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Chapter Forty

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« on: June 19, 2023, 09:24:56 am »

“I SIMPLY will not hear of it,” said Frank Abbott.

Miss Silver gazed at him across the last of the pink vests.

“My dear Frank!”

“My dear ma’am, it’s no use---I simply will not lend myself to any such thing. And you know very well that you ought not to ask me to take such a responsibility.”

The mildness of her aspect remained quite unchanged.

“Then perhaps you will tell me what you propose to do about it.”

The time was just after lunch, and they were in Ruth Ball’s comfortable morning-room. Two empty coffee-cups testified to the fact that her hospitality had not been lacking. Outside, a November murk had begun to gather between the hedgerows and along the course of the stream. It would be early dark to-night, and there would be no moon. But within all was cosy and bright. The standard lamp behind the sofa had been switched on and shed a warm glow over Miss Silver and her knitting. A fire burned cheerfully upon the hearth, and in front of it stood Detective Inspector Abbott, extremely polished and elegant, in the immemorial attitude of the man who is laying down the law to his women folk. He said, “I shall do what I should have done this morning if Bury hadn’t taken me off on a wild goose chase. It seems the girl William Jackson was running after at Embank has a husband, and when it was suggested that we had better find out what he was doing on the night that William was drowned, I naturally had to agree. He is said to be a man of violent temper, and there is some evidence of his having been heard to utter threats---the quite commonplace sort---like breaking every bone in William’s body if he ever found him speaking to his wife. He works for a contractor over at Hanmere, and Bury couldn’t get hold of him till he came off the job for his dinner. Well, he said he and his wife were visiting her parents at Littleton on both those Friday nights. He says it’s a regular thing---they bicycle over, have supper, and get back about eleven. Bury has gone to check up on it. The chap says half a dozen people can speak to their having been there. Well, according as that pans out, we either go on and arrest Edward Random---or we don’t. As for your plan, it is absolutely out of the question, and it is no use your asking me to have any hand in it.”

He received an indulgent smile.

“Then, my dear Frank, I must make other arrangements.”

“And just what do you mean by that?”

She reached for her knitting-bag and loosened some strands of the pale pink wool. Her smile persisted, and so did her silence.

Frank Abbot said with an edge on his voice,

“You cannot intend to carry out this impracticable scheme by yourself!”

Miss Silver coughed.

“I should naturally prefer not to be obliged to do so.”

“Miss Silver!”

“Yes, Frank?”

“You are the most obstinate woman that ever breathed!”

“Men always say that, I believe, when they cannot succeed in inducing a woman to change her mind.”

He looked at her in an exasperated manner.

“What do you intend to do?”

“I shall carry out the plan of which I gave you an outline just now.”

“Alone?”

“If you leave me under that necessity.”

“You know very well I can’t allow any such thing!”

“Well, what will you do, my dear Frank? You cannot very well arrest me, and I assure you that unless I am put under physical restraint I do most certainly intend to carry out my plan. It is simple, and I believe that it will prove effective. If nothing comes of it, you are in no worse a position than you are at present.”

His tone changed.

“You really believe that something will come of it?”

“I think there is a reasonable chance. The ground has been carefully prepared. I shall be much surprised if by this evening there is anyone in Greenings who is not aware of Annie’s distressing state of mind and the morbid attraction which the splash seems to exert upon her.”

“And you expect that to produce results?”

“I think so. You must consider the murderer’s frame of mind. Two people have already been killed because of something they knew. Annie has made it patent to everyone that she knows more than she has told. I made three useful contacts this morning. Then the old cook here is an intimate friend of the housekeeper at the Hall---they see each other nearly every day. I think we may conclude that Annie’s behaviour would not go unmentioned.”

The corner of his mouth twitched.

“I should say that would be an understatement.”

She inclined her head.

“Look here,” he said---“as man to man, or words to that effect, just how sure are you about all this?”

She laid her knitting down upon her lap and looked at him very seriously indeed.

“I cannot tell you that I am sure, because I do not think that this is a case in which anyone could be sure. When I mentioned a name to Annie she burst into hysterical tears and repeatedly denied that she had ever said anything at all. She would not even admit that she believed her husband to have been murdered. She was, in fact, in a state of panic, and very much afraid that she had already said too much for her own safety. Do you really believe that a murderer who has killed twice will wait for this fear to subside and take the risk of what Annie may be persuaded to disclose?”

He frowned.

“I suppose not. But if you are going to talk about risks---an attack upon Annie wouldn’t be exactly safe.”

“Was there no risk in the case of William Jackson and of Clarice Dean? Yet it was taken. And each success will have heightened the murderer’s sense of immunity. The criminal becomes persuaded of his own power to override the law and evade it. In the end he arrives at a stage where he believes that he can do anything.”

He nodded.

“You are right of course---you always are.”

She shook her head.

“That is a dangerous attitude of mind, Frank, and one which would greatly shock Chief Inspector Lamb.”

He threw up a hand in protest.

“If this plan of yours comes off, I shall get his longest homily about Wind in the Head, its Deleterious Effect on the Morale of the Junior Police Officer. And if it doesn’t come off----” He paused, gave her a really brilliant smile, and continued, “he won’t be told anything about it. And, as you were doubtless about to remark, what the eye doesn’t see the heart doesn’t grieve over.”

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