فصل 18

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فصل 18

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Chapter eighteen

Lucilla Drake came into the sitting room, dressed in black, and held out a shaking hand to Colonel Race. She couldn’t have seen anyone, she explained, except such an old friend of dear George’s. It was dreadful to have no man in the house! She had no idea what to do. Of course Miss Lessing would manage all the business matters, and they must arrange the funeral - but what about the inquest?

Race said that she could depend on him for help. Lucilla was very grateful. Miss Lessing was very efficient, of course, but perhaps George had relied upon her too much. Of course Lucilla had known what the girl was planning, unlike dear Iris, who was such an innocent. And so quiet. It was impossible to know what she was thinking about. In fact, Lucilla had wanted Iris to see the doctor this summer, because she looked so pale and tired. ‘But really, Colonel, I believe that was due to the location of the house. It was in a deep valley, you know, and there was always a damp mist around it in the evenings.’ Poor George had bought it himself - such a pity. It would have been better if he had taken an older woman’s advice. Men knew nothing about houses. She would have been happy to help - she had no other demands on her time, after all, with her husband dead for many years now, and her dear Victor away in Brazil.

Colonel Race said he had heard that she had a son abroad, and with that single encouragement, Lucilla told him all about her beloved Victor. He was such a handsome, clever boy, willing to try his hand at anything. Just look at all the different jobs he had done! And never unkind, or bad-tempered. ‘But he’s always been unlucky, Colonel. He was wrongly accused of a crime by the headmaster of his school. And then the authorities at Oxford University were so unfair. Of course an artistic boy would think it an excellent joke to copy someone else’s handwriting. He did it for fun, not for money.’

Eventually Colonel Race managed to move Lucilla on from the subject of her son to that of servants. It was very difficult to find good servants these days, she agreed. They were lucky. Mrs Pound was an excellent cook, who had worked for them ever since George married. She had been happy to move to the country for the summer, unlike the parlourmaid, who had resigned. But that was for the best - she had no manners, and had also broken six of the best wineglasses. ‘I mentioned it in her reference. For it is important to be truthful, Colonel Race, and faults must be noted as well as good qualities. But the girl was quite rude, and said that she hoped next time at least she wouldn’t be working in the kind of house where people got murdered. Which was quite inaccurate, since poor Rosemary took her own life. And so, I wrote in her reference that the parlourmaid Betty Archdale was sober and honest, but that she broke things, and was not always polite to her employer. If I had been Mrs Rees- Talbot, I would not have employed her with such a reference. But people nowadays will take whatever they can get.’

Colonel Race asked if she meant the Mrs Rees-Talbot whose family he had known in India.

‘I couldn’t say. Cadogan Square was the address.’

‘Those are my friends.’

Lucilla said that there were no friends like old friends. Friendship was a wonderful thing, wasn’t it? She had always thought it was so romantic about Viola and Paul, for example. Dear Viola had been a lovely girl, with so many men in love with her… but, of course, Colonel Race wouldn’t know who she was talking about. The Colonel asked to know the story. She happily told him about her brother Hector’s marriage to the beautiful Viola, and how Paul Bennett had changed from lover into family friend, and godfather to Rosemary, to whom he had left his fortune on his death. ‘And now dear Iris has inherited the money, and although I try to look out for fortune-hunters, one can’t protect girls these days as one used to do. Iris has friends I know nothing about. Poor George was particularly worried about a man called Browne, and I always think that men are the best judges of other men.’

A faint sound made Race look round to see Iris Marle in the open doorway. ‘Iris, dear!’ cried Lucilla. ‘Do you remember Colonel Race?’

Iris came in and shook hands. Race had met her once before, on his recent visit to Little Priors. Her black dress made her look thinner and paler than he remembered. She was clearly still suffering from shock.

‘I came to see if I could be of any help to you,’ said Race. ‘Thank you. That was kind.’ She turned to her aunt. ‘Were you talking about Anthony just now?’

Lucilla blushed. ‘Well, yes, as a matter of fact I did just mention that we know nothing about him…’

Iris interrupted her. ‘You’ll have every chance of doing so in future, because I’m going to marry him!’

‘Oh, Iris!’ Lucilla cried. ‘You mustn’t do anything foolish! Nothing can be decided at present. One can’t talk about things like marriage when the funeral hasn’t even taken place. It isn’t fitting. The question simply doesn’t arise.’

Iris laughed suddenly. ‘But it has arisen. Anthony asked me to marry him before we left Little Priors. He wanted me to come up to London and marry him the next day without telling anyone. I wish now that I had.’

‘Wasn’t that a rather strange request? ‘ said Colonel Race, gently.

‘No, it wasn’t! And it would have saved a lot of trouble. He asked me to trust him and I didn’t. But now I’ll marry him as soon as he likes.’

Lucilla burst into tears.

‘Miss Marle, might I speak to you privately before I leave?’ asked Race. ‘On a matter of business.’

‘Why, yes,’ she said, surprised, and walked to the door.

Race followed her across the hall, into a small room at the back of the house. ‘All I wanted to say, Miss Marle,’ he said, ‘was that Chief Inspector Kemp is a friend of mine, and I’m sure you will find him both helpful and kind.’

She stared at him for a moment. ‘Why didn’t you come and join us last night, as George expected you to?’

‘George didn’t expect me.’

‘He said he did.’

‘He may have said so, but he knew I wasn’t coming.’

‘But that empty chair… Who was it for, then?’ Her face went white. ‘Rosemary…’ she whispered. ‘I see … It was for Rosemary.’ He thought she was going to faint. He caught hold of her, and helped her to sit down.

‘I’m all right,’ she said, breathlessly. ‘But I don’t know what to do…’

‘Can I help?’

She looked up at him unhappily. ‘I must get things in order. George believed Rosemary was murdered, because of those letters. Colonel Race, who wrote those letters?’

‘Nobody knows.’

‘But George believed them, and arranged the party last night. There was an empty chair, and it was All Souls’ Day. The Day of the Dead. A day when Rosemary’s spirit could come back and - and tell him the truth.’

‘You mustn’t be too imaginative.’

‘But George drank a toast to Rosemary - and then he died. Perhaps she came and took him.’

‘The dead don’t put cyanide in a champagne glass, my dear.’ His words seemed to steady her, and she said, in a more normal tone of voice, ‘But it’s incredible. The police think George was murdered, and I suppose it must be true. But it doesn’t make sense.’

‘No? If Rosemary was murdered, and George was beginning to suspect who…’

‘But she wasn’t! She had a reason for her suicide. I’ll show you.’

She left the room and returned with Rosemary’s letter in her hand, which she handed to him. ‘Read for yourself.’

Race unfolded the paper and read it through.

‘You see?’ she said. ‘She was broken-hearted. She didn’t want to go on living.’

‘Do you know who that letter was written to?’

Iris nodded. ‘Stephen Farraday. She was in love with him and he was cruel to her. So she took the cyanide to the restaurant and drank it there, where he could see her die. Perhaps she hoped he would be sorry then.’

‘When did you find this?’

‘About six months ago.’

‘You didn’t show it to George?’

‘How could I betray my sister?’ she cried, passionately. ‘And George was so sure that she loved him. I couldn’t tell him he was wrong. What do I do now? I’ve shown the letter to you because you were George’s friend. Does Inspector Kemp need to see it?’

‘Yes. It’s evidence, you see. You should let me take it to him now.’

She gave a deep sigh. ‘Very well.’

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