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Chapter Thirty-Six

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« on: September 30, 2023, 11:03:20 am »

MISS SILVER sat at one end of a long bare table, and Evan Madoc at the other. They were in a small room with linoleum on the floor. There was no furniture except the table, which was of varnished yellow deal, and a few uncompromising chairs with wooden seats. The air resembled the variety commonly found in post offices and railway waiting-rooms, being cold, damp, and highly charged with disinfectant. The door had an eighteen-inch glass panel at the top, through which the warder standing just outside could watch all that passed. Miss Silver was, however, assured that he was out of earshot.

She had been in the room for some few minutes before Mr. Madoc was brought in. Her first impression was that whether he had or had not shot Mr. Harsch he certainly looked as if he would like to murder her. He had, in fact, begun a somewhat vehement protest, when the warder tapped him on the shoulder. "Take it easy now---take it easy." After which he withdrew to his observation post.

Madoc, glaring after him, heard himself addressed by name in a prim, agreeable voice. It was kind, but it held a note of authority. It reminded him of his Aunt Bronwen Evans whose texts, tips, and toffee had profoundly influenced his early years. He turned abruptly and beheld a little dowdy woman in a black jacket with a bunch of purple pansies in her hat. She said, "Sit down, Mr. Madoc. I want to talk to you."

As she spoke, he met her eyes, found in them the one thing he respected, intelligence, and dropped into the chair which had been set for him with no more than a protesting frown. He said, "I don't know who you are, and I have nothing to say."

She smiled.

"I have not asked you to say anything yet. My name is Maud Silver---Miss Maud Silver---and I am a private enquiry agent. Your friends, who do not believe that you shot Mr. Harsch, have retained my services, and Chief Detective Inspector Lamb has kindly facilitated this interview."

Evan Madoc pushed back an untidy black lock which was tickling his nose and said, "Why?" His voice could not very well have been ruder.

Miss Silver looked at him reprovingly. Her manner indicated that discourtesy relegated one mentally and morally either to the nursery or the slum. A faint flush showed that the intimation had gone home. He said less rudely, but with a show of restrained temper.

"I have nothing to say. And when you speak of my friends, I am at a loss to imagine--"

Miss Silver modified her look. It was still hortatory, but it promised forgiveness---like Aunt Bronwen when she had finished her sermon and the toffee came out of her pocket.

"You have some very good friends, Mr. Madoc---Miss Fell, with whom I am staying---Miss Meade, who was instrumental in calling me in----"

He hit the table with the flat of his hand.

"You are not going to make me believe that Janice Meade is crying her eyes out over me! She told me once to my face that I was the most disagreeable man she had ever met, and that she wouldn't have stayed with me a week if it hadn't been for Michael Harsch!"

Miss Silver coughed.

"Quite so. But she does not believe that you shot him. As a scientist, you should be able to understand that there is such a thing as a passion for abstract justice."

He gave a bitter laugh.

"And you ask me to believe that she would put her hand in her pocket for that?"

Miss Silver ignored this sordid theme. She gave him a penetrating look and said,

"Miss Janice bases her belief in your innocence upon the fact that you cared a good deal for Mr. Harsch."

His eyes blazed for a moment. The muscles of his face twitched. He said, "What has that got to do with her---or with you?"

"Nothing, Mr. Madoc. I mentioned it as the basis of Miss Meade's conviction that you are innocent. But to pursue the question of your friends. Your sister is naturally in great distress, and so of course is your wife."

His chair was pushed back so sharply as to score the government linoleum. The warder, watching through his glass panel, put a hand to the door knob. But after tensing his muscles as if about to spring up Evan Madoc appeared to change his mind. The impulse failed. He dragged his chair in again and leaned forward with his elbows on the table, propped his chin in his hands, and put up a spread of restless fingers to cover his mouth. He said in a sort of mutter, "I have no wife."

Miss Silver coughed.

"Confidence from a client is most desirable. As Lord Tennyson so rightly observes, 'Oh, trust me not at all, or all in all.' I realize you know so little about me that I cannot expect your confidence, but I do ask you not to complicate the situation by attempting to prevaricate. You were married to Miss Medora Brown on June 15th five years ago at the Marylebone Register Office in London."

He put his face right down into his hands. The black lock fell forward over twitching fingers. And then quite suddenly he jerked it back and sat up, a wry grin twisting his mouth.

"Well, it seems a peculiar moment for Medora to claim me as a husband. I suppose you didn't find all this out for yourself?"

"Mrs. Madoc has been in considerable distress. She informed me of your marriage because she was afraid she might be compelled to give evidence against you."

"And I suppose it's all in the papers!"

"The only persons who know of it are the Chief Inspector, Sergeant Abbott, and myself. Publicity at this juncture would be most undesirable."

Evan Madoc laughed angrily.

"I quite agree! It would be highly undesirable for her to be known as a murderer's wife! You know she thinks I did it!"

Miss Silver coughed.

"Mr. Madoc, we have no time for these melodramatics. You are in a serious, even a dangerous position. If you can make up your mind to treat me frankly, I believe that I can help you." She broke into a smile of singular sweetness and charm. "You see, I am quite sure that you did not shoot Mr. Harsch."

He flung out his hands as if he were pushing something away and said, "Why?"

"Because you have such a very bad temper."

"And what do you mean by that?"

She paused for a moment, looking at him with steady composure.

"Mr. Harsch was shot by someone who had planned to shoot him. The weapon was taken to the spot for that purpose. After the murder it was carefully wiped and Mr. Harsch's fingerprints imposed upon it. I think you might be capable of violence in a moment of passion, but I do not believe you capable of premeditation or of cool after-thought. If you had killed your best friend in the heat of anger you would, I think, stand by your deed and not allow another man to be accused."

He said in a stupefied voice, "How do you know?" And then, as if waking up, "What do you mean---what other man? Is anyone else accused?"

"Frederick Bush is under suspicion. He was seen to come out of the church just before ten o'clock, locking the door behind him. He admits to being there, but says he found the door open and Mr. Harsch fallen down dead by the organ stool. He was afraid of being implicated, so he locked the door and came away. He swears that he did not touch the pistol. By showing that Mr. Harsch had not locked himself inside the church, Bush's statement destroys the most damning part of the evidence against you. As you will see, anyone might have walked in and shot him."

Madoc hit the table.

"For heaven's sake stop talking! I tell you Bush didn't do it!"

Miss Silver drew herself up.

"Perhaps you would care to amplify that, Mr. Madoc."

He pushed long nervous fingers through his hair.

"I tell you he didn't do it---I tell you he couldn't have done it! I've got to make a statement! They mustn't arrest him! Get hold of that Chief Inspector! He was anxious enough for me to talk when I didn't want to! I suppose somebody can produce him now and get me something to write on?"

In a calming voice Miss Silver said that she had no doubt it could be managed. She then went over to the door and spoke to the warder. If there was triumph in her heart, no discreetest shade of it was discernible in face or manner. She returned to her place, invited attention by her slight habitual cough, and said, "Pray, Mr. Madoc, continue. I am deeply interested."

He stared.

"What do you think I am? I meant to hold my tongue---one isn't bound to hang oneself! There's some work I would have liked to finish. But they mustn't arrest Bush. You see, it's like this. I came back. After I'd got away with the key I walked all out for five or six minutes. I was going home. And then it came over me that I'd better go back. I didn't want that key. If I've got to dot all the i's and cross the t's, I thought I'd made a fool of myself. I was angry. I didn't want to give Medora the satisfaction of thinking I cared whether she went over to the church to talk to Harsch or not. I'd like to say there wasn't any question in my mind about there being anything wrong between them, but she liked talking to him, and when we met we always quarrelled. I thought I'd punish her by putting the key down on the study doorstep for the maids to find in the morning." His mouth twisted. "I knew she'd enjoy explaining how it got there."

Miss Silver sat with folded hands. She made no comment.

Evan Madoc leaned towards her.

"Now listen carefully! I came back across the village street and entered the Cut. When I had come level with the church the clock began to chime for the third quarter." He hummed the four descending notes. "It does that three times for the quarter to. It had just got into the second chime when I heard the shot. I didn't know where it came from--there's a good deal of echo there, off the church and off the wall of the Cut. It's difficult to remember exactly how one felt. I think, subconsciously, I was afraid it wasn't Giles shooting at a fox, so I threw up a lot of protective stuff to convince myself that it was. Everything happened very quickly. Immediately after the shot someone in front of me in the Cut began to run. I hadn't noticed him before---the trees keep the moonlight off the path---yews and hollies, very dense---you'll have seen them---but I did see him open the door into the churchyard and run in. It was bright when the door was opened. When I got there it was standing a handsbreadth ajar. I looked in, and this is what I saw. The man who had just gone in was half way over to the door which opens on the Green, running fast, and someone else was just going out of that door. I couldn't see who it was---I couldn't say if it was man or woman---I just saw someone go out and bang the door. And then the second person got there, still running, and went out too."

"Pray continue," said Miss Silver.

He was frowning gloomily.

"I changed my mind again. I wanted to get home. The police won't understand that, but it's true. I felt sick to death of being angry and wanting to punish Medora. I suppose I really knew that something had happened, but I wouldn't admit it. I just wanted to get home. I went back down the Cut as quick as I could, and just as I came out of it I saw Bush cross over from the left of the main churchyard gate. He didn't see me, because I was in the shadow, but I saw him. So there you are---he couldn't possibly have shot Michael."

"He couldn't have reached the spot where you saw him in the time?"

He drew with his finger on the table.

"Look---the Cut is the shortest side of a very irregular oblong. I ran down it pretty fast. If Bush was the man I saw leaving the churchyard he couldn't have made it in the time with double the distance to travel. You can measure it up for yourself. It's pretty well twice as far from the gate on the Green to that corner, and then there's all the way along the street to the main entrance, which is much nearer the Cut. Besides, Bush was coming quite slowly and leisurely from the opposite direction. And, to finish up with, if he'd really shot Michael, do you suppose he'd have been such a fool as to go back into the church and stay there till just before ten?"

Miss Silver observed him with attention.

"Your points are very well taken. Now, Mr. Madoc, you say that you did not recognize the first person who left the churchyard. But what about the man who ran---did you recognize him?"

"Yes, I did."

"Who was it?"

"An old poacher called Ezra Pincott. I saw him quite distinctly. The police had better get hold of him. He probably knows who he was after."

Miss Silver regarded him steadily.

"I am afraid that is impossible, Mr Madoc. Ezra Pincott was murdered on Tuesday night."

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