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Chapter Thirty-Seven

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Author Topic: Chapter Thirty-Seven  (Read 41 times)
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« on: June 19, 2023, 08:39:05 am »

SUSAN went up to the Hall in the morning. It was difficult to go, but it would have been difficult to stay. They had come to a point where there was no easy path. If the police had made up their minds to arrest Edward, they would do it whether Susan Wayne was there or not. And he would hate it more if she was there. It was all that she could do to walk away up the drive and not look back. He meant to go over and see Mr. Barr, but not until later. He would give the police their chance before he went. And every step away from him felt like a long, hard mile. Older and stronger than logic was the instinct which has survived from the beginnings of the race. Nothing will go wrong if I am there. But out of sight, what enemies, what pitfalls, what ambushes? Stay where you can cover the creature you love, if need be with your own shrinking flesh. It is when he is alone that the evil thing may creep up close and strike.

Susan did not formulate these things, but they were there under the reasoned thought which told her that the best way to help Edward was to go about her business as if this was just a day like any other day. She would come back at one, and Edward would be there---unless Mr. Barr had kept him.

Doris had lighted a fire in the library. Susan had not really thought about it before, but the sight of the blazing logs reminded her that it was colder. She stood to warm her hands for a minute before putting on her overall and getting down to the eighteenth-century books. She had reached the uppermost shelves by now, which meant climbing almost to the top of the ladder.

She was half-way up, when the door opened and Arnold Random came in. As she answered his “Good morning”, she thought how ill he looked. He went over to the fire and stood there with his back to her, warming himself. After waiting a little to see whether he would speak she went up the remaining steps and began her work.

The first book she took out was a volume of her great-grandfather’s sermons with a long-winded and ornate dedication to Edward Random Esquire. That would be Edward’s great-grandfather. The sermons were long, and appeared to be quite intolerably dull. The parish had doubtless been obliged to listen to them week by week, but she wondered whether anyone had ever had the urge to read them in print. Great-grandpapa had certainly been born in the eighteenth century, though only in its last decade, and she was trying to make up her mind whether to leave him there or to transfer him to the early nineteenth century, when Arnold spoke from the hearth.

“You are getting on.”

“Oh, yes. I’m afraid it must seem a bit slow----”

“Not at all---I didn’t mean that. I was just wondering----”

“Yes, Mr. Random?”

He stooped down to put a log on the fire and said with a sudden fretfulness,

“It’s very cold this morning---really very cold indeed. You must keep up a good fire.”

Looking back over her shoulder, she saw him shiver. He went on speaking.

“Dreadfully cold. What was I saying?”

“You were wondering----”

“Yes, it was about my brother’s prayer-book. It was mislaid after his death, and I thought perhaps it had got pushed into one of these shelves. He used this room a good deal, you know. I wondered whether you had come across the book. Perhaps I should have mentioned it before---I just thought----”

He had both hands on the edge of the wide mantelshelf, gripping it. The knuckles stood up white. She could not see his face. She said, “No, I haven’t come across it. I will let you know at once if I do,” and reached up to put her great-grandfather back upon the shelf.

Arnold Random straightened up and went out of the room.

With her hands still touching the book of sermons, it came to Susan that she knew beyond any shadow of doubt just why she had been given this job---that she might find James Random’s prayer-book. It was the reason why she was here at this moment putting her great-grandfather’s sermons back upon the eighteenth-century shelf to which he was not lawfully entitled. Arnold Random wouldn’t care whether he or anyone else was a couple of centuries out of his proper place. He cared for one thing, and for one thing only---that there should be an accidental discovery of his brother’s prayer-book. It was to be found by someone who could have no interest in the finding. It was to be found by Susan Wayne. It was for this purpose that she had been engaged. And she was being too slow. At first it had not mattered, but now the thing was so urgent that he had been driven to a more or less direct approach. If the prayer-book contained what she thought it did, he must have been very hard pressed to do that. She believed that he was very hard pressed. He looked like a man who is driven by the Furies. She had a sudden picture of Mildred Blake as one of them. Odd, irrelevant, and horrifying!

A prick of remorse assailed her. You mustn’t have thoughts like that about people just because they happen to be rather tiresome and unattractive. Emmeline would never have had a thought like that about anyone.

She turned from it to the thing which she had shut away, just knowing that it was there but not letting herself look at it or think about it, because if she did, it might take to itself wings and be gone.

When she came out of the Vicarage with Edward last night she had the dazed feeling that anything might be going to happen. He might be so angry that all the friendship between them would go down in the storm. He might be quite dreadfully, witheringly polite, or he might just go into one of those silences which made you feel about a million miles away and out of sight. At first she thought it was going to be that way, because he didn’t say a word until they emerged from the drive. And then he laughed suddenly and slipped a hand inside her arm. Odd that just a laugh and a touch should make you feel as if the sun had come out and all the birds were singing. When the last house in the village had been left behind them, his arm came round her shoulders without a word spoken. They walked on like that until they came to the south lodge and were going up the path to the house. Something soft and furry brushed between them, purring. Edward’s arm tightened a little. He laid his face against hers for a moment, laughed again, and said, “Interfering creature, aren’t you?”

Then they went in.

It didn’t mean anything, it couldn’t mean anything. But he wasn’t angry, and he hadn’t gone right away by himself. He was near, and kind.

It was about half an hour later that she found the prayer-book. It was behind some more sermons, those of a still older Vicar, the Reverend Nathaniel Spragge, 1745 to 1785. There were three volumes, “Printed by Subscription”, and the prayer-book was wedged behind them. Susan looked at it with something approaching dismay. If Arnold Random couldn’t be more convincing than this, he had really better stick to being honest. Who on earth was going to believe that a dying man had climbed to the top of a book-ladder and taken out three heavy volumes in order to hide something which he had no possible reason for wanting to hide? She wouldn’t put it past Arnold to have left his fingerprints on the leather cover. Why on earth hadn’t he just poked the prayer-book in amongst the Victorian novels? The answer, of course, was that it might have been found. And it was only lately that he had wanted it to be found.

These thoughts raced through her mind as she opened the prayer-book and shook it. There fell out an envelope addressed, “To my brother Arnold. My last Will and Testament. James Random.”

Susan had known it would be there, but actually to see it, to hold it in her hand, gave her a horrid giddy feeling. It was Edward’s inheritance that she was holding---the Hall and its surroundings, its woods and fields and farms, its cottages and hedgerows, and the village of Greenings---all in one light sheet of paper which would have burned away in an instant at the touch of a spark.

Arnold hadn’t burned it. He had waited to see what would happen. And in the end he had wanted the will to be found. There would be a lot of talk of course. Edward was going to hate that. Whatever happened between him and Arnold would happen privately.

She went on thinking. In the end she wiped the shelf and the volumes of Nathaniel Spragge, and she wiped the prayer-book and the envelope. After a little more thought she took out the enclosure and wiped that too. Now there wouldn’t be any fingerprints but hers, and the fresh ones which Arnold would make when he took it from her. If anyone asked any questions, she was quite ready to do the idiot child and say she was so sorry if it was wrong, but there was such a lot of dust.

She came down from the ladder and went along to the study.

Arnold Random turned round from the window as she came in. The outlook was accounted a pleasant one. A shrub with scarlet berries on either side of the bay, a gravel path, and beyond it gently sloping grass, with here and there a group of trees. The kind of view, in fact, which may be seen almost anywhere in rural England. Arnold had been looking at it, but he had not seen it. All that he saw was a cold grey day too much akin to his own mood.

He turned, and saw Susan Wayne with the prayer-book in her hand. She held it out to him and said, “Is this what you wanted me to look for?”

“Let me see. . . . Yes, I think it is. Where was it?”

The real answer was, “Where you put it,” but of course she couldn’t say that. But her colour rose.

“On the top shelf behind some sermons by the Reverend Nathaniel Spragge.”

“The top shelf? What an extraordinary thing!”

He was holding the book. He hadn’t opened it. He came up to the writing-table and put it down. His hand shook. He stood there looking at it. She thought, “He can’t make up his mind. He wanted it found, but now he can’t make up his mind. He doesn’t know whether to go on or go back. He doesn’t know whether I’ve seen the will.” She said quickly,

“There’s a paper inside it, Mr. Random. I think you ought to see it.”

He drew a long breath. She wondered if it was a breath of relief. When you have carried a secret like this for a year, it might be a relief to let it go, no matter what would come of it.

He rested one hand on the table and opened the prayer-book. The leaves fell apart where the envelope divided them. Susan watched whilst he looked down at it and read the words which she knew were there:

    “To my brother Arnold. My last Will and Testament. James Random.”

It was a minute before he opened his dry lips to say,

“It’s a will----”

“Yes.”

“My brother James’ will.”

“Hadn’t you better open it?”

He started.

“Yes, yes---of course----”

He took the enclosure out of the envelope and unfolded it. Just an ordinary sheet of paper written on in a shaky hand, signed at the foot by James Random and witnessed by William Jackson and William Stokes. When he had stared at it for quite a long time he said, “My brother’s will. Dated a week before he died. It leaves everything to Edward.”

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