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Chapter Twenty-Seven

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« on: August 27, 2023, 05:41:51 am »

ANNE hung up the receiver. She had a sense of relief, a sense of having escaped. She had almost said “Come.” It seemed incredible now, but she had wanted to say it. She thought it was the strangest conversation she had ever had---strange in what had been said, and strange in the way in which it had affected her. This woman, this Miss Silver---she spoke as if she knew. Nellie had talked to her in the train. What had Nellie said to her? How much of what Nellie said to her had been repeated to the police? Even through her sense of relief at having got away from the telephone she could feel the urge to see Miss Silver and find out. Then all at once it was what Miss Silver had said that possessed her mind---the hard, unshaded fact that Felix had put someone on to shadow her. She hadn’t the slightest doubt that it was Felix, and that meant . . . She knew very well what it meant. She hadn’t really won her battle, she had only made him suspect her. He had ceased to press his orders, not because she had convinced him that they were inexpedient, but because he no longer trusted her to carry them out. And when he knew that she had been to Leaham Street, and had stood there looking at Montague Mansions with the name stuck up over the door, he wasn’t going to be exactly reassured. She hadn’t gone in that time, but she might the next.

Well, she would have to make up her mind. She could throw in her hand, call Miss Silver up now at this moment, and give Felix away. . . . Could she? . . . She didn’t know who he was. What had she to give away? He knew how to cover his tracks, and every word she said would accuse herself. The plan began to look shaky and shoddy when you got it out in the light of common sense. If Miss Silver hadn’t recognized her, she could have rung up from a call-box and told what she knew about Felix and his appointments behind the hairdresser’s shop which called itself Félise. But what was the good of saying “If”? Nellie Collins used to say, “If ifs and ans were pots and pans, what would the tinkers do?” Miss Silver had recognized her. It was too late---she couldn’t get out that way. She must play for safety---she must get Felix the impression of the key. That would placate him. If by some marvellous piece of luck she could get the code too, she would be in the clear. He couldn’t go on suspecting her after that.

Of the two dangers she was in, that from Philip had suddenly become negligible. It was Felix who must be placated and reassured at any cost. She knew very well what happened to the useless or untrustworthy tool---it went on the scrap-heap with as little compunction as if it had really been a question of rusty iron or broken steel. The confidence of her mood did not vanish; it took a change of direction. She felt astonishingly easy and certain of herself. She even planned the words in which she would tell Felix that she had walked round by Leaham Street to have a look at Montague Mansions, and if he said “Why?” she would laugh and say, “Oh, I don’t know---it amused me---like looking through the bars at something that would bite if it got the chance.”

When Philip came home he found her with just that touch of gaiety lighting her up. There was still some time before supper, and he sat down and talked. When she went to prepare the meal he followed her into the kitchen, propped his long figure against the dresser, and went on talking. Without quite noticing how, she found that they were talking about France, and that he was asking her questions, not in any suspicious way but as if the subject interested him, as if it were a meeting-ground. While she flaked fish for a pie and prepared a cheese sauce she realized that for the first time they were conversing, and that Philip, interested and laying himself out to please, could be very attractive indeed.

Over the meal he began to talk about his work. What was said was nothing, but the fact that he could talk about it at all lifted her up. She was very careful, showing only a friendly interest, asking no questions, except that when he mentioned that he would have to finish some writing after supper she said, “Will it take you long?”

“Not very. I ought to have waited to finish it in office---I don’t really like bringing the code-book away. However---No, I shan’t be long.”

As the meal went on, her confidence grew. She was on the crest of her wave. When she went to fetch the coffee she put two of the tablets which Felix had given her into Philip’s cup. The tray stood on the dresser. Lifting her head, she saw her own reflection in a small cheap mirror propped on the dresser shelf. For a moment it startled her. Natural colour glowed in her cheeks, her eyes shone, her lips had a new curve. She thought, “I look as if I was in love with him.” And then, “Well, why not? I could be if he wanted me to. Why not?”

She picked up the tray and went through with it to the living-room. Philip had got out of his chair. He was standing by the hearth looking down into the fire. As she set down the tray, he said, “I’ll take my coffee through and finish what I brought home. It won’t take long. If I sit down now I shan’t want to get up again. I’ll come back for a bit when I’ve finished, and then go early to bed. I could sleep the clock round.”

She had the feeling that everything was playing into her hands. In any other mood she might have wondered why. Tonight it never crossed her mind that things might be going too easily.

An hour later, when he came back, she was sitting under the lamp sewing delicately at a piece of fine underwear. The light fell softly on peach-coloured satin and écru lace, on the bright steel needle, along a skein of embroidery silk laid out on the arm of the chair. She looked up as he came in, and saw him put up a hand to hide a yawn. From his other hand there swung a length of chain with a key-ring at the end of it. She lifted her eyebrows and said, “Tired, Philip?” and he gathered up the chain into his palm and said, “Dead. It’s no good trying to sit up any longer. I’ll go off.” As he turned he looked back to say good-night. Then he went out and shut the door behind him.

Anne went back to whipping the lace on to her peach satin petticoat. There was a little clock on the mantelpiece, a bright modern trifle all chromium and crystal. It struck ten with a tinkling chime. It struck eleven. Anne went on sewing for another half hour. Then she got up, folding her work, and went to put it away in her bedroom, not hurrying herself. To anyone watching her she would have been any pretty woman going about the business of tidying up before she went to bed.

When she had put her sewing away she came back to the sitting-room to straighten the chairs and plump up the cushions, going to and fro without haste and without noise. Then she went back to her room and took off her shoes. In her stocking feet she went along to Philip’s door and tried the handle. It turned easily, as she had known that it would. She stood there with the door a hands-breadth open, listening to Philip’s breathing and thinking that she hadn’t left anything to chance. She had tested the door very carefully and could be sure that it wouldn’t give her away. Not that the creak of a hinge or the click of a lock would wake him now. She thought he would have been safe enough even without the tablets, and with them it would take an air raid to shift him. Yet as she stood there, a very faint compunction stirred at the edge of her mood. It had no strength either to change or to deflect it. It was just there, a quite vague feeling about the defencelessness of sleep. In a moment it was gone, caught up with that sense of everything going right for her. Tonight, if ever in her life, she had power in her hand. Other people were there to be used---Philip, Felix, Lyndall, Miss Silver----

She pushed the door wide open and went in. At the dressing-table she switched on a pocket-torch, screening it from the bed. The key-ring lay flung down on the right with a note-case, a handful of coins, a folded handkerchief. It was all quite easy. She picked it up without making a sound and went out of the room, drawing the door to behind her.

In the study she put on the overhead light and sat down to the table. The locked despatch-case was on her left. She pulled it down across the blotting-pad, fitted the smallest of the keys, and threw back the lid. Right on the top was her piece of unbelievable luck---the code-book. She took a long breath, savouring her triumph, full of that sense of power.

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