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Chapter Thirty-One

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« on: June 18, 2023, 11:45:48 am »

SUSAN did not go back into the sitting-room. She slipped on a coat and went out. At first there was just the need to get away, to be out in the dark, and to be alone. If she went to her room she would be almost certain to cry until her face was a mess, and then Edward would know. And it was beyond her to go in and sit there with him and with Emmeline and wonder how soon the police would come.

She turned out of the drive and stood there, undecided whether to go to the right or to the left. After a moment she turned in the direction of the village. She wanted to be alone, but not too much alone. This way there would be a glow behind a curtain, the sound of a wireless programme, the opening and closing of a door, the passing of someone who might be anyone, in the dark.

She tried to think steadily of what had happened between her and Edward. He wasn’t in love with her---why should he be? He was fond of her in the same sort of way that you are fond of your relations, or even of a dog, or of a cat. He found her pleasant, and he liked having her about. And he was all starved inside. Loneliness and unhappiness, and all the things that had come and gone in those last years. He had just grabbed at her the way people do grab when they are starving. It wasn’t anything more than that, and as far as she was concerned, better face it and have done. If there was anything that was the slightest use or help to him---well, all she wanted was to let him have it. She wouldn’t have come to Greenings if she had not thought that she had got over loving him, but she had only to see him again, and there it was, just as bad as ever. If everything had been going all right for him, she might just have had enough decency to keep it down. But what can you do when you see someone starving? You don’t say, “I don’t care if you do”, and go decently and self-respectingly by on the other side---not if you care so much that the thing which is hurting them is like a twisting knife in your own heart. This horrid simile, which presented itself a good deal too vividly for comfort, caused Susan to rebuke herself for indulging in melodrama. She had always been considered sensible, and she wasn’t behaving sensibly.

She had by this time arrived at Mrs. Alexander’s shop. It was still open. Mrs. Alexander kept easy hours and liked to chat with people whose work was done for the day. Seeing the lighted window, Susan had the prosaic thought that it was touch and go if there would be enough marmalade for breakfast. Emmeline would certainly be grateful if she brought a pot back with her. She lifted the latch and walked in.

The shop was empty except for Mrs. Alexander herself, who beamed on her and stretched out the buying of the marmalade to a good ten minutes.

“And how do you like sorting all those old books, Miss Susan? Doris was in last night, and she says no one wouldn’t believe what the dust is like. No one being allowed to touch the shelves except just with a feather brush, not even at spring-cleaning, when we all know what bookshelves want is everything taken out and the books clapped and dusted thorough. With a nice bit of beeswax and turpentine on the shelves before they go back. Not that anyone makes the real old beeswax and turps like my mother and my old Granny before her. It’s all Mansion and suchlike nowadays, and not for me to grumble about it, because that’s what I’m here to sell, and very good polish too. But it’s messy work for you, cleaning up after nobody’s done it all these years.”

Susan said, “Oh, I don’t mind. And it’s interesting too. You never know what you’re going to find. Some of those old books are valuable, you know.”

Mrs. Alexander looked surprised.

“You don’t say! Sounded more like mucky old rubbish, from what Doris had to say, and most of them never taken off their shelves from one year’s end to another.”

As Susan turned to go, Mrs. Alexander said, “You wouldn’t be dropping in at the Vicarage by any chance, would you now?”

“Well, I could quite easily. What was it?”

Mrs. Alexander pulled out a drawer and took out an envelope.

“That little lady that’s staying with Mrs. Ball, she dropped this when she was in this morning. Must have come out of her bag when she was getting out her handkerchief. And I don’t like having other folk’s letters lying about---it might be private---especially when it’s a lady that’s visiting at the Vicarage. Very pleasant she was, and told me she and Mrs. Ball’s mother was old friends and at school together. Well, my dear, if you really don’t mind. I was going to take it up myself when I’d shut the shop, but I’ve been on my feet all day.”

The envelope had been through the post, and had been opened. It was obvious that it contained a letter. As Susan took it, her eye was caught by the address:

    Miss Maud Silver,
    15 Montague Mansions.

And then the London address crossed out and,

    The Vicarage,
    Greenings,
    near Embank,

in a clear sensible writing.

A little shutter clicked open in her mind. She stared rather hard at the envelope before she slipped it into the pocket of her coat with the jar of marmalade.

Out in the dark street again, she walked slowly in the direction of the Vicarage. Miss Maud Silver---it was the Maud which had caught her attention. And the address, 15 Montague Mansions. Ray Fortescue telling her about the Ivory Dagger and---Miss Maud Silver. “I just can’t tell you how wonderful she was. I don’t see how anyone could have thought Bill didn’t do it---I mean people who didn’t know him, like the police. But she didn’t.” It had been a very exciting story, and the newspapers were full of it. But not of Miss Maud Silver. She mightn’t have been there at all for all the notice she got. “She just goes back to her 15 Montague Mansions and keeps on knitting until another case turns up.”

Susan couldn’t think why she hadn’t tumbled to it before. Of course Silver was quite a common name. Anyhow it wasn’t until she saw the whole name and address on the envelope in Mrs. Alexander’s hand that she thought of any possible link between Mrs. Ball’s old family friend who looked so exactly like someone out of the Victorian novels she had been sorting and Ray Fortescue’s marvellous detective. A faint but eager hope sprang up in her mind.

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