The Franchise Affair, by Josephine Tey

20

The angel of the Lord was not a scruffy little man, as it turned out; and his hat was a regrettably continental affair of felt with a tightly rolled brim turned up all round. He arrived at Blair, Hayward, and Bennet’s about half-past eleven the following morning.

“Mr. Robert,” old Mr. Heseltine said, putting his head in at Robert’s door, “there’s a Mr. Lange in the office to see you. He ——”

Robert, who was busy, and not expecting angels of the Lord, and quite used to strangers turning up in the office and wanting to see him, said: “What does he want? I’m busy.”

“He didn’t say. He just said he would like to see you if you were not too busy.”

“Well, I’m scandalously busy. Find out tactfully what he wants, will you? If it is nothing important Nevil can deal with it.”

“Yes, I’ll find out; but his English is very thick, and he doesn’t seem very willing to ——”

“English? You mean, he has a lisp?”

“No, I mean his pronunciation of English isn’t very good. He ——”

“The man’s a foreigner, you mean?”

“Yes. He comes from Copenhagen.”

“Copenhagen! Why didn’t you tell me that before!”

“You didn’t give me a chance, Mr. Robert.”

“Show him in, Timmy, show him in. Oh, merciful Heaven, do fairy-tales come true?”

Mr. Lange was rather like one of the Norman pillars of Notre Dame. Just as round, just as high, just as solid and just as dependable-looking. Far away at the top of this great round solid erect pillar his face shone with friendly rectitude.

“Mr. Blair?” he said. “My name is Lange. I apologise for bothering you”— he failed to manage the TH—“but it was important. Important to you, I mean. At least, yes I think.”

“Sit down, Mr. Lange.”

“Thank you, thank you. It is warm, is it not? This is perhaps the day you have your summer?” He smiled on Robert. “That is an idiom of the English, that joke about one-day summer. I am greatly interested in the English idiom. It is because of my interest in English idiom that I come to see you.”

Robert’s heart sank to his heels with the plummet swoop of an express lift. Fairy-tales, indeed. No; fairy-tales stay fairy-tales.

“Yes?” he said encouragingly.

“I keep a hotel in Copenhagen, Mr. Blair. The hotel of the Red Shoes it is called. Not, of course, because anyone wears red shoes there but because of a tale of Andersen, which you perhaps may ——”

“Yes, yes,” Robert said. “It has become one of our tales too.”

“Ah, so! Yes. A great man, Andersen. So simple a man and now so international. It is a thing to marvel at. But I waste your time, Mr. Blair, I waste your time. What was I saying?”

“About English idiom.”

“Ah, yes. To study English is my hubby.”

“Hobby,” Robert said, involuntarily.

“Hobby. Thank you. For my bread and butter I keep a hotel — and because my father and his father kept one before me — but for a hub . . . a hobby? yes; thank you — for a hobby I study the idiomatic English. So every day the newspapers that they leave about are brought to me.”

“They?”

“The English visitors.”

“Ah, yes.”

“In the evening, when they have retired, the page collects the English papers and leaves them in my office. I am busy, often, and I do not have time to look at them, and so they go into the pile and when I have leisure I pick one up and study it. Do I make myself clear, Mr. Blair?”

“Perfectly, perfectly, Mr. Lange.” A faint hope was rising again. Newspapers?

“So it goes on. A few moments of leisure, a little reading in an English paper, a new idiom — perhaps two — all very without excitement. How do you say that?”

“Placid.”

“So. Placid. And then one day I take this paper from the pile, just as I might take any of the others, and I forget all about idiom.” He took from his capacious pocket a once-folded copy of the Ack–Emma, and spread it in front of Robert on the desk. It was the issue of Friday, May the 10th, with the photograph of Betty Kane occupying two-thirds of the page. “I look at this photograph. Then I look inside and read the story. Then I say to myself that this is most extraordinary. Most extraordinary it is. The paper say this is the photograph of Betty Kann. Kann?”

“Kane.”

“Ah. So. Betty Kane. But it is also the photograph of Mrs. Chadwick, who stay at my hotel with her husband.”

“What!”

Mr. Lange looked pleased. “You are interested? I so hoped you might be. I did so hope.”

“Go on. Tell me.”

“A fortnight they stayed with me. And it was most extraordinary, Mr. Blair, because while that poor girl was being beaten and starved in an English attic, Mrs. Chadwick was eating like a young wolf at my hotel — the cream that girl could eat, Mr. Blair, even I, a Dane, was surprised — and enjoying herself very much.”

“Yes?”

“Well, I said to myself: It is after all a photograph. And although it is just the way she looked when she let down her hair to come to the ball ——”

“Let it down!”

“Yes. She wore her hair brushed up, you see. But we had a ball with costume —— Costume?”

“Yes. Fancy dress.”

“Ah. So. Fancy dress. And for her fancy dress she lets her hair hang down. Just like that there.” He tapped the photograph. “So I say to myself: It is a photograph, after all. How often has one seen a photograph that does not in the least resemble the real person. And what has this girl in the paper to do, possibly, with little Mrs. Chadwick who is here with her husband during that time! So I am reasonable to myself. But I do not throw away the paper. No. I keep it. And now and then I look at it. And each time I look at it I think: But that is Mrs. Chadwick. So I am still puzzled, and going to sleep I think about it when I should be thinking about tomorrow’s marketing. I seek explanation from myself. Twins, perhaps? But no; the Betty girl is an only child. Cousins. Coincidence. Doubles. I think of them all. At night they satisfy me, and I turn over and go to sleep. But in the morning I look at the photograph, and all comes to pieces again. I think: But certainly beyond a doubt that is Mrs. Chadwick. You see my dilemma?”

“Perfectly.”

“So when I am coming to England on business, I put the newspaper with the Arabic name ——”

“Arabic? Oh, yes, I see. I didn’t mean to interrupt.”

“I put it into my bag, and after dinner one night I take it out and show it to my friend where I am staying. I am staying with a compatriot of mine in Bayswater, London. And my friend is instantly very excited and say: But it is now a police affair, and these women say that never have they seen the girl before. They have been arrested for what they are supposed to have done to this girl and they are about to be tried for it. And he calls to his wife: ‘Rita! Rita! Where is the paper of a week last Tuesday?’ It is the kind of household, my friend’s, where there is always a paper of a week last Tuesday. And his wife come with it and he shows me the account of the trial — no, the — the ——”

“Court appearance.”

“Yes. The appearance in court of the two women. And I read how the trial is to be at some place in the country in a little more than a fortnight. Well, by now, that would be in a very few days. So my friend says: How sure are you, Einar, that that girl and your Mrs. Chadwick are one? And I say: Very sure indeed I am. So he say: Here in the paper is the name of the solicitor for the women. There is no address but this Milford is a very small place and he will be easy to find. We shall have coffee early tomorrow — that is breakfast — and you will go down to this Milford and tell what you think to this Mr. Blair. So here I am, Mr. Blair. And you are interested in what I say?”

Robert sat back, took out his handkerchief, and mopped his forehead. “Do you believe in miracles, Mr. Lange?”

“But of course. I am a Christian. Indeed, although I am not yet very old I have myself seen two.”

“Well, you have just taken part in a third.”

“So?” Mr. Lange beamed. “That makes me very content.”

“You have saved our bacon.”

“Bacon?”

“An English idiom. You have not only saved our bacon. You have practically saved our lives.”

“You think, then, as I think, that they are one person, that girl and my guest at the Red Shoes?”

“I haven’t a doubt of it. Tell me, have you the dates of her stay with you.”

“Oh, yes, indeed. Here they are. She and her husband arrived by air on Friday the 29th of March, and they left — again by air, I think, though of that I am not so certain — on the 15th of April, a Monday.”

“Thank you. And her ‘husband,’ what did he look like?”

“Young. Dark. Good-looking. A little — now, what is the word? Too-bright. Gaudy? No.”

“Flashy?”

“Ah. There is it. Flashy. A little flashy, I think. I observe that he was not greatly approved of by the other Englishmen who came and went.”

“Was he just on holiday?”

“No, oh, no. He was in Copenhagen on business.”

“What kind of business?”

“That I do not know, I regret.”

“Can’t you even make a guess? What would he be most likely to be interested in in Copenhagen?”

“That depends, Mr. Blair, on whether he was interested in buying or selling.”

“What was his address in England?”

“London.”

“Beautifully explicit. Will you forgive me a moment while I telephone? Do you smoke?” He opened the cigarette box and pushed it towards Mr. Lange.

“Milford 195. You will do me the honour of having lunch with me, Mr. Lange, won’t you? Aunt Lin? I have to go to London directly after lunch. . . . Yes, for the night. Will you be an angel and pack a small bag for me? . . . Thank you, darling. And would it be all right if I brought someone back to take pot-luck for lunch today? . . . Oh, good. . . . Yes, I’ll ask him.” He covered the mouthpiece, and said: “My aunt, who is actually my cousin, wants to know if you eat pastry?”

“Mr. Blair!” Mr. Lange said, with a wide smile and a wide gesture for his girth. “And you ask a Dane?”

“He loves it,” Robert said into the telephone. “And I say, Aunt Lin. Were you doing anything important this afternoon? . . . Because what I think you ought to do is to go to St. Matthew’s and give thanks. . . . Your angel of the Lord has arrived.”

Even Mr. Lange could hear Aunt Lin’s delighted: “Robert! No, not really!”

“In the flesh. . . . No, not a bit scruffy. . . . Very tall and beautiful and altogether perfect for the part. . . . You’ll give him a good lunch, won’t you? . . . Yes, that’s who is coming to lunch. An angel of the Lord.”

He put down the telephone and looked up at the amused Mr. Lange.

“And now, Mr. Lange, let us go over to the Rose and Crown and have some bad beer.”

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Last updated Tuesday, March 4, 2014 at 20:04