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Chapter 7

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« on: January 31, 2023, 06:31:45 am »

UNTIL that moment, Mr. Campion had stupidly supposed all great sailors to be uniformly small men, square and irascible, with shining skins and sky-blue eyes. The Admiral was a disappointment to him. Susan's father was a vast, red Drake of a man, with a head like a Saint Bernard and the same dog's air of rigidly controlled energy. Everything about him was large and the glance he gave the room was comprehensive and sweeping. Carados, who was a powerful figure himself, looked small beside him.

"I've got him," said the Admiral. "We're having lunch with him at the Saladin Club. I don't know if he can do much, but we've hooked him anyway."

He was clearly pleased, and stood waiting, expecting no doubt the lunching party to set out forthwith.

Meanwhile, Johnny was looking at Onyer and a silent argument was taking place between them. Finally Johnny shrugged his shoulders.

"Wait a bit, sir," he said slowly. "I'm afraid there's been a development. The unfortunate woman was murdered; at least, that seems to be the police idea."

The Admiral looked down at him for some time.

"Oh," he said.

An uncomfortable silence followed, during which it seemed to Campion that the full seriousness of the situation came home at last to everyone. Hitherto the little company had been considering its own personal positions, but this exuberant giant was essentially a normal man with normal reactions, and they saw the story for an instant as it must appear in his eyes. A woman had been killed, the unforgivable crime committed; somebody was going to be hanged.

"It puts a rather different colour on the tale," he said at last.

"I'm afraid so," Carados agreed.

His hands were behind his back and he twirled the battered yellow rose between his fingers.

The Admiral squared his shoulders. "Well, we've got to see the thing through, don't you know," he said. "This feller I've got hold of can only put a little gunpowder behind the police, and wake 'em up and spur 'em on. A thing like this mustn't be allowed to stand about. We want it cleared up and put right, and the criminal punished. That's a job for the police. This man can put them on their toes and keep them there. We'd better go and see him."

Mr. Campion thought of Oates and Superintendent Yeo, and sighed for them, and it occurred to him that if Yeo and the Admiral ever met on equal terms, which now seemed unlikely, they would certainly take an enormous fancy to each other. Meanwhile the old man was continuing.

"All the same," he was saying, "it's up to us to play scrupulously fair with this feller, naturally, so I'm going to ask you a direct question, Carados. I won't put it to you here, perhaps you'll come in another room with me."

There was nothing subtle about the Admiral; his meaning was obvious, and in that sophisticated company his na´vetÚ and directness struck a slightly alarming note. Johnny appeared amazed.

"I didn't kill her, if that's what you're after, sir," he said.

The Admiral, who was already advancing upon the doorway, swung round again.

"That's what I wanted to know, and it's the answer I expected, my boy," he said. "You can give me your word on it, can you? It's all I want."

"I give you my word I did not kill her," repeated Johnny, looking as if he felt profoundly foolish.

"Good enough," said the Admiral. "Just one more thing. Do you know who did? No need to give names."

Johnny hesitated. It was the slightest pause imaginable, but it did occur.

"No," he said, a little too quickly. "No, I have no idea."

"On your word?"

"Yes. Yes, of course. On my word."

"Splendid. Well, if you'll change, we'll go."

The tension had slackened a little, but it was still in existence and the gathering split into little groups. Johnny went off to get his tunic, and the Admiral, who, it transpired, had known Mr. Campion's father, was graciously disposed to congratulate him both on that fact and on his recent work abroad. The Onyers were talking together anxiously, and as soon as Carados returned Gwenda appealed to him.

"Johnny, what about Edna and the police? Won't they be coming here? I mean, oughtn't we to wait?"

Carados looked harassed.

"My mother was very definite when I saw her," he said. "She never has liked interference, and if the police want us, I imagine they'll find us."

"Good Lord, yes. We can't wait about for the police." The Admiral was amused. "If they're not smartly on to their duty now I think you'll find they'll pipe a different tune after this evening. Come along, Carados, we can't keep this man waiting."

"You see no reason why Gwenda and I shouldn't keep our luncheon engagement?" said Onyer, following the warriors into the hall. Apparently they reassured him, for he came back relieved on that point, but still dubious. "I suppose Johnny knows what he's doing," he observed to the room in general. "He says carry on in a perfectly normal way. Perhaps we ought to go over and see Edna first, Gwenda. What do you say?"

"My dear, we must. I know she doesn't like interference, but you know what she is. She may do anything."

"We'll go then," said Onyer, and glanced at Mr. Campion, whose presence had become a responsibility to him. "I feel I got you here on false pretences," he said uncomfortably, "I didn't know they knew about it being so serious. Honestly, I don't like the look of things now, do you? That old boy means well, and will certainly stir up the police, but do we really want that?"

He looked so serious that Campion smiled. "It will add to the excitement," he suggested.

"I know." Onyer's gloom increased. "Not that anyone here has much to fear, naturally, unless... Look here, Campion, I don't know much about these things, but isn't there a very good charge against Edna already? I mean, you can't go moving bodies about like that, can you?"

"It could be thought over-enthusiastic," said Mr. Campion.

"You don't think they might have arrested her already?"

"My dear chap, don't ask me."

"Good heavens." Onyer was visibly paler. "What a hell of a family this is to look after," he said bitterly. "I'd better go over right away. You--er--you won't feel like coming, will you?"

As an invitation it was not pressing, and Mr. Campion declined gracefully. Ricky and Captain Gold had disappeared, and when the Onyers went off together he found himself alone with Miss Chivers, who was busy with a telephone directory.

"It's all got to be cancelled, you see," she said. "Would you believe it? I've been working on this wedding for three weeks and now I've got to undo everything at speed. Peter Onyer's right, it's a hell of a family to look after."

It was clear that she was very busy, but Campion did not move. He sat for a time watching her jot down telephone numbers, her big, well-modelled head bent over her work.

"Did that rose come from the house?" he enquired suddenly.

She closed the book, and looked at him across the small table at which she was working.

"The rose?" she repeated vaguely. "Oh, that. My dear man, don't take any notice of that. That's nothing."

"I thought it odd," said Mr. Campion.

"Did you?" She was laughing. "Hang around here for a bit, and you'll see odder things than that."

He did not move, and presently she seemed to take pity on him. Her broad, open face was alight with amusement.

"They're all cuckoo, always have been," she said indulgently. "Of course the rose came from the junk cupboard downstairs; Gwenda sent it, I should think."

"Mrs. Onyer? Why?"

"I don't know. Why does anyone do anything in this outfit? Perhaps she didn't. Perhaps she put Ricky up to it, or perhaps he thought it out himself. They're like that, don't take any notice of them. It didn't mean a thing."

Still he sat looking at her. She was so strong and intelligent-looking that her statements carried conviction in spite of their unexpectedness.

"It didn't look like a joke," he objected after a pause.

"Perhaps it wasn't one," said Dolly Chivers dryly.

"What would you say it was?" he persisted.

"I? I shouldn't mention it or even notice it." She glanced down at her work and then back at him, her fine, hard eyes suddenly determined. "You don't understand at all, do you?" she said, with a vehemence which surprised him. "I don't know if I can explain, or even if I ought to, but you can take it from me that when you get a clever, hypersensitive crowd like this all living together round one big personality, little jealousies and little affections do take on enormous proportions. No one liked Johnny marrying, you know. For some of them it must have seemed like the end of the world."

"Especially for Mrs. Onyer?"

"Yes, I suppose it hit her as much as anybody. She was always the mistress of the house here, you see."

"You think she sent the parcel?"

"I don't know anything about it, my dear," said Miss Chivers cheerfully. "All I say is, she probably did, and that therefore it meant exactly nothing. She stayed here last night and could have done it, but then Ricky's been prowling round the place since dawn, and Gee-gee Gold and I have had the same opportunity. Any of us might have done it, and it doesn't matter. I've told you, they're all nuts. They're always playing little dramatic tricks on each other. Let's hope they stick to roses."

"It must have meant something to Johnny."

"Probably it did," said Miss Chivers. "Possibly it reminded him of something nice and sentimental. Don't worry about it, leave that to him. Things like that happened every half-hour in the old days. Now, if you'll forgive me, I must get on. How does one address a bishop in a telegram?"

"You blow the extra pence," said Mr. Campion, "otherwise it goes to the Borough Council."

He waved her good-bye and went from the room and down the staircase, intending to let himself out. Since no one else appeared anxious to wait for the police he saw no earthly reason why he should. He was crossing the hall when a door on his right opened suddenly, and Susan Shering, looking prettier and if possible younger, peered out at him.

"Oh I'm sorry," she said. "I thought it might be my father. Has he gone?"

Mr. Campion paused. "I'm afraid he has," he said. "He went out with Johnny about fifteen minutes ago. They were going to lunch, I think."

"Oh, and he told me to wait in here for him. I suppose he forgot." She sounded more sad than surprised and Mr. Campion's respect for the Admiral increased. This was one way of managing women, of course; all the same, as a bride she was about the most forlorn and harassed person he had ever seen. He was feeling on the forlorn side himself.

"We're playthings of fate," he said. "Let's go and eat it off."

She hesitated. "I suppose you want to know where Lugg is?" she said. "I don't know, honestly I don't."

"I didn't think you did," he protested. "My mind was on food. We both seem a little redundant here, and neither of us has been fed. Let's see to that first. We should keep up our strength, we may need it. Where do people get food these days? I've been out of the country long enough for every restaurant I knew to get itself devastated, and for every chef in whom I had faith to get himself interned. Where shall we go?"

"I've been going to the Minoan lately," she said.

"The Minoan? I hope that doesn't meant aunties in white gym tunics?"

"No. It's nothing like that. It's in Frith Street."

"Oh," murmured Mr. Campion so darkly that for the first time she laughed, and he saw what she looked like when her eyes were dancing.

"It's awfully old-fashioned to be knowledgeable about food, except where to get some," she said. "Stavros has the best food in London at the moment, and very nearly the most, I should think."

Mr. Campion woke up. "Stavros? He's still about, is he? Good. Clever girl, how did you find him?"

"I went there to meet Eve Snow," said Susan unexpectedly, "and I've been there once or twice with Lieutenant Evers. That's where Miss Snow introduced us," she added na´vely, and blushed all over her face.

It was not until they were crossing the square to hunt for a taxi that he ventured to put the question.

"Known Miss Snow long?" he enquired.

"Not very," she admitted. "I like her, though, don't you? I didn't realize she knew Johnny so well. I was astounded to see them come in together yesterday, and anyway I was too frightened and upset to welcome her, or anything. I'm afraid I behaved badly all round; I was so frightened. Lady Carados terrifies me to begin with, and then, then... I say, is there going to be a frightful row?"

"Not before lunch," said Mr. Campion. "Forget it. I'm trying to. You haven't known our Eve very long then. How did you meet her?"

"Through Gwenda, that's Mrs. Onyer, you know. Peter Onyer's a great friend of Johnny's and I met them both as soon as the engagement was announced. Gwenda said I must meet Miss Snow and she fixed it. Then Miss Snow introduced me to Don, I mean Lieutenant Evers."

"Gwenda put you on to Eve?"

"Yes. Everybody's been so terribly kind to me, that's why everything is so--so awful."

"Well, well," said Mr. Campion.

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