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Chapter Twenty-Four

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« on: August 26, 2023, 10:38:27 am »

GARTH Albany came into Philip’s room at the War Office next morning. He raised an eyebrow at the girl clerk and Philip sent her away. Garth, having been somewhat against his will absorbed into Military Intelligence, might very easily wish to dispense with even the most confidential clerk.

But when they were alone Garth still stood there on the far side of the desk. He had picked up a piece of red sealing-wax and was looking down at it with frowning intensity.

Philip sat back in his chair.

“Anything wrong with my sealing-wax?”

Garth put it down in a hurry.

“No. Look here, Philip, I’ve come on a damned awkward errand, and I don’t know where to begin---that’s the truth of it.”

Philip’s eyebrows rose slightly.

“First rules of composition,” he murmured---“you begin at the beginning, proceed to the middle, and continue to the end. Don’t you think you’d better begin?”

Garth looked darkly at him.

“It’s damned awkward,” he said. He pulled up a chair and sat down, leaning forward with his elbows on the table. “The fact is they’ve sent me along because of the family connection, and our being friends and all that.”

Without any change of expression Philip said, “I suppose it’s something about Anne.”

Garth registered relief. Once you got the ice broken you could say anything. He hadn’t relished the job of breaking it. He knew Philip’s obstinate pride. What neither he nor anyone else would ever know for certain was just how much of it stirred and stood on guard under that easy, languid manner. He would have liked to know now, but he didn’t.

Philip said, “Well?” and he had to start out in the dark. He said abruptly, “They’re not satisfied. It’s this business of your having thought she was dead, and then her turning up after all this time. The D.M.I. wants to see you about it. I’m just an advance delegation, so to speak. The fact is, it’s a beastly job and they’ve shoved it on to me.”

“Go on.”

“Well, as you know, there’s a certain amount of coming and going across the Channel. Someone was told off to make enquiries, and we’ve had a report.”

“Yes?”

“It says what you know already, that Theresa Jocelyn was living at the Château de Mornac with her adopted daughter, Miss Joyce. Anne came to stay in April ‘41, and in June you ran over in a motor-launch and tried to get her away. You did get someone away, but she died in the boat. She was buried as Anne. That’s not in the report, that’s just common knowledge. Now we get back to the report again. It says Theresa Jocelyn had been buried about a week when you came over and took Anne away. Annie Joyce remained at the Château. She was said to be ill. The two old servants, Pierre and Marie, looked after her. The Germans were in the village. They sent a doctor up to see her.”

“Yes, I knew all that. I suppose you’ve heard Anne’s story. She says she went back to the Château and called herself Annie Joyce. She says she had pneumonia. Afterwards, when she was well again, she was sent to a concentration camp.”

Garth looked unhappy.

“I’m afraid there’s more to it than that---according to the report. It says Annie Joyce got well very quickly. The German doctor continued to visit the Château, and so did Captain Reichenau. They seemed to be on very friendly terms with Annie Joyce. Presently the doctor was transferred. Captain Reichenau continued his visits. There was naturally a good deal of talk in the village. A few months later Reichenau disappeared from the scene. Some time after that Annie Joyce was sent to a concentration camp, but a couple of months later she was back at the Château. She said they had let her out because she was ill. She was certainly thin, but she did not seem like a person who has been ill, and she was in very good spirits. She told Pierre and Marie that she wouldn’t be with them for very much longer---she was going to England. There was some delay, but in the end she got off.”

“Is that all?”

“There’s one thing more. After her return from the concentration camp the Germans left her alone. There were no visits, no contacts.”

Philip said very coolly, “You’d have damned her if there had been contacts. Are you going to damn her because there weren’t any?”

“No---no, of course not. Philip, are you absolutely sure she is Anne? No, wait a minute---you weren’t sure, were you? Things get around the family, you know. Inez Jocelyn talked. You weren’t sure---were you?”

“Yes, I was sure---quite sure, that she wasn’t Anne.”

Garth appeared to be incapable of speech. He stared.

Philip went on.

“I was as sure of it as you can be of anything. She was utterly strange to me. I couldn’t believe that she had ever been my wife. She looked like Anne, she spoke like Anne, she wrote like Anne, and still I didn’t believe that she was Anne. And then it was forced on me---against the grain, against my instincts, against my feelings---because she knew things which I thought only Anne and I could know.” He got up and walked away across the room. There was a slight pause, then he turned round and said, “That’s what I thought---until last night.”

“What happened last night?”

“A girl came in. She’d been one of Anne’s bridesmaids. She giggled and she prattled, and in the course of the giggling and prattling she came out with some very illuminating remarks about a diary. It appears that Anne kept one after the model of the late Mr. Pepys, in which, as Joan had it, she put down ‘every single thing, even the sort you wouldn’t think anyone would,’ with a lot more to the same effect. Anne was not at all keen on discussing the diary. No reason why she should be of course, but she wasn’t. In fact abnormally restrained. I’d like to have a look at that diary, Garth. I’d like to see whether Anne wrote down in it the things which I found so convincing---the things that only Anne and I could know. Because if she did, and if Annie Joyce got her hands on the book, then my instinct was right, and all my reasons for accepting this woman as Anne---well, they go by the board.”

Garth had turned round in his chair. He looked seriously at Philip and wondered what he should say. Before he could make up his mind Philip spoke again.

“We’re living under the same roof, but we’re not living together. There’s nothing between us. She’s a stranger.”

“Am I to tell the D.M.I. that?”

“I don’t know. I shall have to tell him myself, if it comes to that, because behind all this business of your fellow’s report there’s the suggestion that Annie Joyce was sent over here to impersonate Anne for a definite reason, and the reason isn’t far to seek.” He came back to his chair and dropped down into it. “Garth---it might be. And I’ll tell you why. This girl Annie Joyce---you know about her, don’t you? Daughter of an illegitimate son of my great-uncle Ambrose---brought up to believe very intensively that her father ought to have been Sir Roger instead of a tuppenny-ha’penny clerk---brought up to see Anne and myself as supplanters. Then Theresa adopts her---not legally, but that’s what it amounted to---quarrels with the family about her, takes her out to France, and after ten years disinherits her because she’s taken a sudden fancy to Anne. It would rather pile up, wouldn’t it? It isn’t very hard to imagine that a girl with that sort of thing on her mind might be---shall we say, approachable. Your report suggests that she was approached by this Captain Reichenau. It’s possible. If it happened, then they chose their time to send her over. I suppose information about the where and when of the second front would be what they’d just about give their eyes for. They might very well think they’d got a first-class opportunity of planting an enemy agent on me. That’s one side of the picture. Here’s the other. If she is Anne, she has changed very much---not in appearance but in herself. But she has had enough to change her---no one can reasonably deny that. If she is Anne, she could believe that I had deserted her. She was ill. She had to hide under another name---keep the Boche guessing. She was sent to a concentration camp and got ill again. Finally she gets over here, to find that she has been dead for three and a half years. There’s a tombstone with her name on it, and---she isn’t wanted. I don’t recognize her---or say I don’t. If she is Anne, she has every reason to resent my attitude. When I am finally convinced, it is quite obviously against my will. She has every right to be cut to the heart.”

“And is she?”

“No, she isn’t---or if she is she doesn’t show it. She has the most admirable self-control. She is easy, charming, and extremely efficient. Anne wasn’t either easy or efficient. She said what she thought quite bluntly, and if she didn’t get her own way she let you know all about it. How much can a girl change in three and a half years? She’s much cleverer than Anne. She’s adroit, she’s tactful, she’s damned clever. Anne wasn’t any of those things. She was just young and full of life. She said what she thought and did what she chose. We weren’t going to hit it off---I knew that before we’d been married six months. But if this is Anne, she’s had an appallingly raw deal, and I’ve got to try and make it up to her. And if she’s Anne, you can wash out that report, or at any rate its implications. No conceivable circumstances would have laid Anne open to an approach from the Boche, nor would it have occurred to him to approach her. I can’t think of anyone more completely unsuited to the part of a secret agent---it just wouldn’t have occurred to anyone, least of all to Anne herself. Do you accept that?”

“If she is Anne, I accept it. I didn’t know her so very well, but I should put her down as just what you say---quite a simple character---no frills---healthy, lively girl, quite pleased with everything as long as she got her own way---very pretty and charming and all that---definitely no subtleties, if you don’t mind my speaking frankly.”

“We’re all going to say worse things than that,” said Philip with an odd intonation. “As a matter of fact you’ve only said what I did. Well, all that’s gone. She can look like Anne and talk like Anne, but she can’t think like Anne, because a subtle mind can’t think like a simple one, and when you live with a woman you get on to the quality of her thinking. And that’s what has been at the back of my resistance all along. I’ve lived with Anne, and I’ve lived with this woman who calls herself Anne, and they don’t think the same way. I could more easily get over a change of face than such a change of mind.”

Garth lifted a frowning gaze to Philip’s face and said, “Then you don’t believe she is Anne?”

Philip said, “Last night I’d have said, ‘I don’t know.’ ”

“And today?”

“At the moment I’m inclined to think I’ve been planted with Annie Joyce.”

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