فصل 09

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فصل 09

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متن انگلیسی فصل

CHAPTER NINE

The front-door bell rang and for some reason Miss Gilchrist felt nervous. She went unwillingly to the door, telling herself not to be so silly.

A young woman dressed in black and carrying a small suitcase was standing on the step outside. She noticed the nervous look on Miss Gilchrist’s face and said quickly, ‘Miss Gilchrist? I am Mrs Lansquenet’s niece - Susan Banks.’

‘Oh dear, yes, of course. Do come in, Mrs Banks. I didn’t know you were coming down for the inquest. I would have had something ready - coffee or tea.’

Susan Banks said quickly, ‘I don’t want anything. I’m so sorry if I frightened you.’

‘Well, I’m not usually nervous, but - perhaps it’s just the inquest - I have been nervous all this morning. Half an hour ago the bell rang and I was almost too afraid to open the door - which was really very stupid as it is so unlikely that a murderer would come back - and it was only a nun, collecting for an orphanage. Did you come here by train?’

‘No, I came by car. I thought the road was too narrow to park outside so I drove the car on a little way past the cottage and found an old quarry and parked there.’

Susan Banks looked round the sitting room with interest. ‘Poor Aunt Cora. She left what she had to me, you know.’

‘Yes, I know. I expect you’ll need the furniture. You’re newly married, I understand.’

‘I don’t want any of it,’ Susan said. ‘I will sell it. Unless - is there any of it you would like? I’d be very happy…’ She stopped, a little embarrassed. But Miss Gilchrist gave a big smile. ‘Now that’s very kind of you, Mrs Banks - but I put my own things in store in case - some day - I would need them. I had a small tearoom at one time, you know - then the war came … But I didn’t sell everything, because I did hope to have my own little home again one day, so I put the best things in store with my father’s pictures. But I would like very much, if you really wouldn’t mind, to have that little painted tea table. Such a pretty thing and we always had tea on it.’

Susan, looking at what she thought was an ugly green table painted with large purple flowers, said that she would be delighted for Miss Gilchrist to have it.

‘Thank you very much, Mrs Banks. I imagine you would like to look through her things? After the inquest, perhaps?’ Miss Gilchrist asked.

‘I thought I’d stay here a couple of days and clear everything up.’

‘Sleep here, you mean?’

‘Yes. Is there any difficulty?’

‘Oh no, I’ll put fresh sheets on my bed, and I can sleep down here on the couch.’

‘But there’s Aunt Cora’s room, isn’t there? I can sleep in that.’

‘You - you wouldn’t mind?’

‘You mean because she was murdered there? Oh no. I’m very practical, Miss Gilchrist. It’s been - I mean - it’s been cleaned?’

‘Oh yes, Mrs Banks. All the blankets were sent away to the laundry and the whole room was cleaned thoroughly.’

She led the way upstairs. The room where Cora Lansquenet had died was clean and fresh and had no sinister atmosphere. Over the fireplace an oil painting showed a young woman about to enter her bath.

Susan gave a slight shudder as she looked at it and Miss Gilchrist said, ‘That was painted by Mrs Lansquenet’s husband. There are a lot more of his pictures in the dining room.’

‘How terrible! Where are Aunt Cora’s own pictures?’

‘In my room. Would you like to see them?’

Miss Gilchrist proudly showed her the paintings.

Susan commented that it looked like Aunt Cora was very fond of villages by the sea and that perhaps her paintings, which were very detailed and very brightly coloured, might have been painted from picture postcards.

But Miss Gilchrist was indignant. Mrs Lansquenet always painted from nature!

‘Mrs Lansquenet was a real artist,’ said Miss Gilchrist sharply. She looked at her watch and Susan said quickly, ‘Yes, we ought to leave for the inquest. Is it far? Shall I get the car?’

It was only five minutes’ walk, Miss Gilchrist said, so they left together on foot. Mr Entwhistle, who had travelled by train, met them at the Village Hall.

At the inquest, the dead woman was identified. It was said that death was unlikely to have occurred later than four-thirty. Miss Gilchrist testified to finding the body. A police constable and Inspector Morton gave their evidence and the jury was quick to reach the verdict: Murder by some person or persons unknown.

Afterwards, when they came out again into the sunlight, half a dozen newspaper cameras clicked. Mr Entwhistle took them into the King’s Arms pub for lunch in a private room. He said to Susan, ‘I had no idea you were coming down today, Susan. We could have come together. Did your husband come with you?’

‘Greg had some important things to do. We’ve got great plans for the future - we are going to open a beauty salon, which I will run, and a laboratory where Greg can make face creams.’

Mr Entwhistle’s mind went to other things. When Susan had spoken to him twice without his answering, he apologized.

‘Forgive me, my dear, I was thinking about your Uncle Timothy. I am a little worried.’

‘I wouldn’t worry. Uncle Timothy is not ill at all - he’s just a hypochondriac.’

‘It is not his health that is worrying me. It’s Maude’s. Apparently she has fallen downstairs and broken her ankle. She’s got to stay in bed and your uncle is terribly worried.’

‘Because he’ll have to look after her instead of the other way around? It will do him a lot of good,’ said Susan.

‘Yes - yes, but will your poor aunt get any looking after?’

They came out of the King’s Arms, rather warily but the newspaper reporters and photographers had gone.

Mr Entwhistle took them back to the cottage then returned to the King’s Arms where he had booked a room. The funeral was to be on the following day.

‘My car’s still in the quarry,’ said Susan when she and Miss Gilchrist had gone inside. ‘I’ll go and get it and drive it along to the village later.’

Miss Gilchrist said anxiously, ‘You will do that in daylight, won’t you?’

Susan laughed. ‘You don’t think the murderer is still nearby, do you?’

‘No - no, I suppose not.’ Miss Gilchrist looked embarrassed.

But it’s exactly what she does think, thought Susan.

Miss Gilchrist went towards the kitchen. ‘I’m sure you’d like tea, Mrs Banks!’

Susan went into the sitting room. She had only been there a few minutes when the doorbell rang. Susan went to the front door and opened it. An elderly gentleman said, smiling, ‘My name is Alexander Guthrie. I was a very old friend of Cora Lansquenet’s. May I ask who you are?’

‘I am Susan Abernethie - well, Banks now since I married. Cora was my aunt. Please come in.’

‘Thank you.’ Mr Guthrie followed Susan into the sitting room. ‘This is a sad occasion,’ said Mr Guthrie. ‘Yes, a very sad occasion. I felt the least I could do was to attend the inquest - and of course the funeral. I usually visited Cora once a year, and recently she had been buying pictures at local sales, and wanted me to look at some of them. I am an art critic, you know. Of course most of the paintings Cora bought were terrible; last year she wanted me to come and look at a Rembrandt she had bought. A Rembrandt! It wasn’t even a good copy of one!’

‘Like that one over there, I expect,’ said Susan, pointing to the wall behind him.

Mr Guthrie got up and went over to study the picture. ‘Poor dear Cora. Dirt,’ he said, ‘is a wonderful thing, Mrs Banks! It gives a sort of romance to the most terrible paintings.’

‘There are some more pictures in the dining room,’ said Susan, ‘but I think they are all her husband’s work.’

Mr Guthrie held up a hand. ‘Do not make me look at those again. I always tried not to hurt Cora’s feelings. A loving wife - a very loving wife. Well, dear Mrs Banks, I must not take up more of your time.’

‘Oh, do stay and have some tea. I think it’s nearly ready.’

‘That is very kind of you.’ Mr Guthrie sat down again.

‘I’ll just go and see.’

In the kitchen, Miss Gilchrist was lifting a tray from the oven. ‘There’s a Mr Guthrie here,’ Susan said. ‘I’ve asked him to stay for tea.’

‘Mr Guthrie? Oh, yes, he was a great friend of dear Mrs Lansquenet’s. How lucky; I’ve made scones and there’s some homemade strawberry jam.’

Susan took in the tray and Miss Gilchrist, following with teapot and kettle, greeted Mr Guthrie.

‘Hot scones, how lovely,’ said Mr Guthrie.

Miss Gilchrist was delighted. The scones were excellent. The memory of the Willow Tree tearoom seemed to be in the room with them. Miss Gilchrist was clearly doing what she had been born to do.

‘I do feel rather guilty,’ said Mr Guthrie, ‘enjoying my tea here, where poor Cora was so horribly murdered.’

Miss Gilchrist shook her head. ‘No, no. Mrs Lansquenet would have wanted you to have a good tea.’

‘Perhaps you are right. The fact is that it’s difficult for me to accept that someone I knew - actually knew - has been murdered! And certainly not by some casual thief who broke in and attacked her. I can imagine, you know, reasons why Cora might have been murdered -‘

Susan said quickly, ‘Can you? What reasons?’

‘Well, if she knew a secret, she would always want to talk about it. Even if she promised not to, she would still do it. She couldn’t stop herself. So a little poison in a cup of tea - that would not have surprised me. And I would have thought she had very little to take that would be worth it for a burglar. Ah! Well, there’s a lot of crime about since the war. Times have changed.’ Thanking them for the tea, he said goodbye. Miss Gilchrist took him to the door and came back into the room with a small parcel in her hand. ‘The postman must have been while we were at the inquest. He must have pushed this through the letterbox and it fell in the corner behind the door.’

Happily Miss Gilchrist tore off the paper. Inside was a small white box tied with silver ribbon. ‘It’s wedding cake!’ She pulled off the ribbon. Inside was a slice of rich fruitcake with white icing. ‘How nice! Now who -‘ She read the card attached. ‘John and Mary. Now who can that be? How silly to put no surname. It might be my old friend Dorothy’s daughter - but I haven’t heard of an engagement or a marriage. Then there’s the Enfield girl - no, her name was Margaret. No address or anything. Oh well, I suppose I’ll remember soon…’

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