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Chapter Thirty-Nine

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« on: June 19, 2023, 09:08:32 am »

SUSAN always looked back upon the really short time during which she and Arnold Random waited for Edward in the library as one of the most uncomfortable she had ever spent. As if it wasn’t enough to have her mind in a black turmoil about Edward being arrested and wondering whether the finding of this will was going to make things better for him or worse, there was Arnold looking as if he had every crime in the Decalogue on his conscience and walking up and down the room like a panther in a cage! The state of her mind may be indicated by the fact that she was definitely conscious of being thankful that they were on the ground floor. If Arnold chose to plunge out of the end window, there would not be more than a matter of six inches between him and some nice soft garden mould. There didn’t seem to be anything else of a lethal nature he could do before Edward got here, but she found herself counting the lengthening minutes.

Edward walked in unheralded. He gave her a quick surprised glance as he came up to the table and said, “Well?”

Arnold’s last prowl had taken him over to the hearth. He straightened himself now and said,

“Thank you for coming. I asked you to do so because something has happened. I could not talk about it on the telephone. James made a later will than the one that has been proved. Susan has just found it.”

He was doing it well. After all, there is something in breeding. The nerve-ridden creature of a few minutes ago was gone. This was Arnold Random as both Edward and Susan had always known him---rather dry, rather formal, not very interesting, but a member of an old and honourable family, well bolstered up by tradition and a certain code of behaviour. As Edward looked at him in silence, he added, “She will tell you.”

Susan said her piece. It could hardly have been briefer.

“His prayer-book was pushed in behind some books. The will was inside it. I brought it to Mr. Random, and he rang you up.”

Edward too had reverted to the family mould. There was not a trace of expression in either face or voice as he said,

“What books? On what shelf?”

Susan found it difficult to come by any words at all. She felt as if she was digging up stones with her bare hands as she said,

“Nathaniel Spragge. Three volumes. On the top shelf.”

His eyebrows rose slightly.

“An odd place for Uncle James to keep his will. May I ask the date?”

Arnold Random said,

“A week before he died.”

“Curiouser and curiouser, my dear Arnold. However. . . . Am I to understand that I have an interest in this will?”

“It leaves you everything.”

Edward sat down on the corner of the writing-table. He could not have seemed more casual or completely at home, yet Susan found herself wincing. It was as if at that moment the Hall and all that it stood for had changed hands.

Sitting there at his ease, Edward said, “Well, I think this is where we ask Susan to leave us. It’s going to flutter the legal dovecotes a bit, isn’t it?”

“I would rather she stayed.”

Edward shook his head.

“Oh, no, I don’t think so. She can go back to her sorting but she had better not find any more wills.” Then, when she had most thankfully escaped, “That’s better! Now it’s between you and me. Was there a letter with the will---anything to show why he did it?”

Arnold came over to the table. The envelope with its enclosure, lay there across the blotting-pad. He took it up and gave it to Edward. The envelope dropped back upon the pad. The will dropped.

It was James Random’s letter that Edward took over to the window to read. A short letter to take up so much time.

“I am altering my will, because I am quite sure that my boy is alive. I saw him in a dream last night, and he told me that he was coming home. So I have altered my will.”

There was a shaky signature---a very shaky signature. Edward stared at it until it disappeared in a momentary clouding of his sight. With the outer vision darkened, he had an astonishingly vivid picture in his mind---an old man sitting there writing at that table behind him---a very tired old man---writing in the faith and hope of a dream. And it touched him to the depths. It was a little time before he could turn round and say, “Well, he took a chance.”

Arnold had moved to watch him.

“You haven’t read the will,” he said in a kind of dull surprise.

Edward came up to the table again and stood there reading it. Simple, comprehensive. “Everything to my nephew, Edward Random.” He looked over his shoulder at Arnold and said, “I see both the witnesses are dead.”


“In fact there would have been no questions asked if the will had never turned up.”

“I suppose not.”

“But Susan found it. Very inconvenient of her---from your point of view. I feel that I ought to apologize. Only it wasn’t I who brought her down here to rummage in the library, which has done very well without being catalogued for all these years. It looks almost as if you thought she might find something. It even looks as if you wanted her to find it.”

Arnold had gone back to staring down upon the blazing logs. He said stiffly, “You cannot imagine----” and heard Edward laugh.

“My dear Arnold, I can imagine anything---I’ve always been quite good at it. I can imagine, for instance, that a will like this turning up when you were perfectly sure that I was dead must have presented you with a horrid vista of legal obstacles and delays. It might be years before my death could be presumed, and meanwhile a minor state of chaos! I can imagine its appearing in an extremely unattractive light. What I can not imagine, and what I hope you are not going to ask me to believe, is that Uncle James climbed to the top of the library ladder in the last week of his life and hid the will he had been at so much trouble to make behind old Nathaniel Spragge’s ditchwater sermons. After all, why should he?”

Arnold said nothing. The firelight showed that there was sweat on his face.

Edward stood now with his back to the table, leaning against it. It came to him that it was his table, and that the room was his room. And a lot of good it would do him if he lay in Embank jail on a charge of murder. But the production of the will---how was that going to affect the prospect? Not very greatly, he thought. The police already knew from Miss Silver’s account of her conversation with Clarice that William Jackson had witnessed a will and was proposing to blackmail Arnold on the strength of it. They knew that James Random had told Clarice about the will, and about the dream which had induced him to make it. All that the actual production of the will could do would be to provide strong corroboration of what Clarice had told Miss Silver. It left him no motive at all for the murder of William Jackson, and the merest thread of a motive for the murder of Clarice Dean. After all, you don’t bump girls off because they drop hints that they know something to your advantage, or even because they throw themselves rather assiduously at your head. On the whole, then, his position would be improved. But Arnold’s wouldn’t. If the police got the idea that he had been suppressing the will, they might begin to think very seriously indeed about the possibility that William Jackson had actually made some blackmailing attempt, and that Clarice was following it up. And if Arnold showed the police the same sweating mask that he was now turning to the fire, they would probably arrest him at sight.

He said in a voice which had lost its ironic edge, “It seems to me that we have got to be extremely careful what we do next. The family wash strictly in private, and a convincingly united front. I think the best thing will be for you to take the initiative. Drive over to Embank this afternoon and show this will to the solicitors there. You can take Susan along if you like. But no, on the whole better not. You don’t want to appear to need any backing up. You’ve been having the library catalogued, and this will has turned up behind some old books. I shouldn’t mention the top shelf or anything like that. Just say it was behind some early nineteenth-century sermons. And of course nobody is better pleased about it than you are.” He smiled, and the ironic flavour returned for a moment as he added, “Do you know, curiously enough, I’ve really got a feeling that’s the truth.”

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