A Shilling for Candles, by Josephine Tey

Chapter 24

The kitchen of the Marine was in the roof; the latest discovery of architects being that smells go upward. It had set out to be an all-electric kitchen, that being also in the recent creed of architects. But it was not in the creed of Henri, chef of chefs. Henri was Provencal, and to cook by electricity, my God, it was a horror, but a horror! If God had meant us to cook by lightning, He would not have invented fire. So Henri had his stoves and his braziers. And so now, at three in the morning, a soft glow from the banked-up fires filled the enormous white room. Full of high lights, the room was: copper, silver, and enamel. (Not aluminum. Henri fainted at the mention of aluminum.) The door stood half open, and the fire made a quiet ticking now and then.

Presently the door moved. Was pushed a little further ajar. A man stood in the opening, apparently listening. He came in, silent as a shadow, and moved to the cutlery table. A knife gleamed in the dimness as he took it from the drawer. But he made no sound. From the table he moved to the wall where the keys hung on their little board, each on its appointed hook. Without fumbling he took the key he wanted. He hesitated as he was about to leave the room, and came back to the fire as if it fascinated him. His eyes in the light were bright and excited, his face shadowed.

By the hearth lay kindling wood for some morning fire. It had been spread on a newspaper to dry thoroughly. The man noticed it. He pushed the cut wood to one side and lifted the rest of the paper into the small square of firelight. For a moment he read, so still in that silent room that it might have been empty.

And suddenly all was changed. He leaped to his feet, ran to the electric button, and switched on the lights. Ran back to the paper and snatched it from its bed of sticks. He spread it on the table with shaking hands, patting it and smoothing it as if it were a live thing. Then he began to laugh. Softly and consumedly, drumming with his fists on the scrubbed wood. His laughter grew, beyond his control. He ran to the switch again and snapped on all the lights in the kitchen; one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight. A new thought possessed him. He ran out of the kitchen, along the tiled corridors, silent as a shadow. Down the dim stairs he sped, flight after flight, like a bat. And now he began to laugh again, in sobbing gusts. He shot into the darkness of the great lounge and across it to the green light of the reception desk. There was no one there. The night porter was on his rounds. The man turned a page of the registration book, and ran a wavering finger down it. Then he made off up the stairs again, silent except for his sobbing breath. In the service room on the second floor he took a master key from its hook, and ran to the door of Room 73. The door yielded, he put out his hand to the switch, and leaped on the man in the bed.

Grant struggled out of his dream of contraband, to defend himself against a maniac who was kneeling on his bed shaking him and repeating between sobs: “So you were wrong, and it’s all right! You were wrong, and it’s all right!”

“Tisdall!” said Grant. “My God, I’m glad to see you. Where have you been?”

“Among the cisterns.”

“In the Marine? All the time?”

“Since Thursday night. How long is that? I just walked in at the service door late at night. Rain like stair rods. You could have walked the length of the town in your birthday suit, and there wouldn’t have been anyone to see. I knew about the little attic place because I saw it when workmen were here one day. No one’s ever there but workmen. I come out at night to get food from the larder. I expect someone’s in trouble about that food. Or perhaps they never missed it? Do you think?”

His unnaturally bright eyes scanned Grant anxiously. He had begun to shiver. It did not need much guesswork to place his probable temperature.

Grant pushed him gently down to a sitting position on the bed, took a pair of pajamas from the drawer, and handed them over.

“Here. Get into these and into bed at once. I suppose you were soaking when you arrived at the hotel?”

“Yes. My clothes weighed so much I could hardly walk. But it’s dry up in the roof. Warm, too. Too warm in the daytime. You have a n-n-nice taste in n-n-night wear.” His teeth were chattering; reaction was flooding him.

Grant helped him with the pajamas and covered him up. He rang for the porter and ordered hot soup and the presence of a doctor. Then he sat down at the telephone and told the good news to the Yard, Tisdall’s overbright eyes watching him, quizzically. When he had finished he came over to the bed and said: “I can’t tell you how sorry I am about all this. I’d give a lot to undo it.”

“Blankets!” said Tisdall. “Sheets! Pillows! Eiderdown! Gosh!” He grinned as far as his chattering teeth and his week’s growth of beard would let him. “Say ‘Now I Lay Me’ for me,” he said. And fell abruptly asleep.


Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01