A Shilling for Candles, by Josephine Tey

Chapter 17

So the candles weren’t the kind you go to bed with, Grant thought, as the car sped along the embankment that Monday afternoon en route for the Temple; they were the kind you put on altars. The Brother of God’s tabernacle had been none of your bare mission tents. It had been hung with purple and fine linen and furnished with a shrine of great magnificence. And what had been merely an expression of Herbert’s own love of the theatrical had in most cases (Kentucky was an exception) proved good business. A beauty-starved and theatrically-minded people had fallen hard — in hard cash.

Christine’s shilling was the measure of her contempt. Her return, perhaps, for all those occasions when Herbert’s Lord had seen fit to deny her the small things her soul needed.

In the green subaqueous light of Mr. Erskine’s small room beside the plane tree, Grant put his proposition to the lawyer. They wanted to bring Herbert Gotobed to the surface, and this was the way to do it. It was quite orthodox, so the lawyer needn’t mind doing it. Lord Edward had approved.

The lawyer hummed and hawed, not because he had any real objections but because it is a lawyer’s business to consider remote contingencies, and a straightforward agreement to anything would be wildly unprofessional. In the end he agreed that it might be done.

Grant said: “Very well, I leave it to you. In tomorrow’s papers, please,” and went out wondering why the legal mind delighted in manufacturing trouble when there was so much ready-made in the world. There was plenty in poor Grant’s mind at the moment. “Surrounded by trouble,” as the spaewives said when they told your cards: that’s what he was. Monday would soon be over and there was no sign that Robert Tisdall was in the world of men. The first low howl had come from the Clarion that morning, and by tomorrow the whole wolf pack would be on him. Where was Robert Tisdall? What were the police doing to find him? To do Grant justice the discomfort in his mind was less for the outcry that was imminent than for the welfare of Tisdall. He had genuinely believed for the last two days that Tisdall’s nonappearance was due to lack of knowledge on Tisdall’s part. It is not easy to see newspapers when one is on the run. But now doubt like a chill wind played through his thoughts. There was something wrong, Every newspaper poster in every village in England had read: TISDALL INNOCENT. HUNTED MAN INNOCENT. How could he have missed it? In every pub, railway carriage, bus, and house in the country the news had been the favorite subject of conversation. And yet Tisdall was silent. No one had seen him since Erica drove away from him last Wednesday. On Thursday night the whole of England had been swamped by the worst storm for years, and it had rained and blown for two days afterwards. Tisdall had picked up the food left by Erica on Thursday, but not afterwards. The food she left on Friday was still there, a sodden pulp, on Saturday. Grant knew that Erica had spent all that Saturday scouring the countryside; she had quartered the country with the efficiency and persistence of a game dog, every barn, every shelter of any description, being subjected to search. Her very sound theory was that shelter he must have had on Thursday night — no human being could have survived such a storm — and since he had been in that chalky lane on Thursday morning to pick up the food she left, then he could not have gone far afield.

But her efforts had come to nothing. Today an organized gang of amateur searchers had undertaken the work — the police had no men to spare — but so far no news had come. And in Grant’s mind was growing a slow fear that he tried with all his self-awareness to beat down. But it was like a moor fire. You whipped it to cinder only to see it run under the surface and break out ahead of you.

News from Dover was slow, too. The investigation was hampered beyond any but police patience by the necessity of (a) not offending the peerage, and (b) not frightening the bird: the first applying to a possibly innocent, the second to a possibly guilty. It was all very complicated. Watching Edward Champneis’s calm face — he had eyebrows which gave a peculiar expression of repose — while he discussed with him the trapping of Herbert, Grant had several times forcibly to restrain himself from saying: “Where were you on Wednesday night?” What would Champneis do? Look a little puzzled, think a moment, and then say: “The night I arrived in Dover? I spent it with the So-and-sos at Such-and-such.” And then realization of what the question entailed would dawn, and he would look incredulously at Grant, and Grant would feel the world’s prize fool. More! In Edward Champneis’s presence he felt that it was sheer insult to suggest that he might have been responsible for his wife’s death. Away from him, that picture of the man in the garden, watching the lighted house with the open windows, might swim up in his mind more often than he cared to admit. But in his presence, any such thought was fantastic. Until his men had accounted — or failed to account — for Champneis’s movements that night, any direct inquiry must be shelved.

All he knew so far was that Champneis had stayed in none of the obvious places. The hotels and the family friends had both been drawn blank. The radius was now being extended. At any moment news might come that my lord had slept in a blameless four-poster and the county’s best linen sheets, and Grant would be forced to admit that he had been mistaken when he imagined that Lord Edward was deliberately misleading him.

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