Miss Pym Disposes, by Josephine Tey

22

It was a horrible weekend.

The rain poured down. Henrietta went about looking as though she had had a major operation that had not proved a success. Madame was at her worst and not at all helpful, either actually or verbally. Fröken was furious that such a thing should have happened in “her” gymnasium. Wragg was an ever-present Cassandra scattering depressing truisms. Lux was quiet and tired.

Lux had come back from Larborough bearing a small pink candle wrapped in pale green tissue paper. “Teddy said I was to give you this,” she said. “I can’t think why.”

“Oh? From a cake?”

“Yes. It’s my birthday about now.”

“How nice of him to remember.”

“Oh, he keeps a birthday diary. It’s part of his publicity. It is his secretary’s duty to send telegrams to all the appropriate people on the appropriate days.”

“Don’t you ever give him credit for anything?” Lucy asked.

“Teddy? Not for a real emotion, I don’t. I’ve known him since he was ten, don’t forget. He can’t fool me for more than five seconds together.”

“My hairdresser,” Lucy said, “who lectures to me while he is doing my hair, says that one should allow everyone three faults. If one makes that allowance, one finds that the rest is surprisingly nice, he says.”

“When you allow for Teddy’s three faults there is nothing left, unfortunately.”

“Why?”

“Because his three faults are vanity, selfishness, and self-pity. And any one of the three is totally destructive.”

“Whew!” said Lucy. “I give up.”

But she stuck the silly little candle on her dressing-table, and thought kindly of Edward Adrian.

She wished she could think as kindly of her beloved Beau, who was making things as difficult as possible by being furious with Innes for giving up Arlinghurst. In fact Lucy understood that things had come as near a quarrel between them as was possible between two people so mutually devoted.

“Says she wouldn’t be happy in dead men’s shoes,” said Beau, positively giving off sparks with wrath. “Can you imagine anything more ridiculous? Turning down Arlinghurst as if it were a cup of tea. After nearly dying of chagrin because she didn’t get it in the first place. For God’s sake, Miss Pym, you talk to her and make her see sense before it is too late. It isn’t just Arlinghurst, it’s her whole future. Beginning at Arlinghurst means beginning at the top. You talk to her, will you? Talk her out of this absurd notion!”

It seemed to Lucy that she was always being implored to “talk to” people. When she wasn’t being a dose of soothing syrup she was being a shot of adrenalin, and when she wasn’t being that she was being just a spoonful of alkaline powder for general consumption.

When she wasn’t being a deus ex machina; a perverter of justice. But she tried not to think of that.

There was nothing she could say to Innes, of course, but other people had said it. Miss Hodge had wrought with her long and faithfully; dismayed by the defection of the girl she had not wanted to appoint in the first place. Now she had no one to send to Arlinghurst; she must write and tell them so and see the appointment go elsewhere. Perhaps when the news of the fatal accident leaked round the academic world Arlinghurst would decide to look elsewhere next time they wanted a gymnast. Accidents shouldn’t happen in well conducted gymnasiums; not fatal accidents, anyhow.

That, too, was the police point of view. They had been very nice, the police, very considerate. Very willing to consider the harm that undesirable publicity would do the establishment. But there had to be an inquest, of course. And inquests were painfully public and open to misconstruction. Henrietta’s lawyer had seen the local Press and they had promised to play down the affair, but who knew when a clipping might catch the eye of a sub-editor at a temporary loss for a sensation? And then what?

Lucy had wanted to go away before the inquest, to get away from the perpetual reminders of her guilt in the eyes of the Law, but Henrietta had begged her to stay. She had never been able to say no to Henrietta, and this pathetic aged Henrietta was someone whom she could not refuse. So Lucy stayed; doing odd jobs for Henrietta and generally leaving her free to deal with the crowd of extraneous duties that the accident had saddled her with.

But to the inquest she would not go.

She could not sit there with all her load of knowledge and not at some point be tempted to stand up and tell the truth and have the responsibility off her soul.

Who knew what rat the police might smell out? They had come and viewed the gymnasium, and measured things, and reckoned the weight of the boom, and interviewed all and sundry, and consulted the various experts on the subject, and listened and said nothing. They had taken away the pin that had been so fatally insecure; and that may have been mere routine, but who could tell? Who could tell what suspicions they might be entertaining in their large calm breasts and behind their polite expressionless faces?

But as it turned out, a quite unexpected saviour appeared at the inquest. A saviour in the person of Arthur Middleham, tea importer, of 59 West Larborough Road; that is to say, a resident in one of the villas which lined the highroad between West Larborough and the gates of Leys. Mr Middleham knew nothing about College except that it was there, and that the scantily attired young women who flew about the district on bicycles belonged to it. But he had heard about the accident. And it had struck him as odd that a pin in the gymnasium at Leys had moved out of place on the same morning, and presumably about the same time, as a pane of glass had been shaken out of his drawing-room window by a passing convoy of tanks from the works at South Larborough. His theory was, in fact, the same as Miss Lux’s; vibration. Only Miss Lux’s had been a hit in the dark and of no value. Mr Middleham’s was reasonable and backed by three-dimensional evidence: a pane of broken glass.

And as always when someone has given a lead, there were gratuitous followers. (If someone invented a story and wrote to the Press that they had seen a green lion in the sky at 5.30 the previous evening, at least six people would have seen it retrospectively.) An excited woman, hearing Mr Middleham’s evidence, got up from the body of the hall and said that her ginger jar that she had had for years had dropped off the little table in her window of its own accord at the same time.

“Where do you live, madam?” the coroner asked, when he had winkled her out of the crowd and installed her as evidence.

She lived in the cottages between Leys and Bidlington, she said. On the highroad? Oh, yes, much too much on the highroad; in the summer the dust was a fair sickener, and when the traffic was them there tanks ——. No, she had no cat. No, there had been no one in the room. She had just come in after breakfast and found it on the floor. It had never happened before.

Poor O’Donnell, very nervous but clear and decided, gave evidence that she had put up the end by the wall and that Rouse had attended to the middle end. “Putting it up” meant hoisting the boom by the pulley rope and pushing the pin under it to keep it up. It was also kept up, to a certain extent, by the rope, the hanging end of which was given a turn round a cleat on the upright. No, they had not tested the apparatus before going.

Fröken, asked about the rope which had not proved a substitute for the pin, said that it had not been wound tightly enough to prevent sagging when the pin was removed. The twisting of the rope round the cleat was an automatic gesture, and no student thought of it as a precautionary measure. It was that, in fact, of course. The metal of the pin might break through some fault, and the rope in that case took the strain. Yes, it was possible that a rope, unaccustomed to a greater strain than the weight of a boom, stretched under the sudden addition of a ten-stone burden, but she thought not. Gymnasium ropes were highly tested and guaranteed. It was much more likely that the twist Miss Rouse gave it had been inadequate.

And that seemed to be all. It was an unfortunate accident. The pin the police had abstracted had been used by all and sundry during the Demonstration, and was no evidence of anything.

It was obviously Death By Misadventure.

Well, that was the end of it, Lucy thought, when she heard the news. She had waited in the drawing-room, looking out at the rainy garden, not able to believe that something would not go wrong. No crime was ever committed without a slip-up somewhere; she had read enough case-histories to know that.

There had been one slip-up already, when that little ornament came loose from a shoe. Who knew what else the police might have unearthed? And now it was over, and Innes was safe. And she knew now that it was for Innes that she had put herself in the Law’s reverence. She had thought it was for Innes’s mother, for Henrietta, for absolute justice. But in the latter end it was because whatever Innes had done she had not deserved what the Law would do to her. She had been highly tried, and her breaking-point was lower than normal. She lacked some alloy, some good coarse reinforcing stuff, that would have helped her to stand tension without giving way. But she was too fine to throw away.

Lucy noticed with interest the quality of the cheer that greeted her as she went up to receive her diploma on Wednesday morning. The cheers for the various Seniors varied not only in intensity but in quality. There was laughter, for instance, and affection in the reception they gave Dakers. And Beau got a Head Senior’s tribute; the congratulations of her inferiors to a highly popular Senior. But there was something in the cheer that they gave Innes that was remarkable; a warmth of admiration, a sympathy, and a well-wishing, that was accorded to no one else. Lucy wondered if it was merely that her inability to take the Arlinghurst appointment had moved them. Henrietta had said, during that conversation about Rouse and her examination tactics, that Innes was not popular. But there was something more in that cheer than mere popularity. They admired her. It was their tribute to quality.

The giving of diplomas, postponed from Tuesday to Wednesday because of the inquest, was the last event of Lucy’s stay at Leys. She had arranged to catch the twelve o’clock train to London. She had been touched during the last few days to receive an endless string of small presents, which were left in her room with written messages attached. She hardly ever returned to her room without finding a new one there. Very few people had given Lucy presents since she grew up, and she still had a child’s pleasure in being given something, however small. And these gifts had a spontaneity that was heart-warming; it was no concerted effort, no affair of putting the hat round; they had each given her something as it occurred to them. The Disciples’ offering was a large white card which said:

THIS WILL ADMIT
Miss Lucy Pym
TO THE FOUR DISCIPLES CLINIC
AT MANCHESTER
and will provide
A COURSE
OF TREATMENTS
Of any kind whatever
At any time whatever.

Dakers had contributed a small untidy parcel, labelled: “To remind you every morning of our first meeting!” which on being opened proved to be one of those flat loofahs for back-scrubbing. It was surely in some other life that she had been peered at over the bathroom partition by that waggish pony’s-face. It was certainly not this Lucy Pym who had sat in the bath.

The devoted Miss Morris had made her a little felt purse — Heaven alone knew when the child had found time to fabricate it — and at the other end of the scale of worldly magnificence was Beau’s pigskin case, which bore the message: “You will have so many parting gifts that you will need something to put them in,” and was stamped with her initials. Even Giddy, with whom she had spent odd half hours talking about rheumatism and rats, had sent up a plant in a pot. She had no idea what it was — it looked fleshy and faintly obscene — but was relieved that it was small. Travelling with a pot plant was not her idea of what was fitting.

Beau had come in between breakfast and Diploma-giving to help her pack, but all the serious packing was done. Whether anything would close once everything was in was another matter.

“I’ll come back and sit on them for you before morning clinic,” Beau said. “We are free until then. Except for clinic there is nothing much to do until we go home on Friday.”

“You’ll be sorry to finish at Leys?”

“Dreadfully. I’ve had a wonderful time. However, summer holidays are a great consolation.”

“Innes told me some time ago that you were going to Norway together.”

“Yes, we were,” Beau said, “but we’re not any more.”

“Oh.”

“Innes has other plans.”

It was evident that this relationship was not what it had been.

“Well, I’d better go and see that the Juniors haven’t hogged all the best seats at the Diploma Do,” she said, and went.

But there was one relationship that showed satisfactory progress.

The Nut Tart knocked at her door and said that she had come to give dear Miss Pym a luck-piece. She came in, looked at the piled cases, and said with her customary frankness: “You are not a very good packer, are you? Neither am I. It is a pedestrian talent.”

Lucy, whose luck-pieces in the last few days had ranged from a Woolworth monkey-on-a-stick to a South African halfpenny, waited with some curiosity to see what The Nut Tart’s idea of the thing might be.

It was a blue bead.

“It was dug up in Central America a hundred years ago and it is almost as old as the world. It is very lucky.”

“But I can’t take that from you,” Lucy protested.

“Oh, I have a little bracelet of them. It was the bracelet that was dug up. But I have taken out one of the beads for you. There are five left and that is plenty. And I have a piece of news for you. I am not going back to Brazil.”

“No?”

“I am going to stay in England and marry Rick.”

Lucy said that she was delighted to hear it.

“We shall be married in London in October, and you will be there and you will come to the wedding, no?”

Yes, Lucy would come to the wedding with pleasure.

“I am so glad about it,” she said. She needed some contact with happiness after the last few days.

“Yes, it is all very satisfactory. We are cousins but not too near, and it is sensible to keep it in the family. I always thought I should like to marry an Englishman; and of course Rick is a parti. He is senior partner although he is so young. My parents are very pleased. And my grandmother, of course.”

“And I take it that you yourself are pleased?” Lucy said, a shade dashed by this matter-of-fact catalogue.

“Oh yes. Rick is the only person in the world except my grandmother who can make me do things I don’t want to do. That will be very good for me.”

She looked at Lucy’s doubtful face, and her great eyes sparkled.

“And of course I like him very much,” she said.

When the diplomas had been presented, Lucy had mid-morning coffee with the Staff and said goodbye to them. Since she was leaving in the middle of the morning no one was free to come to the station with her. Henrietta thanked her, with undoubted tears in her eyes this time, for the help she had been. (But not in her wildest imaginings would Henrietta guess how much the help amounted to.) Lucy was to consider Leys as her home any time she wanted to come and stay, or if she ever wanted a lecturer’s job again, or if — or if —

And Lucy had to hide the fact that Leys, where she had been so happy, was the one place in the world that she would never come back to. A place that she was going, if her conscience and the shade of Rouse would let her, to blot out of her mind.

The Staff went to their various duties and Lucy went back to her room to finish packing. She had not spoken to Innes since that so-incredible conversation on Saturday morning; had hardly seen her, indeed, except for the moment when she had taken her diploma from Miss Hodge’s hands.

Was Innes going to let her go without a word?

But when she came back to her room she found that word on her table. A written word. She opened the envelope and read

Dear Miss Pym,

Here it is in writing. For the rest of my life I shall atone for the thing I can’t undo. I pay forfeit gladly. My life for hers.

I am sorry that this has spoiled Leys for you. And I hope that you will not be unhappy about what you have done for me. I promise to make it worth while.

Perhaps, ten years from today, you will come to the West Country and see what I have done with my life. That would give me a date to look forward to. A landmark in a world without them.

Meanwhile, and always, my gratitude — my unspeakable gratitude.

Mary Innes.

“What time did you order the taxi for?” Beau asked, coming in on top of her knock.

“Half-past eleven.”

“It’s practically that now. Have you everything in that is going in? Hot water bottle? You hadn’t one. Umbrella down-stairs? You don’t possess one. What do you do? Wait in doorways till it’s over, or steal the nearest one? I had an aunt who always bought the cheapest she could find and discarded it in the nearest waste-paper-bin when the rain stopped. More money than sense, as my nanny used to say. Well, now. Is that all? Consider well, because once we get those cases shut we’ll never get them open again. Nothing left in the drawers? People always leave things stuck at the back of drawers.” She opened the small drawers of the table and ran her hands into the back of them. “Half the divorces in the Western Hemisphere start through the subsequent revelations.”

She withdrew her right hand, and Lucy saw that she was holding the little silver rosette; left lying at the back of the drawer because Lucy had not been able to make up her mind what to do with it.

Beau turned it over in her fingers.

“That looks like the little button thing off my shoe,” she said.

Your shoe?”

“Yes. Those black pump things that one wore at dancing class. I hung on to them because they are so lovely when one’s feet are tired. Like gloves. I can still wear the shoes I wore when I was fourteen. I always had enormous feet for my age, and believe me it was no consolation to be told that you were going to be tall.” Her attention went back to the thing she was holding. “So this is where I lost it,” she said. “You know, I wondered quite a lot about that.” She dropped it into her pocket. “You’ll have to sit on this case, I’m afraid. You sit on it and I’ll wrestle with the locks.”

Automatically Lucy sat on it.

She wondered why she had never noticed before how cold those blue eyes were. Brilliant and cold and shallow.

The bright hair fell over her lap as Beau wrestled with the locks. The locks would do what she wanted, of course. Everything and everyone, always, since the day she was born, had done what she wanted. If they hadn’t, she took steps to see that they did. At the age of four, Lucy remembered, she had defeated a whole adult world because her will to have things her way was greater than all the wills combined against her.

She had never known frustration.

She could not visualise the possibility of frustration.

If her friend had the obvious right to Arlinghurst, then to Arlinghurst she should go.

“There! That’s done it. Stand by to sit on the other if I can’t manage it. I see Giddy’s given you one of his loathsome little plants. What a bore for you. Perhaps you can exchange it for a bowl at the back door one day.”

How soon, Lucy wondered, had Innes begun to suspect? Almost at once? Certainly before the afternoon, when she had turned green on the spot where it had happened.

But she had not been sure until she saw the silver rosette on Lucy’s palm, and learned where it had been found.

Poor Innes. Poor Innes, who was paying forfeit.

Tax-i!” yelled a voice along the corridor.

“There’s your cab. I’ll take your things. No, they’re quite light; you forget the training I’ve had. I wish you weren’t going, Miss Pym. We shall miss you so much.”

Lucy heard herself saying the obvious things. She even heard herself promising Beau that she might come to them for Christmas, when Beau would be home for her first “working” holidays.

Beau put her into the cab, took a tender farewell of her, and said: “The station” to the driver, and the taxi slid into motion and Beau’s face smiled a moment beyond the window, and was gone.

The driver pushed back the glass panel and asked: “London train, lady?” Yes, Lucy said, to London.

And in London she would stay. In London was her own, safe, nice, calm, collected existence, and in future she would be content with it. She would even give up lecturing on psychology.

What did she know about psychology anyhow?

As a psychologist she was a first-rate teacher of French.

She could write a book about character as betrayed by facial characteristics. At least she had been right about that. Mostly.

Eyebrows that sent people to the stake.

Yes, she would write a book about face-reading.

Under another name, of course. Face-reading was not well seen among the intelligentsia.

This web edition published by:

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