Her Murderer


Mary Cholmondeley

First published in The Romance of His Life: and other romances, John Murray, 1921.

This web edition published by eBooks@Adelaide.

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Her Murderer

“The truth is, I shall have to murder her!” said Mark gloomily. “I see no way out of it.”

“I could not be really happy with a husband whose hands were red with gore,” I remarked. “I’m super-sensitive, I know. I can’t help it. I was made so. If you murder her, I warn you I shall throw you over. And where would you be then?”

“Exactly where I am now, as far as marrying you is concerned. You may throw me over as much as you like. I shan’t turn a hair.”

He had not many hairs left to turn, and perhaps he remembered that fact, and that I held nothing sacred, for he hurried on in an aggrieved tone:

“You never give me credit for any imagination. I’m not going to spill her blood. I’m much too tidy. I’ve thought it all out. I shall take you and her on a picnic to the New Forest, and trot you both about till you’re nearly famished. And then for luncheon I shall produce a tin of potted lobster. I shall choose it very carefully with a bulging tin. Potted lobster is deadly when the tin bulges. And as the luncheon will be at my expense, she will eat more than usual. She will ‘partake heartily,’ as the newspapers will say afterwards; at least, as I hope they will have occasion to say. And then directly the meal is over the lobster will begin to do its duty, and swell inside her, and she’ll begin struggling among the picnic things. I shan’t be there. I shall have gone for a little stroll. You will support her in her last moments. I don’t mind helping with the funeral. I’d do that willingly.”

I laughed, but I was near to tears.

“How long have we been engaged?” asked Mark.

“Twelve years. You know that as well as I do.”

“Well, as far as I can see, we shall be still affianced in twenty years’ time. Aunt Pussy will see us all out.”

“We may toddle to the altar yet,” I said hysterically, “when you are about eighty and I am seventy. And I shall give you a bath-chair, and you will present the bridesmaids, who must not be a day younger than myself, with rubber hot-water bottles. Rubber will be cheap again by then.”

He came back, and sat down by me.

“It’s damnable!” he said.

“It is,” I replied.

“And it isn’t as if the little ass couldn’t afford it!” he broke out, after a moment. “She can’t have less than thirty thousand a year, and she lives on one. And it will all come to you when she dies. And it’s rolling up, and rolling up, and the years pass and pass. Our case is desperate. Janet, can’t you say something to her? Can’t you make a great appeal to her? Can’t you get hold of someone who has an influence over her, and appeal to them?”

I did not think it necessary to answer. He knew I had tried everything years ago.

It had been thought a wonderful thing for me when Aunt Pussy, my godmother, adopted me when I was fourteen. We were a large family, and I was the only delicate one, not fitted, so my parents thought, to “fend for myself” in this rough world. And I had always liked Aunt Pussy, and she me. And she promised my father, on his impecunious death-bed, that she would take charge of me and educate me. She further gratuitously and solemnly promised that she would leave me all her money. Her all was not much, a few hundreds a year. But that was a great deal to people like ourselves. She was our one rich relation, and it was felt that I was provided for, which eventually caused an estrangement between me and my brothers and sisters, who had to work for their living; while I always had pretty clothes and a little—a very little—pocket-money, and did nothing in the way of work except arrange flowers, and write a few notes, and comb out Aunt Pussy’s Flossy, being careful to keep the parting even down the middle of his back.

My sisters became workers, and they also became ardent Suffragists, which would have shocked my father dreadfully if he had been alive, for he was of opinion that woman’s proper sphere is the home, though, of course, if you have not got a home or any money it seems rather difficult for women to remain in their sphere.

I, being provided for, remained perfectly womanly, of the type that the Anti–Suffrage League, and the sterner sex especially, admire. I took care of my appearance, I dressed charmingly on the very small allowance which Aunt Pussy doled out to me, I was an adept at all the little details which make a home pleasant, I never wanted to do anything except to marry Mark.

For across the even tenor of our lives, in a little villa in Kensington, as even as the parting down Flossie’s back, presently came two great events. Aunt Pussy inherited an enormous fortune, and the following year, I being then twenty, fell in love with Mark and accepted him. I can’t tell you whether he, poor dear, was quite disinterested at first. It was, of course, known that I should inherit all my aunt’s money. He was rather above me in the social scale. I have sometimes thought that his old painted, gambling Jezebel of a mother prodded him in my direction.

But if he was not disinterested at first, he became so. We were two perfectly ordinary young people. But we were meant for each other, and we both knew it.

We never for a moment thought there would be any real difficulty in the way of our marriage. Aunt Pussy was, of course, exasperatingly niggardly, but she was now very wealthy, and she approved of Mark, partly because he was not without means. He was an only child with a little of his own, and with expectations from his mother. He had had a sunstroke in Uganda, which had forced him to give up his profession, but he was independent of it. Aunt Pussy, however, though she was most kind and sentimental about us, could not at first be induced to say anything definite about money.

When, after a few months, I began to grow pale and thin, she went so far as to say that she would give me an allowance equal to his income. I fancy even that concession cost her nights of agony. If he could make up five hundred a year she would make up the same.

Was this the moment, I ask you, for his wicked old mother to gamble herself into disgrace and bankruptcy? My poor Mark came, swearing horribly, to her assistance. But when he had done so, and had given her a pittance to live on, there was nothing left for himself.

Even then neither of us thought it mattered much. Aunt Pussy would surely come round. But we had not reckoned on the effect that a large fortune can make on a miserly temperament. She clutched at the fact that Mark was penniless as a reason to withdraw her previous promise. She would not part with a penny. She did not want to part with me. She put us off with one pretext after another. After several years of irritation and anger and exasperation, we discovered what we ought to have known from the first, that nothing would induce her to give up anything in her life-time, though she was much too religious to break her promise to my father. She intended to leave me everything. But she was not going to part with sixpence as long as she could hold on to it.

We tried to move her, but she was not to be moved. On looking back I see now that she was more eccentric than we realised at the time. In the course of twelve years Mark and I went through all the vicissitudes that two commonplace people deeply in love do go through if they can’t marry.

We became desperate. We decided to part. We urged each other to marry someone else. We conjured each other to feel perfectly free. We doubted each other. He swore. I wept. He tried to leave me and he couldn’t. I did not try. I knew it was no use. We each had opportunities of marrying advantageously if we could only have disentangled ourselves from each other. I learned what jealousy can be of a woman, younger and better looking, and sweeter-tempered and with thicker hair than myself.

He asseverated with fury that he was never jealous of me. If that was so, his outrageous behaviour to his own cousin, a rich and blameless widower in search of a wife, was inexplicable. And now, after twelve years, we had reached a point where we could only laugh. There was nothing else to be done. He was growing stout, and I was growing lean. If only middle-aged men could grow thin, and poor middle-aged women a little plump, life would be easier for them. But we reversed it. Aunt Pussy alone seemed untouched by time. Even Mark’s optimistic eye could never detect any sign of “breaking up” about her.

And throughout those dreary years we had one supreme consolation, and a very painful consolation it was. We loved each other.

“It’s damnable!” said Mark again. “Well, if I’m not to murder her, if you’re going to thwart me in every little wish just as if we were married already, I don’t see what there is to be done. I’ve inquired about a post obit.”

“Oh, Mark!”

“It’s no use saying ‘Oh, Mark’! I tell you I’ve inquired about a post obit, and if you had a grain of affection for me you would have done the same yourself years ago. But it seems you can’t raise money on a promise which may be broken. As I said before, there is no way out of it except by bloodshed. I shall have to murder her, and then you can marry me or not as you like. You will like, safe enough, if I am handy with the remains.”

The door opened, and Aunt Pussy hurried in. She was always in a hurry. We did not start away from each other, but remained stolidly seated side by side on the horsehair dining-room sofa with anger in our hearts against her. She had never given me a sitting-room. I always had to interview Mark in the dining-room with a plate of oranges on the sideboard, like a heroine in “The Quiver.”

Aunt Pussy was a small, dried-up woman of between fifty and sixty, with a furtive eye and a perpetually moving mouth, who looked as if she had been pinched out of shape by someone with a false sense of humour and no reverence. She was dressed in every shade of old black—rusty black, green black, brown black, spotted black, figured black, plain black. Mark got up slowly, and held out his hand.

“How do you do, Mark?” she said nervously. “I will own I’m somewhat surprised to see you here,” ignoring his hand, and taking some figs out of a string bag, and placing them on an empty plate (the one that ought to have had oranges in it) on the sideboard. “I have brought you some figs, Janet; you said you liked them. I thought it was agreed that until Mark had some reasonable prospect of being able to support a wife his visits here had better cease.”

“I never agreed,” said Mark, “I was always for their continuing. I’ve been against a long engagement from the first.”

“Well, in any case, you must have a cup of tea now you are here,” continued Aunt Pussy, taking off her worn gloves, which I had mended for her till the fingers were mere stumps. “Ring the bell, Janet. We will have tea in here as there isn’t a fire in the drawing-room.”

She put down more parcels on the table, and then her face changed.

“My bag!” she gasped, and collapsed into a chair like one felled by emotion. “My bag!”

We looked everywhere. Mark explored the hall and the umbrella-stand. No handbag was to be seen.

“I knew something would happen if the month began with a Friday!” moaned Aunt Pussy.

“Had it a great deal in it?” I asked.

“Twenty pounds!” said Aunt Pussy, as if it were the savings of a lifetime. “I had drawn twenty pounds to pay the monthly books.” And she became the colour of lead.

I flew for her salts, and made tea quickly, and presently she recovered sufficiently to drink it. But her hand shook.

“Twenty pounds!” she repeated, below her breath.

We questioned her as to where she last remembered using the bag, and at length elicited the information that she had no recollection of its society after visiting Brown and Prodgers, the great shop in Baskaville Road, where she recalled eating a meat lozenge, drawn from its recesses. Mark offered to go round there at once, and see if it had been found.

“I’ve never lost anything before,” she said when he had gone, “but I felt this morning that some misfortune was going to happen. There was a black cat on the leads when I looked out. As sure as fate, if I see a black cat something goes wrong. Last time I saw one, two of my handkerchiefs were missing from the wash.”

As Aunt Pussy bought her handkerchiefs in the sales for less than sixpence each, I felt that the black cat made himself rather cheap.

Mark returned with the cheering news that a bag had been found at Brown and Prodgers, and one of the principal shopwalkers had taken charge of it. And if Aunt Pussy would call in person tomorrow, and accurately describe its contents, it would be returned to her.

Aunt Pussy was so much relieved that she actually smiled on him, and offered him a second cup of tea. But next morning at breakfast I saw at once that something was gravely amiss.

Had she slept?

Yes.

Had she seen the black cat?

No.

“The truth is, Janet,” she said, “I have had a most terrible dream. I feel sure it was a warning, and I really don’t know whether I ought to call for it or not.”

“Call for what?”

“The bag.”

“Was the dream about the bag?”

“What else could it be about? I took one of my little bromides last night, for I knew I had not a chance of sleep after the agitation of the day. And I fell asleep at once. And I dreamed that it was morning, and I was in my outdoor things going to Brown and Prodgers for the bag. And the black cat walked all the way before me with its tail up. But it did not come in. And when I got there I told a shopwalker who was standing near the door what I had come about. He was a tall, dark man with a sort of down look. He bowed and said, ‘Follow me, madam.’ And I followed him. And we went through the—ahem! the gentlemen’s underclothing, which I make a point of never going through, I always go round by the artificial flowers, until we came to a glass door near the lift. And he unlocked the door and I went in, and there on the table lay my bag. I was so delighted I ran to take it. But he stopped me, and I saw then what an evil-looking man he was. And he said, ‘Look well at this bag, madam. Do you recognise it as yours?’ And I looked and I said I did. There was the place where you had mended the handle.

“Then he took it up, and put it in my hand, and said, ‘Look well at the contents, madam, and verify that they are all there.’

“So I looked at them, and they were all there, the tradesmen’s books and everything. And I counted the money and it came right. The only thing I could not be sure about was the number of the meat lozenges. I thought one might have been stolen.

“Then when I had finished he said, ‘Look well at me, madam, for I am your murderer.’ And I was so terrified that I dropped the bag and woke with a scream. Now, Janet, don’t you think it would be flying in the face of Providence to go there this morning? Dreams like that are not sent for nothing.”

“Well, perhaps it would be better not,” I said maliciously, for I knew very well that Aunt Pussy would risk any form of death rather than lose twenty pounds.

“I thought perhaps you would not mind getting it for me. The danger would not be the same for you.”

“I should not mind in the least, but they will only give it up to you.”

Aunt Pussy’s superstition struggled with her miserliness throughout her frugal breakfast. Need I say her miserliness won. Had it ever sustained one defeat in all her life! But she remained agitated and nervous to an extreme degree. I offered to go with her, but she felt that was not protection enough. So I telephoned to Mark, and presently he arrived and Aunt Pussy solemnly recapitulated her dream, and we all three set out together, she walking a little ahead, evidently on the look-out for the black cat.

Mark whispered to me that the portent about the black cat was being verified for us, not her, and that the shopwalker was evidently a very decent fellow, and that if he did his duty by us he should certainly ask him to be best man at our wedding. He had not made up his mind how deep his mourning ought to be for a murdered aunt-in-law, and was, to use his own expression, still poised like a humming-bird between a grey silk tie and a black one with a white spot, when we reached the shop.

It was early, and there were very few customers about. A tall dark man was walking up and down. Aunt Pussy instantly clutched my arm, and whispered, “It’s him!”

He saw us looking at him, and came up to us, a melancholy downcast, unprepossessing-looking man. As Aunt Pussy could only stare at him, Mark, who had spoken to him the day before, told him the lady had come to identify the bag lost on the previous afternoon. The man bowed to Aunt Pussy, and said, “Follow me, madam,” and we followed him through several departments.

“Gentlemen’s outfitting!” hissed Aunt Pussy suddenly in my ear, pointing with a trembling finger at a line of striped and tasselled pyjamas which she had avoided for many years.

Presently we came to a glass door, and the man took a key from his pocket, opened the door, and ushered us in. And there on a small table lay a bag—the bag—Aunt Pussy’s bag, with the mended handle. She groaned.

The man fixed his eyes on her and said:

“Look well at this bag, madam. Do you recognise it as yours?”

“I do,” said Aunt Pussy, as inaudibly as a bride at the altar.

He then asked her what the contents were, and she described them categorically. He then took up the bag, put it into her hand, and said, “Look well at the contents, madam, and verify that they are all there.”

They were all there. As Aunt Pussy was too paralysed to utter another word I said so for her.

There was a long pause. The man looked searchingly from one to the other of us, and sighed. If he expected a tip he was disappointed. After a moment he moved towards Aunt Pussy to open the door behind her. As he did so she gave a faint scream, and subsided on the floor in a swoon.

When we had resuscitated and conveyed her home, and Mark had gone, she said in a hollow voice:

“Wasn’t it enough to make anybody faint?”

I said cheerfully that I did not see any cause for alarm; that the man no doubt always used exactly the same formula whenever lost property had to be identified.

“But why should he have said just at the last moment, ‘Look well at me, madam, I am your murderer?’”

“Dear Aunt Pussy, of course he never said any such thing!”

“He did! I heard him! That was why I fainted.”

It was in vain I assured her that she was mistaken. She only became hysterical and said I was deceiving her; that she saw I had heard it, too. She had been eccentric before, but from this time onwards she became even more so. She would not deal at Brown and Prodgers any more. She would not even pass the shop. She became more penurious than ever.

We could hardly persuade servants to stay with us so rigid was she about the dripping. It was all I could do to obtain the necessary money for our economical housekeeping. As the lease of our house was drawing to a close, she decided to move into a flat, thinking it might be cheaper. But when it was all arranged and the lease signed, she refused to go in, because the man who met us there with a selection of wallpapers was, she averred, the same man whom she always spoke of as her murderer.

And I believe she was right. I thought I recognised him myself. I asked him if he had not formerly been at Brown and Prodgers, and he replied that he had; but was now employed by Whisk and Blake. After this encounter nothing would induce Aunt Pussy to enter her new home. She had to pay heavily for her changeableness, but she only wrung her hands and paid up. The poor little woman had a hunted look. She evidently thought she had had a great escape.

Mark, who did not grow more rational with increasing years, said that this was obviously the psychological moment for us to marry, and drew a vivid picture of the group at the altar—the blushing bridegroom and determined bride, and how when Aunt Pussy saw her murderer step forward as the best man, with a gardenia in his buttonhole, she would die of shock on the spot. And after handsomely remunerating our benefactor, he and I should whisk away in a superb motor, with a gross of shilling cigars on an expensive honeymoon.

Six months passed, and there was no talk of any honeymoons. And then the lease of our house came to an end, and Aunt Pussy, having refused to allow any other house or flat to be taken, she was forced to warehouse her furniture, and we had recourse to the miseries of hotel life. Needless to say, we did not go to a quiet residential hotel, but to one of those monster buildings glued on to a railway station, where the inmates come and go every day.

Strangely enough, the galvanised activity of hotel existence pleased Aunt Pussy. She called it “seeing life.” She even made timid advances to other old ladies, knitting and dozing in the airless seclusion of the ladies’ drawing-room, for, of course, we had no sitting-room. I saw plainly enough that we should live in those two small adjoining bedrooms under the roof, looking into a tiled air-shaft, for the remainder of Aunt Pussy’s life.

Three months we lived there, and then at the cheapest time in the year, when the hotel was half empty and the heat of our rooms appalling, she consented to move for a short time into the two rooms exactly below ours, which looked on the comparatively balmy open of the August thoroughfare, and had a balcony.

I had realised by this time that Aunt Pussy was no longer responsible for her long cruelty to Mark and me, and my old affection for her revived somewhat with her pathetic dependence on me. She could hardly bear me out of her sight.

A certain Mrs. Curtis, a benevolent old Australian widow, living in rooms next ours on this lower floor, showed us great kindness. She grasped at once what Aunt Pussy was, and she would sit with her by the hour, enabling me to go out in the air. She took me for drives. She soon discovered there was a Mark in the background, and often asked us to dine at her table, and invited him too.

She was said to be enormously wealthy, and she certainly wore a few wonderful jewels, but she was always shabbily dressed. Aunt Pussy became very fond of her, and must have been a great trial to her, running in and out of her rooms at all hours. She gave us tea in her sitting-room next door to us, and this gave Aunt Pussy special satisfaction, as we, having no sitting-room, could not possibly, as she constantly averred, return the civility.

Towards the end of September the hotel began to fill again, and the prices of the lower rooms were raised. So we moved back to our old quarters, and Mrs. Curtis, who had a noisy bedroom, took for herself and her son the two we had vacated. Her son was expected, and I have never forgotten her face of joy when she received a telegram from him during dinner saying he had reached Calais, and should arrive next morning.

We were dining early, for the kind old woman was taking Mark and me to the play. The play was delightful, and he and I, sitting together laughing at it, forgot our troubles, forgot that our youth was irretrievably gone, and that we were no nearer happiness than we had been thirteen years before. Our little friend in her weird black gown, with her thin fingers covered with large diamonds clutching an opera glass, looked at us with pained benevolence.

Mark saw us back to the door of our hotel, and after he was gone Mrs. Curtis took my arm as we mounted the steps and said gently:

“You and that nice absurd man must keep your courage up. I waited seventeen years for my husband, and when it was over it was only like a day.”

The night porter appeared at the lift door, and we got in. He stood with his back to me, and I did not look at him till he said: “What floor?” The servants knew us so well that I was surprised at the question, and glanced at him. It was Aunt Pussy’s murderer. I recognised him instantly, and I will own my first thought was one of self-congratulation.

“Now we shall leave this horrible place,” I thought. “She will never stay another day if he is here.”

But my second thought was for her. She might go clean out of her mind if she were suddenly confronted with him. What would it be best to do?

When he had put down Mrs. Curtis at Floor 7, and we were rumbling towards Floor 8, he volunteered, as we bumped with violence against the roof that he was new to the work. I asked him what hours he came on and went off at. He said, “Heleven p.hem. to hate hay-hem.” He did not recognise me—as, indeed, why should he?—but he looked more downcast and villainous than ever. It was evident that life had not gone well with him since he had been foreman at Brown and Prodgers.

“Lady’s son from Horsetralia just arrived,” he remarked conversationally, jerking his thumb towards the lower landing. “Took ’im up ‘arf an hour ago.”

I was surprised that Mr. Curtis should have already arrived, but in another moment I forgot all about it, for the first object that met my eyes as I opened my door was Aunt Pussy in a state of great agitation, sitting fully dressed on my bed. It seemed that after we had started for the play she had stood a moment in the hall looking after us, and she had seen her murderer pass, and not only had he passed, but he had exchanged a few words with the hall porter airing himself on the hotel steps.

“We must leave. We must leave tomorrow, Janet,” she repeated, in an agony of terror. “I know he’ll get in and kill me. That’s why he spoke to the porter. Let’s go and live at Margate. No, not Margate; it’s too public. But I saw a little house at Southwold once; tumbling down it was, with no road up to it. Such a horrid place! We might go and live there. No one would ever think I should go there. Promise me you will take me away from London tomorrow, Janet.”

I promised, I realised that we must go at once, and I calculated that if Aunt Pussy, who always breakfasted in her room, only left it at ten o’clock to enter a cab to take her to the station it was impossible she should run across the new night porter, who went off duty several hours earlier. She must never know that he was actually in the house.

I tried to calm her, but dawn was already in the sky, or rather reflected on the tiles of our air-shaft, before she fell asleep, and I could go to my room and try to do the same.

I did it so effectually that it was nearly ten o’clock before I went down to breakfast, leaving Aunt Pussy still slumbering.

While I drank my coffee I looked out the trains for Southwold, and noted down the name of a quiet hotel there, and then went to the manager’s office to give up our rooms. When I got there a tired, angry young man, with a little bag, was interviewing the manager, who was eyeing him doubtfully, while a few paces away the hall porter, all gold braid and hair-oil and turned-out feet, was watching the scene.

“Surely Mrs. Curtis told you she was expecting me, her son,” he was saying as I came up.

“Yes, sir,” said the manager, civil but suspicious. “No doubt, sir. Mrs. Curtis said as you were expected this morning, but, begging your pardon, you arrived last night, sir. Mr. Gregory Curtis arrived last night just after I retired for the evening.”

“Impossible,” said the young man, impatiently. “There is some mistake. Take me to Mrs. Curtis’s room at once.”

The manager hesitated.

“This certainly is Mr. Gregory Curtis,” I said, coming forward. “He is exactly like the photograph of her son which stands on Mrs. Curtis’s table, and which I have seen scores of times.”

The young man looked gratefully at me. And then, in a flash, as it were, we all took alarm.

“Then who did you take up to my mother’s rooms last night?” said her son. “And who took him up?”

“Not me, sir,” said the hall porter promptly. “I was off duty. Clarke, the new night porter, must have took him up.”

“Where is Clarke?” asked the manager, seizing down a key from a peg on the wall.

“Gone to bed, sir. Not been gone five minutes.”

“Bring him to me at once. And take this gentleman and me up in the lift first.”

“This lady also,” said Gregory, indicating me.

A horrible sense of guilt was stealing over me. Why hadn’t I waited to see the fragile little old woman safely into her rooms?

The manager and Gregory did not speak. I dared not look at them. The lift came to a standstill, and in a moment the manager was out of it, and fitting his master key into the lock of No. 10, almost knocking over a can of hot water on the mat. The door opened, and we all went in.

The room was dark, and as the manager went hastily forward to draw the curtain his foot struck against something and he drew back with an exclamation. I, who was nearest the door, turned on the electric light.

Mrs. Curtis was lying with outstretched arms on her face on the floor. Her widow’s cap had fallen off, revealing on the crown of the head a dark stain. Her small hands, waxen white, were spread out as if in mild deprecation. There were no rings on them. The despatch box on the dressing table had been broken open, and the jewel cases lay scattered on the floor.

After a moment of stupor, Gregory and I raised the little figure and laid it on the bed. It was obvious that there was nothing to be done. As we did so the door opened and the day porter dragged in the new lift man, holding him strongly by the arm.

They both looked at the dead woman on the bed. And then the lift man began to shake as with an ague, and his face became as ashen as hers.

“You saw her last alive,” said the manager, “and you took up the party to her room last night.”

The lift man was speechless. The drops stood on his forehead. He looked the image of guilt.

And as we stood staring at him Aunt Pussy ambled in in her dressing-gown, with her comb in her hand, having probably left something in the room she had only yesterday vacated.

Her eyes fell first on the dead body, and then on the lift man.

I expected her to scream or faint, but she did neither. She seemed frozen. Then she raised a steady comb and pointed it at the lift man.

“He is her murderer,” she said solemnly. “He meant to murder me. He told me so a year ago. He has followed me here to do it. But he did not know I had changed my rooms, and he has killed her instead.”

I don’t know what happened after that, for I was entirely taken up with Aunt Pussy. I put my hand over her mouth, and hustled her back to her rooms.

“He will be hanged now,” she said over and over again throughout that awful day. “He is certain to be hanged, and when he is really dead I shall feel safe. Then I shall take a house, and you shall have a motor, and anything you like, Janet. He’s in prison now, isn’t he?”

“Yes, poor creature. He is under arrest. A policeman has taken him away.”

“Safe in prison now, and hanged very soon. I shan’t be easy otherwise. And then I shall sleep peacefully in my bed.”

She was better than she had been for the last year. She ate and slept, and seemed to have taken a new lease of life. She was absolutely callous about Mrs. Curtis’s death, and suggested that half-a-guinea was quite enough to give for a wreath.

“If you’re thinking of the number of times she gave us tea,” she said, “it could not possibly, with tea as cheap as it is now—Harrod’s own only one and seven—come to more than eight and six.” And she opened her “Daily Mail” and pored over it. She had of late ceased to take in any paper, but now she took in the “Daily Mail” and the “Evening Standard,” and read the police news with avidity, looking for the trial of “her murderer.”

Mark and I went to the funeral, and he was very low all the way home. He was really distressed about Mrs. Curtis and Gregory, but of course he would not allow it, and accounted for his depression by saying that he had been attending the wrong funeral. He said he did not actually blame Clarke (the lift man), for he had shown good intentions, but the man was evidently a procrastinator and a bungler, who had deceived the confidence he (Mark) had reposed in him, and on whom no one could place reliance. Such men, he averred, were better hanged and out of the way.

When I got back to our rooms I found Aunt Pussy leaning back in her armchair near the window, with the “Evening Standard” spread out on her knee. A large heading caught my eye:

“Sensational Arrest of the
Murderer of Mrs. Curtis.”

“Release of Clarke.”

It had caught Aunt Pussy’s eye too. And her sheer terror had been too much for her. She would never be frightened any more. She had had her last shock. She was dead.


A month later Mark came to see me in the evening. We did not seem to have much to say to each other, perhaps because we were to be married next day. But I presently discovered that he was suffering from a suppressed communication.

“Out with it,” I said. “You’ve got a wife and five small children at Peckham. There is still time to counter-order the motor and the wedding and the shilling cigars and—me.”

He took no notice.

“I’ve seen Clarke,” he said. “Poor devil! They won’t have him back at the hotel, think he’s unlucky, a sort of Jonah. His face certainly isn’t his fortune, is it? And I hope you won’t mind, Janet, I—”

“You’ve asked him to be best man instead of Gregory?”

“Well, no, I haven’t. But I was sorry for him, and I gave him fifty pounds. Your money of course. I felt we owed him something for bringing us together. For you know, in a way, he really has, though he has been some time about it.”

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