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Chapter Twenty-Six

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« on: August 26, 2023, 11:58:51 am »

SHE came out of the heated shop into cold, bright air. The dropping sun looked between two black clouds and washed the whole length of the street with gold. As she walked quickly away, it seemed to her that the path before her was all lit up. Her spirits were strangely high. She had held her own, and now that it was done it seemed an easy thing to do. She wondered that she had been so much afraid---that she had submitted to so much. After all, what could he do? To expose her would be to expose himself. Threats were a game that two could play. She had let him see that, and he had been quick to moderate his tone. She had come away without any orders on his side or any undertaking on hers. She had fought her battle and won it. She had shown them that she was not to be used just as a tool. What she did she would do in her own time and in her own way---if she did anything at all. That would depend on Philip. Why, they must think her a fool to risk throwing away all that had been gained. She wasn’t that kind of fool, or any other. When you got what you had wanted all your life you didn’t risk it, you held it close. What she could do safely she would do. If there were a very good chance tonight, she might even get Mr. Felix his wax impression, but if she did it, it would be because she chose, and not under any orders of his.

At the corner she turned. She lost the sun, but not her lighted mood. A half-formed thought emerged and took the light. Contemplating this thought, the outline of a plan began to form. Her pace slackened. She walked slowly, her attention all turned inwards. The darkening street, the cold, thin wind which slanted across it, were no longer there. She looked at the plan, and coveted it as she might have coveted a diamond necklace or a high-powered car. Like these, it was beyond her reach. But was it---was it? If she was a tool, it wouldn’t be the first time a tool had turned in the hand that used it. She began to consider very carefully whether the plan could be used. There would be some risk of course, but she stood in danger all the time. It would be worth some risk to get free and be safe. For a moment her heart sickened. Safety seemed so desperately far away.

Then she went on. In the end she temporized. Leaham Street was not so far away. She had looked it up on the tape-map before she came out. She would go and have a look at Montague Mansions. No need to make up her mind whether she would go in or not. There was, perhaps, at the back of her thought some undefined idea that something might come along to point the way. She began to walk briskly in the direction of Leaham Street.

Miss Silver sat knitting by the fire. She had finished Johnny’s second stocking and had begun a pair of socks for little Roger. Johnny’s other two pair of stockings could wait until she had knitted up this very nice wool. There was not enough of it for stockings, but it would come in very well indeed for little Roger’s socks and be a great help to Ethel, who really had not time to knit for her family. Three boys and a husband to cook, and clean, and wash, and mend for---three afternoons at a canteen---were enough and to spare for one pair of hands.

As she knitted she went over in her mind her last conversation with Frank Abbott. Recollection of it made her shake her head. Chief Inspector Lamb was no doubt an experienced officer and a very estimable man, but that was not to say that she could always agree with his conclusions. By no means---oh dear me, no! In this particular instance she did not agree with them at all. She had told Frank Abbott so. But of course it was not her business---she was not professionally engaged upon the case. If the Chief Inspector was satisfied, there was no more to be said. He was, of course, a Man. Miss Silver had no dislike for the male sex. In their proper place they could be very useful indeed. She admired all their good qualities, and regarded their failings with indulgence. But occasionally she reflected, as she was doing now, that they were too much inclined to believe in their own opinions, and too much convinced that these opinions must be right. If Chief Inspector Lamb could believe that poor Miss Collins had merely met with a very sad accident whilst on her way to visit her old friend Mrs. Williams of Ruislip---if he could believe that she had missed her way and wandered into the dark lane where she was found, it was more than she herself could do. She did not care how respectable a person Mrs. Williams seemed to be, she did not for a moment believe that Miss Collins had had any intention of going to see her. She might have known Mrs. Williams, or she might not---upon this point Miss Silver kept an open mind. But on that Monday afternoon she had been going up to town with the intention of meeting Lady Jocelyn under the clock at Waterloo at a quarter to four. If it was not Lady Jocelyn whom she met there, it was someone who knew of the appointment and kept it in Lady Jocelyn’s place. Lady Jocelyn, it seemed, could not have kept it herself---the Chief Inspector expressed himself quite satisfied as to that. Miss Silver primmed her lips. She considered that he was too easily satisfied.

It was at this point in her meditations that her attention was attracted by a sudden change in the light. It had been a singularly dark and cheerless day, but now quite suddenly the air outside was bright. With a slight regretful sigh Miss Silver put down her knitting and went over to the window. It was cheering to see the sun after so many gloomy days. The light came slanting down the turning opposite, a level beam of sunshine from where the sun was caught between two threatening clouds. No real sign of clearing up, she feared. Merely a transitory gleam, but pleasant---very pleasant.

She remained at the window until it faded. Just as it did so, she saw a woman stop on the opposite pavement and look up. She wore a small fur-trimmed cap and a very handsome fur coat. Her hair was bright under the cap. Miss Silver looked at her, and immediately recognized Lady Jocelyn. Every paper had carried its print of Amory’s portrait. They were like her---very like her indeed.

She stood there looking up as Miss Silver looked down, her smoothly tinted face without expression, her fine grey eyes steady under arched brows. She might have been looking at a view, or watching a chess problem. Then all at once she turned and went back along the way that she had come, walking easily and without hurry. Miss Silver watched her go.

Anne Jocelyn went home and let herself into her flat. She felt gay and confident. The plan gave her a feeling of power. It was there at her hand to use or not to use. She might use it, or she might not---she hadn’t made up her mind. Meanwhile it gave her that sense of power.

Some time after tea the telephone bell rang. As she lifted the receiver she heard a slight cough. A woman’s voice said, “Lady Jocelyn?” She wondered who was ringing her up and said, “Yes.”

“I think you will know my name. It is Silver---Miss Maud Silver.”

“Why do you think I should know it?”

There was that slight hortatory cough.

“I think you came to see me this afternoon, or at least to see where I live. You did not come in. If you intended to do so, you changed your mind and went away. It was just as well.”

“I really don’t know what you are talking about.”

“I think you do. I have rung you up because there is something you ought to know. You were being followed.”

Anne made no sound. She stood holding the receiver in a rigid hand until she could command her voice. Even then she kept it low. The low voice said, “I really don’t know what you mean.”

Miss Silver coughed.

“Lady Jocelyn, you would do well to listen to me. You came along Leaham Street this afternoon just before four o’clock. You stood on the pavement and looked across at Montague Mansions. I happened to be looking out of my sitting-room window, and I recognized you at once. Your resemblance to the Amory portrait is---remarkable.”

Something in Anne said, “She knows----” and then, “How does she know?”

Quietly and precisely Miss Silver continued. She might have been answering that unspoken thought.

“I beg that you will listen to me, because I know great care was taken to prevent that unfortunate Miss Collins from reaching you. Has it not occurred to you that the same care might be taken to prevent you from reaching me?”

“I really don’t know what you are talking about.” The repetition was by now a mechanical one. The voice was lifeless, the words without meaning.

Miss Silver said, “I think you had the intention of coming to see me, but you could not make up your mind. In the end you decided against it. The person who was following you was a woman in a shabby brown coat with a brown and purple scarf tied over her head. Whilst you were waiting on the pavement she stood under the porch of one of the houses higher up. When you went back she turned with her face to the door as if she were waiting for someone to answer the bell. But when you had gone past she came down the steps again and followed you.”

Anne said nothing. Miss Silver went on.

“I believe that the police are not interested in your movements. I have reason to believe this. It follows that someone else is interested. It is for this reason that I am ringing you up. You will know better than I who this someone may be, and to what extent you are in danger. I felt bound to warn you. If you would care to consult me, I am at your disposal. It would not, I think, be safe for you to come to me, but I would come to you.”

Anne’s head came up with a jerk. What was she doing, allowing herself to be talked to like this? She must have gone crazy. Quite crazy, because something in her wanted to say, “Yes, come, come, come!” She controlled it, as she had controlled her voice, and murmured, “I am sure you mean to be very, very kind, but I still don’t know what you are talking about. Goodbye.”

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