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Chapter Thirty-Three

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« on: August 27, 2023, 11:04:28 am »

MISS Silver looked up from her knitting at the sound of her front door bell. The hands of the clock on the mantelpiece stood at half past three. She was not expecting anyone, and had sat down by the fire to knit, and to consider with regretful interest the tragic fate of Lady Jocelyn, who was not in her opinion Lady Jocelyn at all, but Annie Joyce.

Following upon the ring she heard Emma’s rather deep tones, after which the sitting-room door was opened.

“Will you see Miss Armitage?”

Miss Silver placed her knitting carefully on the arm of her chair and rose to receive her visitor. There came in the girl with whom she had talked at Janice Albany’s. She wore the same dark green coat and hat, but she looked decidedly paler and more frail than she had done on that occasion. The big grey eyes with their dark lashes were fixed with painful intensity upon Miss Silver’s face as she said, “Janice told me you were kind----”

“I hope so, my dear. Won’t you sit down? Now would you like to have a cup of tea with me first, or would you rather tell me what I can do for you? Emma could get the tea in a moment.”

Lyndall shook her head.

“Janice said to come and see you. She doesn’t know why. She only knows that we’re in trouble because---Anne is dead.”

Miss Silver had resumed her seat and her knitting. The needles clicked in a gentle and soothing manner.

“Yes, my dear, I know. You are referring, of course, to Lady Jocelyn.”

The faint colour of surprise tinged the transparent skin for an instant.

“How did you know---but Janice said you knew everything. Did you know that she had been shot?”

Miss Silver gave her a clear, kind glance.

“Yes, I knew.”

“That she was murdered?”

“Yes.”

With a hastily drawn breath Lyndall went on.

“Then can you tell me what I ought to do? Janice said----” The breath failed, the colour was all gone again.

“What did she say?”

Lyndall shook her head as if she couldn’t explain. Then she said, “If I told you anything---would you have to tell the police?”

Miss Silver coughed.

“That would depend upon what it was.”

Lyndall sat looking at her. The grey eyes were asking questions. Presently she said, “Do they know who did it?”

“No. If there is anything that you know, Miss Armitage---anything that would help to identify the criminal, you ought not to hold it back. I think you do know something, or you would not be here.”

“I don’t know whether it would help. That’s why I came---I thought you would help me to know---but it’s so difficult---I’m afraid----” Her voice went again suddenly.

Miss Silver had stopped knitting. She looked at her gravely. Then she said, “Miss Armitage, I will tell you something. Yesterday afternoon Lady Jocelyn came and stood on the pavement opposite these flats. She remained there for some time looking up. I believe that she was trying to decide whether she would break with some dangerous past associations. I believe she had the half-formed intention of coming to see me, and I believe that if she had done so she would not now be lying dead. Afterwards I rang her up to warn her, but she had by then decided upon her course.”

Lyndall put a hand up to her throat. She said in a whisper, “Was it something about Miss Collins?”

“Miss Armitage, if what you know has anything to do with the death of Nellie Collins, I beg that you will tell me what it is. There have been two deaths already. What you know may be as dangerous to you as it was to Miss Collins and to Lady Jocelyn.”

Lyndall’s hand dropped into her lap again.

“It’s not because I’m afraid,” she said, speaking like a child. “It’s because of Philip. It’s so dreadful for him already, that anything about Anne---anything----”

Miss Silver gave her the smile which had induced so many confidences. It had an extraordinarily encouraging, heartening, and bracing effect.

“My dear, the truth is sometimes painful, but it is salutary. Well-meant deceptions and the withholding of evidence are extremely dangerous in a criminal case. We all have to face pain sometimes---I fear that Sir Philip Jocelyn may have to face a good deal of it. You will not help him by withholding anything which might bring a dangerous criminal to justice.”

Lyndall gave her a straight look.

“Pelham said they might suspect Philip. Do they suspect him?”

Miss Silver did not answer the question. She coughed and said, “Who is Pelham?”

“He is a partner in the firm of Philip’s solicitors. There is just he and Mr. Codrington now. He was there when Philip came in and said that Anne was dead, and he said I oughtn’t to talk to anyone or say anything, because Philip might be suspected. He talked to me for a long time after Lilla went out.”

“Was he aware that you knew something?”

“Oh, no---how could he be?”

“You are sure he did not know? Did anyone know?”

“Anne knew.”

“You told her?”

“Yes.”

“Because it was something to do with Miss Collins?”

“Yes.”

“What did she say?”

“She said it would hurt Philip----” Her voice faltered piteously. “I---promised---I wouldn’t say anything.”

After a little pause Miss Silver said, “I do not think that you can keep that promise now.”

Again Lyndall gave that slight shake of the head.

“No---I can’t keep it now. I thought for a long time after Pelham had gone away, and then I rang up Janice and asked her about you. She said you would be fair, and kind, and she said I could trust you---I’m going to trust you. This is what happened. It was before Philip and Anne came up to town. I think it was on the twelfth---yes, Wednesday the twelfth. Someone said there was a shop that had enamelled saucepans, so I went to see, for Lilla, but they hadn’t got any. When I was coming back I saw Anne---at least I thought it was Anne. She had her back to me, and she was just going into a shop---a hairdresser’s shop called Félise.”

Miss Silver said brightly, “In Charlotte Street?”

Colour ran up into Lyndall’s face.

“How did you know?”

Miss Silver coughed.

“Pray proceed, Miss Armitage. I am most interested.”

Lyndall thought, “She really does know everything.”

Oddly enough, this did not frighten her. It provided a sense of support. If she made a mistake, Miss Silver would be able to put it right. She went on with less effort.

“I wasn’t sure that it was Anne. I wasn’t sure if she had seen me. I didn’t want her to think---I followed her into the shop. She wasn’t there. The girl behind the counter was busy---she didn’t see me. I went through to see if Anne was in one of the cubicles, and she wasn’t. There was a door at the end---a looking-glass door. I opened it, and there was a dark passage, quite small, and a stair going up, and a door at the end. The door wasn’t quite shut---there was a little line of light all down the edge. And I heard Anne say, ‘You might as well let me write to Nellie Collins. She’s quite harmless.’ And a man said---a man said----”

“Go on, my dear.”

Lyndall stared back at her, her eyes fixed blindly upon a face she could no longer see. Her lips only just moved.

“He said, ‘That is not for you to say.’ ”

“And then?”

“I ran away.” She gave a deep sigh and seemed to come awake again. “I was frightened---I don’t think I’ve ever been so frightened in my life. It was stupid----”

Miss Silver coughed.

“I do not think so.”

There was a silence. Lyndall leaned back and closed her eyes. She felt as if she had been climbing a long, steep hill. Now that she was come to the top, there was no breath in her. And she was afraid to look over the edge and see what lay beyond.

Miss Silver’s voice broke in upon her thoughts.

“You told Lady Jocelyn what you had overheard. When did you do so?”

She opened her eyes.

“When I saw about Miss Collins in the papers.”

“Will you tell me just what she said?”

Lyndall told her, speaking only just above her breath, with the picture in her mind of Anne pouring out tea, Anne kneeling by the fire, Anne asking her not to hurt Philip.

“She said I’d made a mistake. She said it might hurt Philip, so I promised.”

“I see. Miss Armitage, how well did you know Lady Jocelyn? I do not mean since her return, but before she went to France.”

She was startled by the change of subject. She sat up.

“We were at Jocelyn’s Holt together when she came there to stay after her mother died. None of us knew her till then. She was grown up, and I wasn’t. She was marvellous to me. I loved her---terribly. When she and Philip got engaged I thought it was wonderful. I was one of her bridesmaids.”

“If you were girls together in the same house you would have been in and out of each other’s rooms, dressed and undressed together. Can you tell me whether Lady Jocelyn had any mark by which she could have been identified?”

“Oh, no, she hadn’t. All the relations asked me that when she came back. There wasn’t anything.”

She met a very penetrating gaze.

“If she had had a brown mole the size of a sixpence just above her left knee, you would have noticed it?”

“Of course. But she hadn’t anything like that.”

“You are quite sure? It is very important.”

“Yes, I am quite, quite, sure.”

“You would be able to swear to it? You will, I think, be called upon to do so.”

Lyndall pressed her hands together in her lap. She said,

“Yes.” And then, slowly, “I don’t understand. Will you please tell me?”

Miss Silver said gravely, “The woman who died today had a mole such as I have described. I think Miss Collins knew that Annie Joyce had such a mole. I think Lady Jocelyn died more than three years ago.”

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