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Chapter Thirty-Two

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« on: June 18, 2023, 12:01:26 pm »

“I DON’T know how I didn’t think of it before, but I just didn’t. Ray and I were at school together---she told me all about you. I was one of her bridesmaids, and I saw her just before I came down here.”

Miss Silver beamed.

“They most kindly asked me to the wedding, but I was away on a case.”

“Ray said there might never have been a wedding if it hadn’t been for you. She and Bill are so happy.”

Ruth Ball had left them together in the small comfortable morning-room. Miss Silver sat in the corner of the sofa and knitted. An infant’s vest in a delicate shade of pink depended from the needles. She wore a dress of olive-green cashmere, with a high boned collar and modesty vest of cream-coloured net. An ancestral brooch of bog-oak in the form of a rose with an Irish pearl at its heart reposed upon her bosom. Her very neat ankles and feet were encased in black woollen stockings and slippers of glacé kid with beaded toes. Nobody could have looked less like a detective.

Susan said abruptly, “Edward says the police are going to arrest him.”

Miss Silver’s eyes dwelt on her compassionately.

“Indeed? What makes you think so?”

Susan told her.

“You see, he says himself that the truth sounds silly. But it is the truth---it really is. He says they won’t believe he put in all that time in the woods watching a fox. But it is just exactly the sort of thing he would do. It’s the sort of thing we used to do together. I’ve known him all my life, you see. He’s got a quick temper, and when he is angry he frowns and looks like thunder and his voice goes rough. But it doesn’t mean anything---it doesn’t really. He couldn’t possibly plot against anyone or plan to kill them---he really, really couldn’t. Besides, he hadn’t got any reason to kill Clarice Dean. She was making a nuisance of herself running after him and trying to flirt, and wanting to talk to him about his uncle’s will---and that’s a thing Edward just won’t talk about. You know, it must have been pretty horrid to come back and find that everything had gone. He cared a lot for his uncle, and the Hall had always been his home. He must have felt as if there was nothing left. Arnold Random wouldn’t do anything about it, you know. Edward won’t talk about any of it, not even to Emmeline. So you can imagine what he felt about Clarice trying to butt in. And she just hadn’t got any tact at all. She went on pushing and hinting and ringing him up until it wasn’t any wonder he was angry. But you don’t kill people for that sort of thing.”

Miss Silver neither agreed nor disagreed. She knew with what fatal suddenness a long strained self-control may break. She had traced the small beginnings of many a tragedy in human affairs. She turned her knitting and enquired, “It did not occur to him that she might really know something about Mr. James Random’s will?”

Susan looked surprised. She had thrown back her coat. The light shone down upon her bright hair, and the smoky blue of the jumper and skirt which she wore. She said, “But there isn’t anything to know. How could there be? The will was proved months ago. Arnold came in for everything. James Random thought---everybody thought---that Edward was dead.”

Miss Silver coughed gently.

“Suppose Mr. James Random had not believed his nephew to be dead?”

Susan stared.

“He wouldn’t have cut him out of his will.”

“If he had become convinced that he had made a mistake in supposing his nephew to be dead, what would you have expected him to do?”

“To make another will.”

“If he had done so, who would be the most likely person to be aware of it?”

“Miss Silver, you don’t mean----”

Miss Silver’s needles clicked, the pale pink vest revolved.

“A nurse occupies a very privileged position. She can hardly fail to be aware of anything which affects her patient. I think it is a pity that Mr. Edward Random should have so persistently refused to see Miss Dean and hear what she had to say. If he had not done so, she might have been alive to-day. I will not say any more than that. If you have any influence with Mr. Edward, urge him to be perfectly frank with the police. It is only a guilty person, who can afford to be silent. The investigation of a murder is always handicapped by the fact that so many people have something which they would prefer to hide.”

Susan was only half listening. Her mind and all her energies were set upon the idea which had come to her as she walked towards the Vicarage. She leaned forward now, her cheeks pale, her eyes very bright.

“Miss Silver---if you would help him---if you only would----”

“My dear----”

“You do take cases, don’t you? You took the Ivory Dagger case. Ray told me about it.”

“My services were retained by Lady Dryden. Her niece was engaged to Sir Herbert Whitall who had been murdered. But I do not come into any case to procure a result which will be agreeable to the person who employs me. I can have but one object---the discovery of the truth. I cannot undertake to prove any person innocent---or guilty.”

Susan looked at her very straight.

“If you can find out the truth, it will prove that Edward is innocent.”

Miss Silver returned the look with a kind one.

“He has a very good friend,” she said. And then, “I would be very much interested to see Mr. Edward Random. There is something which I think he should know. If he then wishes me to come into the case, I will do so.”

Susan felt a little as if a cold shower had descended upon her. It had not occurred to her that she was assuming a responsibility for Edward, and that she had not the least shadow of a right to do so. She wasn’t his sister, or his cousin, or his fiancée, or anything at all but Susan Wayne who used to know him when she was a schoolgirl, and who happened just now to be staying with his stepmother. It came home to her with horrid force that Edward would think she was interfering in his affairs. Like Clarice----A flood of burning colour rose to the roots of her fair hair. She caught her breath and said, “I don’t know. He might think---he won’t talk about things---ever---I haven’t got any right----”

She encountered a glance of bright intelligence.

“You have not his authority for coming to me?”

Susan shook her head.

“I never thought about it. I didn’t know you were Miss Maud Silver. It was only when Mrs. Alexander asked me to bring you that letter and I saw your full name on the envelope----”

“I see. Then perhaps it would be better if I were to ring him up. I have been intending to do so, but was not sure if he would be at home. He is there now?”

“Oh, yes. But---you will remember that this is a party line, won’t you? Anyone might be listening in.”

Miss Silver smiled.

“I shall not forget.” She laid her knitting aside and went over to Ruth Ball’s writing-table. “So convenient to have an extension in here, and it saves disturbing the Vicar. Mrs. Ball has really made the house most comfortable in every way. She will not, I am sure, object to my using her telephone.”

Susan sat with her hands clasped together in her lap. She had the most overpowering sense of dread. Suppose Edward had gone out. Suppose the police had already come and arrested him. Suppose he was so frightfully angry that he never spoke to her again. . . . Her feet got colder and colder. Just when she couldn’t have borne it another moment she heard Miss Silver say, “Is that Mr. Edward Random?”

There was a pause while a disembodied voice sounded on the line. Susan could not hear what it said. It gave her a giddy feeling. Edward’s voice scratching and scrabbling to get in, and she couldn’t hear what he said. . . . She came back to Miss Silver saying,

“I wonder whether you could come up to the Vicarage for a little. I have something to tell you which I think you might consider to be of interest. Miss Susan Wayne is here.”

The voice said, “Has anything happened?” with so much vigour that the words reached Susan. Edward was certainly angry. She wondered if it was possibly because he thought that something might have happened to her. She heard Miss Silver make some suitable reply. Then the receiver was put back and the knitting resumed. Over the clicking needles Miss Silver said, “He will come.”

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