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Chapter Thirty-Five

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« on: August 27, 2023, 11:39:22 am »

LYNDALL was presently seen home by a large constable with a benevolent face and a slow, persevering manner of speech. In the twenty minutes or so which it took them to arrive at Lilla Jocelyn’s flat he had told her all about his wife, whose name was Daisy and who had been an upholstress before they were married, and their three children---Ernie, turned seven, who was a wonder at his lessons, Ellie aged four, and Stanley who would be six months old next week. In moments of strain, small, irrelevant things may pass quite unnoticed, but they may also become indelibly impressed upon the memory. Lyndall was never to forget that Ernie could read when he was four, or that little Ellie screamed whenever she saw a cat. The constable appeared to be rather proud of this idiosyncrasy, but informed her that his wife said it wouldn’t do to let it go on, and she was going to get a kitten and break her of being so soft.

Later, when she had ensconced him in front of the kitchen fire and provided him with the papers, she sat down by herself in the L-shaped living-room and thought what a long time it would be before Lilla came home.

It was some time after this that Frank Abbott rang up his Chief.

“Well, sir, I saw Miss Armitage. She’s quite clear about what she heard. The snag is that at the time she wasn’t at all sure whether the woman she followed into the hairdresser’s shop was the so-called Lady Jocelyn or not, because she only saw her back. In fact, what she saw was the right coloured hair, the right sort of coat, and the right coloured dress. But there aren’t so many mink coats walking round London on women with the right hair and just that shade of blue dress. They are the clothes of the Amory portrait and fairly noticeable, you know. Anyhow she wasn’t sure at the time. That’s why she followed her in---she wanted to make sure. And she won’t swear to the voice which she heard on the other side of an unlatched door, but she thought it was Lady Jocelyn’s voice. What she will swear to through thick and thin is what she heard---what the woman said, ‘You might as well let me write to Nellie Collins. She is quite harmless.’ And the man’s answer, ‘That is not for you to say.’ That is what she heard, and that is what she repeated to Annie Joyce. It would certainly make her sit up and take notice, and if she repeated it to her employer, I agree with Maudie that we’d better keep an eye on the Armitage girl.”

Lamb grunted.

“You always do agree with her---that’s nothing new.”

“Oh, no, sir---not always---only when the brain is waving rather brightly.” Then, before Lamb had time to disentangle this, “Well, I’m talking from the hairdresser’s---telephone in the room across the passage described by Miss Armitage. Clarke is shepherding the staff in the shop. Proprietress, stout Frenchwoman called Dupont, very angry, very abusive---says she’s never been so insulted in her life. Says Lady Jocelyn was a client---oh, but certainly---her hair was much impoverished and needed frequent attention. Her husband M. Félix Dupont---that’s where they get the Félise from---occasionally saw special clients in the office. He had probably seen Lady Jocelyn there---she was a very special client. But she couldn’t have seen him yesterday, or any day this week, because he had been in bed very ill, very suffering---wounds of the last war. I must understand that he is an invalid, and that only occasionally can he come to the shop and give his valuable advice. For all the rest of the time it is she who has to do everything and nurse her husband as well, and a lot more on those lines, all very rapid and French. But---you remember what Maudie said about the girl who followed Annie Joyce---said she had on a brown coat and a brown and purple scarf over her head---well, one of the girls here has got a brown coat and a brown and purple scarf, so that hooks up all right. As you know, Maudie’s Emma went after the girl she saw, and lost her only just round the corner from here.”

Lamb grunted.

“We’ll have to see if they can pick this girl out.”

“It won’t be necessary, sir. I’ve had her in alone, and she owned up. She’s only about sixteen, and she’s all of a doodah. Said she didn’t know she was doing anything wrong. Mr. Felix told her to put on her coat and see where Lady Jocelyn went, and he gave her half-a-crown when she got back. And when I said, ‘You mean M. Dupont, Madame’s husband?’ she said, ‘Oh, no, it wasn’t him---it was the other gentleman.’ ”

The wire vibrated with the Chief Inspector’s “What!

“Yes, sir. Continuing our interesting conversation---I elicited the following facts. M. Félix did come down occasionally. He was a very clever hairdresser, and he only saw special clients, but he was often too ill to come at all. Mr. Felix also saw special clients. He came in by a back way, never through the shop. They had to take messages for him and make appointments. If Madame was in she answered the telephone herself. If she was out, they had to write the message down, and she would attend to it later. Now comes the pièce de résistance----”

The Chief Inspector was heard to thump his office table.

“If you don’t know enough English to speak your own language you’d better go back to school and learn how!”

“Sorry, Chief---my mistake---I should have said titbit. Anyhow, here it is. None of the girls ever saw Mr. Felix. He came and went by the back way, and he never set foot in the shop. M. Félix Dupont used the shop entrance---they all saw him whenever he came. But nobody ever saw Mr. Felix except Madame and the ladies who came by appointment.”

“What about his sending her after Lady Jocelyn?”

“Yes, I asked her that, and she said it was Madame who told her that Mr. Felix would like her to go after Lady Jocelyn, and it was Madame who gave her the half-crown and told her not to talk about it, because, she said, it wouldn’t sound very nice, but he had given her a very special treatment, and he wanted to know whether she did what he told her and went straight home. He said it wouldn’t be good for her if she didn’t.”

“Think she swallowed that?”

“I don’t suppose she bothered. All in the day’s work, so to speak. You know how it is with a girl like that---customers are just work. What really matters is who is going to take them to the pictures, or part with some coupons so that they can get another pair of alleged silk stockings.”

Chief Inspector Lamb was heard to thank God that his girls had been differently brought up to that.

“Yes, sir---they would be. But I think this kid is all right. Too scared, and talking too freely to be in on any games they’ve been up to here. I think we ought to pull Madame in. And then I thought I’ll go along and see her interesting invalid.”

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