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Chapter Thirty-Three

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« on: September 30, 2023, 10:08:21 am »

AFTER SPENDING half an hour at the Haven Miss Silver took her way home. She had admired Bunty, the raspberries, the hen-house erected by Mr. Everton, and the photographs of half a dozen young men in Air Force uniform who corresponded affectionately with Mrs. Mottram and took her out when they had leave and she could get to town. Bunty, it appeared, could be parked at the Rectory---"Miss Sophy really is an angel, and so are her maids." An ugly young man with a grin seemed to be the most assiduous.

Alone with Miss Silver, Ida dropped her giggle and said quite simply, "I expect I'm going to marry him. I do like him awfully, and so does Bunty. I'm not awfully good at being on my own---and he was Robin's best friend."

Miss Silver administered sympathy and common sense.

"I am glad that you are not contemplating marriage with someone so much older than yourself as Mr. Everton. But you should be careful not to raise false hopes. You are a very attractive young woman."

The giggle reappeared.

"Oh, he's just being kind---but he's frightfully useful."

"Perhaps," said Miss Silver, "it would be wiser not to have him here in the evenings. It is likely to make talk."

"If you lived shut up in a refrigerator, people would talk about you in Bourne," said Mrs. Mottram.

Miss Silver smiled indulgently.

"Could Mr. Everton not have fixed your wireless in the afternoon, my dear? By the way, which evening was it---Monday or Tuesday?"

"Oh, Tuesday. He got the valve on Monday, but he wasn't home till late, and I was carrying on all right so it didn't matter at all."

Miss Silver coughed.

"Tuesday evening---dear me! Was he here at the time that Mr. Harsch was shot? Did either of you hear anything?"

"Well, we did---at least Mr. Everton did. He thought it was Giles shooting at a fox---they come after his hens, you know."

"What time was it?"

"Well, it must have been a quarter to ten, because that was what Miss Sophy said at the inquest. You know, I was on the jury---it was grim. Oh, yes, and Mr. Everton had just looked at his watch, and he made it a quarter to ten too. He said he was expecting a trunk call, so he must run."

Miss Silver returned to the Rectory in a thoughtful mood. At the gate she encountered Sergeant Abbott and took him into the study. Alone with her, he became very informal indeed.

"Sit down and listen to this," he said---"it beats the band." After which he produced his shorthand notes and gave her a full and particular account of the interview with Frederick Bush.

When he had finished he looked down at her with something that wasn't quite a smile and said, "Well---how does it strike you?" He sat on the corner of the study table in a comfortable, careless attitude. An undeniably elegant young man.

Miss Silver regarded him with favour. She said, "I should like your opinion first---and of course that of the Chief Inspector."

"The Chief---well, I don't know---he doesn't let on much. I don't think he likes it. Personally, I thought Bush was speaking the truth. I don't mean to say that with any conviction, because I wasn't convinced. I just inclined very slightly to the idea that he might be speaking the truth---I wouldn't put it higher than that. It's a whale of a story to swallow."

Miss Silver agreed, but in other words.

"It presents some difficult points," she said. "I would be glad of your opinion upon them."

"Well, to my mind the worst things about it are, first, nobody saw him go in. He says he usually does his round at ten o'clock, but on that Tuesday night he was 'a little before his usual', and when pressed he said it might be ten minutes before, but he swears he didn't hear the shot. Harsch was shot at a quarter to ten. Bush must have been no great distance from the main entrance to the churchyard---that's the one on the village street---but he persists that he heard nothing. I think he persists too much."

Miss Silver coughed.

"I have questioned Miss Fell, who really did hear the shot, and she says that the church clock was striking at the time. She says she did not remember this when she gave evidence at the inquest. When she was asked about the time, what came into her mind was that she had looked at the drawing-room clock just before she went out."

"The church clock was actually striking when the shot was fired?"

"Yes. There is a chime for each quarter. The shot came with the second chime. The sound of the clock striking would, I imagine, tend to obscure the sound of the shot."

"Yes---that's an idea! But, you see, the first part of Bush's story---all the meat in fact---is absolutely unsupported. He says he came from his own house---he says his wife was upstairs with her aunt---he says he didn't meet anyone on his way to the church. There's no proof that he wasn't there at half past nine or any other time before the shot was fired. Of course there's no proof that he knew Mr. Harsch would be there."

"The organ stopped just after half past nine," said Miss Silver. "And I feel I should tell you what I have learned this evening---Bush was at Miss Doncaster's on Tuesday evening at about half past six fixing some shelves. Miss Mary Anne, who is in the habit of listening in on the party line, overheard Mr. Harsch's telephone call to Sir George Rendal acquainting him with the complete success of his final experiment. She repeated the information to Bush, and also, later on, to Mrs. Mottram and Mr. Everton. She says Bush immediately remarked that in that case Mr. Harsch would be down playing the organ that evening. He said Mr. Harsch told him he would be down as soon as his work was done."

Frank whistled.

"It doesn't look too good, does it? He knew the experiments had been completed---he knew Rendal was coming down next day---he knew Harsch would be in the church. It's not fair to blame a man for his birth, but he comes of German stock, and there was an attempt to get at him just before the last war, though apparently he turned it down. Suppose there was another attempt this time, with a bigger inducement, and he didn't turn it down---it would explain everything, wouldn't it?"

Miss Silver coughed.

"It would seem to provide an explanation. Pray continue your remarks on Bush's statement."

Frank swung his leg.

"Well, to my mind the weakest point of the whole thing is his going off and leaving the body in the way he says. I find it uncommon difficult to swallow."

Miss Silver shook her head.

"Perhaps you have never lived in a village. Village people very much dislike getting mixed up with the police. I find it quite natural that Bush should desire the presence of another witness, and more especially a witness of Mr. Harsch's own social standing."

"Well---if you say so----" His tone deferred to her.

A smile commended him. She said, "The point which tells most in Bush's favour is one which you do not seem to have remarked. I refer to the key."

Frank's eyebrows went up.

"You mean his putting the key back in Harsch's pocket? I thought that pretty fishy myself."

"Oh, no." Miss Silver's tone was firm. "That is an incident which certainly occurred just as he described it. It is not a thing that anyone would invent, and certainly no guilty man would go out of his way to admit it. It is just one of those meaningless but instinctive things that people do when they are under the influence of shock. He had no reason either for inventing or admitting it. I feel quite sure that it happened just as he said."

"In other words, you think that he is innocent. I wonder. There's a lot of circumstantial evidence, and it keeps piling up. He left the Bull last night a few minutes before Ezra did---his wife keeps brandy in the house---he has a large and serviceable wheelbarrow in the shed at the bottom of the churchyard---and the dry gravel on Ezra's boots is the same as the gravel on the church paths. He could have had him into the church, given him a tot of brandy, knocked him out, and taken him across the Green in the wheelbarrow to the place where he was found drowned. There was heavy cloud last night, and Bourne goes to bed early. It piles up, doesn't it?"

Miss Silver coughed.

"A man is innocent in law until he has been found guilty by a jury," she said.

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