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Chapter Twenty-Five

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« on: June 18, 2023, 08:12:19 am »

THE Balls and their guest were still at the breakfast table next morning when Annie Jackson came in to say that the Inspector from Embank was there and another gentleman, and could they see Miss Silver?

Standing there facing a window, no one could help noticing how pale and cold she looked. She kept her hand on the door as if she needed its support. Miss Silver folded her table-napkin neatly and followed her into the hall. Just before she closed the dining-room door behind her she heard the Vicar say, “Really, my dear, that poor woman looks dreadfully ill.”

Coming out of the bright room, the hall seemed dark. Annie said,

“They’re in the morning-room.” Her voice shook.

She looked at Miss Silver and shivered. Then she went away down the passage which led to the back premises.

Miss Silver took her way to the morning-room.

It was Frank Abbott who came to meet her. Since he was expecting her, there was no surprise on his side. If there was any on hers, it was not allowed to be obtrusive. She smiled, expressed pleasure at seeing him, and shook hands with Inspector Bury. After which they all sat down, and she was invited to give the local Inspector an account of her interview with Miss Clarice Dean.

It was evident that it did not suit his book. He put a number of questions obviously intended to shake the accuracy of her recollection, and then said in rather an abrupt tone,

“Inspector Abbott tells me that you are to be relied upon not to repeat this story----” at which point he suddenly found himself floundering.

Without any real movement on her part she appeared to have withdrawn to a rather awful distance. Or perhaps it was he who had receded. His neck burned, and the colour mounted to his prominent ears. At Miss Silver’s gentle yet remote, “I beg your pardon, Inspector,” he found himself very earnestly begging hers, with the Inspector from Scotland Yard enjoying the scene.

But it was Frank who rescued him.

“That is all right, Bury. I have worked with Miss Silver before, and you haven’t. You can say anything you like in front of her. I propose to show her all the statements we’ve got and ask her what she thinks of them.”

Miss Silver accepted both the apology and the tribute with a faint but gracious smile.

Bury’s ears resumed their natural colour.

“We’ve got to be careful, you know, and this story---well, if that is what Miss Dean was up to, it rather knocks Mr. Random’s motive on the head, doesn’t it? You say she told you she knew about a will in his favour. That being the case, he had a good deal to lose by her death.”

Miss Silver coughed.

“She had not told him that she knew about the will. She was finding it difficult to see him alone. She had made the mistake of trying to combine her proffer of information with a very determined attempt at a flirtation for which Mr. Edward Random was not inclined.”

“She was running after him?”

“Undoubtedly. She spoke quite frankly about it. She wished to be comfortably settled. She hoped to make some kind of a bargain from what she knew about the will. She hoped to secure Edward Random’s gratitude. And she intended to marry him if she decided that it would be worth her while.”

Bury looked at her with growing respect.

“A pretty cold-blooded business.”

“And a dangerous one. I warned her about that.”

He said quickly,

“What made you think it might be dangerous?”

“If her story was true, a will had been suppressed, and the surviving witness to that will had just been drowned in very suspicious circumstances. Miss Dean was, I believe, quite well aware that her position was not a very safe one. A person who has suppressed a will might kill to cover up his crime. A person who has killed once may do so again. I formed the opinion that Miss Dean was in a high state of tension. She unburdened herself to me because she felt that she would be safer if someone shared her secret.”

Inspector Bury frowned.

“I don’t see how all this is going to fit in. Inspector Abbott wanted me to come along and hear what you had to say. Well, I’ve done so, and I don’t see how it’s going to fit in. We’re handing the case over. He’s at liberty to handle it the way he thinks best. I’ve got a job out at Littleton, and I’ll be getting along.”

When the door had shut behind him Frank Abbott permitted himself to smile.

“A good chap,” he said, “and as keen as mustard. He would like to have finished the case himself, but the Superintendent and the Chief Constable have got the wind up---Random relations on one side all over the county, and the watchful eye of Labour on the other. Which is why I am here to pull the chestnuts out of the fire for them. After which lovely bag of mixed metaphors I think you had better read the statements and tell me how they strike you.”

She took the typewritten sheets and gave them grave attention. When she had finished she lifted her eyes from the last page and said,

“Mr. Edward Random’s statement merely describes the finding of Miss Dean’s body.”

“Yes, I was going to tell you about that. When Bury searched the girl’s room he found a note crumpled up under the grate. Here is a copy. The original was typewritten too. The signature consists of two typed initials so badly defaced that it is practically impossible to say what they were, though the first one seems to have had a cross bar, which would make it A, E, or F.”

She said, “Defaced? In what manner?”

“A rubbed crease amounting to a tear---a fall of soot down the chimney. The typewriter has not been identified, and the only fingerprints are Clarice Dean’s.”

“My dear Frank!”

He nodded.

“Odd, isn’t it? It didn’t come by post, you know. Somebody typed it, put it in an envelope, stuck it down, and dropped it into the Miss Blakes’ letter-box. Miss Mildred Blake says Miss Dean went to the box when they were carrying the lunch things down, and she thinks took something out of it. Miss Ora Blake says that Edward Random went down the street and past their door at about two o’clock. Her sofa is drawn up to the window in that jutting bay, and she has an excellent view of the whole street, with the unfortunate exception of the stretch of footpath which runs under the bay and which includes her own front door. Edward Random could therefore have dropped the note into the letter-box without her seeing him, and so could, two other members of the Random family---his stepmother, Mrs. Jonathan Random, and---Uncle Arnold. Miss Ora has an eye for detail, and I asked her whether any of these people were wearing gloves. Well, Edward Random wasn’t, but Mrs. Jonathan and Uncle Arnold were. Uncle Arnold always does. He plays the organ, and is finicky about his hands. But gloves or no gloves, there should be more fingerprints than Miss Dean’s on that note. Even the most finicky person doesn’t sit down to type in gloves. Which means that the prints have been deliberately removed. And that looks like premeditation.”

Miss Silver said, “The initials were typed?”


“And are now defaced?”

“Practically. The second one could be an R.”

“Has Mr. Edward Random been asked about this note?”

“Yes. He denies writing it. Look here, this is what I have got roughed out so far with regard to possible suspects. We’ll take Edward Random first.

Motive. In the light of your conversation with Clarice Dean, weak to the point of being non-existent. But there may be things in their relationship which we do not know about. She was obviously pestering him, and he was obviously angry about it, vide statements of Miss Sims and Mrs. Stone---‘He spoke very harsh’, and, ‘She said he frightened her when he was like that, and I’d have been the same’. I suppose she could have exasperated him to the point at which he hit her over the head and left her to drown.”

“She had been struck?”

He nodded.

“On the back of the head---and then drowned. As I was saying, I suppose a man might lose his temper to that extent, but---there were no fingerprints on the note, except her own. So whoever typed that note meant to murder her. And that does away with any theory of sudden provocation. You see, it isn’t going to be easy to fit Edward out with a motive. But when you come to Opportunity, everything in the garden is lovely. It was ten o’clock when he ran up to the Vicarage and said there was a woman drowned in the splash. He was on his way home after spending the afternoon and evening with Mr. Barr, Lord Burlingham’s old agent from whom he is taking over. The distance to the splash is about three-quarters of a mile---but he left Mr. Barr’s house at a quarter-past nine. Bury and I saw him last night, and he says he took a bridle path through the woods and didn’t hurry. Says he likes being in the woods at night. All very understandable and possible, but a bit unfortunate in view of the fact that the typewritten note makes an assignation with Clarice Dean at half-past nine. The meeting-place was obviously the watersplash, since the note says ‘Same place’, and that is where they were coming from when Mrs. Stone saw them the evening before! Well, he had time to keep that appointment, quarrel with her, knock her out, and make sure that she was dead before going up to the Vicarage for help. You see, it begins not to look so good for Edward Random.”

Miss Silver gazed at him thoughtfully.

“Mrs. Ball informs me that though Mr. Edward Random habitually came and went by way of the watersplash, there is quite a good road from Mr. Barr’s house which connects with Greenings by way of a lane which you may have observed just on the Embank side of the village. If Mr. Edward had killed Miss Dean, would he have gone to the Vicarage for help? There was no need to attract attention to himself by doing so. He could have made a point of taking the other way home, or at least of saying that he had done so.”

Frank shrugged.

“A man doesn’t commit murder in a perfectly reasonable frame of mind.”

Miss Silver said, “If Clarice Dean was murdered by the person who removed his fingerprints from that note, then the whole thing was very carefully planned. If this person was Edward Random, he would not have left his actions after the murder to chance.”

Frank nodded.

“I agree to that. But he might have thought that he would divert suspicion by going off hot-foot to fetch help. By the way, there is no typewriter in Mrs. Random’s house. Mr. Barr has two, but the note was not typed on either of them. You don’t happen to know if the Vicar has one, do you?” He laughed as he spoke.

But Miss Silver answered seriously.

“There is one in the Church Room, I believe. It is used for typing notices.”

“By whom?”

“I really do not know. By the Vicar, I presume, and by Mrs. Ball---perhaps by other church helpers.”

“Is the room kept locked?”

“I think not---in the day-time. It is behind the Vicarage, you know. There is a small lending library there, and people come to borrow books.”

“I see. We will go and have a look at it. But to return to our suspects---what about Uncle Arnold? He has got a whale of a motive, but what about opportunity?”

Miss Silver said with gravity,

“He plays the organ for the services. Mrs. Ball tells me that he is in the habit of practising in the church between nine and ten o’clock on Friday evenings.”

“And William Jackson gets himself drowned on a Friday evening, and so does Clarice Dean. Almost too convenient, isn’t it? Of course we don’t know exactly when William drowned, but pubs close at ten, and he is supposed to have left the Lamb a little before that. Since, I gather, he usually had to be more or less thrown out, his reason for going earlier and of his own accord could have been that he wanted to see Arnold Random and try out a spot of blackmail. He could have caught him nicely if he had hung about by the lych gate, and, as you are about to observe, it is only a step from there to the splash. Arnold would merely have to temporize, follow him down to the stepping-stones, and push him in. If he was fuddled, as seems likely, it would not be too difficult to hold him under until he drowned. As regards Clarice, it is easier still. With the party line at his disposal, Arnold could have heard her insisting to Edward that she knew something about his uncle’s affairs. He could have typed the note which brought her down to the splash at half-past nine---something rather phoney about it being typed, don’t you think---especially the initials. He was one of the people who could have dropped it in the Miss Blakes’ letter-box, and he had a perfectly good excuse for being on the spot. He always practised in the church on Friday evenings. He had only to nip down the yew tunnel, knock the girl out from behind---remember it was almost certainly Edward whom she was expecting and she would be looking for him to come from the direction of the splash. Arnold could come up behind her and she would never know what happened. The whole thing need not have taken more than a few minutes. Would anyone in the Vicarage have noticed if the organ had stopped for those few minutes?”

Miss Silver said in a thoughtful voice, “I do not know. Mrs. Ball has a work-party here on Friday evenings from eight to ten.”

“Oh, she does, does she? That’s a bit of a complication. Or is it? If there were a lot of women here all talking nineteen to the dozen, I don’t suppose any of them would notice whether the organ was off or on. They’ll have to be asked of course. But as regards William Jackson---let’s see---he’s got to have time to come down the road from the Lamb, meet Arnold Random, and get himself bumped off. Well, suppose Arnold is still playing the organ when he comes along. He could go up to the church and see him there all nice and private. Even if the Vicarage party is breaking up, there wouldn’t be anything to attract attention. The organ would stop, but what about it---Mr. Arnold had finished his practising. William comes and goes by the yew tunnel, and the ladies all go the other way home. Yes, it fits in. And I’d better have a word with Mrs. Ball. Do you think you could get hold of her?”

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