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Chapter Eighteen

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« on: August 26, 2023, 04:43:57 am »

THE flat which the Jocelyns had taken was a furnished one. They settled into it almost as easily as if it had been their own and they were returning to it after a brief absence. Philip, profoundly unhappy and holding his mind relentlessly to a new and very exacting job, yet found himself unable to bar out the thought that three and a half years in a French village had developed in Anne a talent for organization which he certainly hadn’t supposed her to possess. The girl who had dropped her hat, her coat, her scarf, just where she found it convenient to discard them had changed into the woman who with the minimum of household help kept their flat orderly and shining---the girl who probably had boiled a kettle and possibly an egg or a potato into the woman who produced delightful meals from war-time ingredients. When he proposed bringing Mrs. Ramage up to town she wouldn’t hear of it---“She’d be quite dreadfully unhappy. And there’s no need---I can cook.”

“Since when?” said Philip, and got a limpid look from steady blue eyes.

“Since I was in France, darling. Quite a good place to learn, don’t you think?”

The little scene left a flavour behind it---the kind of flavour which is hardly there but lingers on the palate. For the rest, things would go more easily than at Jocelyn’s Holt. They would not have to sit alone together in a horrid travesty of the solitude à deux. There was nearly always work to be finished at home. He could bring a man back with him. Anne could see her friends. She was busy ringing people up, asking one to lunch, another to tea---picking up the threads which had been dropped nearly four years ago. These activities were a great relief to Philip. The fuller Anne’s life was, the less strain was placed on their relationship. The last thing he desired was the concentration of thought and interest upon himself or upon his work. That the latter was highly confidential and could not afford a meeting-ground hardly affected the position, since he would in any case have kept the door locked upon his private affairs.

Unfortunately Anne did not appear to see this. He could imagine her having been brought up on the simple axiom, “Always talk to men about their work—they like it.” From what he had ever heard of her mother, she was just the sort of woman to say just that sort of thing. He was forced at last into a blunt,

“I can’t talk about my job—and anyhow it would bore you stiff.”

She looked a shade reproachful.

“It wouldn’t—really. But—do you mean—it’s—secret?”

She saw him frown. He controlled his voice to say,

“Most staff work is confidential. Anyhow I’m at it all day—I wouldn’t want to talk about it if it was as public as Hyde Park.”

“I thought men liked to talk about their work.”

He turned a sheet of the Times and made no answer.

That was the first evening in the flat. It was also the evening on which Nellie Collins did not come home.

Mrs. Smithers rang up the police in the morning.

“My landlady, Miss Collins—she hasn’t come home. I really don’t know what to make of it at all.”

In the police station Sergeant Brown, a family man, employed a soothing voice.

“How long has she been gone?”

“Since yesterday afternoon!” said Mrs. Smithers in an angry voice. “Most inconsiderate and uncalled for—leaving me alone in the house like this! And her shop not opened, and not my business to open it of course, nor yet to take in the milk, only being war-time, I couldn’t be expected to let it go to waste!”

Sergeant Brown said, “No.” And then, “Just when did you say Miss Collins left?”

“Early yesterday afternoon. Went off in her best coat and skirt, and told me she was going up to meet a friend. Nothing about not coming back, or hoping it wouldn’t put me out if she stayed in town—nothing like that! And here it’s ten o’clock, and not a word to say where she is or when she’s coming back, and I don’t consider it’s treating me right!”

Mrs. Smithers sounded so much annoyed that Sergeant Brown found himself saying the word “accident.”

“She may have met with an accident.”

“Then why can’t she say so?” said Mrs. Smithers in a tearing temper.

By the time that Sergeant Brown hung up the receiver he was feeling a little sorry for Miss Collins. She was going to need something very substantial in the way of an accident if she wished to placate Mrs. Smithers. He began to ring up the London hospitals. When none of them knew anything about a middle-aged lady in a bright blue coat and skirt and a black hat with a bunch of blue flowers on it, he rang up Scotland Yard.

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