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Chapter Twenty-Five

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« on: August 26, 2023, 11:14:37 am »

ON the same afternoon Anne rang up Janice Albany.

“It’s Anne Jocelyn speaking. Look here, I wonder if you can help me.”

Janice said, “What is it? What can I do?”

“Well, Lyn was here yesterday. You had her to tea last week. She was talking about someone she met then, and I stupidly forgot to ask her the name. I’ve been wondering whether this woman was related to some people I met in France. Lyn’s out, and it’s teasing me---you know the way things do.”

“Would it have been Miss Silver? She was talking to Lyn, and I think I caught your name.”

“Does she live at Blackheath?”

“Oh, no, she lives in Montague Mansions---15 Montague Mansions.” Then, after a little pause, “She has a niece at Blackheath.”

“Who is she?”

“She’s a pet---straight out of the last century. She wears beaded slippers and a boxed-up fringe, but she’s a marvel at her job.”

“What is her job?”

“She’s a private detective.”

Anne took a long breath and leaned forward over the study table. The room was full of a throbbing mist. Through it she heard Janice telling her things about the murder of Michael Harsch. They came to her in snatches with a continual burden---“Miss Silver was really too marvellous.” Presently she managed to say, “No, she isn’t the person I thought of. I don’t know why I got it into my head she might be---it was just one of those things. . . . By the way, don’t tell her I asked---she might think it odd.”

“Oh, no, I won’t.”

Anne rang off, but she did not get up for a long time after that.

Later on she kept her appointment. When she came to the shop with the bright blue curtains and the name of Félise over the door she walked straight in. With a murmured “I have an appointment with Mr. Felix,” she passed the girl at the counter, went down the passage between the cubicles, and opened the looking-glass door. She stood for a moment in the dark as Lyndall had stood, and then moved towards the line of light which showed at the edge of the door that faced her. She pushed it open and went in, putting up her hand to shield her eyes.

The light came from a reading-lamp with a dark opaque shade tilted so as to leave the farther side of the room in shadow and to direct a dazzling cone of light upon the door and upon anyone coming in that way. As she turned to get it out of her eyes and to make sure that the latch had caught, she thought, “What a stupid trick! That’s what happened last time---I was dazzled, and I didn’t make sure the door was shut. I’d like to tell him that.”

She turned back to the room, her hand up again, and said in an exasperated voice,

“Turn the light off me, can’t you!”

The room was sparsely furnished---a square of carpet on the floor, a writing-table roughly cutting the space in half, a plain upright chair on the far side, a plain upright chair on the near side, and the electric lamp standing on the table. In the farther chair, and in the deepest of the shadow, Mr. Felix. He lifted a gloved hand and turned the lamp a little. The beam now lay between them. If anyone with a fancy for metaphor had been present, it might have been compared to a fiery sword.

From the nearer chair Anne looked across it and saw very little---no more in fact than she had seen at two previous interviews, a man in a chair, looking bulky in a big loose coat. Nothing else would give just that density and shape to shadow. Gloved hands---she had seen that when he turned the lamp; thick hair, and as he leaned forward, a suggestion that the hair might be red; large round glasses---she thought tinted from the way in which they occasionally picked up a reflection from the place where the beam struck on the whited wall. She had never seen more than that, and she knew better than to try. In this game nothing was so dangerous, nothing, as to know too much.

She leaned back from the beam and heard him say, “Why have you come? I did not send for you.”

The voice was a husky whisper. There was nothing that could be called an accent, only every now and then an intonation which suggested familiarity with some language other than English. She had her own ideas about this, but she was perfectly well aware that it was wise not to formulate them, even for her own private consideration. Better to accept what you were given, do what you were told, and ask no questions. Only there were some things. . . . She said, “Why did you do it? I told you she was harmless.”

“Is that why you have come here---to ask questions about what is not your business?”

She ought to have stopped there and let it go. Something boiled up in her. For a moment she didn’t care. She had been hating him hard for nearly forty-eight hours---hating him because the police had come down on her, because Joan Tallent had dropped out of the blue to tattle in front of Philip, because of Nellie Collins who had never done anyone any harm. The middle reason was of course quite illogical, because he didn’t know that Joan existed. But logic has very little to do with the primitive instincts. The hating stuff boiled over, and she said, “I suppose it isn’t my business if you’ve brought the police down on me!”

The toneless voice came back.

“You will explain what you mean by that.”

“She talked about coming up to see me.”

“She promised----”

Anne laughed angrily.

“She talked to a woman in the train! Told her all about bringing up Annie Joyce and asking if she could come up and see me!”

“How do you know?”

She said in a hesitating way, “The police told me.”

“There is something more than that. You will tell me. Who is this woman?”

She had not made up her mind whether she would tell him or not. He had been too quick for her---she would have to tell him now. But she wouldn’t tell him any more than she need. Let him find out the rest for himself. She said with an appearance of frankness, “She is a Miss Silver.”

“Did the police tell you that?”

“No---Lyndall Armitage told me.”

After a slight pause he said, “How does she come into it? Does she know this Miss Silver?”

“She met her out at tea.”

“How do you know?”

“Lyndall told me.”

“Tell me every word she said. You will be accurate.”

She repeated as nearly as possible word for word what Lyndall had said.

“So you see, Nellie Collins did talk, and the woman she talked to is in touch with the police. She told them Nellie Collins said she was coming up to meet me under the clock at Waterloo at a quarter to four that Monday afternoon, and they naturally wanted to know about it. Fortunately, I wasn’t ever really alone all day or up to eleven o’clock at night.”

Mr. Felix said gently, “That is because you followed your instructions, which provided you with a series of very good alibis. This will perhaps convince you of how wise it is to obey orders and ask no questions.”

She sat there with the beam between them and digested this. It was most convincingly true. She had been told to bring Ivy Fossett with her up to town and keep her overnight. She had been told to ask Lilla Jocelyn, or failing her some other friend or relation, to be at the flat not later than three o’clock, and to keep her there until seven. It was also true that she had asked no questions. She had not even asked them of herself. She had obeyed, and Nellie Collins had died. Impatience rose in her. What did it matter whether one little chattering woman died or not? The world was soaked with blood and sodden with grief. You couldn’t live other people’s lives---you could only fight for your own hand and struggle to survive.

Mr. Felix said, “What did you say to the police? Every word of it!”

When she stopped speaking he nodded.

“You did very well, I think. It is unlikely that they will trouble you again. But there is a point I do not understand. This girl Lyndall---what made her speak to you about Nellie Collins? Why did it seem sufficiently important to her? This is the point---did it seem important? You have told me her words, but what I want is the manner in which those words were said. You have given me the conversation, but I want the setting. How did it all come up? Was it amongst other things in the course of conversation---first this and then that, and then what you have repeated to me? Or did this girl, this Lyndall, make a visit to you in order that she might tell you what she did tell you?”

Anne moistened her lips.

“She came to tell me.”

“She came with the purpose to tell you that she had met someone who talked about Nellie Collins---who said that Nellie Collins had come to London to meet you?”

Anne said, “Yes.”

She heard him say, “That might be serious. Will you stop speaking as if your words were rationed, and tell me what I want to know---not what she said, but the manner in which she said it. The words are nothing, the manner is everything. In what manner was it said? Was it narrated as a coincidence, or as if she had some suspicion in her mind?”

He lifted that gloved hand, and suddenly the light was on her face again. She said sharply, “Don’t do that!” and he laughed and shifted it.

“Then you will stop playing with me and tell me what I want to know.”

She felt a burning anger, and behind it fear. She had the same thought about Lyndall as she had had about Nellie Collins---what did one girl matter? If she had pushed into this business she must take the consequences. If you could keep your own feet you were lucky. You couldn’t afford to bother about anyone else. She said in a smooth voice, “You don’t give me time to tell you. I’m not holding anything back. But I don’t want you to think it is more important than it really is.”

“I will be the judge of that. You will find it safer not to keep anything back.”

She said, “I was going to tell you. It is just that---well---Lyndall saw me come in here last week.”

“That was very careless of you. Go on!”

“I didn’t see her---she was on the other side of the road. She followed me into the shop. She wasn’t sure about its being me---she hadn’t seen my face. So she came through the shop to see if I was in one of the cubicles. She opened the door at the end and got as far as the other side of this door. It wasn’t latched---you may thank this glaring light of yours for that. If you hadn’t blinded me as I came in, I should have made sure it was properly shut. She heard me say, ‘Why don’t you let me write to Nellie Collins? She’s quite harmless.’ And she heard you answer, ‘That is not for you to say.’ Then she panicked and ran away.”

The gloved hand fell to the table’s edge, gripping it hard. He said, “She recognized your voice? For certain?”

“No. She just thought it was my voice---she wasn’t sure. I could have made her think it was all a mistake if she hadn’t met this damned woman at the Albanys’ and heard about Nellie Collins saying she was coming up to meet me.”

“To how many people will she have told this story?”

“She hadn’t told it to anyone---yesterday.”

“How do you know?”

“She said she hadn’t.” Her shoulders moved in the slightest possible shrug. “Actually she’s one of those people who tell the truth. I don’t think she could get away with a lie even if she tried to, and I don’t think she would try.”

“What did you say to her?”

“I reeled off my alibi to prove that I couldn’t have anything to do with Nellie Collins’ unfortunate accident. I said the whole thing was nonsense---she’d mistaken someone else for me. And I pitched it hot and strong about the unpleasant publicity we had already had, and just how damaging it would be for Philip if she started any gossip about Nellie Collins. She promised she wouldn’t say a word, and I really don’t think she will.”


“Because she’s in love with Philip.”

He took his hand off the table.

“Is he in love with her?”

“I believe so.”

“And you say that she is safe---that she will not talk?”

“She won’t do anything to hurt Philip.”

He leaned forward.

“Are you as stupid as you sound? If she tells no one else she will tell him.”

She laughed.

“Oh, no, she won’t! They don’t see each other, for one thing, except in the bosom of the family. It was all pour le bon motif, you know. Philip was on the point of proposing to her---hence his joy at my return. They suffer in silence and hope that no one notices. Also, Lyndall was one of my bridesmaids and very devoted. It is surprising, but I believe she was the only person who was genuinely glad to see me. She ran right across the room and flung her arms round my neck. At the moment, she thought about me, not Philip. Which I consider a triumph---don’t you?”

He said abruptly, “How old is she?”

“Twenty, or twenty-one---younger than that in herself.”

There was a silence. He rested his head upon his hands as if he were thinking. When he did not speak, she said, “I think it’s safe so far. She won’t tell Philip because she used to be fond of me. And she won’t tell anyone else because she is fond of Philip. But it’s gone far enough---I won’t come here any more.”

He said, “No, it would not be safe. There must be another arrangement. You will have your instructions.”

“I said it had gone far enough. It’s too dangerous. I won’t go on with it.”

“You won’t?” The voice was the same monotone, only just above the level of a whisper, but it sent a shiver over her.

On the other side of the beam he had looked up. For a moment the lenses which screened his eyes threw back a faint menacing gleam.

She said, “It’s too dangerous.”

“That is not your business! You are to obey your orders, not to think whether they bring you into danger! In any army in the world the man who thinks like that will find himself before a firing-squad.”

She controlled herself to say, “This is England.”

The faintly foreign intonation was accentuated in his answer.

“And you think that makes a difference?”

She didn’t answer that. When the silence had lasted just long enough he said, very softly indeed, “It did not make so much difference to Nellie Collins---did it?”

No one would have known that she was frightened. For a moment she felt quite sick with fright, but it didn’t show. She had had a lot of practice in not letting her feelings show. Years of practice---years of making herself agreeable when she was tired, when she was angry, when with all her heart she hated her necessity. The bitter apprenticeship served her now. She could say without a tremor, “Are you threatening me?” Then, with the slightest of laughs, “There is really no need. And---it would be stupid too.”

“You are confident that I should not be stupid? Thank you, Lady Jocelyn! But you would be wiser not to say such things again. They are liable to be misunderstood, and misunderstandings are always dangerous. I am willing to believe that you mean nothing when you say that you cannot go on----”

She interrupted him, putting her hand up and leaning forward.

“Wait---I want you to listen. You did misunderstand what I said. I would like you to listen while I explain. I told you I couldn’t go on because it was too dangerous. I didn’t mean that I was afraid---I meant there’s no chance of success. I don’t know what Philip brings home, but he keeps his case locked and his keys on a chain in his pocket. If he found me meddling with his papers, it would be all up. Don’t you see, I’m on my probation. In a way he believes in me because I told him things that convinced him, but underneath he holds back---he doesn’t really believe. If I gave him the slightest reason, he would break with me. I want to play for safety---let him get used to me, make him comfortable, make him need me, give him time to get over his fancy for Lyndall. After all, I’m what he fell in love with once, and why shouldn’t he do it again? And then---I’d be some use to you. If a man’s in love, there isn’t much you can’t get out of him.”

She was aware of scrutiny, deep and prolonged. At last he said, “Six months’ delay, shall we say?”


“Six months whilst you dig yourself in---whilst you make Philip Jocelyn so comfortable that he falls in love with you?”


“And during this six months everything stands still and waits for you?” He made a gesture with that clumsy gloved hand, moving it from left to right upon the table as if rubbing something out, and said “Quatsch!

The single vulgar German word was like a blow in the face. It has perhaps no equal in its gross finality. What he said was rubbish, but no other language has so rude a term for it. She knew then that she had made her throw and lost, but instead of being frightened she began to be angry. He had better not threaten her. There were things that she could do if she was put to it.

He was watching her across the table. He said, “Let us talk sense. You will do what you are told, and you will go on doing it. The first thing you will do is this.” He pushed a little packet over to her. “You will take an impression of that key. You will be careful not to leave any of the wax sticking in the wards like the clumsy criminal of a detective story. You will do that tonight.”

“I can’t---he has the key on him.”

“He sleeps, doesn’t he? There are some tablets in that packet, as well as the wax. If you put two of them in his coffee, he will sleep very well tonight. Whilst you have the key you will open the case and photograph the papers. You have the camera. You need not be afraid---he won’t wake. Next morning you will go out shopping as soon as Jocelyn has left the flat. Half-way down the stairs you will meet a man coming up. Just before he reaches you he will stumble, missing the step and coming down on his knees. You will move to help him, and he will thank you and say, ‘It’s nothing. I’ve been hurt twice as much as that in the old 78th.’ Then you will drop your parcel with the films and the impressions and he will pick it up. You will go on and do your shopping.”

Her anger had passed into determination. He was asking her to throw everything away. Because it wouldn’t come off---she had a clear conviction that it wouldn’t come off. She said so.

“I can’t do it. It would just be throwing everything away. You don’t know Philip---I do. Under that manner he’s on a hair trigger. You can’t cover up from him. He sees things, and what he doesn’t see he feels. It isn’t enough to be careful of how you look and what you say---I have to be careful what I think. I can tell you it’s not easy when we’re there alone. If I were to go back and have all this on my mind, he’d know.”

The tinted glasses caught the light again---just a gleam. He said, “I wonder if you convince me. I begin to wonder too why you know so much about Philip Jocelyn. And I wonder---yes, I wonder very much whether you have been foolish enough to fall in love with him.”

“Of course not!”

As soon as the words were out she knew that she had spoken too quickly. She heard her own voice, and the tone of it was wrong. It wouldn’t convince him---it wouldn’t convince anyone.

He said, “So that is it? But you will go through with it all the same.”

“No, it isn’t that. You’re wrong. I’m telling you the truth. It won’t do you any good if I try, and fail. If he finds me out, there will be no second chance---you know that. What good is it going to do you?”

“Why should he find you out? What have you been doing---saying? What are you keeping back? If he is suspicious, what has given him these suspicions? Answer me at once!”

She was sitting up straight now, her head a little drawn back as if to put a distance between them. He had taken her by surprise. Her thoughts ran all ways at once. “Why did I say that? . . . I didn’t say anything. . . . What did I say? . . . If he thinks that Philip suspects, he won’t risk it---he’ll let me alone . . . I don’t know---perhaps he won’t---perhaps---I can’t think----”

The voice which was just above a whisper came again, bleak as a crawling wind.

“He suspects you?”

Out of the turmoil of her thoughts she said, “I don’t know.”

“Quite useless to lie to me. Something has made him suspect you.”

“I don’t know----”

The words seemed to come of themselves. She could find no others.

“I said it was useless to lie. Something has happened. You will tell me what it is!”

She thought, “If I let him beat me down now, it’s all up.”

It was a thought, not words---an instinct which dragged courage from some deep place and put a smile on her lips and a different tone in her voice.

“Please---please---you know, you are frightening me! But you are right---there has been something, and I don’t quite know. That is why I don’t want to do anything just now.”

“What has happened?”

She had herself in hand again. She went on easily.

“Nothing really---one of those little things, but---well, you can judge for yourself. A girl came in to see me last night---one of my bridesmaids---the world’s fool. She began talking about the diary.”

“What did she say?”

She told him.

“Said I put everything down in it---even the sort of things nobody would---like Pepys.” She laughed again. “She explained she didn’t mean anything against my moral character---giggled and asked Philip if I showed him what I wrote!”

“And he?”

“He looked at me----” Her voice went thin on the words.


“I don’t know----”

“He looked as if he suspected you?”

Anger came up in her again.

“I tell you I don’t know! If you go on asking me for ever, still I don’t know! But I say this is not a good time to make any move. That girl did something. I don’t know just what she did, but I could feel that she had done something to Philip’s mind. I can feel it focussed on me again like it was at the beginning. There---you wanted the truth, and you’ve got it! Is this the time to start anything? I leave it to you.”

He said, “No---perhaps not. Why did you not tell me this at first? You wait until I drag it out of you. You say it is one of those little things----” he repeated the words---“one of those little things. You really think that, I suppose? You expect me to believe that to you it is a little thing? You hold it back for as long as you can, and then you only say it because you think it will turn me from what I have told you to do. And now I will tell you why you are using everything you have got to turn me. You find yourself very comfortable as Lady Jocelyn---you have a position, you have a great deal of money, and you have a husband who is a very rising young man. You have, in fact, got all you want. You have, in fact, no further incentive---you would like to sit back and enjoy these things. I would ask you to remember that you have not finished earning them. Those who provided you with these good things can also take them away. There is no more to be said. Now you will listen to me. You will hear no more from the police. They are now convinced that Nellie Collins met, as you have said, with an unfortunate accident. A woman who lives at Ruislip has come forward to say that she has known her for years, and that she has often invited her to come and see her. This is very satisfactory, as you will agree. The police will now be satisfied that anything Nellie Collins may have said in the train was just the result of a desire to be in the limelight, and that she was really going to see this friend of hers at Ruislip.”

She looked at him, and saw no more than a dark bulky shape, a shock of hair, the just discernible gleam from the tinted glasses. Her voice slowed down as she said, “Do you think so?” And then, “You arranged it, I suppose.”

He said, as he had said before, “That is not your business. Here are your orders. You will take the impression of the key as I told you. But you will not risk taking photographs unless you find the code. That must be copied or photographed---but if he has any suspicions, you will not find it. Where have you put the diary?”

“It’s safely hidden.”

“You had better put it in your bank.”

“No---I must have it.”

He did not press the point. Instead he said curtly, “You have your orders. See you carry them out!”

There was a pause before she said, “I can’t do it.”

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