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Chapter Thirty-Five

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Author Topic: Chapter Thirty-Five  (Read 21 times)
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« on: September 30, 2023, 10:51:05 am »

SERGEANT ABBOTT escorted Miss Silver to Marbury next morning, having slept the night at the Black Bull upon a bed whose mattress, a genuine antique, appeared to be stuffed with period paving stones. To offset this, he had a new-laid egg for breakfast---the Bull keeping its own hens and being very sharply in competition with Mr. Everton in the matter of laying averages. They took the bus to the Halt and caught the 9.40, an exceptionally slow train which not only stopped at everything that could be called a station but occasionally paused by the way and puffed when there was no station at all. They had a carriage to themselves, and beguiled the way with conversation. Miss Silver produced three quotations from Tennyson, two of which were quite unknown to Frank. He was rather pleased with:

   "Act first, this Earth, a stage so gloomed with woe
    You all but sicken at the shifting scenes.
    And yet be patient. Our Playwright may show
    In some fifth Act what this wild Drama means."

and listened respectfully to a eulogy upon the bard. After which Miss Silver opened her shabby handbag and produced an envelope containing half a dozen snapshots which she extracted and handed to him.

"Miss Brown has an excellent camera. I was so pleased to find that Miss Fell had these photographs. They are very good and clear, are they not? The first two were taken at the Mothers' Strawberry Tea in the Rectory garden. It has been an annual treat for the last fifty years, but since the war they just have tea and buns, and the fruit is gathered and taken to the Village Institute to be made into jam. Bush has come out very well in the first photograph, but his wife has turned her head away. Miss Doncaster is very good in both of them. Then there are two excellent snapshots of Mr. Madoc. In one of them he is walking with Mr. Harsch. In the other he is conversing with Mr. Everton. It is really very good of them both, I am told. I have not had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Madoc as yet, but Miss Sophy informs me----"

"Yes, it's like him."

Miss Silver beamed.

"And very like Mr. Everton. Most characteristic." She displayed the last two photographs. "The judges in the competition for the best allotment---Miss Fell, Bush, Mr. Everton, and Dr. Edwards. They are all great gardeners. Such a healthy pursuit. Two views, both very good and clear, I think."

He assembled the photographs fanwise, gazed at her over the top of them, and cocked an eyebrow.

"And what might you be getting at, teacher?" he enquired.

Miss Silver gave her faint dry cough.

"I thought, whilst I was talking to Mr. Madoc, that it might be of interest if you were to show these photographs at the Ram and enquire whether they recognize anyone in them as having visited their establishment on Monday afternoon last week."

"The Ram?"

"In Ramford Street. Bush's sister is married to a man who has an ironmongery shop across the way. He was visiting her on Monday. The name is Grey. Miss Doncaster and Mr Everton were also in Marbury that afternoon. Mr. Madoc was absent from Bourne for some hours on his bicycle, but his whereabouts are not known."

Frank said, "I know I'm stupid, but do you mind telling me what it's all about? I mean, why Monday, and why the Ram?"

Miss Silver told him.

"Mr. Harsch was also in Marbury that afternoon. He went to the Ram to have tea there, but he came out as soon as he went in. He came home late, and Miss Madoc having apparently been shocked at his appearance, he told her that he had seen a ghost. He did not see Miss Meade at all that night, nor alone until Tuesday evening, when he told her about going into the Ram for tea and coming out again directly. He did not say anything about seeing a ghost, but he made some very interesting remarks which I should like you to read for yourself. I wrote them down, and asked Miss Meade to check them over." She extracted a doubled-up exercise-book from the handbag and gave it to him, after which she folded her hands in her lap and watched his face whilst he read the pages she had indicated.

"Well?" he said when he had finished. "What do you make of it?"

Miss Silver was silent. She appeared to be considering her answer. She said at last in a quiet, serious voice, "He went in to get some tea because he was tired and thirsty, but he came out at once without having any. Afterwards he spoke to one person of a ghost, and to another of an opening door. I have wondered whether he saw that door open before him when he went into the Ram---whether he recognized or half recognized someone connected with his past life in Germany. And I have wondered whether someone else may have been there too---someone connected, not with his past, but with his present life in Bourne. To both these persons recognition would have meant the extreme of danger. They could not afford to remain in uncertainty on so important a point. I think it probable that one of them would have followed him in order to ascertain whether he went to the police. Discovering that he proceeded to the station to wait for the next train, they would conclude that the danger was not immediate---they would separate. But the matter could hardly be left there. Mr. Harsch's death may already have been decided upon. The chance that he might have recognized an enemy agent may, or may not, have precipitated the event. Sir George Rendal believes that a very determined attempt might have been made either to secure the formula of harschite for the enemy, or to deny the use of it to our own war effort."

Frank whistled.

"If Harsch opened a door in the Ram and recognized an enemy agent, why didn't he go to the police then and there?"

Miss Silver coughed.

"You have not read my notes attentively. Look at them again and you will see that he said, 'But we will not talk of things like that---it is not good. You may come to fancy something that is not there, and to see your own thoughts. That is not good.' You see, he was not sure. I think he had received a severe shock. When he came to think over what he had seen the shock blurred it---he was not sure. He put his impression into words when he said to Miss Madoc, 'I have seen a ghost'."

Abbott surveyed her oddly.

"Look here," he said, "the Chief will go batty if you keep on pulling rabbits out of the hat like this. We had a perfectly good case against Madoc until you came along and chucked Bush into the middle of it, and just as we are beginning to pick up the bits and get a good build-up with Bush, you go and drag in our old friend the sinister enemy agent."

"There are such things as enemy agents," said Miss Silver soberly. "I should, of course, be extremely sorry to inconvenience the Chief Inspector in any way, but I would not do him the injustice of supposing that he has any other wish than to arrive at the truth. May I rely on you to see whether those photographs are recognized by anyone at the Ram?"

Frank burst out laughing.

"You may always rely on me, as you very well know. But the Chief will go off the deep end if anything comes of it. Don't say I didn't tell you! And I would like to know whether this is really the fifth Act you were quoting about just now, or whether, to mix the metaphors, you've still got a wilderness of wild monkeys up your sleeve."

Miss Silver smiled indulgently.

"That remains to be seen," she said.

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