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Chapter Forty-Two

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« on: July 27, 2023, 10:55:49 am »

MISS Silver was ready to go. The modest suit-case was packed. The woollen gloves, black cloth coat, the elderly fur tippet, were ready to put on. The black felt hat with its loops of ribbon had been assumed. A handsome cheque had passed. It remained only to bid Adriana Ford farewell.

She found her in an upright chair, her head high, her dark red hair meticulously arranged, her make-up carefully applied.

“Well,” she said, “so far as you are concerned it is over. As far as we are concerned it is just going to begin. Pity one can’t drop the curtain and call the whole thing off, isn’t it? I keep wondering what would have happened if I had never written to you or come to see you.”

Miss Silver coughed. “I do not feel that I had much part in clearing the matter up.”

Adriana lifted a hand. “You got the truth out of Ellie. Mary Lenton says she did nothing but cry and turn faint. They didn’t know what to do with her, and they were going to send her away, and if they had done that, or if she had just slipped into an illness, I don’t suppose she would ever had spoken. In which case poor Edna would probably have murdered somebody else before anyone found her out, and the most likely person to be murdered next would have been me. So you must expect me to have some bias in the matter!” She gave a short laugh. “Odd, that one should still feel an affection for living! My household has been broken up, two people have been murdered on the premises, Geoffrey has had a narrow escape of being hanged, his wife turns out to be a homicidal lunatic, and my family affairs are front-page news. I ought to feel finished, but I don’t! I’m looking for a flat in town, and Meeson is as pleased as Punch. She has always hated Ford. The one bright spot seems to be that there are no two opinions about Edna being mad, poor thing. She hadn’t a great deal of mind to go out of, but I suppose she might have kept what balance she had if she hadn’t let herself get so eaten up with jealousy about Geoffrey.”

Miss Silver said, “Jealousy is a terrible and corroding poison.”

Adriana made an impatient gesture. “People don’t always go off their heads with it. Why, we didn’t even take it seriously.”

“That was a mistake.”

“It’s all very well to say so now, but if you could have seen her all these years, doing that tiresome fancy work, interfering in the household, bickering with Meriel, fussing about Geoffrey---why, we used to make a joke of it. The Superintendent says you suspected her, but I don’t see how you could.”

“She was one of the people whom I was bound to suspect, because she was one of the people who was aware that Miss Meriel Ford had been down by the pool at or about the time when Miss Preston was murdered. This fact at first placed Miss Meriel herself in the position of being my principal suspect, but when she had met the same fate as Miss Preston it became clear that she had been removed because she was a danger to the real murderer----”

“Edna---why did you pitch on Edna?”

“She was in an abnormal mental state. I have some experience of these matters, and she seemed to me to be given up to what the French call an idée fixe. Her outbursts on the subject of her husband’s infatuation for Mrs. Trent were indications which I could not neglect. Both before and after these outbursts there were characteristic periods of apparent inertia. She also exhibited a strong and settled desire to return to the life of a town or suburb, but as she herself informed me, that was not financially possible. I believe that she allowed herself to dwell upon this idea incessantly, and that it provided the motive for the first crime. She knew that you had left her a life interest in the bequest made to her husband, and she dwelt on the idea of removing him from the neighbourhood of Mrs. Trent.”

“Then why didn’t she just murder Esmé Trent and have done with it?”

“She might have done so if the opportunity had occurred. That first murder was not planned. The time, the place, the opportunity, presented themselves at a moment when her jealousy was most strongly excited, and the second crime was committed to cover up the first. Her mania had by then progressed to a point where it seemed to her that it was a perfectly natural and inevitable thing to do. By the time she made her statement to Superintendent Martin she no longer felt any sense of guilt.”

Adriana said in her deep voice, “Well, they won’t hang her, and it let Geoffrey out. He is a good deal broken up.”

Miss Silver’s natural kindness of disposition did not incline her towards sympathy with Mr. Geoffrey Ford. He was certainly very much shocked and upset, but she did not think it had failed to occur to him that he might himself have been a victim, and she felt assured that it would not be very long before he was again reaching out for feminine admiration and sympathy. The fact that Adriana now turned the conversation to Ellie Page did not dispose her to regard him with any more favour.

“I can’t imagine why you should have thought that Ellie came into it at all.”

“You yourself told me that there had been some talk about her and Mr. Geoffrey Ford, and the footprint under the Lodge window had to be accounted for. It was quite a recent one, and it was not made by Miss Meriel, neither were the fingerprints on the windowsill hers. The footprint was that of a much smaller foot. It was a deep one. Whoever made it had stood at the living-room window to listen. A chance remark informed me that Mrs. Trent had a passion for open windows. It was therefore more than possible that the person who stood by that window to listen might have heard what would throw valuable light upon the crime. In considering who this person might be, it was reasonable to deduce that she must have had a deep personal interest in what was going on inside the Lodge. Ellie Page came into my mind at once. I had seen her, and had been struck by her look of deep unhappiness. She is slightly made, her hands and feet are small. Immediately after the crime she is said to be ill. I decided to see her if it were possible to do so. Walking along the road, it was apparent that any of the Vicarage windows on that side would command a view of the road between Ford House and the Lodge. As we now know, Ellie Page was in the habit of watching this stretch of road from her bedroom window. Mr. Geoffrey had become alarmed by the strength of her feelings. He had been cooling off, and she was tormented by his attentions to Mrs. Trent. As I walked in the direction of the Vicarage I became convinced that it was Ellie Page who had listened at the Lodge window. The rest you know. When I saw her leave the house and go into the church I followed, and found that she had reached the point where unhappiness compelled her to find an outlet. Fear and shame withheld her from confiding in her cousins. She had grieved Mrs. Lenton and angered the Vicar, and they were sending her away. She had to speak to someone, and she unburdened herself to me. The hardest part of my task was to get her to see that it was her duty to give this information to the police. It was only when she realized the serious nature of Mr. Geoffrey Ford’s position that she was induced to do so.”

Adriana made one of her impatient gestures. “Oh, well, she’ll get over it,” she said.

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