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Chapter Forty-One

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Author Topic: Chapter Forty-One  (Read 276 times)
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« on: September 30, 2023, 12:59:56 pm »

A DAY OR two later there was a gathering at the Rectory to bid Miss Silver good-bye---Miss Sophy, Garth and Janice, Sergeant Abbott, Ida Mottram, and Miss Medora Brown who was really Mrs. Madoc.

This disclosure had so gone to the Miss Doncasters' heads that, forgetting their ancient grudge, they were as one woman in saying that they had always felt that there was something strange about her, and as for Mr. Everton, if anyone had cared to ask their opinion, they would have said at once that the shape of his head was German.

Frank Abbott, who appeared to be off duty, and was sitting reverentially on a fat Victorian stool at Miss Silver's feet, said in a coaxing voice, "Come along---tell us all. You suspected Everton from the first---didn't you? Why?"

Miss Silver coughed.

"My dear Frank, you are so impulsive. I did not begin to suspect Mr. Everton until Wednesday---the day before we made our expedition to Marbury."

Frank pricked up his ears.

"What happened on Wednesday?"

Miss Silver regarded him with complacence.

"Very little---very little indeed. If I had mentioned it, you would have thought that I was exaggerating the importance of a trifle. When I was waiting in the garden for Miss Fell, who was very kindly taking me to call on the Miss Doncasters, the evacuee child, Cyril Bond, was up on the wall. As you may have observed, he has a considerable thirst for knowledge. He leaned suddenly out between the overhanging branches and enquired, 'What does Sprechen sie Deutsch mean?'---mispronouncing the words in a most afflicting manner. However, the sense was clear, and I told him it meant 'Do you speak German?' He had apparently picked up the phrase from another evacuee, of Austrian-Jewish extraction."

Ida Mottram said in a puzzled voice, "But why?"

Miss Silver smiled, patted her hand, and continued.

"Cyril informed me that he had approached Mr. Everton before asking me, and that Mr. Everton had said he did not know any German. It seemed incredible to me that an educated man who was aware that the language in question was German should have been unacquainted with the meaning of so common a phrase. And I wondered why he should have been at so much pains. After that the circle kept narrowing. I had never been able to believe in Mr. Madoc's guilt, and his testimony cleared Bush. Everything else apart, Mr. Madoc could not have killed Ezra Pincott, since he was then in Marbury jail. And Bush could not have killed Mr. Harsch if Mr. Madoc's statement was correct."

Frank Abbott nodded.

"No---we checked it all up---he couldn't have got to the place where Madoc saw him in the time."

"It was abundantly clear," said Miss Silver, "that Ezra met his death in an attempt to blackmail the murderer. The type of gravel found on his boots showed that it had been picked up on a path in the churchyard or on the drive of one of the houses along the Green. The fact that this gravel was dry and clean was a proof that Ezra did not walk to the miry place where he was found drowned. From the moment Miss Janice informed me of the conversation in which Mr. Harsch used some such phrase as 'A door opening upon the past' I had a strong conviction that this door had opened in the Ram. Mr. Harsch went in there to have tea, and he came out without having it. Why? He missed his train, and when he got home he told Miss Madoc that he had seen a ghost. Where? It was clear to me that he had had an encounter which gave him a severe shock, that this encounter was connected with his past life, and that he was not entirely sure that his mind had not been playing him tricks. It was not, of course, someone from Bourne who startled him, but it occurred to me that two persons may have been present, and that one of them may have come from Bourne. If this was the case, both these persons had reason to be very uneasy, and fear lest they should have been recognized may have precipitated the murder."

Garth Albany said, "I don't think it did. Sir George was coming down next day---they were bound to bump Harsch off before he delivered the goods. Look here, Ida---Miss Mary Anne told you that she had overheard Harsch's call to Sir George. Did you repeat that to Everton?"

Ida Mottram opened her eyes as wide as they would go.

"Oh, no, but he was there---we were there together. He was always so very interested about Mr. Harsch."

"You bet he was!" said Garth. "And you bet he'd have collected the papers if Madoc hadn't got them off to his bank. He didn't have to risk getting them on the night of the murder, because he could count on Madoc being pretty sticky about handing them over to Sir George. Sorry, Mrs. Madoc, but anyone who knew him could have counted on that."

On being addressed by what was, after all, her legal name, Medora Madoc blushed painfully. She looked suddenly a good deal younger and, to Garth's amazement, shy.

Miss Silver inclined her head.

"I think that is quite true, Major Albany. I believe the plan was to allow Mr. Harsch to complete his experiments, and then murder him before he could hand the results over to the government. They knew that the time was running short and they must be ready to act at any moment. The meeting at the Ram may have been for the purpose of handing over a weapon very carefully chosen with a view to suggesting suicide. It is, I think, instructive to look back and see how very near the plan came to succeeding. If it had not been for the fact that Mr. Madoc's conduct exposed him to suspicion, the verdict of suicide would almost certainly have stood, since but for Mr. Madoc's arrest I doubt very much whether Ezra Pincott's death would have received the attention it deserved. It is reassuring to reflect that criminals so often come to grief over some small happening which they could not have foreseen. All through, Mr. Everton's success and safety depended on his never being suspected. Actually, the very pains he took to avoid suspicion convinced me that there was something to suspect. When Mrs. Mottram told him that I was to be called in, there is, I think, no doubt that he took steps to discredit Miss Janice. I have never been able to regard the conversation I heard behind me in the Tube station as fortuitous, I am quite sure that it was carefully planned. He is known to have gone over to Marbury on the Saturday evening, and I have no doubt that he telephoned from there to a confederate in London. It has not, unfortunately, been possible to trace the call. As we now know, Mr. Everton's name is not Everton at all, but Smith. His parents were Germans of the name of Schmidt. He was born and brought up in this country, but paid frequent visits to Germany and became a fanatical Nazi. But----" she turned graciously to Frank---"Sergeant Abbott is better qualified than I am to deal with this."

"Well, it's no secret now. He was up before the magistrates yesterday. The real Everton is still having a nervous breakdown somewhere in Devon. They picked him carefully. He doesn't seem to have any relations, and his friends were the sort you pick up doing business over a drink or a lunch---easy come, easy go. It was 'poor old Everton' for a bit, and then nobody bothered. He's too bad to write letters. He just dropped clean out. I gather there's no real likeness between him and Schmidt, but a superficial description of one would fit the other---height, figure, colouring. He seems to have played the part of the cheerful little man with country tastes and a liking for having a finger in everybody's pie, and to have played it very well indeed."

Miss Sophy sat up and said, "I don't believe it was a part. I believe it was what he might have been if that wretched Hitler had left him alone. When you think how many, many people were killed in the last war, it does seem a pity Hitler shouldn't have been one of them."

Frank Abbott turned an appreciative eye upon her.

"Thanks for those kind words, Miss Fell."

With a faint cough Miss Silver resumed.

"From the moment I had talked with Mrs. Mottram it was, of course, clear to me that Mr. Everton's alibi for Tuesday night was no alibi at all. He called Mrs. Mottram's attention to a shot which she did not hear and, looking at his watch, remarked that it was a quarter to ten. Actually, I believe that it was then half past nine. He ran very little risk, as Mrs. Mottram does not wear a watch and has no clock in her drawing-room."

"Watches won't go on me," said Ida, looking round for sympathy. "They say it's electricity or something. And I can't sit in the room with a clock---it worries me. But I'm practically sure I did hear something chime---and of course I thought it was a quarter to ten like he said."

Miss Silver smiled at her.

"Yes, my dear---I think he counted on that. He left you at half past nine, and four or five minutes later he entered the church. I felt sure all along that the murderer was on friendly terms with Mr. Harsch, and that some conversation preceded the shot. You see, the curtain which screens the organist was pulled back, and no one seems to have heard the organ later than a very few minutes after half past nine. Unless the murderer makes a statement, we shall never know quite what happened. But since the appearance of suicide was aimed at, it would be necessary to put Mr. Harsch off his guard, and to hold him in conversation until the next set of chimes fell due at a quarter to ten. Schmidt would be watching the time, standing close up to the organ stool. To pass as suicide, the shot must be fired at point-blank range. The three chimes for the quarter begin. At the second he fires. Mr. Harsch falls down. Schmidt has only to wipe the weapon, clasp his victim's hand upon it, and let it drop again, releasing the pistol. If Ezra Pincott had not been in the Church Cut upon his own affairs that night, there is no doubt that a very wicked plan would have succeeded."

Garth laughed.

"Ezra was after Giles's rabbits!" he said. "He could get rabbits anywhere, but it tickled him to get Giles's---he'd been doing it for years. And a clever old poacher like him wouldn't be foxed over which side of the road that shot came from. There wasn't anything about sounds that Ezra wasn't up to---I've been out with him and I know. He told me once he could hear an earwig walking on a leaf, and I believe him."

"That is very interesting, Major Albany. To continue. Hearing the shot, Ezra ran to the door in the churchyard wall and opened it. He saw Schmidt leave the church, and ran after him. We know that he caught him up, since Sam and Gladys now say, what would have been more useful if said at once, that, returning from their walk by way of the road which passes the houses, they observed Mr. Everton and Ezra in conversation at Mr Everton's gate. They heard Ezra say, 'Drunk or sober, it'll be something to talk about in the morning', and he then went off laughing."

"Fit to bust himself," said Frank Abbott. "They also say that a little later on they saw Miss Doncaster come out and post a letter. As soon as she'd gone in they went into the churchyard. When I asked them why they hadn't said all this when it was some use, they said it was only old Ezra and Mr. Everton, and that old Miss Doncaster that's always posting letters, and Gladys giggled and said, 'You wouldn't think she'd have a boy friend, would you!'" He turned to Miss Silver, sitting on the footstool with his arms locked about his knees. "Revered preceptress, why don't you say, 'I told you so'?"

He got an indulgent smile, but before Miss Silver could speak footsteps were heard in the hall and the door was flung open. Striding past the indignant Mabel, Mr. Madoc bounced the door shut and comprehended the assembled party in a scowl of greeting. There was some kind of an inclination of the head in the direction of Miss Sophy and Miss Silver, after which his frowning regard came to rest upon his wife, who sat there as if she had been turned to stone. He addressed her in a series of angry jerks.

"If you're coming home you had better pack your box! Pincott's van will call for it in half an hour!"

Without waiting for an answer he turned and went out. The door banged after him. The front door banged.

Medora Madoc got up. Her marmoreal pallor seemed to have gone for good. She was very much flushed, and she looked as if she might be going to cry. She came over to the sofa and said, "Dear Miss Sophy---may I?" and then fairly ran out of the room.

Garth said, "Gosh!" And then, "How long will it last?"

Miss Silver gave him a glance of mild reproof.

"They have both been so very unhappy," she said. "I do not really think she will find him difficult to manage. Tact and affection should cure him of expecting to be hurt. I saw at once that that was the trouble, and I believe she will be able to deal with it."

Garth just gazed, until Miss Silver turned back to her audience. Then he leaned over Janice, on the arm of whose chair he was sitting, and murmured, she hoped inaudibly,

"Darling---swear to be tactful and affectionate."

Miss Silver coughed.

"There is very little more to say. I think that Ezra received some money on account. He seems to have stood drinks all round at the Bull, which was not his habit. But he showed the usual mounting appetite of the blackmailer, and---he began to talk. He became too dangerous to be tolerated. I think he was asked to call at a fairly late hour, met by Schmidt himself, and invited---probably---into the garage. Yes, I feel sure that it would have been the garage. Being a converted coachhouse, it is very roomy, and it houses a most convenient wheelbarrow. Ezra was offered brandy, which he accepted with avidity. He was then knocked out, placed in the wheelbarrow and conveyed---probably across the Green, the honest and safest way---to the place where he was found. There was some risk about this, but not very much---Bourne goes early to bed, and I recall that the night was cloudy. Returning home and unobserved, Schmidt must have considered himself safe. The case against Mr. Madoc must have seemed very strong to him, and he would confidently expect a verdict of accidental death in Ezra's case. I cannot praise too highly the acumen of Sergeant Abbott in detecting the dry specks of gravel which had adhered to the mud on Ezra's boots, and his brilliant deduction that Ezra had not walked but been carried to the miry place where he was found."

For the first and only time in his history Frank Abbott was seen to blush. The colour, though faint, was quite discernible, and it may be said that it filled Garth Albany with joy.

Miss Sophy heaved herself up from the sofa and announced that she must go to her poor Medora. Ida Mottram embraced Miss Silver, rolled her eyes at Frank, and announced with a faint scream that she must fly to Bunty.

But at the door she turned.

"Oh, Mr. Abbott, I suppose you can't tell me, but it does seem such a pity---those lovely hens of Mr. Everton's---I suppose he wouldn't divide them among us?"

"I'm afraid I couldn't suggest it, Mrs. Mottram."

"Oh, well----" She kissed her hand to the room and departed.

Miss Silver looked after her with affection. Then she turned to Garth and Janice.

"I have a few things to put together in my room. My taxi should be here in about ten minutes' time. Sergeant Abbott will be travelling with me as far as Marbury. It is always a little sad to say good-bye at the end of a case, but if the guilty have been discovered and the innocent cleared, I am cheered and encouraged. There is no greater cause than justice, and in my humble way I try to serve that cause. May I offer you my very best wishes, and my earnest hopes for your happiness?"

She went out---a little dowdy person in garments of outmoded style, the bog-oak rose at her throat, her hair, neatly controlled by a net, piled high in a tight curled fringe after the fashion set by Queen Alexandra in the nineties and now just coming in again, her feet in woollen stockings and bead-embroidered shoes, a brightly flowered knitting-bag depending from her arm.

She went out, and Frank Abbott shut the door after her. As he turned back he was again seen to be slightly flushed. In a tone so far from official that it actually sounded boyish he exclaimed, "Marvellous---isn't she!"


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