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Chapter Thirty-Four

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« on: August 27, 2023, 11:23:22 am »

“I WANT police protection for her,” said Miss Silver firmly.

The Chief Inspector, at the other end of the telephone, drew out a handkerchief and blew his nose with an exasperated sound.

“Now, Miss Silver----”

She coughed and proceeded.

“I consider it most desirable. I will give you the address of the hairdressing establishment. It is Félise, Charlotte Street. . . . I beg your pardon?” An exclamation of surprise had reached her along the wire. “Is the name familiar to you?”

“I don’t know about familiar. Sir Philip says his wife had an appointment there to have her hair done yesterday afternoon. We were asking him about her movements on the previous day, and he mentioned having heard her make this appointment. Says he heard the name as he was letting himself into the flat, and she explained it was her hairdresser. Quite a good cover-up.”

“It is a genuine hairdressing establishment. It stands three doors from the corner where Emma Meadows lost sight of the girl who had been following Lady Jocelyn---or, as I think we may now call her, Annie Joyce.”

The Chief Inspector blew his nose, meditatively this time.

“Well, you’d better keep Miss Armitage. I’ll send Frank round. Just leave him to form his own conclusions, will you? He’s a bit too much inclined to take all you say for gospel, if you don’t mind my saying so.”

Deprecation of his tone was evident as Miss Silver replied, “I do not consider that Sergeant Abbott is so easily influenced---except, as we should all be, by the facts of a case.” The stress laid upon the word “facts” accentuated the reproof.

Lamb turned it off with a laugh.

“Well, we won’t quarrel about that. If Frank is satisfied, the people at the shop will be put through it. I’ll get someone on to finding out about them straight away.”

Sergeant Abbott, arriving at Montague Mansions, was duly acquainted with Miss Lyndall Armitage’s story.

“Where is she, Miss Silver?”

Miss Silver, well on the way to completing Johnny’s second pair of stockings, replied that Miss Armitage was lying down---“in my bedroom next door. She is far from strong, and it has shaken her a good deal.”

Frank regarded her with admiration.

“Tucked up under an eiderdown with a hot-water bottle, I don’t mind betting. Will you be angry if I quote Wordsworth instead of Tennyson?

   ‘The perfect woman, nobly planned,
    To warn, to comfort, or command.’ ”


Miss Silver smiled indulgently. If she detected a faint sardonic flavour in tone and look she gave no sign of resenting it, but said soberly, “We have not time just now to discuss the poets, my dear Frank. I have kept Miss Armitage here because I do not feel justified in allowing her to return to her flat without protection. She tells me that her cousin, Mrs. Perry Jocelyn, is unlikely to be home much before eleven, and that they have a daily maid who leaves at three o’clock. I think, in the circumstances, that it would be extremely dangerous to leave her alone and unprotected.”

“What makes you think she is in danger?”

“My dear Frank! The day before yesterday at tea-time she acquainted Annie Joyce with the fact that she had overheard part of a conversation between her and the man from whom she was taking her orders. Only two sentences, it is true, but could anything be more compromising?---‘You might as well let me write to Nellie Collins. She is quite harmless,’ and, ‘That is not for you to say.’ They supply clear evidence of a connection with Miss Collins, they imply that Annie Joyce was not permitted herself to answer the letter she had received from her, and they make it clear that she was not a principal, but an agent acting under the orders of this man whom she had come to see. Annie Joyce could have been under no illusion as to the importance of what Miss Armitage had overheard. She did, in fact, do all she could to ensure her silence. She assured her that the whole thing was a mistake, that she must have imagined having overheard the name of Nellie Collins, and she appealed to her affection and family feeling not to repeat anything which might revive the publicity from which they, and especially Sir Philip, had already suffered so much.”

“This was the day before yesterday?”

“Yes. And yesterday afternoon she kept another appointment with the man from whom she took her orders. It is, I suppose, possible, but I do not think it is at all likely that she did not acquaint him with what Miss Armitage had told her. There is some evidence that the interview disquieted him, since he had her followed when she came away from it. If she told him that a previous interview had been overheard, he may have decided that her usefulness as an agent was seriously compromised. The German secret service has never hesitated to sacrifice an agent who might prove to be more of a liability than an asset. If she told him that it was Miss Armitage who had overheard them, you will, I think, agree that she may be in very serious danger, and that until this man is under arrest she should be given the very fullest possible measure of protection.”

Frank Abbott ran his hand back over his hair.

“All right, we’ll look after her. But, you know, the Chief thinks you’re trailing a red herring. He thinks Jocelyn shot the woman. There’s some evidence---no, not evidence---there’s some indication of a personal motive. Suppose he was in love with this Armitage girl. I know some people who live near Jocelyn’s Holt. They tell me everyone was expecting the engagement to be given out, when Annie Joyce bobbed up as Lady Jocelyn. Rather a nasty strain on the temper, you know, especially as local talk had it that Philip Jocelyn stuck to it for as long as he could that he didn’t recognize her, and she wasn’t his wife. Well, he seems to have been convinced in the end, and they set up house together on strictly detached lines. Then something happened which upset his conviction, and at the same time Military Intelligence suggest to him she’s an enemy agent. Pretty galling, don’t you think? Legally she’s his wife. He has accepted her as such, and he’d probably find it difficult---or impossible---to prove that she wasn’t. Not a nice situation. And then he finds her with her fingers in his papers. Don’t you think he might fly off the handle and shoot? Murder’s been done for a good deal less than that. Anyhow, the Chief thinks that’s what happened---and he doesn’t know the gossipy bits I’ve just imparted to you, which are strictly off the record and entre nous. The time question narrows it down, you see. Jocelyn went off at twenty to nine, the laundryman came and went immediately after that, the postman and the boy with the milk one after the other just before nine, and the workmen had camped down on the landing by nine o’clock.”

Miss Silver’s needles clicked rapidly, the long grey stocking revolved.

“Have you traced any delivery of laundry?”

He shook his head.

“Two lots of tenants are away. The man may simply have gone up, found he couldn’t get in, and gone away again.”

Miss Silver gave a small skeptical cough.

“Oh, no, he would not do that. He would have left the basket with the porter.”

“Well, he might. But the porter says people aren’t very trusting with new tenants nowadays---they like payment on delivery.” He cocked an eyebrow. “I see you’ve set your heart on the laundryman.” He got up, looking very tall and slim. “Well, I must see Miss Armitage, and then I’ll go and deal with the hairdresser. Wish me luck!”

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