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Chapter Twenty-Three

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« on: September 29, 2023, 11:22:30 am »

JANICE RANG the bell of 15, Montague Mansions, and was admitted by a stout elderly woman who looked like the comfortable sort of cook of one's dreams. She smiled, and said it was a nice morning in a pleasant country voice, and, "You'll be the lady Miss Silver was expecting---the one that sent the telegram---Miss Meade. Well then, come along in."

One door shut and another one opened. The full beauty of Miss Silver's maple furniture, her peacock-blue curtains, her wallpaper, her brightly flowered carpet, her steel engravings, and her silver photograph frames was disclosed. Janice saw them first, and then she saw Miss Silver, very neatly dressed in a most unbecoming shade of drab, with a bog-oak brooch and a quantity of mousy hair in a fringe controlled by a hair-net and primly coiled behind. She rose from the writing-table at which she was sitting, shook hands, and indicated a chair with bow legs, round back, and a very hard seat upholstered in the prevailing peacock-blue.

Janice sat down, and found a pair of small, nondescript eyes surveying her in a manner that took her back to school again. Not that the Head had remotely resembled Miss Silver, but there was the same flavour of kindness and authority, the same expectation that you would come to the point and not waste valuable time. Sitting up as straight as the curly chair would allow, Janice came to the point.

Observing her, Miss Silver saw a girl of twenty-one or twenty-two in a dark blue coat and skirt which was neither new nor very well cut. The plain small hat was tilted at a becoming angle over short gold-brown curls. The face had a good deal of charm, without regularity of features or beauty of colouring. There were those very bright eyes with their unexpectedly dark lashes. There was the way the ears were set---very prettily shaped ears, in just the right place to emphasize the curve of the cheek. There were the lips not too much reddened, and taking a serious sweetness in repose. The skin though pale was very smooth and clear. Miss Silver considered the question of this pallor. Her eyes fell to the hands in their rather shabby gloves, and saw how tightly they were clasped.

She smiled that sudden transforming smile which had won her so many confidences and said, "Pray do not be nervous---there is nothing to be afraid of. And take your time. These things are not to be told in a moment. I am quite at your disposal."

The smile came in among Janice's thoughts and warmed them. She had had a sense of coldness, of confusion, of the terrible responsibility of being the one to tell this story in such a way that Evan Madoc would be helped and his sister comforted. She went on with a feeling that the weight had lifted, and that it didn't matter so terribly what she said, because Miss Silver would understand.

When she had finished, Miss Silver opened a drawer, took out an exercise-book with a bright green cover, opened it at the first page, and wrote a heading---The Harsch Case. After which she picked up a half-knitted sock of Air Force blue and began to knit in the continental manner, needles clicking, hands held low, eyes fixed upon Janice, who was taking something out of her bag. The something was a long envelope which was filled with typescript.

"This is the evidence which was given at the inquest. It was taken down in shorthand for a government department which was interested in Mr. Harsch's work---but I was to say will you please consider that confidential."

Miss Silver coughed.

"Certainly. I regard all professional communications as strictly confidential. I shall be interested to read the evidence. Meanwhile----"

A little colour came into Janice's face.

"You'll take the case?" she said in an eager voice.

Miss Silver looked at her kindly.

"Why do you wish me to do so, Miss Meade?"

The cold, confused feeling came back. She had muddled it. Miss Silver hadn't understood---she was going to refuse. She said piteously, "His sister is so unhappy. He is all she's got. And he didn't do it."

The kind look persisted. It seemed to go right through her.

"You want me to prove that Mr. Madoc is innocent?"

"Yes---yes---of course I do!"

Miss Silver was knitting briskly, the sock revolved. She said, "I cannot take any case with such a condition attached to it. It is beyond my province to attempt the proof of either innocence or guilt. I feel obliged to make this perfectly clear. I can only take a case with the object of discovering the truth. Sometimes this truth is at variance with the client's wishes and hopes. As Lord Tennyson so aptly says---'Oh, hard when love and duty clash!' But once I have undertaken a case I can be swayed by duty alone, and that duty must always be the discovery of the facts. They may be unexpected, they may be unwelcome. They may deepen a tragic situation instead of relieving it. I say this to every client."

Janice's colour rose a little more.

"He didn't do it---he didn't really!"

Miss Silver smiled.

"You are a good friend, Miss Meade. You are attached to Mr. Madoc, and so you believe in him. You think him incapable of a crime."

"Oh, no, it isn't like that at all---it really isn't. I've worked for him for a year, and if you had asked me before all this happened, I would have said that I detested him. He is the rudest man in the world---he says the most insulting things---he has a simply dreadful temper. But he didn't kill Mr. Harsch. I want you to find out who did. I want you to come down with me this afternoon and stay with Miss Fell. She says you helped her cousin, Laura Fane, when Tanis Lyle was murdered. All the Fanes and the Ferrars are relations of hers. She is an old lady and very kind. Her nephew, Major Albany, has been down there watching the case. He got the copy of the evidence at the inquest for you. Miss Fell wants you to come down and be just an old friend who is staying with her, but I'm afraid that's not much good because of Ida Mottram----"

"Mrs. Mottram? Dear me!" Miss Silver coughed gently.

"She talks such a lot. I'm afraid she'll tell everyone how wonderful you are."

Miss Silver knitted in silence for a moment. Then she said, "Gratitude is a virtue, but it is sometimes inconvenient. What train do you wish to catch, Miss Meade?"

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