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Chapter Thirty-Eight

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Author Topic: Chapter Thirty-Eight  (Read 19 times)
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« on: September 30, 2023, 11:50:32 am »

FRANK ABBOTT burst out laughing.

"And it doesn't get us anywhere at all! Exit Madoc. Exit Bush. Enter invisible murderer, sex unknown. Nobody saw him except Ezra, and Ezra is no more. Please, teacher, who did it?"

Miss Silver remained silent.

He quirked an eyebrow at her and said, "Strictly off the record and between ourselves?"

Miss Silver coughed.

"There is so little to go on---just a few straws in the wind---nothing that could be called evidence."

He gazed imploringly.

"Strictly off the record, teacher?"

She said gravely, "I think it was one of the people who went to the Ram on Monday afternoon."

His eye brightened.

"Do you include Bush?"

"I do not think that it was Bush."

Frank whistled.

"Who's left? Miss Doncaster, and possibly Everton, but there's no evidence to show that he was ever near the Ram. Oh, by the way, the Chief has checked up on him, and it all sounds according to Cocker. Stockbroker. Gregarious, friendly soul. Often said he would like to settle in the country. Shell-shocked in the blitz---bad nervous breakdown---ordered a country life. Dropped out---you know how people do in London when they retire. Sounds all right, doesn't it?"

"He has never had anyone down to stay," said Miss Silver. "He is said to have gone over to meet a cousin in Marbury a little while ago, but that is the only evidence of contact with friends or relatives. For a friendly, gregarious person that seems a little strange."

"Nervous break-downs do leave people strange, don't they? And, you know, it's quite easy to drop out."

"That is very true."

"Then, for what it's worth, Mrs. Mottram gives him an alibi. She says he was with her until a quarter to ten on Tuesday night, and that the shot was fired just as he said good-bye."

Miss Silver coughed.

"A very good example of unreliability of evidence. She told me the same story, but with a difference. She said Mr. Everton heard the shot and thought that it was Giles shooting at a fox. He had just looked at his watch and said he must go, as it was a quarter to ten and he was expecting a trunk call."

Frank Abbott's eyes narrowed.

"Not quite the same thing, as you say."

Miss Silver coughed again.

"Not quite. Mrs Mottram was one of the people I was thinking of just now when I said that those who live round the Green are so accustomed to hearing the chimes they no longer notice them. Just before I left her I asked whether she could remember hearing them when Mr. Everton was saying good-bye, and she said she thought she could, but she wasn't sure, because she hardly ever did notice them unless she was listening. She thought she heard something just as he went out."

Frank Abbott frowned.

"Something odd there, isn't there? Everton looks at his watch and says it's a quarter to ten and he must be going because he's expecting a trunk call. Then he remarks on the shot---'Hullo, there's Giles shooting at a fox!' or words to that effect. And then he says good-bye, and Mrs. Mottram hears something which she thinks may have been a chime. Well, there simply wasn't time for it to happen like that." He turned his wrist so that they could both see the second hand of his watch. "Look here---ding, ding, ding, ding---five seconds dead. The shot came just into the second chime---another two seconds. Everton has only got three seconds to hear the shot, say his piece about Giles shooting at a fox, say good-bye, and get going. Well, it simply can't be done in time for Mrs. Mottram to hear the remaining chime. The only drawback is she doesn't seem sure enough about anything to make it worth while trying to build up a theory on what she may or may not have heard. I suppose she's telling the truth?"

"Certainly---as far as she knows it herself. She would make a very bad witness. Her mind is extremely inconsequent, and she would be very easily confused. We had better check the whole thing over with her again and see whether there is any variation from what she said to me."

Frank nodded.

"All right---so much for Everton. Now, what about Miss Doncaster? You say you think it was one of those people who went to the Ram on Monday afternoon who shot Harsch. As far as I can make out, you get there by what I can only describe as one of your broomstick methods, and it's going to make the Chief feel very uncomfortable. You know, I'm beginning to suspect that he's got a medieval streak under all that beef and brawn, and that there are times when he gets a shiver down his spine about you. I must watch and see if I can catch him crossing his fingers, or secreting a sprig of rowan in his pocket."

Miss Silver reproved this levity, and received an apology.

"All right, I'm back on the trail. Well, we do know for certain that Miss Doncaster was at the Ram. We haven't any evidence at all that Everton was, and for the moment we're not considering Bush. Well, that leaves you Miss Doncaster as first murderer, and I quite agree that she would do very well in the part---she's cram full of envy, malice, and all uncharitableness. But we're going to want something a little more specific than that. What can you do about it?"

"Not very much," said Miss Silver. "She and her sister were at a finishing school in Germany for two years. They came back with a great enthusiasm for everything German. During their father's lifetime they used to go every other year to one of the German spas. This was discontinued on his death in 1912. About 1930 the sisters began their trips abroad again---Switzerland, the Tyrol, Germany. Miss Doncaster developed a violent admiration for Hitler---Miss Sophy says she was really very trying about him. But in 1938 Miss Mary Anne became paralysed and the trips had to be abandoned. Since the war broke out Miss Doncaster appears to have had a complete change of heart. She is by way of being very patriotic, and Hitler is never mentioned. Miss Sophy said it was really the greatest possible relief."

Frank Abbott whistled.

"Does she know how to use a revolver?"

"I believe so. Mr Doncaster was fond of shooting at a mark. Miss Sophy says he made his daughters' lives a burden to them about it, and it was very noisy and uncomfortable for the neighbours."

"None of which is evidence," said Frank Abbott gloomily. "Let's see--we checked up on everybody in those houses. What was she doing on Tuesday night?" He flicked over the leaves of his notebook. "Here we are! Pennycott---Doncasters. Maid in kitchen---heard nothing, didn't go out. Invalid sister upstairs, back room---wireless on---heard nothing. Miss Doncaster---with sister except for five minutes somewhere between half past nine and ten, when she went to the pillar-box opposite the Rectory and posted a letter---cannot fix time exactly---thinks it was nearly ten o'clock---met nobody, heard nothing. Well, there you are. As far as opportunity goes she had it. What about motive? I suppose she might have had that too. A violent enthusiasm for Hitler might have made her willing to work for the Nazis. It doesn't seem credible, but she wouldn't be the only one. I don't know how it gets them, but it seems to. I suppose there wasn't anything else---any private feud with Harsch? He hadn't been treading on her toes?"

"I have not heard anything. It would not, of course, be at all difficult to offend her."

Frank burst out laughing.

"I should call that a masterpiece of understatement!"

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