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Chapter Thirty-Seven

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Author Topic: Chapter Thirty-Seven  (Read 218 times)
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« on: August 27, 2023, 12:17:44 pm »

THE Chief Inspector looked at Miss Silver across his office table. His manner combined modest self-satisfaction and honest pride with just a dash of official dignity. His florid complexion glowed. He said in a hearty voice, “Well, Miss Silver, I thought you’d like to know that we’ve got it all cleared up---no untidy ends.”

Miss Silver, sitting rather primly upright with her hands in a small round muff of the same date as her fur tie, gave a slight cough and said, “That must be extremely satisfactory to you.”

“Well, I like to get a job finished up. And I won’t say you haven’t been quite a help. I wouldn’t have liked anything to have happened to that girl---she’s a plucky little thing. And I don’t mind saying I shouldn’t have thought of giving her police protection if you hadn’t put me up to it. You see, you’ve got a pull on us poor policemen. Young ladies don’t come and cry on our shoulders and tell us all their secrets like they seem to do with you---though I have got daughters of my own.”

Sergeant Abbott, propping the mantelpiece and keeping most of the fire off the room, was understood to suggest that Miss Silver should impart her recipe. He got a frown from his Chief Inspector and a recommendation to use the good old English word receipt, if that was what he meant.

“That’s what my mother called it, and what was good enough for her is good enough for me. And what’s good enough for me is good enough for you, my lad, and don’t you forget it! Frenchified words may be all very well in France, but I won’t have them here in my office. And I’ll tell you what I’ve come to notice---that you give way to using them when you’re a bit above yourself. I don’t say you haven’t done a good job of work over this case, because you have---but no need to go up in the air and talk like a foreigner. And now, if you’ll stop interrupting, I’ll get on with telling Miss Silver what we’ve turned up.”

Miss Silver inclined her head.

“I should be most grateful, Chief Inspector.”

Solidly filling his chair, a hand on either knee, Lamb spoke.

“He’d covered his tracks very cleverly of course---these gentry do. And there must have been people helping him we haven’t got hold of, and can’t get hold of. As a matter of fact we shouldn’t have got hold of him if Miss Lyndall Armitage hadn’t recognized his voice when he used the same words to her that she’d heard him use to Annie Joyce. And that was a thing she didn’t tell you, did she?”

Miss Silver coughed.

“No---she kept that back. She has told me about it since. It was extremely unwise of her, and it very nearly cost her her life---and Sir Philip’s. But when I saw her she was, I think, still resisting her own conviction. You see, he had been a friend---a very much trusted friend. I think she had some lingering hope that when she put it to him he would be able to restore that trust. It is not easy for a girl to give a friend up to the police, but she ran a most terrible risk. I am glad that the constable was there, and that he was so prompt and helpful---though it was, I understand, Miss Armitage’s own presence of mind which saved them all. But pray continue.”

“Well, we traced his back history. An uncle of his was the senior Mr. Codrington’s partner---that’s how this Mr. Codrington came to take him on. He’s a qualified solicitor of course. Got bitten with Fascist ideas when they were all the go, but dropped them---or I should say appeared to drop them---when Hitler was showing his hand and they weren’t so popular. He used to go off hiking in Germany. Lots of people did, and no harm in it, but if you wanted a cover-up for any funny business it was quite a good one. Just when he definitely started working for the Nazis, we don’t know, and we’re not likely to, but he must have been playing their game for years. We’ve got Madame Dupont identified. Her name’s Marie Rozen, and she’s a nasty bit of work. I think her husband is just what she said he was---a clever hairdresser, badly broken in health and not in this Nazi business at all. They were only married just before the war---she got in here under his first wife’s name. To get back to Trent. Besides the very respectable rooms where he lodged, he kept a room over a garage in one of those streets off the Vauxhall Bridge Road. He’d an envelope on him addressed there in the name of Thomson, and the people have identified him. That’s where he changed when he wanted to be Mr. Felix or anybody else. We found a couple of wigs, one red and one grey, and all sorts of clothes, some of them very shabby, and a big loose overcoat. With that and the red wig, I don’t suppose his best friend would have known him. He kept a battered old taxi in the garage, and passed as a driver who had been called up for Fire Service. I don’t think there’s much doubt that he met Miss Nellie Collins at Waterloo and told her he was taking her to see Lady Jocelyn. She may have thought she was being driven to Jocelyn’s Holt. He could have made a long way round of it to the lane where she was found. There are plenty of ways you can waste time if you put your mind to it, and she wouldn’t think she had any reason to be suspicious, poor lady. Then, when he’d got her where he wanted, he’d make some excuse to get her out of the car and just run her down. See?”

Miss Silver coughed.

“Dear me---how extremely shocking!”

Frank Abbott put up a hand to his mouth for a moment. A gleam of cynical amusement might have been observed by his companions, had either of them been looking in his direction. His thoughts were of a lively irreverence. “The old fox---he’s cribbed most of that from Maudie, and she’s letting him get away with it---she always does. Now just how far is he really kidding himself, and just how far does he think he is kidding Maudie---and me?” His conclusion being that it was as good as a play, he resumed the enjoyable pose of listener. His Miss Silver had just proffered a neat little bouquet of compliments. His Chief Inspector was accepting it heartily, if not with grace. The atmosphere was genial.

Lamb fairly shone with satisfaction as he said, “Well, there it is---the police do earn their pay sometimes! Oh, by the way, we found the laundry-basket. It was in the corner of his garage. Nothing inside but a lot of crumpled-up paper. I should say there’s no doubt he took it along in the taxi and waited till he saw Sir Philip come out. Then he’d only to put the basket on his head and walk in and up the stair. It sounds a lot more risky than it was. If he had both his hands up steadying the basket, it would be easy enough to tip it so that anyone he met wouldn’t see his face.”

“You put it so clearly.” Miss Silver’s voice held an admiring note.

The Chief Inspector beamed.

“Oh, well---it’s guess-work. But we’ve got it pretty well figured out. This Annie Joyce would be acting under his instructions. I think we may take it that she’d been told to drug Sir Philip and go through his papers, but meanwhile she had said or done something to make Trent suspect her. He had her followed. He knew she had got at any rate as far as thinking about coming to see you. It’s long odds she had told him what Miss Armitage had overheard. I think she’d be frightened to keep it to herself. What do you say?”

Miss Silver said gravely, “I think she told him. From one or two things Miss Armitage said, I think Annie Joyce had a grudge against her. Miss Armitage had been very devoted to the real Lady Jocelyn. In a terribly difficult situation, she was trying very hard to maintain the old friendship and affection, but without success. I will give you her own words. They were spoken, I am sure, in deep sincerity. She said, ‘I loved her so much, but after she came back she wouldn’t let me. It didn’t even seem as if she liked me.’ ”

Lamb nodded.

“That would be about the size of it. Well, let’s take it Trent knew they had been overheard. That would give him a very strong motive for getting rid of Annie Joyce. She may, or may not, have known who he really was.”

Miss Silver coughed.

“From the enquiries I have made since his arrest, I do not find that he and the so-called Lady Jocelyn had ever met. I think he would be very careful not to expose his identity. He undoubtedly disguised himself to keep those appointments at the hairdresser’s shop, and from what Sergeant Abbott has told me of the lighting arrangements in the office there, it is clear that the heavily shaded reading-lamp could have been so disposed as to leave him in shadow whilst turning all the light upon a visitor.”

“Yes, that’s the way it would be---and his voice kept down to a whisper like Miss Armitage says. It’s a queer thing, isn’t it, that he should have given himself away by falling into the very trick he had used as a safeguard. If he hadn’t said those same words to Miss Armitage in the same whispering voice that she’d heard on the other side of that door, he might have got clear away. Madame Dupont only knew him as Mr. Felix. With that connection cut and Annie Joyce dead, there wouldn’t have been a single clue to lead to Mr. Pelham Trent. You could get quite a moral out of that---couldn’t you?”

Miss Silver said, “Yes, indeed.”

The Chief Inspector resumed.

“Well, there we are---he goes up with the laundry-basket, and she lets him in. She may have been expecting him---we can’t know about that---but she’d be pleased enough to see him, because she’d think she had got what he wanted. There’s no doubt, from the fingerprints, that she had been all through that code-book---copying it, no doubt. You may call it a guess, but it’s a pretty safe one. As you know, the code was out of date---part of the trap to catch her. A man in Trent’s position would know enough to know that. He may have meant to kill her anyhow, but if she had let herself be trapped, he just couldn’t afford to leave her alive and risk what she might be able to give away. She took fright and tried to get to the telephone. He shot her down. Then he had a look for Sir Philip’s revolver and took it away with him. He may not have had to look---she may have tried to get it---we can’t know. He didn’t leave any fingerprints, so he must have worn gloves in the flat---probably slipped them on when he was waiting for her to open the door. He had the revolver on him, as you know, when he was arrested. It’s a perfectly watertight case, and a good riddance of three dangerous people---more, maybe, if Madame Dupont talks. Well, that’s about all there is to it. Excuse me, will you---I’ve got to see the Assistant Commissioner.”

When he had gone after a cordial handshake, Sergeant Abbott came over to lean against the table and looked down at his “revered preceptress.”

“Well?” he said. “What are you thinking about?”

She gave a slight hesitant cough.

“I was thinking of what the Chief Inspector said.”

Frank laughed.

“He said quite a lot, didn’t he?”

“At the end,” said Miss Silver---“when he said, ‘That is all there is to it.’ Because there are no circumstances in which that can be true.”

“And how?”

She looked at him simply and gravely.

“It goes so far back. I have been talking to the Jocelyns, and they have told me a good deal. It goes back to Sir Ambrose Jocelyn, who made no provision for the woman he had lived with, or for their son. Sir Philip’s father made her a small allowance. The bread of charity is not really sweetened to the recipient by the fact that it is paid for out of a purse which might have been his own. Roger Joyce was a weak and ineffectual person. From what poor Miss Collins told me, it was clear that his daughter had been brought up to consider herself wronged and defrauded. When he died she was fifteen, Miss Theresa Jocelyn took her up, and after making a very unwise attempt to force her upon the rest of the family went abroad with her. A girl of that age is very sensible to slights. She stayed a week at Jocelyn’s Holt, and saw all the things which she might have had if her father had been a legitimate instead of an illegitimate son. She went away with what must have been very bitter feelings. Ten years later Miss Jocelyn, who had made a will in her favour, suddenly changed her mind. She was an erratic and impulsive woman, and just as ten years before she had taken a sudden fancy to Annie Joyce, she now took an equally sudden fancy to Anne Jocelyn, and announced that she was making a will in her favour.” Miss Silver paused and coughed. “Such lack of principle is very difficult to understand. It began immediately to produce the troubles which want of principle always does produce. Sir Philip had a serious quarrel with his wife. He forbade her to take the money, expressing himself with considerable vehemence, whilst she asserted her right to take it if she chose. She was, as you probably know, already a considerable heiress. She defied her husband and joined Miss Jocelyn in France. The effect upon Annie Joyce may be imagined. Her father and Lady Jocelyn’s mother were half-brother and sister, one poor and disowned, the other rich and prosperous. Lady Jocelyn had everything that Annie Joyce had not---rank, position, money, the family estate, the family name. They lived for three months under the same roof. Can you doubt that during those three months the bitterness and resentment in which Annie Joyce had been brought up became very greatly intensified? We have no means of knowing more than Sir Philip has told us of what happened on the beach when he was attempting to get the two girls away. Annie may have realized at the time that Anne had been fatally injured, or she may have remained in ignorance for quite a long while. It seems certain that she returned to the château and lived there as Annie Joyce, that she came more and more under German influence, and that there came a time when they decided to make use of her. She must herself have informed them of her likeness to Lady Jocelyn. Sir Philip tells me that his cousin, Miss Theresa Jocelyn, had a very large collection of family photographs. They would be able to judge of the resemblance for themselves. Up-to-date information about the family was undoubtedly obtained from Mr. Trent. I may say that I had all along a feeling that the person directing the so-called Lady Jocelyn was likely to be someone closely associated with the family. Details which no stranger could have known were essential to the success of the impersonation. The diary accounts for a great deal, but it did not supply the current knowledge of Sir Philip’s affairs, nor had it any share in the careful timing of the---supposed---return of his wife.”

Frank Abbott had been listening with respectful attention. If there was a moment during which the irreverent phrase, “Moralizings of Maudie,” flickered across his mind---if his rather light eyes never entirely lost a faintly cynical spark, he still felt, as he always did, an affectionate respect which had only ceased to surprise him because it was now of quite long standing. As she rose to her feet, he straightened up.

“I see Jocelyn has a notice of his wife’s death in all the papers---with the date.” He picked up the Times from the table behind him and ran his eye down the column. “Here we are---‘On June 26, 1941, by enemy action, Anne, wife of Sir Philip Jocelyn----’ Well, I suppose we shall be seeing his name in the Marriages next.”

Miss Silver coughed, a thought reprovingly. She said, “I hope so.”

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