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Chapter Twenty

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« on: September 09, 2023, 04:26:56 am »

JUDY shut the study door and went back up the stairs. It seemed as if the day would never end, nor all the things that had to be done in it. That was what she had been feeling until the moment when she had gone to the front door and Mabel Robbins had stepped into the hall and given her name. And then everything else had been blown sky-high. It isn’t every day that you open the door to someone who has been dead three years.

As she went upstairs she was still under the influence of that shock and she hadn’t begun to think. Her mind was bubbling with unrelated ideas. How dreadful to come like that and find her father dead. How lovely for Mrs. Robbins to have her daughter back. And, “I wonder where she has been all this long time.”

As she turned into the corridor and came to the door of her own room she met Lona Day in her outdoor things---fur coat, small dark hat, handbag swinging from her left wrist. She came up close and said, “Who was that you let in just now? I heard the bell. Captain Pilgrim can’t see anyone---not anyone at all. He’s ill.”

Judy said without any thought behind the words, “It was Mabel Robbins. She isn’t dead.”

Lona took her by the arm and began to walk her back towards the stairs. As she did so she said in an indifferent voice,

“I knew that. Didn’t you? Naturally she would come down, but I wasn’t expecting her quite so soon. Hurry, Judy! Captain Pilgrim is very ill. I must fetch Dr. Daly to him. He’s out at Miles’ Farm, and they haven’t a telephone. I must try and catch the taxi which brought that girl.”

Judy hung back.

“You can’t---it’s gone.”

She was hurried on again.

“I must get a lift in the police car then. It’s a matter of life and death.”

Past the foot of the stair, across the hall, out into the glass passage. As Lona opened the door to the street, Judy said, “Aren’t you going to stay with him?”

The door was open now, a biting cold air came in. The police car stood there at the left, black and empty. Lona said, “No, no, no! I must get Dr. Daly! There’s nothing to be done till he comes. You must drive---I’m not good enough in the dark. Get in---get in quick!”

She had the door of the car open now, and she had Judy by the arm.

“Get in---get in! Do you want him to die?”

With her foot on the step Judy turned.

“Miss Day, you can’t take a police car like this! You must go back and ask.”

It was Lona’s left hand which was on her arm. The right came up now with something dark in it. They were just shadows, the hand and what it held---frightening shadows out of some horrid dream. They came up close. Something like a cold, deadly O was pressed against Judy’s neck a little below her ear. Lona Day said, “If you don’t get in at once and start the car, I’ll shoot. If you call out you’ll be dead before anyone hears you. That’s right! Now start the car!”

With all her heart Judy prayed that the switch-key would be gone, but she put up her hand to feel, and it was there.

The cold pressure was gone from her neck. Afterwards she called herself “Fool!” a dozen times, because just there she had her chance and missed it. But it all happened so quickly between one breath and the next. The door behind her opened and shut, and quick on that the pistol was pressing into her spine and Lona Day was saying, “Reach out and shut that front door! If you do anything more you’ll be dead!”

Judy did it. What she ought to have done was to duck and slip out on the right the moment the pistol went. But she had missed her chance.

“Start the car!”

Judy said, “I can’t do it.”

The voice behind her took on a cutting edge.

“If you don’t, I’ll shoot you here and now. And then I’ll get out and walk back to St. Agnes’ Lodge and tell Miss Freyne you’ve sent me for Penny. She’ll let her come all right---you know that. And what I do to her won’t worry you, because you’ll be dead.”

Judy heard her own voice say slowly and stiffly, “What good---would that---do you?”

The voice behind her in the dark laughed---once.

“Have you never heard of the pleasures of revenge, my dear? If you spoil my chance of getting away, I’ll take Penny with me. I’ll give you till I’ve counted five.”

Judy put up her hand to the switch.

As the car slipped down the street and gathered way, Lona Day spoke again.

“I’m going to sit back now. That means you won’t feel the pistol, but it will be there. I can see you quite well against the lights, and if you try anything on, I shan’t miss---I’m quite a good shot. We’ll turn off to the right in half a mile.” After a moment she went on. “If you do just what you’re told you won’t come to any harm, and nor will Penny. I’m going to get away, and you are going to help me. Don’t make the mistake of thinking you can play any game of your own and get away with it. The other people who thought they could do that are dead. If I have to shoot you, who will look after Penny?”

Judy heard the odd stiff voice which didn’t sound like her own say, “Don’t---talk---like---that.”

Lona said, “I’m warning you. You couldn’t get away with it---none of them did. Henry Clayton thought he could pick me up and drop me, like he did with the Robbins girl. I’ll tell you about that, because it will show you that you can’t play about with me. We’re coming to that turning. It’s a lane, and there’s a narrow bridge a little farther on. You’ll have to be careful.”

Judy took the corner. The lane was arched by leafless trees rising from a dark hedgerow on either side. The sky was covered with cloud, but a diffused light came through from the hidden moon. The car was a Wolseley, and the lights the best that the black-out regulations allowed.

She was a good driver. Up to this moment everything she had done was automatic. Now she began to feel the car and her own command of it.

From behind her Lona Day went on talking.

“Now I shall tell you about Henry. He was going to marry Lesley Freyne because she had money. After me! She isn’t the sort of woman anyone could be in love with---it was just the money. Henry and I had met in London when I was with my last case, so when I heard a nurse was wanted at Pilgrim’s Rest I applied, and of course, with my testimonials, they snapped me up. And would you believe it, Henry was frightfully put out. But he got over that. His engagement was rather hanging fire about then, and as between me and Lesley Freyne---well, I ask you! And then in February he had the nerve to tell me the wedding-day was fixed---Bear to the left here!”

The lane forked and twisted. Judy took the turn. Lona went on speaking.

“He came down for the wedding. I sent him a note to come to my room. But he didn’t come, he went to her instead. I heard him tell Robbins and go out. Robbins went away. I ran after Henry and caught him up by the gate to the stable yard. He was angry, but he came back with me. We went into the dining-room. I pulled out one of the knives from the trophy by the sideboard and told him I would kill myself if he didn’t say goodbye to me properly. He told me not to be a fool. I made him think I’d put the knife back, but I didn’t, I put it in my pocket. I was wearing my Chinese coat. He always said it suited me. They don’t have pockets as a rule, but I’d had one made. The knife went into it nicely. I wasn’t sure up till then whether I’d kill Henry. I’d thought about it, but I hadn’t made up my mind. If he’d been very sweet to me, I might have let him off, but he actually told me that Lesley Freyne was the salt of the earth, and that he was going to do his best to make her a good husband. That finished it. I got him to come into the passage behind the dining-room, and when we were there I said, ‘What’s that?’ as if I had heard something. He turned round to look where I was pointing, and I took the knife out of my pocket and stabbed him in the back. It was quite easy. . . . There are cross roads coming now. Go right over and up the lane on the other side!”

Judy had a sick, impotent feeling. She could drive the car, and she could listen. There didn’t seem to be anything else that she could do. Her mind was like a stopped clock---it was there, but it didn’t work. It was just as if she had been switched over from the normal everyday world into a nightmare. She didn’t know her way in it. There wasn’t any law or any kindness, there wasn’t any pity or humanity or feeling. A monstrous ego held the stage, strutting and posturing there.

They went over the cross roads and up a wooded hill to an open heath bare under the clouded sky. Lona Day went on talking. Her voice came and went in Judy’s ears. Sometimes she heard the words as words, sometimes they just went to build up the picture which was slowly forming in her mind---the narrow passage behind the dining-room---the lift with its open door---Henry Clayton lying there, inert, heavy, dreadfully heavy---and Lona dragging him----

The voice behind her said, “Nurses learn how to lift, or I couldn’t have done it. And of course the trolley came in very handy.”

The trolley was in the cellar. . . . Judy sickened, as if the cold of that underground place could reach her here. Thought glanced away at an angle. Cold. . . . She hadn’t felt her body until now, but suddenly she became aware of it, rigid and chilled in an indoor dress, driving on for mile after mile through the February evening. She tried not to listen to Lona boasting of how she had hidden Henry Clayton’s body in the tin trunk and piled up the furniture in front of it----“And I locked the front door and put the key back in his pocket, so of course nobody dreamed he had come back into the house.” But whether the words got through or not, the dreadful picture went on forming in her mind.

“ . . . and no one suspected anything. At least it turns out now that Robbins did, though he was asleep when I locked the door, because that daughter of his, the one he gave out was dead, was there---running after Henry, the impudent creature! And it seems she saw us in the dining-room, but I didn’t know that until this afternoon. Whatever Robbins may have thought, or whatever he may have guessed, he hated Henry and he held his tongue. So everything was quite all right till Mr. Pilgrim took it into his head to sell the house---and of course I couldn’t have that. I managed very cleverly about him. Even if they had found the thorn under his saddle they couldn’t have traced it to me. And I was lucky too, because the fall proved fatal. And then Roger came home and began the whole stupid business over again. Really, men have no sense. Of course he had to go, but I wasn’t so lucky as I had been about Mr. Pilgrim. He really seemed to have a charmed life. I failed twice, but I brought it off the third time. It was quite easy. I just waited for Miss Freyne to come down from the attic, and up I ran. He was looking out of the window. He never even turned round. He thought Miss Freyne had come back. He said ‘What is it, Lesley?’ in an absent sort of way, and he never knew who pushed him. Of course when they found Henry’s body something had to be done about it. Robbins was the natural person to suspect, so I worked on that. I had kept Henry’s wallet because I had always felt it would be useful if things turned out awkwardly. As soon as I heard the house was going to be searched I ran up and put it in behind the bottom drawer of the chest in the Robbinses’ room. And then something happened which might very easily have knocked me off my balance. Only it didn’t. I must say I feel pleased about that. Anyone can plan a thing if they have plenty of time, but it’s how you act in an emergency that shows what you are. When Robbins came to the door and said he wanted to see Captain Pilgrim I knew at once that something had gone wrong. I came out of the room and shut the door behind me. He said, ‘Look here, I’m not going to hold my tongue any longer. You were in the dining-room with Mr. Henry that night---my daughter Mabel saw you.’ I said quite simply, ‘Your daughter Mabel is dead’---just like that. And he said, ‘Oh, no she isn’t. That’s what I gave out to stop the talk. She’s alive, and if I say the word, she’ll come forward and say what she saw and heard. I’d no cause to love Mr. Henry and I’ve held my tongue, but I’m not going to swing for him, and that’s flat. You can have from now till supper-time to get away if it’s any use to you, but that’s as far as I’ll go, and farther than I’ve any right to.’ And he turned round and went away upstairs. I gave him a couple of minutes, and then I slipped off my shoes and went after him. I could hear the police in his room. I opened the door a chink and looked in. They had everything out of the chest of drawers, and Henry’s wallet was lying there on the top of a lot of old papers. They had their backs to me, so I thought it would be a good plan to lock them in. The key was on the inside, but I got it---it didn’t take a moment. Then I went in next door, and there was Robbins over by the window, leaning out. Of course I could see what it was---he was trying to hear what the police were saying there in his room.”

From behind her Judy heard a low rippling laugh---quite a pretty laugh.

“Well, he never knew who pushed him either. Let me see---we’re coming to the end of this common, and I must watch the road and not talk so much. There’s rather a steep lane down, and then the road forks and you go to the right. Pretty, wooded country, but the primroses will hardly be out yet, I should think. After that---let me see----”

Judy heard the rustle of paper behind her. A map was being unfolded and hung over the back of her seat. A flash reflected from the windscreen disclosed the presence of a torch. A little flicker of hope sprang up. If Lona Day had to manage a map and a torch, would she be able to keep the pistol aimed? . . . The hope flickered out. She felt the pistol again, pressing steadily against her spine. The map hung over the back of the seat, and that left a hand for the torch.

They came off the heath down a short, steep lane that ran between hedges. Judy found herself wondering whether there was a ditch under the hedge. If there was---suppose she ditched the car. . . . The answer to that one was easy, Lona would shoot her out of hand. She simply couldn’t afford to let her go---not after all the things she had said. But suppose she could back into a ditch---there might be a chance that way. If she could do it quickly enough---if she could make an excuse for reversing and do it then, Lona might be knocked off her balance and there would be just a chance of getting away. It was the only chance she could think of.

There was a click behind her and the torch went out. Lona said in a satisfied voice, “Yes---that will be all right. I hope you see how stupid it would be to try any tricks with me---you simply wouldn’t have a chance. I have everything planned. I’ve known for three years that I might have to get away in a hurry, though I didn’t expect to be quite so rushed as this. I didn’t think that Mabel Robbins would have been in such a hurry to give her evidence. After all, she doesn’t come out of it particularly well. I meant to get away later on tonight, but as you see, I can meet an emergency, and now it is going to be quite all right. The police will never find me, because I shall just become someone else. I have my ration-book and my identity-card---and I am sure you would like to know how I got them, but I shan’t tell you. Well, perhaps it doesn’t matter if I just give you a hint, because you’ll never be able to tell anyone will you? You see, Lona Day isn’t my real name, and there was nothing to prevent my getting my ration-book and identity-card in my own name, was there? And I banked Henry’s fifty pounds in that name too, so you see I thought of everything. . . . Now this is where the road forks.”

Judy found herself slowing down a little, her eyes following the line where the ditch would be---if there was a ditch---she couldn’t be sure. And then all at once a rabbit came scuttering out of the shadows and across the front of the car. The fork of the road was just ahead. She thought the rabbit came out of a ditch on the right. She slowed down a little more and took the left-hand fork. At once the voice behind her said, “Stop---stop---that’s wrong! I told you to keep to the right.”

The pistol pressed so close that it hurt.

Judy stopped dead. In spite of the cold a wave of heat went over her and her hands were sticky with sweat, because she hadn’t been sure whether Lona would shoot her when she took the wrong turn. She had to chance it, but she hadn’t been sure. She thought it would all depend upon where they were and how much farther the car was meant to go. She said, “I’m sorry. I’ll back to the fork---it won’t take a moment.”

The last words seemed to ring a warning bell. There was only a moment now---perhaps only a moment to live. The thought was in her mind as she put the car into reverse and pushed her foot down on the accelerator. She couldn’t feel the pistol. Lona must have moved it.

The car ran back evenly, and then she jammed her foot right down. There was just time to feel a sudden exhilaration as they shot back, before the hind wheels bumped and came down hard in the ditch.

Something smashed at the impact with the bank---a bumper, glass, perhaps both, she didn’t know. High above everything Lona’s scream---a sound of rage, not fear. In the instant before the crash Judy’s hand had gone out to the catch of the door. The next thing she knew, she was slipping down over the running-board on to the road with a deafening noise in her ears and the glass of the windscreen broken. She thought there were two shots, and one of them very near. The car was all slumped and tilted up.

She ran for the ditch---any wild thing making for shelter. It must have been deeper than she thought, and there was a bank beyond it. She scrambled down one side and up the other, and heard another shot go off behind her. She didn’t know where it went but the next might find her.

There was a hedge on the top of the bank. If she had been less desperate she wouldn’t have got through---thorn, and holly, and something that smelled rank as she bruised it. Her dress tore, and caught, but she got clear as another shot came past her. It was so close that she felt it go by her left cheek, and with it there came the most horrible sound she had ever heard from a human being, the sound of a snarling fury which wasn’t human at all. If it had words, no sense of them reached her. And all at once she felt that it didn’t matter about being shot, but if this ravening creature were to touch her something would happen---she wouldn’t be Judy any more. She put out her hands to shield her face and ran into the wood.

There were no big trees, just light growth of hazel or alder, with a tangle of ivy under foot, and here and there a black mass which was holly. She stubbed her foot in its thin houseshoe and came down, her hands flung out---catching at last year’s leaves, wet moss, a fallen branch. She held on to this as she got up. It was short and heavy.

It wouldn’t be any use at all against a pistol, but there is an old, old instinct to have something in your hand when you turn to face an enemy.

She had to stand for a moment to take her breath, to check the panic which would have sent her running wild---perhaps to fall again and be taken---helpless----

Something was coming through the hedge. The knowledge came to her through her ears and spread tingling over her whole body, every sound sharpened, every panting breath almost as close as her own. The horror came down on her again. If the hands which were forcing a way through the hedge were to touch her . . .

She was gripping the stick she had picked up. She flung it now as hard as she could to the left of where Lona was coming through the hedge. She could see her just clear of it, a shadow to be distinguished from the other shadows only because it moved. Quick on the sound of the thrown stick striking some bush or tree came the crack of another shot. That made five. Judy didn’t know how many more there would be.

The shadow began to move in the direction from which the noise of the falling stick had come. As it moved, Judy moved too---towards the hole in the hedge. If she could get back on to the road whilst Lona thought she was still in the wood, she would really have a chance. You can’t move amongst undergrowth without being heard. She set down each foot as if she were treading on egg-shells. A snapped twig would give her away----

Lona was calling to her now. The snarling animal sound had gone out of her voice.

“Don’t be such a fool, Judy! You might have killed us both. But perhaps it was an accident. If it was, we won’t say any more about it. Come along back and see if you can get the car out of the ditch. You’re so clever with cars---I’ve never had enough practice. You needn’t be afraid of the pistol---I’ve fired my last shot. You’re not hurt, are you? It would be rather funny if you were dead. It would be a marvellous shot if I had really hit you in the dark. I’m afraid I lost my temper, and that’s a thing I very seldom do. It doesn’t pay, you know---one must always keep control. But I’d been flung against the back window, and if the glass had broken, I might have been most seriously hurt. Now, Judy, don’t be stupid! Where are you?”

Judy had reached the hedge. She began to crawl backwards through the hole she had made. As she did so she was wondering what Lona had done with the torch, because she had had a torch in the car. She must have dropped it, lost it---something, or the beam would be stabbing to and fro in the wood looking for Judy Elliot.

She was through the hedge now. She slipped on the bank and came down into slime just covered with water---not enough of it to make a splash, but enough to mire her to the ankles. She stumbled up on to the road. No good to go back by the way they had come. No help in all those miles of heath and country lane. No use to take the way which Lona had meant to take, because it was a lonely road that she would choose.

She skirted the car. The torch was still in her mind, but she didn’t dare to stop and look for it. And then her foot touched it, there in the dark on the road. She felt it roll, and knew what it was before she bent to pick it up. Odd that it should give her the first real feeling of hope. She didn’t know how it was going to help her, but something deep inside her said. “It’s all right now.” On muddy, halting feet she began to run along the left-hand fork.

+++

Frank Abbott went out of the room and shut the door. There was no sound after that. Miss Silver had laid her knitting on her knee. Mabel Robbins, who was Mabel Macdonald, leaned back against the hard wood of her chair. But she didn’t feel that it was hard, she didn’t feel anything. Her mind was empty and released. The years had given up their burden. She had done what John wanted her to do and she was free of it.

March had leaned back too. His right hand reached the table and stayed there, clenched into a fist. When he became aware of this tension he made a deliberate effort and relaxed. He looked across the papers which lay in front of him to the clear, colourless face of the woman who had just told this amazing story. It would knock the bottom out of his case against Alfred Robbins. As a theory it was practicable to suppose that she might be putting it forward to shield her father’s name. But in practice you could pick a dozen juries a dozen times over, and every man jack of them would believe her. She was a witness who compelled belief. With his case toppled in ruins, he believed her himself.

His thoughts swung to Miss Maud Silver who had done the trick again. “She knows people. She starts where we leave off. Sees something---discerns some motive, some mainspring, and then starts looking for the evidence. I suppose that’s the way it works, but I don’t know. She had nothing to go on here that I can see, and yet it all fits in. Well, I suppose we must be thankful this girl turned up before the inquest. We’d have made a holy show if she’d come along afterwards!”

He turned to look at Miss Silver, and met her warm and friendly smile. They sat on in silence, each with his own thoughts, until the door opened a little more quickly than it had closed. Frank Abbott, extraordinarily pale, halted upon the threshold and said in a hard, controlled voice, “She isn’t in the house. Judy’s gone too. And the car---they’ve taken your car.”

March pushed back his chair and got up.

“Did anyone see them go?”

Frank shook his head.

“It must have been just after Mabel came. I heard a car go down the road. Jerome doesn’t know anything---hasn’t seen Lona since we had her down. We put the wind up her and she’s bolted. But Judy---how did she get Judy to go?”

Miss Silver said, “Judy may have gone to see Penny.”

Frank turned stony eyes on her.

“She hasn’t. Lesley Freyne is here with Jerome---I waited whilst she rang up her house. Penny is asleep. Judy hasn’t been over.” He turned to March. “Look here, we’ll have to take Daly’s car---it’s the nearest. Will you ring him up? God knows what’s happening---and how she got Judy to go. Jerome says she’s no hand with a car. That’s why she’s taken Judy.”

+++

Judy had stopped running. She didn’t know where she was, or where she was going. The sweat of terror had dried on her and left her chilled beyond belief. When she stood still and listened she might have been the only living person in the world. Of all the sounds which man makes not one reached her—no faintest droning of a distant plane, no noise of wheels on road or rail, no sound of human foot, no sound of human speech. Into this vacuum there crowded all the sound which man banishes with his loud dominance---the light air moving in the leafless trees, the stir of a waking bird, the cry of the owl, and all the small shadowy noises of all the creatures that are abroad in the dark with their living to get.

She went on walking, and wondered where she was, and whether there was any end to this long, empty lane. It wasn’t dark any longer. The clouds had rifted and the moon shone bright and cold. The over-arching trees were left behind. There was only an endless low hedge on either side, broken here and there by some sentinel holly. Shock, fatigue, and the moonlight made the whole scene unreal. The moon plays tricks with us, touching the commonest scene with enchantment---or horror---according to what has tinged our thoughts. It played now upon Judy’s senses and caught them away into a haunted world full of shadows of evil. The most dreadful part of it was that she was alone there. There were no people, no shelter.

When she heard the car behind her it seemed like something which breaks violently in upon a dream. She was shocked awake, and uncertain what to do. If it was Lona---how could it be Lona? The car was ditched and she could never have got it out. The word “alone” slipped into her mind---Lona could never have got it out alone. Supposing someone had come by and helped her----

She suddenly saw twin lights come sliding down the lane.

Her mind was violently wrenched. She had the torch, and she could signal to the car. If she signalled, and it was Lona---if she didn’t signal, and let help go by. . . . In a moment it would be too late. She must make up her mind---now----

But it was made up for her. Afterwards she didn’t know whether she had tried to move her hand---to find the switch of the torch. She only knew that she had no power to do so. She felt the cold metal against her palm, but her fingers had no power to move. She stood frozen in the shadow of the hedge and saw the car go by.

It was the car she had driven and left in the ditch. Lona was driving it at a low, careful pace. She went by. The glow of the lights held Judy’s horrified gaze. The red tail-light was gone. She watched the glow until it was out of sight. Then she turned back along the way by which she had come.

+++

Frank Abbott, driving Dr. Daly’s car, had turned off the Ledlington road where Judy had turned.

“She won’t dare risk the villages. This goes up to St. Agnes’ Heath. If I were in her shoes I’d take it, get within walking distance of Coulton or Ledstowe, and shed the car. She’s had forty minutes’ start, and I shouldn’t think she would reckon on getting more than that.”

It was up on the heath that they saw the lights of a car coming towards them and stopped it. It contained two friendly Americans who were quite willing to admit that they had helped a lady out of a ditch a couple of miles back.

“She was sure glad to see us. Might have been there all night. It’s a lonely bit of country. . . . Oh, sure, she was alone. . . .”

They were rather bewildered by the speed at which they were passed and left behind. March said, “Do you know the place---the fork they mentioned?”

“Yes. I should have thought she’d bear right, but they said she took the left-hand fork?” He broke off suddenly. “What’s that?”

It was Judy, standing out in the middle of the lane and flashing the torch. Dr. Daly would have been horrified at the suddenness with which the brakes came on.

+++

Lona Day drove on until she came to what she was looking for, the right-hand turn which would take her back to the Coulton road. She had to get back to it because she was going to Coulton, but she had not felt able to risk taking the right-hand fork under the eyes of the helpful young men who had got the car out of the ditch for her.

She was quite sure now that Judy had ditched it on purpose. Every time she thought of it she felt a burning surprise and anger. That the girl should have dared, and having dared, that she should have brought it off! She ought to have known that she hadn’t a chance. She ought at this moment to be dead with a bullet in her brain.

She wasn’t dead. She was alive, with a tattling tale to tell. Never mind, Lona would get away in spite of her. She hadn’t killed four men, to be beaten by a tattling girl. She had made her plans. Her new name, her new place in the world, were waiting for her. Once she had slipped into them, the police might whistle but they wouldn’t find her. In a way it was gratifying that they should know how clever she had been, and how she had diddled everyone for three years.

She went on slowly and carefully past the turning until she came to the narrow lane on the left which ran across the fields to Ledham. If she left the car just beyond it, the police would think she had gone that way. She drew up by the side of the road and walked quickly back to the right-hand turn. A mile to the Coulton road, and three miles on---farther than she cared to walk, but not too far for safety. When she was in sight of the Coulton road she would make her adjustments. A pity about her fur coat, but it would be the first thing in the description they were sure to circulate.

Twenty minutes later she was stripping it off and pushing it well down inside a hollow tree. Her hat followed it. Just a bit of luck that the moon had come out, for it wouldn’t have been at all easy to find the tree in the dark. Seven---no eight months since they had picnicked here and pushed the sandwich papers down out of sight. She felt cold without her coat, though the coat and skirt she was wearing made a thick suit. Thick and new---no one at Pilgrim’s Rest had ever seen it. The moonlight robbed it of its colour, but in the day it was a good shade of sapphire which took the green out of her eyes and made them look blue.

She found a comb in her bag and proceeded to deal with her hair, taking it up straight, away from face and neck and ears, before slipping on the dark wig which changed her quite beyond belief. Demure, smooth waves coming down to a roll at the back. Not nearly so ornamental as the chestnut curls, but oh, so respectable.

The woman who came out of the wood on to the Coulton road was no longer Lona Day. A short three miles lay between her and safety.

+++

Frank Abbott was taking tea with Miss Silver. There was a cosy fire. A comfortable twilight veiled the Soul’s Awakening and the Monarch of the Glen. The rows of silver photograph frames which enshrined past clients and their babies caught a reflected glow from the firelight.

Miss Silver, neat and smiling, dispensed tea from a small Victorian teapot with a strawberry on the lid. Her tea-set, of the same date, displayed a pattern of moss roses. Since Emma never broke anything, it remained as she had inherited it from her great aunt, Louisa Bushell, that formidable pioneer of women’s rights in an age which saw no reason why they should have any, since a gentleman could always be relied on to give a lady his seat. The tea-set lacked one cup of its original twelve, this having been broken by Miss Bushell’s vicar, who set it down on its saucer with a slam at the climax of his argument that the original misdemeanour of Eve entailed continuous subjection upon her daughters. There were, however, a few occasions when Miss Silver entertained so large a party as to be reminded of this painful incident.

Frank now looked gloomily at her across the cups and said, “She’s done the Macbeth act---made herself air.”

Miss Silver coughed.

“Not quite an accurate statement, I think. She has merely become someone else. You will remember I said all along that there was a very clever, unscrupulous mind at work. I feel convinced from what Miss Day said to Judy that she had very carefully prepared a line of retreat.”

Frank continued to look gloomy.

“Well, we can’t pick up any trace of her in Coulton, Ledstow, or Ledham. No one answering to her description boarded a train at any of these places, and unless she got a lift in a car she couldn’t have got any farther afield. It was too late for her to catch a bus.”

“I do not imagine that the description which has been circulated will correspond with her present appearance. Our sex has an advantage over yours when it comes to a change of identity. Different colouring, another way of doing the hair, will completely alter a woman’s appearance. At Pilgrim’s Rest Miss Day wore green or black, both of which emphasized the red in her hair and the greenish tint of her eyes. You should look for someone with brown or dark hair, and I should conjecture that she would be wearing blue. The hair might of course be grey, but I fancy she has rather too much vanity for that.”

“I wonder who she’ll murder next,” said Frank Abbott.

Miss Silver lifted the lid of the teapot and added a little more hot water to the brew before she answered.

“She will be very careful for a time at any rate.” After which she enquired brightly, “And how is Judy? I hope she is now none the worse for her very alarming experience.”

Frank leaned forward and set down his cup upon the tray. Perhaps he was afraid of emulating the vicar.

“She’s staying on at Pilgrim’s Rest,” he said in rather a jerky voice. “You wouldn’t think she’d want to, but she does.”

“She gave her evidence remarkably well at the inquest. And so did that poor girl Mabel---Mrs. Macdonald. I was much relieved that it was not considered necessary to publish her married name. Whilst one cannot approve of her conduct with Henry Clayton, one must remember that she was a young girl, and he by all accounts a particularly fascinating man. Inexperienced young women are sadly liable to be carried away by specious arguments on the subject of free union and companionate marriage. They fail to realize until too late that though civilized marriage laws may sometimes prove irksome, they nevertheless exist for the protection of woman and the family.”

Frank’s gloom relaxed a little. Maudie discoursing upon the Moral Law enthralled him. He accepted another cup of tea and returned to Judy.

“Lesley and Jerome are getting married in about a month. Judy is going to stay on with them. There’s been a frightful pow-wow about where they were to live and what was to happen to the house. I don’t think Lesley was a bit keen on Pilgrim’s Rest and I don’t blame her, but Jerome dug his toes in. So they’re going to have six assorted orphans in the attics with Lesley’s matron to look after them. That ought to lay the ghosts. The aunts are going to stay put. Lesley and Jerome will have the other wing where his room is now. Meals together, but separate sitting-rooms. Judy will have Penny and stay on. Ditto Gloria. Mrs. Robbins, who has taken a new lease on life, says she’ll stay and cook. She doesn’t hold with going to live with a married daughter, sensible woman. A let-off for Macdonald, who nobly offered to have her. So that places everyone. Happy ending.” His voice was at its most cynical. He stared into the fire.

Miss Silver said gently, “You would not have made one another happy, Frank.”

“Probably not. At the moment the possibilities seem all the other way.”

“You are not really suited.”

He gave a short hard laugh. “What you mean is that I don’t really suit! I’m a policeman, you see---a sordid profession.”

“My dear Frank!”

He nodded. “That’s what she thinks, you know---and I’m not so very sure I don’t agree.”

Miss Silver said, “Fiddlesticks!”

Frank laughed again, more naturally this time.

“I never heard you say that before.”

“I never heard you talk so much nonsense.”

This time he returned her smile.

“I’m sore, you know. But I’ll get over it. You’re quite right---we don’t suit. We both thought we were going to, but we don’t really, so it’s better as it is. In fact,

    ‘He who loves and rides away
    Will live to love another day.’ ”


Miss Silver beamed.

“I hope so,” she said.

THE END
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