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Chapter Thirty-Three

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« on: June 19, 2023, 04:35:50 am »

EDWARD was certainly angry. His dark look passed Susan by as if she no longer existed. Miss Silver encountered it with a faint smile and the reflection that men really had very little sense. If you are in danger of being arrested for a murder, it is extremely unwise to go about looking as if nothing would give you greater pleasure than to commit another at any moment. She said in a kind, grave voice,

“Won’t you sit down? I need not detain you for more than a very short time. I happen to have some information which I think you should possess. It will be more comfortable if you will take a seat.”

He did so with reluctance. There was a feeling of being shut in---an echo from his interview with the police. Other echoes, not faint but harsh and bitterly insistent.

He said abruptly, “I don’t know----” and found himself quite gently but firmly interrupted.

“That, Mr. Random, is the trouble. There were things you should have known before, and which you should certainly know now. Miss Wayne can leave us if you would prefer it.”

“Thank you---it doesn’t matter.”

Susan didn’t matter. It made no difference to Edward whether she came or went. She was outside the place which he kept bolted and barred. It doesn’t matter who goes by on the outside of your house. If she had had a scrap of proper pride she would have got up and walked out of the room and slammed the door. She was too cold to move---in front of Ruth Ball’s comfortable, rosy fire she was too cold. And she had lost all interest in her pride.

Miss Silver was saying, “I do not know if you are aware of my profession. I am a private enquiry agent. . . . No, Mr. Random, I am not here in my professional capacity, nor have I willingly intruded into your affairs. It just happened that Miss Dean knew of my occupation, and that she made me a very curious confidence.”

“When?” The word shot out like a stone from a catapult.

“In town. Two days before her death. I should like to tell you what she said to me.”

He listened with a set face whilst she told him of her interview with Clarice Dean. When she had finished he let the silence settle. Miss Silver made no attempt to break it. She had knitted all through her recital, and she continued to do so now.

When he spoke, it was to say sharply and suddenly,

“Do the police know about this?”

She inclined her head.

“Inspector Abbott is a very old friend. After seeing Miss Dean’s death in the papers I had some conversation with him on the subject. Neither he nor I was then aware that Scotland Yard would be called in. I merely felt that I could not keep the matter entirely to myself.”

His eyes met hers with a look of singular directness.

“Of course this is why they have not arrested me---yet. They have quite a case, as Abbott has probably told you---I could see that. What I couldn’t make out was why they didn’t get on with it. They think I wrote the note which brought Clarice down to the splash. It was typed on the old machine up at the Church Room. I was up there on the Friday morning, and it was just the kind of note I might have written. I left Mr. Barr’s house at a quarter-past nine that evening, and I didn’t turn up at the Vicarage to say I had found Clarice drowned in the splash until ten o’clock, which leaves half an hour to be accounted for.”

“And how do you account for it, Mr. Random?”

He gave quite a natural short laugh.

“Oh, I was watching a fox up in the woods. As one couldn’t possibly expect a policeman to believe that, I could not imagine why they did not arrest me. But of course this story of yours would stick in their throats. If that is what Clarice was going to say to me, I was the last person on earth to want her dead. The motive must have been a bit dicky anyway, but on the top of this story it would be sheer, stark lunacy.”

Susan listened in an amazement that was to deepen. The black look of anger was quite gone. He was talking with the quick zest which she had remembered and missed. The armour-plating which had warded off any touch upon his affairs had been discarded.

Edward himself could not have explained what had caused the change. It was simple, but like many simple things it was profound. If you are cold and you come into a warm room, you are presently not cold any more. You cannot say just how, or why, or even when the warmth invades you. He was not at all aware that he was sharing the experience of many other people whose troubles, difficulties, and danger had brought them into contact with Miss Maud Silver. As she sat there knitting she diffused a quiet atmosphere of security and order. For a parallel you had to go back a long way---to the nursery and the schoolroom, to the pleasant fixed routine and ordered ways of childhood. He did not think of these things consciously. They had been in his life. They had been horribly wrenched away. In Miss Silver’s presence they returned. The string of his tongue was loosed. He went on speaking.

“You see, if I had sent that note, it would have been because I really did think that it would be better to see Clarice and find out what she wanted to say. She kept on hinting things about my uncle, and I thought she just wanted to paw the whole thing over. Everyone seems to want to do that, and I wasn’t going to have it. My uncle had a right to do what he liked with his property, and he thought I was dead. Arnold had a right to keep what was legally his. It wasn’t anyone’s business but mine. And I wasn’t going to talk about it—why should I? But if I had got to the point where I thought it would be better to hear what Clarice had to say and be done with it, and had written her that note and met her at the watersplash, don’t you see, the first thing she would do would be to come out with this yarn about my uncle making a second will. After that I don’t see how anyone is going to believe I could possibly want to kill her.”

Miss Silver inclined her head.

“That is a very lucid statement. The points you have mentioned will certainly have occurred to the police.”

He had been leaning towards her. Now he straightened up.

“Did you think she was telling the truth about my uncle having that dream and changing his will?”

“Certainly I did. She had no possible motive for lying to me. She was under the impression that she had disguised the names, and she could have had no idea that I was in a position to identify them. She spoke to me because she was aware that she was playing a dangerous game. William Jackson’s death had frightened her. She was the only person left who knew that there had been a second will. She could have put herself in a position of safety by taking her evidence to your uncle’s solicitor, but she wanted to make sure of securing some advantage for herself. She wished, in fact, to drive a bargain with you. I warned her very seriously that the kind of blackmail she was contemplating was not only criminal but dangerous. Unfortunately she did not take my warning.”

He leaned towards her again.

“You don’t think I killed her!”

Her ball of pale pink wool had rolled a little way upon the sofa. She reached for it and dropped it into her knitting-bag before she answered him.

“No, Mr. Edward---I have never thought so.”

“Then who did?”

She replied with another question.

“Who would benefit by the death of a surviving witness to the missing will, and of the only other person who knew that this will had ever existed?”

An extraordinary look passed over his face. Anger, surprise, incredulity, sardonic amusement---there was a fleeting impression of all these things, culminating in a laugh.

“Arnold? Not on your life! He’s a stuffed shirt---all window-dressing and nothing behind it. He’s a dull, pompous version of all the family portraits---a kind of composite Random type minus the good points---and the bad. He’s a set of features---and a tedious, intolerable bore. But he wouldn’t do murder---it would be against the rules. He’s not one of your bold independent thinkers, you know. He has his small inherited code, and I assure you he would rather die than depart from it. I don’t like him---I never have. You have probably gathered as much. But he wouldn’t murder anyone. And I don’t think he would destroy a will. No, I really don’t think so. His code wouldn’t allow it.”

She was watching him closely.

“You interest me very much.”

He went on as if she had not spoken.

“No, I don’t believe it would. Let’s do a bit of supposing. Uncle James makes that will, and dies---did you say a week later?”

“Yes.”

“He probably wouldn’t say anything about the will to Arnold. That dream of his---he wouldn’t want to talk about it. He believed in it, and he wouldn’t want to have anyone bothering him and telling him it was all nonsense. No, I’m sure he wouldn’t tell Arnold. Probably left a letter for him with the will. Well, Arnold finds the will, with or without a letter explaining that Uncle James has had a dream and thinks I am still alive. It would be a nasty shock, you know. Consider the legal position. Officially, I’m not dead, I’m just missing. They would have to wait---how long is it---five years---seven?---and then go to the Courts for leave to presume my death. I can’t think of anything that would irritate Arnold more. He has one of those inveterately tidy minds. Imagine having to make up that sort of mind to years of delay, with all sorts of untidy ends lying about. And I was dead---quite certainly and positively I was dead. I can imagine Arnold’s code allowing him just to put that upsetting will away and say nothing about it---I can even imagine that it might enjoin this course. If by any chance I ever did turn up, there would be no harm done---the will could be made to turn up too.”

Miss Silver gave her gentle cough.

“But it has not turned up, Mr. Random.”

“Not yet. He wouldn’t want to rush things, you know. It wouldn’t look well if the will turned up too soon. No use stretching a coincidence farther than you need. And then there are these murders---a really nasty complication. No wonder Arnold goes about looking like death----” He broke off. “I suppose you think this is all nonsense?”

“On the contrary I find it extremely interesting. There is one thing that supports your belief in Mr. Arnold Random’s innocence---at least of William Jackson’s death. As you know, the unfortunate man left the Lamb before closing time and was seen going in the direction of the splash, which he was obliged to cross in order to reach his home. Mr. Arnold Random was in the church playing the organ, and Miss Blake states that she went over from the Vicarage work-party to speak to him at about ten o’clock. He afterwards accompanied her as far as her home, by which time William Jackson must certainly have reached the splash, and may already have been struck down there, or have slipped or been pushed into the pool which drowned him. If Miss Mildred’s statement is to be believed, it gives Mr. Arnold Random a very good alibi.”

Edward laughed.

“Rather a case of any port in a storm, I should say!” Then, with a return to his frowning look, “Do you mind if we go back to the beginning? You sent for me partly because of what you had to tell me about Clarice and my uncle’s will, and partly because Susan had been talking to you. I want to know what she said.”

Miss Silver said,

“Had you not better ask her?”

He nodded.

“All right, I will. We seem to have got a bit beyond the conventions anyhow.” The frown came to rest on Susan. “Well, what about it?”

She had never felt more defenceless in her life. She had done what he was bound to resent, and she had to give an account of it under the eyes of a stranger. She knew how cold and enduring his resentment could be, and she had always known that there was no surer way to arouse it than to interfere in his private affairs. She sat up straight and told him just what she had done and how it had come about---the envelope dropped in Mrs. Alexander’s shop; her offer to take it up to the Vicarage; and Ray Fortescue’s story coming back with a rush when she read Miss Maud Silver’s name and address. She kept her eyes on his face all the time---clear, serious grey eyes, darkened by the effort she was making.

And then before she knew quite how it happened they were all three talking about the Ivory Dagger, with the burden of the conversation falling more and more upon Miss Silver.

When she had done speaking Edward said,

“I was out of the country when it happened. Susan of course read about it in the papers as well as getting the inside story from Ray Fortescue. Then when she saw your name on that envelope she came up here and asked you to come in on this case.”

Miss Silver said gravely,

“I can only come into any case in order to serve the ends of justice. I think Miss Wayne understands that.”

He gave her an odd crooked smile.

“In fact if I am guilty, you will have the greatest possible pleasure in hanging me, but if I didn’t do it after all, you won’t have any objection to establishing my innocence.”

She smiled.

“It would give me very great pleasure to do so.”

He leaned towards her.

“Then will you be so kind as to take the case.”

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