‘What happened?’ said Miss Silver with interest.
‘Oh, they rang up the Baldry’s, and the young man took his girl round with the pearls and her story. There was a five hundred pound reward, and they got married on the strength of it. And the moral of that is, Frederick might quite easily have held his tongue until he was old enough to babble to his great-grandchildren-and a lot of use that would be to whoever got hanged instead of Marsham.’
‘My dear Frank!’
He said seriously,
‘Quite frightening, you know, to think how easy it would have been to build up a case against Lila Dryden either with or without Bill Waring, or against Bill Waring either with or without the lovely Lila. Juries don’t give a lot for an alibi which turns on a doctor’s opinion that a man has been dead for an hour instead of twenty-five minutes or so, and I have quite an idea that a defence based on sleep-walking might fail to touch a chord. Then there’s the Professor. He might have told his tale to some very unbelieving ears if Frederick hadn’t prepared the way. No, the bouquet is rightfully yours-“The laurel and the violet and the rose-Fame, modesty, and sweet affection’s flower”, as Lord Tennyson so appositely remarks.’
Miss Silver regarded him with indulgent reproof.
‘I do not recall the passage.’
Since Frank Abbott had just evolved it out of his inner consciousness, this did not surprise him. He murmured something about ‘one of the lesser known poems’, and was in some haste to change the subject.
‘What I could bear is to know something more about the activities of our Mr. Haile. I’ve got an idea there may be an eel under that rock, as they say in France, or a nigger in the woodpile, if you prefer the American version. We don’t seem to have one of our own, which may be due to (a) our native honesty, or (b) our beautiful unsuspicious natures. If you plump for (b), I fail to qualify. I nourish a fairly strong suspicion that Haile knows more than he will ever give away. There may have been a compromised lady, or there may not, but I don’t believe that was what Marsham was hinting at. What do you think?’
He passed up his cup as he spoke. Miss Silver attended in thoughtful silence to its replenishing. It was not until she had handed it back that she said,
‘I think there is something-not very much perhaps, but still something-that would account for Marsham’s words. There is of course no proof, but it is my belief that Mr. Haile intended to make a further appeal to his cousin that night. It is possible that he intended something more. We shall never know. I think he left his room after Mr. Grey saw him there, and I believe he was seen by Marsham. We do not know whether he actually entered the study and found his cousin dead. If he did so he would, I think, have acted as we may suppose he did act. He would not wish to be the one who discovered the body. He may have known that he would benefit largely under Sir Herbert’s will. He may have suspected that there would be people in the house who knew that he had come to ask his cousin for a loan, and that it had been refused. He would certainly be aware that his financial position would not bear scrutiny. He had, therefore, very good reasons for not immediately giving the alarm. I think he would return to his room and remain there until he either heard Lila Dryden open her door, or, more probably, Mr. Adrian Grey come out upon the landing. It would be of the highest importance for him to know what was going on, but it would not do for him to risk being seen, which would account for some slight delay in his following Mr. Grey. This would bring him on the scene at the time when, as we know, he entered the study. After that he had every opportunity to display his zeal, his family feeling, and his presence of mind.’
‘If it was an act, it was a very good one.’
Miss Silver sipped her tea.
‘It would not need to be, as you put it, an act. Mr. Haile has certain qualities. He displayed them. I do not wish to imply that he had any guilty knowledge to conceal. I think he may genuinely have suspected Lila Dryden for a time. Later he must have had his suspicions about Marsham. I do not think it would be fair to put it more strongly than that. Human nature is a strange mixture. As Lord Tennyson so truly says, “How many among us at this very hour Do forge a lifelong trouble for ourselves By taking true for false, or false for true!” In Mr. Haile, I think, we may be particularly aware of this mixture. He is not a very scrupulous man. I fear that his morals are lax. He has an equable temper, and some kind impulses. He is, for example, settling an extremely generous sum of money upon Miss Whitaker and her child.’
‘And pray how do you come to know that?’
Miss Silver coughed in a deprecating manner.
‘I ventured to approach him on her behalf. She has acted very wrongly. She came very near the commission of a terrible crime-“Jealousy is as cruel as the grave”. But Sir Herbert had not treated her rightly. He had forced her into a position which any woman might find intolerable, and it was certainly his duty to have provided for his child.’
‘And Haile played up?’
‘He responded in a most gratifying manner,’ said Miss Silver demurely. ‘He is also caring for Mrs. Marsham. She will, I understand, remain with him.’
Frank Abbott burst out laughing.
‘He may have a kind heart, but sticking to Mrs. Marsham seems rather to suggest an appreciative palate! I’m told that her cooking has to be tasted to be believed-one of those beautiful dreams that have almost vanished from a utilitarian world. Yes, I think the palate has it-with perhaps a strong dash of self-interest. He might want to give Marsham an inducement to hold his tongue. The poor devil is for it anyway, and he knows it, so he has nothing to gain by spattering Haile, and he may have something to lose-if Haile is going to look after his wife. Not very much in it, but “The little more, and how much is it. And the little less, and what worlds away!” as Browning has it.’
Miss Silver set down her cup.
‘Yes-there is that mixture of motives. It is pleasanter to turn to others. Lila Dryden will be safe and happy with Mr. Grey. I suspect that her money is all gone, but he has a modest competence, and country life will be good for her.’
There was a sarcastic gleam in Frank Abbott’s eye.
‘I don’t envy Grey the job. Perpetual nursemaid to a perpetual child!’
Miss Silver smiled.
‘It is not a rôle for which you are suited, but Mr. Grey will be happy in it. As for Miss Fortescue and Mr. Waring-’
‘Oh-are they to be happy too?’
‘I hope so. They have invited me to their wedding. It will be very quiet indeed. Just a few intimate friends.’
‘I shall fish for an invitation. Why, I almost arrested him. A unique and unforgettable bond! I suppose he wouldn’t like me to be best man on the strength of it? And do you give the bride away? As fairy godmother I think you should.’
Miss Silver shook her head reprovingly, but she smiled.
‘My dear Frank, you really do talk great nonsense,’ she said.
Born in Mussoorie, India, in 1878, Patricia Wentworth was the daughter of an English general. Educated in England, she returned to India, where she began to write and was first published. She married, but in 1906 was left a widow with four children, and returned again to England where she resumed her writing, this time to earn a living for herself and her family. She married again in 1920 and lived in Surrey until her death in 1961.
Miss Wentworth’s early works were mainly historical fiction, and her first mystery, published in 1923, was The Astonishing Adventure of Jane Smith. In 1928 she wrote The Case Is Closed and gave birth to her most enduring creation, Miss Maud Silver.