A Shilling for Candles, by Josephine Tey

Chapter 26

Half an hour later Reynolds, the police surgeon, gave the screaming, raving thing that had been Lydia Keats a morphine injection so that they might remove her to the station in some sort of decency.

Grant and Williams, standing in the door, watching the disappearing ambulance, found no words.

“Well,” Grant said at length, pulling himself together, “I suppose I’d better get along and see Champneis.”

“The people that made the laws of this country ought to be shot,” Williams said with sudden venom.

Grant looked startled. “Capital punishment, you mean?”

“No! Closed hours.”

“Oh, I see. There’s a flask in my cupboard. You can help yourself.”

“Thank you, sir. Don’t take on, miss!” This to the sobbing maid in the background. “Things like that will happen.”

“She was a very kind mistress to me,” she said. “It hurts me to see her like that.”

“Take care of that coat, Williams,” Grant said as they went down the path to the car that had been sent for them, glad beyond speech to leave the house behind.

“Tell me, sir, how did you find out it was that woman of all people?”

Grant produced the pages he had torn from the magazine.

“I found that in a magazine in the barbershop at the Marine. You can read it for yourself.”

It was an article written by some Midwest sob sister, who had been in New York for a vacation. New York was full of film stars who had either run out on their studies or were on their way back to them, and in New York also was Miss Lydia Keats. And the thing that most impressed the sob sister was not shaking hands with Grace Marvel, but the success of Miss Keats’s prophecies. She had made three startling ones. She had prophesied that within three months Lyn Drake would have a serious accident; and everyone knew that Lyn Drake was still on his back. She had said that Millard Robinson would within a month lose a fortune by fire; and everyone knew how the reels of the new million-dollar film had been burned to a cinder. And her third statement prophesied the death by drowning of a woman star of the first magnitude, whose name, of course, she gave, but the sob sister equally of course could not reveal. “If this third prophecy, so circumstantial, so unequivocal, comes true, then Miss Keats is established as the possessor of one of the most uncanny talents in the world. All humanity will be besieging her. But don’t go swimming with Miss Keats, little blonde star! The temptation might be too much for her!”

“Well, I’ll be damned,” said Williams, and was silent until Grant dropped him at the Yard.

“Tell the Superintendent I’ll be in as soon as I’ve seen Lord Edward,” Grant said, and was driven on to Regent’s Park.

In an atmosphere of marble mantelpieces and sheepskin rugs he waited half an hour before Champneis arrived.

“How are you, Inspector? I hear from Binns that you’ve been waiting. Sorry to subject you to the furnishings longer than is vitally necessary. I hope you drink tea? But if you don’t there are what my uncle called ‘cordials.’ A much nicer word than ‘drinks,’ don’t you think? Have you news?”

“Yes, sir. I’m sorry to break in with it when you’re just after a journey.”

“It can’t be worse than the drawing-room lecture of my great-aunt’s yesterday. I only went for the old lady’s sake, but I found that she thought I should have canceled it. It would have been more ‘fitting.’ So tell me the bad news.”

Grant told him what had happened, and he listened gravely, the unusual defensive flippancy gone.

“Is she insane?” he asked, when Grant had finished.

“Yes. Reynolds thinks so. It may be hysteria, but he thinks it’s insanity. Delusions of greatness, you know.”

“Poor wretch. But how did she know where my wife was?”

“Owen Hughes told her in a letter from Hollywood. He forgot that it was a secret that she had taken his cottage. He even mentioned the early-morning swimming.”

“So simple. I see . . . Was she very expert with a motorboat, then?”

“She had been practically brought up on one, it seems. Used the river constantly. No one would have thought of questioning her comings and goings. She may have made that night journey down the river more than once before the opportunity she was looking for turned up. Curious, but one never thinks of the river as a high road to anywhere. We had considered the possibility of a motorboat, naturally, but not a motorboat from London. Not that it would have helped us very much if it had. The man’s coat she wore was very misleading. Lots of women wear men’s oilskins yachting; but I don’t think it would have occurred to me.”

There was a short silence.

Each man watched in his mind that boat’s journey down the misty river, out to the many-lighted estuary, and along the many-lighted coast. One little town after another, from flaring dockyard lights among the flats to twinkling villa lights among the cliffs, must have lit that progress. But later, there must have been darkness; complete darkness and silence, as the summer fog pressed down on the water. What had her thoughts been, in that time of waiting? Alone, with time to reflect. And with no stars to remind her of her greatness. Or was her madness even then so sure that she had no doubts?

And afterwards — each man watched that, too. The surprise. The friendly greeting. Chris’s green cap bobbing alongside the gray hull — the cap that had never been found. The woman leaning over to talk to her. And then —

Grant remembered those broken nails on Christine’s hands. It had not been so easy, then.

“That finishes the case, sir, but it was really something else that brought me to see you. Another case altogether.”

“Yes? Here’s tea. You needn’t wait, Binns. Sugar, Inspector?”

“I want to know where you took Rimnik.”

Champneis paused with the sugar poised. He looked both surprised and amused and — somehow — admiring.

“He is with friends of Harmer’s, near Tunbridge Wells.”

“May I have the exact address?”

Champneis gave it, and also gave Grant his tea. “Why do you want Rimnik?”

“Because he is in this country without a passport — thanks to you!”

“He was. The office issued him a landing permit this morning. It took a lot of eloquence — Britain the lover of justice, the defender of the persecuted, the home of the righteous homeless: all that stuff — but it worked. Chests still swell in Whitehall, do you know? They were like a collection of pouter pigeons when I finished.”

He looked at the Inspector’s disapproving face. “I didn’t know that that little business had been a worry to you.”

“Worry!” Grant burst out. “It nearly ruined everything. You and Harmer both lying about what you had done that night —” He found that he was treading on delicate ground and pulled himself up.

But Champneis had understood. “I really am sorry, Inspector. Are you going to arrest me? Can one be arrested retrospectively, so to speak?”

“I don’t think so. I shall have to inquire about it. It would give me great pleasure.” Grant had recovered his temper.

“All right. Let’s postpone the arrest. But tell me how you found out? I thought we’d been so clever.”

“I might never have found out if it hadn’t been for a good bit of work by a young officer — Rimell — at Dover.”

“I must meet Rimell.”

“He found that you and Harmer had met that night and had been worried about the Customs.”

“Yes. Rimnik was in a cupboard in my cabin. It was an exciting half hour. But the Customs and Harbor Masters are only human.”

This Grant took to mean that they knocked off the Champneis pegs and lacked the nerve to knock on the bulkheads. “It was then I began to feel that if I could remember something you had said just before — you misled me about the time of your arrival in Dover, I would have the key to everything. And I remembered it! You said that Galeria’s only hope was Rimnik, and that Rimnik would turn up again when his party was ready. But the big stumbling block was in seeing the connection between you and Harmer. It was so simple and so obvious I couldn’t find it. You liked and admired one another immediately when your wife introduced you. I must say he did a beautiful job of throwing dust in my eyes, putting on that resentful, underprivileged classes act. I should have thought more about my recognition of your —”

“My what?”

“Unorthodoxy.” Both men smiled. “Once I groped my way through that difficulty, the rest was easy. The Special Branch knew all about Rimnik’s disappearance, his being refused a passport, and Britain’s refusal to have him here. They even knew that he was supposed to be in England, but had no confirmation of it. So the motorboat came ashore a second time?”

“That night, you mean? Yes. Harmer drove us over to his friend’s place. He has guts; he was scared stiff, I think, but he went through with it. I see Tisdall has turned up,” he said as Grant rose to go. “That must be an enormous relief to you. Is he ill?”

“No. He has a chill, and he’s overwrought, of course. But I hope he’s going to be all right.”

“In the midday edition I bought at York, I read a harrowing description of his sufferings. Knowing the Press, I believed with confidence that not a word of it was true.”

“Not a word. That was just Jammy Hopkins.”

“Who is Jammy Hopkins?”

“Who is —” Words failed the Inspector. He looked enviously at Champneis. “Now I know,” he said, “why men go out into the waste places of the earth!”

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