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Chapter Twenty

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« on: August 26, 2023, 07:06:10 am »

ANNE Jocelyn opened the door of her flat. She looked with surprise at the two men who had been waiting for her to do so. She saw a ponderous middle-aged man who might have been a chapel pillar, and an elegant young one who might have been more at home in a drawing-room.

Introducing himself as Chief Detective Inspector Lamb, the older man crossed the threshold, briefly indicated his companion as Detective Sergeant Abbott, and remarked in a voice which had not quite lost its original country accent,

“Perhaps you would let us have a word with you, Lady Jocelyn.”

There was a moment before she moved. The landing from which they came was almost dark, the hall of the flat lighted only from the half-open sitting-room door. If she turned round she would have to face the light. But she must turn round, or they would know that she was frightened. Frightened---how did any word express that sensation of everything having come to an end? She wrenched at her will, setting it to command her body, and it obeyed. There was really only the least possible pause before she led the way towards that half-open door.

They came into a pleasant room. Light shining from the ceiling through a Lalique bowl. Another in very heavy glass with a design of birds pecking at fruit held a sheaf of tawny chrysanthemums. The drawn curtains were of honey-coloured brocade. They gave the light in the room a faintly golden tinge. All the colouring was in the range of shades between honey and russet.

Lady Jocelyn wore a blue dress and two rows of noticeable pearls. She said, “You wanted to see me----” then broke off.

It was no good pretending. Anyone who wasn’t a complete fool could see that she was frightened, and neither of these men were fools, not even the old one, with his heavy policeman’s figure and his stolid face. She made a disarming little gesture which old Lamb stigmatized as foreign.

“You will think me very stupid---but you frightened me so much. You know, I have been in France for more than three years under the Occupation, and when for three years the police have meant the Gestapo, it’s not always easy----” She broke off again, and said with a smile, “My nerves played me a trick. What can I do for you? Won’t you sit down?”

They sat. The light shone down on them. Frank Abbott’s eye ran over her. Pretty woman---strung up---very quick off the mark with a cover-up, but might be quite genuine. Ars est celare artem---but if it was art, he took off his hat to it. There might, of course, be nothing to conceal. That the Gestapo could get on a girl’s nerves in an occupied country needed no stressing.

Lamb had allowed the silence to settle. Now he said, “I am sorry we startled you. I have reason to believe that you may be able to give us some assistance with regard to a case which we are investigating.”

“A case? I---of course anything I can---but I don’t know----”

Chief Detective Inspector Lamb proceeded as if she had not spoken. His eyes, which reminded his irreverent Sergeant so forcibly of bull’s-eyes, were fixed upon her very much as if she had been a chair or a sofa. They showed no appreciation of the fact that she was young, charming, pretty, and Lady Jocelyn. He just looked at her. She might have been an old scrub-woman, a doorpost, or a cat. He said in that robust country voice, “The case was reported to us as a road death. The deceased has been identified by her lodger as Miss Nellie Collins of the Lady’s Workbox, Blackheath Vale. Did you know her?”

Frank Abbott saw the natural colour sink away from the surface skin of Lady Jocelyn’s face. It left two islands of rouge, and the scarlet shape of a mouth painted on in lipstick. Before this happened the tinting had been so skilfully done that it was hard to say where nature ended and art began. Now not even art was left. The remaining colour stood up on the blanched skin like crude daubs upon a linen mask. With this evidence of shock before his eyes, he saw the throat muscles tighten. They held her voice steady for the single word she needed.


“You did not know Miss Collins?”


“Never heard of her?”

Frank Abbott looked quickly down at the hands in Anne Jocelyn’s lap. Hands were the biggest giveaway of the lot. He had seen so many women’s hands tell what the face withheld. But Anne Jocelyn’s hands told nothing at all. They neither clung the one to the other, nor were clenched each upon itself. They lay at ease in her lap---at ease, or under perfect control. They did not move at all till she said, “Yes---she wrote to me.”

Chief Inspector Lamb sat there like an image, with a hand on either knee. He had put down his bowler hat on a chest in the hall, but had merely unbuttoned his overcoat without removing it. His eyes never left her face, but remained expressionless. He might have been having his photograph taken---one of those stolid photographs in which the father of the family stares at the camera with a blank eye and a vacant mind. He said, “Will you tell me why she did that?”

“She wanted to see me.”

“What reason did she give for wanting to see you, Lady Jocelyn?”

She drew in a long, full breath. If she had had a shock, it was passing. Her colour was coming back. She said, “I’m sorry---I’m being stupid---you did frighten me. It’s all very simple really. I expect you will have seen in the papers that my family thought I was dead---someone else was buried in my name---a woman called Annie Joyce. She was an illegitimate connection---as a matter of fact a first cousin---and we were very much alike. Miss Collins knew Annie when she was a little girl. She wrote and told me she had been fond of her, and asked if she could come and see me. She wanted to know all about her.”

“I see. What reply did you make?”

“Well, I’m afraid I didn’t answer the letter.”

“You didn’t answer it?”

“No. It really only came a few days ago, and I’ve been very busy over the move. We have only just got into this flat.”

“When did you move, Lady Jocelyn?”


“Yesterday? And you were moving from----”

“Jocelyn’s Holt---in Surrey. My husband is at the War Office. He found it took too much time going up and down.”

“Yesterday----” Lamb dwelt on the word. “Then where were you during the afternoon?”

“I saw our things off from Jocelyn’s Holt in the morning, and travelled up myself after an early lunch. I got to the flat about three, and spent the rest of the afternoon and evening getting things straight.”

“Anyone with you?”

“I brought one of my maids up from Jocelyn’s Holt. I’m not keeping her here because she’s a young country girl, but she helped me yesterday and stayed the night. I sent her back this afternoon.”

“Will you kindly give me her name and address?”

“Ivy Fossett. She’s down at Jocelyn’s Holt.”

Frank Abbott had been writing down these questions and answers. He wrote down Ivy’s name.

Lamb went on.

“Did you leave the flat at all after you arrived at---what time did you say?”

“It was ten minutes to three. No, I didn’t go out again.”

“You didn’t go to Waterloo Station to keep an appointment with Miss Collins?”

“No, of course I didn’t---I hadn’t any appointment with her. I didn’t go out at all.”

“Can anyone besides Ivy Fossett corroborate that?”

Anne Jocelyn’s colour had risen. She had a puzzled look.

“I don’t know what you mean. My cousin, Mrs. Perry Jocelyn, came in just before four. She stayed to tea and helped me to unpack.”

“How long did she stay?”

“Till just before seven.”

“May I have her address please?”

Abbott wrote it down.

Anne Jocelyn threw out her hands in a sudden gesture.

“Why are you asking me all these questions? What does it matter whether I went out or not? I hadn’t any appointment with Miss Collins, but why should it have mattered if I had?”

Lamb just went on looking at her.

“Miss Collins was under the impression that she had an appointment with you under the clock at Waterloo at a quarter to four yesterday afternoon.”

“But that’s nonsense----”

“She came up from Blackheath to keep that appointment, Lady Jocelyn.”

“But she couldn’t---I wasn’t there. I was here, in this flat, unpacking. I never even wrote to her. How could she have an appointment with me?”

“There are other ways of making an appointment except through the post. There is the telephone, Lady Jocelyn. Miss Collins put her telephone number at the head of the letter she wrote you, didn’t she?”

“I don’t know---she may have done---I really didn’t notice.”

“May I see that letter?”

“Well---I’m afraid I didn’t keep it.”

Still no expression on his face.

“You didn’t keep it. But you hadn’t answered it---had you?”

There was another of those gestures, slight, graceful, just a little foreign.

“Well, she had a shop, you know. I remembered the name---I could have written later. To tell you the truth, I wasn’t at all sure that I wanted to write. There really was nothing that I could tell her about Annie. The whole Joyce connection was---distasteful. And I thought Miss Collins was perhaps---well, a sensation-hunter. If you knew the letters we have had from people who didn’t know us at all!”

“So you destroyed the letter. Can you remember the contents?”

“I think so. It was rather a rigmarole---all about how fond she had been of Annie, and could she come and see me, because she wanted to hear all about her sad death---that sort of thing.”

“Did the letter suggest any special knowledge about Annie Joyce?”

“I don’t know what you mean.”

“Did it suggest that the writer would be able to identify Annie Joyce?”

She let her eyes meet his for a moment, cold under the raised brows.

“No---of course not. What an extraordinary thing to say! How could she identify Annie Joyce? She is dead.”

Lamb said, “Do you mean that Annie Joyce is dead? Or do you mean that Nellie Collins, who might have identified her, is dead?”

She caught her breath.

“Why do you say that?”

“Because I would like to know, Lady Jocelyn.”

She said, her voice lower than it had been at all, “Annie Joyce is dead.”

Lamb said gravely, “And so is Nellie Collins.”

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