War in Heaven, by Charles Williams

Chapter Fourteen

The Bible of Mrs. Hippy

As the inspector was carried back to London in the first available train, he found himself slipping from side to side on the smooth ice of his uncertain mind. Impartially he considered that this sudden return was likely to be as futile as any other attempt he had made at solving the problem of the murder. But, on the other hand, there could not be many rather undersized men in the neighbourhood of London who within the last two months had been intimately connected with Wesleyan Methodism and with death. When Mr. Batesby had spoken that morning it had seemed as if two streams of things — actual events and his own meditations — had flowed gently together; as if not he, but Life were solving the problem in the natural process of the world. He reminded himself now that such a simplicity was unlikely; explanations did not lucidly arise from mere accidents and present themselves as all but an ordered whole. He dimly remembered Mrs. Hippy, the occupant of the house next but two to his own; he remembered that she was an acquaintance of his wife, who had gone with her to certain bazaars, sales of work, and even church services. If she had had a lodger who had disappeared, why hadn’t his wife mentioned it before? It was such a failure on the part of his intimates that the inspector always expected, he told himself, and always found.

His wife was staying with her mother, so the inspector lunched near King’s Cross, and then went on to 227 Thobblehurst Road. Mrs. Hippy came to the door, and appeared delighted to see him. “Why, come in, inspector,” she said. “I thought Mrs. Colquhoun said you were going away.”

“So I did,” the inspector said, following her to the drawing-room, as it was solemnly called, which looked on to the street. “But I had some inquiries to make which brought me back.”

“Really?” Mrs. Hippy said, rather absently. “Inspector, can you think of a fish in two syllables?”

“A fish?” the inspector said vaguely. “Walrus? salmon? mackerel? No, that’s three.”

“It might count as two perhaps,” Mrs. Hippy answered. “Why did the porpoise? Because it saw the mack-reel.”

“Eh?” the inspector said. “What’s the idea exactly?”

Mrs. Hippy, plunging at a number of papers on the chesterfield, produced an effort in bright green and gold, entitled in red Puzzles and Riddles: a Magazine for All. “They’re offering a prize,” she said, “for the best ten questions and answers of that sort. They say it’s one of the best ways, but rather out of date. But I think they’re splendid. Look, I’ve done four. Why does the shoe-lace?”

She paused, got no answer, and said delightedly, “Because the button-holes. The next —”

“Good! Splendid!” the inspector cried. “Splendid, Mrs. Hippy. I suppose they’ll print them all if you win. And you’re sure to. You’d be good at cross-word puzzles. But I won’t disturb you long. I only came to ask if you could tell me anything about a fellow named Pattison you had stopping here,”

“Mr. Pattison?” Mrs. Hippy said, opening her eyes. “Why, do you want to arrest him? I don’t know where he is; he left me a month ago.”

“Where did he go to? Can you tell me that?” Colquhoun asked.

“Canada,” Mrs. Hippy answered. “At least, he said he was going to. But he was a funny creature altogether. Not sociable, if you understand. Dull, heavy, so to speak. I lent him all the old numbers of this”— she waved Puzzles and Riddles, “but he didn’t work out a single one, though I told him the easiest. And he spoilt my Bible, scribbling all over it. My mother’s Bible too — not the one I take to church. But there, it always seems to be like that when you try and help. People don’t deserve it, and that’s a fact.”

“Perhaps you won’t mind helping me, all the same,” the inspector said. “Could I see the Bible? And did you know that he was going to Canada?”

“Not to say know,” Mrs. Hippy said, looking longingly at the competition. “He said he was going; and one morning he wished me good-bye and said he’d send me a postcard. But he never has done.”

Further interrogation made it clear that her knowledge was of the slightest. She sometimes let two rooms, furnished, to a single gentleman, and the late Mr. Pattison, arriving at Victoria one day and seeing the card in her window, had taken them, with solemn assurances of respectability and a month’s rent in advance. He had seemed to be rather worried, though what about Mrs. Hippy had never understood. He had come to the Wesleyan Church she herself attended several times, but it had not seemed to calm his distress. He had borrowed a Bible from her, and had scribbled everywhere in it. Finally he had told her that he would be leaving for Canada shortly, and had departed one morning, carrying a suitcase and bidding her a final farewell.

As the rooms had been thoroughly “done out” and were now empty, awaiting the arrival of Mrs. Hippy’s married sister, the inspector went through them with care and without success. He then withdrew with the Bible to his own deserted house and gave himself up to its study.

The scribbling seemed entirely haphazard. It was everywhere — on the fly-leaves, in the margins, and here and there right across the pages themselves. It consisted largely of fragmentary prayers, ejaculations, and even texts. A phrase which occurred on the printed page would be rewritten and underscored in the margin; and this seemed to have been done especially with such phrases as record or assert the Mercy and Compassion of God. Sometimes this repetition would be varied by a wild “I believe, I believe” scrawled against averse, by an “He saves,” or a “God is love.” On the other hand, certain verses were marked by a line and a question mark. “Depart from me, ye cursed,” was heavily lined; so was “he that is filthy, let him be filthy still”; so was “I have delivered him over to Satan.” The sayings about the unpardonable sin were scratched heavily out; so was “He will have mercy on whom He will have mercy.” In the midst of these fantastic scrawls there appeared here and there a carefully written comment. Against “God shall be all in all” was written in a small, sedate hand: “Lies,” and against “reconciling the world to Himself” appeared, similarly, “Not true.”

The fly-leaves, the back of the New Testament half-title, and the spaces between the various books were occupied with longer jottings. The first of these seemed to be a kind of discussion. It was not easy to decipher, but it appeared to be a summing up of the promises of salvation and an argumentum ad hominem at the end. But the very end was the words, heavily printed: “I am damned.”

This sort of thing, whatever religious mania it suggested, was not of much use to the inspector. It brought him no nearer to discovery why the murdered man, if Mr. Pattison were he, had got himself murdered. Farther on, however, he found himself, at the end of Deuteronomy, confronted with the single word: “Gregory.” Nothing followed, but it raised his hopes wonderfully. Still, it was one thing to read “Gregory” and another to prove that Gregory had slain the writer. He went on turning the pages.

At the end of job there was a whole sentence. “He won’t let me go and Jesus won’t get me away.” This might be Gregory or it might, as the inspector suspected, be meant for the devil. Well, if Mr. Pattison and the devil were on those terms, all wasn’t lost yet.

Between two of the minor prophets was scrawled: “I saw her today; so she is out”; after which there was a blank, till, on the back, of the half-title of the “New Testament of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ,” there came this longer note:

“I will put it all down. I am James Montgomery Pattison. I am forty-six years old, and I know that the devil will kill me soon. I have done his will against my wishes too long and I cannot get away from him now. When I heard Mr. Macdermott preach I thought my heart was opened and the Lord had come to me and saved me, and I testified to my master, who was a worse sinner than I. But he has me too fast and I cannot escape. I have served him and the devil together for twenty-four years, since he caught me robbing him. I have done forgery and worse. I have stood by and seen him swear the woman I seduced into prison for soliciting him; and now I cannot get free. He is going to kill me; it is in his eyes and face.” There came an outburst of appeals to God and to Christ, and the record resumed. “He had Louise put into prison to torture me. It was him all through.” There was a blank space, and then, written in the steady, sedate hand, “I have gone back to him altogether, and he will kill me. This is what comes of God.”

On the very last page of the book, enclosed in a correct panel, with decorative curves flowing round it, was printed in clearly and precisely: “Mr. Gregory Persimmons, Cully, Mr. Fardles, Hertfordshire.”

The inspector shut the book and went into the kitchen to make himself tea.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/w/williams/charles/war-in-heaven/chapter14.html

Last updated Tuesday, March 4, 2014 at 12:30