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Chapter Thirty-Six

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« on: August 27, 2023, 11:54:13 am »

THE time went very slowly by. Lyndall found, as innumerable women have found before her, that she could do nothing to hasten it. She couldn’t read, or sew, or listen to the wireless, because to do any of these things you must be in control of your own thoughts, and she was not in control of hers. Whilst she was talking to Miss Silver and Sergeant Abbott, whilst the constable had talked about his family, there had been a varying degree of constraint upon her mind, and in a varying degree it had responded. But as soon as she was alone it turned again to the point from which she now found herself unable to deflect it. There are things which are so shocking that they are believed at once, the very force of the shock pressing in past all the normal barriers. There are things so shocking that they cannot be believed at all, but you can’t forget them, you can’t get them out of your mind. Lyndall could not have said that she was in either of these two states. There had been so great an initial shock as to render her incapable of either belief or judgment, but now as time went slowly by she found herself believing something which chilled her body almost as much as it froze her mind.

She got up once and went to the telephone, but after standing for a long half-minute with her finger on the first number she would have to dial, she turned away and went back to the chair from which she had risen. She couldn’t do it. Perhaps tomorrow when her mind didn’t feel so sore and stiff and she could think again. Not tonight---not now. Once you have said a thing you can never take it back.

When about five minutes later the telephone bell rang she went to answer it with shuddering reluctance. Philip’s voice said her name.

“Lyn---is that you?”

“Yes---” The word wouldn’t sound the first time. She had to try it again.

“Are you alone? I want to see you---very badly. I’ll come straight round.”

He hung up on that, but she stayed where she was until it came to her that Philip would be arriving and she must be ready to let him in. As she passed through the hall she stopped at the half-open kitchen door to say, “My cousin is coming round to see me---Sir Philip Jocelyn.”

It was hardly said before the door bell rang. She opened it with a finger on her lips and a gesture in the direction of that half-open door.

Philip looked surprised. He took off his coat and hung it up. Then when they were in the living-room he asked, “What was all that for? Who’s here?”

“A policeman in the kitchen.”

“Why?”

“Because I overheard something, and they don’t know if she---if Anne----”

He said, interrupting her, “She wasn’t Anne---that’s certain now. She was Annie Joyce.” Then, after a curious pause, “I’ve found Anne’s diary.”

“Her diary?”

“Yes. Of course I knew she kept one---I suppose you did too. What I didn’t know until a couple of days ago was that she put down everything---” He broke off. “Lyn, it’s quite incredible! I didn’t want to read it---I don’t intend to read it. What I’ve had to do is to see whether the things she told me---the things which convinced me against every instinct I’ve got---whether they were there. And they are. What I said when I asked her to marry me---things that happened on our honeymoon---things it seemed impossible that anybody else should know---she had written them all down. And Annie Joyce had got them by heart.”

Lyndall looked at him in a bewildered rush of feeling. The stranger who had stood between them had gone and she had never been Anne. Presently she would be able to go back to remembering that she had loved Anne very much. Just now she could only listen.

Philip was telling her about finding the diary.

“I made sure she would have it with her. However carefully she had learned it all up she would be bound to keep it handy. Well, I found it---two volumes sewn into the mattress on her bed---good long stitches so that it wouldn’t have taken a minute to rip them out if she wanted it. That’s what caught my eye---when I’d looked everywhere else. That settled the matter as far as I was concerned. She never convinced anything except my brain, and the diary lets that out. Anne’s been dead for three and a half years. You’ve got to believe that, Lyn.”

She wanted to with all her heart. But she couldn’t find words. She didn’t even know that she could find thoughts to answer him. Her mind swung back on the fixed point to which it had been held. She heard him say, “Lyn, that’s what I meant when I came here this morning. Annie Joyce was a spy, you know---planted on me. It wasn’t just an ordinary impersonation. It was all very carefully planned. She was an enemy agent with a very definite job. She drugged me last night and went through my papers.”

“Philip!”

“They were spoof papers, and an old code-book. We’d been doing a bit of planning too. My guess is that she was working under orders, and someone came along to collect. Whoever it was knew enough to realize she’d been had. That meant she was for it from us, if not from them. At the best, she wouldn’t be of any more use---at the worst, we might get something out of her. They are quite ruthless over that sort of thing, and I think that whoever it was just shot her out of hand---possibly with my revolver, or possibly not. Anyhow it probably seemed a good idea to remove mine and hope the police would think I’d shot her---which they do.”

She said his name again.

“Philip!” And then, with a rush, “They don’t---they can’t!”

He put an arm round her.

“Wake up, Lyn! They do, and they can. Wake up and face it! I’m in a mess. Codrington says I’d better keep away from you. I will after this. But I had to see you first---I couldn’t risk your thinking it was worse than it is. They think it looks bad, my coming straight here from the War Office and saying Anne was dead when I couldn’t have known about the murder unless it had happened before I left the flat. But when I said Anne I meant my wife, Anne Jocelyn, and not Annie Joyce at all. I meant that I was convinced of Anne’s death---not that I knew Annie Joyce had been shot. Lyn---you’ve got to believe me!”

“Of course I believe you.”

She began to tell him about seeing Anne---no, Annie---going into the hairdresser’s shop, and what she had overheard in the dark passage with the line of light just showing at the edge of an unlatched door.

His manner changed abruptly.

“You heard that? You’re sure?”

“Yes---I told Miss Silver.”

“Who is she?”

She explained Miss Silver.

“And then Sergeant Abbott came, and I told him, and I think he’s gone to arrest the people at the shop.”

“Well, that’s something.” Then, “I suppose you know how important this is?”

“Yes. Philip, I told Anne---I mean Annie---about it.”

He stared.

“You didn’t!”

“Yes, I did. I felt as if I had to. I told her the day before yesterday.”

Lyn---you little fool! Suppose she told him---this man!”

Lyndall nodded.

“That’s what Miss Silver said. So they sent me home with a policeman. He’s in the kitchen doing a cross-word.”

He had just begun to say in a tone of relief, “Well, somebody’s got some sense,” when the front door buzzer went again. Lyndall felt the sound of it go tingling through her. Perhaps it was what she had been waiting for.

Philip’s arm dropped from her shoulders. He wore a look of frowning pallor.

“I ought not to be seen here. Who is it likely to be? Get rid of them if you can!”

She nodded without speaking. The buzzer went again as she crossed the room, but she took her time---time to open Lilla’s panelled chest and let Philip’s coat down on the spare blankets, time to pull the kitchen door to so as not to show the lighted room beyond.

Then she opened the outer door and saw Pelham Trent. He came in at once, easy and friendly as he had always been.

“Are you alone, Lyn? I wanted to see you. Lilla isn’t home yet?”

“No. It’s her late night. She isn’t home.”

They were standing just inside the door. As he turned to shut it, she said,

“I wanted to see you too. I wanted to ask you something.”

He turned back, a little surprised.

“Well, let’s go into the drawing-room. I can’t stay, so I won’t take my coat off.”

She stood between him and the door of the room where Philip was.

“Do you know a shop called Félise?

Surprise became astonishment.

“My dear Lyn! What is this---a guessing game? I really wanted to say something----”

She came in with a sort of quiet determination.

“I think you do know it.”

“What do you mean?”

She said in a clear, steady tone, “I followed her, you know. Not because I thought there was anything wrong. I just didn’t want her to think---that doesn’t matter now, does it. I heard her say, ‘You might as well let me write to Nellie Collins. She is quite harmless.’ And you said, ‘That isn’t for you to say.’ ”

He stood where he was, looking at her aghast.

“Lyn---have you gone mad?”

She shook her head gently.

“I didn’t know it was you at the time---I didn’t know until this afternoon when you said the same thing again. You said it to me---in the same kind of whispering voice, ‘That is not for you to say.’ I guessed then. Afterwards I was sure. I told Miss Silver and the police about what I heard, but I didn’t tell them about you. I shall have to tell them, but I thought I would tell you first, because we have been friends.”

As soon as she had said the last word she knew that it wasn’t true. This man had never been a friend. He was a stranger, and dangerous---she was in very great danger. Through all that had happened in the last few hours thought had been fixed and rigid. Now, under the impact of danger, it swung free. She cried out, and her cry was loud enough to bring Philip Jocelyn round the corner of the L to the half-open door, and to arouse the large constable from the consideration of what a word of four letters suggesting a light could be. He got himself out of his chair and opened the door, to see a strange man in an overcoat holding Miss Armitage by the shoulder with his left hand, whilst with the other he held a revolver to her head.

The same spectacle had halted Philip Jocelyn. Pelham Trent, looking in that direction, was aware of him, but not of the constable, his attention being a good deal taken up by the emergency and the brilliant ideas which it suggested. He said harshly to Philip, “Jocelyn, if you move, I’ll shoot her---and with your revolver! You damned fool---to think that you could lay a trap like this for me! You’ve just played into my hands, the two of you, and this is what is going to happen. I’d like you to know, because I’ve had it in for you for quite a time. You think a lot of yourself, don’t you? You think a lot of your name and your family. Well, you’re going to be a headline in every dirty rag in the country---‘Suicide Pact in a Flat---Sir Philip Jocelyn and Girl Friend.’ Perhaps you can imagine the letterpress for yourself. I must just get a little closer to you to make it really convincing. Come along, Lyn!”

He began to walk across the hall, pushing her before him. She could feel the cold muzzle of the revolver against her right temple.

This was on the outside. She knew about it, but it had very little to do with what was in her mind. There, in a very clear light, she saw and knew that she and Philip were on the edge of death, that if she moved or tried to pull away she would be dead at once. And then he would shoot Philip. But he wouldn’t shoot her first if he could help it, because the moment he fired Philip would rush him. She didn’t know what the constable was doing. She couldn’t see the kitchen door. Even if he had heard her call out, she would be dead before he reached them.

She saw all these things together in the bright light and without any passage of time. She wasn’t frightened, because it was rather like being dead already. From somewhere outside time she saw that there would be a moment when the revolver would swing away from her and aim at Philip. She held herself like a coiled spring and waited for that moment.

When it came, she caught with both her hands at Pelham Trent’s right arm, dragging it down, and in the same instant Philip sprang. There was the cracking sound of a shot, very loud in the little hall. Glass splintered somewhere, a loose rug slid under Pelham’s feet, and they were all down together. Lyndall crawled out between flailing arms and legs, stumbled up to her feet, and saw the constable kneeling on Pelham’s chest whilst Philip held his ankles. The revolver stuck out from a rolled-up corner of the rug. Lyndall went and picked it up. Her knees were dithering and her mind shook. The mirror over the blanket-chest was broken, and there were little bright bits of glass everywhere.

She went into the drawing-room and pushed the revolver down behind one of the sofa cushions. When she came back Philip looked over his shoulder and said, “We want something to tie him up with. Those things that loop the curtains back will do. Hurry!”

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