‘SHALL I give you a lift back to Wickham,’ Rodgers asked Grant, but Grant said no, that he had his own car up at the Mill House and would walk up and fetch it.
Marta came out into the windy twilight to meet him, and put her arm through his.
‘No?’ she said.
‘Come in and get warm.’
She walked beside him in silence into the house and poured him an outsize whisky. The thick walls shut out the sound of the wind, and the room was quiet and warm as it had been last night. A faint smell of curry came up from the kitchen.
‘Do you smell what I am cooking for you?’
‘Curry. But you can’t be expected to feed the Department.’
‘Curry is what you need after a whole day of our English spring glories. You can, of course, go back to the White Hart and have the usual Sunday evening supper of cold tinned beef, two slices of tomato, three cubes of beetroot, and a wilting lettuce leaf.’
Grant shivered unaffectedly. The thought of the White Hart on a Sunday evening was death.
‘Besides, tomorrow I shan’t be here to give you dinner. I am going back to town. I can’t stand the Mill House any more at the moment. I’ll stay in town till Faint Heart goes into rehearsal.’
‘Having you here has practically saved my life,’ Grant said. He pulled the American report from his pocket and said: ‘Read that, would you, and tell me if anything rings a bell for you.’
‘No,’ she said, having read. ‘No bells. Should it?’
‘I don’t know. It seemed to me when I read it first that it rang a bell in my mind.’ He puzzled over it again for a moment and then put it away.
‘When we are both back in town,’ Marta said, ‘I want to be introduced to your Sergeant Williams. Perhaps you would bring him to dinner one night?’
‘But of course,’ Grant said, pleased and amused. ‘Why this sudden passion for the unknown Williams?’
‘Well, I have actually two different reasons. The first is that anyone who has the mother-wit to see that Walter Whitmore is a “push-ee” is worth meeting. And the second is that the only time I have seen you look happy today was after talking to Sergeant Williams on the telephone.’
‘Oh, that!’ he said; and told her about Benny Skoll, and the Watchman, and Williams rebuking virtue. And so they were gay after all over their Sunday supper, with Marta supplying libellous stories of the Watchman’s theatre critic. So that it was not until he was going that she asked what he was going to do now that the search for Searle had failed.
‘I tidy up some ends here in Salcott tomorrow morning,’ he said, ‘and then I go back to London to report to my chief.’
‘And what happens then?’
‘There is a conference to decide what action, if any, is to be taken.’
‘I understand. Well, when you have got things straightened out ring me up and tell me, won’t you. And then we can arrange a night when Sergeant Williams is free.’
How admirable, he thought as he drove away; how truly admirable. No questions, no hints, no little feminine probings. In her acceptance of a situation she was extraordinarily masculine. Perhaps it was this lack of dependence that men found intimidating.
He went back to the White Hart, called the police station to know if there were any messages, picked the menu off the dining-room sideboard to verify Marta’s prognostication as to supper (she had forgotten the stewed rhubarb and custard, he must tell her) and for the last time went to bed in the little room under the roof. The text was no promise tonight. THE HOUR COMETH, indeed. What a lot of leisure women seemed to have had once. Now they had everything in cans and had no leisure at all.
But no, it wasn’t that, of course. It was that they didn’t spend their leisure making texts in coloured wools any more. They went to see Danny Minsky and laughed themselves sick for one-and-tuppence, and if you asked him it was a better way of recovering from the day’s work than making meaningless patterns in purple cross-stitch. He glared at the text, tilted the lamp until the shadow blotted out his vision of it, and took his notebooks to bed with him.
In the morning he paid his bill, and pretended not to see the landlord’s surprise. Everyone knew that the river-dragging had been unsuccessful, and everyone knew that a piece of clothing recovered from the river had caused that dragging (there, were various accounts of which particular piece of clothing), so the landlord hardly expected Scotland Yard to be taking its departure at this juncture. Unless there was a clue that no one knew about?
‘Coming back, sir?’
‘Not immediately,’ Grant said, reading his mind like a book and not particularly liking the stigma of failure that was being tacked on to his name at this moment.
And he headed for Trimmings.
The morning had an air of bland apology. It was smiling wetly and the wind had died. The leaves glittered and the roads steamed in the sun. ‘Just my fun, dears,’ the English spring was saying to the soaked and shivering mortals who had trusted her.
As the car purred along the slope, towards Trimmings, he looked down at Salcott St Mary in the valley, and thought how odd it was that three days ago it was just a name that Marta used occasionally in conversation. Now it was part of his mind.
And God send it wasn’t going to be a burr stuck there for good!
At Trimmings he was received by the refayned Edith, who broke down enough to look humanly scared for a moment when she saw him, and asked to see Walter. She showed him into the fireless library; from which Walter rescued him.
‘Come into the drawing-room,’ he said. ‘We use it as a living-room and there is a fire there’; and Grant caught himself wondering ungratefully whether it was his own comfort that Walter was considering or his guest’s. Walter did affect one that way, he observed.
‘I am going back to town this morning,’ Grant said, ‘and there are one or two small points I want to clear up before I make my report to my superiors.’
‘Yes?’ Walter was nervous and looked as if he had not slept.
‘When I asked you about your journey down the Rushmere, you said that you had picked up mail at arranged post-offices.’
‘On Monday there would have been nothing to pick up, but on Tuesday and Wednesday you presumably picked up what there was. Did Searle have any letters on either of those two days, can you remember?’
‘There’s no difficulty in remembering. Inspector, Searle never had any mail.’
‘Never? You mean Searle had no letters at all while he was at Trimmings?’
‘None that I ever knew about. But Liz would tell you. She deals with the post when it comes in.’
How had he missed this small item of information, he wondered.
‘Not even forwarded from his hotel or bank?’
‘Not that I know of. He may have been letting it mount up. Some people are constitutionally indifferent to letters.’
That was true; and Grant left it there.
‘Then about this daily telephoning,’ he said. ‘You telephoned from Tunstall on Sunday night, from Capel on Monday night, from Friday Street on Tuesday, and from where on Wednesday?’
‘There’s a call-box at Pett’s Hatch. We had meant to camp actually at Pett’s Hatch, but that ruined mill looked dreary somehow, and I remembered the sheltered bit farther on where the river turns south, so we went on to there.’
‘And you told Trimmings about this proposed camp.’
‘Yes, I told you already that we did.’
‘I know you did. I don’t mean to badger you. What I want to know now is who talked to whom during that call from Pett’s Hatch?’
Walter thought for a moment. ‘Well, I talked to Miss Fitch first because she was always waiting for the call, then Searle talked to her. Then Aunt Em came — Mrs Garrowby — and talked to Searle for a little and then I finished up by talking to Mrs Garrowby myself. Liz hadn’t come in from an errand in the village, so neither of us talked to her on Wednesday.’
‘I see. Thank you.’ Grant waited, and then said: ‘I suppose you don’t feel able yet to tell me what the subject of your — disagreement was on Wednesday night?’ And as Walter hesitated: ‘Is it because it was about Miss Garrowby that you are reluctant to discuss it?’
‘I don’t want her dragged into this,’ Walter said, and Grant could not help feeling that this cliché was less the result of emotion than of a conviction that it was thus an Englishman behaved in the circumstances.
‘I ask, as I said before, more as a way of obtaining enlightenment on the subject of Leslie Searle than of pinning you down to anything. Was there anything in that conversation, apart from Miss Garrowby’s entry into it, that you would rather I didn’t know?’
‘No, of course not. It was just about Liz — about Miss Garrowby. It was an extremely silly conversation.’
Grant smiled heartlessly. ‘Mr Whitmore, a policeman has experienced the absolute in silliness before he has finished his third year in the force. If you are merely reluctant to put silliness on record, take heart. To me it will probably sound like something near wisdom.’
‘There was no wisdom about it. Searle had been in a very odd mood all the evening.’
‘Odd? Depressed?’ Surely, thought Grant, we aren’t going to have to consider suicide at this late stage.
‘No. He seemed to be invaded by an unwonted levity. And on the way from the river he began to twit me about — well, about my not being good enough for Liz. For my fiancée. I tried to change the subject, but he kept at it. Until I grew annoyed. He began enumerating all the things he knew about her that I didn’t. He would trot out something and say: “I bet you didn’t know that about her.”’
‘Oh, yes,’ Walter said instantly. ‘Yes, of course. Charming things. But it was all so needless and so provocative.’
‘Did he suggest that he would be more appreciative in your place?’
‘He did more. He said quite frankly that if he put his mind to it he could cut me out. He could cut me out in a fortnight, he said.’
‘He didn’t offer to bet on it, I suppose?’ Grant couldn’t help asking.
‘No,’ Walter said, looking a little surprised.
Grant thought that some day he must tell Marta that she had slipped up in one particular.
‘It was when he said that,’ Walter said, ‘about cutting me out, that I felt I couldn’t stand him any more that night. It wasn’t the suggestion of my not being his equal that I resented, I hope you understand, Inspector; it was the implied reflection on Liz. On Miss Garrowby. The implication that she would succumb to anyone who used his charms on her.’
‘I understand,’ said Grant gravely. ‘Thank you very much for telling me. Do you think, then, that Searle was deliberately provoking a quarrel?’
‘I hadn’t thought of it. I just thought he was in a provocative mood. That he was a little above himself.’
‘I see. Thank you. Could I speak to Miss Fitch for just one moment. I won’t keep her.’
Walter took him to the morning-room where Miss Fitch, with a yellow and a red pencil stuck in her ginger bird’s-nest and another in her mouth, was prowling up and down like an enraged kitten. She relaxed when she saw Grant, and looked tired and a little sad.
‘Have you come with news, Inspector?’ she asked, and Grant, looking past her, saw the fright in Liz’s eyes.
‘No, I’ve come to ask you one question, Miss Fitch, and then I shan’t bother you again. I apologise for bothering you as it is. On Wednesday night you were waiting for the evening call from your nephew with an account of their progress.’
‘So that you talked to him first. I mean first of the people at Trimmings. Will you go on from there?’
‘Tell you what we talked about, you mean?’
‘No; who talked to whom.’
‘Oh. Well, they were at Pett’s Hatch — I suppose you know — and I talked to Walter and then to Leslie. They were both very happy.’
Her voice wavered. ‘Then I called Emma — my sister — and she spoke to them both.’
‘Did you wait while she spoke to them?’
‘No, I went up to my room to see Susie Sclanders’s imitations. She does ten minutes on a Wednesday once a month, and she is wonderful, and of course I couldn’t listen to her properly with Em talking.’
‘I see. And Miss Garrowby?’
‘Liz arrived back from the village just too late to talk to them.’
‘What time was this, do you remember?’
‘I don’t remember the exact time, but it must have been about twenty minutes before dinner. We had dinner early that night because my sister was going out to a W.R.I. meeting. Dinner at Trimmings is always being put either back or forwards because someone is either going somewhere or coming from some place.’
‘Thank you very much, Miss Fitch. And now, if I might see Searle’s room once more I won’t bother you again.’
‘Yes, of course.’
‘I’ll take the Inspector up,’ Liz said, ignoring the fact that Walter, who was still hovering, was the normal person to escort him.
She got up from the typewriter before Miss Fitch could intervene with any alternative proposal, and led the Inspector out.
‘Are you going away because you have come to a conclusion, Inspector, or because you haven’t; or shouldn’t I ask that?’ she said as they went upstairs.
‘I am going as a matter of routine. To do what every officer is expected to do; to present his report to his seniors and let them decide what the facts add up to.’
‘But you do some adding first, surely.’
‘A lot of subtraction, too,’ he said, dryly.
The dryness was not lost on her. ‘Nothing makes sense in this case, does it,’ she agreed. ‘Walter says he couldn’t have fallen into the river accidentally. And yet he did fall in. Somehow.’
She paused on the landing outside the tower room. There was a roof-light there and her face was clear in every detail as she turned to him and said: ‘The one certain thing in this mess is that Walter had nothing to do with Leslie’s death. Please believe that, Inspector. I’m not defending Walter because he is Walter and I am going to marry him. I’ve known him all my life, and I know what he is capable of and what he is not capable of. And he is not capable of using physical violence to anyone. Do please believe me. He — he just hasn’t the guts.’
Even his future wife thought him a push-ee, Grant observed.
‘Don’t be misled by that glove, either. Inspector. Do please believe that the most probable explanation is that Leslie picked it up and put it into his pocket meaning to give it back to me. I have looked for the other one of the pair in the car pocket and it isn’t there, so the most likely explanation is that they fell out, and Leslie found one and picked it up.’
‘Why didn’t he put it back in the car pocket?’
‘I don’t know. Why does one do anything? Putting something in one’s pocket is almost a reflex. The point is that he wouldn’t have kept it for the sake of keeping it. Leslie didn’t feel about me like that at all.’
The point, Grant thought to himself, wasn’t whether Leslie was in love with Liz, but whether Walter believed Liz to be in love with Leslie.
He longed to ask Liz what happens to a girl when she is engaged to a push-ee and along comes a left-over from Eden, an escapee from Atlantis, a demon in plain clothes. But the question, though pertinent, would certainly be unproductive. Instead, he asked her if Searle had ever received letters during his stay at Trimmings and she said that as far as she knew he had had none. Then she went away downstairs, and he went into the tower room. The tidy room where Searle had left everything except his personality.
He had not seen it in daylight before, and he spent a few moments having a look at the garden and the valley from the three huge windows. There was one advantage in not caring what your house looked like when it was finished; you could have your windows where they were likely to do most good. Then he turned once more to the task of going through Searle’s belongings. Patiently, garment by garment, article by article, he went through them, vainly hoping for some sign, some revelation. He sat in a low chair with the photographic box open on the floor between his feet, and accounted for everything that a photographer might conceivably use. He could think of nothing — neither chemical nor gadget — that was missing from the collection. The box had not been moved since last he saw it, and the empty space still held the outline of what had been abstracted.
It was an innocent space. Articles are abstracted every day from packed cases, leaving the outline of their presence. There was no reason whatever to suppose that what had been taken out was of any significance. But why, in heaven’s name, couldn’t anyone suggest what that thing might have been?
Once more he tried the small cameras in the space, knowing quite well that they would not fit. He even clapped a pair of Searle’s shoes together and tried to fit them into the space. They were half an inch too long and the soles protruded above the general level so that the tray would not fit home and the lid was prevented from shutting. Anyhow, why carry clothing in a photographic box when you had ample room in the appropriate cases? Whatever had occupied the space had not been put in at random or in haste. It had been a neat and methodical packing.
Which suggested that the thing was put there because only Searle himself would have the unpacking of it.
Well, this, in the elegant phrase, was where he got off.
He put everything neatly back as he had found it; took another look at the Rushmere valley, and decided that he had had enough of it; and closed the door on the room where Leslie Searle had left everything but his personality.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01