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Chapter Twenty-Eight

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Author Topic: Chapter Twenty-Eight  (Read 18 times)
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« on: September 30, 2023, 04:33:44 am »

"WHO IS Ezra Pincott?" enquired Miss Silver. She had the mild, expectant look of a teacher addressing her class. For the moment this consisted of Miss Fell, Major Albany, and Miss Janice Meade. Miss Brown had been persuaded to go to bed. Her absence was felt to be a relief.

All three of them said, "Ezra Pincott?"

"Dear me," said Miss Silver, "there seem to be a great many Pincotts in Bourne."

There was nothing in her manner to show that she had already acquired a considerable amount of information about the Pincotts in general and about Ezra in particular.

Miss Sophy stopped pouring out tea, but kept the teapot poised.

"Oh, yes," she said. "Old Jeremiah Pincott had eighteen children. Susannah Bush is one of them, and they have mostly had large families themselves. Not Susannah---she has only two without counting the twins who died. Jeremiah was a well-to-do farmer, but Ezra is the son of his brother Hezekiah who ran away to sea."

"He's the local bad hat," said Garth.

Miss Silver accepted a cup of tea, produced her own bottle of saccharine, and dropped in one tablet.

"I see----" she said. And then, "I should like very much to speak to him."

Garth laughed.

"Then you'd better let me catch him for you to-morrow before the pubs are open."

Miss Silver coughed.

"He drinks?"

"As much as he can get. What do you want him for?"

He wondered if he was going to be snubbed, but it appeared that the teacher would answer his question.

"I hear he was boasting last night in the Black Bull that he knew something that would put money in his pocket. No names were mentioned, but I received the impression that the reference was to Mr. Harsch and the manner of his death. You do not think it would be possible for me to see him before to-morrow?"

"I don't think so. You see, he's by way of working for Giles who farms the land on the other side of the Church Cut. The minute he gets off he goes down to the Bull and stays there till it shuts. The only time I could get hold of him for you would be during his dinner hour---that is, if you want him sober."

Miss Silver looked grave.

"I should prefer it. I should also prefer to see him to-day, but it cannot be helped." She coughed and continued, "I should also be glad to have some information about Gladys Brewer."

Miss Sophy looked mildly shocked. She helped herself to a rock bun and said in a soft, distressed voice, "Not at all a satisfactory girl, I am afraid. She does daily work up at Giles', and her mother has very little control over her."

Janice leaned forward with an appealing look.

"I don't really think she's as bad as they make out." She turned to Miss Silver. "She's one of those giggling, bouncing girls who get themselves talked about. She likes boys, and she'll do anything for a lark, but she's not bad---really."

"I would like very much to see her," said Miss Silver. "I wonder if it could be managed. When is she likely to be free---about six o'clock?"

"Yes, I should think so."

"She lives with her mother? . . . Then perhaps we might take a walk in that direction and look in."

"Oh, yes, but----" Janice hesitated---"I wouldn't like to get her into trouble."

Miss Silver smiled.

"There is a country proverb which says, 'If you don't trouble trouble---trouble won't trouble you'."

Garth Albany gave her a direct look.

"What do you mean by that?"

She turned the smile on him.

"Gladys won't get into trouble---from the law---if she hasn't broken the law. I do not for a moment imagine that she has done so, but if she was in the churchyard on Tuesday night she may have seen or heard something. I should like to know whether she did."

Janice said, still in that hesitating voice, "I could take you in to see Mrs. Brewer. I know them quite well."

At a little before six Miss Silver and Janice turned off the main street into a narrow lane where half a dozen old cottages mouldered. They were of the kind which are called picturesque, with old tiled roofs, minute windows, and a general air of dilapidation. Mrs. Brewer's cottage was the smallest and the most dilapidated. It had sunflowers and hollyhocks in the garden, and a few ragged gooseberry and currant bushes. The doorstep was freshly whitened.

When Mrs. Brewer opened the door Miss Silver thought she looked rather like the cottage, battered, and as if time had been too much for her. She had lost most of her front teeth, the late Mr. Brewer having knocked them out when "under the influence". She had told Janice all about it whilst obliging at Prior's End. She seemed to feel a kind of gloomy pride in her husband's prowess---"Life and soul of a party he was, and no harm in him so long as he wasn't crossed. And Gladys is as like him as two peas, but a bit tiring, if you know what I mean, miss."

She invited them into her spotless kitchen. The door opened directly upon it, and disclosed very old uneven flagstones on the floor, and very old sagging beams not very far overhead. In the corner a narrow ladder-like stair led up to the bedroom. With the exception of a lean-to at the back to hold fuel and store vegetables, there were only these two rooms. Bathrooms and indoor sanitation were unguessed at when these cottages were built, and the petrifying dictum that what was good enough in the past was good enough for the present had never been disputed.

Mrs. Brewer pulled forward a couple of chairs and invited her visitors to be seated.

"Was it about me coming up to Prior's End, miss? If there was anything extra, I'd be very pleased----"

But even as she spoke, the horrid fear took hold of her that Miss Madoc might have sent to say that she needn't come any more, and then she'd be two days short, and nowhere to fill them unless she went back to the Miss Doncasters that never stopped telling you what to do and what not to do until you didn't know one from the other. And as like as not some of the china got broken. There was a cup with a blue border and little bunches of flowers the last time she was there, and such an upset as never was.

But Miss Janice wasn't saying anything like that. It was just, "Miss Silver is staying with Miss Sophy, and I was showing her the village. She was saying your cottage must be very old."

Mrs. Brewer looked relieved.

"Mr. Brewer's grandfather lived here," she said, as if imagination could go no farther back. She turned to Janice. "Oh, miss, what a dreadful thing about Mr. Madoc! I'm sure I never slept a wink after I heard. Oh, miss, he never done it!"

Janice said, "No, we don't think he did."

And with that the door swung in with a clatter and Gladys Brewer bounced into the room---a large plump girl with a bright colour and a fine head of chestnut hair piled up in front and hanging in a bush behind. She had bright blue eyes, very good teeth, and an exuberant air of health and jollity.

She said, "Hello, Mum!" and then caught sight of the visitors and giggled, voice and laugh at full stretch. "Hello, Miss Janice!" She giggled again.

Miss Silver said, "How do you do?" and then went on talking to Mrs. Brewer about the cottage.

"So picturesque---but sadly inconvenient."

Gladys let off another loud giggle.

"I'm sure you'd say so if you'd bumped your head as often as I have going upstairs! Well, I'll go up and change. I'm going out. You can expect me when you see me. We're going into Marbury to the pictures."

Miss Silver addressed her directly.

"It must be rather dull for you in Bourne. What do you do in the evenings when you do not go to the pictures?"

Gladys giggled twice as loudly as before.

"What does any girl do if she gets the chance?"

Miss Silver smiled affably.

"You have a boy friend, I expect---or perhaps more than one, which is quite the best way when you are young. You will not want to settle down until you are older, and meanwhile, I expect, there are lots of boys of your own age to go about with?"

Mrs. Brewer fidgetted with her fingers, twisting them in and out. She looked from Gladys to Miss Silver.

"Oh, miss---she don't want any encouragement with the boys!"

Gladys seemed to take this as a compliment.

"Oh, get on with you, Mum!"

Miss Silver continued to smile indulgently.

"I am afraid you have spoiled her, Mrs. Brewer."

By this time Gladys was in high good humour.

She felt herself the centre of attention, and was duly flattered. She thought Miss Silver ever such a kind old lady. Most of them expected a girl to behave as if she was dead and buried. That there Miss Doncaster with her "Does your mother know you're out, Gladys?"---she never had no boy friends in her life. You could tell that as easy as easy---looked as if she'd been brought up on vinegar and never got rid of the taste of it.

Miss Silver's voice came in amongst these meditations. Quite a low voice it was, but something about it you couldn't help taking notice of.

"When you were in the churchyard on Tuesday evening, Gladys----"

"Who says I was in the churchyard?"

The interruption came so quickly as to suggest practice.

"There would be no harm in it if you were---I am sure of that. You are not that sort of girl, are you? But you do sometimes go in there with a friend on a fine night, don't you? I expect there are places where you can sit and talk."

Gladys giggled.

"And I think you were there on Tuesday night. You were, were you not?"

Mrs. Brewer fairly wrung her hands.

"Oh, no, miss---she wouldn't do a thing like that! She's a good girl."

"I am sure she is," said Miss Silver. "I am quite sure that there was no harm in it. Come, Gladys---you were there, were you not?"

The blue eyes met Miss Silver's, and found that they could not look away. She made you feel like a kid at school again, when you were called out in front of the class and you dursn't hold your tongue, no matter how much you wanted to, or what you were asked.

"What if I was?" Her voice was half defiant, half afraid.

Miss Silver said equably, "Well then, my dear, I would like you to tell me just what you saw or heard."

"I didn't hear nothing."

"But you saw something, didn't you?"

"Who says I did? There wasn't nothing to see!"

Miss Silver's smile was gone. Her look was steady and grave.

"Have you ever done a jigsaw puzzle, Gladys?"

The girl's shoulder jerked. She stood where the stair came down, holding to the old newel-post, dark and smooth from all the hands which had touched it, lightly, lingeringly, heavily, for more than three hundred years.

"Course I have! My Auntie Brewer, she's nuts on them."

"Well then, you will know how all the little bits fit in to make the picture. You may have a piece which does not look as if it was important at all, but if you get it in its right place you are able to see your way."

Gladys stared, then brightened.

"She had one like that last time I was there. A little bit of red it was, and when we got it down you could see where the next bit 'ud got to come."

Miss Silver inclined her head.

"That is very well put. Now what you saw in the churchyard on Tuesday is just like one of those pieces in a jigsaw puzzle. It may be a very little bit and you may not think that it matters, but it may be just the piece which is needed to save a man's life. What would you feel like if an innocent man was hanged because you kept back something that would save him?"

Gladys stared with all her might.

"You have seen pictures about an innocent man being suspected. What would you feel about a girl who did not speak when she might save him?"

Gladys shifted from one foot to the other.

"It wasn't nothing like that."

"You might not know."

"Well then, it wasn't. It wasn't nothing. Only Mum goes on so. I suppose she never went for a walk with a boy!"

Mrs. Brewer said, "Oh, Glad!"

Gladys let go of the newel and sat down on the third step from the bottom.

"All right, all right---it wasn't nothing to make such a fuss about!" She looked angrily at her mother. "I went up to Mrs. Bowlby's like I told you I was going to, and we listened to the wireless for a bit, and then Sam and me went for a walk."

"Oh, Glad!"

"Come off it, Mum! A girl can't sit indoors all the time, nor a boy neither. What's the good of saying 'Oh, Glad!'? It was ever such a lovely night, and we went for a walk. And when we come back we went into the churchyard and sat down for a bit, but we didn't see nothing nor nobody but Mr. Bush, and he didn't see us---not that time, though he's always on the look-out. He was in a hurry and went off quick. So what's all the fuss about?"

Janice had been sitting quite still. She moved now. Bush---yes, of course Bush would have done his usual round on that Tuesday night. She hadn't thought of it before. She supposed nobody had. Bush going round the churchyard every evening at ten o'clock was as much a part of the day's routine as moonrise and sunset, and as little to be considered. She heard Miss Silver say, "You saw Mr. Bush. What was he doing?"

Gladys stared.

"Going his round."

Miss Silver coughed.

"Oh, yes. But what exactly was he doing when you first caught sight of him?"

"He was coming out of the church."

Janice had a choking sensation. There was no air. She took a quick, shallow breath. Miss Silver's even voice went on without any change.

"I see. It was bright moonlight, was it not?"

"Oh, yes, it was ever so bright."

"And where were you sitting with your friend?"

Gladys giggled.

"Right up against the Rectory wall. There's a tree comes over. We were sitting on Mr. Doncaster's grave. It's got a nice flat stone on it."

"So you could see the church door quite plainly, but Mr. Bush couldn't see you?"

"That's right."

"And Mr. Bush was coming out of the church?"

"That's right. He come out and he locked up, and he went off quick---didn't come spying round like he does."

Miss Silver coughed.

"What time was this?"

"I dunno."

"But the church clock strikes, does it not? Did you not hear it strike whilst you were in the churchyard?"

Gladys nodded.

"That's right---it struck ten."

"Before Mr. Bush came out, or afterwards?"

"Oh, afterwards."

"How long after?"

"It wouldn't be more than a minute or two. He went off round the church, and then the clock struck."

"There are three gates to the churchyard, I believe---one leading to the Green, one to the Church Cut, and one to the village street. Which way did Mr. Bush go?"

"Right out to the street. That's his way home." She got up. "I'm going to be late for the pictures. I'm going to change."

Miss Silver got up too.

"Just a moment, Gladys. Where did you go for your walk?"

"Oh, just round the Green."

"How long had you been in the churchyard before you saw Mr. Bush?"

"Oh, I dunno---about five minutes."

"Did you hear a shot at any time during your walk?"

"I dunno. Mr. Giles, he shoots at the foxes---there's often shots---I didn't take any notice." She went up a step or two, and turned. "I told you it wasn't nothing---any of it. And I'm going to be late." She giggled with a return of her easy good nature. "Do Sam good to keep him waiting, but I don't want to miss the picture."
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