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Our Library => Patricia Wentworth - The Watersplash (1954) => Topic started by: Admin on June 19, 2023, 08:46:29 am

Title: Chapter Thirty-Eight
Post by: Admin on June 19, 2023, 08:46:29 am
MISS Silver had volunteered to do any shopping that might be required for the Vicarage.

“You will be having your work-party this evening, and that will mean more to do in the house, to say nothing of the cutting-out, at which you are, I am told, most proficient. Your dear mother was just the same. I remember that she won the sewing prize at school. So if there is any little thing I can do for you in the village, I should really enjoy having an object.”

Ruth remembered that they were short of custard powder, and cook had planned to make some of her celebrated cream-custard biscuits.

“She thinks they are wasted on the work-party, but she can’t resist showing them off. Everyone in Greenings has asked for the recipe and been refused. And if Mrs. Alexander has any of her home-made apple-ginger left, do find out if she can spare me a pot. John is so fond of it. And I can cut out a whole batch of children’s frocks and be sure that they will be some kind of a human shape.”

As Miss Silver took her way down the drive she had a thought to spare for her old friend’s daughter. Such a pity that she had no children---a pity and, she was afraid, an abiding grief. But instead of letting it embitter her she allowed it to flow out in service to the desolate children who needed it most. She thought that Mary had brought up her daughter well.

She found Miss Sims at the counter in Mrs. Alexander’s shop. She was commenting unfavourably and at great length upon an imported cauliflower, each word carefully separated from its neighbour and coming out with slow deliberation. “Sinful!” she was saying as Miss Silver came in. “Two shillings for a cauliflower! And Mr. Pomfret had to plough in I dunno how many hundreds in the spring! ‘Wilful waste makes woeful want’, is what my father would have said!”

Mrs. Alexander opined that times had changed, and did she want the cauliflower?

Miss Sims gave a sigh that was almost a groan.

“Seems I’ll have to take it. The doctor’s so fond of them he’d eat them day in, day out all the year round if they was to be had, which thank goodness they’re not, for there’s nothing smells so strong when it’s cooking as a cauliflower.”

Miss Silver entered the conversation with a bright smile and the remark that a piece of bread in the saucepan would often do wonders in reducing the disagreeable odour.

Mrs. Alexander said her mother always put a bit of bread in with the greens, but Miss Sims merely shook her head and gave it as her opinion that what was all very well for a good English cauliflower grown in your own garden was neither here nor there when it came to this foreign stuff.

It was while Mrs. Sims was producing her purse and counting out five threepenny bits, three coppers, and a sixpence that Mrs. Alexander leaned over the counter and asked Miss Silver whether she could tell her how poor Annie Jackson was.

“If you’ll excuse me asking, but I saw her yesterday just for a minute going past, and I thought she looked dreadful, poor thing. We all know there’s nobody would be kinder to her than Mrs. Ball, but I did think she looked dreadful, and I couldn’t get it from my mind. They say she goes down to the splash and looks at the water, and she didn’t ought to do that.”

Miss Silver shook her head gravely.

“It is very difficult to stop her. She slips down there in the dark. I found her there myself last night. I am afraid the place has a morbid attraction for her, especially about the time her husband must have been drowned. Of course, it is exceedingly bad for her, as you say.”

“She didn’t ought to do it,” said Miss Sims in a tone almost as disapproving as if she had just found out that the fish was high.

Mrs. Alexander was disapproving too.

“She doesn’t go along to that cottage of hers, not by herself, does she? I did hear the Hodges hadn’t moved in yet. Seems her mother’s been ill and they’re bound to stay till she’s better.”

Miss Silver coughed in a hesitating manner.

“I am afraid I cannot say. Of course you are quite right. She ought not to do these things, but it is extremely difficult to prevent her. So easy to slip out, especially whilst a work-party is going on.”

Miss Sims began to stow away the cauliflower in her shopping-bag.

“I wouldn’t go down to the splash in the dark if you were to pay me.”

“Oh, well,” said Mrs. Alexander, “Annie is used to it. There’s a lot in being used to things.”

They had talked about Annie Jackson for a quarter of an hour before Miss Silver found an opportunity of mentioning either custard powder or apple-ginger.

The conversation might have gone on a good deal longer if it had not been for the sudden irruption of Cyril Croft in search of batteries for his bicycle lamp. It appeared that he had been away visiting an aunt, and had come back with two batteries that were completely dud.

“I had a frightful time there---there wasn’t a piano in the house! And I missed everything that was going on here. Clarice---and poor old William Jackson! It must have been a homicidal maniac---mustn’t it? And that’s a grim thought, because he’s probably still somewhere about!”

Miss Silver left him talking and proceeded on her way. Approaching the Miss Blakes’ house, she was waved and nodded to by Miss Ora, whose sofa had been pushed even farther into the bay than usual. Regardless of the colder day, a window was opened. Greetings were exchanged, and a pressing invitation extended to come up and have a cup of tea and a chat. Remembering the horrid fluid which had passed under that name, Miss Silver might have been forgiven for finding some excuse, yet she accepted with smiling alacrity and was invited to walk in.

Miss Ora’s best shawl had been put away for another tea-party, but she was wearing a very nice one with a pale blue border, and ribbons of the same shade in the lace trifle which passed as a cap. She received Miss Silver with great affability, designated a hand-bell, and asked if she would be so kind as to ring it just outside the door, explaining that it would bring Mrs. Deacon, which it presently did.

“Miss Silver is being kind enough to pay me a visit, and we will have tea, and the cake that was not cut yesterday.”

Mrs. Deacon looked uncertain, seemed about to speak, checked herself, and retreated. Just before the door closed upon her she remarked that Miss Mildred was turning out the kitchen cupboard. It was obvious that the prospect of seeing yesterday’s cake had been dimmed. Miss Ora made a small vexed sound, clutched fretfully at her shawl, and only began to brighten when it became apparent that, unlike Ruth Ball, Miss Silver was by no means averse from talking about the murders.

They had reached some interesting speculations as to the possibility of Annie knowing more about her husband’s death than she had hitherto been induced to divulge, when the door was first unlatched, and then pushed open by the thrust of a bony elbow. It was Miss Mildred, who had brought up the tea. And not even in a pot---just three cups, one of them chipped, with a drop or two of milk added to the pale brew, and no sugar. Instead of the cake so optimistically suggested there were two very plain biscuits on a cracked plate.

Miss Ora’s colour deepened. But this was no moment to quarrel with Mildred. She swallowed her annoyance and exclaimed, “Do you know, Miss Silver says that poor Annie Jackson just can’t keep away from the splash---not even at night. You’d think she’d be frightened---wouldn’t you?”

Mildred Blake set down the tray. She stared at her sister across it.

“What has she got to be frightened about?”

The white curls were tossed. The blue ribbons fluttered.

“Well, really---when two people have been murdered there!”

Miss Mildred’s voice was coldly disapproving as she said, “You are taking a good deal for granted, Ora.” She turned to Miss Silver. “My sister is prone to exaggeration. There is no proof that anyone has been murdered. William Jackson was drunk, and he fell into a pool and was drowned. No one had any reason for wanting to get rid of him---except his wife. Miss Dean was an excitable young woman, and she had been crossed in love. I find it much easier to believe that she took her own life than that anyone else should have had the slightest desire to do so.”

Miss Ora was now very much flushed.

“Really, Mildred---you might just as well say I tell lies! And you don’t know what Miss Silver has just been telling me about Annie Jackson. She goes down to the splash between half-past nine and ten and stands there talking and muttering to herself---and why should she do that if she hasn’t got something on her mind? It’s my belief she went to meet poor William, and pushed him in, which wouldn’t have been hard to do if he was drunk. You know Mrs. Deacon always says it never did take much to go to his head. It would have been quite easy for Annie to have pushed him in, and it’s my belief it is just what she did. And Clarice Dean too. You see, if Clarice was hanging about there on the chance of meeting Edward Random, well, she might have seen more than she was meant to see on the night that William was drowned. And then Annie would have had a motive for pushing her in too. You can’t deny that.”

Mildred Blake said in a slow, cold voice, “My dear Ora, you should write a novel. It would give you something to do.” She took up the third cup and sipped from it. “I prefer to leave these conjectures to the police. But Annie should really not be allowed to go down to the splash in the way you describe. It is most unsuitable, Mrs. Ball should look after her better.”

Miss Silver coughed in a deprecating manner.

“I think she does her best. But it is quite an obsession---she just slips out and goes down there. It does make one wonder whether she could have seen something on the night her husband was drowned. I have heard her say things that would seem to point that way. And she cannot keep away from the splash.”

“Most unsuitable,” said Miss Mildred coldly. “And I should have thought Mrs. Ball would have expected her to stay in on a Friday night. She always offers quite elaborate refreshments. Most unnecessary and extravagant, as I have told her, but I believe they have money and can afford a rather pretentious standard.”

“I am quite looking forward to it,” said Miss Silver. “I hope you will be there.”

Miss Mildred shook her head.

“I do not often miss, but when my sister is without a nurse I do not care to leave her alone in the house. There is also a great deal extra to do, and I shall be glad to get to bed early.”

Miss Ora threw her a fleeting sideways look and sighed.

“I am a sad trouble,” she said.

As she emerged upon the street again Miss Silver looked at her watch. She had spent nearly three-quarters of an hour beside Miss Ora’s couch, but there would still be time for one more call.

She walked on up the road and turned in at the south lodge.

Emmeline took her visitor into a room littered with cats. Amina and her kittens occupied a basket in front of the fire. Scheherazade and the ill-favoured Toby were sharing the window-seat, while Lucifer, black and beautiful, lay in an attitude of profound repose along the back of the sofa from which Emmeline had just risen. When Miss Silver sat down in the other corner he opened one tawny eye, let it rest upon her in a negligent manner, yawned slightly, and plunged again into slumber. A pleasant impression that the stranger was praising him for his beauty went with him into a delightful dream in which he stalked and caught enormous mice.

Beginning with her tribute to Lucifer, Miss Silver found herself launched upon a conversation during which Emmeline told her all about his ancestry.

“Of course, on Scheherazade’s side he is pure Persian with four champions in his pedigree, but I am afraid I shall not be able to show him as a Persian because I really can’t be sure about his father. Scheherazade always has such pretty kittens, only this time they were nice healthy little things but quite plain. There were four, another brother and two sisters, and I was able to find good homes for three of them. And then suddenly Lucifer began to turn into quite a beauty. It was really most extraordinary. I don’t think I have ever known a case quite like it.”

It was not until they had talked about cats for quite twenty minutes that Miss Silver found an opportunity of turning the conversation in the direction of Annie Jackson.

They were still talking about her when the telephone bell rang from the small back room, and a minute later Edward Random opened the door, began to speak, broke off to say how do you do to Miss Silver, and then went back to what he had been about to say.

“I’m going up to the Hall. Arnold wants to see me---I can’t think why. So if anyone asks for me, you can tell them where I am.”

“Anyone?” Emmeline looked at him in a puzzled manner.

Edward said grimly, “The police, darling,” and was gone.

Miss Silver went on talking about Annie Jackson.