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Chapter Thirty-Two

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« on: August 27, 2023, 07:47:51 am »

LILLA Jocelyn went out after lunch to the canteen at which she worked as a voluntary helper. Pelham Trent, after seeing her off, came back into the room.

“Do you mind if I stay for a minute or two?”

Lyndall said, “No,” and didn’t know whether she was telling the truth or not. She wanted to be alone, and she was afraid of being alone. She wanted to mourn for Anne who was dead, but she didn’t know just how truly she could mourn. If she were alone she could think herself back to the old days when Anne was one of the three people she loved most on earth. A warm feeling of sorrow welled up in her, melting away the cold sense of shock. Yes, she must be alone. She lifted her eyes to Pelham Trent, and he saw that they were bright with tears.

“You ought to rest,” he said quickly. “You won’t try and go out or do anything, will you? I’m sure you ought to rest.”

She said, “Yes, I will.” And then, “I wish we knew something more. Lilla doesn’t know who she was speaking to, and the man who answered didn’t tell her anything---only that Anne was dead. Do you think it was an accident? I had tea with her the day before yesterday---she was quite well then.” She kept her eyes on him as she spoke, the tears shining, something strained and piteous about her look.

He said, “My dear---I’m sorry---it’s been a shock. Would you like me to go round and find out for you? It’s only five minutes’ walk.”

“I don’t know. . . . No---Philip mightn’t like it.” She put up a hand and pushed back her hair. “You’re very kind.”

He shook his head.

“I needn’t go up to the flat, you know. If Jocelyn’s there he won’t want to be bothered. I could ask the porter---but, no---that wouldn’t do.”

Lyndall said, “No.” And then, “I’ll ring up. We are relations---we’ve got a right to know. Philip wouldn’t mind.”

It was Sergeant Abbott who answered her ring, but she wasn’t to know that. He was just a voice---the sort of voice that might have belonged to any of Philip’s friends. He said, “Just a moment, Miss Armitage.” She heard his steps going away, then men’s voices, and the steps coming back.

“Are you speaking from Mrs. Jocelyn’s flat?”

“Yes---she had to go out. Will you please tell me what has happened to Anne? It’s so dreadful not knowing.”

Frank Abbott reflected cynically that it might be a great deal more dreadful to know. He said, “You know she’s dead?”

“Yes.”

“Sir Philip Jocelyn told you that?”

“Yes---but not how it happened---please----”

“I am afraid you must be prepared for a shock. She was found shot.”

“Oh----” It was just a long, soft breath. And then, “Did she---shoot herself?”

“No---someone shot her.”

“Who?”

“We don’t know.”

She said, “Who are you?” in a wondering voice.

“Detective Sergeant Abbott. The police are in charge here.”

After a pause she said, “Is Philip there?”

“No.”

She said, “Oh----” again.

After a moment she hung up the receiver and turned round to Pelham Trent, her face quite drained of colour.

“Pelham----”

“I know---I heard what he said. What a dreadful thing! Here, come and sit down.”

She let him put her into a chair and leaned back in it. After a moment she said, “Dreadful for Philip---dreadful for her---poor Anne----” Her voice went, a violent shudder ran over her.

After looking at her with frowning intensity Trent walked away to the far end of the room.

As far as she could feel anything just then, she felt relief. She had the shocked creature’s desire to creep away into a dark place and be alone. But she couldn’t do that. Behind the sense of shock she was aware of Philip. What she did and what she said now were going to matter to Philip. She had a sense of fear for him, and a great longing to help. She tried to focus her mind, to get things clear. This absorbed her so deeply that she did not notice Pelham Trent’s return until she heard his voice.

“Lyn---you’re all right---you’re not faint?”

“I’m all right----” Her tone was vague. She was coming back from a long way off.

He took a chair, pulled it close to her, and sat down.

“Lyndall, will you please listen. I hate to bother you now, but we can’t count on your being left alone. If this is murder, the police may be here at any moment. It was most unfortunate that Lilla should have mentioned Jocelyn’s coming here and saying what he did. And it’s doubly unfortunate that she should have told the police it was said to you. They’ll want to know why he came here---why he told you his wife was dead---why he went away in a hurry as soon as he found that Lilla and I were here. I’m bound to tell you that in a case of this sort a husband or wife is always under suspicion. At the very least there will be talk, publicity. You’ve got to be kept clear of it, for Jocelyn’s sake as well as your own. This murder coming on the top of all the talk about Anne Jocelyn’s return---well, my dear, you can see for yourself. If the police get it into their heads that Philip Jocelyn is fond of you, or that there’s anything between you, it will be just about the most disastrous thing that could happen---for him. You’ve got to be very careful indeed. Philip and Anne Jocelyn were your cousins, and you were very fond of them both---that’s your line. You were her bridesmaid---remember to bring that in. And---oh, my dear, don’t look at them the way you’re looking at me.”

“No---I won’t. I’m sorry----”

He put reassurance into his voice.

“You’ll be all right. Don’t say a word more than you’re obliged to. Don’t tell anyone anything. Don’t discuss anything with anyone. I’m your lawyer, you know, and that’s sound legal advice. And here’s some more, only I’m afraid you won’t like it. Don’t see Jocelyn---or if you do, don’t discuss anything.”

Her eyes darkened, the lashes screening them. He felt her withdrawn, resisting. He concentrated all that he had upon convincing her.

“You don’t know what getting mixed up in a case like this may mean. You don’t know what you are up against. You don’t know what harm you may do with a word. You don’t know how easy it is to let something slip. They’ll question you. You must remember only to answer their questions. Say yes, or say no. Don’t go farther than that.”

“Do you think I would say anything that would hurt Philip?”

“That is not for you to say. You might not know what would hurt him. You’d better keep out of it. Don’t let him tell you anything. The less you know the better.” He had been speaking in a low, tense voice that was almost a whisper. Now it changed, lightened, and resumed its normal pitch. “There---that’s all. Just be sensible and keep a still tongue, and everything will be quite all right. Jocelyn ought to get into touch with Codrington at once---he may have done so already. If he does ring you up or come here again, just push him off to the office. And remember---not one unnecessary word.”

Her eyes had closed. She opened them now with an effort and said,

“Thank you.” And then, “Pelham, will you go now? I don’t think I can talk about it any more.”

He had a word of approbation for this.

“Stick to that and everything will be quite all right. And don’t worry. I didn’t mean to frighten you about Jocelyn. If he was at the War Office he’s probably got an absolutely water-tight alibi. What we do want to avoid is raking up anything like the question of Anne Jocelyn’s identity, and having the press get hold of it, or of any other bit of scandal.”

When he was gone Lyndall sat up, her hands linked tightly in her lap, her face white and set, her eyes intent. She did not move for a long time, but in the end she got up, went over to the telephone, and dialled Janice Albany’s number.

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