The clumsy pencilled characters caught the light. They were turned towards her so that if she would she might read them.

March said, “Can you help us at all with this, Miss Day? Have you ever seen it before?”

She had looked down at the paper. Now she looked up, the grey-green eyes wide with what looked like surprise. Frank Abbott, on a hair-trigger of critical attention, could not suspect it of being anything else.

Miss Silver’s needles clicked, but she was watching Lona Day. There was nothing to watch. If a shock was received, it had been absorbed. The hands lay quiet, the one against the dark of her dress, the other lightly on the table edge, no muscle tensed, no bone-white knuckles shown. The small nondescript eyes which saw everything continued to watch.

Lona said, “Am I to read this? What does it mean?”

March answered her gravely.

“It is a letter. Do you know where it was found?”

“Oh, no. How could I?”

“I don’t know. It was found lodged in the chimney of what used to be Henry Clayton’s room. Some attempt had been made to burn it, but the draught must have taken it up the chimney. Will you please read the letter?”

She said at once, “Oh, I can read it---but what does it mean?”

“The writing is disguised. The writer appears to be suggesting an assignation for the purpose of saying goodbye. Since no place is mentioned, I think we may take it that this meeting was to be the last of a series.”

She looked at him admiringly.

“How clever you are!”

Was there the faintest flavour of mockery behind the words? Frank was never sure.

What March thought he kept to himself. He disliked the whole business, and even as he proceeded with it he wondered why he had conceded so much to arguments which his reason derided. Not that he was beyond his duty if he confronted any or every person present in the house on the night of Henry Clayton’s death with a letter which might be, however remotely, connected with it. But his mind informed him with unsparing clarity that all he now said and did was tinged with theories which he neither accepted nor shared. In other words, Miss Silver was using him, and he was allowing himself to be used. The position irked him beyond measure. What he was doing was all right. The way in which he was doing it would have been all right if it had been his own way, but it wasn’t. He could neither rid himself of his task nor accomplish it to his liking. All he could do was to pursue it with increasing reluctance. Behind everything else there was a compelling determination to have done with the matter once and for all, leaving no possible avenue through which any fresh pressure could be brought to bear.

With these things present in his mind he looked straight into Miss Day’s attractive eyes and said, “Did you write this letter?”

The eyes flashed, the hand on the table edge tightened, the voice rang clear with anger.

“Of course not!”

Well, no one could say that it hadn’t been put to her, and no one could say that her reaction was anything but what was to be expected from an innocent woman. If there had been no flash and no anger, he might have begun to believe what he didn’t believe. But if he had a right to suggest that she had been Henry Clayton’s mistress, and perhaps his murderess too, then an innocent young woman had just as much right to be angry. He said, “You know, I have to ask these questions. You were in the house when Clayton was murdered.”

There was a bright patch of colour in either cheek. The eyes were bright too. Anger does not become everyone, but it became Miss Lona Day, who was certainly very angry. She said in a low, ringing voice, “I was in the house with a man whose love affairs were notorious, and so---I had an affair with him! I was looking after two very sick people at the time, but that wouldn’t be enough to keep me out of mischief! I was in the house at the time he was murdered, so I suppose I murdered him!”

Miss Silver looked quietly across her clicking needles and said, “Yes.”

Miss Day cried out sharply. She burst into hysterical sobbing.

“Oh! How dare you---how dare you?” She turned swimming eyes upon March. “Oh, she hasn’t any right to say a thing like that!”

March was very much of that opinion himself. He found the situation awkward and unprecedented.

Miss Day continued to sob with a good deal of energy. Between the sobs she could be heard demanding what Miss Silver was doing there, and who she was anyhow---saying things like that about a nurse with her living to earn.

Frank Abbott noted sardonically that a good many layers of social veneer had come off with the tears. Or were there any tears? There was a handkerchief dabbed or pressed against the eyes, and the eyes were certainly very bright, but he felt some scepticism as to their being wet. At the moment they were fixed upon March as if he were her only hope on earth.

“Superintendent---I haven’t got to listen to her, have I?”

He said in a grave, reluctant voice, “I think you had better hear what she has to say.” He turned to Miss Silver. “I think you must explain or substantiate what you have just said.”

Miss Silver had continued to knit. There were now several rows of dark grey stitches on her needles. She met his severe regard with a placid one, and replied, “It was an expression of my personal opinion. Miss Day made a statement in sarcasm. In sober earnest I agreed with her.”

There was a short electric silence. Then Miss Silver added in the same equable tone of voice,

“Does Miss Day wish us to understand that she did not murder Mr. Clayton?”

Lona sprang to her feet. Her sobs had ceased. She looked only to March, spoke only to him.

“I have never been so insulted in my life! I came to this house more than three years ago to nurse a sick old woman and a badly wounded man. I have done the best for them that I could. I think I may say that I have earned the respect and affection of everyone in this house. I hardly knew Mr. Clayton. It is wicked to suggest that I had anything to do with his death. She has no right to accuse me and to leave it at that. I could bring an action against her for taking away my character. She ought to be made to prove what she says, and if she can’t do it she ought to give me a written apology. My character is my living, and I have a right to protect it.”

March considered that the proceedings had now reached the border-line of nightmare. Miss Day was in her rights, and Miss Silver as badly in the wrong as if she had been tattling sixteen instead of sober sixty. That she could not substantiate her accusation he knew. That she should make an accusation which she could not substantiate staggered him.

Whilst Frank Abbott leaned back in his chair and put his money on Maudie, March said, “Miss Silver----”

She gave her slight cough.

“Do I understand that Miss Day proposes to sue me for slander? It should prove a most interesting case.”

March regarded her sternly, but she looked, not at him, but at Miss Lona Day, and just for a moment she saw what she was looking for---not anger, for that had been most patently displayed---not fear, for she had never expected fear---but something which it is difficult to put into words. Hate comes nearest---with the driving power of a formidable will behind it. It was like the momentary flash of steel from a velvet sheath, and it was instantly controlled.

Miss Silver continued to look, and saw now only what the other two could see, a pale insulted woman defending herself.

Lona Day stepped back from the table.

“If she has anything to say, why doesn’t she say it? If she hasn’t, I should like to go to my room. And I shall ask Captain Pilgrim if he wishes me to be insulted like this in his house.”

March addressed Miss Silver. “Have you anything to say?”

Over the clicking needles she gave him a faint, restrained smile. “No, thank you, Superintendent.”

Lona Day walked to the door and made an exit which was not without dignity.

Miss Silver got to her feet with no haste. She appeared to be unaware of the disapproval which now filled the room like a fog. She met her former pupil’s gloomy gaze with unruffled mien, and said cheerfully, “Do you think she will bring an action, Randall? I do not. But it would be extremely interesting if she did.”

Frank Abbott put up a hand to cover his mouth. He heard March say, “What on earth possessed you?” and Miss Silver answer, “A desire to experiment, my dear Randall.”

“You can’t bring charges of that sort without a shred of evidence!”

“She does not know whether I have any evidence or not. The more she thinks about it, the less secure she will feel. It takes a clear conscience to support an accusation of murder.”

March said with real anger, “You cannot accuse a woman of murder without one shred of evidence, and in the teeth of overwhelming evidence against another person! There is only one murderer in this case, and that is Alfred Robbins.”

As he spoke, the door opened, disclosing Judy Elliot. She had a bright patch of colour on either cheek. Her voice hurried and shook. She said, “Please, will you see Miss Mabel Robbins?”

+++

There was one of those crowded silences. Four people’s thoughts, shocked into immediate and vital activity, met and clashed there. Then Judy moved, and there came past her into the room a tall, dark girl in a fur coat with a small black hat tilted at a becoming angle. The coat was squirrel, the hat undeniably smart, and the girl would have been very pretty indeed if she had not been so dreadfully pale. She came straight up to Frank Abbott, put out both hands to him, and said, “Oh, Mr. Frank---is it true about my father? They told me in Ledlington.”

He took the hands, held them for a moment, and said, “I’m afraid it is.”

“He’s dead?”

“Yes. We thought that you were too.”

She drew her hands away. “My father wanted it that way.”

“He knew you were alive?”

She had very dark blue eyes. The long black lashes had darkened them still more. They lifted now. She looked full at Frank and said, “Oh, yes, he knew.” Her voice was soft and pretty, with no trace of country accent. On those last words it was tinged with bitter feeling.

She turned to Randall March.

“I beg your pardon---I should have spoken to you. But I am sure you will understand. I have known Mr. Frank since I was a little girl, and I have just heard of my father’s death---it was nice to see a friendly face. But of course I know you too---by sight. I used to work in Ledlington.”

Her manner was perfectly simple and direct. In a situation beset with embarrassments she appeared to be unaware of them. When March asked her to sit down she did so. When he explained, Miss Silver’s faint smile and the slight inclination of her head had a natural grace. When he enquired if she had something to say to him she lifted her eyes to his face and said, “Yes, that is why I’ve come.”

Away to her left Frank Abbott produced writing-pad and pencil. Above her knitting Miss Silver’s eyes were bright and intent. March said, “Well, Miss Robbins, what have you to say?”

Those very black lashes dropped. She said, “A great deal. But it isn’t very easy to begin. Perhaps I ought to tell you that I am not Miss Robbins. I am married, and---Superintendent March, will it be necessary to bring my married name into it?”

“I don’t know. It depends on what you have to say.”

She drew a long breath.

“It has nothing to do with my husband.”

“Does he know you are here?”

She looked up again at that, quick and startled.

“Oh, yes---he knows everything. We talked it over. It was he who said that I must come, but it is I who don’t want to bring his name in because it might hurt him in his profession. He is a doctor.”

March said gravely, “I can’t make any promises---you must understand that. Will you tell me what it is that you and your husband thought I ought to know? I suppose it concerns the death of Henry Clayton?”

The colour ran up into her face and died again. Just for a moment she had the beauty which takes you unawares. No one of the other three people in the room was insensible to it.

She said, “Yes.” And then, “I was here that night.”

The few quietly spoken words produced almost as vivid a shock as her entrance had done. Frank stared. Miss Silver’s needles halted for a moment. March said, “You were here on the night that Henry Clayton was murdered?”

“Yes.”

“You really mean that?”

She smiled very faintly.

“Oh, yes, I really mean it.”

“Do you mean that you were present when he was---murdered?”

She caught her breath.

“Oh, no---not that!” Another of those quick breaths, and then, “Superintendent March, may I tell it to you from the beginning? You won’t understand unless I do.”

“Yes, certainly---tell it in your own way.”

She had been leaning towards him over the table. Now she sat up straight, unfastening her coat and throwing it back. The dress beneath was of dark red wool, plain and good. She had taken off her gloves and put them down on the table. Her bare hands lay in her lap, the left hand uppermost. Over the platinum circle on the wedding-finger was a fine old-fashioned ruby and diamond ring. Mabel Robbins looked down at it and began to speak in a low, steady voice, “I expect you know why my father wanted me to be dead. He was a very proud man, and he thought I had disgraced him. Henry Clayton made love to me, and I fell in love with him. I don’t want to excuse myself, but I loved him very much, and I don’t want to blame him, because he never pretended that he was going to marry me.” She looked up with a startling effect of truthfulness. “He isn’t here to speak for himself, so I want it to be quite clear that he didn’t deceive me. He never promised me anything. When I knew that I was going to have a child he provided for me and for the baby. I wrote to tell my mother that I was all right and well looked after, but she never got the letter. My father burnt it.”

Miss Silver said, “Dear me, what a very high-handed proceeding!”

“He was like that,” Mabel said. Then she went on.

“I didn’t know about the letter till afterwards. I only knew they didn’t write. When my baby was a year old I wrote again and sent a snapshot of her. She is very sweet. I thought if they saw how sweet she was. . . . Well, my father came up---he came to see me. It---it was quite dreadful. There was a very bad air raid. He wouldn’t go to the shelter, or let us go. He sat there and told me what I was to do, and made me put my hand on the Bible and swear to it.” She was looking at March now, her eyes big, and full on his face. “It doesn’t seem reasonable now to think I promised what I did, but what with the noise of the guns, and the bombs coming down, and my father looking like the day of judgment, I did it. I was to be dead, and my baby too, so as not to disgrace him any more. I wasn’t to write, or to come, or to do anything to show that I was alive. He said he would curse me if I did, and curse my baby. And he said it would be happier for my mother if she thought I was dead, because then she would stop worrying. So I promised, and he went back and told Mr. Roger, and Mr. Pilgrim, and my mother that my baby and I had been killed in the raid---he had seen us dead. Mr. Roger told Henry, and Henry came to see me and made a joke of it. We weren’t living together any more, but he would come and see me once in a while. He had begun to take a good deal of notice of the baby. He used to say she was like his mother and she was going to be a beauty.”

She paused for a moment, as if it was hard to go on. Then she said, “He stayed longer than usual, and we talked about a lot of things, but in the end he went away without saying what he had come to say. And when he had gone away he sat down and wrote it to me---I got the letter next day. He was going to marry Miss Lesley Freyne in a month’s time, and he wasn’t going to see us again.”

There was a long pause. She looked down at her ring. The light on it brought up the brightness of the diamonds, the deep colour of the ruby---deep, steady, shining, like the lights of home. Presently she said in a low voice, “I don’t want anyone to blame him. He was getting married, and he didn’t think it was right to go on seeing me. Only when it happened I didn’t feel that I could bear it. At first I didn’t do anything---I didn’t feel as if I could. I lost a lot of time that way. Then I wrote and said I wanted to see him to say goodbye, and he wrote back and said much better not, it would only hurt us both, and he was going down to Pilgrim’s Rest.”

She put up her hand to her head for a moment and let it fall again---a pretty, well-cared-for hand with tinted nails.

“I think I was crazy, or I would never have done what I did. I couldn’t sleep, and I couldn’t get it off my mind that I must, must see him again.” She turned from March to look, not at Frank Abbott whom she had known since she was a little girl, but at Miss Silver sitting there knitting in her low Victorian chair. “You know how it is when there’s anything on your mind like that---you don’t think about anything else---you can’t---it just crowds everything out. I was working, you know. I used to leave my little Marion with my landlady. She was very good. Well, when I got away from the office that day---the day I made up my mind I couldn’t bear it any longer, I’d got to see him---I just went to the station and took the first train to Ledlington. It seemed as if it was the only thing to do. I didn’t plan it at all, I just went. Can you understand that?”

Miss Silver looked at her kindly and said, “Yes.”

She turned back to March.

“There was an air raid, and the train was delayed. When I got to Ledlington the last bus had gone, so I walked. It was a good bit after ten before I got here. I heard the quarter strike on the church clock as I was coming into the village, and it wasn’t until then that it came into my head to think what I was going to do next. You see, I had only been thinking about getting here and seeing Henry. I hadn’t ever stopped to think how I was going to manage it.”

March said, “I see.” And then, “What did you do?”

“I went and stood under the yew tree at Mrs. Simpsons’ gate just across the road from here. It casts quite a deep shadow. It was bright moonlight, and I didn’t want anyone to see me. I stood there for a long time, but I couldn’t think of any way to get to Henry. I didn’t dare go up to the house because of my father. I couldn’t think of anything. I heard the half hour strike, and I just went on standing there. And then the door of the glass passage opened and Henry came out. I could see him quite plainly because of the moon. He hadn’t any coat or scarf or hat on, and he was smiling to himself, and all at once I knew that he was going to her---to Miss Freyne. I had taken just one step to go to him, but I couldn’t take another. It came to me then that it wasn’t any use. I let him go. Then, all in a minute, someone came after him out through that glass door----”

“You saw someone come out of this house and follow Clayton? Was it your father?”

“No. But of course you would think that. My husband said you were bound to think it was my father. But it wasn’t. It was a woman, in one of those Chinese coats. The moon was so bright that I could see the embroidery on it as she ran after Henry. She caught him up just by the gate into the stable yard and they stood talking for a moment. I couldn’t hear what they said, but I could see his face when he turned round. He looked angry, but he went back with her. They went into the house.”

March leaned forward.

“Would you know the woman again? Did you see her face?”

“Oh, yes, I’d know her.” Her voice was tired and a little contemptuous. “I knew her then. Henry talked about her quite a lot when she first came to Pilgrim’s Rest to nurse Mr. Jerome. He said she was the most sympathetic woman he had ever met. He showed me a snapshot he had taken of her with his aunts. After that he stopped talking about her, and---I wondered.”

“You say you recognized her from the snapshot you had seen?”

“Yes. It was Miss Day---Miss Lona Day.”

Frank Abbott took a fleeting glance at Miss Silver. He could discern no change in her expression. Little Roger’s sock showed nearly an inch of grey ribbing. She drew on the ball of wool, the needles clicked.

March said, “Is that all, Miss Robbins?”

She looked up with an effect of being startled.

“Oh, no. Shall I---shall I go on?”

“If you please.”

She kept her eyes on his face.

“I went after them into the house. You see, I knew that they hadn’t locked the door, because from where I was I could see right into the passage and they didn’t stop at all. They went right on into the house, and I went after them.”

“What did you mean to do?”

She said as simply as a child, “I didn’t know---I didn’t think at all---I just followed them. When I got into the hall the light was on. I looked to the left, and the dining-room door was still moving. I went up to it, and I could hear them talking. The door hadn’t latched. I pushed it and went in.” She stopped, leaned forward over the table, and said, “You’ve been in the dining-room---I don’t suppose anything has been changed there. There’s a big screen by the door---Miss Netta always said there was a draught from the hall. Well, I stood behind the screen and I looked round the end of it.”

“Yes?”

“They were over by the big sideboard, Henry on the nearer side where the door goes through to the passage where the lift is. She was farther away on the other side. There was only the one light on, over the sideboard. I could see them, but they wouldn’t see me as long as I was careful. I heard Henry say, ‘My dear girl, what’s the good? Better go off to bed.’ And Miss Day said, ‘Are you in such a hurry to go to her that you can’t spare five minutes to say goodbye? That’s all I want.’ ”

She looked at Miss Silver again. She was deadly pale.

“When she said that, it sounded like all the things I’d been saying in my own mind. I began to thank God I hadn’t said them to Henry. He hadn’t any reason, and he never would have any reason, to look at me the way he was looking at her. She cried out, and she whipped round and snatched one of the knives off the wall---you know there are a lot of them there, put together in a pattern---a trophy, I think they call it. She snatched the knife, and she called out, ‘All right, I’ll kill myself, if that’s what you want!’ And Henry stood there with his hands in his pockets and said, ‘Don’t be a damned fool, Lona!’ ”

March said quickly, “You heard him use her name?”

“Yes.”

“Are you prepared to swear to that? You will have to do so.”

“I know.”

“Go on, please.”

“Henry said, ‘Put that knife back and come here! If you want to say goodbye according to all the forms, you shall, but it mustn’t take more than ten minutes. Come along, my dear!’ He held out his hand and he smiled at her with his eyes. She said, ‘All right---that’s all I want,’ and she turned round and went up to the wall and put up her hand to the trophy as if she was putting the knife back. But she didn’t put it back---she put it in the pocket of the Chinese coat.”

Miss Silver coughed.

“Those coats are not made with pockets, Miss Robbins.”

She got a steady look.

“This one had a pocket---it will be quite easy for you to check up on that. She put the knife into it, but Henry couldn’t see what she did because of all the heavy silver of the sideboard. He could only see that she reached up to the wall then stepped back again. But I saw her put the knife in her pocket.”

“You realize the gravity of what you are saying?”

She shuddered from head to foot and said, “Yes.”

“Go on.”

“She came to Henry and put her arms round his neck. I wanted to go away, but it didn’t seem as if I could move. She said, ‘You got my note. I was waiting for you. Why didn’t you come to my room?’ Henry said, ‘Because it’s all over, my dear.’ Then he patted her shoulder and said, ‘Come, Lona---be your age! We’ve eaten our cake---don’t let’s quarrel over the crumbs. We never gave each other any reason to suppose that we were very serious, did we? We’d both played the game before, and we both know when it’s over.’ She said, ‘You’re going to her---to Lesley Freyne.’ Henry said, ‘Naturally, I’m going to marry her. And, my dear, you’d better get this into your head and keep it there---I intend to make her as good a husband as I know how. She’s the salt of the earth, and I’m not going to let her down if I can help it.’ When he said that, I knew I’d got to get away. Everything she said and everything Henry said, brought it right home to me that I never ought to have come. I felt that if he saw me, I should die of shame.”

Her voice had fallen very low. It stopped. She looked down at her ring and drew two or three long breaths. Nobody spoke. After a little she went on.

“I stepped back towards the door. That was the last I saw of him, and that was the last thing I heard him say.”

She stopped again and put her hand up to her head---the same gesture which she had used before. It was borne in upon the two men that she was making a very great effort. Miss Silver had measured it from the beginning.

The effort carried Mabel Robbins into speech again. She said in her steady, low voice, “As soon as I moved I began to feel faint. I had had very little to eat all day. I don’t faint as a rule, but I was afraid I was going to then, and I thought I’d rather die. The door was ajar behind me. I got it open and I got into the hall, and there was my father coming through the baize door from the kitchen wing. He came up to me, and I don’t know what he said, because the faintness was so bad I had to hold on to him. I remember he shook me and pushed me towards the front door, but when he saw how I was he let go and left me leaning against it. When he came back he had a glass with a pretty stiff dose of whisky in it. He made me drink it, and it brought me round. He took me out into the glass passage and said why had I come, did I want him to curse me for breaking my promise? And I said no. Then he asked if anyone had seen me, and I said no again. He said, ‘You came to see Mr. Henry. Did you see him?’ And I said, ‘Yes, I saw him, but he didn’t see me. Neither of them did. I stood there in the dining-room behind the screen, and I saw them, but they didn’t see me. They’re in there together---Henry and Miss Day. It’s all quite over now---you needn’t be afraid that I’ll come back.’ He said, ‘You’d better not,’ and then he put me out of the glass door into the street and stood there to watch me go. I don’t know how I got back to Ledlington. The last train had gone. I must have just gone on walking along the London Road, because a motorist stopped there and picked me up. I don’t remember anything about it, but he must have looked in my handbag and found my address, for he took me there. I can just remember my landlady coming out, and their helping me into the house, and his saying, ‘I’m a doctor. You’d better get her to bed and I’ll have a look at her.’ That was how I met my husband.”

March looked at her hard.

“When you heard that Clayton had disappeared, did it not occur to you that you should communicate with the police? You’ve waited a long time to tell your story, Miss Robbins.”

It seemed as if she were feeling some relief. She was not quite so pale. She said, “Yes. But, you see, I didn’t know.”

“You didn’t know that Clayton had disappeared?”

“No. I was very ill. It was two months before I could look at a paper, and there was no one to tell me about the Pilgrims any more. I was quite cut off from Holt St. Agnes. It was a year before I knew that Henry hadn’t married Miss Freyne.”

“Who told you he hadn’t?”

“A friend of his, a man I used to meet sometimes when I was with him. The way he put it, I never thought----” She broke off. “Indeed I didn’t, Superintendent March. He said, ‘So Henry couldn’t stick it after all. Money isn’t everything, is it? Do you ever hear from him now?’ When I begged him to tell me what he meant he said, ‘Oh, didn’t you know? Poor old Henry, he jibbed at the last moment and went off into the blue. Nobody’s heard from him since.’ ”

“I see.”

“I thought that was all. It was the sort of thing Henry might do. I thought he had got too much tangled up with Miss Day, or perhaps Miss Freyne had found out. I never, never thought---I don’t see how I could---it never came into my mind.”

March said slowly and gravely, “Just when did it come into your mind, Miss Robbins?”

She moved to face him again.

“I’ve been married for about a year. I told my husband everything long before that. He has adopted my little girl. I could never tell you how good he has been. He has a brother who is a journalist---younger than John. He was in the army, but he was invalided out. His paper sent him down here when---when----” Her voice broke off.

March said, “When Clayton’s body was discovered?”

“Yes.”

“When did you hear of the discovery?”

Her colour had all gone again. Her voice had an odd note of surprise as she said,

“It only happened yesterday, didn’t it? Jim---my brother-in-law---came in to see my husband this morning. He has a room quite near. He had been down here yesterday for his paper. He was on his way down again. I had gone to the office. Jim told my husband all about the case. The reason he came in was because he knew I came from that part of the world---he thought I might know some of the people.” She caught her breath sharply. “He didn’t know how well I knew them. He didn’t know my story, or my real name. I had been calling myself Robertson before I married, and he thought I was a widow.”

“The discovery of Clayton’s body was in all the morning papers, Miss Robbins.”

“I know. But I hadn’t seen them---I never have time in the morning. I used to listen to the eight o’clock news whilst I was dressing Marion. Then I had breakfast to get. I never have time for the papers---it’s always a rush to get off. I have a friend who looks after Marion with her own little girl, and I have to take her there on my way to the office. I usually only do a half day, but if they have a rush of work, I stay on. We are very busy just now, so I was going to stay.”

“Your husband saw the papers, I take it.”

“Yes---after I was gone. He didn’t know what to do---he knew it would be a dreadful shock. Then Jim came in and told him all the things that weren’t in the papers. He said of course there wasn’t the slightest doubt that my father had killed Henry---though of course he didn’t know he was my father. And he said all the newspaper men thought he had killed Roger Pilgrim too, to stop him selling the house, because if it was sold, the cellars would be turned out----” She put up a hand and gripped the edge of the table. “He said, ‘Robbins will be arrested today---there’s no doubt about that.’ ”

After a short pause she went on.

“My husband rang up the office and asked if I could come home---urgent private affairs. They said they couldn’t possibly spare me then, but they would try to let me go by four o’clock. They didn’t tell me he had rung up. When I went to fetch Marion my friend told me that John had asked whether she would keep her for the night. That was when I began to think something must have happened. I went home, and John wasn’t there---he had had an urgent call. We have a daily woman---she gave me the message and said would I wait in for him, and he would be back as soon as he could. He didn’t come until half past five. He told me about Henry, and what Jim said about my father being arrested. He said there was no question but that I must tell the police what I had seen and heard. He said I couldn’t possibly stand out of it.”

“He was quite right.”

She said, “Yes---I know that. I told him I would go down. He said he couldn’t come with me, because of the case he had been called to---he would have to go back. But he said my brother-in-law would meet me. I don’t know what he told him---enough to make him say he would keep in touch all day. He rang up again whilst we were talking, and John said I was coming down, and what train to meet. When I got to Ledlington he was there. He told me my father had committed suicide.”

Miss Silver coughed. Mabel Robbins turned to meet her eyes, very bright, very intelligent, very kind.

Miss Silver said, “I am afraid I must give you another shock. Your father did not commit suicide. He was murdered.”

If it was a shock, there was no visible effect, just another of those long sighing breaths, and then a low “I wondered about that---I couldn’t see why he should kill himself.”

She turned back to March.

“My mother---Superintendent March, I’ve told you everything I know---may I go to my mother now?”

Miss Silver said, “Someone must tell her first, I think. She believes that you are dead.”

March said with authority, “I am afraid that must wait. Miss Robbins, you are aware of the implications of this statement you have made. They are very grave.”

She met his look with a perfectly steady one.

“Yes, I know that.”

“In view of the fact that your father is dead and therefore in no danger of arrest---there is nothing you wish to modify?”

Her voice was tired and sad but as steady as her eyes.

“I’ve only told you the truth. I can’t alter that.”

He turned to Frank Abbott.

“Will you ask Miss Day to come down.”

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