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Chapter Twenty-Seven

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« on: June 18, 2023, 09:06:38 am »

INSPECTOR Abbott went over to the church room with the Vicar, who would have preferred to show him the church.

“Perhaps some other time when you are not on duty,” he said in a regretful voice. “We have a list of the incumbents from 1250 onwards, and there are a good many points of interest besides the Crusader’s tomb, which is in an unusual state of preservation. The Church Room, which was very kindly given by the late Mr. James Random, has, I fear, a strictly utilitarian appeal. Fortunately, the Vicarage screens it from the road, and these poplars from the churchyard.”

It proved to be one of those large plain structures, admirably adapted to its purpose but devoid of charm. The door was locked, but as the Reverend John Ball explained, the key was not far to seek, since it hung on a nail at the side of the shallow porch---“Out of reach of the children, but convenient for any of the church helpers.”

As they entered upon a big bare room which smelled powerfully of varnish, Frank made discreet enquiries with regard to these helpers. It appeared that Mrs. Jonathan Random came in and out to do the flowers.

“There is a most convenient little room through there with running water and a sink, and of course it saves a great deal of mess in the church. The Sunday School meets here, and we have a small lending library supervised by Mrs. Pomfret and Miss Blake. One of them, or of their helpers, makes a point of being on duty from six to half-past on Wednesdays and Fridays, and for half an hour after the Sunday morning service. Now let me see who the helpers are. Miss Sims of course---she is Dr. Croft’s housekeeper. And I believe Mr. Random’s housekeeper from the Hall occasionally takes a hand.”

Frank looked about him. A row of uncurtained windows broke the varnished wall on either side. There were a number of rush-seated chairs, a singularly hideous yellow harmonium, and, at the far end, the shelves which housed the library. In the opposite corner to the harmonium there was a writing-table, and upon the writing-table a rather elderly-looking typewriter.

“The gift of Mr. Arnold Random. It was his brother’s, and he very kindly presented it to the Room after Mr. James Random’s death.”

“And who uses it, sir?”

Mr. Ball gave his genial smile.

“Oh, most of our helpers can type a little, I think. Not in a very professional manner, but sufficiently well to produce a legible notice, or texts for the children to learn at home---that kind of thing, you know.”

“Do you mind if I try my hand at it?”

“No, no---of course not.”

Frank sat down at the table, found a sheet of paper, slipped it into the machine, and began to type in a style which no doubt compared favourably with that of the helpers. What he typed was a copy of the note which had brought Clarice Dean to her death:

“All right, let’s have it out. I’ll be coming back late to-night. Meet me at the same place. Say half-past nine. I can’t make it before that.”

He left it without signature, folded the sheet, and put it away in his pocket-book. After which he allowed the Vicar to show him round the church, where he duly admired the Crusader, one Hugo de la Tour, and some fine brasses. At his own request he was conducted to the grave of Christopher Hale---dismissed rather contemptuously by Mr. Ball as “really comparatively modern, but of some topical interest”.

When he had read Kezia’s verses and admired the accuracy with which Miss Silver had rendered them, he took his way back to the house and asked if he might have a word with her before leaving.

It was characteristic of her kind heart that she should reassure him as to Annie Jackson before making enquiries as to whether he had met with any success.

“She has had a nice cup of tea, and is now really quite recovered. It is always distressing to have to question someone who is in trouble, and I am sure you will be glad to know that she is not any the worse for the experience----” She paused, and then added, “physically.”

“And just what do you mean by that?”

“That she has something on her mind. She fainted because she was frightened. You asked her whether she had gone to meet her husband at the watersplash, and she was suddenly very much afraid---so much afraid that she fainted.”

“You think she did go to meet him?”

“I think she may have done so.”

“Do you think she pushed him in?”

“I think she may have seen the person who pushed him in. And if she did----”

“If she did?”

“She may be in danger herself, and she may know it.”

After a pause he said, “Keep an eye on her. Don’t let her go out alone after dark. Don’t let her go down to the splash. If she were found drowned there, it would be quite a plausible suicide. And now here’s one of the facts you were talking about. The note that brought Clarice Dean to meet the person who murdered her was typed on the machine in the Church Room.”

Miss Silver said, “Dear me!” And then, “The Church Room?”

He nodded.

“In the odour of varnish and sanctity. Perhaps by one of the church helpers, or by anybody else in the parish capable of reaching the door key which hangs conveniently from a nail in the porch at about the height of the top of my ear. Everybody just helps himself and goes in and out upon his, or more probably her, parochial occasions. It might be Mrs. Pomfret, who is a well-to-do farmer’s wife, or Miss Sims, or Miss Blake, or Mrs. Jonathan Random who does the flowers, or the Vicar, or the Vicaress, or any other of the adult inhabitants of Greenings. Arnold Random may have slipped across to the Church Room and done it. Edward Random could have had the same bright idea. The only certainty is that the note was typed on that machine. The ‘e’ is worn in exactly the same way as in the note, and the ‘m’ is defective---looks as if someone had taken a chip out of it---possibly one of the Sunday School children. Well, there you are---we have achieved one fact at last, and it leaves the case as open as the sky.”

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