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Chapter Twenty-Six

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« on: September 29, 2023, 12:57:07 pm »

MISS SILVER came out of the shop with six postcards in her handbag. A hundred yards down the road she was overtaken by Sergeant Abbott. He had hurried to catch her up. He now contemplated her with a mixture of surprise, affection, and awe.

"Miss Silver!"

She had a charming smile for him.

"Dear me, what a pleasant meeting." She shook hands.

Sergeant Abbott's expression became modified. It took on a shade of sardonic humour. He had met Miss Silver on a case before, and the experience had left him her devoted admirer. He wondered very much what she was doing in Bourne, and whether she would tell him, or leave him to find out for himself.

She was graciously pleased to inform him that she was staying at the Rectory, to which he replied that he was on his way there to see Miss Brown. After a slight pause Miss Silver coughed and came to the point.

+++

Later in the day Sergeant Abbott was reporting to Chief Inspector Lamb. The word report is perhaps too formal an expression. Sergeant Abbott was sometimes informal to an almost impudent degree. He cocked an eyebrow now and said sweetly, "Maudie has turned up, sir."

Lamb said, "What!"

"Miss Maud Silver, sir---Maudie the Mascot."

Lamb was a good Methodist. He didn't swear, but he turned purple.

"At Bourne? What's she up to this time?"

Sergeant Abbott declaimed musically, "Blow, blow, thou winter wind, thou art not so unkind as man's ingratitude."

"Stop playing the fool and let's have a bit of sense, Frank! We've got our case, haven't we? We've got our man? We could do with a bit more evidence, but you can't expect murders to be done before witnesses. I say it's a good enough case. He had motive and opportunity. And he recognized the weapon---that came out quite clear at the inquest---said he was familiar with the type. Well, I say that's good enough. You'll never get me to believe he put that key in his pocket and went home like he says. He took it because he meant to have things out with Harsch then and there. And he shot him. That's what I say, and I think a jury will say it too. Well then, what does Miss Silver want? Who's called her in?"

"Miss Fell."

Lamb stared angrily.

"Well, of all the---! Look here, Frank, what does it mean? Miss Fell---she's a nice old lady---what's it got to do with her, unless she's doing it on account of this Miss Brown? Did you see her?"

"Oh, yes, I saw her. And I might just as well have stayed at home. She had nothing to add to her statement, she had no comment to make on what Mr. Madoc might have said, and that was that. All very petrified, very haughty---the Great Ice Age---and what is a policeman, that I should tell him anything? In fact, as our Maudie would say, 'Icily regular, splendidly null'. Quotation from the late Lord Tennyson."

Lamb growled, "Quit fooling!" and rapped the table with his knuckles.

"What did she say to you---Miss Silver, not Miss Brown. What has she got in her head?"

"I don't know---she didn't let on. It's clear she is being retained by Madoc's friends. I won't say in Madoc's interest, because, as she's always so careful to point out, she's out for the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. But she wants to see Madoc."

"Oh, she does, does she?"

"Alone," said Abbott with some emphasis.

"Now look here, Frank----"

Abbott's mouth twisted.

"I said I would lay the matter before you, sir."

Lamb gazed at him with suspicion.

"Very correct---aren't you? When you start saying sir every time you open your mouth, I begin to look out for what you've been up to. And you needn't go out of your way to tell me I'm ungrateful like you did just now, because I'm not saying, and never will, that Miss Silver didn't do us a good turn over the Vandeleur House murders. I don't mind admitting that we were on the wrong line and she put us on the right one, and that we both got some good marks out of it. And I'll admit she's not one to make a fuss of herself, or to get into the papers."

Frank Abbott had his faint sardonic smile.

"Strange, isn't it?" he said in as easy conversational voice. "She's known to the police, but not to the Press, and whenever she comes into a case, we come out of it in a blaze of glory. And she just fades away quoting Tennyson and saying 'Bless you, my children'. What about her seeing Madoc, sir?"

Lamb relaxed.

"Oh, she can see him if she's got a mind to. But I'd like to know what she's got up her sleeve."

Frank Abbott came and sat on the corner of the writing-table.

"Well, here's something she gave me. That man Bush, the sexton---it never came out at the inquest that he makes a round of the church and the churchyard every night at ten o'clock because the Rector goes leaving windows open and he doesn't hold with it."

Lamb stared.

"There wasn't anything about that. If it's true, why wasn't it brought out? The local constable would know---everyone in the village would know."

Abbott laughed.

"Village people don't exactly rush to the police with information. Mrs. Bush was a Pincott, and as far as I can make out every other soul in Bourne is either a Pincott or has married one. Very prolific family. The constable is a nephew---Jim Pincott. I suppose he would have said if he'd been asked---I suppose any of them would. But nobody asked them whether Bush went round the church at night, so they held their tongues in the fine old English way. Maudie suggests that we have Bush on the mat and ask him what about it."

Lamb's face grew slowly purple. His eyes, always rather reminiscent of the old-fashion peppermint bullseye, showed a tendency to bulge. He smacked the table with his open hand.

"Look here, what are you giving me? She hasn't been there five minutes---how did she get all this? When did she come?"

Frank looked demure.

"By the six-fifty-eight at Perry's Halt last night, with Albany and Janice Meade. I gather that she engaged Mrs. Bush in gossip over the local picture postcards this morning. She has a flair for that sort of thing."

Lamb said heartily, "Good thing for her she wasn't born a couple of hundred years ago, or she'd have been ducked for a witch, if it didn't get farther than that."

Frank laughed.

"Makes you feel that way---doesn't she? Well, here's something else. There's a disreputable old chap called Ezra Pincott---leading light in poaching circles, strong persevering upholder of the local bar---Maudie says he's been shooting off his face to all and sundry in the Bull about knowing something that would put money in his pocket if somebody knew what was what. She takes this to mean he's got a low-down on the Harsch business, and she feels we ought to keep an eye on Ezra in case somebody thinks it would be simpler to do him in than to start paying blackmail."

Lamb grunted.

"That all? Nothing else she'd like? She's only to say of course. All right, all right---you can see about it to-morrow."

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