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Our Library => Patricia Wentworth - The Watersplash (1954) => Topic started by: Admin on June 18, 2023, 08:43:57 am



Title: Chapter Twenty-Six
Post by: Admin on June 18, 2023, 08:43:57 am
INSPECTOR Abbott was not in the least what Ruth Ball expected. She found it difficult to believe that he was a police officer. Solid worth was what one associated with the Police Force. A slim, elegant young man in a beautifully cut suit was disturbing. She would have been more comfortable if he had worn large clumping boots and talked with a country accent. But she was most anxious to be helpful.

“Now let me see---which Friday is it that you want to know about? . . . Oh, both? Well, on that first Friday---I know Mrs. Pomfret was there---and Miss Sims---and of course Miss Mildred Blake---and---yes, Mrs. Alexander. But not Mrs. Jonathan Random or Susan Wayne.”

“And when did they go away?”

“Well, the party is supposed to be over by ten, but you know how it is---there are the good nights. I know Miss Blake went away early. She wanted to have a word with Mr. Random, who was practising in the church. She was going to play on one of the Sundays. We are very fortunate in having two good amateurs actually in Greenings, because the parish could not really afford a professional organist.”

“At what time did Miss Blake leave?”

“It must have been just before ten---not so early after all. But the others were a little later.”

“And you could hear the organ then?”

“Oh, yes. Miss Blake remarked on it. She said she would just go over to the church and see him about the music.”

When she had left them Frank said, “Well, there goes a very promising case against Mr. Arnold Random. If he and Miss Blake were talking about music in the church round about ten o’clock, then he wasn’t murdering William Jackson. I must go and see her on my way back. I’ll ask her how long she was there, and whether she and Arnold walked home together. If they did, he’s got a nice water-tight alibi, and we have lost our chief suspect. You haven’t got another one up your sleeve by any chance, have you?”

He was taken aback when she said very soberly indeed, “I do not know, Frank.”

One of his very fair eyebrows lifted.

“And what do you mean by that?”

She fixed her eyes upon his face.

“I believe that I should tell you, but I am reluctant to do so. The person whom I have in mind has had a severe shock and is an object of compassion. There is, I believe, some want of balance. It is because this might prove a danger either to herself or others that I do feel I have a duty in the matter. I had a very curious interview in the churchyard last night.”

“An interview? With whom?”

“With William Jackson’s widow. I had gone to see rather a curious old tomb, and she came up behind me whilst I was looking at it.”

“Is she the woman who let us in? Bury told me she was working here. She looks very ill.”

“She has had a severe shock, Frank. Her state of mind is a disturbed one. She said some strange things to me whilst I was looking at the tomb. It is that of a man who was drowned in the splash more than a hundred years ago.”

“What did she say to you?”

She told him in her own quiet, accurate way. When she had finished he said, “It certainly sounds odd. But what are you suggesting---that she drowned him?”

She shook her head.

“Frank, I do not know. He was a bad husband---he took her money and spent it on other women. She has a bruise on the side of her head. It is not noticeable in the house, but in the churchyard when the wind blew her hair back it was distinctly visible. It has occurred to me that those verses on the tombstone might have suggested a method of murder to someone in a not very balanced state of mind.” She quoted them slowly and with emphasis:

    “In dark of night and dreadful sin
     The heart conceives its plan.


“And again:

   “There is a judge whose awefull law
    Doth all our deeds require.
    Better to drown in water now
    Than burn in endless fire.


“It is those last two lines which I find particularly suggestive. To an unbalanced mind it might appear that to drown William Jackson would be the means of saving him from further sin.”

He was frowning.

“And Clarice Dean?”

Miss Silver shook her head again.

“I can only repeat that I do not know. Once a lack of balance has led a person to kill, I suppose the act might be repeated, and with a lesser motive. Or the second murder may merely have been suggested by the first, and carried out by a different hand. No---perhaps that is going too far. Let us return to the safer realm of facts. I have thought it my duty to tell you that Annie Jackson’s state of mind is not altogether normal. I have given you an account of her words and behaviour at the tomb of Christopher Hale. I do not wish to go any farther than that, and I beg that you will not ask me to do so.”

A subsequent interview with Annie did not add very much to this. She was pale and quiet. She answered what was asked of her in a manner so devoid of emotion that she might have been repeating a lesson. She had been married nearly three years. The cottage had been bought with her money. William was not a good husband---everybody knew that. He wasn’t doing himself any good, and Mr. Random had given him his notice. No, he didn’t seem upset about it. He said Mr. Arnold would be sorry, and maybe he’d get his job back, and a rise. But she didn’t take any notice of that---she thought he was just boasting. She knew he was getting careless over his work, and Mr. Arnold was particular, he wouldn’t put up with it.

All this while her hands were strained together in her lap. There was no other sign that she was exercising a rigid control until Frank Abbott said, “Mrs. Jackson, did your husband ever talk to you about a will that he had witnessed?”

She gave a kind of gasp at that and said, “No.”

“Are you quite sure about that?”

“Quite---sure----” Each of the words seemed to use up all the breath she had.

“He never spoke as if he knew something which could be turned to his advantage?”

This time she did not attempt to speak, only shook her head. Frank Abbott leaned forward, his light eyes intent.

“Your husband didn’t usually come home till after closing time, did he?”

This was a relief. She managed a fluttering “No----”

“He was sometimes the worse for drink?”

She nodded.

“Did you ever come and meet him? As far as the splash---to see him over the stepping-stones?”

Her eyes widened until iris and pupil seemed to merge and show like a dark O against the white.

He said, “Did you come to meet him on that Friday night---the night that he was drowned?”

She had taken a quick breath. Now it went out of her in a sigh. Her straining hands relaxed and she slipped sideways to the floor in a faint.