/ Language: English / Genre:detective

A Moment On the Edge : 100 Years of Crime Stories By Women

Elizabeth George

Why crime? Why exists this fascination with crime and why, above all, exists this fascination with crime on the part of female writers? Bestselling novelist Elizabeth George poses this question in her Introduction, answers it with her customary elegance and illustrates it with a rich and varied collection of international writers, some household names others buried treasures waiting to be rediscovered.

A Moment on the Edge

100 YEARS OF CRIME STORIES BY WOMEN

Edited by Elizabeth George

CONTENTS

INTRODUCTION: ELIZABETH GEORGE

v

A Jury of Her Peers SUSAN GLASPELL

1

The Man Who Knew How DOROTHY L. SAYERS

27

I Can Find My Way Out NGAIO MARSH

45

The Summer People SHIRLEY JACKSON

75

St. Patrick’s Day in the Morning CHARLOTTE ARMSTRONG

93

The Purple Is Everything DOROTHY SALISBURY DAVIS

119

Money to Burn MARGERY ALLINGHAM

133

A Nice Place to Stay NEDRA TYRE

147

Clever and Quick CHRISTIANNA BRAND

161

Country Lovers NADINE GORDIMER

177

The Irony of Hate RUTH RENDELL

189

Sweet Baby Jenny JOYCE HARRINGTON

207

Wild Mustard MARCIA MULLER

229

Jemima Shore at the Sunny Grave ANTONIA FRASER

241

The Case of the Pietro Andromache SARA PARETSKY

279

Afraid All the Time NANCY PICKARD

309

The Young Shall See Visions, and the Old Dream Dreams

KRISTINE KATHRYN RUSCH

327

A Predatory Woman SHARYN McCRUMB

349

Jack Be Quick BARBARA PAUL

363

Ghost Station CAROLYN WHEAT

399

New Moon and Rattlesnakes WENDY HORNSBY

417

Death of a Snowbird J. A. JANCE

437

The River Mouth LIA MATERA

459

A Scandal in Winter GILLIAN LINSCOTT

475

Murder-Two JOYCE CAROL OATES

505

English Autumn — American Fall MINETTE WALTERS

533

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

ABOUT THE EDITOR

OTHER BOOKS BY ELIZABETH GEORGE

PRAISE

CREDITS

COVER

COPYRIGHT

ABOUT THE PUBLISHER

INTRODUCTION

by Elizabeth George

Whether the story is a murder mystery, a tale of suspense, a psychological study of the characters affected by a devastating event, the retelling of a famous criminal act, a courtroom drama, an exposé, a police procedural, or a truthful account of an actual offense, the question remains the same. Why crime? Whether the characters involved are FBI agents, policemen and women, forensic scientists, journalists, military personnel, the man or woman on the street, private detectives, or the little old lady who lives next door, the question remains the same. Why crime? Be it murder (singular, serial, or mass), mayhem, robbery, assault, kidnapping, burglary, extortion, or blackmail, we still want to know: why crime? Why exists this fascination with crime and why, above all, exists this fascination with crime on the part of female writers?

I think there are several answers to these questions.

Crime writing is practically as old as writing itself and is consequently very much part of our literary tradition. The earliest crime stories come to us from the Bible: in a jealous rage, Cain kills Abel; in a jealous conspiracy, Joseph’s brothers sell him into slavery in Egypt and fake his death for their devastated father; in lustful jealousy, David sends Bathsheba’s husband to the front lines in battle so that he might have the winsome woman for himself; in unrequited lust, two respected elders bear false witness against the virtuous Susanna, condemning her to death for adultery unless someone can come forward and disprove their story; fathers lie with their daughters in criminal acts of incest; brothers kill, fight with, lie about, and otherwise abuse their brothers; women demand the heads of men on platters; Judith decapitates Holofernes; Judas betrays Jesus of Nazareth; King Herod slays the newborn male children of the Hebrews…It’s a nasty place in the Old and New Testament, and we feed off this place from our earliest years.

Crime is mankind on the edge, in extremis, but more than that, crime is mankind stepping outside of the norm. For every Cain, there are a billion brothers who have co-existed throughout the centuries. For every David, there are ten million men who’ve turned away from a woman they want when they learn she is committed to another. But this is what makes crime so interesting. It isn’t what people normally do.

It would be nice to believe that cars slow down on the freeway when there is an accident because of the drivers’ heightened sense of caution: everyone sees the flashing lights up ahead, the smoke, the flares, the ambulances, the fire trucks, and hits the brakes so as not to end up in the same condition as the unfortunates currently being extricated from mangled metal. But this is not generally why people slow down. They slow down to gawk, their curiosity piqued.

Why? Because an accident on the freeway is an anomaly, and anomalies interest us. They always interest us: have done from the beginning of time and will do till the end of it.

Brutal murders garner front-page space. Kidnappings, disappearances, riots, fatal auto accidents, plane crashes, terrorist bombings, armed robbery, snipers firing on the unsuspecting…all of this cuts into everyday life, awakening us to the fragility of our individual existences as it simultaneously whets our appetite to know. We grind to a halt as a nation to listen to the verdict in the O. J. Simpson case because there are base passions involved in whatever happened on Bundy Drive, and the base passions of that double killer awaken the base passions within ourselves. Blood spilled cries out for more blood to spill in retribution for the act. We seek a punishment to fit each crime. Crime is as old as humanity. But so is sensation. So is vengeance.

Crime literature gives us a satisfaction that we are often denied in life. In life, we never do know who really killed Nicole and Ron; we only suspect there was a second gunman on the grassy knoll; we are left to wonder about Dr. Shepherd’s wife and Jeffrey MacDonald’s capacity for truth or self-delusion. The Green River killer disappears into the primordial slime from which he rose, the Zodiac killer joins him there, and we are left with only the questions themselves: who were these people and why did they murder? But in crime fiction, the killers face justice. It can be real justice, poetic justice, or psychological justice. But face it they do. They are un-masked and normalcy is restored. There is vast satisfaction for the reader in that, certainly more satisfaction than is garnered from the investigation into and punishment for an actual crime.

For the writer who wishes to explore characters, there is nothing so catastrophically catalytic as the intrusion of a crime into an otherwise peaceful landscape. A crime places everyone into a crucible: the investigators, the perpetrator, the victims, and those in relationship to the investigators, the perpetrator, and the victims. Within this crucible of life’s most monstrous acts the mettle of the characters is tested. It is when characters confront the most serious challenges to their beliefs, their peace, their sanity, and their way of life that their pathology is triggered. And it is the pathology of the individual character clashing with the pathology of all the other characters that is the stuff of drama and catharsis.

Some of our most enduring pieces of literature have a heinous crime as their backdrop. Hamlet’s monumental mental struggle to overcome his conscience and act the part of Nemesis could not occur had the poisoning of his father not happened in a brutal act of frat-ricide. Oedipus could not fulfill his destiny without first killing King Laius on the road to Thebes. Medea would not be in the position in which she is placed in Corinth — an outcast about to be cast out by a nervous Creon all too aware of her abilities as a sorceress — had her reputation as the mastermind behind King Pelias’s death not preceded her. So it should come as no surprise to anyone who reads that crimes continue not only to fascinate writers but also to serve as the backbone for much of their prose.

What a crime does in a piece of literature is two-fold. First, it serves as a throughline for the story to follow: the crime must be investig-ated and solved within the twists and turns of the plot. But secondly and perhaps more importantly, the crime also acts as a skeleton for the body of the tale that the writer wishes to tell. On this skeleton, the writer can hang as much or as little as she likes. She can keep the skeleton down to the bones alone and tell a story that moves smoothly, concisely, and without deviation or decoration to its revelation and conclusion. Or she can hang upon the skeleton the muscles, tissues, veins, organs, and blood of such diverse elements of storytelling as theme, exploration of character, life and literary symbols, subplots, etc., as well as the specific crime-oriented story elements of clues, red herrings, suspense, and a list of time-honored motifs peculiar to mysteries: the hermetically sealed death chamber (or locked room), the most obvious place, the trail of false clues left by the real killer, the fixed idea, and on and on. Thus, her characters can march hand-in-hand in the direction of an ineluctable conclusion, or they can become sidetracked by the myriad possibilities offered to them through means of an expanded storyline and a more complicated structure.

Why, then, would a writer ever consider dabbling in anything else? There is no reason that I can see. For as long as a writer adheres to the notion that the only rule is there are no rules, the sky’s the limit within this field.

This still doesn’t answer the question about female writers’ attrac-tion to crime literature, and it is indeed a question I’ve been asked over and over again by journalists, with a rather tedious regularity.

The Golden Age of Mystery in Great Britain and the Common-wealth — which I would consider spanning the years from the twenties through the fifties — is dominated by women. Indeed, their names comprise a pantheon into whose company every modern writer aspires to join. Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers, Ngaio Marsh, Margery Allingham…It’s not terribly difficult to sort out why women writers throughout the twentieth century endeavored to join this distinguished company: once one woman made an inroad into an area of literature, other women were quick to follow. The fascination with crime writing on the part of females can thus be explained with ease: women chose to write crime stories because they were successful at it. Success on the part of one woman breeds the desire for success on the part of another.

In the United States, this also holds true. But the difference in the United States is that the Golden Age of Mystery is dominated by men and that women are Janet-come-latelies to it. When we think of the Golden Age in America, we think of Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler, of first-person narratives with tough-guy private eyes who smoke, drink bourbon, live in seedy apartments, and dismissively refer to women as “dames.” They use guns and their fists, and they’ve got ’tude to spare. They’re loners, and they like it that way.

Breaking into this male-dominated world required guts and tenacity on the part of women writers. Some of them opted to write kinder, gentler mysteries in order to offer something more in keeping with the delicate sensibilities of the female readers they were hoping to attract. Others decided to barge right in and join the men, creating female private eyes who were as hard-bitten as the men they sought to replace. Sue Grafton and Sara Paretsky proved irrefutably that a female p.i. would be accepted by an audience of both men and women readers, and a score of other female writers began to follow in Grafton and Paretsky’s footsteps. Thus, the arena widened in the United States as well, offering women another outlet for their creative energies.

Creating crime fiction offers writers a vast landscape as broad and as varied as crime itself. Because there are no hard-and-fast rules and because those few rules that exist exist to be broken (witness the uproar over The Murder of Roger Ackroyd when it was first published in 1926), the writer can choose any setting on earth which she can then people with: teenagers as sleuths, children as sleuths, old ladies as sleuths, animals as sleuths, shut-ins and agoraphobics as sleuths, teachers as sleuths, doctors as sleuths, as-tronauts as sleuths, and on and on as far as the imagination can carry her. With this as a basic tenet of crime writing, the real question should be not why do so many women write crime stories? but why doesn’t everyone write crime stories?

This volume doesn’t attempt to answer that question. What it does, however, is present for your entertainment a century’s collection of crime and suspense stories by women. What you’ll notice about this collection is that it includes names closely associated with crime writing — Dorothy L. Sayers, Minette Walters, Sue Grafton, and others — but it also includes some names one doesn’t normally associate with crime writing at all: names like Nadine Gordimer and Joyce Carol Oates. I’ve tried to come up with as wide a range of female authors as possible because a wide range reflects my primary belief about crime writing and that is this: crime writing does not have to be considered genre writing. It is not confined to a few moderately talented practitioners. And most importantly, it is indeed something that can stand, will stand, and has already stood the test of time.

One of the greatest sources of irritation to me as a writer is the number of people who stubbornly consider crime writing a lesser form of literary endeavor. Throughout the years that I’ve written crime fiction, I’ve had numerous conversations with people that reflect this very strange point of view. One man at a writing conference told me that he was going to write crime fiction as practice and then, later on, he would write a “real novel.” (“Like making tacos until you can graduate to chocolate cake from scratch?” I asked him innocently.) A journalist in Germany once asked me what I thought of the fact that my novels weren’t reviewed in a highbrow newspaper that I had never heard of. (“Gosh. I don’t know. I guess that paper doesn’t have much impact on sales,” I told her.) Several times people have stood up during Q&A at the end of speeches I’ve given and asked me why “a writer like you doesn’t write serious novels.” (“I consider crime fiction serious,” I tell them.) But always there is this underlying belief on the part of some readers and some critics: crime fiction isn’t something that should be taken seriously.

This is an unfortunate point of view. While it’s true that some crime fiction is lowbrow, formulaic, and without much merit, the same can be said of anything else that’s published. Some books are good, some are indifferent, and some are downright bad. But the reality is that a great deal of crime fiction has done what mainstream

“literary” fiction only dreams of doing: it has successfully stood the test of time. For every Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, whose Sherlock Holmes still inspires devotion and enthusiasm over one hundred years after his creation, there are thousands of writers whose work of ostensible literature has faded into complete obscurity. Given the choice between being labeled a “literary” writer and disappearing ten years after I hang up my spurs or being labeled “only a crime writer” and having my stories and novels read one hundred years from now, I know which choice I would make and I can only assume any writer of sense would make the same one.

For my money, literature is whatever lasts. During his lifetime, no one would have accused William Shakespeare of writing great literature. He was a popular playwright who peopled his productions with characters who satisfied every possible level of education and experience in his audience. Charles Dickens wrote serials for the newspaper, penning them as quickly as he could in order to support his ever-burgeoning family. And the aforementioned Arthur Conan Doyle, a young ophthalmologist building a practice, wrote mysteries to while away the time as he waited for patients to show up in his surgery. None of these writers was worried about immortality. None of them wrote while wondering whether their work would be considered literature, commercial fiction, or trash. They were each concerned about telling a great story, telling it well, and placing it before an audience. The rest they placed — as wise men and women do — into the hands of time.

This collection of authors represents that same philosophy of writing what you want to write and writing it well. Some of them have done that, died, and achieved a modicum of immortality. The rest of them remain earthbound, still writing, and waiting to see how time will deal with them. All of them share in common a desire to explore mankind in a moment on the edge. The edge equates to the crime committed. How the characters deal with the edge is the story.

A Jury of Her Peers

SUSAN GLASPELL

Susan Keating Glaspell (1876–1948) was born in Davenport, Iowa, attended Drake University and the University of Chicago, and worked as a journalist before turning to full-time fiction-writing in 1901. Her first novel, The Glory of the Conquered, appeared in 1909 and her first story collection, Lifted Masks, in 1912, but she would achieve her greatest fame as a playwright, culminating in a controversial Pulitzer Prize for Alison’s House (1930), inspired by the life of Emily Dickinson. From 1914 to 1921, she was a member of the Provincetown Players, a bohemian theatre-based community founded by her idealist husband George Cram Cook. Among the other members were Edna St. Vincent Millay, Djuna Barnes, Edna Ferber, John Reed, and the writer who would become the greatest American playwright of the time, Eugene O’Neill.

After early stories that were popular romances of the local-color school, Glaspell was influenced to adopt a more naturalistic approach, along with socialist political attitudes, by her husband and Floyd Dell. The rebellion of women against the domination of simple-minded males was a continuing subject. One of her plays, the one-act Trifles (1916), became the basis for her most famous story, “A Jury of Her Peers” (1917). There’s no denying this is a detective story — indeed, in the fashion of the time, one in which amateur sleuths are more perceptive than professionals — but it is a highly unconventional, one-of-a-kind detective story in which the detection is used to make a serious thematic point.

When Martha Hale opened the storm-door and got a cut of the north wind, she ran back for her big woolen scarf. As she hurriedly wound that round her head her eye made a scandalized sweep of her kitchen. It was no ordinary thing that called her away — it was probably further from ordinary than anything that had ever happened in Dickson County. But what her eye took in was that her kitchen was in no shape for leaving: her bread all ready for mixing, half the flour sifted and half unsifted.

She hated to see things half done; but she had been at that when the team from town stopped to get Mr. Hale, and then the sheriff came running in to say his wife wished Mrs. Hale would come too — adding, with a grin, that he guessed she was getting scary and wanted another woman along. So she had dropped everything right where it was.

“Martha!” now came her husband’s impatient voice. “Don’t keep folks waiting out here in the cold.”

She again opened the storm-door, and this time joined the three men and the one woman waiting for her in the big two-seated buggy.

After she had the robes tucked around her she took another look at the woman who sat beside her on the back seat. She had met Mrs.

Peters the year before at the county fair, and the thing she remembered about her was that she didn’t seem like a sheriff’s wife.

She was small and thin and didn’t have a strong voice. Mrs. Gorman, sheriff’s wife before Gorman went out and Peters came in, had a voice that somehow seemed to be backing up the law with every word. But if Mrs. Peters didn’t look like a sheriff’s wife, Peters made it up in looking like a sheriff. He was to a dot the kind of man who could get himself elected sheriff — a heavy man with a big voice, who was particularly genial with the law-abiding, as if to make it plain that he knew the difference between criminals and non-criminals. And right there it came into Mrs. Hale’s mind with a stab, that this man who was so pleasant and lively with all of them was going to the Wrights’ now as a sheriff.

“The country’s not very pleasant this time of year,” Mrs. Peters at last ventured, as if she felt they ought to be talking as well as the men.

Mrs. Hale scarcely finished her reply, for they had gone up a little hill and could see the Wright place now, and seeing it did not make her feel like talking. It looked very lonesome this cold March morning. It had always been a lonesome-looking place. It was down in a hollow, and the poplar trees around it were lonesome-looking trees. The men were looking at it and talking about what had happened. The county attorney was bending to one side of the buggy, and kept looking steadily at the place as they drew up to it.

“I’m glad you came with me,” Mrs. Peters said nervously, as the two women were about to follow the men in through the kitchen door.

Even after she had her foot on the doorstep, her hand on the knob, Martha Hale had a moment of feeling she could not cross the threshold. And the reason it seemed she couldn’t cross it now was simply because she hadn’t crossed it before. Time and time again it had been in her mind, “I ought to go over and see Minnie Foster”—she still thought of her as Minnie Foster, though for twenty years she had been Mrs. Wright. And then there was always something to do and Minnie Foster would go from her mind. But now she could come.

The men went over to the stove. The women stood close together by the door. Young Henderson, the county attorney, turned around and said, “Come up to the fire, ladies.”

Mrs. Peters took a step forward, then stopped. “I’m not — cold,” she said.

And so the two women stood by the door, at first not even so much as looking around the kitchen.

The men talked for a minute about what a good thing it was the sheriff had sent his deputy out that morning to make a fire for them, and then Sheriff Peters stepped back from the stove, unbuttoned his outer coat, and leaned his hands on the kitchen table in a way that seemed to mark the beginning of official business. “Now, Mr. Hale,”

he said in a sort of semi-official voice, “before we move things about, you tell Mr. Henderson just what it was you saw when you came here yesterday morning.”

The county attorney was looking around the kitchen.

“By the way,” he said, “has anything been moved?” He turned to the sheriff. “Are things just as you left them yesterday?”

Peters looked from cupboard to sink; from that to a small worn rocker a little to one side of the kitchen table.

“It’s just the same.”

“Somebody should have been left here yesterday,” said the county attorney.

“Oh — yesterday,” returned the sheriff, with a little gesture as of yesterday having been more than he could bear to think of. “When I had to send Frank to Morris Center for that man who went crazy — let me tell you, I had my hands full yesterday. I knew you could get back from Omaha by today, George, and as long as I went over everything here myself—”

“Well, Mr. Hale,” said the county attorney, in a way of letting what was past and gone go, “tell just what happened when you came here yesterday morning.”

Mrs. Hale, still leaning against the door, had that sinking feeling of the mother whose child is about to speak a piece. Lewis often wandered along and got things mixed up in a story. She hoped he would tell this straight and plain, and not say unnecessary things that would just make things harder for Minnie Foster. He didn’t begin at once, and she noticed that he looked queer — as if standing in that kitchen and having to tell what he had seen there yesterday morning made him almost sick.

“Yes, Mr. Hale?” the county attorney reminded.

“Harry and I had started to town with a load of potatoes,” Mrs. Hale’s husband began.

Harry was Mrs. Hale’s oldest boy. He wasn’t with them now, for the very good reason that those potatoes never got to town yesterday and he was taking them this morning, so he hadn’t been home when the sheriff stopped to say he wanted Mr. Hale to come over to the Wright place and tell the county attorney his story there, where he could point it all out. With all Mrs. Hale’s other emotions came the fear that maybe Harry wasn’t dressed warm enough — they hadn’t any of them realized how that north wind did bite.

“We come along this road,” Hale was going on, with a motion of his hand to the road over which they had just come, “and as we got in sight of the house I says to Harry, ‘I’m goin’ to see if I can’t get John Wright to take a telephone.’ You see,” he explained to Henderson, “unless I can get somebody to go in with me they won’t come out this branch road except for a price I can’t pay. I’d spoke to Wright about it once before; but he put me off, saying folks talked too much anyway, and all he asked was peace and quiet — guess you know about how much he talked himself. But I thought maybe if I went to the house and talked about it before his wife, and said all the womenfolks liked the telephones, and that in this lonesome stretch of road it would be a good thing — well, I said to Harry that that was what I was going to say — though I said at the same time that I didn’t know as what his wife wanted made much difference to John—”

Now, there he was! — saying things he didn’t need to say. Mrs.

Hale tried to catch her husband’s eye, but fortunately the county attorney interrupted with:

“Let’s talk about that a little later, Mr. Hale. I do want to talk about that, but I’m anxious now to get along to just what happened when you got here.”

When he began this time, it was very deliberately and carefully:

“I didn’t see or hear anything. I knocked at the door. And still it was all quiet inside. I knew they must be up — it was past eight o’clock. So I knocked again, louder, and I thought I heard somebody say ‘Come in.’ I wasn’t sure — I’m not sure yet. But I opened the door — this door,” jerking a hand toward the door by which the two women stood, “and there, in that rocker”—pointing to it—“sat Mrs.

Wright.”

Everyone in the kitchen looked at the rocker. It came into Mrs.

Hale’s mind that that rocker didn’t look in the least like Minnie Foster — the Minnie Foster of twenty years before. It was a dingy red, with wooden rungs up the back, and the middle rung was gone, and the chair sagged to one side,

“How did she — look?” the county attorney was inquiring.

“Well,” said Hale, “she looked — queer.”

“How do you mean — queer?”

As he asked it he took out a notebook and pencil. Mrs. Hale did not like the sight of that pencil. She kept her eye fixed on her husband, as if to keep him from saying unnecessary things that would go into that notebook and make trouble.

Hale did speak guardedly, as if the pencil had affected him too.

“Well, as if she didn’t know what she was going to do next. And kind of — done up.”

“How did she seem to feel about your coming?”

“Why, I don’t think she minded — one way or other. She didn’t pay much attention. I said, ‘Ho’ do, Mrs. Wright? It’s cold, ain’t it?’

And she said, ‘Is it?’—and went on pleatin’ at her apron.

“Well, I was surprised. She didn’t ask me to come up to the stove, or to sit down, but just set there, not even lookin’ at me. And so I said: ‘I want to see John.’

“And then she — laughed. I guess you would call it a laugh.

“I thought of Harry and the team outside, so I said, a little sharp,

‘Can I see John?’ ‘No,’ says she — kind of dull like. ’Ain’t he home?’

says I. Then she looked at me. ‘Yes,’ says she, ‘he’s home.’ Then why can’t I see him?’ I asked her, out of patience with her now. ‘’Cause he’s dead.’ says she, just as quiet and dull — and fell to pleatin’ her apron. ‘Dead?’ says I, like you do when you can’t take in what you’ve heard.

“She just nodded her head, not getting a bit excited, but rockin’

back and forth.

“‘Why — where is he?’ says I, not knowing what to say.

“She just pointed upstairs — like this”—pointing to the room above.

“I got up, with the idea of going up there myself. By this time I — didn’t know what to do. I walked from there to here; then I says:

‘Why, what did he die of?’

“‘He died of a rope around his neck,’ says she; and just went on pleatin’ at her apron.”

Hale stopped speaking, and stood staring at the rocker, as if he were still seeing the woman who had sat there the morning before.

Nobody spoke; it was as if everyone were seeing the woman who had sat there the morning before.

“And what did you do then?” the county attorney at last broke the silence.

“I went out and called Harry. I thought I might — need help. I got Harry in, and we went upstairs.” His voice fell almost to a whisper.

“There he was — lying over the—”

“I think I’d rather have you go into that upstairs,” the county attorney interrupted, “where you can point it all out. Just go on now with the rest of the story.”

“Well, my first thought was to get that rope off. It looked—” He stopped, his face twitching.

“But Harry, he went up to him, and he said, ‘No, he’s dead all right, and we’d better not touch anything.’ So we went downstairs.

“She was still sitting that same way. ‘Has anybody been notified?’

I asked. ‘No,’ says she, unconcerned.

“‘Who did this, Mrs. Wright?’ said Harry. He said it business-like, and she stopped pleatin’ at her apron. ‘I don’t know,’ she says. ‘You don’t know?’ says Harry. ‘Weren’t you sleepin’ in the bed with him?’

‘Yes,’ says she, ‘but I was on the inside.’ ‘Somebody slipped a rope round his neck and strangled him, and you didn’t wake up?’ says Harry. ‘I didn’t wake up,’ she said after him.

“We may have looked as if we didn’t see how that could be, for after a minute she said, ‘I sleep sound.’

“Harry was going to ask her more questions, but I said maybe that weren’t our business; maybe we ought to let her tell her story first to the coroner or the sheriff. So Harry went fast as he could over to High Road — the Rivers’ place, where there’s a telephone.”

“And what did she do when she knew you had gone for the coroner?” The attorney got his pencil in his hand all ready for writing.

“She moved from that chair to this one over here”—Hale pointed to a small chair in the corner—“and just sat there with her hands held together and looking down. I got a feeling that I ought to make some conversation, so I said I had come in to see if John wanted to put in a telephone: and at that she started to laugh, and then she stopped and looked at me — scared.”

At the sound of a moving pencil the man who was telling the story looked up.

“I dunno — maybe it wasn’t scared,” he hastened; “I wouldn’t like to say it was. Soon Harry got back, and then Dr. Lloyd came, and you, Mr. Peters, and so I guess that’s all I know that you don’t.”

He said that last with relief, and moved a little, as if relaxing.

Everyone moved a little. The county attorney walked toward the stair door.

“I guess we’ll go upstairs first — then out to the barn and around there.”

He paused and looked around the kitchen.

“You’re convinced there was nothing important here?” he asked the sheriff. “Nothing that would — point to any motive?”

The sheriff too looked all around, as if to reconvince himself.

“Nothing here but kitchen things,” he said, with a little laugh for the insignificance of kitchen things.

The county attorney was looking at the cupboard — a peculiar, ungainly structure, half closet and half cupboard, the upper part of it being built in the wall, and the lower part just the old-fashioned kitchen cupboard. As if its queerness attracted him, he got a chair and opened the upper part and looked in. After a moment he drew his hand away sticky.

“Here’s a nice mess,” he said resentfully.

The two women had drawn nearer, and now the sheriff’s wife spoke.

“Oh — her fruit,” she said, looking to Mrs. Hale for sympathetic understanding. She turned back to the county attorney and explained: “She worried about that when it turned to cold last night.

She said the fire would go out and her jars might burst.”

Mrs. Peters’s husband broke into a laugh.

“Well, can you beat the woman! Held for murder, and worrying about her preserves!”

The young attorney set his lips.

“I guess before we’re through with her she may have something more serious than preserves to worry about.”

“Oh, well,” said Mrs. Hale’s husband, with good-natured superiority, “women are used to worrying over trifles.”

The two women moved a little closer together. Neither of them spoke. The county attorney seemed suddenly to remember his manners — and think of his future.

“And yet,” said he, with the gallantry of a young politician, “for all their worries, what would we do without the ladies?”

The women did not speak, did not unbend. He went to the sink and began washing his hands. He turned to wipe them on the roller towel — whirled it for a cleaner place.

“Dirty towels! Not much of a housekeeper, would you say, ladies?”

He kicked his foot against some dirty pans under the sink.

“There’s a great deal of work to be done on a farm,” said Mrs.

Hale stiffly.

“To be sure. And yet”—with a little bow to her—“I know there are some Dickson County farmhouses that do not have such roller towels.” He gave it a pull to expose its full length again.

“Those towels get dirty awful quick. Men’s hands aren’t always as clean as they might be.”

“Ah, loyal to your sex, I see,” he laughed. He stopped and gave her a keen look. “But you and Mrs. Wright were neighbors. I suppose you were friends, too.”

Martha Hale shook her head.

“I’ve seen little enough of her of late years. I’ve not been in this house — it’s more than a year.”

“And why was that? You didn’t like her?”

“I liked her well enough,” she replied with spirit. “Farmers’ wives have their hands full, Mr. Henderson. And then”—She looked around the kitchen.

“Yes?” he encouraged.

“It never seemed a very cheerful place,” said she, more to herself than to him.

“No,” he agreed; “I don’t think anyone could call it cheerful. I shouldn’t say she had the homemaking instinct.”

“Well, I don’t know as Wright had, either,” she muttered.

“You mean they didn’t get on very well?” he was quick to ask.

“No; I don’t mean anything,” she answered, with decision. As she turned a little away from him, she added: “But I don’t think a place would be any the cheerfuler for John Wright’s bein’ in it.”

“I’d like to talk to you about that a little later, Mrs. Hale,” he said.

“I’m anxious to get the lay of things upstairs now.”

He moved toward the stair door, followed by the two men.

“I suppose anything Mrs. Peters does’ll be all right?” the sheriff inquired. “She was to take in some clothes for her, you know — and a few little things. We left in such a hurry yesterday.”

The county attorney looked at the two women whom they were leaving alone there among the kitchen things.

“Yes — Mrs. Peters,” he said, his glance resting on the woman who was not Mrs. Peters, the big farmer woman who stood behind the sheriff’s wife. “Of course Mrs. Peters is one of us,” he said, in a manner of entrusting responsibility. “And keep your eye out, Mrs. Peters, for anything that might be of use. No telling; you women might come upon a clue to the motive — and that’s the thing we need.”

Mr. Hale rubbed his face after the fashion of a show man getting ready for a pleasantry.

“But would the women know a clue if they did come upon it?”

he said; and, having delivered himself of this, he followed the others through the stair door.

The women stood motionless and silent, listening to the footsteps, first upon the stairs, then in the room above them.

Then, as if releasing herself from something strange, Mrs. Hale began to arrange the dirty pans under the sink, which the county attorney’s disdainful push of the foot had deranged.

“I’d hate to have men comin’ into my kitchen,” she said testily—“snoopin’ around and criticizin’.”

“Of course it’s no more than their duty,” said the sheriff’s wife, in her manner of timid acquiescence.

“Duty’s all right,” replied Mrs. Hale bluffly; “but I guess that deputy sheriff that come out to make the fire might have got a little of this on.” She gave the roller towel a pull. “Wish I’d thought of that sooner! Seems mean to talk about her for not having things slicked up when she had to come away in such a hurry.”

She looked around the kitchen. Certainly it was not “slicked up.”

Her eye was held by a bucket of sugar on a low shelf. The cover was off the wooden bucket, and beside it was a paper bag — half full.

Mrs. Hale moved toward it.

“She was putting this in here,” she said to herself — slowly.

She thought of the flour in her kitchen at home — half sifted, half not sifted. She had been interrupted, and had left things half done.

What had interrupted Minnie Foster? Why had that work been left half done? She made a move as if to finish it, — unfinished things always bothered her, — and then she glanced around and saw that Mrs. Peters was watching her — and she didn’t want Mrs. Peters to get that feeling she had got of work begun and then — for some reason — not finished.

“It’s a shame about her fruit,” she said, and walked toward the cupboard that the county attorney had opened, and got on the chair, murmuring: “I wonder if it’s all gone.”

It was a sorry enough looking sight, but “Here’s one that’s all right,” she said at last. She held it toward the light. “This is cherries, too.” She looked again. “I declare I believe that’s the only one.”

With a sigh, she got down from the chair, went to the sink, and wiped off the bottle.

“She’ll feel awful bad, after all her hard work in the hot weather.

I remember the afternoon I put up my cherries last summer.”

She set the bottle on the table, and, with another sigh, started to sit down in the rocker. But she did not sit down. Something kept her from sitting down in that chair. She straightened — stepped back, and, half turned away, stood looking at it, seeing the woman who sat there “pleatin’ at her apron.”

The thin voice of the sheriff’s wife broke in upon her: “I must be getting those things from the front room closet.” She opened the door into the other room, started in, stepped back. “You coming with me, Mrs. Hale?” she asked nervously. “You — you could help me get them.”

They were soon back — the stark coldness of that shut-up room was not a thing to linger in.

“My!” said Mrs. Peters, dropping the things on the table and hurrying to the stove.

Mrs. Hale stood examining the clothes the woman who was being detained in town had said she wanted.

“Wright was close!” she exclaimed, holding up a shabby black skirt that bore the marks of much making over. “I think maybe that’s why she kept so much to herself. I s’pose she felt she couldn’t do her part; and then, you don’t enjoy things when you feel shabby.

She used to wear pretty clothes and be lively — when she was Minnie Foster, one of the town girls, singing in the choir. But that — oh, that was twenty years ago.”

With a carefulness in which there was something tender, she folded the shabby clothes and piled them at one corner of the table.

She looked at Mrs. Peters, and there was something in the other woman’s look that irritated her.

“She don’t care,” she said to herself. “Much difference it makes to her whether Minnie Foster had pretty clothes when she was a girl.”

Then she looked again, and she wasn’t so sure; in fact, she hadn’t at any time been perfectly sure about Mrs. Peters. She had that shrinking manner, and yet her eyes looked as if they could see a long way into things.

“This all you was to take in?” asked Mrs. Hale.

“No,” said the sheriff’s wife; “she said she wanted an apron. Funny thing to want,” she ventured in her nervous little way, “for there’s not much to get you dirty in jail, goodness knows. But I suppose just to make her feel more natural. If you’re used to wearing an apron…She said they were in the bottom drawer of this cupboard.

Yes — here they are. And then her little shawl that always hung on the stair door.”

She took the small gray shawl from behind the door leading upstairs, and stood a minute looking at it.

Suddenly Mrs. Hale took a quick step toward the other woman.

“Mrs. Peters!”

“Yes, Mrs. Hale?”

“Do you think she — did it?”

A frightened look blurred the other things in Mrs. Peters’s eyes.

“Oh, I don’t know,” she said, in a voice that seemed to shrink away from the subject.

“Well, I don’t think she did,” affirmed Mrs. Hale stoutly. “Asking for an apron, and her little shawl. Worryin’ about her fruit.”

“Mr. Peters says—” Footsteps were heard in the room above; she stopped, looked up, then went on in a lowered voice: “Mr. Peters says — it looks bad for her. Mr. Henderson is awful sarcastic in a speech, and he’s going to make fun of her saying she didn’t — wake up.”

For a moment Mrs. Hale had no answer. Then, “Well, I guess John Wright didn’t wake up — when they was slippin’ that rope under his neck,” she muttered.

“No, it’s strange,” breathed Mrs. Peters. “They think it was such a — funny way to kill a man.”

She began to laugh; at the sound of the laugh, abruptly stopped.

“That’s just what Mr. Hale said,” said Mrs. Hale, in a resolutely natural voice. “There was a gun in the house. He says that’s what he can’t understand.”

“Mr. Henderson said, coming out, that what was needed for the case was a motive. Something to show anger — or sudden feeling.”

“Well, I don’t see any signs of anger around here,” said Mrs. Hale.

“I don’t—”

She stopped. It was as if her mind tripped on something. Her eye was caught by a dish-towel in the middle of the kitchen table. Slowly she moved toward the table. One half of it was wiped clean, the other half messy. Her eyes made a slow, almost unwilling turn to the bucket of sugar and the half empty bag beside it. Things begun — and not finished.

After a moment she stepped back, and said, in that manner of releasing herself:

“Wonder how they’re finding things upstairs? I hope she had it a little more red up up there. You know”—she paused, and feeling gathered—“it seems kind of sneaking; locking her up in town and coming out here to get her own house to turn against her!”

“But, Mrs. Hale,” said the sheriff’s wife, “the law is the law.”

“I s’pose ’tis,” answered Mrs. Hale shortly.

She turned to the stove, saying something about that fire not being much to brag of. She worked with it a minute, and when she straightened up she said aggressively:

“The law is the law — and a bad stove is a bad stove. How’d you like to cook on this?”—pointing with the poker to the broken lining.

She opened the oven door and started to express her opinion of the oven; but she was swept into her own thoughts, thinking of what it would mean, year after year, to have that stove to wrestle with. The thought of Minnie Foster trying to bake in that oven — and the thought of her never going over to see Minnie Foster—

She was startled by hearing Mrs. Peters say: “A person gets discouraged — and loses heart.”

The sheriff’s wife had looked from the stove to the sink — to the pail of water which had been carried in from outside. The two women stood there silent, above them the footsteps of the men who were looking for evidence against the woman who had worked in that kitchen. That look of seeing into things, of seeing through a thing to something else, was in the eyes of the sheriff’s wife now.

When Mrs. Hale next spoke to her, it was gently:

“Better loosen up your things, Mrs. Peters. We’ll not feel them when we go out.”

Mrs. Peters went to the back of the room to hang up the fur tippet she was wearing. A moment later she exclaimed, “Why, she was piecing a quilt,” and held up a large sewing basket piled high with quilt pieces.

Mrs. Hale spread some of the blocks on the table.

“It’s log-cabin pattern,” she said, putting several of them together.

“Pretty, isn’t it?”

They were so engaged with the quilt that they did not hear the footsteps on the stairs. Just as the stair door opened Mrs. Hale was saying:

“Do you suppose she was going to quilt it or just knot it?”

The sheriff threw up his hands.

“They wonder whether she was going to quilt it or just knot it!”

There was a laugh for the ways of women, a warming of hands over the stove, and then the county attorney said briskly:

“Well, let’s go right out to the barn and get that cleared up.”

“I don’t see as there’s anything so strange,” Mrs. Hale said resentfully, after the outside door had closed on the three men— “our taking up our time with little things while we’re waiting for them to get the evidence. I don’t see as it’s anything to laugh about.”

“Of course they’ve got awful important things on their minds,”

said the sheriff’s wife apologetically.

They returned to an inspection of the blocks for the quilt. Mrs.

Hale was looking at the fine, even sewing, and preoccupied with thoughts of the woman who had done that sewing, when she heard the sheriff’s wife say, in a queer tone:

“Why, look at this one.”

She turned to take the block held out to her.

“The sewing,” said Mrs. Peters, in a troubled way. “All the rest of them have been so nice and even — but — this one. Why, it looks as if she didn’t know what she was about!”

Their eyes met — something flashed to life, passed between them; then, as if with an effort, they seemed to pull away from each other.

A moment Mrs. Hale sat there, her hands folded over that sewing which was so unlike all the rest of the sewing. Then she had pulled a knot and drawn the threads.

“Oh, what are you doing, Mrs. Hale?” asked the sheriff’s wife, startled.

“Just pulling out a stitch or two that’s not sewed very good,” said Mrs. Hale mildly.

“I don’t think we ought to touch things,” Mrs. Peters said, a little helplessly.

“I’ll just finish up this end,” answered Mrs. Hale, still in that mild, matter-of-fact fashion.

She threaded a needle and started to replace bad sewing with good. For a little while she sewed in silence. Then, in that thin, timid voice, she heard:

“Mrs. Hale!”

“Yes, Mrs. Peters?”

“What do you suppose she was so — nervous about?”

“Oh, I don’t know,” said Mrs. Hale, as if dismissing a thing not important enough to spend much time on. “I don’t know as she was — nervous. I sew awful queer sometimes when I’m just tired.”

She cut a thread, and out of the corner of her eye looked up at Mrs. Peters. The small, lean face of the sheriff’s wife seemed to have tightened up. Her eyes had that look of peering into something. But the next moment she moved, and said in her thin, indecisive way:

“Well, I must get those clothes wrapped. They may be through sooner than we think. I wonder where I could find a piece of paper — and string.”

“In that cupboard, maybe,” suggested Mrs. Hale, after a glance around.

One piece of the crazy sewing remained unripped. Mrs. Peters’s back turned, Martha Hale now scrutinized that piece, compared it with the dainty, accurate sewing of the other blocks. The difference was startling. Holding this block made her feel queer, as if the distracted thoughts of the woman who had perhaps turned to it to try and quiet herself were communicating themselves to her.

Mrs. Peters’s voice roused her.

“Here’s a birdcage,” she said. “Did she have a bird, Mrs. Hale?”

“Why, I don’t know whether she did or not.” She turned to look at the cage Mrs. Peters was holding up. “I’ve not been here in so long.” She sighed. “There was a man round last year selling canaries cheap — but I don’t know as she took one. Maybe she did. She used to sing real pretty herself.”

Mrs. Peters looked around the kitchen.

“Seems kind of funny to think of a bird here.” She half laughed — an attempt to put up a barrier. “But she must have had one — or why would she have a cage? I wonder what happened to it.”

“I suppose maybe the cat got it,” suggested Mrs. Hale, resuming her sewing.

“No, she didn’t have a cat. She’s got that feeling some people have about cats — being afraid of them. When they brought her to our house yesterday, my cat got in the room, and she was real upset and asked me to take it out.”

“My sister Bessie was like that,” laughed Mrs. Hale.

The sheriff’s wife did not reply. The silence made Mrs. Hale turn around. Mrs. Peters was examining the birdcage.

“Look at this door,” she said slowly. “It’s broke. One hinge has been pulled apart.”

Mrs. Hale came nearer.

“Looks as if some one must have been — rough with it.”

Again their eyes met — startled, questioning, apprehensive. For a moment neither spoke nor stirred. Then Mrs. Hale, turning away, said brusquely:

“If they’re going to find any evidence, I wish they’d be about it. I don’t like this place.”

“But I’m awful glad you came with me, Mrs. Hale.” Mrs. Peters put the birdcage on the table and sat down. “It would be lone-some for me — sitting here alone.”

“Yes, it would, wouldn’t it?” agreed Mrs. Hale, a certain determined naturalness in her voice. She picked up the sewing, but now it dropped in her lap, and she murmured in a different voice: “But I tell you what I do wish, Mrs. Peters. I wish I had come over sometimes when she was here. I wish — I had.”

“But of course you were awful busy, Mrs. Hale. Your house — and your children.”

“I could’ve come,” retorted Mrs. Hale shortly. “I stayed away because it weren’t cheerful — and that’s why I ought to have come.

I”—she looked around—“I’ve never liked this place. Maybe because it’s down in a hollow and you don’t see the road. I don’t know what it is, but it’s a lonesome place, and always was. I wish I had come over to see Minnie Foster sometimes. I can see now—” She did not put it into words.

“Well, you mustn’t reproach yourself,” counseled Mrs. Peters.

“Somehow, we just don’t see how it is with other folks till — something comes up.”

“Not having children makes less work,” mused Mrs. Hale, after a silence, “but it makes a quiet house — and Wright out to work all day — and no company when he did come in. Did you know John Wright, Mrs. Peters?”

“Not to know him. I’ve seen him in town. They say he was a good man.”

“Yes — good,” conceded John Wright’s neighbor grimly. “He didn’t drink, and kept his word as well as most, I guess, and paid his debts.

But he was a hard man, Mrs. Peters. Just to pass the time of day with him—” She stopped, shivered a little. “Like a raw wind that gets to the bone.” Her eye fell upon the cage on the table before her, and she added, almost bitterly: “I should think she would’ve wanted a bird!”

Suddenly she leaned forward, looking intently at the cage. “But what do you s’pose went wrong with it?”

“I don’t know,” returned Mrs. Peters; “unless it got sick and died.”

But after she said it she reached over and swung the broken door.

Both women watched it as if somehow held by it.

“You didn’t know — her?” Mrs. Hale asked, a gentler note in her voice.

“Not till they brought her yesterday,” said the sheriff’s wife.

“She — come to think of it, she was kind of like a bird herself. Real sweet and pretty, but kind of timid and — fluttery.

How — she — did — change.”

That held her for a long time. Finally, as if struck with a happy thought and relieved to get back to everyday things, she exclaimed:

“Tell you what, Mrs. Peters, why don’t you take the quilt in with you? It might take up her mind.”

“Why, I think that’s a real nice idea, Mrs. Hale,” agreed the sheriff’s wife, as if she too were glad to come into the atmosphere of a simple kindness. “There couldn’t possibly be any objection to that, could there? Now, just what will I take? I wonder if her patches are in here — and her things.”

They turned to the sewing basket.

“Here’s some red,” said Mrs. Hale, bringing out a roll of cloth.

Underneath that was a box. “Here, maybe her scissors are in here — and her things.” She held it up. “What a pretty box! I’ll warrant that was something she had a long time ago — when she was a girl.”

She held it in her hand a moment; then, with a little sigh, opened it.

Instantly her hand went to her nose.

“Why—!”

Mrs. Peters drew nearer — then turned away.

“There’s something wrapped up in this piece of silk,” faltered Mrs. Hale.

“This isn’t her scissors,” said Mrs. Peters in a shrinking voice.

Her hand not steady, Mrs. Hale raised the piece of silk. “Oh, Mrs.

Peters!” she cried. “It’s—”

Mrs. Peters bent closer.

“It’s the bird,” she whispered.

“But, Mrs. Peters!” cried Mrs. Hale. “Look at it! Its neck — look at its neck! It’s all — other side to.”

She held the box away from her.

The sheriff’s wife again bent closer.

“Somebody wrung its neck,” said she, in a voice that was slow and deep.

And then again the eyes of the two women met — this time clung together in a look of dawning comprehension, of growing horror.

Mrs. Peters looked from the dead bird to the broken door of the cage.

Again their eyes met. And just then there was a sound at the outside door.

Mrs. Hale slipped the box under the quilt pieces in the basket, and sank into the chair before it. Mrs. Peters stood holding to the table. The county attorney and the sheriff came in from outside.

“Well, ladies,” said the county attorney, as one turning from serious things to little pleasantries, “have you decided whether she was going to quilt it or knot it?”

“We think,” began the sheriff’s wife in a flurried voice, “that she was going to — knot it.”

He was too preoccupied to notice the change that came in her voice on that last.

“Well, that’s very interesting, I’m sure,” he said tolerantly. He caught sight of the birdcage. “Has the bird flown?”

“We think the cat got it,” said Mrs. Hale in a voice curiously even.

He was walking up and down, as if thinking something out.

“Is there a cat?” he asked absently.

Mrs. Hale shot a look up at the sheriff’s wife.

“Well, not now,” said Mrs. Peters. “They’re superstitious, you know; they leave.”

She sank into her chair.

The county attorney did not heed her. “No sign at all of any one having come in from the outside,” he said to Peters, in the manner of continuing an interrupted conversation. “Their own rope. Now let’s go upstairs again and go over it, piece by piece. It would have to have been some one who knew just the—”

The stair door closed behind them and their voices were lost.

The two women sat motionless, not looking at each other, but as if peering into something and at the same time holding back. When they spoke now it was as if they were afraid of what they were saying, but as if they could not help saying it.

“She liked the bird,” said Martha Hale, low and slowly. “She was going to bury it in that pretty box.”

“When I was a girl,” said Mrs. Peters, under her breath, “my kit-ten — there was a boy took a hatchet, and before my eyes — before I could get there—” She covered her face an instant. “If they hadn’t held me back I would have”—she caught herself, looked upstairs where footsteps were heard, and finished weakly—“hurt him.”

Then they sat without speaking or moving.

“I wonder how it would seem,” Mrs. Hale at last began, as if feeling her way over strange ground—“never to have had any children around?” Her eyes made a slow sweep of the kitchen, as if seeing what that kitchen had meant through all the years. “No, Wright wouldn’t like the bird,” she said after that—“a thing that sang. She used to sing. He killed that too.” Her voice tightened.

Mrs. Peters moved uneasily.

“Of course we don’t know who killed the bird.”

“I knew John Wright,” was Mrs. Hale’s answer.

“It was an awful thing was done in this house that night, Mrs.

Hale,” said the sheriff’s wife. “Killing a man while he slept — slipping a thing round his neck that choked the life out of him.”

Mrs. Hale’s hand went out to the birdcage.

“His neck. Choked the life out of him.”

“We don’t know who killed him,” whispered Mrs. Peters wildly.

“We don’t know.”

Mrs. Hale had not moved. “If there had been years and years of — nothing, then a bird to sing to you, it would be awful — still — after the bird was still.”

It was as if something within her not herself had spoken, and it found in Mrs. Peters something she did not know as herself.

“I know what stillness is,” she said, in a queer, monotonous voice.

“When we homesteaded in Dakota, and my first baby died — after he was two years old — and me with no other then—”

Mrs. Hale stirred.

“How soon do you suppose they’ll be through looking for evidence?”

“I know what stillness is,” repeated Mrs. Peters, in just that same way. Then she too pulled back. “The law has got to punish crime, Mrs. Hale,” she said in her tight little way.

“I wish you’d seen Minnie Foster,” was the answer, “when she wore a white dress with blue ribbons, and stood up there in the choir and sang.”

The picture of that girl, the fact that she had lived neighbor to that girl for twenty years, and had let her die for lack of life, was suddenly more than she could bear.

“Oh, I wish I’d come over here once in a while!” she cried. “That was a crime! That was a crime! Who’s going to punish that?”

“We mustn’t take on,” said Mrs. Peters, with a frightened look toward the stairs.

“I might ’a’ known she needed help! I tell you, it’s queer, Mrs. Peters.

We live close together, and we live far apart. We all go through the same things — it’s all just a different kind of the same thing! If it weren’t — why do you and I understand? Why do we know—what we know this minute?”

She dashed her hand across her eyes. Then, seeing the jar of fruit on the table, she reached for it and choked out:

“If I was you I wouldn’t tell her her fruit was gone! Tell her it ain’t.

Tell her it’s all right — all of it. Here — take this in to prove it to her!

She — she may never know whether it was broke or not.”

She turned away.

Mrs. Peters reached out for the bottle of fruit as if she were glad to take it — as if touching a familiar thing, having something to do, could keep her from something else. She got up, looked about for something to wrap the fruit in, took a petticoat from the pile of clothes she had brought from the front room, and nervously started winding that round the bottle.

“My!” she began in a high, false voice, “it’s a good thing the men couldn’t hear us! Getting all stirred up over a little thing like a — dead canary.” She hurried over that. “As if that could have anything to do with — with — my, wouldn’t they laugh?”

Footsteps were heard on the stairs.

“Maybe they would,” muttered Mrs. Hale—“maybe they wouldn’t.”

“No, Peters,” said the county attorney incisively: “it’s all perfectly clear, except the reason for doing it. But you know juries when it comes to women. If there was some definite thing — something to show. Something to make a story about. A thing that would connect up with this clumsy way of doing it.”

In a covert way Mrs. Hale looked at Mrs. Peters. Mrs. Peters was looking at her. Quickly they looked away from each other. The outer door opened and Mr. Hale came in.

“I’ve got the team round now,” he said. “Pretty cold out there.”

“I’m going to stay here awhile by myself,” the county attorney suddenly announced. “You can send Frank out for me, can’t you?”

he asked the sheriff. “I want to go over everything. I’m not satisfied we can’t do better.”

Again, for one brief moment, the two women’s eyes found one another.

The sheriff came up to the table.

“Did you want to see what Mrs. Peters was going to take in?”

The county attorney picked up the apron. He laughed.

“Oh, I guess they’re not very dangerous things the ladies have picked out.”

Mrs. Hale’s hand was on the sewing basket in which the box was concealed. She felt that she ought to take her hand off the basket.

She did not seem able to. He picked up one of the quilt blocks which she had piled on to cover the box. Her eyes felt like fire. She had a feeling that if he took up the basket she would snatch it from him.

But he did not take it up. With another little laugh, he turned away, saying:

“No; Mrs. Peters doesn’t need supervising. For that matter, a sheriff’s wife is married to the law. Ever think of it that way, Mrs.

Peters?”

Mrs. Peters was standing beside the table. Mrs. Hale shot a look up at her; but she could not see her face. Mrs. Peters had turned away. When she spoke, her voice was muffled.

“Not — just that way,” she said.

“Married to the law!” chuckled Mrs. Peters’s husband. He moved toward the door into the front room, and said to the county attorney:

“I just want you to come in here a minute, George. We ought to take a look at these windows.”

“Oh — windows,” said the county attorney scoffingly.

“We’ll be right out, Mr. Hale,” said the sheriff to the farmer, who was still waiting by the door.

Hale went to look after the horses. The sheriff followed the county attorney into the other room. Again — for one moment — the two women were alone in that kitchen.

Martha Hale sprang up, her hands tight together, looking at that other woman, with whom it rested. At first she could not see her eyes, for the sheriff’s wife had not turned back since she turned away at that suggestion of being married to the law. But now Mrs. Hale made her turn back. Her eyes made her turn back. Slowly, unwillingly, Mrs. Peters turned her head until her eyes met the eyes of the other woman. There was a moment when they held each other in a steady, burning look in which there was no evasion nor flinching. Then Martha Hale’s eyes pointed the way to the basket in which was hidden the thing that would make certain the conviction of the other woman — that woman who was not there and yet who had been there with them all through the hour.

For a moment Mrs. Peters did not move. And then she did it. With a rush forward, she threw back the quilt pieces, got the box, tried to put in in her handbag. It was too big. Desperately she opened it, started to take the bird out. But there she broke — she could not touch the bird. She stood helpless, foolish.

There was a sound of a knob turning in the inner door. Martha Hale snatched the box from the sheriff’s wife, and got it in the pocket of her big coat just as the sheriff and the county attorney came back into the kitchen.

“Well, Henry,” said the county attorney facetiously, “at least we found out that she was not going to quilt it. She was going to — what is it you call it, ladies?”

Mrs. Hale’s hand was against the pocket of her coat.

“We call it — knot it, Mr. Henderson.”

The Man Who Knew How

DOROTHY L. SAYERS

Dorothy Leigh Sayers (1893–1957) is one of the most remarkable and influential figures in crime fiction history. Born in Oxford and a graduate of Somerville College, Oxford, she was a language teacher, publisher’s reader, and advertising copywriter before becoming a full-time writer. In Whose Body? (1923), she introduced one of the most famous gentleman detectives in literature, Lord Peter Wimsey, a somewhat Wodehousian character, affected in speech and manner with pronounced “silly ass” tendencies, who would become a much deeper and more fully developed figure as his career went on. In Strong Poison (1930), Wimsey met novelist Harriet Vane, whom he would save from a charge of murder, then (in reckless disregard of the rules against romance in Golden Age detective novels) woo through several novels, including the academic classic Gaudy Night (1935), and finally wed in Busman’s Honeymoon (1937), the final detective novel completed by Sayers. (The fragmentary Thrones, Dominations would be completed with remarkable fidelity many years later by Jill Paton Walsh and published under their joint byline in 1998.)

Sayers, who became a feminist icon in the 1970s, in part because of the independence she personified in her own life and in part because of her creation of Harriet Vane, has been the subject of more biographical works and critical analyses than any Golden Age of Detection figure save Agatha Christie, and certainly few equaled her in her devotion to the games-playing elements of the detective story. However, she left detective fiction in the latter part of her life in favor of other literary pursuits, including some highly regarded religious plays and a translation of Dante.

Though Dorothy L. Sayers wrote a number of short stories about Lord Peter Wimsey, her best shorter works tend to be those without a series detective. In “The Man Who Knew How,” Sayers is able to comment wittily on her detective fiction speciality while developing a situation that could as easily have taken the title of another of her best short stories: “Suspicion.” “The Man Who Knew How” is the sort of crime story ideally suited to radio adaptation, as it was in a memorable Suspense broadcast starring Charles Laughton as Pender, with Hans Conreid in the title role.

For the twentieth time since the train had left Carlisle, Pender glanced up from Murder at the Manse and caught the eye of the man opposite.

He frowned a little. It was irritating to be watched so closely, and always with that faint, sardonic smile. It was still more irritating to allow oneself to be so much disturbed by the smile and the scrutiny.

Pender wrenched himself back to his book with a determination to concentrate upon the problem of the minister murdered in the library.

But the story was of the academic kind that crowds all its exciting incidents into the first chapter, and proceeds thereafter by a long series of deductions to a scientific solution in the last. Twice Pender had to turn back to verify points that he had missed in reading. Then he became aware that he was not thinking about the murdered minister at all — he was becoming more and more actively conscious of the other man’s face. A queer face, Pender thought.

There was nothing especially remarkable about the features in themselves; it was their expression that daunted Pender. It was a secret face, the face of one who knew a great deal to other people’s disadvantage. The mouth was a little crooked and tightly tucked in at the corners, as though savoring a hidden amusement. The eyes, behind a pair of rimless pince-nez, glittered curiously; but that was possibly due to the light reflected in the glasses. Pender wondered what the man’s profession might be. He was dressed in a dark lounge suit, a raincoat and a shabby soft hat; his age was perhaps about forty.

Pender coughed unneccessarily and settled back into his corner, raising the detective story high before his face, barrier-fashion. This was worse than useless. He gained the impression that the man saw through the maneuver and was secretly entertained by it.

He wanted to fidget, but felt obscurely that his doing so would in some way constitute a victory for the other man. In his self-consciousness he held himself so rigid that attention to his book became a sheer physical impossibility.

There was no stop now before Rugby, and it was unlikely that any passenger would enter from the corridor to break up this disagreeable solitude à deux. Pender could, of course, go out into the corridor and not return, but that would be an acknowledgment of defeat. Pender lowered Murder at the Manse and caught the man’s eye again.

“Getting tired of it?” asked the man.

“Night journeys are always a bit tedious,” replied Pender, half relieved and half reluctant. “Would you like a book?”

He took The Paper-Clip Clue from his briefcase and held it out hopefully. The other man glanced at the title and shook his head.

“Thanks very much,” he said, “but I never read detective stories.

They’re so — inadequate, don’t you think so?”

“They are rather lacking in characterization and human interest, certainly,” said Pender, “but on a railway journey—”

“I don’t mean that,” said the other man. “I am not concerned with humanity. But all these murderers are so incompetent — they bore me.”

“Oh, I don’t know,” replied Pender. “At any rate they are usually a good deal more imaginative and ingenious than murderers in real life.”

“Than the murderers who are found out in real life, yes,” admitted the other man.

“Even some of those did pretty well before they got pinched,”

objected Pender. “Crippen, for instance; he need never have been caught if he hadn’t lost his head and run off to America. George Joseph Smith did away with at least two brides quite successfully before fate and the News of the World intervened.”

“Yes,” said the other man, “but look at the clumsiness of it all; the elaboration, the lies, the paraphernalia. Absolutely unnecessary.”

“Oh come!” said Pender. “You can’t expect committing a murder and getting away with it to be as simple as shelling peas.”

“Ah!” said the other man. “You think that, do you?”

Pender waited for him to elaborate this remark, but nothing came of it. The man leaned back and smiled in his secret way at the roof of the carriage; he appeared to think the conversation not worth going on with. Pender found himself noticing his companion’s hands.

They were white and surprisingly long in the fingers. He watched them gently tapping upon their owner’s knee — then resolutely turned a page — then put the book down once more and said:

“Well, if it’s so easy, how would you set about committing a murder?”

“I?” repeated the man. The light on his glasses made his eyes quite blank to Pender, but his voice sounded gently amused. “That’s different; I should not have to think twice about it.”

“Why not?”

“Because I happen to know how to do it.”

“Do you indeed?” muttered Pender, rebelliously.

“Oh yes; there’s nothing to it.”

“How can you be sure? You haven’t tried, I suppose?”

“It isn’t a case of trying,” said the man. “There’s nothing uncertain about my method. That’s just the beauty of it.”

“It’s easy to say that,” retorted Pender, “but what is this wonderful method?”

“You can’t expect me to tell you that, can you?” said the other man, bringing his eyes back to rest on Pender’s. “It might not be safe. You look harmless enough, but who could look more harmless than Crippen? Nobody is fit to be trusted with absolute control over other people’s lives.”

“Bosh!” exclaimed Pender. “I shouldn’t think of murdering anybody.”

“Oh yes you would,” said the other man, “if you really believed it was safe. So would anybody. Why are all these tremendous artificial barriers built up around murder by the Church and the law?

Just because it’s everybody’s crime and just as natural as breathing.”

“But that’s ridiculous!” cried Pender, warmly.

“You think so, do you? That’s what most people would say. But I wouldn’t trust ’em. Not with sulphate of thanatol to be bought for two pence at any chemist’s.”

“Sulphate of what?” asked Pender sharply.

“Ah! you think I’m giving something away. Well, it’s a mixture of that and one or two other things — all equally ordinary and cheap.

For nine pence you could make up enough to poison the entire Cabinet. Though of course one wouldn’t polish off the whole lot at once; it might look funny if they all died simultaneously in their baths.”

“Why in their baths?”

“That’s the way it would take them. It’s the action of the hot water that brings on the effect of the stuff, you see. Any time from a few hours to a few days after administration. It’s quite a simple chemical reaction and it couldn’t possibly be detected by analysis. It would just look like heart failure.”

Pender eyed him uneasily. He did not like the smile; it was not only derisive, it was smug, it was almost gloating, triumphant! He could not quite put the right name to it.

“You know,” pursued the man, pulling a pipe from his pocket and beginning to fill it, “it is very odd how often one seems to read of people being found dead in their baths. It must be a very common accident. Quite temptingly so. After all, there is a fascination about murder. The thing grows upon one — that is, I imagine it would, you know.”

“Very likely,” said Pender.

“I’m sure of it. No, I wouldn’t trust anybody with that formula — not even a virtuous young man like yourself.”

The long white fingers tamped the tobacco firmly into the bowl and struck a match.

“But how about you?” said Pender, irritated. (Nobody cares to be called a virtuous young man.) “If nobody is fit to be trusted—”

“I’m not, eh?” replied the man. “Well, that’s true, but it can’t be helped now, can it? I know the thing and I can’t unknow it again.

It’s unfortunate, but there it is. At any rate you have the comfort of knowing that nothing disagreeable is likely to happen to me. Dear me! Rugby already. I get out here. I have a little bit of business to do at Rugby.”

He rose and shook himself, buttoned his raincoat about him, and pulled the shabby hat more firmly down about his enigmatic glasses.

The train slowed down and stopped. With a brief good night and a crooked smile the man stepped onto the platform. Pender watched him stride quickly away into the drizzle beyond the radius of the gas light.

“Dotty or something,” said Pender, oddly relieved. “Thank goodness, I seem to be going to have the compartment to myself.”

He returned to Murder at the Manse, but his attention still kept wandering from the book he held in his hand.

“What was the name of that stuff the fellow talked about? Sulphate of what?”

For the life of him he could not remember.

It was on the following afternoon that Pender saw the news item.

He had bought the Standard to read at lunch, and the word “Bath”

caught his eye; otherwise he would probably have missed the paragraph altogether, for it was only a short one.

WEALTHY MANUFACTURER DIES IN BATH

WIFE’S TRAGIC DISCOVERY

A distressing discovery was made early this morning by Mrs.

John Brittlesea, wife of the well-known head of Brittlesea’s Engineering Works at Rugby. Finding that her husband, whom she had seen alive and well less than an hour previously, did not come down in time for his breakfast, she searched for him in the bathroom, where the engineer was found lying dead in his bath; life having been extinct, according to the medical men, for half an hour.

The cause of the death is pronounced to be heart failure. The deceased manufacturer…

“That’s an odd coincidence,” said Pender. “At Rugby. I should think my unknown friend would be interested — if he is still there, doing his bit of business. I wonder what his business is, by the way.”

It is a very curious thing how, when once your attention is attracted to any particular set of circumstances, that set of circumstances seems to haunt you. You get appendicitis: immediately the newspapers are filled with paragraphs about statesmen suffering from appendicitis and victims dying of it; you learn that all your acquaintances have had it, or know friends who have had it and either died of it, or recovered from it with more surprising and spectacular rapidity than yourself; you cannot open a popular magazine without seeing its cure mentioned as one of the triumphs of modern surgery, or dip into a scientific treatise without coming across a comparison of the vermiform appendix in men and monkeys. Probably these references to appendicitis are equally frequent at all times, but you only notice them when your mind is attuned to the subject. At any rate, it was in this way that Pender accounted to himself for the extra-ordinary frequency with which people seemed to die in their baths at this period.

The thing pursued him at every turn. Always the same sequence of events: the hot bath, the discovery of the corpse, the inquest. Always the same medical opinion: heart failure following immersion in too hot water. It began to seem to Pender that it was scarcely safe to enter a hot bath at all. He took to making his own bath cooler and cooler each day, until it almost ceased to be enjoyable.

He skimmed his paper each morning for headlines about baths before settling down to read the news; and was at once relieved and vaguely disappointed if a week passed without a hot-bath tragedy.

One of the sudden deaths that occurred in this way was that of a young and beautiful woman whose husband, an analytical chemist, had tried without success to divorce her a few months previously.

The coroner displayed a tendency to suspect foul play, and put the husband through a severe cross-examination. There seemed, however, to be no getting behind the doctor’s evidence. Pender, brooding over the improbable possible, wished, as he did every day of the week, that he could remember the name of that drug the man in the train had mentioned.

Then came the excitement in Pender’s own neighborhood. An old Mr. Skimmings, who lived alone with a housekeeper in a street just around the corner, was found dead in his bathroom. His heart had never been strong. The housekeeper told the milkman that she had always expected something of the sort to happen, for the old gentleman would always take his bath so hot. Pender went to the inquest.

The housekeeper gave her evidence. Mr. Skimmings had been the kindest of employers, and she was heartbroken at losing him. No, she had not been aware that Mr. Skimmings had left her a large sum of money, but it was just like his goodness of heart. The verdict of course was accidental death.

Pender, that evening, went out for his usual stroll with the dog.

Some feeling of curiosity moved him to go around past the late Mr.

Skimmings’s house. As he loitered by, glancing up at the blank windows, the garden gate opened and a man came out. In the light of a street lamp, Pender recognized him at once.

“Hullo!” he said.

“Oh, it’s you, is it?” said the man. “Viewing the site of the tragedy, eh? What do you think about it all?”

“Oh, nothing very much,” said Pender. “I didn’t know him. Odd, our meeting again like this.”

“Yes, isn’t it? You live near here, I suppose.”

“Yes,” said Pender; and then wished he hadn’t. “Do you live in these parts too?”

“Me?” said the man. “Oh no. I was only here on a little matter of business.”

“Last time we met,” said Pender, “you had business at Rugby.”

They had fallen into step together, and were walking slowly down to the turning Pender had to take in order to reach his house.

“So I had,” agreed the other man. “My business takes me all over the country. I never know where I may be wanted next, you see.”

“It was while you were at Rugby that old Brittlesea was found dead in his bath, wasn’t it?” remarked Pender carelessly.

“Yes. Funny thing, coincidence.” The man glanced up at him sideways through his glittering glasses. “Left all his money to his wife, didn’t he? She’s a rich woman now. Good-looking girl — a lot younger than he was.”

They were passing Pender’s gate. “Come in and have a drink,”

said Pender, and again immediately regretted the impulse.

The man accepted, and they went into Pender’s bachelor study.

“Remarkable lot of these bath deaths lately,” observed Pender as he squirted soda into the tumblers.

“You think it’s remarkable?” said the man, with his irritating trick of querying everything that was said to him. “Well, I don’t know.

Perhaps it is. But it’s always a fairly common accident.”

“I suppose I’ve been taking more notice on account of that conversation we had in the train.” Pender laughed, a little self-consciously.

“It just makes me wonder — you know how one does — whether anybody else had happened to hit on that drug you mentioned — what was its name?”

The man ignored the question.

“Oh, I shouldn’t think so,” he said. “I fancy I’m the only person who knows about that. I only stumbled on the thing by accident myself when I was looking for something else. I don’t imagine it could have been discovered simultaneously in so many parts of the country. But all these verdicts just show, don’t they, what a safe way it would be of getting rid of a person.”

“You’re a chemist, then?” asked Pender, catching at the one phrase which seemed to promise information.

“Oh, I’m a bit of everything. Sort of general utility man. I do a good bit of studying on my own, too. You’ve got one or two interesting books here, I see.”

Pender was flattered. For a man in his position — he had been in a bank until he came into that little bit of money — he felt that he had improved his mind to some purpose, and he knew that his collection of modern first editions would be worth money some day. He went over to the glass-fronted bookcase and pulled out a volume or two to show his visitor.

The man displayed intelligence, and presently joined him in front of the shelves.

“These, I take it, represent your personal tastes?” He took down a volume of Henry James and glanced at the fly-leaf. “That your name? E. Pender?”

Pender admitted that it was. “You have the advantage of me,” he added.

“Oh! I am one of the great Smith clan,” said the other with a laugh,

“and work for my bread. You seem to be very nicely fixed here.”

Pender explained about the clerkship and the legacy.

“Very nice, isn’t it?” said Smith. “Not married? No. You’re one of the lucky ones. Not likely to be needing any sulphate of…any useful drugs in the near future. And you never will, if you stick to what you’ve got and keep off women and speculation.”

He smiled up sideways at Pender. Now that his hat was off, Pender saw that he had a quantity of closely curled gray hair, which made him look older than he had appeared in the railway carriage.

“No, I shan’t be coming to you for assistance yet a while,” said Pender, laughing. “Besides, how should I find you if I wanted you?”

“You wouldn’t have to,” said Smith. “I should find you. There’s never any difficulty about that.” He grinned, oddly. “Well, I’d better be getting on. Thank you for your hospitality. I don’t expect we shall meet again — but we may, of course. Things work out so queerly, don’t they?”

When he had gone, Pender returned to his own armchair. He took up his glass of whiskey, which stood there nearly full.

“Funny!” he said to himself. “I don’t remember pouring that out.

I suppose I got interested and did it mechanically.” He emptied his glass slowly, thinking about Smith.

What in the world was Smith doing at Skimmings’s house?

An odd business altogether. If Skimmings’s housekeeper had known about that money…But she had not known, and if she had, how could she have found out about Smith and his sulphate of…the word had been on the tip of his tongue, then.

“You would not need to find me. I should find you.” What had the man meant by that? But this was ridiculous. Smith was not the devil, presumably. But if he really had this secret — if he liked to put a price upon it — nonsense.

“Business at Rugby — a little bit of business at Skimmings’s house.”

Oh, absurd!

“Nobody is fit to be trusted. Absolute power over another man’s life…it grows on you. That is, I imagine it would.”

Lunacy! And, if there was anything in it, the man was mad to tell Pender about it. If Pender chose to speak he could get the fellow hanged. The very existence of Pender would be dangerous.

That whiskey!

More and more, thinking it over, Pender became persuaded that he had never poured it out. Smith must have done it while his back was turned. Why that sudden display of interest in the bookshelves?

It had had no connection with anything that had gone before. Now Pender came to think of it, it had been a very stiff whiskey. Was it imagination, or had there been something about the flavor of it?

A cold sweat broke out on Pender’s forehead.

A quarter of an hour later, after a powerful dose of mustard and water, Pender was downstairs again, very cold and shivering, huddling over the fire. He had had a narrow escape — if he had escaped.

He did not know how the stuff worked, but he would not take a hot bath again for some days. One never knew.

Whether the mustard and water had done the trick in time, or whether the hot bath was an essential part of the treatment, at any rate Pender’s life was saved for the time being. But he was still uneasy. He kept the front door on the chain and warned his servant to let no strangers into the house.

He ordered two more morning papers and the News of the World on Sundays, and kept a careful watch upon their columns. Deaths in baths became an obsession with him. He neglected his first editions and took to attending inquests.

Three weeks later he found himself at Lincoln. A man had died of heart failure in a Turkish bath — a fat man, of sedentary habits.

The jury added a rider to their verdict of accidental death to the effect that the management should exercise a stricter supervision over the bathers and should never permit them to be left unattended in the hot room.

As Pender emerged from the hall he saw ahead of him a shabby hat that seemed familiar. He plunged after it, and caught Mr. Smith about to step into a taxi.

“Smith,” he cried, gasping a little. He clutched him fiercely by the shoulder.

“What, you again?” said Smith. “Taking notes of the case, eh? Can I do anything for you?”

“You devil!” said Pender. “You’re mixed up in this! You tried to kill me the other day.”

“Did I? Why should I do that?”

“You’ll swing for this,” shouted Pender menacingly.

A policeman pushed his way through the gathering crowd.

“Here!” said he. “What’s all this about?”

Smith touched his forehead significantly.

“It’s all right, Officer,” said he. “The gentleman seems to think I’m here for no good. Here’s my card. The coroner knows me. But he attacked me. You’d better keep an eye on him.”

“That’s right,” said a bystander.

“This man tried to kill me,” said Pender.

The policeman nodded.

“Don’t you worry about that, sir,” he said. “You think better of it. The ’eat in there has upset you a bit. All right, all right.”

“But I want to charge him,” said Pender.

“I wouldn’t do that if I was you,” said the policeman.

“I tell you,” said Pender, “that this man Smith has been trying to poison me. He’s a murderer. He’s poisoned scores of people.”

The policeman winked at Smith.

“Best be off, sir,” he said. “I’ll settle this. Now, my lad”—he held Pender firmly by the arms—“just you keep cool and take it quiet.

That gentleman’s name ain’t Smith nor nothing like it. You’ve got a bit mixed up like.”

“Well, what is his name?” demanded Pender.

“Never mind,” replied the constable. “You leave him alone, or you’ll be getting yourself into trouble.”

The taxi had driven away. Pender glanced around at the circle of amused faces and gave in.

“All right, Officer,” he said. “I won’t give you any trouble. I’ll come round with you to the police station and tell you about it.”

“What do you think o’ that one?” asked the inspector of the sergeant when Pender had stumbled out of the station.

“Up the pole an’ ’alfway round the flag, if you ask me,” replied his subordinate. “Got one o’ them ideez fix what they talk about.”

“H’m!” replied the inspector. “Well, we’ve got his name and address. Better make a note of ’em. He might turn up again. Poisoning people so as they die in their baths, eh? That’s a pretty good ’un.

Wonderful how these barmy ones thinks it all out, isn’t it?”

The spring that year was a bad one — cold and foggy. It was March when Pender went down to an inquest at Deptford, but a thick blanket of mist was hanging over the river as though it were November. The cold ate into your bones. As he sat in the dingy little court, peering through the yellow twilight of gas and fog, he could scarcely see the witnesses as they came to the table. Everybody in the place seemed to be coughing. Pender was coughing too. His bones ached, and he felt as though he were about due for a bout of influenza.

Straining his eyes, he thought he recognized a face on the other side of the room, but the smarting fog which penetrated every crack stung and blinded him. He felt in his overcoat pocket, and his hand closed comfortably on something thick and heavy. Ever since that day in Lincoln he had gone about armed for protection. Not a revolver — he was no hand with firearms. A sandbag was much better.

He had bought one from an old man wheeling a pushcart. It was meant for keeping out draughts from the door — a good, old-fashioned affair.

The inevitable verdict was returned. The spectators began to push their way out. Pender had to hurry now, not to lose sight of his man.

He elbowed his way along, muttering apologies. At the door he almost touched the man, but a stout woman intervened. He plunged past her, and she gave a little squeak of indignation. The man in front turned his head, and the light over the door glinted on his glasses.

Pender pulled his hat over his eyes and followed. His shoes had crêpe rubber soles and made no sound on the pavement. The man went on, jogging quietly up one street and down another, and never looking back. The fog was so thick that Pender was forced to keep within a few yards of him. Where was he going? Into the lighted streets? Home by bus or tram? No. He turned off to the left, down a narrow street.

The fog was thicker here. Pender could no longer see his quarry, but he heard the footsteps going on before him at the same even pace. It seemed to him that they were two alone in the world— pursued and pursuer, slayer and avenger. The street began to slope more rapidly. They must be coming out somewhere near the river.

Suddenly the dim shapes of the houses fell away on either side.

There was an open space, with a lamp vaguely visible in the middle.

The footsteps paused. Pender, silently hurrying after, saw the man standing close beneath the lamp, apparently consulting something in a notebook.

Four steps, and Pender was upon him. He drew the sandbag from his pocket.

The man looked up.

“I’ve got you this time,” said Pender, and struck with all his force.

Pender was quite right. He did get influenza. It was a week before he was out and about again. The weather had changed, and the air was fresh and sweet. In spite of the weakness left by the malady he felt as though a heavy weight had been lifted from his shoulders.

He tottered down to a favorite bookshop of his in the Strand, and picked up a D. H. Lawrence “first” at a price which he knew to be a bargain. Encouraged by this, he turned into a small chop-house chiefly frequented by newspaper men, and ordered a grilled cutlet and a half-tankard of bitter.

Two journalists were seated by the next table.

“Going to poor old Buckley’s funeral?” asked one.

“Yes,” said the other. “Poor devil! Fancy his getting bashed on the head like that. He must have been on his way down to interview the widow of that fellow who died in a bath. It’s a rough district.

Probably one of Jimmy the Card’s crowd had it in for him. He was a great crime-reporter — they won’t get another like Bill Buckley in a hurry.”

“He was a decent sort, too. Great old sport. No end of a practical joker. Remember his great stunt sulphate of thanatol?”

Pender started. That was the word that had eluded him for so many months. A curious dizziness came over him.

“…looking at you as sober as a judge,” the journalist was saying.

“No such stuff, of course, but he used to work off that wheeze on poor boobs in railway carriages to see how they’d take it. Would you believe that one chap actually offered him—”

“Hullo!” interrupted his friend. “That bloke over there has fainted.

I thought he was looking a bit white.”

I Can Find My Way Out

NGAIO MARSH

Ngaio (pronounced ny’-o) Marsh (1895–1982) was born and lived most of her life in New Zealand, though she followed the anti-regional custom of the time in setting the majority of her detective novels in England, which she first visited in 1928. Through most of her more lucrative career as a novelist, she had a parallel existence in her first love, the theater, as actress, producer, director, designer, educator, and playwright. For thirty years, beginning in 1941, she spent part of each year directing and touring plays with the Student Drama Society of Canterbury University College in Christchurch, New Zealand. (Following theatrical tradition, Marsh’s official birth date for many years, 1899, shaved four years off her actual age.) Marsh’s first novel, A Man Lay Dead (1934), had a stage background as did several of its successors, including her final book, Light Thickens (1982). In a more subtle expression of her theatrical enthusiasm, most of her murders take place in the course of some sort of performance. Ironically, according to biographer Margaret Lewis writing in St. James Guide to Crime & Mystery Writers (fourth edition, 1996), Marsh was unable to duplicate the success of Agatha Christie in adapting her novels to the stage, because she “lost her sense of theatre and sought to preserve the general shape of the novels, with all the interviews, questions, and answers.”

Marsh was unusual at a time of gentleman amateur detectives in giving center stage to a policeman — but to be truthful, Roderick Alleyn of Scotland Yard had more in common in personal and professional style with Dorothy L. Sayers’s Lord Peter Wimsey and Margery Allingham’s Albert Campion than he did with a real law officer. Alleyn also had in common with Wimsey and Campion eventual marriage, in his case to Agatha Troy, a character who resembled Marsh herself and enjoyed the career of a successful painter Marsh had envisioned for herself early in her life.

Marsh had a remarkably consistent career as a writer of detective fiction. The puzzle was at the center of her work from the beginning, and she was a master of reader deception. If her writing and characterization became richer, the essential pattern of crime, investigation, and solution never changed. Remarkably, her last novels, published when she was in her mid-eighties, showed no perceptible decline in quality from their predecessors, in fact were among her best works, a statement that unfortunately can’t be made of such long-running writers as Agatha Christie and Erle Stanley Gardner.

One of the author’s rare short stories, “I Can Find My Way Out” is a Roderick Alleyn novel in miniature, appropriately featuring Marsh’s patented backstage setting.

At half-past six on the night in question, Anthony Gill, unable to eat, keep still, think, speak, or act coherently, walked from his rooms to the Jupiter Theatre. He knew that there would be nobody backstage, that there was nothing for him to do in the theater, that he ought to stay quietly in his rooms and presently dress, dine, and arrive at, say, a quarter to eight. But it was as if something shoved him into his clothes, thrust him into the street and compelled him to hurry through the West End to the Jupiter.

His mind was overlaid with a thin film of inertia. Odd lines from the play occurred to him, but without any particular significance.

He found himself busily reiterating a completely irrelevant sentence:

“She has a way of laughing that would make a man’s heart turn over.”

Piccadilly, Shaftesbury Avenue. “Here I go,” he thought, turning into Hawke Street, “towards my play. It’s one hour and twenty-nine minutes away. A step a second. It’s rushing towards me. Tony’s first play. Poor young Tony Gill. Never mind. Try again.”

The Jupiter. Neon lights: I CAN FIND MY WAY OUT— by Anthony Gill. And in the entrance the bills and photographs. Coralie Bourne with H. J. Bannington, Barry George and Canning Cumberland.

Canning Cumberland. The film across his mind split and there was the Thing itself and he would have to think about it. How bad would Canning Cumberland be if he came down drunk? Brilliantly bad, they said. He would bring out all the tricks. Clever actor stuff, scoring off everybody, making a fool of the dramatic balance. “In Mr. Canning Cumberland’s hands indifferent dialogue and unconvincing situations seemed almost real.” What can you do with a drunken actor?

He stood in the entrance feeling his heart pound and his insides deflate and sicken.

Because, of course, it was a bad play. He was at this moment and for the first time really convinced of it. It was terrible. Only one virtue in it and that was not his doing. It had been suggested to him by Coralie Bourne: “I don’t think the play you have sent me will do as it is but it has occurred to me—” It was a brilliant idea. He had re-written the play round it and almost immediately and quite innocently he had begun to think of it as his own although he had said shyly to Coralie Bourne: “You should appear as joint author.” She had quickly, over emphatically, refused. “It was nothing at all,” she said. “If you’re to become a dramatist you will learn to get ideas from everywhere. A single situation is nothing. Think of Shakespeare,” she added lightly. “Entire plots! Don’t be silly.” She had said later, and still with the same hurried, nervous air: “Don’t go talking to everyone about it. They will think there is more, instead of less, than meets the eye in my small suggestion. Please promise.”

He promised, thinking he’d made an error in taste when he suggested that Coralie Bourne, so famous an actress, should appear as joint author with an unknown youth. And how right she was, he thought, because, of course, it’s going to be a ghastly flop. She’ll be sorry she consented to play in it.

Standing in front of the theater he contemplated nightmare possibilities. What did audiences do when a first play flopped? Did they clap a little, enough to let the curtain rise and quickly fall again on a discomforted group of players? How scanty must the applause be for them to let him off his own appearance? And they were to go on to the Chelsea Arts Ball. A hideous prospect. Thinking he would give anything in the world if he could stop his play, he turned into the foyer. There were lights in the offices and he paused, irresolute, before a board of photographs. Among them, much smaller than the leading players, was Dendra Gay with the eyes looking straight into his. She had a way of laughing that would make a man’s heart turn over. “Well,” he thought, “so I’m in love with her.” He turned away from the photograph. A man came out of the office. “Mr. Gill? Telegrams for you.”

Anthony took them and as he went out he heard the man call after him: “Very good luck for tonight, sir.”

There were queues of people waiting in the side street for the early doors.

At six thirty Coralie Bourne dialed Canning Cumberland’s number and waited.

She heard his voice. “It’s me,” she said.

“O, God! darling, I’ve been thinking about you.” He spoke rapidly, too loudly. “Coral, I’ve been thinking about Ben. You oughtn’t to have given that situation to the boy.”

“We’ve been over it a dozen times, Cann. Why not give it to Tony?

Ben will never know.” She waited and then said nervously, “Ben’s gone, Cann. We’ll never see him again.”

“I’ve got a ‘Thing’ about it. After all, he’s your husband.”

“No, Cann, no.”

“Suppose he turns up. It’d be like him to turn up.”

“He won’t turn up.”

She heard him laugh. “I’m sick of all this,” she thought suddenly.

“I’ve had it once too often. I can’t stand any more…Cann,” she said into the telephone. But he had hung up.

At twenty to seven, Barry George looked at himself in his bathroom mirror. “I’ve got a better appearance,” he thought, “than Cann Cumberland. My head’s a good shape, my eyes are bigger, and my jawline’s cleaner. I never let a show down. I don’t drink. I’m a better actor.” He turned his head a little, slewing his eyes to watch the effect. “In the big scene,” he thought, “I’m the star. He’s the feed.

That’s the way it’s been produced and that’s what the author wants.

I ought to get the notices.”

Past notices came up in his memory. He saw the print, the size of the paragraphs; a long paragraph about Canning Cumberland, a line tacked on the end of it. “Is it unkind to add that Mr. Barry George trotted in the wake of Mr. Cumberland’s virtuosity with an air of breathless dependability?” And again: “It is a little hard on Mr. Barry George that he should be obliged to act as foil to this brilliant performance.” Worst of all: “Mr. Barry George succeeded in looking tolerably unlike a stooge, an achievement that evidently exhausted his resources.”

“Monstrous!” he said loudly to his own image, watching the fine glow of indignation in the eyes. Alcohol, he told himself, did two things to Cann Cumberland. He raised his finger. Nice, expressive hand. An actor’s hand. Alcohol destroyed Cumberland’s artistic integrity. It also invested him with devilish cunning. Drunk, he would burst the seams of a play, destroy its balance, ruin its form, and himself emerge blazing with a showmanship that the audience mistook for genius. “While I,” he said aloud, “merely pay my author the compliment of faithful interpretation. Psha!”

He returned to his bedroom, completed his dressing and pulled his hat to the right angle. Once more he thrust his face close to the mirror and looked searchingly at its image. “By God!” he told himself, “he’s done it once too often, old boy. Tonight we’ll even the score, won’t we? By God, we will.”

Partly satisfied, and partly ashamed, for the scene, after all, had smacked a little of ham, he took his stick in one hand and a case holding his costume for the Arts Ball in the other, and went down to the theatre.

At ten minutes to seven, H. J. Bannington passed through the gallery queue on his way to the stage door alley, raising his hat and saying:

“Thanks so much,” to the gratified ladies who let him through. He heard them murmur his name. He walked briskly along the alley, greeted the stage-doorkeeper, passed under a dingy lamp, through an entry and so to the stage. Only working lights were up. The walls of an interior set rose dimly into shadow. Bob Reynolds, the stage manager, came out through the prompt-entrance. “Hello, old boy,” he said, “I’ve changed the dressing rooms. You’re third on the right: they’ve moved your things in. Suit you?”

“Better, at least, than a black hole the size of a WC but without its appointments,” H.J. said acidly. “I suppose the great Mr. Cumberland still has the star-room?”

“Well, yes, old boy.”

“And who pray, is next to him? In the room with the other gas fire?”

“We’ve put Barry George there, old boy. You know what he’s like.”

“Only too well, old boy, and the public, I fear, is beginning to find out.” H.J. turned into the dressing-room passage. The stage manager returned to the set where he encountered his assistant. “What’s biting him?” asked the assistant. “He wanted a dressing room with a fire.”

“Only natural,” said the ASM nastily. “He started life reading gas meters.”

On the right and left of the passage, nearest the stage end, were two doors, each with its star in tarnished paint. The door on the left was open. H.J. looked in and was greeted with the smell of greasepaint, powder, wet-white, and flowers. A gas fire droned comfortably. Coralie Bourne’s dresser was spreading out towels.

“Good evening, Katie, my jewel,” said H.J. “La Belle not down yet?”

“We’re on our way,” she said.

H.J. hummed stylishly: “Bella filia del amore,” and returned to the passage. The star-room on the right was closed but he could hear Cumberland’s dresser moving about inside. He went on to the next door, paused, read the card, “MR. BARRY GEORGE,” warbled a high derisive note, turned in at the third door, and switched on the light.

Definitely not a second lead’s room. No fire. A wash basin, however, and opposite mirrors. A stack of telegrams had been placed on the dressing table. Still singing he reached for them, disclosing a number of bills that had been tactfully laid underneath and a letter, addressed in a flamboyant script.

His voice might have been mechanically produced and arbitrarily switched off, so abruptly did his song end in the middle of a roulade.

He let the telegrams fall on the table, took up the letter and tore it open. His face, wretchedly pale, was reflected and endlessly rereflected in the mirrors.

At nine o’clock the telephone rang. Roderick Alleyn answered it.

“This is Sloane 84405. No, you’re on the wrong number. No.” He hung up and returned to his wife and guest. “That’s the fifth time in two hours.”

“Do let’s ask for a new number.”

“We might get next door to something worse.”

The telephone rang again. “This is not 84406,” Alleyn warned it.

“No, I cannot take three large trunks to Victoria Station. No, I am not the Instant All Night Delivery. No.”

“They’re 84406,” Mrs. Alleyn explained to Lord Michael Lamprey.

“I suppose it’s just faulty dialing, but you can’t imagine how angry everyone gets. Why do you want to be a policeman?”

“It’s a dull hard job, you know—” Alleyn began.

“Oh,” Lord Mike said, stretching his legs and looking critically at his shoes, “I don’t for a moment imagine I’ll leap immediately into false whiskers and plainclothes. No, no. But I’m revoltingly healthy, sir. Strong as a horse. And I don’t think I’m as stupid as you might feel inclined to imagine—”

The telephone rang.

“I say, do let me answer it,” Mike suggested and did so.

“Hullo?” he said winningly. He listened, smiling at his hostess.

“I’m afraid—,” he began. “Here, wait a bit — Yes, but—” His expression became blank and complacent. “May I,” he said presently, “repeat your order, sir? Can’t be too sure, can we? Call at 11 Harrow Gardens, Sloane Square, for one suitcase to be delivered immediately at the Jupiter Theatre to Mr. Anthony Gill. Very good, sir. Thank you, sir. Collect. Quite.”

He replaced the receiver and beamed at the Alleyns.

“What the devil have you been up to?” Alleyn said.

“He just simply wouldn’t listen to reason. I tried to tell him.”

“But it may be urgent,” Mrs. Alleyn ejaculated.

“It couldn’t be more urgent, really. It’s a suitcase for Tony Gill at the Jupiter.”

“Well, then—”

“I was at Eton with the chap,” said Mike reminiscently. “He’s four years older than I am so of course he was madly important while I was less than the dust. This’ll larn him.”

“I think you’d better put that order through at once,” said Alleyn firmly.

“I rather thought of executing it myself, do you know, sir. It’d be a frightfully neat way of gate-crashing the show, wouldn’t it? I did try to get a ticket but the house was sold out.”

“If you’re going to deliver this case you’d better get a bend on.”

“It’s clearly an occasion for dressing up though, isn’t it? I say,”

said Mike modestly, “would you think it most frightful cheek if I — well I’d promise to come back and return everything. I mean—”

“Are you suggesting that my clothes look more like a vanman’s than yours?”

“I thought you’d have things—”

“For Heaven’s sake, Rory,” said Mrs. Alleyn, “dress him up and let him go. The great thing is to get that wretched man’s suitcase to him.”

“I know,” said Mike earnestly. “It’s most frightfully sweet of you.

That’s how I feel about it.”

Alleyn took him away and shoved him into an old and begrimed raincoat, a cloth cap, and a muffler. “You wouldn’t deceive a village idiot in a total eclipse,” he said, “but out you go.”

He watched Mike drive away and returned to his wife.

“What’ll happen?” she asked.

“Knowing Mike, I should say he will end up in the front stalls and go on to supper with the leading lady. She, by the way, is Coralie Bourne. Very lovely and twenty years his senior so he’ll probably fall in love with her.” Alleyn reached for his tobacco jar and paused. “I wonder what’s happened to her husband,” he said.

“Who was he?”

“An extraordinary chap. Benjamin Vlasnoff. Violent temper.

Looked like a bandit. Wrote two very good plays and got run in three times for common assault. She tried to divorce him but it didn’t go through. I think he afterwards lit off to Russia.” Alleyn yawned.

“I believe she had a hell of a time with him,” he said.

“All Night Delivery,” said Mike in a hoarse voice, touching his cap.

“Suitcase. One.” “Here you are,” said the woman who had answered the door. “Carry it carefully, now, it’s not locked and the catch springs out.”

“Thanks,” said Mike. “Much obliged. Chilly, ain’t it?”

He took the suitcase out to the car.

It was a fresh spring night. Sloane Square was threaded with mist and all the lamps had halos round them. It was the kind of night when individual sounds separate themselves from the conglomerate voice of London; hollow sirens spoke imperatively down on the river and a bugle rang out over in Chelsea Barracks; a night, Mike thought, for adventure.

He opened the rear door of the car and heaved the case in. The catch flew open, the lid dropped back and the contents fell out.

“Damn!” said Mike and switched on the inside light.

Lying on the floor of the car was a false beard.

It was flaming red and bushy and was mounted on a chin-piece.

With it was incorporated a stiffened moustache. There were wire hooks to attach the whole thing behind the ears. Mike laid it carefully on the seat. Next he picked up a wide black hat, then a vast overcoat with a fur collar, finally a pair of black gloves.

Mike whistled meditatively and thrust his hands into the pockets of Alleyn’s mackintosh. His right-hand fingers closed on a card. He pulled it out. “Chief Detective-Inspector Alleyn,” he read, “CID.

New Scotland Yard.”

“Honestly,” thought Mike exultantly, “this is a gift.”

Ten minutes later a car pulled into the curb at the nearest parking place to the Jupiter Theatre. From it emerged a figure carrying a suitcase. It strode rapidly along Hawke Street and turned into the stage-door alley. As it passed under the dirty lamp it paused, and thus murkily lit, resembled an illustration from some Edwardian spy story. The face was completely shadowed, a black cavern from which there projected a square of scarlet beard, which was the only note of color.

The doorkeeper who was taking the air with a member of stage staff, moved forward, peering at the stranger.

“Was you wanting something?”

“I’m taking this case in for Mr. Gill.”

“He’s in front. You can leave it with me.”

“I’m so sorry,” said the voice behind the beard, “but I promised I’d leave it backstage myself.”

“So you will be leaving it. Sorry, sir, but no one’s admitted be’ind without a card.”

“A card? Very well. Here is a card.”

He held it out in his black-gloved hand. The stage-doorkeeper, unwillingly removing his gaze from the beard, took the card and examined it under the light. “Coo!” he said, “what’s up, governor?”

“No matter. Say nothing of this.”

The figure waved its hand and passed through the door. “’Ere!”

said the doorkeeper excitedly to the stagehand, “take a slant at this.

That’s a plainclothes flattie, that was.”

Plain clothes!” said the stagehand. “Them!”

“’E’s disguised,” said the doorkeeper. “That’s what it is. “E’s disguised ’isself.”

“’E’s bloody well lorst ’isself be’ind them whiskers if you arst me.”

Out on the stage someone was saying in a pitched and beautifully articulate voice: “I’ve always loathed the view from these windows.

However if that’s the sort of thing you admire. Turn off the lights, damn you. Look at it.”

“Watch it, now, watch it,” whispered a voice so close to Mike that he jumped. “OK,” said a second voice somewhere above his head. The lights on the set turned blue. “Kill that working light.”

“Working light gone.”

Curtains in the set were wrenched aside and a window flung open.

An actor appeared, leaning out quite close to Mike, seeming to look into his face and saying very distinctly: “God: it’s frightful!” Mike backed away towards a passage, lit only from an open door. A great volume of sound broke out beyond the stage. “House lights,” said the sharp voice. Mike turned into the passage. As he did so, someone came through the door. He found himself face to face with Coralie Bourne, beautifully dressed and heavily painted.

For a moment she stood quite still; then she made a curious gesture with her right hand, gave a small breathy sound and fell forward at his feet.

Anthony was tearing his program into long strips and dropping them on the floor of the OP box. On his right hand, above and below, was the audience; sometimes laughing, sometimes still, sometimes as one corporate being, raising its hands and striking them together.

As now; when down on the stage, Canning Cumberland, using a strange voice, and inspired by some inward devil, flung back the window and said: “God: it’s frightful!”

“Wrong! Wrong!” Anthony cried inwardly, hating Cumberland, hating Barry George because he let one speech of three words over-ride him, hating the audience because they liked it. The curtain descended with a long sigh on the second act and a sound like heavy rain filled the theatre, swelled prodigiously and continued after the house lights welled up.

“They seem,” said a voice behind him, “to be liking your play.”

It was Gosset, who owned the Jupiter and had backed the show.

Anthony turned on him stammering: “He’s destroying it. It should be the other man’s scene. He’s stealing.”

“My boy,” said Gosset, “he’s an actor.”

“He’s drunk. It’s intolerable.”

He felt Gosset’s hand on his shoulder.

“People are watching us. You’re on show. This is a big thing for you; a first play, and going enormously. Come and have a drink, old boy. I want to introduce you—”

Anthony got up and Gosset, with his arm across his shoulders, flashing smiles, patting him, led him to the back of the box.

“I’m sorry,” Anthony said, “I can’t. Please let me off. I’m going backstage.”

“Much better not, old son.” The hand tightened on his shoulder.

“Listen, old son—” But Anthony had freed himself and slipped through the pass-door from the box to the stage.

At the foot of the breakneck stairs Dendra Gay stood waiting. “I thought you’d come,” she said.

Anthony said: “He’s drunk. He’s murdering the play.”

“It’s only one scene, Tony. He finishes early in the next act. It’s going colossally.”

“But don’t you understand—”

“I do. You know I do. But you’re a success, Tony darling! You can hear it and smell it and feel it in your bones.”

“Dendra—” he said uncertainly.

Someone came up and shook his hand and went on shaking it.

Flats were being laced together with a slap of rope on canvas. A chandelier ascended into darkness. “Lights,” said the stage manager, and the set was flooded with them. A distant voice began chanting.

“Last act, please. Last act.”

“Miss Bourne all right?” the stage manager suddenly demanded.

“She’ll be all right. She’s not on for ten minutes,” said a woman’s voice.

“What’s the matter with Miss Bourne?” Anthony asked.

“Tony, I must go and so must you. Tony, it’s going to be grand.

Please think so. Please.”

“Dendra—,” Tony began, but she had gone.

Beyond the curtain, horns and flutes announced the last act.

“Clear please.”

The stagehands came off.

“House lights.”

“House lights gone.”

“Stand by.”

And while Anthony still hesitated in the OP corner, the curtain rose. Canning Cumberland and H. J. Bannington opened the last act.

As Mike knelt by Coralie Bourne he heard someone enter the passage behind him. He turned and saw, silhouetted against the lighted stage, the actor who had looked at him through a window in the set.

The silhouette seemed to repeat the gesture Coralie Bourne had used, and to flatten itself against the wall.

A woman in an apron came out of the open door.

“I say — here!” Mike said.

Three things happened almost simultaneously. The woman cried out and knelt beside him. The man disappeared through a door on the right.

The woman, holding Coralie Bourne in her arms, said violently:

“Why have you come back?” Then the passage lights came on. Mike said: “Look here, I’m most frightfully sorry,” and took off the broad black hat. The dresser gaped at him, Coralie Bourne made a cres-cendo sound in her throat and opened her eyes. “Katie?” she said.

“It’s all right, my lamb. It’s not him, dear. You’re all right.” The dresser jerked her head at Mike: “Get out of it,” she said.

“Yes, of course, I’m most frightfully—” He backed out of the passage, colliding with a youth who said: “Five minutes, please.”

The dresser called out: “Tell them she’s not well. Tell them to hold the curtain.”

“No,” said Coralie Bourne strongly. “I’m all right, Katie. Don’t say anything. Katie, what was it?”

They disappeared into the room on the left.

Mike stood in the shadow of a stack of scenic flats by the entry into the passage. There was great activity on the stage. He caught a glimpse of Anthony Gill on the far side talking to a girl. The call-boy was speaking to the stage manager who now shouted into space: “Miss Bourne all right?” The dresser came into the passage and called: “She’ll be all right. She’s not on for ten minutes.” The youth began chanting: “Last act, please.” The stage manager gave a series of orders. A man with an eyeglass and a florid beard came from farther down the passage and stood outside the set, bracing his figure and giving little tweaks to his clothes. There was a sound of horns and flutes. Canning Cumberland emerged from the room on the right and on his way to the stage, passed close to Mike, leaving a strong smell of alcohol behind him. The curtain rose.

Behind his shelter, Mike stealthily removed his beard and stuffed it into the pocket of his overcoat.

A group of stagehands stood nearby. One of them said in a hoarse whisper: “’E’s squiffy.” “Garn, ’e’s going good.” “So ’e may be going good. And for why? Becos ’e’s squiffy.”

Ten minutes passed. Mike thought: “This affair has definitely not gone according to plan.” He listened. Some kind of tension seemed to be building up on the stage. Canning Cumberland’s voice rose on a loud but blurred note. A door in the set opened. “Don’t bother to come,” Cumberland said. “Good-bye. I can find my way out.”

The door slammed. Cumberland was standing near Mike. Then, very close, there was a loud explosion. The scenic flats vibrated, Mike’s flesh leapt on his bones, and Cumberland went into his dressing room. Mike heard the key turn in the door. The smell of alcohol mingled with the smell of gunpowder. A stagehand moved to a trestle table and laid a pistol on it. The actor with the eyeglass made an exit. He spoke for a moment to the stage manager, passed Mike, and disappeared in the passage.

Smells. There were all sorts of smells. Subconsciously, still listening to the play, he began to sort them out. Glue. Canvas. Greasepaint.

The call-boy tapped on doors. “Mr. George, please.” “Miss Bourne, please.” They came out, Coralie Bourne with her dresser. Mike heard her turn a door handle and say something. An indistinguishable voice answered her. Then she and her dresser passed him. The others spoke to her and she nodded and then seemed to withdraw into herself, waiting with her head bent, ready to make her entrance. Presently she drew back, walked swiftly to the door in the set, flung it open, and swept on, followed a minute later by Barry George.

Smells. Dust, stale paint, cloth. Gas. Increasingly, the smell of gas.

The group of stagehands moved away behind the set to the side of the stage. Mike edged out of cover. He could see the prompt-corner. The stage manager stood there with folded arms, watching the action. Behind him were grouped the players who were not on.

Two dressers stood apart, watching. The light from the set caught their faces. Coralie Bourne’s voice sent phrases flying like birds into the auditorium.

Mike began peering at the floor. Had he kicked some gas fitting adrift? The call-boy passed him, stared at him over his shoulder and went down the passage, tapping. “Five minutes to the curtain, please.

Five minutes.” The actor with the elderly makeup followed the call-boy out. “God, what a stink of gas,” he whispered. “Chronic, ain’t it?” said the call-boy. They stared at Mike and then crossed to the waiting group. The man said something to the stage manager who tipped his head up, sniffing. He made an impatient gesture and turned back to the prompt-box, reaching over the prompter’s head.

A bell rang somewhere up in the flies and Mike saw a stagehand climb to the curtain platform.

The little group near the prompt-corner was agitated. They looked back towards the passage entrance. The call-boy nodded and came running back. He knocked on the first door on the right. “Mr. Cumberland! Mr. Cumberland! You’re on for the call.” He rattled the door handle. “Mr. Cumberland! You’re on.”

Mike ran into the passage. The call-boy coughed retchingly and jerked his hand at the door. “Gas!” he said. “Gas!”

“Break it in.”

“I’ll get Mr. Reynolds.”

He was gone. It was a narrow passage. From halfway across the opposite room Mike took a run, head down, shoulder forward, at the door. It gave a little and a sickening increase in the smell caught him in the lungs. A vast storm of noise had broken out and as he took another run he thought: “It’s hailing outside.”

“Just a minute if you please, sir.”

It was a stagehand. He’d got a hammer and screwdriver. He wedged the point of the screwdriver between the lock and the doorpost, drove it home and wrenched. The screws squeaked, the wood splintered and gas poured into the passage. “No winders,”

coughed the stagehand.

Mike wound Alleyn’s scarf over his mouth and nose. Half-forgotten instructions from antigas drill occurred to him. The room looked queer but he could see the man slumped down in the chair quite clearly. He stooped low and ran in.

He was knocking against things as he backed out, lugging the dead weight. His arms tingled. A high insistent voice hummed in his brain. He floated a short distance and came to earth on a concrete floor among several pairs of legs. A long way off, someone said loudly: “I can only thank you for being so kind to what I know, too well, is a very imperfect play.” Then the sound of hail began again.

There was a heavenly stream of clear air flowing into his mouth and nostrils. “I could eat it,” he thought and sat up.

The telephone rang. “Suppose,” Mrs. Alleyn suggested, “that this time you ignore it.”

“It might be the Yard,” Alleyn said, and answered it.

“Is that Chief Detective-Inspector Alleyn’s flat? I’m speaking from the Jupiter Theatre. I’ve rung up to say that the Chief Inspector is here and that he’s had a slight mishap. He’s all right, but I think it might be as well for someone to drive him home. No need to worry.”

“What sort of mishap?” Alleyn asked.

“Er — well — er, he’s been a bit gassed.”

Gassed! All right. Thanks, I’ll come.”

What a bore for you, darling,” said Mrs. Alleyn. “What sort of case is it? Suicide?”

“Masquerading within the meaning of the act, by the sound of it.

Mike’s in trouble.”

“What trouble, for Heaven’s sake?”

“Got himself gassed. He’s all right. Good night, darling. Don’t wait up.”

When he reached the theatre, the front of the house was in darkness. He made his way down the side alley to the stage-door where he was held up.

“Yard,” he said, and produced his official card.

“’Ere,” said the stage-doorkeeper. “’ow many more of you?”

“The man inside was working for me,” said Alleyn and walked in. The doorkeeper followed, protesting.

To the right of the entrance was a large scenic dock from which the double doors had been rolled back. Here Mike was sitting in an armchair, very white about the lips. Three men and two women, all with painted faces, stood near him and behind them a group of stagehands with Reynolds, the stage manager, and, apart from these, three men in evening dress. The men looked woodenly shocked.

The women had been weeping.

“I’m most frightfully sorry, sir,” Mike said. “I’ve tried to explain.

This,” he added generally, “is Inspector Alleyn.”

“I can’t understand all this,” said the oldest of the men in evening dress irritably. He turned on the doorkeeper. “You said—”

“I seen ’is card—”

“I know,” said Mike, “but you see—”

“This is Lord Michael Lamprey,” Alleyn said. “A recruit to the Police Department. What’s happened here?”

“Doctor Rankin, would you—?”

The second of the men in evening dress came forward. “All right, Gosset. It’s a bad business, Inspector. I’ve just been saying the police would have to be informed. If you’ll come with me—”

Alleyn followed him through a door onto the stage proper. It was dimly lit. A trestle table had been set up in the center and on it, covered with a sheet, was an unmistakable shape. The smell of gas, strong everywhere, hung heavily about the table.

“Who is it?”

“Canning Cumberland. He’d locked the door of his dressing room.

There’s a gas fire. Your young friend dragged him out, very pluckily, but it was no go. I was in front. Gosset, the manager, had asked me to supper. It’s a perfectly clear case of suicide as you’ll see.”

“I’d better look at the room. Anybody been in?”

“God, no. It was a job to clear it. They turned the gas off at the main. There’s no window. They had to open the double doors at the back of the stage and a small outside door at the end of the passage.

It may be possible to get in now.”

He led the way to the dressing-room passage. “Pretty thick, still,”

he said. “It’s the first room on the right. They burst the lock. You’d better keep down near the floor.”

The powerful lights over the mirror were on and the room still had its look of occupation. The gas fire was against the left-hand wall, Alleyn squatted down by it. The tap was still turned on, its face lying parallel with the floor. The top of the heater, the tap itself, and the carpet near it, were covered with a creamish powder. On the end of the dressing-table shelf nearest to the stove was a box of this powder. Farther along the shelf, grease-paints were set out in a row beneath the mirror. Then came a wash basin and in front of this an overturned chair. Alleyn could see the track of heels, across the pile of the carpet, to the door immediately opposite. Beside the wash basin was a quart bottle of whiskey, three-parts empty, and a tumbler. Alleyn had had about enough and returned to the passage.

“Perfectly clear,” the hovering doctor said again, “isn’t it?”

“I’ll see the other rooms, I think.”

The one next to Cumberland’s was like his in reverse, but smaller.

The heater was back to back with Cumberland’s. The dressing-shelf was set out with much the same assortment of greasepaints. The tap of this heater, too, was turned on. It was of precisely the same make as the other and Alleyn, less embarrassed here by fumes, was able to make a longer examination. It was a common enough type of gas fire. The lead-in was from a pipe through a flexible metallic tube with a rubber connection. There were two taps, one in the pipe and one at the junction of the tube with the heater itself. Alleyn disconnected the tube and examined the connection. It was perfectly sound, a close fit and stained red at the end. Alleyn noticed a wiry thread of some reddish stuff resembling packing that still clung to it. The nozzle and tap were brass, the tap pulling over when it was turned on, to lie in a parallel plane with the floor. No powder had been scattered about here.

He glanced round the room, returned to the door and read the card: MR. BARRY GEORGE.

The doctor followed him into the rooms opposite these, on the left-hand side of the passage. They were a repetition in design of the two he had already seen but were hung with women’s clothes and had a more elaborate assortment of greasepaint and cosmetics.

There was a mass of flowers in the star-room. Alleyn read the cards. One in particular caught his eye: “From Anthony Gill to say a most inadequate ‘thank you’ for the great idea.” A vase of red roses stood before the mirror: “To your greatest triumph, Coralie darling. C.C.” In Miss Gay’s room there were only two bouquets, one from the management and one “from Anthony, with love.”

Again in each room he pulled off the lead-in to the heater and looked at the connection.

“All right, aren’t they?” said the doctor.

“Quite all right. Tight fit. Good solid gray rubber.”

“Well, then—”

Next on the left was an unused room, and opposite it, “Mr. H. J.

Bannington.” Neither of these rooms had gas fires. Mr. Bannington’s dressing-table was littered with the usual array of greasepaint, the materials for his beard, a number of telegrams and letters, and several bills.

“About the body,” the doctor began.

“We’ll get a mortuary van from the Yard.”

“But — Surely in a case of suicide—”

“I don’t think this is suicide.”

“But, good God! — D’you mean there’s been an accident?”

“No accident,” said Alleyn.

At midnight, the dressing-room lights in the Jupiter Theatre were brilliant, and men were busy there with the tools of their trade. A constable stood at the stage-door and a van waited in the yard. The front of the house was dimly lit and there, among the shrouded stalls, sat Coralie Bourne, Basil Gosset, H. J. Bannington, Dendra Gay, Anthony Gill, Reynolds, Katie the dresser, and the call-boy. A constable sat behind them and another stood by the doors into the foyer. They stared across the backs of seats at the fire curtain. Spirals of smoke rose from their cigarettes and about their feet were discarded programs. “Basil Gosset presents I Can Find My Way Out by Anthony Gill.”

In the manager’s office Alleyn said: “You’re sure of your facts, Mike?”

“Yes, sir. Honestly. I was right up against the entrance into the passage. They didn’t see me because I was in the shadow. It was very dark offstage.”

“You’ll have to swear to it.”

“I know.”

“Good. All right, Thompson. Miss Gay and Mr. Gosset may go home. Ask Miss Bourne to come in.”

When Sergeant Thompson had gone Mike said: “I haven’t had a chance to say I know I’ve made a perfect fool of myself. Using your card and everything.”

“Irresponsible gaiety doesn’t go down very well in the service, Mike. You behaved like a clown.”

“I am a fool,” said Mike wretchedly.

The red beard was lying in front of Alleyn on Gosset’s desk. He picked it up and held it out. “Put it on,” he said.

“She might do another faint.”

“I think not. Now the hat: yes — yes, I see. Come in.”

Sergeant Thompson showed Coralie Bourne in and then sat at the end of the desk with his notebook.

Tears had traced their course through the powder on her face, carrying black cosmetic with them and leaving the greasepaint shining like snail-tracks. She stood near the doorway looking dully at Michael. “Is he back in England?” she said. “Did he tell you to do this?” She made an impatient movement. “Do take it off,” she said,

“it’s a very bad beard. If Cann had only looked—” Her lips trembled.

“Who told you to do it?”

“Nobody,” Mike stammered, pocketing the beard. “I mean — as a matter of fact, Tony Gill—”

Tony? But he didn’t know. Tony wouldn’t do it. Unless—”

“Unless?” Alleyn said.

She said frowning: “Tony didn’t want Cann to play the part that way. He was furious.”

“He says it was his dress for the Chelsea Arts Ball,” Mike mumbled. “I brought it here. I just thought I’d put it on — it was idiotic, I know — for fun. I’d no idea you and Mr. Cumberland would mind.”

“Ask Mr. Gill to come in,” Alleyn said.

Anthony was white and seemed bewildered and helpless. “I’ve told Mike,” he said. “It was my dress for the ball. They sent it round from the costume-hiring place this afternoon but I forgot it. Dendra reminded me and rang up the Delivery people — or Mike, as it turns out — in the interval.”

“Why,” Alleyn asked, “did you choose that particular disguise?”

“I didn’t. I didn’t know what to wear and I was too rattled to think. They said they were hiring things for themselves and would get something for me. They said we’d all be characters out of a Russian melodrama.”

“Who said this?”

“Well — well, it was Barry George, actually.”

Barry,” Coralie Bourne said. “It was Barry.”

“I don’t understand,” Anthony said. “Why should a fancy dress upset everybody?”

“It happened,” Alleyn said, “to be a replica of the dress usually worn by Miss Bourne’s husband who also had a red beard. That was it, wasn’t it, Miss Bourne? I remember seeing him—”

“Oh, yes,” she said, “you would. He was known to the police.”

Suddenly she broke down completely. She was in an armchair near the desk but out of the range of its shaded lamp. She twisted and writhed, beating her hand against the padded arm of the chair. Sergeant Thompson sat with his head bent and his hand over his notes.

Mike, after an agonized glance at Alleyn, turned his back. Anthony Gill leant over her: “Don’t,” he said violently. “Don’t! For God’s sake, stop.”

She twisted away from him and gripping the edge of the desk, began to speak to Alleyn; little by little gaining mastery of herself.

“I want to tell you. I want you to understand. Listen.” Her husband had been fantastically cruel, she said. “It was a kind of slavery.” But when she sued for divorce he brought evidence of adultery with Cumberland. They had thought he knew nothing. “There was an abominable scene. He told us he was going away. He said he’d keep track of us and if I tried again for divorce, he’d come home. He was very friendly with Barry in those days.” He had left behind him the first draft of a play he had meant to write for her and Cumberland.

It had a wonderful scene for them. “And now you will never have it,” he had said, “because there is no other playwright who could make this play for you but I.” He was, she said, a melodramatic man but he was never ridiculous. He returned to the Ukraine where he was born and they had heard no more of him. In a little while she would have been able to presume death. But years of waiting did not agree with Canning Cumberland. He drank consistently and at his worst used to imagine her husband was about to return. “He was really terrified of Ben,” she said. “He seemed like a creature in a nightmare.”

Anthony Gill said: “This play — was it—?”

“Yes. There was an extraordinary similarity between your play and his. I saw at once that Ben’s central scene would enormously strengthen your piece. Cann didn’t want me to give it to you. Barry knew. He said: ‘Why not?” He wanted Cann’s part and was furious when he didn’t get it. So you see, when he suggested you should dress and make-up like Ben—” She turned to Alleyn. “You see?”

“What did Cumberland do when he saw you?” Alleyn asked Mike.

“He made a queer movement with his hands as if — well, as if he expected me to go for him. Then he just bolted into his room.”

“He thought Ben had come back,” she said.

“Were you alone at any time after you fainted?” Alleyn asked.

“I? No. No, I wasn’t. Katie took me into my dressing room and stayed with me until I went on for the last scene.”

“One other question. Can you, by any chance, remember if the heater in your room behaved at all oddly?”

She looked wearily at him. “Yes, it did give a sort of plop, I think.

It made me jump. I was nervy.”

“You went straight from your room to the stage?”

“Yes. With Katie. I wanted to go to Cann. I tried the door when we came out. It was locked. He said: ‘Don’t come in.’ I said: ‘It’s all right. It wasn’t Ben,’ and went on to the stage.”

“I heard Miss Bourne,” Mike said.

“He must have made up his mind by then. He was terribly drunk when he played his last scene.” She pushed her hair back from her forehead. “May I go?” she asked Alleyn.

“I’ve sent for a taxi. Mr. Gill, will you see if it’s there? In the meantime, Miss Bourne, would you like to wait in the foyer?”

“May I take Katie home with me?”

“Certainly. Thompson will find her. Is there anyone else we can get?”

“No, thank you. Just old Katie.”

Alleyn opened the door for her and watched her walk into the foyer. “Check up with the dresser, Thompson,” he murmured, “and get Mr. H. J. Bannington.”

He saw Coralie Bourne sit on the lower step of the dress-circle stairway and lean her head against the wall. Nearby, on a gilt easel, a huge photograph of Canning Cumberland smiled handsomely at her.

H. J. Bannington looked pretty ghastly. He had rubbed his hand across his face and smeared his makeup. Florid red paint from his lips had stained the crêpe hair that had been gummed on and shaped into a beard. His monocle was still in his left eye and gave him an extraordinarily rakish look. “See here,” he complained, “I’ve about had this party. When do we go home?”

Alleyn uttered placatory phrases and got him to sit down. He checked over H.J.’s movements after Cumberland left the stage and found that his account tallied with Mike’s. He asked if H.J. had visited any of the other dressing rooms and was told acidly that H.J.

knew his place in the company. “I remained in my unheated and squalid kennel, thank you very much.”

“Do you know if Mr. Barry George followed your example?”

“Couldn’t say, old boy. He didn’t come near me.”

“Have you any theories at all about this unhappy business, Mr.

Bannington?”

“Do you mean, why did Cann do it? Well, speak no ill of the dead, but I’d have thought it was pretty obvious he was morbid-drunk.

Tight as an owl when we finished the second act. Ask the great Mr.

Barry George. Cann took the big scene away from Barry with both hands and left him looking pathetic. All wrong artistically, but that’s how Cann was in his cups.” H.J.’s wicked little eyes narrowed. “The great Mr. George,” he said, “must be feeling very unpleasant by now. You might say he’d got a suicide on his mind, mightn’t you?

Or don’t you know about that?”

“It was not suicide.”

The glass dropped from H.J.’s eye. “God!” he said. “God, I told Bob Reynolds! I told him the whole plant wanted overhauling.”

“The gas plant, you mean?”

“Certainly. I was in the gas business years ago. Might say I’m in it still with a difference, ha-ha!”

“Ha-ha!” Alleyn agreed politely. He leaned forward. “Look here,”

he said: “We can’t dig up a gas man at this time of night and may very likely need an expert opinion. You can help us.”

“Well, old boy, I was rather pining for a spot of shut-eye. But, of course—”

“I shan’t keep you very long.”

“God, I hope not!” said H.J. earnestly.

Barry George had been made up pale for the last act. Colorless lips and shadows under his cheekbones and eyes had skillfully under-lined his character as a repatriated but broken prisoner-of-war. Now, in the glare of the office lamp, he looked like a grossly exaggerated figure of mourning. He began at once to tell Alleyn how grieved and horrified he was. Everybody, he said, had their faults, and poor old Cann was no exception but wasn’t it terrible to think what could happen to a man who let himself go downhill? He, Barry George, was abnormally sensitive and he didn’t think he’d ever really get over the awful shock this had been to him. What, he wondered, could be at the bottom of it? Why had poor old Cann decided to end it all?

“Miss Bourne’s theory—” Alleyn began. Mr. George laughed.

“Coralie?” he said. “So she’s got a theory! Oh, well. Never mind.”

“Her theory is this. Cumberland saw a man whom he mistook for her husband and, having a morbid dread of his return, drank the greater part of a bottle of whiskey and gassed himself. The clothes and beard that deceived him had, I understand, been ordered by you for Mr. Anthony Gill.”

This statement produced startling results. Barry George broke into a spate of expostulation and apology. There had been no thought in his mind of resurrecting poor old Ben, who was no doubt dead but had been, mind you, in many ways one of the best. They were all to go to the Ball as exaggerated characters from melodrama. “Not for the world—” He gesticulated and protested. A line of sweat broke out along the margin of his hair. “I don’t know what you’re getting at,” he shouted. “What are you suggesting?”

“I’m suggesting, among other things, that Cumberland was murdered.”

“You’re mad! He’d locked himself in. They had to break down the door. There’s no window. You’re crazy!”

“Don’t,” Alleyn said wearily, “let us have any nonsense about sealed rooms. Now, Mr. George, you knew Benjamin Vlasnoff pretty well. Are you going to tell us that when you suggested Mr. Gill should wear a coat with a fur collar, a black sombrero, black gloves, and a red beard, it never occurred to you that his appearance might be a shock to Miss Bourne and to Cumberland?”

“I wasn’t the only one,” he blustered. “H.J. knew. And if it had scared him off, she wouldn’t have been so sorry. She’d had about enough of him. Anyway if this is murder, the costume’s got nothing to do with it.”

“That,” Alleyn said, getting up, “is what we hope to find out.”

In Barry George’s room, Detective-Sergeant Bailey, a fingerprint expert, stood by the gas heater. Sergeant Gibson, a police photographer, and a uniformed constable were near the door. In the center of the room stood Barry George, looking from one man to another and picking at his lips.

“I don’t know why he wants me to watch all this,” he said. “I’m exhausted. I’m emotionally used up. What’s he doing? Where is he?”

Alleyn was next door in Cumberland’s dressing room, with H.J., Mike, and Sergeant Thompson. It was pretty clear now of fumes and the gas fire was burning comfortably. Sergeant Thompson sprawled in the armchair near the heater, his head sunk and his eyes shut.

“This is the theory, Mr. Bannington,” Alleyn said. “You and Cumberland have made your final exits; Miss Bourne and Mr. George and Miss Gay are all on the stage. Lord Michael is standing just outside the entrance to the passage. The dressers and stage-staff are watching the play from the side. Cumberland has locked himself in this room. There he is, dead drunk and sound asleep. The gas fire is burning, full pressure. Earlier in the evening he powdered himself and a thick layer of the powder lies undisturbed on the tap. Now.”

He tapped on the wall.

The fire blew out with a sharp explosion. This was followed by the hiss of escaping gas. Alleyn turned the taps off. “You see,” he said, “I’ve left an excellent print on the powdered surface. Now, come next door.”

Next door, Barry George appealed to him stammering: “But I didn’t know. I don’t know anything about it. I don’t know.”

“Just show Mr. Bannington, will you, Bailey?”

Bailey knelt down. The lead-in was disconnected from the tap on the heater. He turned on the tap in the pipe and blew down the tube.

“An air lock, you see. It works perfectly.”

H.J. was staring at Barry George. “But I don’t know about gas, H.J. H.J., tell them—”

“One moment.” Alleyn removed the towels that had been spread over the dressing-shelf, revealing a sheet of clean paper on which lay the rubber push-on connection.

“Will you take this lens, Bannington, and look at it. You’ll see that it’s stained a florid red. It’s a very slight stain but it’s unmistakably greasepaint. And just above the stain you’ll see a wiry hair. Rather like some sort of packing material, but it’s not that. It’s crêpe hair, isn’t it?”

The lens wavered above the paper.

“Let me hold it for you,” Alleyn said. He put his hand over H.J.’s shoulder and, with a swift movement, plucked a tuft from his false moustache and dropped it on the paper. “Identical, you see. Ginger.

It seems to be stuck to the connection with spirit gum.”

The lens fell. H.J. twisted round, faced Alleyn for a second, and then struck him full in the face. He was a small man but it took three of them to hold him.

“In a way, sir, it’s handy when they have a smack at you,” said Detective-Sergeant Thompson half an hour later. “You can pull them in nice and straightforward without any ‘will you come to the station and make a statement’ business.”

“Quite,” said Alleyn, nursing his jaw.

Mike said: “He must have gone to the room after Barry George and Miss Bourne were called.”

“That’s it. He had to be quick. The call-boy would be round in a minute and he had to be back in his own room.”

“But look here — what about motive?”

“That, my good Mike, is precisely why, at half-past one in the morning, we’re still in this miserable theatre. You’re getting a view of the duller aspect of homicide. Want to go home?”

“No. Give me another job.”

“Very well. About ten feet from the prompt-entrance, there’s a sort of garbage tin. Go through it.”

At seventeen minutes to two, when the dressing rooms and passage had been combed clean and Alleyn had called a spell, Mike came to him with filthy hands. “Eureka,” he said, “I hope.”

They all went into Bannington’s room. Alleyn spread out on the dressing-table the fragments of paper that Mike had given him.

“They’d been pushed down to the bottom of the tin,” Mike said.

Alleyn moved the fragments about. Thompson whistled through his teeth. Bailey and Gibson mumbled together.

“There you are,” Alleyn said at last.

They collected round him. The letter that H. J. Bannington had opened at this same table six hours and forty-five minutes earlier, was pieced together like a jigsaw puzzle.

“Dear H.J.

Having seen the monthly statement of my account, I called at my bank this morning and was shown a check that is undoubtedly a forgery. Your histrionic versatility, my dear H.J., is only equalled by your audacity as a calli-graphist. But fame has its disadvantages. The teller recognized you. I propose to take action.”

“Unsigned,” said Bailey.

“Look at the card on the red roses in Miss Bourne’s room, signed C.C. It’s a very distinctive hand.” Alleyn turned to Mike. “Do you still want to be a policeman?”

“Yes.”

“Lord help you. Come and talk to me at the office tomorrow.”

“Thank you, sir.”

They went out, leaving a constable on duty. It was a cold morning.

Mike looked up at the facade of the Jupiter. He could just make out the shape of the neon sign: I CAN FIND MY WAY OUT by Anthony Gill.

The Summer People

SHIRLEY JACKSON

Shirley Hardie Jackson (1916-65) was a prolific novelist and short-story writer, but her name is most readily associated with a single story, “The Lottery” (1948). Born in San Francisco, she grew up in Burlingame, California, and attended University of Rochester and Syracuse University. Her first major publication was the short story

“My Life with R. H. Macy,” published in The New Republic in 1941.

Her first novel, The Road Through the Wall, was published in 1948, the same year “The Lottery” appeared in The New Yorker to considerable controversy. According to Jackson’s essay “Biography of a Story” (1960), no one (including her agent and the editor who bought it) liked “The Lottery”; New Yorker editor in chief Harold Ross did not understand it; and it was the subject of torrents of disturbed reader mail. Jackson has been pegged as a specialist in horror and the supernatural because of her famous story but was actually far more versatile, her work including children’s books and lighthearted domestic humor in her autobiographies Life Among the Savages (1953) and Raising Demons (1957).

Jackson’s celebrated touch for understated horror developed quite early; see, for example, her very short story, “Janice” (1938), about a college student’s devastatingly casual description of her suicide attempt. According to her husband Stanley Edgar Hyman’s introduction to the posthumous collection Come Along with Me (1968), it was this story, written while she was a sophomore at Syracuse, that led to their first meeting.

“The Summer People” is a subtle tale, troublingly unresolved, with a sense of gathering menace assaulting the everyday. Is it an allegory, a horror story, a crime story? Are the Allisons dying or is some human agency terrorizing them? It makes a detective of the reader but doesn’t necessarily verify the reader’s conclusions.

The Allisons’ country cottage, seven miles from the nearest town, was set prettily on a hill; from three sides it looked down on soft trees and grass that seldom, even at midsummer, lay still and dry. On the fourth side was the lake, which touched against the wooden pier the Allisons had to keep repairing, and which looked equally well from the Allisons’ front porch, their side porch, or any spot on the wooden staircase leading from the porch down to the water. Although the Allisons loved their summer cottage, looked forward to arriving in the early summer and hated to leave in the fall, they had not troubled themselves to put in any improvements, regarding the cottage itself and the lake as improvement enough for the life left to them. The cottage had no heat, no running water except the precarious supply from the backyard pump, and no electricity.

For seventeen summers, Janet Allison had cooked on a kerosene stove, heating all their water; Robert Allison had brought buckets full of water daily from the pump and read his paper by kerosene light in the evenings and they had both, sanitary city people, become stolid and matter-of-fact about their backhouse. In the first two years they had gone through all the standard vaudeville and magazine jokes about backhouses and by now, when they no longer had frequent guests to impress, they had subsided to a comfortable security which made the backhouse, as well as the pump and the kerosene, an indefinable asset to their summer life.

In themselves, the Allisons were ordinary people. Mrs. Allison was fifty-eight years old and Mr. Allison sixty; they had seen their children outgrow the summer cottage and go on to families of their own and seashore resorts; their friends were either dead or settled in comfortable year-round houses, their nieces and nephews vague. In the winter they told one another they could stand their New York apartment while waiting for the summer; in the summer they told one another that the winter was well worthwhile, waiting to get to the country.

Since they were old enough not to be ashamed of regular habits, the Allisons invariably left their summer cottage the Tuesday after Labor Day, and were as invariably sorry when the months of September and early October turned out to be pleasant and almost insufferably barren in the city; each year they recognized that there was nothing to bring them back to New York, but it was not until this year that they overcame their traditional inertia enough to decide to stay at the cottage after Labor Day.

“There isn’t really anything to take us back to the city,” Mrs. Allison told her husband seriously, as though it were a new idea, and he told her, as though neither of them had ever considered it, “We might as well enjoy the country as long as possible.”

Consequently, with much pleasure and a slight feeling of adventure, Mrs. Allison went into their village the day after Labor Day and told those natives with whom she had dealings, with a pretty air of breaking away from tradition, that she and her husband had decided to stay at least a month longer at their cottage.

“It isn’t as though we had anything to take us back to the city,”

she said to Mr. Babcock, her grocer. “We might as well enjoy the country while we can.”

“Nobody ever stayed at the lake past Labor Day before,” Mr.

Babcock said. He was putting Mrs. Allison’s groceries into a large cardboard carton, and he stopped for a minute to look reflectively into a bag of cookies. “Nobody,” he added.

“But the city!” Mrs. Allison always spoke of the city to Mr. Babcock as though it were Mr. Babcock’s dream to go there. “It’s so hot — you’ve really no idea. We’re always sorry when we leave.”

“Hate to leave,” Mr. Babcock said. One of the most irritating native tricks Mrs. Allison had noticed was that of taking a trivial statement and rephrasing it downward, into an even more trite statement. “I’d hate to leave myself,” Mr. Babcock said, after deliberation, and both he and Mrs. Allison smiled. “But I never heard of anyone ever staying out at the lake after Labor Day before.”

“Well, we’re going to give it a try,” Mrs. Allison said, and Mr.

Babcock replied gravely, “Never know till you try.”

Physically, Mrs. Allison decided, as she always did when leaving the grocery after one of her inconclusive conversations with Mr.

Babcock, physically, Mr. Babcock could model for a statue of Daniel Webster, but mentally…it was horrible to think into what old New England Yankee stock had degenerated. She said as much to Mr.

Allison when she got into the car, and he said, “It’s generations of inbreeding. That and the bad land.”

Since this was their big trip into town, which they made only once every two weeks to buy things they could not have delivered, they spent all day at it, stopping to have a sandwich in the newspaper and soda shop, and leaving packages heaped in the back of the car.

Although Mrs. Allison was able to order groceries delivered regularly, she was never able to form any accurate idea of Mr. Babcock’s current stock by telephone, and her lists of odds and ends that might be procured was always supplemented, almost beyond their need, by the new and fresh local vegetables Mr. Babcock was selling temporarily, or the packaged candy which had just come in. This trip Mrs. Allison was tempted, too, by the set of glass baking dishes that had found themselves completely by chance in the hardware and clothing and general store, and which had seemingly been waiting there for no one but Mrs. Allison, since the country people, with their instinctive distrust of anything that did not look as permanent as trees and rocks and sky, had only recently begun to experiment in aluminum baking dishes instead of ironware, and had, apparently within the memory of local inhabitants, discarded stoneware in favor of iron.

Mrs. Allison had the glass baking dishes carefully wrapped, to endure the uncomfortable ride home over the rocky road that led up to the Allisons’ cottage, and while Mr. Charley Walpole, who, with his younger brother Albert, ran the hardware-clothing-general store (the store itself was called Johnson’s, because it stood on the site of the old Johnson cabin, burned fifty years before Charley Walpole was born), laboriously unfolded newspapers to wrap around the dishes, Mrs. Allison said, informally, “Course, I could have waited and gotten those dishes in New York, but we’re not going back so soon this year.”

“Heard you was staying on,” Mr. Charley Walpole said. His old fingers fumbled maddeningly with the thin sheets of newspaper, carefully trying to isolate only one sheet at a time, and he did not look up at Mrs. Allison as he went on, “Don’t know about staying on up there to the lake. Not after Labor Day.”

“Well, you know,” Mrs. Allison said, quite as though he deserved an explanation, “it just seemed to us that we’ve been hurrying back to New York every year, and there just wasn’t any need for it. You know what the city’s like in the fall.” And she smiled confidingly up at Mr. Charley Walpole.

Rhythmically he wound string around the package. He’s giving me a piece long enough to save, Mrs. Allison thought, and she looked away quickly to avoid giving any sign of impatience. “I feel sort of like we belong here, more,” she said. “Staying on after everyone else has left.” To prove this, she smiled brightly across the store at a woman with a familiar face, who might have been the woman who sold berries to the Allisons one year, or the woman who occasionally helped in the grocery and was probably Mr. Babcock’s aunt.

“Well,” Mr. Charley Walpole said. He shoved the package a little across the counter, to show that it was finished and that for a sale well made, a package well wrapped, he was willing to accept pay.

“Well,” he said again. “Never been summer people before, at the lake after Labor Day.”

Mrs. Allison gave him a five-dollar bill, and he made change methodically, giving great weight even to the pennies. “Never after Labor Day,” he said, and nodded at Mrs. Allison, and went soberly along the store to deal with two women who were looking at cotton housedresses.

As Mrs. Allison passed on her way out she heard one of the women say acutely, “Why is one of them dresses one dollar and thirty-nine cents and this one here is only ninety-eight?”

“They’re great people,” Mrs. Allison told her husband as they went together down the sidewalk after meeting at the door of the hardware store. “They’re so solid, and so reasonable, and so honest.”

“Makes you feel good, knowing there are still towns like this,”

Mr. Allison said.

“You know, in New York,” Mrs. Allison said, “I might have paid a few cents less for these dishes, but there wouldn’t have been anything sort of personal in the transaction.”

“Staying on to the lake?” Mrs. Martin, in the newspaper and sandwich shop, asked the Allisons. “Heard you was staying on.”

“Thought we’d take advantage of the lovely weather this year,”

Mr. Allison said.

Mrs. Martin was a comparative newcomer to the town; she had married into the newspaper and sandwich shop from a neighboring farm, and had stayed on after her husband’s death. She served bottled soft drinks, and fried egg and onion sandwiches on thick bread, which she made on her own stove at the back of the store.

Occasionally when Mrs. Martin served a sandwich it would carry with it the rich fragrance of the stew or the pork chops cooking alongside for Mrs. Martin’s dinner.

“I don’t guess anyone’s ever stayed out there so long before,” Mrs.

Martin said. “Not after Labor Day, anyway.”

“I guess Labor Day is when they usually leave,” Mr. Hall, the Allisons’ nearest neighbor, told them later, in front of Mr. Babcock’s store, where the Allisons were getting into their car to go home.

“Surprised you’re staying on.”

“It seemed a shame to go so soon,” Mrs. Allison said. Mr. Hall lived three miles away; he supplied the Allisons with butter and eggs, and occasionally, from the top of their hill, the Allisons could see the lights in his house in the early evening before the Halls went to bed.

“They usually leave Labor Day,” Mr. Hall said.

The ride home was long and rough; it was beginning to get dark, and Mr. Allison had to drive very carefully over the dirt road by the lake. Mrs. Allison lay back against the seat, pleasantly relaxed after a day of what seemed whirlwind shopping compared with their day-to-day existence; the new glass baking dishes lurked agreeably in her mind, and the half bushel of red eating apples, and the package of colored thumbtacks with which she was going to put up new shelf edging in the kitchen. “Good to get home,” she said softly as they came in sight of their cottage, silhouetted above them against the sky.

“Glad we decided to stay on,” Mr. Allison agreed.

Mrs. Allison spent the next morning lovingly washing her baking dishes, although in his innocence Charley Walpole had neglected to notice the chip in the edge of one; she decided, wastefully, to use some of the red eating apples in a pie for dinner, and, while the pie was in the oven and Mr. Allison was down getting the mail, she sat out on the little lawn the Allisons had made at the top of the hill, and watched the changing lights on the lake, alternating gray and blue as clouds moved quickly across the sun.

Mr. Allison came back a little out of sorts; it always irritated him to walk the mile to the mailbox on the state road and come back with nothing, even though he assumed that the walk was good for his health. This morning there was nothing but a circular from a New York department store, and their New York paper, which arrived erratically by mail from one to four days later than it should, so that some days the Allisons might have three papers and frequently none. Mrs. Allison, although she shared with her husband the annoyance of not having mail when they so anticipated it, pored affectionately over the department store circular, and made a mental note to drop in at the store when she finally went back to New York, and check on the sale of wool blankets; it was hard to find good ones in pretty colors nowadays. She debated saving the circular to remind herself, but after thinking about getting up and getting into the cottage to put it away safely somewhere, she dropped it into the grass beside her chair and lay back, her eyes half closed.

“Looks like we might have some rain,” Mr. Allison said, squinting at the sky.

“Good for the crops,” Mrs. Allison said laconically, and they both laughed.

The kerosene man came the next morning while Mr. Allison was down getting the mail; they were getting low on kerosene and Mrs.

Allison greeted the man warmly; he sold kerosene and ice, and, during the summer, hauled garbage away for the summer people.

A garbage man was only necessary for improvident city folk; country people had no garbage.

“I’m glad to see you,” Mrs. Allison told him. “We were getting pretty low.”

The kerosene man, whose name Mrs. Allison had never learned, used a hose attachment to fill the twenty-gallon tank which supplied light and heat and cooking facilities for the Allisons; but today, instead of swinging down from his truck and unhooking the hose from where it coiled affectionately around the cab of the truck, the man stared uncomfortably at Mrs. Allison, his truck motor still going.

“Thought you folks’d be leaving,” he said.

“We’re staying on another month,” Mrs. Allison said brightly.

“The weather was so nice, and it seemed like—”

“That’s what they told me,” the man said. “Can’t give you no oil, though.”

“What do you mean?” Mrs. Allison raised her eyebrows. “We’re just going to keep on with our regular—”

“After Labor Day,” the man said. “I don’t get so much oil myself after Labor Day.”

Mrs. Allison reminded herself, as she had frequently to do when in disagreement with her neighbors, that city manners were no good with country people; you could not expect to overrule a country employee as you could a city worker, and Mrs. Allison smiled engagingly as she said, “But can’t you get extra oil, at least while we stay?”

“You see,” the man said. He tapped his finger exasperatingly against the car wheel as he spoke. “You see,” he said slowly, “I order this oil. I order it down from maybe fifty, fifty-five miles away. I order back in June, how much I’ll need for the summer. Then I order again…oh, about November. Round about now it’s starting to get pretty short.” As though the subject were closed, he stopped tapping his finger and tightened his hands on the wheel in preparation for departure.

“But can’t you give us some?” Mrs. Allison said. “Isn’t there anyone else?”

“Don’t know as you could get oil anywheres else right now,” the man said consideringly. “I can’t give you none.” Before Mrs. Allison could speak, the truck began to move; then it stopped for a minute and he looked at her through the back window of the cab. “Ice?” he called. “I could let you have some ice.”

Mrs. Allison shook her head; they were not terribly low on ice, and she was angry. She ran a few steps to catch up with the truck, calling, “Will you try to get us some? Next week?”

“Don’t see’s I can,” the man said. “After Labor Day, it’s harder.”

The truck drove away, and Mrs. Allison, only comforted by the thought that she could probably get kerosene from Mr. Babcock or, at worst, the Halls, watched it go with anger. “Next summer,” she told herself, “just let him trying coming around next summer!”

There was no mail again, only the paper, which seemed to be coming doggedly on time, and Mr. Allison was openly cross when he returned. When Mrs. Allison told him about the kerosene man he was not particularly impressed.

“Probably keeping it all for a high price during the winter,” he commented. “What’s happened to Anne and Jerry, do you think?”

Anne and Jerry were their son and daughter, both married, one living in Chicago, one in the far west; their dutiful weekly letters were late; so late, in fact, that Mr. Allison’s annoyance at the lack of mail was able to settle on a legitimate grievance. “Ought to realize how we wait for their letters,” he said. “Thoughtless, selfish children. Ought to know better.”

“Well, dear,” Mrs. Allison said placatingly. Anger at Anne and Jerry would not relieve her emotions toward the kerosene man. After a few minutes she said, “Wishing won’t bring the mail, dear. I’m going to go call Mr. Babcock and tell him to send up some kerosene with my order.”

“At least a postcard,” Mr. Allison said as she left.

As with most of the cottage’s inconveniences, the Allisons no longer noticed the phone particularly, but yielded to its eccentricities without conscious complaint. It was a wall phone, of a type still seen in only few communities; in order to get the operator, Mrs. Allison had first to turn the side-crank and ring once. Usually it took two or three tries to force the operator to answer, and Mrs. Allison, making any kind of telephone call, approached the phone with resignation and a sort of desperate patience. She had to crank the phone three times this morning before the operator answered, and then it was still longer before Mr. Babcock picked up the receiver at his phone in the corner of the grocery behind the meat table. He said

“Store?” with the rising inflection that seemed to indicate suspicion of anyone who tried to communicate with him by means of this unreliable instrument.

“This is Mrs. Allison, Mr. Babcock. I thought I’d give you my order a day early because I wanted to be sure and get some—”

“What say, Mrs. Allison?”

Mrs. Allison raised her voice a little; she saw Mr. Allison, out on the lawn, turn in his chair and regard her sympathetically. “I said, Mr. Babcock, I thought I’d call in my order early so you could send me—”

“Mrs. Allison?” Mr. Babcock said. “You’ll come and pick it up?”

“Pick it up?” In her surprise Mrs. Allison let her voice drop back to its normal tone and Mr. Babcock said loudly, “What’s that, Mrs. Allison?”

“I thought I’d have you send it out as usual,” Mrs. Allison said.

“Well, Mrs. Allison,” Mr. Babcock said, and there was a pause while Mrs. Allison waited, staring past the phone over her husband’s head out into the sky. “Mrs. Allison,” Mr. Babcock went on finally,

“I’ll tell you, my boy’s been working for me went back to school yesterday, and now I got no one to deliver. I only got a boy delivering summers, you see.”

“I thought you always delivered,” Mrs. Allison said.

“Not after Labor Day, Mrs. Allison,” Mr. Babcock said firmly,

“you never been here after Labor Day before, so’s you wouldn’t know, of course.”

“Well,” Mrs. Allison said helplessly. Far inside her mind she was saying, over and over, can’t use city manners on country folk, no use getting mad.

“Are you sure?” she asked finally. “Couldn’t you just send out an order today, Mr. Babcock?”

“Matter of fact,” Mr. Babcock said, “I guess I couldn’t, Mrs. Allison.

It wouldn’t hardly pay, delivering, with no one else out at the lake.”

“What about Mr. Hall?” Mrs. Allison asked suddenly, “the people who live about three miles away from us out here? Mr. Hall could bring it out when he comes.”

“Hall?” Mr. Babcock said. “John Hall? They’ve gone to visit her folks upstate, Mrs. Allison.”

“But they bring all our butter and eggs,” Mrs. Allison said, appalled.

“Left yesterday,” Mr. Babcock said. “Probably didn’t think you folks would stay on up there.”

“But I told Mr. Hall…” Mrs. Allison started to say, and then stopped. “I’ll send Mr. Allison in after some groceries tomorrow,”

she said.

“You got all you need till then,” Mr. Babcock said, satisfied; it was not a question, but a confirmation.

After she hung up, Mrs. Allison went slowly out to sit again in her chair next to her husband. “He won’t deliver,” she said.

“You’ll have to go in tomorrow. We’ve got just enough kerosene to last till you get back.”

“He should have told us sooner,” Mr. Allison said.

It was not possible to remain troubled long in the face of the day; the country had never seemed more inviting, and the lake moved quietly below them, among the trees, with the almost incredible softness of a summer picture. Mrs. Allison sighed deeply, in the pleasure of possessing for themselves that sight of the lake, with the distant green hills beyond, the gentleness of the small wind through the trees.

The weather continued fair; the next morning Mr. Allison, duly armed with a list of groceries, with “kerosene” in large letters at the top, went down the path to the garage, and Mrs. Allison began another pie in her new baking dishes. She had mixed the crust and was starting to pare the apples when Mr. Allison came rapidly up the path and flung open the screen door into the kitchen.

“Damn car won’t start,” he announced, with the end-of-the-tether voice of a man who depends on a car as he depends on his right arm.

“What’s wrong with it?” Mrs. Allison demanded, stopping with the paring knife in one hand and an apple in the other. “It was all right on Tuesday.”

“Well,” Mr. Allison said between his teeth, “it’s not all right on Friday.”

“Can you fix it?” Mrs. Allison asked.

“No,” Mr. Allison said, “I can not. Got to call someone, I guess.”

“Who?” Mrs. Allison asked.

“Man runs the filling station, I guess.” Mr. Allison moved purpose-fully toward the phone. “He fixed it last summer one time.”

A little apprehensive, Mrs. Allison went on paring apples absentmindedly, while she listened to Mr. Allison with the phone, ringing, waiting, ringing, waiting, finally giving the number to the operator, then waiting again and giving the number again, giving the number a third time, and then slamming down the receiver.

“No one there,” he announced as he came into the kitchen.

“He’s probably gone out for a minute,” Mrs. Allison said nervously; she was not quite sure what made her so nervous, unless it was the probability of her husband’s losing his temper completely.

“He’s there alone, I imagine, so if he goes out there’s no one to answer the phone.”

“That must be it,” Mr. Allison said with heavy irony. He slumped into one of the kitchen chairs and watched Mrs. Allison paring apples. After a minute, Mrs. Allison said soothingly, “Why don’t you go down and get the mail and then call him again?”

Mr. Allison debated and then said, “Guess I might as well.” He rose heavily and when he got to the kitchen door he turned and said,

“But if there’s no mail—” and leaving an awful silence behind him, he went off down the path.

Mrs. Allison hurried with her pie. Twice she went to the window to glance at the sky to see if there were clouds coming up. The room seemed unexpectedly dark, and she herself felt in the state of tension that precedes a thunderstorm, but both times when she looked the sky was clear and serene, smiling indifferently down on the Allisons’

summer cottage as well as on the rest of the world. When Mrs. Allison, her pie ready for the oven, went a third time to look outside, she saw her husband coming up the path; he seemed more cheerful, and when he saw her, he waved eagerly and held a letter in the air.

“From Jerry,” he called as soon as he was close enough for her to hear him, “at last — a letter!” Mrs. Allison noticed with concern that he was no longer able to get up the gentle slope of the path without breathing heavily; but then he was in the doorway, holding out the letter. “I saved it till I got here,” he said.

Mrs. Allison looked with an eagerness that surprised her on the familiar handwriting of her son; she could not imagine why the letter excited her so, except that it was the first they had received in so long, it would be a pleasant, dutiful letter, full of the doings of Alice and the children, reporting progress with his job, commenting on the recent weather in Chicago, closing with love from all; both Mr. and Mrs. Allison could, if they wished, recite a pattern letter from either of their children.

Mr. Allison slit the letter open with great deliberation, and then he spread it out on the kitchen table and they leaned down and read it together.

Dear Mother and Dad,” it began, in Jerry’s familiar, rather childish handwriting, “Am glad this goes to the lake as usual, we always thought you came back too soon and ought to stay up there as long as you could.

Alice says that now that you’re not as young as you used to be and have no demands on your time, fewer friends, etc., in the city, you ought to get what fun you can while you can. Since you two are both happy up there, it’s a good idea for you to stay.”

Uneasily Mrs. Allison glanced sideways at her husband; he was reading intently, and she reached out and picked up the empty envelope, not knowing exactly what she wanted from it. It was addressed quite as usual, in Jerry’s handwriting, and was postmarked Chicago. Of course it’s postmarked Chicago, she thought quickly, why would they want to postmark it anywhere else? When she looked back down at the letter, her husband had turned the page, and she read on with him: “— and of course if they get measles, etc., now, they will be better off later. Alice is well, of course, me too. Been playing a lot of bridge lately with some people you don’t know, named Carruthers. Nice young couple, about our age. Well, will close now as I guess it bores you to hear about things so far away. Tell Dad old Dickson, in our Chicago office, died. He used to ask about Dad a lot. Have a good time up at the lake, and don’t bother about hurrying back. Love from all of us, Jerry.”

“Funny,” Mr. Allison commented.

“It doesn’t sound like Jerry,” Mrs. Allison said in a small voice.

“He never wrote anything like…” she stopped.

“Like what?” Mr. Allison demanded. “Never wrote anything like what?”

Mrs. Allison turned the letter over, frowning. It was impossible to find any sentence, any word, even, that did not sound like Jerry’s regular letters. Perhaps it was only that the letter was so late, or the unusual number of dirty fingerprints on the envelope.

“I don’t know,” she said impatiently.

“Going to try that phone call again,” Mr. Allison said.

Mrs. Allison read the letter twice more, trying to find a phrase that sounded wrong. Then Mr. Allison came back and said, very quietly, “Phone’s dead.”

“What?” Mrs. Allison said, dropping the letter.

“Phone’s dead,” Mr. Allison said.

The rest of the day went quickly; after a lunch of crackers and milk, the Allisons went to sit outside on the lawn, but their afternoon was cut short by the gradually increasing storm clouds that came up over the lake to the cottage, so that it was as dark as evening by four o’clock. The storm delayed, however, as though in loving anticipation of the moment it would break over the summer cottage, and there was an occasional flash of lightning, but no rain. In the evening Mr. and Mrs. Allison, sitting close together inside their cottage, turned on the battery radio they had brought with them from New York. There were no lamps lighted in the cottage, and the only light came from the lightning outside and the small square glow from the dial of the radio.

The slight framework of the cottage was not strong enough to withstand the city noises, the music and the voices, from the radio, and the Allisons could hear them far off echoing across the lake, the saxophones in the New York dance band wailing over the water, the flat voice of the girl vocalist going inexorably out into the clean country air. Even the announcer, speaking glowingly of the virtues of razor blades, was no more than an inhuman voice sounding out from the Allisons’ cottage and echoing back, as though the lake and the hills and the trees were returning it unwanted.

During one pause between commercials, Mrs. Allison turned and smiled weakly at her husband. “I wonder if we’re supposed to… do anything,” she said.

“No,” Mr. Allison said consideringly. “I don’t think so. Just wait.”

Mrs. Allison caught her breath quickly, and Mr. Allison said, under the trivial melody of the dance band beginning again, “The car had been tampered with, you know. Even I could see that.”

Mrs. Allison hesitated a minute and then said very softly, “I suppose the phone wires were cut.”

“I imagine so,” Mr. Allison said.

After a while, the dance music stopped and they listened attentively to a news broadcast, the announcer’s rich voice telling them breathlessly of a marriage in Hollywood, the latest baseball scores, the estimated rise in food prices during the coming week. He spoke to them, in the summer cottage, quite as though they still deserved to hear news of a world that no longer reached them except through the fallible batteries on the radio, which were already beginning to fade, almost as though they still belonged, however tenuously, to the rest of the world.

Mrs. Allison glanced out the window at the smooth surface of the lake, the black masses of the trees, and the waiting storm, and said conversationally, “I feel better about that letter of Jerry’s.”

“I knew when I saw the light down at the Hall place last night,”

Mr. Allison said.

The wind, coming up suddenly over the lake, swept around the summer cottage and slapped hard at the windows. Mr. and Mrs.

Allison involuntarily moved closer together, and with the first sudden crash of thunder, Mr. Allison reached out and took his wife’s hand. And then, while the lightning flashed outside, and the radio faded and sputtered, the two old people huddled together in their summer cottage and waited.

St. Patrick’s Day in the Morning

CHARLOTTE ARMSTRONG

Charlotte Armstrong (1905-69) is one of a lustrous group of writers who give the lie to the revisionist history claim that American women mystery writers of the fifties and sixties were downtrodden and unappreciated victims of hardboiled masculine dominance. The Mystery Writers of America awarded her an Edgar for A Dram of Poison (1956), and her two 1967 titles, The Gift Shop and Lemon in the Basket, were best-novel nominees in the same year. At the height of her reputation, not even Cornell Woolrich was more celebrated as a purveyor of pure suspense.

After a couple of unsuccessful (albeit New York-produced) plays and three relatively conventional detective novels featuring a character named MacDougall Duff, the Michigan-born Armstrong made a major impact and stirred controversy among fans and critics with The Unsuspected (1946). Howard Haycraft, traditionalist author of the standard history Murder for Pleasure (1941), admired the novel’s strengths but insisted it would have been even better had Armstrong concealed the identity of the villain in standard whodunnit fashion rather than letting the reader in on the secret. The novel was filmed in 1947, with a script by Armstrong, and she followed it with The Chocolate Cobweb (1948), Mischief (1950), The Black-Eyed Stranger (1951), and many more novels through the posthumously published The Protégé (1970).

Armstrong was as effective at short-story as novel length. “St.

Patrick’s Day in the Morning” demonstrates both her creation of reader anxiety and her strong sense of human interdependence and responsibility — plus the problems it can cause. It also shows her affinity to Woolrich in its unusual variant on one of his favorite situations (the lady vanishes) and to the theater — the main character is a playwright, and the story is easy to imagine as a play.

Very carefully, in a state of fearful pleasure, he put all the pieces of paper in order. One copy of the manuscript he put into an envelope and addressed it. The other copies he put into an empty suitcase. Then he called an airline and was lucky. A seat for New York in the morning. Morning? What morning? St. Patrick’s Day in the morning.

He had been out of this world. But now he stretched, breathed, blinked, and put out feelers for what is known as reality.

See now. He was Mitchel Brown, playwright (God willing), and he had finished the job of revision he had come home to Los Angeles to do. Wowee! Finished!

The hour was a quarter after one in the morning and therefore already the seventeenth of March. The place was his ground-floor apartment, and it was a mess: smoky, dirty, disorderly…Oh, well, first things had come first. His back was aching, his eyes were burning, his head was light. He would have to clean up, eat, sleep, bathe, shave, dress, pack. But first…

He slammed a row of airmail stamps on the envelope and went out. The street was dark and deserted. A few cars sat lumpishly along the curbs. The manuscript thumped down into the mailbox — safe in the bosom of the Postal Service. Now, even if he, the plane, and the other copies perished…

Mitch laughed at himself and turned the corner, feeling suddenly let down, depressed, and forlorn.

The Parakeet Bar and Grill, he noted gratefully, was still open. He walked the one block and went in. The Bar ran all the way along one wall and the Grill, consisting of eight booths, ran all the way along the other. The narrow room was dim and felt empty.

Mitch groped for a stool.

“Hi, Toby. Business slow?”

“Hi, Mr. Brown.” The bartender seemed glad to see him. He was a small man with a crest of dark hair, a blue chin, and a blue tinge to the whites of his eyes. “This late on a weeknight, I’m never crowded.”

“The kitchen’s gone home, eh?” Mitch said. The kitchen was not the heart of this establishment.

“That’s right, Mr. Brown. You want any food, you better go else-where.”

“A drink will do me,” said Mitch with a sigh. “I can go home and scramble yet another egg.”

Toby turned to his bottles. When he turned back with Mitch’s usual, he said in an anxious whine, “Fact is, I got to close up pretty soon and I don’t know what to do.”

“What do you mean, what to do?”

“Look at her.” Toby’s gaze passed over Mitch’s left shoulder.

Mitch glanced behind him and was startled to see there was a woman sitting in one of the booths. Or perhaps one could say lying, since her fair hatless head was down on the red-checked tablecloth.

Mitch turned again and wagged inquiring eyebrows.

“Out like a light,” said Toby in a hoarse whisper. “Listen, I don’t want to call the cops. Thing like that, not so good for the place. But I got a kid sick and my wife is all wore out and I wanted to get home.”

“You try black coffee?”

“Sure, I tried.” Toby’s shoulders despaired.

“How’d she get this way?”

“Not here,” said Toby quickly. “Don’t see how. So help me, a coupla drinks hit her like that. Trouble is, she’s not a bum. You can see that. So what should I do?”

“Put her in a taxi,” said Mitch blithely. “Just ship her where she belongs. Why not? She’ll have something on her for identity.”

“I don’t want to mess around with her pocketbook,” Toby said fearfully.

“Hm. Well, let’s see…” Mitch got off the stool. His drink had gone down and bounced lightly and he was feeling cheerful and friendly toward all the world. Furthermore, he felt very intelligent and he understood that he had been born to understand everybody.

Toby came too, and they lifted the woman’s torso.

Her face was slack in drunken sleep; but even so it was not an ugly face. It was not young; neither was it old. Her clothing was expensive. No, she wasn’t a tramp.

Then she opened her eyes and said in a refined voice, “I beg your pardon.”

She was not exactly conscious; still this was encouraging. The two men got her to her feet. With their support she could stand. In fact, she could walk. Mitch ran his left arm through the handle of her expensive-looking handbag. The two of them walked her to the door.

“The air maybe?” said the bartender hopefully.

“Right,” said Mitch. “Listen, there’s a cab stand next to the movie theater. By the time we walk her over there…”

Toby said shrilly. “I got to lock up. I got to take care of the place.”

“Go ahead,” said Mitch, standing in the sweet night air with the strange woman heavy in his arms, “I’ve got her.”

He heard the lock click behind him as he set off on the sidewalk, the woman putting one foot ahead of the other willingly enough.

Musing on the peculiar and surprising qualities of “reality,” Mitch had guided her halfway along the block before he recognized the fact that the bartender had taken him literally and was not coming along at all.

Oh, well. Mitch was not annoyed. On the contrary, he felt filled with compassion for all human beings. This woman was human and, therefore, frail. He was glad to try to help her to some place of her own.

The neighborhood business section was deserted. They were moving in an empty world. When Mitch had struggled all the way to the next corner, he could see ahead that there were no cabs near the theater. At this time of night the theater was dead and dark, as he should have known. He guessed he hadn’t quite been meshed with the gears of ordinary time.

Anyhow, he couldn’t turn her over to a handy cab driver. Nor to the police, since there were no policemen around either. There was nothing but pavement, those few lumps of metal left at the curb for the night, and no traffic.

Mitch wouldn’t have hailed a motorist anyway. Most motorists were suspicious and afraid. So he did the only thing he could — he kept walking.

He guided her automatic steps around the corner and down the street, for surely, he thought, if he kept her walking she would begin to be conscious and he could then ask her what she wanted him to do about her. This he felt was the right thing. Perhaps he could get out his own car…

But the air was not having the desired effect. She began to stumble.

Her weight slumped against him. Mitch found he was almost carrying her. Then he discovered that he was standing, holding her upright with both arms, directly in front of his own building. Obviously, the only thing to do was take her inside, where he could investigate her identity and telephone for a taxi.

The apartment had not tidied itself up during his absence. He let her weight go and she sagged down on his sofa. He guided her blond head to a pillow. There she lay, out like a light, a perfect stranger.

To straighten the body and make it look more comfortable, he lifted the lower part of the legs. One of her shoes — beautiful shoes in a fine green leather, with a high spike heel and a small brass buckle — one of them came off.

Mitch took hold of the other shoe and also removed it. Full of cosmic thoughts about females and heels, he put her shoes on his desk and slipped her handbag off his arm. It was the same fine green leather.

It did feel sneaky to be rifling the property of a strange woman.

Still, it had to be done.

Her name, on the driver’s license, was Natalie Maxwell. Her address was in Santa Barbara. Mitch whistled. That knocked over his scheme of sending her home in a cab, since her home was a hundred miles away. Then he found a letter addressed to Mrs. Julius Maxwell and Mitch whistled again. So she was married!

Furthermore, she was married to somebody whose name was familiar. Julius Maxwell. All that came to Mitch’s musing memory was an aroma of money. She probably wasn’t broke, then. He peered into her wallet and saw a few bills. Not many. So he riffled her checkbook and whistled for the third time. Well! No penniless waif, this one.

Mitch ran his hand through his hair and considered his predica-ment. Here he was, harboring a wealthy matron from Santa Barbara who had passed out from liquor. What was he going to do with her?

There was nothing in the bag to tell him where she was staying locally. The letter was woman’s chatter from someone in San Francisco.

So what to do?

Well, he might phone the police and dump her on them. This he could not quite imagine. Or, he could phone the residence of Julius Maxwell, in Santa Barbara, and if her husband were there, ask for instructions; or, if he were not there, surely Mitch could ask somebody where Mrs. Maxwell was staying in Los Angeles, and dump her there. All this went through his mind and was rejected.

Why cause another human being humiliation and trouble? He didn’t think she was ill. Just stinko. Sooner or later the fumes would wear away and she would come to herself. Meantime, she was perfectly safe, right where she was. Heaven knew he had no evil thoughts.

Also, he — Mitchel Brown, playwright, artist, apostle of compassion— he was no bourgeois to conform, cravenly fearing for his reputation if he were to do what is “not done.” Was he, being what he was, to put this human being into a jam with the Law, or even with her own husband? When this human being, for some human reason, had simply imbibed a little too much alcohol? He couldn’t do it.

Okay. He had been dragooned by his mood and by the perfidious desertion of Toby the bartender into acting the Samaritan. Why not be the good Samaritan, then? Give her a break.

This pleased him. It felt lucky to him. Give her a break. God knows we all need them, he thought piously.

So Mitch scribbled a note. Dear Mrs. Maxwell: Use my phone if you like. Or be my guest, as long as you need to be.

He signed it, went into his bedroom, got a light blanket, and spread it over her. She was snoring faintly. He studied her face a moment more. He put the note on the rug under her shoes where she would be sure to see it. Then he went into his bedroom, closed the door, and went to bed.

Mitchel Brown woke up on St. Patrick’s Day, early in the morning, absolutely ravenous. He had forgotten to eat anything. Now he remembered. New York! Catch plane! Pack!

He started for his kitchen and at the bedroom door remembered the lady. So he turned and put a robe on before emerging.

He needn’t have bothered. She was gone. Her shoes were gone.

Her bag was gone. His note was gone. In fact, there was no trace of her at all.

He did not wonder whether he had been dreaming. So she had come to and fled. Hm, without even a “Thank you”? Oh, well, panic, he supposed. Ah, human frailty! Mitch shrugged. But he had things to do and not enough time to do them in.

He went into a spell of demon housekeeping, threw everything perishable out of his refrigerator, everything dirty into the laundry bag, everything wearable into his suitcase. He caught the plane by a whisker.

Once on it he began to suffer. He reread his manuscript in his mind’s eye and squirmed with doubt. He tried to nap and could not, and then, suddenly, he could…and then he was in New York and God was willing and his producer was still hot and eager…

Six weeks later Mitchel Brown, playwright, got off the plane in Los Angeles. He had a play on Broadway. The verdict was comme ci, comme ça. Time, box office, word of mouth…personally he could bear no more. He wasn’t licked, but he knew he would be unless he got home and got to work on something else and that, soon.

He had been out of this world all this time, for when one has a play in rehearsal, earthquake, major catastrophe, declaration of war mean nothing. Nothing whatever.

He got to his apartment about five a.m. and kicked aside the pile of newspapers he had forgotten to stop. The place smelled stale and wasn’t really clean, but no matter. He opened all the windows, mixed himself a highball, and sat down with the last paper on the heap to catch up with the way the Western world had wagged since he had left it. International affairs he had glanced over, the last week in the East. Local affairs, of course, were completely unknown to him.

The latest murder, hm…Los Angeles papers are always hopeful that a murder is going to turn out to be a big one, so any and every murder gets off with a bang. This one didn’t look promising. A mere brawl, he judged. Would die down in a couple of days.

He skimmed the second page where all the older murders were followed up. He had missed two or three. Some woman knifed by an ex-husband. Some man shot in his own hall. Run-of-the-mill.

Mitch yawned. He would get out his car, go somewhere for a decent meal, he decided. Tomorrow, back to the salt mines.

At 6:30 p.m. he walked into his favorite restaurant, ordered a drink, settled to contemplate the menu.

She came in quietly about ten minutes later and sat down by herself at a table directly across from Mitch. The first thing he noted, with the tail of his eye, was her shoes. He had seen them before. Yes, and held them — held them in his hands.

His eyes traveled higher and there was Mrs. Julius Maxwell.

(Natalie was her given name, he remembered.) It was not only Mrs.

Julius Maxwell in the flesh, but Mrs. Julius Maxwell in the very same clothing she had worn before! The same green suit, the same pale blouse, and no hat. She was a lady, well groomed, prosperous, pretty, and poised — and now perfectly sober.

Mitch kept his head cocked and his eyes on her, waiting for her to feel his stare and respond to it. Her eyes came to his in a moment, but they were cool and empty of recognition.

Well, of course, he thought. How would she know me? She never saw me. He glanced away, feeling amused, then glanced back. Natalie Maxwell was ordering. She sat back, relaxed, and her gaze slipped past him again, returned briefly to note his interest, then went away, indicating none on her part.

Mitch could not help feeling that this was not fair. He got up and crossed to her. “How do you do, Mrs. Maxwell?” he said pleasantly.

“I am glad you are feeling better.”

“I beg your pardon?” she said. He remembered that he had heard her say this, and only this, once before.

“I’m Mitchel Brown.” He waited, smiling down at her.

“I don’t believe…” she murmured in genteel puzzlement. She had a nice straight nose and, although she was looking up at him, she seemed to be looking down that nose.

“I’m sure you remember the name,” Mitch said. “It was the sixteenth of March. No, it was Saint Patrick’s Day in the morning, actually.”

“I don’t quite…”

Was she stupid or what? Mitch said, with a bit of a sting in the tone, “Did you have much of a hangover?”

“I’m very sorry,” she said with a little exasperated laugh, “but I really don’t know what you are talking about.”

“Oh, come now, Natalie,” said Mitch, beginning to feel miffed,

“it was my apartment.”

“What?” she said.

“My apartment that you passed out in — here in Los Angeles.”

“I am afraid you are making a mistake,” she said distantly.

Mitch did not think so.

“Aren’t you Mrs. Julius Maxwell?”

“Yes, I am.”

“From Santa Barbara?”

“Why, yes, I am.” She was frowning a little.

“Then the apartment you woke up in, on Saint Patrick’s Day in the morning, was my apartment,” said Mitch huffily, “and why the amnesia?”

“What is this?” said a male voice.

Mitch swivelled his head and knew at once that here was Mr. Julius Maxwell. He saw a medium-sized, taut-muscled, middle-aged man with a thatch of salt-and-pepper hair and fierce black eyes under heavy black brows. Everything about this man blazoned aggression and possession. He reeked of push and power, of I and Mine.

Mitchel Brown, playwright, artist, and apostle of compassion, drew his own forces together, as if he folded in some wings.

“Julius,” said the blond woman, “this man knows my name. He keeps talking about Saint Patrick’s Day in the morning.”

“Oh, he does?” said her husband.

“He says I was in his apartment, here in Los Angeles.”

To Mitch Brown came a notion that would explain all this. Obviously, Natalie’s husband had never found out where Natalie had been that night. So Natalie had to pretend she didn’t know Mitch, because she knew, as he did not, that Julius Maxwell was nearby and would appear. But something in the woman’s manner did not quite fit this theory. She didn’t seem to be concerned enough. She looked straight ahead and her bewilderment was perfunctory.

Still, he thought he should be gallant. “I must have made a mistake” he said. “But the resemblance is remarkable. Perhaps you have a double, ma’am?”

He thought this was handsome of him and that it gave her a way out.

“A double?” said Julius Maxwell nastily. “Who uses my wife’s name?”

Well, of course, if the man was going to be intelligent about it, that tore it. “Sorry,” said Mitch lightly.

“Sit down and tell me about it,” said Maxwell commandingly.

“Mr.…er…?”

“Brown,” said Mitch shortly. He was of a mind to turn on his heel and go away. But he glanced at Natalie. She had opened her handbag and found her compact. This stuck him as either offensively nonchal-ant or pathetically trusting. Or what? Curiosity rose in Mitch — and he sat down.

“Why, I happened into a bar where a lady had had too much to drink,” he said, as if this were nothing unusual. “I volunteered to put her in a taxi but there was no taxi. I wound up leaving her passed out on my sofa. In the morning she was gone. That’s all there is to the story.”

“This was on Saint Patrick’s Day?” said Maxwell intently.

“In the small hours. In the morning.”

“Then the lady was not my wife. My wife was with me in Santa Barbara at our home that night.”

“With you?” said Mitch carefully, feeling a bit of shock.

“Certainly.” Maxwell’s tone was belligerent.

Mitch was beginning to wonder. The woman had powdered her nose and sat looking as if she couldn’t care less. “Not simply in the same building,” Mitch inquired, “as you may have assumed?”

“Not simply in the same building,” said Julius Maxwell, “and no assumption. She was with me, speaking to me, touching me, if you like.” His black eyes were hostile.

Oh, ho, thought Mitch, then you are a liar, too. Now what is all this? He did not care for this Maxwell at all.

“Perhaps I have mistaken her for another lady,” he said smoothly.

“But isn’t it strange that she is wearing exactly the same clothes now that she was wearing on Saint Patrick’s Day?”

(Try that one on for size, Mitch thought smugly.) Julius said ominously, “Do you know who I am?”

“I have heard your name,” said Mitch.

“You know that I am an influential man?”

“Oh, yes,” said Mitch pleasantly. “In fact, I can smell the money from here.”

“How much do you want to forget that you saw my wife in Los Angeles that night?”

Mitch’s brows went up.

“On Saint Patrick’s Day in the morning,” added Julius sneeringly.

Mitch felt his feathers ruffling, his temper flaring. “Why? What is it worth?” he said.

They locked gazes. It was ridiculous. Mitch felt as if he had strayed into a Class B movie. Then Maxwell rose from the table. “Excuse me.” He lashed Mitch with a sharp look which seemed to be saying,

“Stay,” as if Mitch were a dog. Then he strode off.

Mitch, alone with the blond woman, said to her quickly, “What do you want me to do or say?”

He was looking at her hand, long-fingered, pink-nailed, limp on the table. It did not clench. It did not even move. “I don’t understand,” she said in a mechanical way.

“Okay,” said Mitch disgustedly. “I came here for dinner and I see no profit in this discussion, so please excuse me.”

He got up, crossed over to his own table, and ordered his meal.

Julius Maxwell returned in a few moments and stood looking at Mitch with a triumphant light in his eyes. Mitch waved the wand of reason over the very human activity of his own glands. It was necessary for Mitch’s self-respect that he dine here, as he had planned to do, and that he remain unperturbed by these strange people.

His steak had come when a man walked into the room and up to Maxwell’s table. There was an exchange of words. Julius rose. Both men came over to Mitch.

Julius said, “This is the fellow, Lieutenant.”

Mitch found that the stranger was slipping into the seat beside him and Julius was slipping in beside him on his other hand. He rejected a feeling of being trapped. “What’s all this?” he inquired mildly, patting his lips with his napkin.

“Name’s Prince,” said the stranger. “Los Angeles Police Department. Mr. Maxwell tells me you are saying something about Mrs.

Maxwell’s being here in town on the night of the sixteenth of March and the morning of the seventeenth?”

Mitch sipped from his water glass, watchful and wary.

Julius Maxwell said, “This man was trying to blackmail me with a crazy story.”

“I was what!” Mitch exploded.

The police lieutenant, or whoever he was, had a long lean face, slightly crooked at the bottom, and he had very tired eyelids. He said, “Your story figured to destroy her alibi?”

“Her alibi for what?” Mitch leaned back.

“Oh, come off that, Brown,” said Julius Maxwell, “or whatever your name is. You knew my wife from having seen her picture in the newspaper.”

Mitch’s brain was racing. “I haven’t seen the papers for six weeks,”

he said aggressively.

Julius Maxwell’s black eyes were bright with that triumphant shine. “Now that,” he said flatly, “is impossible.”

“Oh, is it?” said Mitch rather gently. His role of apostle of compassion was fast fading out. Mitch was now a human clashing with another human and he knew he had to look out for himself. He could feel his wings retracting into his spine. “Alibi for what?” he insisted, looking at the policeman intently.

The policeman sighed. “You want it from me? Okay. On the sixteenth of last March, late in the evening,” he droned, “a man named Joseph Carlisle was shot to death in his own front hall.” (Mitch, ears pricked up, remembered the paragraph he had seen just tonight.)

“Lived in a canyon, Hollywood Hills,” the lieutenant continued.

“Winding road, lonely spot. Looked like somebody rang his bell, he answered, they talked in the hall. It was his own gun that he kept in a table there. Whoever shot him closed the front door, which locked it, and threw the gun in the shrubbery. Then beat it. Wasn’t seen — by anybody.”

“And what has this got to do with Mrs. Maxwell?” Mitch asked.

“Mrs. Maxwell used to be married to this Carlisle,” said the policeman. “We had to check her out. She has this alibi.”

“I see,” said Mitch.

“Mrs. Maxwell,” said Julius through his teeth, “was with me in our home in Santa Barbara that evening and all that night.”

Mitch saw. He saw that either Maxwell was trying to save his wife from the embarrassment of suspicion or…that compassion was a fine thing but it can get a well-meaning person into trouble. And a few drinks might hit a murderess very hard and very fast. Mitch knew, that whatever else Maxwell said, he was lying in his teeth about this alibi. Because the woman, still sitting across this restaurant, was the very same woman whom Mitch Brown had taken in, had given a break.

But nobody was giving Mitch Brown any break. And why all this nonsense about blackmail? Mitch, with his wings folded tight away, said to the lieutenant, “Suppose I tell you my story.” And he did so, coldly, briefly.

Afterward, Maxwell laughed. “You believe that? You believe that he would take a drunken woman home with him — and close the door?”

In his breast Mitch Brown felt the smolder of dislike burst into a flame of hatred.

“No, no,” said Maxwell. “What must have happened was this. He spotted my wife here. Oh, he’d read the papers — don’t you believe that he hadn’t. He knew she had been married to Joe Carlisle. So, spur of the moment, he tried out his little lie. Might be some profit in it — who knows? Listen to this: when I asked him how much he wanted to keep this story to himself, he asked me how much it was worth.”

Mitch chewed his lip. “You’ve got a bad ear for dialogue,” he said.

“That is not exactly what I said. Nor is it the sense of what I said.”

“Oh, oh,” said Maxwell, smiling.

The lieutenant was pursing noncommittal lips.

Mitch spoke to him. “Who else gives Mrs. Maxwell her alibi?”

“Servants,” said the lieutenant gloomily.

“Servants?” said Mitch brightly.

“It’s only natural,” the lieutenant said, even more gloomily.

“Right,” said Mitch Brown. “You mean it is probable that when a man and his wife are at home together only the servants will see them there. But it isn’t so probable that a stranger will take in a drunken woman, and leave her to heaven…simply because he feels like giving a human being a break. So this is a study in probability, is it?”

The lieutenant’s mouth moved and Mitch said quickly, “But you want the facts, eh? Okay. The only thing for us to do is go and talk to the bartender.”

“That seems to be it,” said the lieutenant promptly. “Right.”

Maxwell said, “Right. Wait for us.”

He rose and went to fetch his wife. Mitch stood beside the lieutenant. “Fingerprints?” he murmured. The Lieutenant shrugged. Under those weary eyelids, Mitch judged, the eyes were human. “She has a car? Was the car out?” The lieutenant shrugged again. “Who else would shoot this Carlisle? Any enemies?”

“Who hasn’t?” the lieutenant said. “We better check with this bartender.”

The four of them went in the lieutenant’s car. The Parakeet Bar and Grill was doing well this evening. It looked brighter and more prosperous. Toby the bartender was there. “Hi, Mr. Brown,” he said.

“Long time no see.”

“I’ve been back East. Tell this man, Toby, what happened around one thirty on the morning of March seventeenth.”

“Huh?” said Toby. The flesh of his cheeks seemed to go flatter.

His eye went duller. Suddenly Mitch knew what was going to happen.

“You see this man or this lady in here between one, two o’clock in the morning last March seventeenth?” said the lieutenant and added, “I’m Lieutenant Prince, LAPD.”

“No, sir,” said Toby. “I know Mr. Brown, of course. He comes in now and again, see? Lives around here. A writer, he is. But I don’t remember I ever seen this lady before.”

“What about Brown? Was he in here that night or that morning?”

“I don’t think so,” said Toby. “That’s the night, now that I think back — yeah, my kid was sick and I shut the place up earlier than usual. Ask my wife,” said Toby the bartender with the fixed righteous gaze of the liar.

Lieutenant Prince turned his long face, his sad eyelids, on Mitch Brown.

Mitch Brown was grinning. “Oh, no!” he said. “Not the old Paris Exposition gag!” He leaned on the bar and emitted silent laughter.

“What are you talking about?” Lieutenant Prince said sourly. “You give me corroboration for this story you’re telling. Who can tell me about it? Who saw you and this lady that night?”

“Nobody. Nobody,” said Mitch genially. “The streets were empty.

Nobody was around. Well! I wouldn’t have believed it! The old Paris Exposition gag!”

The lieutenant made an exasperated sound.

Mitch said gaily, “Don’t you remember that one? There’s this girl and her mother. They go to a Paris hotel. Separate rooms. Girl wakes up in the morning, no mother. Nobody ever saw any mother. No mother’s name on the register. No room’s got the mother’s number.

Wait. No — that wasn’t it. There was a room, but the wallpaper was different.”

Julius Maxwell said, “A writer”—as if that explained everything.

“Why don’t we all sit down,” said Mitch cheerfully, “and tell each other stories?”

His suggestion was accepted. Natalie Maxwell slipped into a booth first; she was blond, expensive, protected…and numb. (Is she doped up with tranquilizers or what? Mitch wondered.) Her husband sat on her right and the policeman sat on her left.

Mitch slid in the other side of the Law and faced his adversary.

Mitch Brown’s mood was by no means as jaunty as his words had implied. He didn’t like the idea of being the victim of the old Paris Exposition gag. But he was not rattled or panicky. On the contrary, his mind began to reconnoiter the enemy. Julius Maxwell, flamboyantly successful — Mitch savored the flavor of the man’s reputation.

The buccaneer type, ruthless and bold. Julius Maxwell — with money like a club in his hand. Going to make a fool out of Mitchel Brown.

Also, there was the little matter of justice. Or mercy.

Mitch felt his wings begin to rustle again.

He said to the woman, gently, “Would you care for something?

A highball?”

“I don’t drink,” said Natalie primly. Her lashes came down. Her tongue touched her lips.

Mitch Brown ran his tongue over his upper lip, very thoughtfully.

Julius Maxwell’s energy was barely contained in this place.

“Never mind the refreshments,” he said. “Get to it. This young man, whoever he is, spotted my wife and knew her from the publicity.

He knows I am a rich man. So he thought he’d try a big lie. For the sake of the nuisance value, he thought I’d pay something. Well, an opportunist,” said Julius with a nasty smile, “I can understand.”

“I doubt if you understand me,” said Mitch quietly. “I’m sure you don’t realize how old hat that Paris Exposition story is.”

“What has any Paris Exposition got to do with it?” snapped Julius.

“Now look here, Lieutenant Prince. Can I prosecute this man?”

“You can’t prove extortion,” said the lieutenant gloomily. “You should have let him take the money, with witnesses.”

“He couldn’t do that,” said Mitch, “because he knows the thought of money never crossed my mind.”

The lieutenant’s eyes closed all the way in great weariness. They opened again and it was apparent that he believed nothing and nobody, yet. “Want to get this straight. Now you say, Mr. Maxwell—”

Julius said, “I say that my wife was at home that evening and all night, as the servants also say, and as the authorities know. So this man is a liar. Who can say why? It is plain that he can’t bring anyone or anything to corroborate this yarn he is telling. The bartender denies it. And, if you ask me, the most ridiculous thing he says is his claim that he hasn’t read the newspapers for six weeks. Shows you the fantastic kind of mind he’s got.”

The lieutenant, without comment, turned to Mitch. “And you say—”

“I say,” said Mitch, “that I have been in New York City since the seventeenth of March, attending rehearsals of my play and its opening night.”

“A playwriter,” said Julius.

“A play wright,” corrected Mitch. “I guess you don’t know what that is. For one thing, it is a person committed to trying to understand human beings. Oddly enough, even you.” Mitch leaned over the table. “You are the bold buccaneer, so I’ve heard. You’ve pirated money out of the world and now you think money can buy whatever you want. Suppose I tell your story?”

Julius Maxwell now had a faint sneering smile, but Mitch noted that Natalie had her eyes open. Perhaps her ears were open too.

Mitch plunged on.

“Your wife drove down here and shot her ex,” he said brutally.

(Natalie did not even wince.) “Well, now…” Mitch’s imagination began to function, from long practice. “I suppose that Natalie felt bad enough, upset enough, maybe even sorry enough, to need a drink and to take too many drinks until she forgot her troubles.”

Natalie was looking at him. “But when she woke up in my apartment she ran — ran to her car which she must have had. Ran home. Ah, well, what else could she do?” Mitch mused aloud. “She had done this awful thing. Somebody would have to help her.”

(Was Natalie holding her breath?)

“Who would help her?” Mitch said sharply. “You would, Maxwell.

Why? I’ll tell you why. You are not the type to want any wife of yours and the accent is on yours—to die in a gas chamber for murder.

She’d done something stupid. You bawled her out, I imagine, for the stupidity of it. But you told her not to worry. She was yours, so you would fix it. Money can buy anything. She must do exactly as you say, and then she could forget it.” Mitch hesitated. “Did you think she could forget it?” he murmured.

Nobody moved or spoke, so Mitch went on. “Well, you got to work. You bribed the servants. Bribed Toby, here. And you checked all around and discovered that there was only one other person who could reveal that she really had no alibi. That was a playwright. Oh, you checked on me too. Sure you did. You knew very well where I was and what I was doing. You found out the day and the hour I was due back in Los Angeles.”

Lieutenant Prince snorted. “Sounds nuts,” he broke in. “You say he’s been bribing everybody? Why didn’t he bribe you?”

Mitch turned a glazed eye on him. “Trouble was, I hadn’t read the papers. I didn’t know that I knew. So how could he bribe me? He put me down for an idiot,” said Mitch. “For what sane person doesn’t read the paper for six weeks? And then he thought of a way.”

Mitch addressed himself to Maxwell. “You had some hireling watching my apartment. And you and Natalie were ready and waiting, and quite nearby.” Mitch sensed the policeman’s shrug coming and he added quickly, “Otherwise, how come the very first day I’m in town I run into Natalie, and Natalie in exactly the same clothes?”

“Who says they’re the same,” said Maxwell smoothly, “except you?”

“She came into the restaurant,” said Mitch, “alone.”

“Since I had a phone call to make…”

“Alone,” Mitch persisted, ignoring the interruption, “and why?

To encourage me to come over and speak to her. That’s why the same clothes — to make sure I’d recognize her again. After she pulls the blank on me, Maxwell moves in. You, knowing how deep you’ve bribed your defenses behind you, press me into the position of looking like an opportunist — possibly like an extortionist. ‘Brown’s a writer,’ you say to yourself. Which is ‘a nut,’ in your book. ‘Nobody is going to believe a word he says.’ You’ll discredit me. You’ll rig a little scene. You’ll call a real policeman for a witness.”

“Why?” croaked the lieutenant.

Mitch was startled. “Why what?”

“Why cook all this up and call me?”

“Simple,” Mitch said. “What if I had finally read the papers and recognized her name? What if I had come to you? What am I then?

A good citizen. Isn’t that so? This way, he’s made it look as if I came to them. Making me look like an opportunist. And he’s the good citizen who called you in.”

Air came out of the lieutenant, signifying nothing.

“What a wacky scheme!” Mitch said it first. (Damn it, it was wacky.

It wasn’t going to sound probable.) “How unrealistic you are!” he taunted desperately.

Maxwell sat there smugly. “You’ve got the imagination, all right,”

he said with a wry smile. “Wild one.”

Then the policeman surprised them both. “Wait a minute, Brown.

You’re saying that Maxwell knows his wife is the killer. That he’s acting as accessory after the fact? You mean to say that?”

Mitch hesitated.

Maxwell said, “He hasn’t thought it out. Listen, he is just spinning a yarn, Lieutenant. He was challenged to do it. He’s proving that he’s clever. And that he is — for fiction. Call it a good try.”

Mitch saw his way pointed out for him.

“Or, possibly,” said Maxwell after a moment, “he was only trying to pick up a good-looking woman.” Maxwell showed his teeth in a smile.

Mitch understood — he was being shown how to save face. It was very seductive. Not only that, he was aware that if he went along, the power, the money, the influence here, there, and everywhere, would work to Mitchel Brown’s commercial advantage.

So he said slowly, “I know that he is a liar. I believe that he is an accessory after the fact. Yes, that’s what I mean to say.”

Julius Maxwell’s face darkened, “Prove it,” he snapped. “Because if you just tell it, I will have legal recourse, and I will have your skin.

I don’t sit still to be called a liar.”

Mitch looked up and said with an air of pure detached curiosity,

“What ever made you think that I would?”

“Look, give me something,” said the lieutenant with sudden anger,

“give me something to go on.”

Maxwell said contemptuously, “He can’t. It’s all moonshine.”

Mitch was scrambling for something that would help him. “I never thought of a car,” he murmured. “But I should have guessed from the shoes she wears, that she hadn’t walked here. I don’t suppose she has walked much since she married so much money.”

Mitch knew that Maxwell was swelling up with rage, or simulated rage. But he thought that Natalie was listening. It came to him, with conviction, that in spite of everything she was a human being.

So he looked at her and said, “Why did you leave this Joe Carlisle, I wonder? What kind of man was he? Did you quarrel? Did you hate him? How did he still have the power to hurt you that much?”

She looked at him, lips parted, eyes bright, startled. Her husband was on the point of getting up and hitting someone, and Mitch knew whom.

Lieutenant Prince said, “Sit down, Maxwell.” He said to Mitch,

“And you, hold on to your tongue. Don’t analyze me any characters.

Or emote me any motives. She’s got an alibi unless you can break it, and evidence is what the law requires.”

“But what about my motive for lying?” Mitch demanded. “Money?

That’s ridiculous!” He stopped, staring. Natalie Maxwell had opened her bag, taken out a lipstick. Murder, prison…she paints her mouth. Slander, blackmail…she paints her mouth. How probable was that?

“Give me proof,” the lieutenant said angrily.

“In a minute,” Mitch said, as his heart bounced upward. He leaned back. “Let me pursue the theme of money. I imagine Natalie’s got whatever money can buy. Her living is paid for. She has charge accounts.”

Maxwell said, “Let’s go. He’s rambling now.”

The lieutenant began to push at Mitch’s thigh, nudging him out of the booth.

“Know what I can prove?” Mitch said.

“What?” said the lieutenant.

“That I was working in my apartment all that day and into the night on the sixteenth, seventeenth of March. Those walls are cardboard and I am a nuisance — well known in the building.”

“So you were working,” said the policeman. “What of it?”

“I wasn’t in Santa Barbara,” said Mitch cheerfully. He reached over and plucked up Natalie’s handbag, the green one that matched the shoes.

“Now just a minute,” Maxwell growled.

“See if her checkbook is in there,” said Mitch, pushing the bag at the Lieutenant. “It’s a fat one. Her name’s printed on it, and all that: I don’t think she has much occasion to write checks. It may be the same one.”

The lieutenant had his hands on the bag, but he looked unen-lightened.

“Look at it. It’s evidence,” Mitch said.

The lieutenant’s hands moved and Maxwell said, “I’m not sure you have the right…” But the policeman’s weary lids came up, only briefly, and Maxwell was silent.

The lieutenant took out a checkbook. “It’s fat,” he said. “Starts February twenty-first. What of it?”

Mitch Brown leaned his head on the red leatherette and kept his eyes high. “Nobody on earth…unless Natalie remembers, which I doubt…but nobody else on earth can know what the balance on her check stubs was on Saint Patrick’s Day in the morning.

Even her bank couldn’t know. But what if I know? How could I? Because I looked, while she was snoring on my sofa and I had to find out who she was and how I could help her and whether she needed any money.”

The lieutenant’s hand riffled the stubs. “Well?”

“Shall I name it for you? To the penny?” Mitch was sweating.

“Four thousand six hundred and fourteen dollars, and sixty-one cents,” he said slowly and carefully.

“Right,” snapped the lieutenant and his eyes came up, wide-open and baleful on Julius Maxwell.

But Mitch Brown was not heeding and felt no triumph. “Natalie,”

he said, “I’m sorry. I wanted to give you a break. I didn’t know what the trouble was. I wish you could have told me.”

Her newly reddened lips were trembling.

“Not so I could buy off the consequences,” Mitch said. “I’d have called the police. But I would have listened.”

Natalie put her blond head down on the red-checked tablecloth where it had once rested before. “I didn’t mean to do it,” she sobbed.

“But he kept at me, Joe did. Until I couldn’t take any more.”

Julius Maxwell, who had been thinking about evidence, said too late, “Shut up!”

The lieutenant went for the phone.

Mitch sat there, quiet now. The woman was weeping. Maxwell said in a cold, severe way, “Natalie, if you…” He drew away from contamination. He was going to pretend ignorance.

But she cried out, “You shut up! I’ve told you and told you and you never even tried to understand. You said, give Joe a thousand dollars. He’d go away. You said that’s all he wanted. You wouldn’t even listen to what I was going through, and Joe talking, talking, about our baby that was dead…starved, Joe said, because she had no mother. My baby,” she shrieked, “that you wouldn’t have, because she wasn’t yours.”

Now her pink-painted fingernails clawed at her scalp and the rings on her fingers were tangled in her hair. “I’m sorry,” she wept.

“I never meant to make the gun go off. I just wanted to stop him. I just couldn’t take any more. He was killing me…driving me crazy…and money wouldn’t stop him.”

Mitch’s heart was heavy for her. “Didn’t you know what matters?”

he barked at Maxwell. “Did you think it was mink, diamonds — that stuff?”

“The child died,” said Julius Maxwell, “of natural causes.”

Yes, he thought it was mink,” screamed Natalie. “And oh, my God…it was! I know that now. So he said he would fix it — but he can’t fix what I know, and I hope to die.”

Then she lay silent, as if already dead, across the red-checked tablecloth.

Julius Maxwell’s face was losing color, as the policeman came back and murmured, “Have to wait.” But the lieutenant was uneasy.

“Say, Brown,” he said, “you can remember a row of six figures for six weeks? You a mathematical genius or something? You got what they call a photographic memory?”

Mitch felt his brain stir. He said lightly, “It stuck in my mind. First place, it repeats. You see that? Four six one, four six one. To me that’s an awful lot of money.”

“To me too,” the lieutenant said. “Everybody in here heard what she said, I guess.”

“Sure, heard her confess and implicate him as the accessory. Take a look at Toby, for instance. He’s had it. There’s going to be plenty of evidence.”

The lieutenant looked down upon the ruin of the Maxwells. “Guess so,” he said tightly.

Later that night Mitch Brown was sitting up to a strange bar. He said to the strange bartender, “Say, you ever know that the seventeenth of March is not Saint Patrick’s birthday?”

“What d’ya know?” the bartender murmured politely.

“Nope. It’s the day he died,” said Mitch. “I write, see? So I read.

Bits of information like that stick in my mind. I’ve got no memory for figures and yet…Know the year Saint Patrick died? It was the year 461.”

“That so?” said the bartender.

“You take four sixty-one twice and put the decimal in the right place. Of course that’s not very believable,” Mitch said, “although it really happened — on Saint Patrick’s Day in the morning. How come I knew — me a person who doesn’t always read the newspaper — the year Saint Patrick died? Well, a fellow doesn’t want to be made a fool of, does he? And probable is probable and improbable is improbable — but it’s all we’ve got to go on sometimes. But I’ll tell you something,” Mitch pounded the bar. “Money couldn’t have bought it.”

The bartender said soothingly, “I guess not, Mac.”

The Purple Is Everything

DOROTHY SALISBURY DAVIS

Dorothy Salisbury Davis (b. 1916), born in Chicago and a graduate of Barat College, is clearly a person for the long haul. Her marriage to actor Harry Davis lasted from 1946 until his death in 1993, and she continues to contribute to a field of writing she entered more than half a century ago with the novel The Judas Cat (1949), most recently with a new story in the anthology Murder Among Friends (2000). Davis is, by her own account, an odd fit in the crime-fiction genre. She has bemoaned her inability to create a memorable series character, though Julie Hayes of her last few novels makes the grade, and she has a distaste for violence and murder. (One of the anthologies she edited for the Mystery Writers of America is called Crime Without Murder [1970].) However, her expressed enthusiasm for villains over heroes helps to explain her success in the field. Among her best-known books are the regional classic The Clay Hand (1950), the Roman Catholic-themed A Gentle Murderer (1951), and the 1969 bestseller Where the Dark Streets Go.

In introducing her collection Tales for a Stormy Night (1984), Davis credits her late friend and fellow mystery writer Margaret Manners with giving her the method for stealing a painting used in the Edgar-nominated “The Purple Is Everything.” “I even remember the spot,”

Davis wrote, “Sixth Avenue and Twenty-fourth Street, a few paces, in those days, from Guffanti’s Restaurant.” Though it is unquestion-ably a crime story, it has its author’s moral concerns at its heart and it is of a quality that might as well have been published in The New Yorker as Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine.

You are likely to say, reading about Mary Gardner, that you knew her, or that you once knew someone like her. And well you may have, for while her kind is not legion it endures and sometimes against great popular odds.

You will see Mary Gardner — or someone like her — at the sym-phony, in the art galleries, at the theatre, always well-dressed if not quite fashionable, sometimes alone, sometimes in the company of other women all of whom have an aura, not of sameness, but of mutuality. Each of them has made — well, if not a good life for herself, at least the best possible life it was in her power to make.

Mary Gardner was living at the time in a large East Coast city. In her late thirties, she was a tall lean woman, unmarried, quietly feminine, gentle, even a little hesitant in manner but definite in her tastes. Mary was a designer in a well-known wallpaper house. Her salary allowed her to buy good clothes, to live alone in a pleasant apartment within walking distance of her work, and to go regularly to the theater and the Philharmonic. As often as she went to the successful plays, she attended little theater and the experimental stage. She was not among those who believed that a play had to say something. She was interested in “the submerged values.” This taste prevailed also in her approach to the visual arts — a boon surely in the wallpaper business whose customers for the most part prefer their walls to be seen but not heard.

In those days Mary was in the habit of going during her lunch hour — or sometimes when she needed to get away from the drawing board — to the Institute of Modern Art which was less than a city block from her office. She had fallen in love with a small, early Monet titled Trees Near L’Havre, and when in love Mary was a person of searching devotion. Almost daily she discovered new voices in the woodland scene, trees and sky reflected in a shimmering pool — with more depths in the sky, she felt, than in the water.

The more she thought about this observation the more convinced she became that the gallery had hung the picture upside down. She evolved a theory about the signature: it was hastily done by the artist, she decided, long after he had finished the painting and perhaps at a time when the light of day was fading. She would have spoken to a museum authority about it — if she had known a museum authority.

Mary received permission from the Institute to sketch within its halls and often stood before the Monet for an hour, sketch-book in hand. By putting a few strokes on paper she felt herself conspicuously inconspicuous among the transient viewers and the guards.

She would not for anything have presumed to copy the painting and she was fiercely resentful of the occasional art student who did.

So deep was Mary in her contemplation of Claude Monet’s wooded scene that on the morning of the famous museum fire, when she first smelled the smoke, she thought it came from inside the picture itself. She was instantly furious, and by an old association she indicted a whole genre of people — the careless American tourist in a foreign land. She was not so far away from reality, however, that she did not realize almost at once there was actually a fire in the building.

Voices cried out alarms in the corridors and men suddenly were running. Guards dragged limp hoses along the floor and dropped them — where they lay like great withered snakes over which people leaped as in some tribal rite. Blue smoke layered the ceiling and then began to fall in angled swatches — like theatrical scrims gone awry.

In the far distance fire sirens wailed.

Mary Gardner watched, rooted and muted, as men and women, visitors like herself, hastened past bearing framed pictures in their arms; and in one case two men carried between them a huge Chagall night scene in which the little creatures seemed to be jumping on and off the canvas, having an uproarious time in transit. A woman took the Rouault from the wall beside the Monet and hurried with it after the bearers of the Chagall.

Still Mary hesitated. That duty should compel her to touch where conscience had so long forbidden it — this conflict increased her confusion. Another thrust of smoke into the room made the issue plainly the picture’s survival, if not indeed her own. In desperate haste she tried to lift the Monet from the wall, but it would not yield.

She strove, pulling with her full strength — such strength that when the wire broke, she was catapulted backward and fell over the viewer’s bench, crashing her head into the painting. Since the canvas was mounted on board, the only misfortune — aside from her bruised head which mattered not at all — was that the picture had jarred loose from its frame. By then Mary cared little for the frame. She caught up the painting, hugged it to her, and groped her way to the gallery door.

She reached the smoke-bogged corridor at the instant the water pressure brought the hoses violently to life. Jets of water spurted from every connection. Mary shielded the picture with her body until she could edge it within the raincoat she had worn against the morning drizzle.

She hurried along the corridor, the last apparently of the volunteer rescuers. The guards were sealing off the wing of the building, closing the fire prevention door. They showed little patience with her protests, shunting her down the stairs. By the time she reached the lobby the police had cordoned off civilians. Imperious as well as impervious, a policeman escorted her into the crowd, and in the crowd, having no use of her arms — they were still locked around the picture — she was shoved and jostled toward the door and there pitilessly jettisoned into the street. On the sidewalk she had no hope at all finding anyone in that surging, gaping mob on whom she could safely bestow her art treasure.

People screamed and shouted that they could see the flames. Mary did not look back. She hastened homeward, walking proud and fierce, thinking that the city was after all a jungle. She hugged the picture to her, her raincoat its only shield but her life a ready forfeit for its safety.

It had been in her mind to telephone the Institute office at once.

But in her own apartment, the painting propped up against cushions on the sofa, she reasoned that until the fire was extinguished she had no hope of talking with anyone there. She called her own office and pleaded a sudden illness — something she had eaten at lunch though she had not had a bite since breakfast.

The walls of her apartment were hung with what she called her

“potpourri’: costume prints and color lithographs — all, she had been proud to say, limited editions or artists’ prints. She had sometimes thought of buying paintings, but plainly she could not afford her own tastes. On impulse now, she took down an Italian lithograph and removed the glass and mat from the wooden frame. The Monet fit quite well. And to her particular delight she could now hang it right side up. As though with a will of its own, the painting claimed the place on her wall most favored by the light of day.

There is no way of describing Mary’s pleasure in the company she kept that afternoon. She would not have taken her eyes from the picture at all except for the joy that was renewed at each returning. Reluctantly she turned on the radio at five o’clock so that she might learn more of the fire at the Institute. It had been extensive and destructive — an entire wing of the building was gutted.

She listened with the remote and somewhat smug solicitude that one bestows on other people’s tragedies to the enumeration of the paintings which had been destroyed. The mention of Trees Near L’Havre startled her. A full moment later she realized the explicit meaning of the announcer’s words. She turned off the radio and sat a long time in the flood of silence.

Then she said aloud tentatively, “You are a thief, Mary Gardner,” and after a bit repeated, “Oh, yes. You are a thief.” But she did not mind at all. Nothing so portentous had ever been said about her before, even by herself.

She ate her dinner from a tray before the painting, having with it a bottle of French wine. Many times that night she went from her bed to the living-room door until she seemed to have slept between so many wakenings. At last she did sleep.

But the first light of morning fell on Mary’s conscience as early as upon the painting. After one brief visit to the living room she made her plans with the care of a religious novice well aware of the devil’s constancy. She dressed more severely than was her fashion, needing herringbone for backbone — the ridiculous phrase kept running through her mind at breakfast. In final appraisal of herself in the hall mirror she thought she looked like the headmistress of an English girls’ school, which she supposed satisfactory to the task before her.

Just before she left the apartment, she spent one last moment alone with the Monet. Afterward, wherever, however the Institute chose to hang it, she might hope to feel that a little part of it was forever hers.

On the street she bought a newspaper and confirmed the listing of Trees Near L’Havre. Although that wing of the Institute had been destroyed, many of its paintings had been carried to safety by way of the second-floor corridor.

Part of the street in front of the Institute was still cordoned off when she reached it, congesting the flow of morning traffic. The police on duty were no less brusque than those whom Mary had encountered the day before. She was seized by the impulse to post-pone her mission — an almost irresistible temptation, especially when she was barred from entering the museum unless she could show a pass such as had been issued to all authorized personnel.

“Of course I’m not authorized,” she exclaimed. “If I were I shouldn’t be out here.”

The policeman directed her to the sergeant in charge. He was at the moment disputing with the fire insurance representative as to how much of the street could be used for the salvage operation.

“The business of this street is business,” the sergeant said, “and that’s my business.”

Mary waited until the insurance man stalked into the building.

He did not need a pass, she noticed. “Excuse me, officer, I have a painting—”

“Lady…” He drew the long breath of patience. “Yes, ma’am?”

“Yesterday during the fire a painting was supposedly destroyed — a lovely, small Monet called—”

“Was there now?” the sergeant interrupted. Lovely small Monets really touched him.

Mary was becoming flustered in spite of herself. “It’s listed in this morning’s paper as having been destroyed. But it wasn’t. I have it at home.”

The policeman looked at her for the first time with a certain compassion. “On your living-room wall, no doubt,” he said with deep knowingness.

“Yes, as a matter of fact.”

He took her gently but firmly by the arm. “I tell you what you do.

You go along to police headquarters on Fifty-seventh Street. You know where that is, don’t you? Just tell them all about it like a good girl.” He propelled her into the crowd and there released her. Then he raised his voice: “Keep moving! You’ll see it all on the television.”

Mary had no intention of going to police headquarters where, she presumed, men concerned with armed robbery, mayhem, and worse were even less likely to understand the subtlety of her problem. She went to her office and throughout the morning tried periodically to reach the museum curator’s office by telephone. On each of her calls either the switchboard was tied up or his line was busy for longer than she could wait.

Finally she hit on the idea of asking for the Institute’s Public Relations Department, and to someone there, obviously distracted — Mary could hear parts of three conversations going on at the same time — she explained how during the fire she had saved Monet’s Trees Near L’Havre.

“Near where, madam?” the voice asked.

“L’Havre.” Mary spelled it. “By Monet,” she added.

“Is that two words or one?” the voice asked.

“Please transfer me to the curator’s office,” Mary said and ran her fingers up and down the lapel of her herringbone suit.

Mary thought it a wise precaution to meet the Institute’s representative in the apartment lobby where she first asked to see his credentials. He identified himself as the man to whom she had given her name and address on the phone. Mary signaled for the elevator and thought about his identification: Robert Attlebury III. She had seen his name on the museum roster; Curator of…she could not remember.

He looked every inch the curator, standing erect and remote while the elevator bore them slowly upward. A curator perhaps, but she would not have called him a connoisseur. One with his face and disposition would always taste and spit out, she thought. She could imagine his scorn of things he found distasteful, and instinctively she knew herself to be distasteful to him.

Not that it really mattered what he felt about her. She was nobody.

But how must the young unknown artist feel standing with his work before such superciliousness? Or had he a different mien and manner for people of his own kind? In that case she would have given a great deal for the commonest of his courtesies.

“Everything seems so extraordinary — in retrospect,” Mary said to break the silence of their seemingly endless ascent.

“How fortunate for you,” he said, and Mary thought, perhaps it was.

When they reached the door of her apartment, she paused before turning the key. “Shouldn’t you have brought a guard — or someone?”

He looked down on her as from Olympus. “I am someone.”

Mary resolved to say nothing more. She opened the door and left it open. He preceded her and moved across the foyer into the living room and stood before the Monet. His rude directness oddly comforted her: he did, after all, care about painting. She ought not to judge men, she thought, from her limited experience of them.

He gazed at the Monet for a few moments, then he tilted his head ever so slightly from one side to the other. Mary’s heart began to beat erratically. For months she had wanted to discuss with someone who really knew about such things her theory of what was reflection and what was reality in Trees Near L’Havre. But now that her chance was at hand she could not find the words.

Still, she had to say something — something…casual. “The frame is mine,” she said, “but for the picture’s protection you may take it.

I can get it the next time I’m at the museum.”

Surprisingly, he laughed. “It may be the better part at that,” he said.

“I beg your pardon?”

He actually looked at her. “Your story is ingenious, madam, but then it was warranted by the occasion.”

“I simply do not understand what you are saying,” Mary said.

“I have seen better copies than this one,” he said. “It’s too bad your ingenuity isn’t matched by a better imitation.”

Mary was too stunned to speak. He was about to go. “But…it’s signed,” Mary blurted out, and feebly tried to direct his attention to the name in the upper corner.

“Which makes it forgery, doesn’t it?” he said almost solicitously.

His preciseness, his imperturbability in the light of the horrendous thing he was saying, etched detail into the nightmare.

“That’s not my problem!” Mary cried, giving voice to words she did not mean, saying what amounted to a betrayal of the painting she so loved.

“Oh, but it is. Indeed it is, and I may say a serious problem if I were to pursue it.”

“Please do pursue it!” Mary cried.

Again he smiled, just a little. “That is not the Institute’s way of dealing with these things.”

“You do not like Monet,” Mary challenged desperately, for he had started toward the door.

“That’s rather beside the point, isn’t it?”

“You don’t know Monet. You can’t! Not possibly!”

“How could I dislike him if I didn’t know him? Let me tell you something about Monet.” He turned back to the picture and trailed a finger over one vivid area. “In Monet the purple is everything.”

“The purple?” Mary said.

“You’re beginning to see it yourself now, aren’t you?” His tone verged on the pedagogic.

Mary closed her eyes and said, “I only know how this painting came to be here.”

“I infinitely prefer not to be made your confidant in that matter,”

he said. “Now I have rather more important matters to take care of.”

And again he started toward the door.

Mary hastened to block his escape. “It doesn’t matter what you think of Monet, or of me, or of anything. You’ve got to take that painting back to the museum.”

“And be made a laughingstock when the hoax is discovered?” He set an arm as stiff as a brass rail between them and moved out of the apartment.

Mary followed him to the elevator, now quite beside herself. “I shall go to the newspapers!” she cried.

“I think you might regret it.”

“Now I know. I understand!” Mary saw the elevator door open.

“You were glad to think the Monet had been destroyed in the fire.”

“Savage!” he said.

Then the door closed between them.

In time Mary persuaded — and it wasn’t easy — certain experts, even an art critic, to come and examine “her” Monet. It was a more expensive undertaking than she could afford — all of them seemed to expect refreshments, including expensive liquors. Her friends fell in with “Mary’s hoax,” as they came to call her story, and she was much admired in an ever-widening and increasingly esoteric circle for her unwavering account of how she had come into possession of a “genuine Monet.” Despite the virtue of simplicity, a trait since childhood, she found herself using words in symbolic combin-ations — the language of the company she now kept — and people far wiser than she would say of her: “How perceptive!” or “What insight!”—and then pour themselves another drink.

One day her employer, the great man himself, who prior to her

“acquisition” had not known whether she lived in propriety or in sin, arrived at her apartment at cocktail time bringing with him a famous art historian.

The expert smiled happily over his second Scotch while Mary told again the story of the fire at the Institute and how she had simply walked home with the painting because she could not find anyone to whom to give it. While she talked, his knowing eyes wandered from her face to the painting, to his glass, to the painting, and back to her face again.

“Oh, I could believe it,” he said when she had finished. “It’s the sort of mad adventure that actually could happen.” He set his glass down carefully where she could see that it was empty. “I suppose you know that there has never been an officially complete catalogue of Monet’s work?”

“No,” she said, and refilled his glass.

“It’s so, unfortunately. And the sad truth is that quite a number of museums today are hanging paintings under his name that are really unauthenticated.”

“And mine?” Mary said, lifting a chin she tried vainly to keep from quivering.

Her guest smiled. “Must you know?”

For a time after that Mary tried to avoid looking at the Monet. It was not that she liked it less, but that now she somehow liked herself less in its company. What had happened, she realized, was that, like the experts, she now saw not the painting, but herself.

This was an extraordinary bit of self-discovery for one who had never had to deal severely with her own psyche. Till now, so far as Mary was concerned, the chief function of a mirror had been to determine the angle of a hat. But the discovery of the flaw does not in itself effect a cure; often it aggravates the condition. So with Mary.

She spent less and less time at home, and it was to be said for some of her new-found friends that they thought it only fair to recip-rocate for having enjoyed the hospitality of so enigmatically clever a hostess. How often had she as a girl been counseled by parent and teacher to get out more, to see more people. Well, Mary was at last getting out more. And in the homes of people who had felt free to comment on her home and its possessions, she too felt free to comment. The more odd her comment — the nastier, she would once have said of it — the more popular she became. Oh, yes. Mary was seeing more people, lots more people.

In fact, her insurance agent — who was in the habit of just dropping in to make his quarterly collection — had to get up early one Saturday morning to make sure he caught her at home.

It was a clear, sharp day, and the hour at which the Monet was most luminous. The man sat staring at it, fascinated. Mary was amused, remembering how hurt he always was that his clients failed to hang his company calendar in prominence. While she was gone from the room to get her checkbook, he got up and touched the surface of the painting.

“Ever think of taking out insurance on that picture?” he asked when she returned. “Do you mind if I ask how much it’s worth?”

“It cost me…a great deal,” Mary said, and was at once annoyed with both him and herself.

“I tell you what,” the agent said. “I have a friend who appraises these objects of art for some of the big galleries, you know? Do you mind if I bring him round and see what he thinks it’s worth?”

“No, I don’t mind,” Mary said in utter resignation.

And so the appraiser came and looked carefully at the painting.

He hedged about putting a value on it. He wasn’t the last word on these nineteenth-century Impressionists and he wanted to think it over. But that afternoon he returned just as Mary was about to go out, and with him came a bearded gentleman who spoke not once to Mary or to the appraiser, but chatted constantly with himself while he scrutinized the painting. Then with a “tsk, tsk, tsk,” he took the painting from the wall, examined the back, and rehung it — but reversing it, top to bottom.

Mary felt the old flutter interrupt her heartbeat, but it passed quickly.

Even walking out of her house the bearded gentleman did not speak to her; she might have been invisible. It was the appraiser who murmured his thanks but not a word of explanation. Since the expert had not drunk her whiskey Mary supposed the amenities were not required of him.

She was prepared to forget him as she had the others — it was easy now to forget them all; but when she came home to change between matinee and cocktails, another visitor was waiting. She noticed him in the lobby and realized, seeing the doorman say a word to him just as the elevator door closed off her view, that his business was with her. The next trip of the elevator brought him to her door.

“I’ve come about the painting, Miss Gardner,” he said, and offered his card. She had opened the door only as far as the latch chain permitted. He was representative of the Continental Assurance Company, Limited.

She slipped off the latch chain.

Courteous and formal behind his double-breasted suit, he waited for Mary to seat herself. He sat down neatly opposite her, facing the painting, for she sat beneath it, erect, and she hoped, formidable.

“Lovely,” he said, gazing at the Monet. Then he wrenched his eyes from it. “But I’m not an expert,” he added and gently cleared his throat. He was chagrined, she thought, to have allowed himself even so brief a luxury of the heart.

“But is it authenticated?” She said it much as she would once have thought but not said, Fie on you!

“Sufficient to my company’s requirements,” he said. “But don’t misunderstand — we are not proposing to make any inquiries. We are always satisfied in such delicate negotiations just to have the painting back.”

Mary did not misunderstand, but she certainly did not understand either.

He took from his inside pocket a piece of paper which he placed on the coffee table and with the tapering fingers of an artist — or a banker — or a pickpocket — he gently maneuvered it to where Mary could see that he was proffering a certified check.

He did not look at her and therefore missed the spasm she felt contorting her mouth. “The day of the fire,” she thought, but the words never passed her lips.

She took up the check in her hand: $20,000.

“May I use your phone, Miss Gardner?”

Mary nodded and went into the kitchen where she again looked at the check. It was a great deal of money, she thought wryly, to be offered in compensation for a few months’ care of a friend.

She heard her visitor’s voice as he spoke into the telephone — an expert now, to judge by his tone. A few minutes later she heard the front door close. When she went back into the living room both her visitor and the Monet were gone…

Some time later Mary attended the opening of the new wing of the Institute. She recognized a number of people she had not known before and whom, she supposed, she was not likely to know much longer.

They had hung the Monet upside down again.

Mary thought of it after she got home, and as though two rights must surely right a possible wrong, she turned the check upside down while she burned it over the kitchen sink.

Money to Burn

MARGERY ALLINGHAM

Margery Allingham (1904-66) was a writing prodigy whose first novel, the swashbuckler Blackkerchief Dick (1923), was published by major American and British firms when she was still a teenager. The London-born author, who came from a literary family, served an apprenticeship as a prolific writer of formula magazine fiction before becoming one of the key figures of the Golden Age of Detection between the two World Wars. Her first mystery novel, The White Cottage Mystery (1928), anticipated a least-suspected-person device later used by Ellery Queen and Agatha Christie, and her second, The Crime at Black Dudley (1929), introduced the inconspicuous and self-effacing Albert Campion, one of the most celebrated gentleman detectives of his time and, with a hint of royal blood in his veins, probably the highest born. Like that other aristocratic sleuth, Dorothy L. Sayers’s Lord Peter Wimsey, Campion gradually developed from a semi-comic “silly ass” caricature to a fully realized character.

Of the celebrated Golden Age detective-story writers, some (like Agatha Christie and Ngaio Marsh) stuck to the pure who-dunnit formula for decades thereafter; others (like Sayers and Anthony Berkeley) left the field for other sorts of writing or retired altogether; and a few (like the Ellery Queen team) stayed with the basic format but deepened their exploration of character and theme. Allingham, whose understanding of human foibles and keen social observations were always manifest, belongs to that third group. While Mr. Campion continued to appear through most of her writing career, her post-war novels laid less stress on the formal puzzle, and in some of them Campion was relegated to a secondary role. (Campion received name-in-the-title billing only after his creator’s death in two novels written by her husband and sometime collaborator, Philip Youngman Carter.) Of Allingham’s early novels, Death of a Ghost (1934) and The Fashion in Shrouds (1938) are often cited as highlights; of the post-war group, The Tiger in the Smoke (1952), with its unflinching examination of pure evil, is considered a crime classic.

It is appropriate that Allingham, with her insights into the puzzles of human character, should be represented by “Money to Burn,” a 1957 non-Campion tale which represents that rarest of detective story subtypes: the pure whydunnit.

Did you ever see a man set light to money? Real money: using it as a spill to light a cigarette, just to show off? I have. And that’s why, when you used the word “psychologist” just now, a little fish leaped in my stomach and my throat felt suddenly tight. Perhaps you think I’m too squeamish. I wonder.

I was born in this street. When I was a girl I went to school just round the corner and later on, after I’d served my apprenticeship in the big dress houses here and in France, I took over the lease of this old house and turned it into the smart little gown shop you see now. It was when I came back to go into business for myself that I saw the change in Louise.

When we went to school together she was something of a beauty, with streaming yellow hair and the cockney child’s ferocious, knowing grin. All the kids used to tease her because she was better-looking than we were. The street was just the same then as it is now.

Adelaide Street, Soho: shabby and untidy, and yet romantic, with every other doorway in its straggling length leading to a restaurant of some sort. You can eat in every language of the world here. Some places are as expensive as the Ritz and others are as cheap as Louise’s papa’s Le Coq au Vin, with its one dining room and its single palm in the whitewashed tub outside.

Louise had an infant sister and a father who could hardly speak English but who looked at one with proud foreign eyes from under arched brows. I was hardly aware that she had a mother until a day when that gray woman emerged from the cellar under the restaurant to put her foot down and Louise, instead of coming with me into the enchantment of the workshops, had to go down into the kitchens of Le Coq au Vin.

For a long time we used to exchange birthday cards, and then even that contact dropped; but somehow I never forgot Louise and when I came back to the street I was glad to see the name Frosné still under the sign of Le Coq au Vin. The place looked much brighter than I remembered it and appeared to be doing fair business.

Certainly it no longer suffered so much by comparison with the expensive Glass Mountain which Adelbert kept opposite. There is no restaurant bearing that name in this street now, nor is there a restaur-ateur called Adelbert, but diners-out of a few years ago may remember him — if not for his food, at least for his conceit and the two rolls of white fat which were his eyelids.

I went in to see Louise as soon as I had a moment to spare. It was a shock, for I hardly recognized her; but she knew me at once and came out from behind the cashier’s desk to give me a welcome which was pathetic. It was like seeing thin ice cracking all over her face — as if by taking her unawares I’d torn aside a barrier.

I heard all the news in the first ten minutes. Both the old people were dead. The mother had gone first but the old man had not followed her for some years after, and in the meantime Louise had carried everything including his vagaries on her shoulders. But she did not complain. Things were a bit easier now. Violetta, the little sister, had a young man who was proving his worth by working there for a pittance, learning the business.

It was a success story of a sort, but I thought Louise had paid pretty dearly for it. She was a year younger than I was, yet she looked as if life had already burned out over her, leaving her hard and polished like a bone in the sun. The gold had gone out of her hair and even her thick lashes looked bleached and tow-colored. There was something else there, too: something hunted which I did not understand at all.

I soon fell into the habit of going in to have supper with her once a week and at these little meals she used to talk. It was evident that she never opened her lips on any personal matter to anyone else; but for some reason she trusted me. Even so it took me months to find out what was the matter with her. When it came out, it was obvious.

Le Coq au Vin had a debt hanging over it. In Mama Frosné’s time the family had never owed a penny, but in the year or so between her death and his own, Papa Frosné had somehow contrived not only to borrow the best part of four thousand pounds from Adelbert of the Glass Mountain but to lose every cent of it in half a dozen senile little schemes.

Louise was paying it back in five-hundred-pound installments.

As she first told me about it, I happened to glance into her eyes and in them I saw one sort of hell. It has always seemed to me that there are people who can stand Debt in the same way that some men can stand Drink. It may undermine their constitutions but it does not make them openly shabby. Yet to the others, Debt does something unspeakable. The Devil was certainly having his money’s worth out of Louise.

I did not argue with her, of course. It was not my place. I sat there registering sympathy until she surprised me by saying suddenly:

“It’s not so much the work and the worry, nor even the skimping, that I really hate so much. It’s the awful ceremony when I have to pay him. I dread that.”

“You’re too sensitive,” I told her. “Once you have the money in the bank, you can put a check in an envelope, send it to him, and then forget about it, can’t you?”

She glanced at me with an odd expression in her eyes; they were almost lead-colored between the bleached lashes.

“You don’t know Adelbert,” she said. “He’s a queer bit of work.

I have to pay him in cash and he likes to make a regular little performance of it. He comes here by appointment, has a drink, and likes to have Violetta as a witness by way of audience. If I don’t show I’m a bit upset, he goes right on talking until I do. Calls himself a psychologist — says he knows everything I’m thinking.”

“That’s not what I’d call him,” I said. I was disgusted. I hate that sort of thing.

Louise hesitated. “I have watched him burn most of the money just for the effect,” she admitted. “There, in front of me.”

I felt my eyebrows rising up into my hair. “You can’t mean it!” I exclaimed. “The man’s not right in the head.”

She sighed and I looked at her sharply.

“Why, he’s twenty years older than you are, Louise,” I began.

“Surely there wasn’t ever anything between you? You know…anything like that?”

“No. No, there wasn’t, Ellie, honestly.” I believed her — she was quite frank about it and obviously as puzzled as I was. “He did speak to Papa once about me when I was a kid. Asked for me formally, you know, as they still did round here at that time. I never heard what the old man said but he never minced words, did he?

All I can remember is that I was kept downstairs out of sight for a bit and after that Mama treated me as if I’d been up to something; but I hadn’t even spoken to the man — he wasn’t a person a young girl would notice, was he? That was years ago, though. I suppose Adelbert could have remembered it all that time — but it’s not reasonable, is it?”

“That’s the one thing it certainly isn’t,” I told her. “Next time I’ll be the witness.”

“Adelbert would enjoy that,” Louise said grimly. “I don’t know that I won’t hold you to it. You ought to see him!”

We let the subject drop, but I couldn’t get it out of my mind. I could see them both from behind the curtains in my shop window and it seemed that whenever I looked out, there was the tight-lipped silent woman, scraping every farthing, and there was the fat man watching her from his doorway across the street, a secret satisfaction on his sallow face.

In the end it got on my nerves and when that happens I have to talk — I can’t help it.

There was no one in the street I dared to gossip with, but I did mention the tale to a customer. She was a woman named Mrs. Marten whom I’d particularly liked ever since she’d come in to inquire after the first dress I ever put in my shop window. I made most of her clothes and she had recommended me to one or two ladies in the district where she lived, which was up at Hampstead, nice and far away from Soho. I was fitting her one day when she happened to say something about men and the things they’ll stoop to if their pride has been hurt, and before I’d realized what I was doing I’d come out with the story Louise had told me. I didn’t mention names, of course, but I may have conveyed that it was all taking place in this street. Mrs. Marten was a nice, gentle little soul with a sweet face, and she was shocked.

“But how awful,” she kept saying, “how perfectly awful! To burn the money in front of her after she’s worked so hard for it. He must be quite insane. And dangerous.”

“Oh, well,” I said hastily, “it’s his money by the time he does that, and I don’t suppose he destroys much of it. Only enough to upset my friend.” I was sorry I’d spoken. I hadn’t expected Mrs. Marten to be quite so horrified. “It just shows you how other people live.”

I finished and hoped she’d drop the subject. She didn’t, however.

The idea seemed to fascinate her even more than it had me. I couldn’t get her to leave it alone and she chattered about it all throughout the fitting. Then, just as she was putting on her hat to leave, she suddenly said, “Miss Kaye, I’ve just had a thought. My brother-in-law is Assistant Commissioner at Scotland Yard. He might be able to think of some way of stopping that dreadful man from torturing that poor little woman you told me about. Shall I mention it to him?”

“Oh, no! Please don’t!” I exclaimed. “She’d never forgive me.

There’s nothing the police could do to help her. I do hope you’ll forgive me for saying so, Madam, but I do hope you won’t do anything of the sort.”

She seemed rather hurt, but she gave me her word. I had no faith in it, naturally. Once a woman has considered talking about a thing, it’s as good as done. I was quite upset for a day or two because the last thing I wanted was to get involved; but nothing happened and I’d just started to breathe easily again when I had to go down to Vaughan’s, the big wholesale trimmings house at the back of Regent’s Street. I was coming out with my parcels when a man came up to me. I knew he was a detective: he was the type, with a very short haircut, a brown raincoat, and that look of being in a settled job and yet not in anything particular. He asked me to come along to his office and I couldn’t refuse. I realized he’d been following me until I was far enough away from Adelaide Street where no one would have noticed him approach me.

He took me to his superior who was quite a nice old boy in his way — on nobody’s side but his own, as is the way with the police; but I got the impression that he was on the level, which is more than some people are. He introduced himself as Detective Inspector Cumberland, made me sit down, and sent out for a cup of tea for me. Then he asked me about Louise.

I got into a panic because when you’re in business in Adelaide Street, you’re in business, and the last thing you can afford to do is get into trouble with your neighbors. I denied everything, of course, insisting that I hardly knew the woman.

Cumberland wouldn’t have that. I must say he knew how to handle me. He kept me going over and over my own affairs until I was thankful to speak about anything else. In the end I gave way because, after all, nobody was doing anything criminal as far as I could see. I told him all I knew, letting him draw it out bit by bit, and when I’d finished he laughed at me, peering at me with little bright eyes under brows which were as thick as silver fox fur.

“Well,” he said, “there’s nothing so terrible in all that, is there?”

“No,” I said sulkily. He made me feel like a fool.

He sighed and leaned back in his chair.

“You run away and forget this little interview,” he told me. “But just so that you don’t start imagining things, let me point out something to you. The police are in business too, in a way.

In their own business, that is, and when an officer in my position gets an inquiry from higher up he’s got to investigate it, hasn’t he?

He may well think that the crime of destroying currency—“defacing the coin of the realm,” we call it — is not very serious compared with some of the things he’s got to deal with; but all the same if he’s asked about it he’s got to make some sort of move and send in some sort of report. Then it can all be…er…filed and forgotten, can’t it?”

“Yes,” I agreed, very relieved. “Yes, I suppose it can.”

They showed me out and that seemed to be the end of it. I’d had my lesson though, and I never opened my lips again on the subject to anybody. It quite put me off Louise and for a time I avoided her.

I made excuses and didn’t go in to eat with her. However, I could still see her through the window — see her sitting at the cashier’s desk; and I could still see Adelbert peering at her from his doorway.

For a month or two everything went on quietly. Then I heard that Violetta’s boy had got tired of the restaurant business and had taken a job up North. He had given the girl the chance of marrying and going with him, and they’d gone almost without saying goodbye. I was sorry for Louise, being left alone that way; so I had to go and see her.

She was taking it very well — actually she was pretty lucky, for she had got a new waiter almost at once and her number one girl in the kitchen had stood by her and they managed very well. Louise was very lonely though, so I drifted back into the habit of going in there for a meal once a week. I paid, of course, but she used to come and have hers with me.

I kept her off the subject of Adelbert, but one day near the midsummer’s quarter day she referred to him outright and asked me straight if I remembered my promise to be witness on the next pay-day. Since Violetta was gone, she’d mentioned me to Adelbert, and he’d seemed pleased.

Well, I couldn’t get out of it without hurting her feelings and since nothing seemed to turn on it I agreed. I don’t pretend I wasn’t curious: it was a love affair without, so far as I could see, any love at all.

The time for payment was fixed for half an hour after closing time on Midsummer’s Day, and when I slipped down the street to the corner the blinds of Le Coq au Vin were closed and the door shut.

The new waiter was taking a breath of air on the basement steps and he let me in through the kitchens. I went up the dark service stairs and found the two of them already sitting there, waiting for me.

The dining room was dark except for a single shaded bulb over the alcove table where they sat and I had a good look at them as I came down the room. They made an extraordinary pair.

I don’t know if you’ve seen one of those fat little Chinese gods whom people keep on their mantel shelves to bring them luck? They are all supposed to be laughing but some only pretend and the folds of their china faces are stiff and merciless for all the upward lines.

Adelbert reminded me of one of those. He always wore a black dinner jacket for work, but it was very thin and very loose. It came into my mind that when he took it off it must have hung like a gown.

He was sitting swathed in it, looking squat and flabby against the white paneling of the wall.

Louise, on the other hand, in her black dress and tight woolen cardigan, was as spare and hard as a withered branch. Just for an instant I realized how furious she must make him. There was nothing yielding or shrinking about her. She wasn’t giving any more than she was forced to — not an inch. I never saw anything so unbending in my life. She stood up to him all the time.

There was a bottle of Dubonnet on the table and they each had a small glass. When I appeared, Louise poured one for me.

The whole performance was very formal. Although they’d both lived in London all their lives, the French blood in both of them was very apparent. They each shook hands with me and Adelbert kicked the chair out for me if he only made a pretense of rising.

Louise had the big bank envelope in her black bag which she nursed as if it was a pet, and as soon as I’d taken a sip of my drink she produced the envelope and pushed it across the table to the man.

“Five hundred,” she said. “The receipt is in there, already made out. Perhaps you’d sign it, please.”

There was not a word out of place, you see, but you could have cut the atmosphere with a knife. She hated him and he was getting his due and nothing else.

He sat looking at her for a moment with a steady, fishy gaze; he seemed to be waiting for something — just a flicker of regret or resent-ment, I suppose. But he got nothing, and presently he took the envelope between his sausage fingers and thumbed it open. The five crisp green packages fell out on the white table-cloth. I looked at them with interest, as one does at money. It wasn’t a fortune, of course; but to people like myself and Louise, who have to earn every cent the hard way, it was a tidy sum that represented hours of toil and scheming and self-privation.

I didn’t like the way the man’s fingers played over it and the sneaking spark of sympathy I’d begun to feel for him died abruptly.

I knew then that if he’d had his way and married her when she was little more than a child all those years ago, he would have treated her abominably. He was a cruel beast; it took him that way.

I glanced at Louise and saw that she was unmoved. She just sat there with her hands folded, waiting for her receipt.

Adelbert began to count the money. I’ve always admired the way tellers in banks handle notes, but the way Adelbert did it opened my eyes. He went through them the way a gambler goes through a pack of cards — as if each individual note were alive and part of his hand. He loved the stuff, you could see it.

“All correct,” he said at last, and put the bundles in his inside pocket. Then he signed the receipt and handed it to her. Louise took it and put it in her bag. I assumed that was the end of it and wondered what all the fuss was about. I raised my glass to Louise, who acknowledged it, and was getting up when Adelbert stopped me.

“Wait,” he said. “We must have a cigarette and perhaps another little glass — if Louise can afford it.”

He smiled but she didn’t. She poured him another glass and sat there stolidly waiting for him to drink it. He was in no hurry.

Presently he took the money out again and laid a fat hand over it as he passed his cigarette case round. I took a cigarette, Louise didn’t.

There was one of those metal match stands on the table and he bent forward. I moved too, expecting him to give me a light; but he laughed and drew back.

“This gives it a better flavor,” he said, and, peeling off one note from the top wad, he lit it and offered me the flame. I had guessed what was coming, so I didn’t show my surprise. If Louise could keep a poker face, so could I. I watched the banknote burn out, and then he took another and lit that.

Having failed to move us, he started to talk. He spoke quite normally about the restaurant business — how hard times were and what a lot of work it meant getting up at dawn to go to the market with the chef and how customers liked to keep one up late at night, talking and dawdling as if there was never going to be a tomorrow. It was all directed at Louise, rubbing it in, holding her nose down to exactly what he was doing. But she remained perfectly impassive, her eyes dark like lead, her mouth hard.

When that failed, he got more personal. He said he remembered us both when we were girls and how work and worry had changed us. I was nettled, but not too upset, for it soon became quite obvious that he did not remember me at all. With Louise it was different: he remembered her — every detail — and with something added.

“Your hair was like gold,” he said, “and your eyes were blue as glass and you had a little soft wide mouth which was so gay. Where is it now, eh? Here.” He patted the money, the old brute. “All here, Louise. I am a psychologist, I see these things. And what is it worth to me? Nothing. Exactly nothing.”

He was turning me cold. I stared at him fascinated and saw him suddenly take up a whole package of money and fluff it out until it looked like a lettuce. Louise neither blinked nor spoke. She sat looking at him as if he was nothing, a passerby in the street. No one at all. I’d turned my head to glance at her and missed seeing him strike another match — so when he lit the crisp leaves it took me completely off guard.

“Look out!” I said involuntarily. “Mind what you’re doing!”

He laughed like a wicked child, triumphant and delighted. “What about you, Louise? What do you say?”

She continued to look bored and they sat there facing one another squarely. Meantime, of course, the money was blazing.

The whole thing meant nothing to me; perhaps that is why it was my control which snapped.

Anyway, I knocked the cash out of his hand. With a sudden movement I sent the whole hundred notes flying out of his grasp.

All over the place they went — on the floor, the table, everywhere.

The room was alight with blazing banknotes.

He went after them like a lunatic — you wouldn’t have thought a man that fat could have moved so fast.

It was the one that laddered my stocking which gave the game away. A spark burned the nylon and as I felt it, I looked down and snatched the charred note, holding it up to the light. We all saw the flaw in it at the same moment. The ink had run and there was a great streak through the middle, like the veining in a marble slab.

There was a long silence and the first sound came not from us but from the service door. It opened and the new waiter, looking quite different now that he’d changed his coat for one with a policeman’s badge on it, came down the room followed by Inspector Cumberland.

They went up to Adelbert and the younger, heavier man put a hand on his shoulder. Cumberland ignored everything but the money. He stamped out the smoldering flames and gathered up the remains and the four untouched wads on the table. Then he smiled briefly.

“Got you, Adelbert. With it on you. We’ve been wondering who was passing slush in this street and when it came to our ears that someone was burning cash we thought we ought to look into it.”

I was still only half comprehending and I held out the note we’d been staring at.

“There’s something wrong with this one,” I said stupidly.

He took it from me and grunted.

“There’s something wrong with all these, my dear. Miss Frosné’s money is safe in his pocket where you saw him put it. These are some of the gang’s failures. Every maker of counterfeit money has them — as a rule they never leave the printing room. This one in particular is a shocker. I wonder he risked it even for burning. You didn’t like wasting it, I suppose, Adelbert. What a careful soul you are.”

“How did you find out?” Louise looked from them to me.

Cumberland saved me.

“A policeman, too, Madam,” he said, laughing, “can be a psychologist.”

A Nice Place to Stay

NEDRA TYRE

Nedra (pronounced NEE-dra) Tyre (1912-90), a native of Georgia, was the author of a half-dozen mystery novels between 1952 and 1971 and about forty short stories for Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine and other publications. A specialist in small-town Southern backgrounds, she won critical acclaim in her lifetime but, in part because of her small output, is largely overlooked in most reference sources on the genre. Her first and best-known novel, the Atlanta-based Mouse in Eternity (1952), drew on her own background as a social worker and anticipated the later trend toward regionalism in American mysteries.

Tyre was living in Richmond, Virginia, when she told Contemporary Authors (volume 104, 1982), “I’ve worked in offices, been a social worker, library assistant, clerk in a book department, done copy in an advertising agency, and taught sociology. I’ve done everything and it seems to me I’ve never made even minimum wage. Life is real and life is earnest, but most of all, it’s ridiculous. Now I am a staff writer in an agency that gives financial assistance to desperately poor children in twenty-five countries.

“For the last four years I have been totally deaf. It’s amazingly interesting to be deaf, although it’s awkward socially. Politically I am what would be called a liberal and religiously I am a protestant with a small p. Almost everything defeats me and everything amazes me.”

Tyre’s social work background as well as the world view expressed above informs “A Nice Place to Stay,” with its deep understanding of the psychology of poverty.

All my life I’ve wanted a nice place to stay. I don’t mean anything grand, just a small room with the walls freshly painted and a few neat pieces of furniture and a window to catch the sun so that two or three pot plants could grow. That’s what I’ve always dreamed of. I didn’t yearn for love or money or nice clothes, though I was a pretty enough girl and pretty clothes would have made me prettier — not that I mean to brag.

Things fell on my shoulders when I was fifteen. That was when Mama took sick, and keeping house and looking after Papa and my two older brothers — and of course nursing Mama — became my responsibility. Not long after that Papa lost the farm and we moved to town. I don’t like to think of the house we lived in near the C & R railroad tracks, though I guess we were lucky to have a roof over our heads — it was the worst days of the Depression and a lot of people didn’t even have a roof, even one that leaked, plink, plonk; in a heavy rain there weren’t enough pots and pans and vegetable bowls to set around to catch all the water.

Mama was the sick one but it was Papa who died first — living in town didn’t suit him. By then my brothers had married and Mama and I moved into two back rooms that looked onto an alley and everybody’s garbage cans and dump heaps. My brothers pitched in and gave me enough every month for Mama’s and my barest expenses even though their wives grumbled and complained.

I tried to make Mama comfortable. I catered to her every whim and fancy. I loved her. All the same I had another reason to keep her alive as long as possible. While she breathed I knew I had a place to stay. I was terrified of what would happen to me when Mama died. I had no high school diploma and no experience at outside work and I knew my sisters-in-law wouldn’t take me in or let my brothers support me once Mama was gone.

Then Mama drew her last breath with a smile of thanks on her face for what I had done.

Sure enough, Norine and Thelma, my brothers’ wives, put their feet down. I was on my own from then on. So that scared feeling of wondering where I could lay my head took over in my mind and never left me.

I had some respite when Mr. Williams, a widower twenty-four years older than me, asked me to marry him. I took my vows seriously. I meant to cherish him and I did. But that house we lived in!

Those walls couldn’t have been dirtier if they’d been smeared with soot and the plumbing was stubborn as a mule. My left foot stayed sore from having to kick the pipe underneath the kitchen sink to get the water to run through.

Then Mr. Williams got sick and had to give up his shoe repair shop that he ran all by himself. He had a small savings account and a few of those twenty-five-dollar government bonds and drew some disability insurance until the policy ran out in something like six months.

I did everything I could to make him comfortable and keep him cheerful. Though I did all the laundry I gave him clean sheets and clean pajamas every third day and I think it was by my will power alone that I made a begonia bloom in that dark back room Mr. Williams stayed in. I even pestered his two daughters and told them they ought to send their father some get-well cards and they did once or twice. Every now and then when there were a few pennies extra I’d buy cards and scrawl signatures nobody could have read and mailed them to Mr. Williams to make him think some of his former customers were remembering him and wishing him well.

Of course when Mr. Williams died his daughters were johnny-on-the-spot to see that they got their share of the little bit that tumbledown house brought. I didn’t begrudge them — I’m not one to argue with human nature.

I hate to think about all those hardships I had after Mr. Williams died. The worst of it was finding somewhere to sleep; it all boiled down to having a place to stay. Because somehow you can manage not to starve. There are garbage cans to dip into — you’d be surprised how wasteful some people are and how much good food they throw away. Or if it was right after the garbage trucks had made their collections and the cans were empty I’d go into a supermarket and pick, say, at the cherries pretending I was selecting some to buy. I didn’t slip their best ones into my mouth. I’d take either those so ripe that they should have been thrown away or those that weren’t ripe enough and shouldn’t have been put out for people to buy. I might snitch a withered cabbage leaf or a few pieces of watercress or a few of those small round tomatoes about the size of hickory nuts — I never can remember their right name. I wouldn’t make a pig of myself, just eat enough to ease my hunger. So I managed. As I say, you don’t have to starve.

The only work I could get hardly ever paid me anything beyond room and board. I wasn’t a practical nurse, though I knew how to take care of sick folks, and the people hiring me would say that since I didn’t have the training and qualifications I couldn’t expect much.

All they really wanted was for someone to spend the night with Aunt Myrtle or Cousin Kate or Mama or Daddy; no actual duties were demanded of me, they said, and they really didn’t think my help was worth anything except meals and a place to sleep. The arrangements were pretty makeshift. Half the time I wouldn’t have a place to keep my things, not that I had any clothes to speak of, and sometimes I’d sleep on a cot in the hall outside the patient’s room or on some sort of contrived bed in the patient’s room.

I cherished every one of those sick people, just as I had cherished Mama and Mr. Williams. I didn’t want them to die. I did everything I knew to let them know I was interested in their welfare — first for their sakes, and then for mine, so I wouldn’t have to go out and find another place to stay.

Well, now, I’ve made out my case for the defense, a term I never thought I’d have to use personally, so now I’ll make out the case for the prosecution.

I stole.

I don’t like to say it, but I was a thief.

I’m not light-fingered. I didn’t want a thing that belonged to anybody else. But there came a time when I felt forced to steal. I had to have some things. My shoes fell apart. I needed some stockings and underclothes. And when I’d ask a son or a daughter or a cousin or a niece for a little money for those necessities they acted as if I was trying to blackmail them. They reminded me that I wasn’t qualified as a practical nurse, that I might even get into trouble with the authorities if they found I was palming myself off as a practical nurse — which I wasn’t and they knew it. Anyway, they said that their terms were only bed and board.

So I began to take things — small things that had been pushed into the backs of drawers or stored high on shelves in boxes — things that hadn’t been used or worn for years and probably would never be used again. I made my biggest haul at Mrs. Bick’s where there was an attic full of trunks stuffed with clothes and doodads from the twenties all the way back to the nineties — uniforms, ostrich fans, Spanish shawls, beaded bags. I sneaked out a few of these at a time and every so often sold them to a place called Way Out, Hippie Clothiers.

I tried to work out the exact amount I got for selling something.

Not, I know, that you can make up for theft. But, say, I got a dollar for a feather boa belonging to Mrs. Bick: well, then I’d come back and work at a job that the cleaning woman kept putting off, like waxing the hall upstairs or polishing the andirons or getting the linen closet in order.

All the same I was stealing — not everywhere I stayed, not even in most places, but when I had to I stole. I admit it.

But I didn’t steal that silver box.

I was as innocent as a baby where that box was concerned. So when that policeman came toward me grabbing at the box I stepped aside, and maybe I even gave him the push that sent him to his death. He had no business acting like that when that box was mine, whatever Mrs. Crowe’s niece argued.

Fifty thousand nieces couldn’t have made it not mine.

Anyway, the policeman was dead and though I hadn’t wanted him dead I certainly hadn’t wished him well. And then I got to thinking: well, I didn’t steal Mrs. Crowe’s box but I had stolen other things and it was the mills of God grinding exceeding fine, as I once heard a preacher say, and I was being made to pay for the transgres-sions that had caught up with me.

Surely I can make a little more sense out of what happened than that, though I never was exactly clear in my own mind about everything that happened.

Mrs. Crowe was the most appreciative person I ever worked for.

She was bedridden and could barely move. I don’t think the registered nurse on daytime duty considered it part of her job to massage Mrs. Crowe. So at night I would massage her, and that pleased and soothed her. She thanked me for every small thing I did — when I fluffed her pillow, when I’d put a few drops of perfume on her earlobes, when I’d straighten the wrinkled bedcovers.

I had a little joke. I’d pretend I could tell fortunes and I’d take Mrs. Crowe’s hand and tell her she was going to have a wonderful day but she must beware of a handsome blond stranger — or some such foolishness that would make her laugh. She didn’t sleep well and it seemed to give her pleasure to talk to me most of the night about her childhood or her dead husband.

She kept getting weaker and weaker and two nights before she died she said she wished she could do something for me but that when she became an invalid she had signed over everything to her niece. Anyway, Mrs. Crowe hoped I’d take her silver box. I thanked her. It pleased me that she liked me well enough to give me the box.

I didn’t have any real use for it. It would have made a nice trinket box, but I didn’t have any trinkets. The box seemed to be Mrs. Crowe’s fondest possession. She kept it on the table beside her and her eyes lighted up every time she looked at it. She might have been a little girl first seeing a brand-new baby doll early on a Christmas morning.

So when Mrs. Crowe died and the niece on whom I set eyes for the first time dismissed me, I gathered up what little I had and took the box and left. I didn’t go to Mrs. Crowe’s funeral. The paper said it was private and I wasn’t invited. Anyway, I wouldn’t have had anything suitable to wear.

I still had a few dollars left over from those things I’d sold to the hippie place called Way Out, so I paid a week’s rent for a room that was the worst I’d ever stayed in.

It was freezing cold and no heat came up to the third floor where I was. In that room with falling plaster and buckling floorboards and darting roaches, I sat wearing every stitch I owned, with a sleazy blanket and a faded quilt draped around me waiting for the heat to rise, when in swept Mrs. Crowe’s niece in a fur coat and a fur hat and shiny leather boots up to her knees. Her face was beet red from anger when she started telling me that she had traced me through a private detective and I was to give her back the heirloom I had stolen.

Her statement made me forget the precious little bit I knew of the English language. I couldn’t say a word, and she kept on screaming that if I returned the box immediately no criminal charge would be made against me. Then I got back my voice and I said that box was mine and that Mrs. Crowe had wanted me to have it, and she asked if I had any proof or if there were any witnesses to the gift, and I told her that when I was given a present I said thank you, that I didn’t ask for proof and witnesses, and that nothing could make me part with Mrs. Crowe’s box.

The niece stood there breathing hard, in and out, almost counting her breaths like somebody doing an exercise to get control of herself.

“You’ll see,” she yelled, and then she left.

The room was colder than ever and my teeth chattered.

Not long afterward I heard heavy steps clumping up the stairway.

I realized that the niece had carried out her threat and that the police were after me.

I was panic-stricken. I chased around the room like a rat with a cat after it: Then I thought that if the police searched my room and couldn’t find the box it might give me time to decide what to do. I grabbed the box out of the top dresser drawer and scurried down the back hall. I snatched the back door open. I think what I intended to do was run down the back steps and hide the box somewhere, underneath a bush or maybe in a garbage can.

Those back steps were steep and rose almost straight up for three stories and they were flimsy and covered with ice.

I started down. My right foot slipped. The handrail saved me. I clung to it with one hand and to the silver box with the other hand and picked and chose my way across the patches of ice.

When I was midway I heard my name shrieked. I looked around to see a big man leaping down the steps after me. I never saw such anger on a person’s face. Then he was directly behind me and reached out to snatch the box.

I swerved to escape his grasp and he cursed me. Maybe I pushed him. I’m not sure — not really.

Anyway, he slipped and fell down and down and down, and then after all that falling he was absolutely still. The bottom step was beneath his head like a pillow and the rest of his body was spreadeagled on the brick walk.

The almost like a pet that wants to follow its master, the silver box jumped from my hand and bounced down the steps to land beside the man’s left ear.

My brain was numb. I felt paralyzed. Then I screamed.

Tenants from that house and the houses next door and across the alley pushed windows open and flung doors open to see what the commotion was about, and then some of them began to run toward the back yard. The policeman who was the dead man’s partner — I guess you’d call him that — ordered them to keep away.

After a while more police came and they took the dead man’s body and drove me to the station where I was locked up.

From the very beginning I didn’t take to that young lawyer they assigned to me. There wasn’t anything exactly that I could put my finger on. I just felt uneasy with him. His last name was Stanton. He had a first name of course, but he didn’t tell me what it was; he said he wanted me to call him Bat like all his friends did.

He was always smiling and reassuring me when there wasn’t anything to smile or be reassured about, and he ought to have known it all along instead of filling me with false hope.

All I could think was that I was thankful Mama and Papa and Mr.

Williams were dead and that my shame wouldn’t bring shame on them.

“It’s going to be all right,” the lawyer kept saying right up to the end, and then he claimed to be indignant when I was found guilty of resisting arrest and of manslaughter and theft or robbery — there was the biggest hullabaloo as to whether I was guilty of theft or robbery. Not that I was guilty of either, at least in this particular instance, but no one would believe me.

You would have thought it was the lawyer being sentenced instead of me, the way he carried on. He called it a terrible miscarriage of justice and said we might as well be back in the eighteenth century when they hanged children.

Well, that was an exaggeration, if ever there was one; nobody was being hanged and nobody was a child. That policeman had died and I had had a part in it. Maybe I had pushed him. I couldn’t be sure. In my heart I really hadn’t meant him any harm. I was just scared. But he was dead all the same. And as far as stealing went, I hadn’t stolen the box but I had stolen other things more than once.

And then it happened. It was a miracle. All my life I’d dreamed of a nice room of my own, a comfortable place to stay. And that’s exactly what I got.

The room was on the small side but it had everything I needed in it, even a wash basin with hot and cold running water, and the walls were freshly painted, and they let me choose whether I wanted a wing chair with a chintz slipcover or a modern Danish armchair.

I even got to decide what color bedspread I preferred. The window looked out on a beautiful lawn edged with shrubbery, and the matron said I’d be allowed to go to the greenhouse and select some pot plants to keep in my room. The next day I picked out a white glox-inia and some russet chrysanthemums.

I didn’t mind the bars at the windows at all. Why, this day and age some of the finest mansions have barred windows to keep burglars out.

The meals — I simply couldn’t believe there was such delicious food in the world. The woman who supervised their preparation had embezzled the funds of one of the largest catering companies in the state after working herself up from assistant cook to treasurer.

The other inmates were very friendly and most of them had led the most interesting lives. Some of the ladies occasionally used words that you usually see written only on fences or printed on sidewalks before the cement dries, but when they were scolded they apologized.

Every now and then somebody would get angry with someone and there would be a little scratching or hair pulling, but it never got too bad. There was a choir — I can’t sing but I love music — and they gave a concert every Tuesday morning at chapel, and Thursday night was movie night. There wasn’t any admission charge. All you did was go in and sit down anywhere you pleased.

We all had a special job and I was assigned to the infirmary. The doctor and nurse both complimented me. The doctor said that I should have gone into professional nursing, that I gave confidence to the patients and helped them get well. I don’t know about that but I’ve had years of practice with sick people and I like to help anybody who feels bad.

I was so happy that sometimes I couldn’t sleep at night. I’d get up and click on the light and look at the furniture and the walls. It was hard to believe I had such a pleasant place to stay. I’d remember supper that night, how I’d gone back to the steam table for a second helping of asparagus with lemon and herb sauce, and I compared my plenty with those terrible times when I had slunk into supermarkets and nibbled overripe fruit and raw vegetables to ease my hunger.

Then one day here came that lawyer, not even at regular visiting hours, bouncing around congratulating me that my appeal had been upheld, or whatever the term was, and that I was as free as a bird to leave right that minute.

He told the matron she could send my belongings later and he dragged me out front where TV cameras and newspaper reporters were waiting.

As soon as the cameras began whirring and the photographers began to aim, the lawyer kissed me on the cheek and pinned a flower on me. He made a speech saying that a terrible miscarriage of justice had been rectified. He had located people who testified that Mrs.

Crowe had given me the box — she had told the gardener and the cleaning woman. They hadn’t wanted to testify because they didn’t want to get mixed up with the police, but the lawyer had persuaded them in the cause of justice and humanity to come forward and make statements.

The lawyer had also looked into the personnel record of the dead policeman and had learned that he had been judged emotionally unfit for his job, and the psychiatrist had warned the Chief of Police that something awful might happen either to the man himself or to a suspect unless he was relieved of his duties.

All the time the lawyer was talking into the microphones he had latched onto me like I was a three-year-old that might run away, and I just stood and stared. Then when he had finished his speech about me the reporters told him that like his grandfather and his uncle he was sure to end up as governor but at a much earlier age.

At that the lawyer gave a big grin in front of the camera and waved good-bye and pushed me into his car.

I was terrified. The nice place I’d found to stay in wasn’t mine any longer. My old nightmare was back — wondering how I could manage to eat and how much stealing I’d have to do to live from one day to the next.

The cameras and reporters had followed us.

A photographer asked me to turn down the car window beside me, and I overheard two men way in the back of the crowd talking.

My ears are sharp. Papa always said I could hear thunder three states away. Above the congratulations and bubbly talk around me I heard one of those men in back say, “This is a bit too much, don’t you think? Our Bat is showing himself the champion of the Senior Citizen now. He’s already copped the teenyboppers and the under thirties using methods that ought to have disbarred him. He should have made the gardener and cleaning woman testify at the beginning, and from the first he should have checked into the policeman’s history. There ought never to have been a case at all, much less a conviction. But Bat wouldn’t have got any publicity that way. He had to do it in his own devious, spectacular fashion.” The other man just kept nodding and saying after every sentence, “You’re damned right.”

Then we drove off and I didn’t dare look behind me because I was so heartbroken over what I was leaving.

The lawyer took me to his office. He said he hoped I wouldn’t mind a little excitement for the next few days. He had mapped out some public appearances for me. The next morning I was to be on an early television show. There was nothing to be worried about.

He would be right beside me to help me just as he had helped me throughout my trouble. All that I had to say on the TV program was that I owed my freedom to him.

I guess I looked startled or bewildered because he hurried on to say that I hadn’t been able to pay him a fee but that now I was able to pay him back — not in money but in letting the public know about how he was the champion of the underdog.

I said I had been told that the court furnished lawyers free of charge to people who couldn’t pay, and he said that was right, but his point was that I could repay him now by telling people all that he had done for me. Then he said the main thing was to talk over our next appearance on TV. He wanted to coach me in what I was going to say, but first he would go into his partner’s office and tell him to take all the incoming calls and handle the rest of his appointments.

When the door closed after him I thought that he was right. I did owe my freedom to him. He was to blame for it. The smart alec. The upstart. Who asked him to butt in and snatch me out of my pretty room and the work I loved and all that delicious food?

It was the first time in my life I knew what it meant to despise someone.

I hated him.

Before, when I was convicted of manslaughter, there was a lot of talk about malice aforethought and premeditated crime.

There wouldn’t be any argument this time.

I hadn’t wanted any harm to come to that policeman. But I did mean harm to come to this lawyer.

I grabbed up a letter opener from his desk and ran my finger along the blade and felt how sharp it was. I waited behind the door and when he walked through I gathered all my strength and stabbed him. Again and again and again.

Now I’m back where I want to be — in a nice place to stay.

Clever and Quick

CHRISTIANNA BRAND

Many aficionados of pure, fair-play detection would echo the great critic Anthony Boucher in nominating the trio of John Dickson Carr, Ellery Queen, and Agatha Christie as their big three. But there were other writers who, if not quite as prolific, could equal those three in their devotion to and talent for devious puzzle plotting. One of these was the creator of Inspector Cockrill, Christianna Brand (1907-88).

Born Mary Christianna Milne of British parents in Malaya, Brand lived in India during her childhood. Like many writers, she held a variety of jobs in her early life, including governess, model, and dancer. Her experience working as a salesperson in a fashion house inspired her first novel, Death in High Heels (1941). Brand showed she could construct puzzles with the best of them in novels like Green for Danger (1944), memorably filmed with Alistair Sim, and Tour de Force (1955). By her own account, she was equally scrupulous about polishing her style and deploying her clues, seeking to bamboozle the reader while observing absolute fair play. At various times in her career, she departed from pure detection to produce a speculation on the Marie Celeste mystery (The Honey Harlot [1978]), children’s books (Danger Unlimited [1948] and a three-book series beginning with Nurse Matilda [1964]), a fact-crime account (Heaven Knows Who [1960]), and pseudonymous mainstream novels, but crime fiction remained her main interest.

A beloved figure at mystery conventions late in her life, she is remembered in the field for her personality as much as for her writing.

In introducing her short-story collection Buffet for Unwelcome Guests (1983), Robert E. Briney recalls her speaking style: “The topics and anecdotes varied, though some of them had to be reprised by popular demand. (The story of Dorothy L. Sayers and the blood in the stairwell has become a word-of-mouth classic.) But the audience reaction was always the same. Listeners were delighted by the sharp verbal portraits; they listened intently whenever a serious note was introduced; they anticipated exactly as much of a story’s trend as they were intended to, and responded with appreciative chagrin when the punchline turned out to be other than what they had been induced to expect. In fact, they reacted much as readers of Christianna Brand’s fiction have been doing for some forty years.”

In the short-story form, Brand specialized less in pure detection than in the twist-upon-twist double-or-triple-cross crime story of which “Clever and Quick” is a prime example.

You had to keep up appearances; so the apartment was very showy, everything phony right down to the massive brass fender in front of the electric fire. But keeping up appearances was one thing and keeping up the payments was another; and with the theater as it was these days, both of them had been “resting” for a long, long time. So the fact was that they really ought to let Trudi go.

Trudi was the au pair girl and for different reasons neither one wanted her to go.

They were having a row about it now, standing in front of the fireplace. They had a row on an average of once an hour these days — nag, nag, bloody nag. Colette was driving Raymond out of his mind. And now this thing about Trudi. If he secretly (somehow) made up Trudi’s pay? He suggested, “Try offering her a bit less for the work.”

You try offering her a bit less — for the pleasure,” said Colette. It touched him as ever on the raw. “Are you suggesting—?”

“Raymond, that girl thinks of nothing but money and you know it.”

Yes, he knew it, and with the knowledge his heart grew chill. If a time came when he could no longer give Trudi presents — He was mad about her — a little sharp-eyed, shrew-faced mittel-European — and yet here he was, caught, crazy for her, helpless in the grip of her greedy little claws. He, Raymond Gray, who all his life had been, on stage and off, irresistible to women, now caught in the toils of a woman himself. If I were slipping a bit, he said to himself, if my profile were going, if my hair and my teeth weren’t so perfect as once they were — but he was wearing marvelously well. Why, even that drooling old monster in the opposite apartment—

She was not a monster, though she was a big woman and, having once been something of an athlete, now found all the fine muscle running to flabby white fat. But drooling? She was disgusting, she thought, out of her mind — a fat, ugly, aging widow, sitting here drooling over a has-been matinee idol not much more than half my age.

But, as he was caught and helpless, so was she — caught and helpless, sitting there like a silly schoolgirl, yearning only to pop out to her balcony and see if, through his window, she could catch a glimpse of him. From her room she could not see into his; the apartments were not in fact opposite each other but across a corner, at the same level.

But she dared not venture forth. The plane trees in the street just below were in full pollination and if she so much as poked out her nose, her allergy would blow up sky high. And even just passing in the corridor, going up and down the elevator, he mustn’t see her with streaming red eyes and nose.

She spent a good deal of time in the corridors and the elevator.

“Oh, Raymond,” she would cry, “fancy running into you again!”

She had long ago scraped up an acquaintance and it was Raymond, Colette, and Rosa between them now. They were not unwilling — her place was rich in champagne cocktails and dry martinis, with lots of caviar on little triangles of toast. She was loaded.

Colette said so now “Can’t you wangle something out of the old bitch over there? She’s loaded, and if you’d so much as kiss her hand she’d chop it off and give it to you, diamond rings and all.”

Her hand was like a frog’s back, all speckled with the greeny-brown patches of aging skin. “All the same, I’ll tell you something,”

he said. “If you were out of the way, damn nagging so-and-so that you are, she’d make me a ruddy millionaire, I swear she would.”

“Yes and where would your precious Trudi be then? Because,”

said Colette nastily, “I don’t think dear Rosa would put up with very much of that little load of fancy tripe.”

“Don’t you call Trudi names!” he shouted.

“I’ll call her what she is. I’m entitled to that much, surely?”

She had a vile mind, a vile mind and a foul mouth to express what was in it. It flashed across him in a moment of hazy light, red-streaked, that once he had loved her — never dreaming that behind the façade lay this creature of venom and dirt, never dreaming that one day he would stand here with upraised hand, would lunge forward and strike out at her, would have it in his mind to silence her forever.

But his hand did not touch her. She stepped back and away from him, tripped over the rug on the polished floor before the fireplace, fell heavily, almost violently throwing herself back and out of his reach. A brief shriek, arms flailing, a sickening scrunch as the base of her skull hit the rounded knob of the heavy brass fender. And suddenly — stillness.

He knew she was dead.

Trudi stood in the doorway, then moved forward to him slowly.

She said, “Is all right. I saw. You did not touch her.” And she fumbled for the English word. “Was — accident?” She came close beside him, staring down. “But she is dead,” she said.

She was dead. He had not touched her, it had been an accident.

But she was dead — and he was free.

It took him a little while to accept that Trudi was not going to tie up her life with an out-of-work, has-been actor, free or not free. “But, darrleeng, you know that your money is all gone, soon I must anyway leave. Mrs. Gray she has told me so.” And since Mrs. Gray was lying there dead on the floor and could not contradict, she impro-vised a hurried tally of the debts already owing to her. “And this I must have, Raymond, soon I go home if I have no more a job here.”

To be free — to be free to marry her and now to lose her! He pleaded, “Don’t you love me at all?”

“But of course! Only how can we marry, darrleeng, if you have no money to live? So this money I must have, to go home.”

“You can’t go yet, anyway. You’ll have to stand by me about — her.” He had almost forgotten the poor dead thing lying there, ungainly, at their feet. “You’ll have to give evidence for me.”

She shrugged. “Of course. Was accident. But then I go home.”

“Leaving me here like this? Trudi, I have no wife now, no money—”

The little shrug again, so endearing to his infatuated heart, half comic, half rueful; the wag of the pretty little head toward the window across the corner. “As to wife, as to money — over there, plenty both.”

He said quickly, “Then I should be rich. So you and I—?”

But she said, as a few minutes earlier Colette had said, “I don’t think Mrs. Rosa Fox puts up with nonsense. I think she suddenly pulls the moneybags — tight.”

Did the idea come to him all in a flash as it seemed at the time? — or was there an interval while he thought? — while he stood over his wife’s dead body and carefully, deliberately, thought it all through to the end? All he knew afterward was that suddenly he had Trudi by the arm, was talking to her urgently, pulling her to kneel down beside as, very delicately, he scraped from the round brass knob of the fender a fleck of the blood so rapidly congealing there, smearing it over the round brass knob of the poker, the knob identical in size, covering the smears with his own hand. And finally he threw the poker back into the fireplace.

“Now, Trudi, slip out, don’t let anyone see you. Buy something somewhere. Come back right away and this time let the porter see you.”

He did not look back, as he scrambled to his feet, at the still sprawled body — he had not even that moment to spend on the past.

The future was now ahead of him. Only, he prayed, as he furtively slid out into the corridor, let Rosa be in! And let her be alone!

She was in and alone. She was always in and alone these days, flopped in an armchair, dreaming like an adolescent girl of her hopeless, her helpless, love. “A woman of my age,” she thought,

“sitting here mooning over another woman’s husband.” But she’d been quite a gal in her day and widowed a long, long time. Now she said, “Raymond — how lovely!” And at once, “But what’s the matter, my dear? Are you ill?”

“Rosa,” he said, “You must help me!” And he fell on his knees before her, grabbing at her skirt with shuddering hands — really, with all that talent it was quite extraordinary that he couldn’t get more work! He threw a hoarse quaver into his voice. “I’ve killed her,” he said.

She stepped back and away from him. “Killed her?”

“Colette. I’ve killed her. She went on and on. She said horrible things about — about you, Rosa. She thinks you — she always said that you — Rosa, I know you’ve liked me—”

“I love you,” she said simply; but she took a deep, deep breath while the future spread out before her — as earlier his own had opened out to him. His wife was dead and he was free.

He pretended amazement at her answer — amazement and gratit-ude; but he was too clever to claim immediately a return of her feeling. He came at last to the point. “Then, even more, Rosa, may I dare to ask you what I was going to. I am throwing myself on your mercy, just praying that out of friendship you will help me. And now, if you really mean that you—”

And he went with her to the sofa and sat there gripping her hands and poured it all out to her. “She was being so vile. She had — well, she’s dead, but Colette had a filthy mind, Rosa. She’d been going on like this for weeks and suddenly I couldn’t stand it any more. I saw red. I–I picked up the poker. I didn’t mean to harm her — honestly, I swear it — just to frighten her. But when I came to myself again—” And he prayed, “Oh, my God, please try to understand!”

“You did this because she was saying foul things about me?”

“You’ve always been so nice to us, Rosa; it just made me sick, her talking like that, sneering and jeering.” And he poured it all out again, living through the scene, only substituting her name for Trudi’s. Her big plain face went first white, then scarlet, then white again. She held tightly to his hand. “What do you want me to do?”

“Rosa, I thought very quickly — I do think quickly when I’m in a spot. It seems awful now, her lying there dead and me just thinking of myself, trying to fight my way out of it. But that’s what I did. And then I knelt down and — well, there are two brass knobs on the fender exactly like the one on the poker and I–I moved her head so that it looked as though she’d hit it against one of the fender knobs, and then I cleaned all the — the blood and stuff off the poker—”

She was a clever woman — quick and clever. The body might have slowed down, the body that once had been so strong and under control, but the mind was still clever and quick. “An accident,” she said.

“Yes, but — people knew we were always quarreling. Trudi must have known it, of course. They could say I’d pushed her, given-her a shove.” He gave her a sick look that was not too difficult to assume.

“At the least — manslaughter,” he said.

Clever and quick. “You want me to say that I saw what happened?

That you didn’t hit her?”

“My God,” he said, “you’re marvelous! Yes. You could say you saw it all through the window, saw me standing there talking to her, say frankly that we seemed to be arguing, make it look as though you’re not too much on my side, just a casual neighbor. And then — there’s a rug there, you know it, very silky and slippery — you skidded on it once yourself, remember? Perfectly possible for her to have taken a backward step, slipped and fallen backward; and of course that would be all you’d know — you can’t see down to the floor of our room, even from your balcony.”

“But I’d have to say I was out on the balcony. I can’t see your window from in here.”

He had thought that out too. “Your balcony’s only overlooked by two flats, and all those people will have been out; I know them.

No one could say that you weren’t there.”

“All right,” she said.

“You’ll do it for me?”

“Of course. But what about that girl, that little trollop, whatever her name is — the au pair?”

He could hardly keep the stiffness from his voice but he controled himself. “Out shopping, thank God!” And thank God, also, that Rosa couldn’t in fact have been on the balcony, looking in, seeing Trudi there in the room with him. He knew all about the allergy, and one glance at her face confirmed it — Rosa hadn’t been out.

“Well, go back now. You must call a doctor quick. And say nothing about me. Just tell your story, don’t seem even to think of bringing me into it. They’ll be round here soon enough, asking if I saw anything. Now, time’s passing, you really must go.”

He started for the door but suddenly he paused. “Rosa!” He had assumed a look of shame but over the shame a flush of exultancy.

“Rosa, it’s awful to have even thought of it, but suddenly it’s come to me. A trial for murder! You know how things are in the theatrical business, you know how things have been with me lately. But if I were suddenly in the news! Accused of murder — standing there at the Old Bailey, headlines in all the papers, a cause célèbre! And then — the dramatic intervention, the witness who’d seen it all, the last-minute evidence.” He stood before her, half shame-faced, half pleading. “Rosa?”

“Why didn’t I give evidence before? They’d never even have charged you if I’d spoken at once.”

“Well, that’s the point. I must get myself arrested and tried. You’d have to say you hadn’t realized, you didn’t want to get mixed up in it. But then of course the moment you heard I was accused—”

“Even so you wouldn’t get further than the first hearing, whatever it’s called. No publicity in that.”

“You couldn’t — just be abroad for a little while, out of touch?”

She opened her mouth to say that none of it mattered, he’d never need to work again. But she held her peace. He was an actor, actors needed to work, they had to express themselves. “Leave it all to me.

I’ll handle it,” she said.

The earlier headlines were not too bad though hardly sensational and then came the long dull period before the trial opened. However, at last — the day. Himself in the dock, very pale, very handsome. The police in the witness box. “Accused stated—” A flipped-over page in a notebook. “Accused stated, ‘Oh, my God, this is awful, I must have hit out at her, I must have had a blackout, she was nag nag nag at me the whole bloody time because I wasn’t getting work, but I never meant to harm her, I swear I did not.’”

And the forensic evidence. “On the head of the poker I found a small smear of blood.” The smear had been consistent with the blood of the dead woman, with having come there at the time of her death.

Tests showed that the accused had handled the poker after the blood came there. Yes, consistent with his having attempted to remove marks of blood with the palm of his hand, missing the one small smear. The blade of the poker appeared to have been wiped — it showed no fingerprints.

In reply to defense counsel: yes, it was true that the blade of a poker would not be much handled in the ordinary way and the wiping might well have been simply the previous routine cleaning.

The doctor testified that the woman had been dead between half an hour and an hour when he saw her.

Trudi in the box for the defense: shrewd and cool. Had arrived back from the shoppings to find Mr. Gray on his knees beside the body; had had almost to lift him to his feet. Yes, he might very well have touched the poker with his hand, made bloody by his examination of the wound; his arms were all over the place as she hauled him up. She had tried to get him calm; wanted to call a doctor but did not know the number of him, and Mr. Gray seemed so dazed she could get no sense from him. And anyway, what was the hurry, said Trudi with one of her shrugs. Anybody could see that Madame was dead.

And so at last to Rosa Fox. She had with extraordinary dedication deliberately shed all aids to such doubtful charms as she possessed — stripped off the jewelry, dressed herself drably, sacrificed the cosmetics which ordinarily, to some extent at least, disguised the ravages of her age. Not for one moment could anyone suspect that here stood a woman with whom the prisoner could ever have had the slightest rapport.

Into the agreed routine. The casual acquaintance, the occasional drink together. The question of the police directly after the — accident.

Agreed she had previously insisted she had seen nothing. She had been unwell, under great private tensions, wanted only to get abroad to a health spa where she had been ever since. She hadn’t wished to become involved. Never dreamed, of course, that there could possibly be any charge against Mr. Gray, knowing as she did with absolute certainly that the thing had been entirely an accident. Because in fact she had actually seen it happen.

“From my balcony you can look straight into their room. I glanced over and saw them standing there. They seemed to be having an argument. He said something angry, she jerked away from him as though he had raised his hand against her—”

“Mrs. Fox, had he anything in his hand?”

“In his hand? Oh, the poker you mean? No, nothing, no poker or anything. And anyway, he never raised his hand.”

“He never raised his hand? You can swear to that?”

The Judge from the Bench said solemnly, “Mr. Tree, she is swearing to that. She is swearing to everything she says. She is under oath.”

“Well, I could see it all quite clearly and I certainly can swear — well, I mean I am absolutely sure he never raised his hand at all. He said something. She stepped back and then she seemed to trip and topple over backwards. I thought to myself. “Oh, she’s skidded on that rug of theirs!” I know that rug — very treacherous it is on the parquet floor. I nearly slipped on it once myself.

Well, and then I went back into my room and thought no more about it.”

“It didn’t occur to you that she might have injured herself?”

“I thought she might have banged her head or something but of course no more than that. As I say, I’d slipped there myself and been none the worse for it.” And she made a little face and admitted that if the lady had collected a couple of bruises it would have been no more than she deserved. “I think she nagged him. But of course I didn’t know them well.”

Headlines, yes. But not much really and often not even on the center pages, let alone the front page. But there was a big picture of him planned for Sunday, with an interview — celebrating, a glass of champagne raised to the neighbor whose testimony had confirmed his innocence. Not perhaps in the best of taste, the picture taken right there in front of the fireplace where his wife had died. But it wasn’t a best-of-taste newspaper and one settled for what one could get.

And the reporters withdrew; and at last they were alone in his apartment.

She held out her hands to him. “Well, Raymond?”

She looked about a hundred years old standing there before him, the sagging face devoid of its makeup, the ugly dull dress, the droopy hairdo, the mottled hands without their customary diamond flash.

She revolted him.

“Well, Rosa, you did a beautiful job.”

She did not hear the chill in his voice, or did not believe it. She said softly, “And one day soon — shall I collect my reward?”

“Reward?” he said.

“After all, my darling, I have perjured myself for you.”

“Yes, so you have, haven’t you?” he said.

Now the unpowdered skin took on a strange ashen color, and her eyes grew frightened and sick. “Raymond, what do you mean?”

“I mean that you perjured yourself, as you say; and you know, perhaps, what happens to perjurers?”

A clever woman, quick and clever. But still she insisted, “I don’t understand.”

“I need money, Rosa,” he said.

“Money? But if we were married—”

He moved aside so that she looked over his shoulder and into the mirror above the fireplace.

He said, “You? And I? Married?”

She looked long, long at her pitiful reflection. She said at last, “Is this blackmail?”

“Wasn’t it blackmail when you thought that by saving me from prison you could force me to marry you?”

“Yes,” she said. “I think perhaps it was.” And she thought to herself that now she was beaten at her own game. “If you give me away,” she said, “you’ll have to admit you murdered her.”

“In fact I didn’t murder her. I can say it happened almost exactly as you said in court.”

“Very well then,” she said swiftly, “I can change my story. Who can prove that I didn’t see you murder her?”

I can prove that you didn’t see it. You couldn’t have been out on your balcony. The plane trees were pollinating and anyone will confirm to the police what happens if you so much as open a window when the pollen’s flying about. But when they first saw you, you showed no traces of any allergic reaction. I know, because I’d just seen you myself.

“Besides, they couldn’t touch me. I’ve been ‘put in peril,’ as they say— autre fois acquit is the legal name for it. Once acquitted I can’t be tried again for the same crime. I could shout from the housetops that I’d killed her and still be safe.”

“And live with that reputation?”

“Well, of course I wouldn’t say I’d been guilty — which anyway, as I keep telling you, I wasn’t. I’d still claim it had been an accident.

But you would be in the soup.”

“I see.” She pondered it long and carefully, still staring, but unseeingly now, at her sad reflection in the glass. “You thought all this out from the very first, didn’t you? In detail, from the very first?”

“Quite a nice little bit of opportunism,” he suggested, proud of it.

“All that about the publicity? The blood deliberately smeared on the poker? Yes, I see. You had to give them something, you had to get yourself accused and charged, you had to be tried and acquitted before it was safe to accuse me. Two purposes to my perjury: first to supply the evidence that would set you free and second to make me vulnerable to blackmail.” She said almost curiously, almost as though she were humbled for him rather than for herself, “Did you never even like me?”

“I didn’t mind you,” he said indifferently. “But as for marrying you — I think I’m a trifle more particular than that.” And he picked up her handbag, helped himself to the thick wad of banknotes there, stuffed them loosely into his wallet, tucked the wallet away. “Just a very, very small beginning, my dear,” he said.

“I won’t even ask how much you’re demanding. You’ll be back again and again and again of course, won’t you? But by way of a start—?”

“Make it ten thousand,” he said. “You can get that much quickly.”

He smiled at her with cruel and ugly triumph. “And I need it quickly — for my honeymoon,” he said.

Clever and quick. Clever not even to have to ask the name, to have summed it all up in one bright intuitive flash. And quick. The poker with its round brass knob lay there on the fender. She snatched it up — and struck.

Trudi burst open the door, darted forward from her listening post, slowed, then came smoothly the rest of the way and knelt beside him. For what seemed a long, long time they both stared down as only a few short months ago Raymond Gray himself had looked down at the dead body of his wife. It was his turn now.

Rosa’s fat white arms retained something, it seemed, of their once splendid muscle; long-ago anatomical training had suggested the most susceptible spot. The heavy ball of the poker had smashed to a cobweb of fractures Raymond’s delicate temple bone.

Trudi moved. With a small sick grimace she shifted Raymond’s head a little way, so that the wound lay crushed against the round brass knob of the fender.

“That rug!” she said, getting up to her feet again. “Always so dangerous! Fancy, a second time, just the same like the poor wife!”

She grinned with brutal complacence into the heavy white face with its look of dead despair. “So lucky that this time I was present, to see that it all was again just a terrible accident.”

Raymond’s jacket had fallen open. She stooped and with fastidious fingers picked out the wad of notes and stuffed them into her apron pocket.

“Just a verry, verrry small beginning,” she quoted and took the poker out of Rosa’s inert hand. “Go back to your flat, Madame.

Collapse upon your bed. I see to everything, then I make telephone to the doctor.” The Trudi shrug. “This time I know the number of him.”

Rosa went back to her own apartment. She did not, however, collapse upon her bed.

“Police?” she said, holding the telephone receiver in a steady hand.

She gave Raymond Gray’s address. “You’d better get over there quick. I’ve just seen from my balcony the au pair girl going for him with a poker. And this time — no question of an accident.”

She listened with a satisfied smile to a sharp voice cracking out orders. The voice returned to her. “Well, I wouldn’t know about that — I can’t see to the floor of the room. The girl disappeared from sight for a bit and when she got up she was stuffing money into her apron pocket. You’ll find it, I daresay, hidden somewhere in her room. An affair going on, you know, even before the poor wife died; and now I suppose he was refusing to marry her.”

Country Lovers

NADINE GORDIMER

Nobel Prize winner Nadine Gordimer (b. 1923) was born in the gold mining region of South Africa, the daughter of a jeweler. Receiving her early education at a convent, she graduated from University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg. Like many writers, she was solitary as a child, out of school from the age of eleven to sixteen because of an apparently imaginary heart ailment, her only companions her mother and her adult friends, with no contact with other children. First published at the age of fifteen, she eventually contributed short stories to such major U.S. markets as The New Yorker, Harper’s, and Mademoiselle. Her first story collection, The Soft Voice of the Serpent and Other Stories, appeared in 1952, her first novel, The Lying Days, in 1955. Her views on racial equality and her celebration of human variety, which eventually led to outspoken opposition to her country’s apartheid policies, she credited to her reading rather than any example from her apolitical parents. She listed as one of her favorite writers J. D. Salinger, another specialist in depicting the societal outsider.

Gordimer wrote critically of the South African regime in both fiction and non-fiction. One of her novels, Burger’s Daughter (1979), was briefly banned in her home country. A Time magazine reviewer of her second novel, A World of Strangers (1958), as quoted in Current Biography (1959 yearbook), wrote that Gordimer “not only tells the truth about her countrymen, but she tells it so well that she has become at once their goad and their best writer.” Surely, her conscientious opposition, along with that of other South African writers and thinkers, was a factor in the eventual end of apartheid.

Generally, Gordimer is not regarded even tangentially as a writer of crime fiction, but “Country Lovers,” a painfully real story that reflects her concern about her country’s policies while confronting some basic truths about racism, certainly qualifies for the category.

The farm children play together when they are small; but once the white children go away to school they soon don’t play together any more, even in the holidays. Although most of the black children get some sort of schooling, they drop every year further behind the grades passed by the white children; the childish vocabulary, the child’s exploration of the adventurous possibilities of dam, koppies, mealie lands and veld — there comes a time when the white children have surpassed these with the vocabulary of boarding-schools and the possibilities of inter-school sports matches and the kind of adventures seen at the cinema. This usefully coincides with the age of twelve or thirteen; so that by the time early adolescence is reached, the black children are making, along with the bodily changes common to all, an easy transition to adult forms of address, beginning to call their old playmates missus and baasie—little master.

The trouble was Paulus Eysendyck did not seem to realize that Thebedi was now simply one of the crowd of farm children down at the kraal, recognizable in his sisters’ old clothes. The first Christmas holidays after he had gone to boarding-school he brought home for Thebedi a painted box he had made in his woodwork class. He had to give it to her secretly because he had nothing for the other children at the kraal. And she gave him, before he went back to school, a bracelet she had made of thin brass wire and the grey-and-white beans of the castor-oil crop his father cultivated. (When they used to play together, she was the one who had taught Paulus how to make clay oxen for their toy spans.) There was a craze, even in the platteland towns like the one where he was at school, for boys to wear elephant-hair and other bracelets beside their watch-straps; his was admired, friends asked him to get similar ones for them. He said the natives made them on his father’s farm and he would try.

When he was fifteen, six feet tall, and tramping round at school dances with the girls from the “sister” school in the same town; when he had learnt how to tease and flirt and fondle quite intimately these girls who were the daughters of prosperous farmers like his father; when he had even met one who, at a wedding he had attended with his parents on a nearby farm, had let him do with her in a locked storeroom what people did when they made love — when he was as far from his childhood as all this, he still brought home from a shop in town a red plastic belt and gilt hoop earrings for the black girl, Thebedi. She told her father the missus had given these to her as a reward for some work she had done — it was true she sometimes was called to help out in the farmhouse. She told the girls in the kraal that she had a sweetheart nobody knew about, far away, away on another farm, and they giggled, and teased, and admired her.

There was a boy in the kraal called Njabulo who said he wished he could have bought her a belt and earrings.

When the farmer’s son was home for the holidays she wandered far from the kraal and her companions. He went for walks alone.

They had not arranged this; it was an urge each followed independently. He knew it was she, from a long way off. She knew that his dog would not bark at her. Down at the dried-up riverbed where five or six years ago the children had caught a leguaan one great day — a creature that combined ideally the size and ferocious aspect of the crocodile with the harmlessness of the lizard — they squatted side by side on the earth bank. He told her traveler’s tales: about school, about the punishments at school, particularly, exaggerating both their nature and his indifference to them. He told her about the town of Middleburg, which she had never seen. She had nothing to tell but she prompted with many questions, like any good listener.

While he talked he twisted and tugged at the roots of white stink-wood and Cape willow trees that looped out of the eroded earth around them. It had always been a good spot for children’s games, down there hidden by the mesh of old, ant-eaten trees held in place by vigorous ones, wild asparagus bushing up between the trunks, and here and there prickly-pear cactus sunken-skinned and bristly, like an old man’s face, keeping alive sapless until the next rainy season. She punctured the dry hide of a prickly-pear again and again with a sharp stick while she listened.

She laughed a lot at what he told her, sometimes dropping her face on her knees, sharing amusement with the cool shady earth beneath her bare feet. She put on her pair of shoes — white sandals, thickly Blanco-ed against the farm dust — when he was on the farm, but these were taken off and laid aside, at the river-bed.

One summer afternoon when there was water flowing there and it was very hot she waded in as they used to do when they were children, her dress bunched modestly and tucked into the legs of her pants. The schoolgirls he went swimming with at dams or pools on neighboring farms wore bikinis but the sight of their dazzling bellies and thighs in the sunlight had never made him feel what he felt now, when the girl came up the bank and sat beside him, the drops of water beading off her dark legs the only points of light in the earth-smelling, deep shade. They were not afraid of one another, they had known one another always; he did with her what he had done that time in the storeroom at the wedding, and this time it was so lovely, so lovely, he was surprised…and she was surprised by it, too — he could see in her dark face that was part of the shade, with her big dark eyes, shiny as soft water, watching him attentively: as she had when they used to huddle over their teams of mud oxen, as she had when he told her about detention weekends at school.

They went to the river-bed often through those summer holidays.

They met just before the light went, as it does quite quickly, and each returned home with the dark — she to her mother’s hut, he to the farmhouse — in time for the evening meal. He did not tell her about school or town any more. She did not ask questions any longer. He told her, each time, when they would meet again. Once or twice it was very early in the morning; the lowing of the cows being driven to graze came to them where they lay, dividing them with unspoken recognition of the sound read in their two pairs of eyes, opening so close to each other.

He was a popular boy at school. He was in the second, then the first soccer team. The head girl of the “sister” school was said to have a crush on him; he didn’t particularly like her, but there was a pretty blonde who put up her long hair into a kind of doughnut with a black ribbon round it, whom he took to see films when the schoolboys and girls had a free Saturday afternoon. He had been driving tractors and other farm vehicles since he was ten years old, and as soon as he was eighteen he got a driver’s license and in the holidays, this last year of his school life, he took neighbors’ daughters to dances and to the drive-in cinema that had just opened twenty kilometers from the farm. His sisters were married, by then; his parents often left him in charge of the farm over the weekend while they visited the young wives and grandchildren.

When Thebedi saw the farmer and his wife drive away on a Saturday afternoon, the boot of their Mercedes filled with fresh-killed poultry and vegetables from the garden that it was part of her father’s work to tend, she knew that she must come not to the river-bed but up to the house. The house was an old one, thick-walled, dark against the heat. The kitchen was its lively thoroughfare, with servants, food supplies, begging cats and dogs, pots boiling over, washing being damped for ironing, and the big deep-freeze the missus had ordered from town, bearing a crocheted mat and a vase of plastic irises. But the dining-room with the bulging-legged heavy table was shut up in its rich, old smell of soup and tomato sauce. The sitting-room curtains were drawn and the TV set silent. The door of the parents’

bedroom was locked and the empty rooms where the girls had slept had sheets of plastic spread over the beds. It was in one of these that she and the farmer’s son stayed together whole nights — almost: she had to get away before the house servants, who knew her, came in at dawn. There was a risk someone would discover her or traces of her presence if he took her to his own bedroom, although she had looked into it many times when she was helping out in the house and knew well, there, the row of silver cups he had won at school.

When she was eighteen and the farmer’s son nineteen and working with his father on the farm before entering a veterinary college, the young man Njabulo asked her father for her. Njabulo’s parents met with hers and the money he was to pay in place of the cows it is customary to give a prospective bride’s parents was settled upon.

He had no cows to offer; he was a laborer on the Eysendyck farm, like her father. A bright youngster; old Eysendyck had taught him bricklaying and was using him for odd jobs in construction, around the place. She did not tell the farmer’s son that her parents had arranged for her to marry. She did not tell him, either, before he left for his first term at the veterinary college, that she thought she was going to have a baby. Two months after her marriage to Njabulo, she gave birth to a daughter. There was no disgrace in that; among her people it is customary for a young man to make sure, before marriage, that the chosen girl is not barren, and Njabulo had made love to her then. But the infant was very light and did not quickly grow darker as most African babies do. Already at birth there was on its head a quantity of straight, fine floss, like that which carries the seeds of certain weeds in the veld. The unfocused eyes it opened were grey flecked with yellow. Njabulo was the matt, opaque coffee-grounds color that had always been called black; the color of Thebedi’s legs on which beaded water looked oyster-shell blue, the same color as Thebedi’s face, where the black eyes, with their interested gaze and clear whites, were so dominant.

Njabulo made no complaint. Out of his farm laborer’s earnings he bought from the Indian store a cellophane-windowed pack containing a pink plastic bath, six napkins, a card of safety pins, a knitted jacket, cap and bootees, a dress, and a tin of Johnson’s Baby Powder, for Thebedi’s baby.

When it was two weeks old Paulus Eysendyck arrived home from the veterinary college for the holidays. He drank a glass of fresh, still-warm milk in the childhood familiarity of his mother’s kitchen and heard her discussing with the old house-servant where they could get a reliable substitute to help out now that the girl Thebedi had had a baby. For the first time since he was a small boy he came right into the kraal. It was eleven o’clock in the morning. The men were at work in the lands. He looked about him, urgently; the women turned away, each not wanting to be the one approached to point out where Thebedi lived. Thebedi appeared, coming slowly from the hut Njabulo had built in white man’s style, with a tin chimney, and a proper window with glass panes set in straight as walls made of unfired bricks would allow. She greeted him with hands brought together and a token movement representing the respectful bob with which she was accustomed to acknowledge she was in the presence of his father or mother. He lowered his head under the doorway of her home and went in. He said, “I want to see. Show me.”

She had taken the bundle off her back before she came out into the light to face him. She moved between the iron bedstead made up with Njabulo’s checked blankets and the small wooden table where the pink plastic bath stood among food and kitchen pots, and picked up the bundle from the snugly-blanketed grocer’s box where it lay. The infant was asleep; she revealed the closed, pale, plump tiny face, with a bubble of spit at the corner of the mouth, the spidery pink hands stirring. She took off the woolen cap and the straight fine hair flew up after it in static electricity, showing gilded strands here and there. He said nothing. She was watching him as she had done when they were little, and the gang of children had trodden down a crop in their games or transgressed in some other way for which he, as the farmer’s son, the white one among them, must in-tercede with the farmer. She disturbed the sleeping face by scratching or tickling gently at a cheek with one finger, and slowly the eyes opened, saw nothing, were still asleep, and then, awake, no longer narrowed, looked out at them, grey with yellowish flecks, his own hazel eyes.

He struggled for a moment with a grimace of tears, anger and self-pity. She could not put out her hand to him. He said, “You haven’t been near the house with it?”

She shook her head.

“Never?”

Again she shook her head.

“Don’t take it out. Stay inside. Can’t you take it away somewhere?

You must give it to someone—”

She moved to the door with him.

He said, “I’ll see what I will do. I don’t know.” And then he said:

“I feel like killing myself.”

Her eyes began to glow, to thicken with tears. For a moment there was the feeling between them that used to come when they were alone down at the river-bed.

He walked out.

Two days later, when his mother and father had left the farm for the day, he appeared again. The women were away on the lands, weeding, as they were employed to do as casual labor in summer; only the very old remained, propped up on the ground outside the huts in the flies and the sun. Thebedi did not ask him in. The child had not been well; it had diarrhea. He asked where its food was.

She said, “The milk comes from me.” He went into Njabulo’s house, where the child lay; she did not follow but stayed outside the door and watched without seeing an old crone who had lost her mind, talking to herself, talking to the fowls who ignored her.

She thought she heard small grunts from the hut, the kind of infant grunt that indicates a full stomach, a deep sleep. After a time, long or short she did not know, he came out and walked away with plodding stride (his father’s gait) out of sight, toward his father’s house.

The baby was not fed during the night and although she kept telling Njabulo it was sleeping, he saw for himself in the morning that it was dead. He comforted her with words and caresses. She did not cry but simply sat, staring at the door. Her hands were cold as dead chickens’ feet to his touch.

Njabulo buried the little baby where farm workers were buried, in the place in the veld the farmer had given them. Some of the mounds had been left to weather away unmarked, others were covered with stones and a few had fallen wooden crosses. He was going to make a cross but before it was finished the police came and dug up the grave and took away the dead baby: someone — one of the other laborers? their women? — had reported that the baby was almost white, that, strong and healthy, it had died suddenly after a visit by the farmer’s son. Pathological tests on the infant corpse showed intestinal damage not always consistent with death by natural causes.

Thebadi went for the first time to the country town where Paulus had been to school, to give evidence at the preparatory examination into the charge of murder brought against him. She cried hysterically in the witness box, saying yes, yes (the gilt hoop earrings swung in her ears), she saw the accused pouring liquid into the baby’s mouth.

She said he had threatened to shoot her if she told anyone.

More than a year went by before, in that same town, the case was brought to trial. She came to court with a newborn baby on her back.

She wore gilt hoop earrings; she was calm, she said she had not seen what the white man did in the house.

Paulus Eysendyck said he had visited the hut but had not poisoned the child.

The defense did not contest that there had been a love relationship between the accused and the girl, or that intercourse had taken place, but submitted there was no proof that the child was the accused’s.

The judge told the accused there was strong suspicion against him but not enough proof that he had committed the crime. The court could not accept the girl’s evidence because it was clear she had committed perjury either at this trial or at the preparatory examination. There was the suggestion in the mind of the court that she might be an accomplice in the crime; but, again, insufficient proof.

The judge commended the honorable behavior of the husband (sitting in court in a brown-and-yellow-quartered golf cap bought for Sundays) who had not rejected his wife and had “even provided clothes for the unfortunate infant out of his slender means.”

The verdict on the accused was “not guilty.”

The young white man refused to accept the congratulations of press and public and left the court with his mother’s raincoat shielding his face from photographers. His father said to the press,

“I will try and carry on as best I can to hold up my head in the district.”

Interviewed by the Sunday papers, who spelled her name in a variety of ways, the black girl, speaking in her own language, was quoted beneath her photograph: “It was a thing of our childhood, we don’t see each other any more.”

The Irony of Hate

RUTH RENDELL

When lists are made fifty or a hundred years hence of the best writers of our time, regardless of genre, Ruth Rendell (b. 1930), despite her career-long identification with crime and detective fiction, may well rank high. She was born Ruth Barbara Grasemann in London, the daughter of two teachers who both found a creative outlet in painting. After leaving school at eighteen, she eschewed university for a brief career as a newspaper reporter in Essex. After marrying fellow reporter Donald Rendell and producing a son, she quit journalism for full-time motherhood and self-education through voracious reading.

Rendell’s first novel From Doon with Death (1964), introducing her odd-couple police team of Reg Wexford and Mike Burden, is solidly traditional, the trickiness of its plot inviting the inevitable Agatha Christie comparison. Rendell would never abandon this devotion to fair-play plotting as her novels increased in psychological and thematic depth. Her second novel, To Fear a Painted Devil (1965), is non-series, and throughout her career she has mixed the Wexford and Burden books, immensely popular with readers, with often dark-hued crime novels that have achieved even greater critical acclaim. Writing in the Scribner Writers Series volume Mystery and Suspense Writers (1998), B. J. Rahn describes these non-series books as “centered in the consciousness of the main character — whether villain or victim — whose feelings of alienation, anxiety, fear, hatred, and anguish are experienced firsthand by the reader.” Rendell, who was called Ruth by her father and Barbara by her mother, answers to both and now writes as both, having adopted the pseudonym Barbara Vine with A Dark-Adapted Eye (1986). According to Rahn, the Vine novels “plumb the depths of the human psyche more in the manner of Henry James than Patricia Highsmith or Alfred Hitchcock…The novels are distinguished by subtle manipulation of the narrative viewpoint and complex patterning, which often produce startling ironic surprises.”

Along with her prolific book-or-two-per-year output, Rendell has also kept busy as a short-story writer. Her first collection, The Fallen Curtain and Other Stories (1976) has been followed by at least six more, including Piranha to Scurfy and Other Stories (2000). “The Irony of Hate,” revealing who did what in the very first sentence, demonstrates Rendell’s psychological insight as well as her ability to surprise the reader.

Imurdered Brenda Goring for what I suppose is the most unusual of motives. She came between me and my wife. By that I don’t mean to say that there was anything abnormal in their relationship.

They were merely close friends, though “merely” is hardly the word to use in connection with a relationship which alienates and excludes a once-loved husband. I murdered her to get my wife to myself once more, but instead I have parted us perhaps for ever, and I await with dread, with impotent panic, with the most awful helplessness I have ever known, the coming trial.

By setting down the facts — and the irony, the awful irony that runs through them like a sharp glittering thread — I may come to see things more clearly. I may find some way to convince those inexorable powers that be of how it really was; to make Defending Counsel believe me and not raise his eyebrows and shake his head; to ensure, at any rate, that if Laura and I must be separated she will know as she sees me taken from the court to my long imprisonment, that the truth is known and justice done.

Alone here with nothing else to do, with nothing to wait for but that trial, I could write reams about the character, the appearance, the neuroses, of Brenda Goring. I could write the great hate novel of all time. In this context, though, much of it would be irrelevant, and I shall be as brief as I can.

Some character in Shakespeare says of a woman, “Would I had never seen her!” And the reply is: “Then you would have left unseen a very wonderful piece of work.” Well, would indeed I had never seen Brenda. As for her being a wonderful piece of work, I suppose I would agree with that too. Once she had had a husband. To be rid of her for ever, no doubt, he paid her enormous alimony and had settled on her a lump sum with which she bought the cottage up the lane from our house. On our village she made the impact one would expect of such a newcomer. Wonderful she was, an amazing refreshment to all those retired couples and cautious weekenders, with her clothes, her long blond hair, her sports car, her talents, and her jet-set past. For a while, that is. Until she got too much for them to take.

From the first she fastened on to Laura. Understandable in a way, since my wife was the only woman in the locality who was of comparable age, who lived there all the time and who had no job. But surely — or so I thought at first — she would never have singled out Laura if she had had a wider choice. To me my wife is lovely, all I could ever want, the only woman I have ever really cared for, but I know that to others she appears shy, colorless, a simple and quiet little housewife. What, then, had she to offer to that extrovert, that bright bejeweled butterfly? She gave me the beginning of the answer herself.

“Haven’t you noticed the way people are starting to shun her darling? The Goldsmiths didn’t ask her to their party last week and Mary Williamson refuses to have her on the fête committee.”

“I can’t say I’m surprised,” I said. “The way she talks and the things she talks about.”

“You mean her love affairs and all that sort of thing? But, darling, she’s lived in the sort of society where that’s quite normal. It’s natural for her to talk like that, it’s just that she’s open and honest.”

“She’s not living in that sort of society now,” I said, “and she’ll have to adapt if she wants to be accepted. Did you notice Isabel Goldsmith’s face when Brenda told that story about going off for a weekend with some chap she’d picked up in a bar? I tried to stop her going on about all the men her husband named in his divorce action, but I couldn’t. And then she’s always saying, ‘When I was living with so-and-so’ and ‘That was the time of my affair with what’s-his-name.’ Elderly people find that a bit up-setting, you know.”

“Well, we’re not elderly,” said Laura, “and I hope we can be a bit more broad-minded. You do like her, don’t you?”

I was always very gentle with my wife. The daughter of clever domineering parents who belittled her, she grew up with an inerad-icable sense of her own inferiority. She is a born victim, an inviter of bullying, and therefore I have tried never to bully her, never even to cross her. So all I said was that Brenda was all right and that I was glad, since I was out all day, that she had found a friend and companion of her own age.

And if Brenda had befriended and companioned her only during the day, I daresay I shouldn’t have objected. I should have got used to the knowledge that Laura was listening, day in and day out, to stories of a world she had never known, to hearing illicit sex and duplicity glorified, and I should have been safe in the conviction that she was incorruptible. But I had to put up with Brenda myself in the evenings when I got home from my long commuting. There she would be, lounging on our sofa, in her silk trousers or long skirt and high boots, chain-smoking. Or she would arrive with a bottle of wine just as we had sat down to dinner and involve us in one of those favorite debates of hers on the lines of “Is marriage a dying institution?” or “Are parents necessary?” And to illustrate some specious point of hers she would come out with some personal experience of the kind that had so upset our elderly friends.

Of course I was not obliged to stay with them. Ours is quite a big house, and I could go off into the dining room or the room Laura called my study. But all I wanted was what I had once had, to be alone in the evenings with my wife. And it was even worse when we were summoned to coffee or drinks with Brenda, there in her lavishly furnished, over-ornate cottage to be shown the latest thing she had made — she was always embroidering and weaving and potting and messing about with watercolors — and shown too the gifts she had received at some time or another from Mark and Larry and Paul and all the dozens of other men there had been in her life. When I refused to go Laura would become nervous and depressed, then pathetically elated if, after a couple of blissful Brenda-less evenings, I suggested for the sake of pleasing her that I supposed we might as well drop in on old Brenda.

What sustained me was the certainty that sooner or later any woman so apparently popular with the opposite sex would find herself a boyfriend and have less or no time for my wife. I couldn’t understand why this hadn’t happened already and I said so to Laura.

“She does see her men friends when she goes up to London,” said my wife.

“She never has any of them down here,” I said, and that evening when Brenda was treating us to a highly colored account of some painter she knew called Laszlo who was terribly attractive and who adored her, I said I’d like to meet him and why didn’t she invite him down for the weekend?

Brenda flashed her long green-painted fingernails about and gave Laura a conspiratorial woman-to-woman look. “And what would all the old fuddy-duddies have to say about that, I wonder?”

“Surely you can rise above all that sort of thing, Brenda,” I said.

“Of course I can. Give them something to talk about. I’m quite well aware it’s only sour grapes. I’d have Laszlo here like a shot, only he wouldn’t come. He hates the country, he’d be bored stiff.”

Apparently Richard and Jonathan and Stephen also hated the country or would be bored or couldn’t spare the time. It was much better for Brenda to go up and see them in town, and I noticed that after my probing about Laszlo, Brenda seemed to go to London more often and that the tales of her escapades after these visits became more and more sensational. I think I am quite a perceptive man and soon there began to form in my mind an idea so fantastic that for a while I refused to admit it even to myself. But I put it to the test. Instead of just listening to Brenda and throwing in the occasional rather sour rejoinder, I started asking her questions. I took her up on names and dates. “I thought you said you met Mark in America?” I would say, or “But surely you didn’t have that holiday with Richard until after your divorce?” I tied her up in knots without her realizing it, and the idea began to seem not so fantastic after all. The final test came at Christmas.

I had noticed that Brenda was a very different woman when she was alone with me than when Laura was with us. If, for example, Laura was out in the kitchen making coffee or, as sometimes happened at the weekends, Brenda dropped in when Laura was out, she was rather cool and shy with me. Gone then were the flamboyant gestures and the provocative remarks, and Brenda would chat about village matters as mundanely as Isabel Goldsmith. Not quite the behavior one would expect from a self-styled Messalina alone with a young and reasonably personable man. It struck me then that in the days when Brenda had been invited to village parties, and now when she still met neighbors at our parties, she never once attempted a flirtation. Were all the men too old for her to bother with? Was a slim, handsome man of going on fifty too ancient to be considered fair game for a woman who would never see thirty again? Of course they were all married, but so were her Paul and her Stephen, and, if she were to be believed, she had had no compunction about taking them away from their wives.

If she were to be believed. That was the crux of it. Not one of them wanted to spend Christmas with her. No London lover invited her to a party or offered to take her away. She would be with us, of course, for Christmas lunch, for the whole of the day, and at our Boxing Day gathering of friends and relatives. I had hung a bunch of mistletoe in our hall, and on Christmas morning I admitted her to the house myself, Laura being busy in the kitchen.

“Merry Christmas,” I said. “Give us a kiss, Brenda,” and I took her in my arms under that mistletoe and kissed her on the mouth.

She stiffened. I swear a shudder ran through her. She was as awkward, as apprehensive, as repelled as a sheltered twelve-year-old.

And then I knew. Married she may have been — and it was not hard now to guess the cause of her divorce — but she had never had a lover or enjoyed an embrace or even been alone with a man longer than she could help. She was frigid. A good-looking, vivacious, healthy girl, she nevertheless had that particular disability. She was as cold as a nun. But because she couldn’t bear the humiliation of admitting it, she had created for herself a fantasy life, a fantasy past, in which she queened it as a fantasy nymphomaniac.

At first I thought it a huge joke and I couldn’t wait to tell Laura.

But I wasn’t alone with her till two in the morning and then she was asleep when I came to bed. I didn’t sleep much. My elation dwindled as I realized I hadn’t any real proof and that if I told Laura what I’d been up to, probing and questioning and testing, she would only be bitterly hurt and resentful. How could I tell her I’d kissed her best friend and got an icy response? That, in her absence, I’d tried flirting with her best friend and been repulsed? And then, as I thought about it, I understood what I really had discovered, that Brenda hated men, that no man would ever come and take her away or marry her and live here with her and absorb all her time. For ever she would stay here alone, living a stone’s throw from us, in and out of our house daily, she and Laura growing old together.

I could have moved house, of course. I could have taken Laura away. From her friends? From the house and the countryside she loved? And what guarantee would I have had that Brenda wouldn’t have moved too to be near us still? For I knew now what Brenda saw in my wife, a gullible innocent, a trusting everlastingly credulous audience whose own inexperience kept her from seeing the holes and discrepancies in those farragos of nonsense and whose pathetic determination to be worldly prevented her from showing distaste.

As the dawn came and I looked with love and sorrow at Laura sleeping beside me, I knew what I must do, the only thing I could do. At the season of peace and goodwill, I decided to kill Brenda Goring for my own and Laura’s good and peace.

Easier decided than done. I was buoyed up and strengthened by knowing that in everyone’s eyes I would have no motive. Our neighbors thought us wonderfully charitable and tolerant to put up with Brenda at all. I resolved to be positively nice to her instead of just negatively easygoing, and as the New Year came in I took to dropping in on Brenda on my way back from the post or the village shop, and if I got home from work to find Laura alone I asked where Brenda was and suggested we should phone her at once and ask her to dinner or for a drink. This pleased Laura enormously.

“I always felt you didn’t really like Brenda, darling,” she said,

“and it made me feel rather guilty. It’s marvelous that you’re beginning to see how nice she really is.”

What I was actually beginning to see was how I could kill her and get away with it, for something happened which seemed to deliver her into my hands. On the outskirts of the village, in an isolated cottage, lived an elderly unmarried woman called Peggy Daley, and during the last week of January the cottage was broken into and Peggy stabbed to death with her own kitchen knife. The work of some psychopath, the police seemed to believe, for nothing had been stolen or damaged. When it appeared likely that they weren’t going to find the killer. I began thinking of how I could kill Brenda in the same way so that the killing could look like the work of the same perpetrator. Just as I was working this out Laura went down with a flu bug she caught from Mary Williamson.

Brenda, of course, came in to nurse her, cooked my dinner for me and cleaned the house. Because everyone believed that Peggy Daley’s murderer was still stalking the village, I walked Brenda home at night, even though her cottage was only a few yards up the lane or narrow path that skirted the end of our garden. It was pitch dark there as we had all strenuously opposed the installation of street lighting, and it brought me an ironical amusement to notice how Brenda flinched and recoiled when on these occasions I made her take my arm. I always made a point of going into the house with her and putting all the lights on. When Laura began to get better and all she wanted in the evenings was to sleep I sometimes went earlier to Brenda’s, had a nightcap with her, and once, on leaving, I gave her a comradely kiss on the doorstep to show any observing neighbor what friends we were and how much I appreciated all Brenda’s kindness to my sick wife.

Then I got the flu myself. At first this seemed to upset my plans, for I couldn’t afford to delay too long. Already people were beginning to be less apprehensive about our marauding murderer and were getting back to their old habits of leaving their back doors unlocked. But then I saw how I could turn my illness to my advantage.

On the Monday, when I had been confined to bed for three days and that ministering angel Brenda was fussing about me nearly as much as my own wife was, Laura remarked that she wouldn’t go across to the Goldsmiths that evening as she had promised because it seemed wrong to leave me. Instead, if I was better by then, she would go on the Wednesday, her purpose being to help Isabel cut out a dress. Brenda, of course, might have offered to stay with me instead, and I think Laura was a little surprised that she didn’t. I knew the reason and had a little quiet laugh to myself about it. It was one thing for Brenda to flaunt about, regaling us with stories of all the men she had nursed in the past, quite another to find herself alone with a not very sick man in that man’s bedroom.

So I had to be sick enough to provide myself with an alibi but not sick enough to keep Laura at home. On the Wednesday morning I was feeling a good deal better. Dr. Lawson looked in on his way back from his rounds in the afternoon and pronounced, after a thorough examination, that I still had phlegm on my chest. While he was in the bathroom washing his hands and doing something with his stethoscope, I held the thermometer he had stuck in my mouth against the radiator at the back of the bed. This worked better than I had hoped, worked, in fact, almost too well. The mercury went up to a hundred and three, and I played up to it by saying in a feeble voice that I felt dizzy and kept alternating between the sweats and the shivers.

“Keep him in bed,” Dr. Lawson said, “and give him plenty of warm drinks. I doubt if he could get up if he tried.”

I said rather shamefacedly that I had tried and I couldn’t and that my legs felt like jelly. Immediately Laura said she wouldn’t go out that night, and I blessed Lawson when he told her not to be silly.

All I needed was rest and to be allowed to sleep. After a good deal of fussing and self-reproach and promises not to be gone more than two hours at the most, she finally went off at seven.

As soon as the car had departed, I got up. Brenda’s house could be seen from my bedroom window, and I saw that she had lights on but no porch light. The night was dark, moonless and starless. I put trousers and a sweater on over my pajamas and made my way downstairs.

By the time I was halfway down I knew that I needn’t have pretended to be ill or bothered with the thermometer ploy. I was ill. I was shivering and swaying, great waves of dizziness kept coming over me, and I had to hang on to the banisters for support. That wasn’t the only thing that had gone wrong. I had intended, when the deed was done and I was back home again, to cut up my coat and gloves with Laura’s electric scissors and burn the pieces on our living room fire. But I couldn’t find the scissors and I realized Laura must have taken them with her to her dressmaking session. Worse than that, there was no fire alight. Our central heating was very efficient and we only had an open fire for the pleasure and coziness of it, but Laura hadn’t troubled to light one while I was upstairs ill. At that moment I nearly gave up. But it was then or never. I would never again have such circumstances and such an alibi. Either kill her now, I thought, or live in an odious ménage à trois for the rest of my life.

We kept the raincoats and gloves we used for gardening in a cupboard in the kitchen by the back door. Laura had left only the hall light on, and I didn’t think it would be wise to switch on any more. In the semi-darkness I fumbled about in the cupboard for my raincoat, found it and put it on. It seemed tight on me, my body was so stiff and sweaty, but I managed to button it up, and then I put on the gloves. I took with me one of our kitchen knives and let myself out by the back door. It wasn’t a frosty night, but raw and cold and damp.

I went down the garden, up the lane and into the garden of Brenda’s cottage. I had to feel my way round the side of the house, for there was no light there at all. But the kitchen light was on and the back door unlocked. I tapped and let myself in without waiting to be asked. Brenda, in full evening rig, glittery sweater, gilt necklace, long skirt, was cooking her solitary supper. And then, for the first time ever, when it didn’t matter any more, when it was too late, I felt pity for her. There she was, a handsome, rich, gifted woman with the reputation of a seductress, but in reality as destitute of people who really cared for her as poor old Peggy Daley had been; there she was, dressed for a party, heating up tinned spaghetti in a cottage kitchen at the back of beyond.

She turned round, looking apprehensive, but only, I think, because she was always afraid when we were alone that I would try to make love to her.

“What are you doing out of bed?” she said, and then, “Why are you wearing those clothes?”

I didn’t answer her. I stabbed her in the chest again and again.

She made no sound but a little choking moan and she crumpled up on the floor. Although I had known how it would be, had hoped for it, the shock was so great and I had already been feeling so swimmy and strange, that all I wanted was to throw myself down too and close my eyes and sleep. That was impossible. I turned off the cooker. I checked that there was no blood on my trousers and my shoes, though of course there was plenty on the raincoat, and then I staggered out, switching off the light behind me.

I don’t know how I found my way back, it was so dark and by then I was lightheaded and my heart was drumming. I just had the presence of mind to strip off the raincoat and the gloves and push them into our garden incinerator. In the morning I would have to get up enough strength to burn them before Brenda’s body was found. The knife I washed and put back in the drawer.

Laura came back about five minutes after I had got myself to bed.

She had been gone less than half an hour. I turned over and managed to raise myself up to ask her why she was back so soon. It seemed to me that she had a strange distraught look about her.

“What’s the matter?” I mumbled. “Were you worried about me?”

“No,” she said, “no,” but she didn’t come up close to me or put her hand on my forehead. “It was — Isabel Goldsmith told me something — I was upset — I…It’s no use talking about it now, you’re too ill.” She said in a sharper tone than I had ever heard her use,

“Can I get you anything?”

“I just want to sleep,” I said.

“I shall sleep in the spare room. Good night.”

That was reasonable enough, but we had never slept apart before during the whole of our marriage, and she could hardly have been afraid of catching the flu, having only just got over it herself. But I was in no state to worry about that, and I fell into the troubled nightmare-ridden sleep of fever. I remember one of those dreams.

It was of Laura finding Brenda’s body herself, a not unlikely eventuality.

However, she didn’t find it. Brenda’s cleaner did. I knew what must have happened because I saw the police car arrive from my window.

An hour or so later Laura came in to tell me the news which she had got from Jack Williamson.

“It must have been the same man who killed Peggy,” she said.

I felt better already. Things were going well. “My poor darling,”

I said, “you must feel terrible, you were such close friends.”

She said nothing. She straightened my bedclothes and left the room. I knew I should have to get up and burn the contents of the incinerator, but I couldn’t get up. I put my feet out and reached for the floor, but it was as if the floor came up to meet me and threw me back again. I wasn’t over-worried. The police would think what Laura thought, what everyone must think.

That afternoon they came, a chief inspector and a sergeant. Laura brought them up to our bedroom and they talked to us together.

The chief inspector said he understood we were close friends of the dead woman, wanted to know when we had last seen her and what we had been doing on the previous evening. Then he asked if we had any idea at all as to who had killed her.

“That maniac who murdered the other woman, of course,” said Laura.

“I can see you don’t read the papers,” he said.

Usually we did. It was my habit to read a morning paper in the office and to bring an evening paper home with me. But I had been at home ill. It turned out that a man had been arrested on the previous morning for the murder of Peggy Daley. The shock made me flinch and I’m sure I turned pale. But the policemen didn’t seem to notice. They thanked us for our co-operation, apologized for disturbing a sick man, and left. When they had gone I asked Laura what Isabel had said to upset her the night before. She came up to me and put her arms round me.

“It doesn’t matter now,” she said. “Poor Brenda’s dead and it was a horrible way to die, but — well, I must be very wicked — but I’m not sorry. Don’t look at me like that, darling. I love you and I know you love me, and we must forget her and be as we used to be. You know what I mean.”

I didn’t, but I was glad whatever it was had blown over. I had enough on my plate without a coldness between me and my wife. Even though Laura was beside me that night, I hardly slept for worrying about the stuff in that incinerator. In the morning I put up the best show I could of being much better. I dressed and announced, in spite of Laura’s expostulations, that I was going into the garden. The police were there already, searching all our gardens, actually digging up Brenda’s.

They left me alone that day and the next, but they came in once and interviewed Laura on her own. I asked her what they had said, but she passed it off quite lightly. I supposed she didn’t think I was well enough to be told they had been enquiring about my movements and my attitude towards Brenda.

“Just a lot of routine questions, darling,” she said, but I was sure she was afraid for me, and a barrier of her fear for me and mine for myself came up between us. It seems incredible but that Sunday we hardly spoke to each other and when we did Brenda’s name wasn’t mentioned. In the evening we sat in silence my arm round Laura, her head on my shoulder, waiting, waiting…

The morning brought the police with a search warrant. They asked Laura to go into the living room and me to wait in the study. I knew then that it was only a matter of time. They would find the knife, and of course they would find Brenda’s blood on it. I had been feeling so ill when I cleaned it that now I could no longer remember whether I had scrubbed it or simply rinsed it under the tap.

After a long while the chief inspector came in alone.

“You told us you were a close friend of Miss Goring’s.”

“I was friendly with her,” I said, trying to keep my voice steady.

“She was my wife’s friend.”

He took no notice of this. “You didn’t tell us you were on intimate terms with her, that you were, in point of fact, having a sexual relationship with her.”

Nothing he could have said would have astounded me more.

“That’s absolute rubbish!”

“Is it? We have it on sound authority.”

“What authority?” I said. “Or is that the sort of thing you’re not allowed to say?”

“I see no harm in telling you,” he said easily. “Miss Goring herself informed two women friends of hers in London of the fact. She told one of your neighbors she met at a party in your house. You were seen to spend evenings alone with Miss Goring while your wife was ill, and we have a witness who saw you kissing her good night.”

Now I knew what it was that Isabel Goldsmith had told Laura which had so distressed her. The irony of it, the irony…Why hadn’t I, knowing Brenda’s reputation and knowing Brenda’s fantasies, suspected what construction would be put on my assumed friendship with her? Here was motive, the lack of which I had relied on as my last resort. Men do kill their mistresses, from jealousy, from frustration, from fear of discovery.

But surely I could turn Brenda’s fantasies to my own use?

“She had dozens of men friends, lovers, whatever you like to call them. Any of them could have killed her.”

“On the contrary,” said the chief inspector, “apart from her ex-husband who is in Australia, we have been able to discover no man in her life but yourself.”

I cried out desperately, “I didn’t kill her! I swear I didn’t.”

He looked surprised. “Oh, we know that.” For the first time he called me sir. “We know that, sir. No one is accusing you of anything.

We have Dr. Lawson’s word for it that you were physically incapable of leaving your bed that night, and the raincoat and gloves we found in your incinerator are not your property.”

Fumbling in the dark, swaying, the sleeves of the raincoat too short, the shoulders too tight…“Why are you wearing those clothes?”

she had asked before I stabbed her.

“I want you to try and keep calm, sir,” he said very gently. But I have never been calm since. I have confessed again and again, I have written statements, I have expostulated, raved, gone over with them every detail of what I did that night, I have wept.

Then I said nothing. I could only stare at him. “I came in here to you, sir,” he said, “simply to confirm a fact of which we were already certain, and to ask you if you would care to accompany your wife to the police station where she will be charged with the murder of Miss Brenda Goring.”

Sweet Baby Jenny

JOYCE HARRINGTON

Joyce Harrington, a former actress who follows theatrical tradition in keeping her exact age a secret, started strong as a writer of crime fiction. Her very first short story, “The Purple Shroud” (Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, September 1972), won the Edgar award. Edward D. Hoch, writing in St. James Guide to Crime & Mystery Writers (fourth edition, 1996) called the story “a quiet tale of a summer art instructor and the wife he has betrayed, building into a murder story of understated terror. Harrington’s second story, “The Plastic Jungle,” is even better — a macabre tale of a girl and her mother living in today’s plastic society.”

Born in Jersey City, New Jersey, Harrington was trained for theater at the Pasadena Playhouse. She told EQMM she had held many jobs for many employers “from a doorknob factory to the U.S.

Army Quartermaster Corps’; she later had a successful career in advertising and public relations.

Harrington has written three remarkably varied and well-received novels— No One Knows My Name (1980), a theatrical whodunnit; Family Reunion (1982), a variant on the modern gothic; and Dreemz of the Night (1987), with a rarely-exploited background of graffiti as art — but she remains best known as a short-story writer. Though her stories have not been collected to date, she is a master of the crime short who bears comparison with Roald Dahl and Stanley Ellin.

One of her attributes is the ability to write in a variety of styles, including the rural dialect narrative of “Sweet Baby Jenny.”

Inever had a mother, leastways not one that I can remember. I must have had one sometime, ’cause as far as I can tell I didn’t hatch out from no egg. And even chicks get to snuggle up under the hen for a little space before she kicks them out of the nest. But I didn’t have no hen to snuggle up to, or to peck me upside the head if I did something wrong.

Not that I would ever do anything wrong. Leastways not if I knowed it was wrong. There are lots of things that go on that are pure puzzlement to me, and I can’t tell the right from the wrong of it. For instance, I recollect when Ace — that’s my biggest big brother and the one who taken care of us all after Pop went away — I recollect when he used to work driving a beer truck round to all the stores in town and the root cellar used to be full of six-packs all the time.

I said to him one day, “Ace, how come if you got the cellar full of beer, I can’t have the cellar full of Coke-Cola? I don’t like beer.”

Guess I was about nine or ten years old at the time and never could get my fill of Coke-Cola.

Well, Ace, he just laughed and said, “Sweet Baby Jenny”—that’s what they all called me even after I was well growed up—“Sweet Baby Jenny, if I drove a Coke-Cola truck you could float away to heaven on an ocean of it. Now, just drink your beer and learn to like it.”

I wasn’t ever dumb, even though I didn’t do so good in school, so it didn’t take much figuring to catch onto the fact that Ace was delivering almost as much beer to the root cellar as he was to Big Jumbo’s Superette down on Main Street. So it didn’t seem fair when I got caught in the five-and-dime with a lipstick in my pocket for him to come barreling down and given me hellfire and damnation in front of that suet-faced manager. I just stood there looking at him with pig-stickers in my eyes until we got out to the truck and I said to him, “What’s the difference between one teensy-weensy lipstick and a cellar full of beer?”

He says to me, grinning, “Is that a riddle?”

And I says, “No, I would surely like to know.”

And he says, “The difference, Sweet Baby Jenny, is that you got caught.”

Now I ask you.

It was different, though, when he got caught. Then he cussed and swore and kicked the porch till it like to fallen off the house all the while the boys from the beer company was hauling that beer up from the root cellar and stowing it back on the truck. When they drove away, I says to him, sweet as molasses, “Ace, honey, why you carrying on so?”

And he says, “Dammit, Jenny, they taken away my beer. I don’t give a hoot about the job, it was a jackass job anyway, but I worked hard for that beer and they didn’t ought to taken it away.”

“But, Ace,” I says, hanging onto his hand and swinging it like a jumping rope, “ain’t it true you stolen that beer and you got caught and you had to give it back just like I did with that lipstick?”

Well, he flung me away from him till I fetched up against the old washing machine that was resting in the yard waiting for somebody to fix it, and he yelled, “I ain’t stolen anything and don’t you ever say I did! That beer was what they call a fringe benefit, only they didn’t know they was givin’ it. They don’t even pay me enough to keep you in pigtail ribbons and have beer money besides. I only taken what I deserve.”

Well, he was right on one score. I didn’t have anything you could rightfully call a hair ribbon, and I kept my braids tied up with the strings off of Deucy’s old Bull Durham pouches.

Deucy, you maybe guessed, is my second-biggest big brother and a shiftless lazy skunk even though some people think he’s handsome and should be a movie star. Ace’s name in the family Bible is Arthur, and Deucy is written down as Dennis. Then there’s Earl, Wesley, and Pembrook. And then there’s me, Jennet Maybelle. That’s the last name on the birth page. Over on the death side the last name written in is Flora Janine Taggert. It’s written in black spiky letters like the pen was stabbing at the page, and the date is just about a month or so after my name was written on the birth page. I know that’s my mother, although no one ever told me.

And no one ever told me how she died. As for Pop, there ain’t no page in the Bible for people who just up and go away.

Deucy plays guitar and sings and thinks he’s Conway Twitty.

Says he’s gonna go to Nashville and come back driving a leopardskin Cadillac. I’d surely like to see that, though I don’t guess I ever will.

That Deucy’s too lazy to get up off the porch swing to fetch himself a drink of water. It’s always, “Sweet Baby Jenny, get me this and get me that.” Only thing he’s not too lazy for is to boost himself up to the supper table.

That don’t keep the girls from flocking round, bringing him presents and smirking like the pig that et the baby’s diaper. They all hope and pray that they’re gonna be the one to go to Nashville with him and ride back in that Cadillac. And he don’t trouble to relieve their minds on the subject. You ought to hear that porch swing creak in the dark of night. They are just so dumb.

Now, Earl and Wesley, they try. They ain’t too good-looking, though they do have the Taggert black hair and the Taggert nose. I remember Pop saying he was part Cherokee and all his sons showed it. But while Ace and Deucy came out looking like Indian chiefs, Earl is crosseyed and Wesley broke his nose falling out of a buckeye tree and lost most of his hair to the scarlet fever. So they try. They are always going into business together.

Once they went into the egg business and we had the whole place full of chickens running around. They said they would sell their eggs cheaper than anyone around and make a fortune and we’d all go off to California and live in a big hotel with a swimming pool and waiters bringing hamburgers every time we snapped our fingers.

Well, people bought the eggs all right, but what Earl and Wesley kind of forgot about was that 200 chickens eat up a lot of chicken feed and they never could figure out how to get ahead of the bill at the feed store. I could have told them how to do it was raise the price of the eggs and make them out to be something special so everyone would feel they had to have Taggert’s Country-Fresh eggs no matter what they cost. But Earl and Wesley just shoved me aside and said, “Sweet Baby Jenny, you are just a girl and don’t understand bidness. Now go on out and feed them chickens and gather up them eggs and let’s have some of your good old peach cobbler for supper. Being in bidness sure does make a man hungry.”

Well, pretty soon the feed store cut off their credit and there wasn’t nothing left to feed the chickens, so we had to eat as many of them as we could before they all starved to death and that was the end of the egg business. Earl and Wesley, being both tenderhearted and brought down by gloom, couldn’t bring themselves to kill a single chicken. I like to wrung my arm off wringing those chicken necks.

I used to like fried chicken, but I don’t any more.

Pembrook, he’s the smart one. He don’t steal, sing, or go into business. He’s off at the state college studying how to be a lawyer.

He’s the only one used to talk to me and I miss him. I was always planning to ask him what happened to our mother, how she died, and why Pop ran off like he did. But I just never got up the nerve.

Pembrook writes me letters a couple times a month, telling what it’s like up there at the college. It sure sounds fine. He’s always going on at me how I should go back to school and finish up and come to the college and learn how to be somebody. Well, I’d kind of like that, but who’d look after the boys? Reason why I didn’t do so good in school was I never had no time for studying, what with looking after the boys like I was their mother instead of Sweet Baby Jenny like they call me. Only Pembrook never called me that.

Another thing I always meant to ask Pembrook and never did is how come I come out looking like a canary in a cuckoo-bird’s nest.

Pembrook looks more or less just like the other boys, though he keeps his black hair real clean and he wears big eyeglasses on top of his sharp Taggert nose. His eyes are dark brown like theirs, and he weathers up nice and tan in the summer sun. But in summer my freckles just get more so while the part in between the freckles gets red. And my hair, which is mud-yellow most of the time, gets brighter and brighter and kinks up in tight little curls unless I keep it braided up. And never mind my eyes. They’re not a bit like the boys’. Greeny-blue or bluey-green depending on the weather. As for my nose, it couldn’t be less Taggert if it was a pump handle.

Small and turned-up and ugly.

Could be I taken after my mother, though I don’t know that for a fact ’cause I never set eyes on her nor saw any picture of her.

Pembrook says I’m pretty but that’s just because he likes me.

Pembrook says I look a lot like Miss Claudia Carpenter who is regarded as the prettiest girl in two counties, but I never saw her to make the comparison. She’s the daughter of the town’s one and only bank president. She’s a year or so older than me, and she don’t stick around much. Got sent away to school and always taking trips here and there. Can’t be much fun, never being home in your own home place. Pembrook told me our mother used to help out at the Carpenter household, at parties and such or when their regular maid got sick. Maybe I could get such a job and put aside a little money, just in case I ever decide to do what Pembrook says.

One thing I do remember about Pop before he went away. He used to tell me stories. He used to sit himself down in his big maroon armchair and he would sit me down on his lap and he would say,

“Now, listen. This here’s a story about a bad little girl.” The stories were always different but they were all about a girl named Bad Penny. She was ugly and mean and spiteful and nobody liked her.

She was always making trouble and in the end she always got punished. Sometimes she got et up by the pigs and sometimes she got drowned in the creek. Once she got cut up in little bits by the disc harrow. And another time she fell into the granary and suffocated in the wheat. But she always came back, as mean and nasty as ever, and that’s why she was called Bad Penny.

After the story Pop would take me up to my room and put me to bed.

I liked the stories, even though they scared me some. I knew pigs didn’t eat little girls, but I was always pretty careful around the pigpen. We don’t keep pigs any more, but we had a few then and I used to carry the slops out to them.

Well, things got so bad after Ace robbed the gas station down at the crossroads and got recognized by Junior Mulligan who just happened to be having his pickup truck filled up with gas at the time and never did like Ace since the time they two went hunting together and Ace claimed it was his deer and knocked Junior into Dead Man’s Gully and broken his leg. So off Junior went to the police and they come and drug Ace out of the Red Rooster Cafe where he was treating everyone to beer and hard-boiled eggs.

It was sad and lonesome around the place without Ace to stir things up, and quiet with Deucy’s guitar in hock and him not able to sing a blessed note through mourning for it. Earl and Wesley tried selling insurance round about, but nobody we knew could buy any and the folks we didn’t know wouldn’t. So it was up to me.

I harked back to my idea of going as a maid like Pembrook had told me our mother had done. I didn’t mind working in someone else’s house, though Deucy said it was undignified and not befitting a Taggert. Far as I could see, Deucy thought any kind of work was undignified except maybe wearing out the porch swing. So one morning I washed my whole body including my hair, and cut my toenails so I could put shoes on, and got out one of our mother’s dresses from the wardrobe in the attic, and made ready to go see Mrs. Carpenter. The dress fit me right well, though it was a little long and looked a bit peculiar with my high-top lace-up sneakers but that was all I had, so it would have to do.

I walked into town, fanning the skirt of the dress around me and blowing down the front of it from time to time so the sweat would not make stains on the green-and-white polkadots. I got to the Carpenter house before the sun got halfway up the sky, about the time Deucy would be rolling out of bed and yelling his head off for coffee. This was one morning he’d just have to find his own breakfast. I stood for a while with my hand on the iron gate looking up at the house. It was a big one, shining white like a wedding cake, and there must have been about two dozen windows on the front of it alone. It set back from the street on what looked like an acre of the greenest grass I ever saw sloping up to a row of prickly bushes that trimmed the porch.

I’d seen it before, times Ace used to take me riding in the beer truck and tell me how all he needed was to rob the bank and then we’d be living in this part of town alongside the rich folks. But I never really took a good close look, ’cause I thought he was joking.

Now I looked until I got to shaking and wondering if I ought to march right up to the front door or sneak around to the back. I stood there so long I felt like my feet had taken root to the pavement, and if I could only get loose I’d run home and stay there forever.

But then I thought about how there was less than a half a pound of coffee left and just enough flour for one more batch of biscuits, and I pulled open that iron gate and set my face toward the big front door. It felt like an hour that I was walking up that path with my feet feeling like big old river rafts and my hair jumping out of the braids that I’d combed and plaited so neat. But I got up on the porch and put my finger on the door-bell and heard it ding-donging away inside. I waited. But the door stayed closed.

It was a pretty door, painted white like the rest of the house, and I studied every panel of it and the big brass doorknob and the letter box beside it while I waited. I wondered if I should ring the bell again. Maybe no one was home. Maybe I’d come all this way for nothing. They probably wouldn’t want me to be their maid even if they were home. The green-and-white dress was sagging down around my shinbones and my sneakers were covered with road dust. Maybe I’d just go home and wait until I got a better idea.

I turned away and started down the porch steps, and then I heard the door open behind me and a sharp voice like a blue-jay’s said,

“Yes?”

I looked back and saw a tall skinny woman staring at me with a frown betwixt her eyes that made me shiver in spite of the heat.

“Miz Carpenter?” I said.

“Yes, I’m Mrs. Carpenter,” she said. “Who are you? What do you want? I’m very busy.”

My throat got choked and I couldn’t swallow, so when I said, “I come to be your maid,” I thought maybe she couldn’t hear me, ’cause I couldn’t hear me myself.

“What?” she said. “Speak up. What’s this about a maid?”

“I come to be it,” I said. “If you’ll have me.”

“Well, sakes alive!” she said, showing all her yellow teeth. “If you aren’t the answer to a prayer! Where did you spring from, and who told you to come here? Well, never mind all that. Come in the house and let’s get started. You look strong. I just hope you’re willing.”

“Yes, ma’am,” I said, and quick as a wink she drug me through the house and into the kitchen and right up to the sink where there was more dishes than I’d ever seen in my life and all of them dirty.

“Just start right in,” she said. “The dishwasher’s right there. I’ll be back in a few minutes.”

Now I’d seen dishwashing machines in the Sears Roebuck wish book, but I’d never been right up close to one. I knew what it was supposed to do. I just wasn’t too sure what I was supposed to do.

And I didn’t trust anything very much except my own two hands.

So I started getting those dishes as clean as I could before I put them in the machine, just in case we had a misunderstanding. They were the prettiest dishes I ever did see, even when they was all crusted with dried-up gravy.

Mrs. Carpenter came back in a few minutes carrying a pair of black shoes and a white dress. She plopped herself down on a kitchen chair and smiled at me. “What’s your name, child?”

“Jennet Maybelle.”

She didn’t let me get the Taggert part in, but went right on talking.

“Well, I’ll call you Jenny. That Marcelline quit on me last night right in the middle of a dinner party, and I was just about to start calling around when you walked in the door. I’ll pay you five dollars a day plus meals and uniform, but you have to pay for anything you break, so be careful with those dishes. Each plate cost twenty dollars.”

I put down the plate I was holding and tried to think what it could be made of. It didn’t look to be solid gold. Our plates at home were old and cracked and been around as long as I could remember. I didn’t know what they cost. When one got broke we just threw it down in the creek bed behind the house along with all the other trash.

Mrs. Carpenter was still talking. “Now you can’t be wearing those sneakers around the house, so I brought you an old pair of Claudia’s shoes. Maybe they’ll fit. And this uniform might be a little big for you, you’re a skinny little thing, but we can cinch it in with a belt.”

I didn’t think much of her calling me skinny when she so closely resembled a beanpole herself. But I didn’t say anything. The shoes looked nice with just a little bit of a high heel and shiny black, and the uniform dress was starched and clean.

She stopped talking for a minute and started looking me over real close. Then, “Haven’t I seen you somewhere before? I could swear your face is familiar. Where do you come from?”

I pointed in the direction of home and said, “Out Clinch Valley Road.” I was going to tell her how my mother had once worked as a maid for her, but she didn’t give me a chance. She jumped up, left the shoes on the floor and the dress on the chair, and shook her head.

“I don’t know anyone out that way. You can change your clothes in the maid’s room back there.” She waved her hand at a door on the other side of the kitchen. “And when you finish the dishes you’ll find me upstairs. I’ll show you how to do the bedrooms.”

The day wore on. I didn’t break any dishes and figured out on my own which button to push to start the machine. It sure gave me a start when it began churning and spattering behind its closed door, and I prayed it wouldn’t go breaking any of those twenty-dollar plates and blaming it on me. Mrs. Carpenter showed me all over that house and told me what I was to do. At noon, she showed me what to make for lunch. We both ate the same thing, cold roast beef left over from the night before and some potato salad, but she ate hers in the dining room and I ate mine in the kitchen.

I drank two glasses of ice-cold milk and could have drunk some more, but I didn’t want to seem greedy. In the afternoon she set me to washing windows. It wasn’t hard work, I worked harder at home, and it was a treat to be looking out at the roses in the back and all that green grass in the front while I polished those windows till they looked like they weren’t there at all.

Along about four o’clock she hauled me back to the kitchen and told me what Mr. Carpenter wanted for his dinner. “He’s very partial to fried chicken, but nobody seems able to make it to his satisfaction.

I know I can’t. And he has the most outrageous sweet tooth. I don’t eat dessert myself, but he won’t leave the table without it.”

Well. I set to work cooking up my specialties. I’d had lots of experience with chicken, and my peach cobbler was just about perfect, if I say so myself. Mrs. Carpenter left the kitchen to take a nap after telling me that Mr. Carpenter expected to sit down to his meal at 6:30 sharp.

At 6:30 sharp I brought in a platter of fried chicken and Mr. Carpenter whipped his napkin into his lap and dug in. He didn’t even look at me, but I looked at him. He was a freckly sandy man with gold-rimmed glasses and a tight collar. He still had all his hair, but it was fading out to a kind of pinkish yellowish fuzz.

His eyes were blue, or maybe green, it was hard to tell behind his glasses, and his nose turned up at the end like a hoe blade.

I’d fixed up a mess of greens to go with the chicken and he dug into those, too, dribbling the pot liquor down his chin and swabbing it away with his fine napkin. Mrs. Carpenter pecked at her food and watched to see how he was liking his.

When I brought in the peach cobbler he leaned back in his chair and sighed. “That’s the best meal I’ve had in years, Marcelline.”

“This isn’t Marcelline,” said Mrs. Carpenter. “Marcelline quit last night. This is Jenny.”

He looked at me then. First through his glasses and then without his glasses. And then he polished his glasses on his napkin and put them back on and tried again. “Ah, ha!” he said. “Jenny. Well. Very nice.” And he got up from the table and left the room without even tasting my peach cobbler.

Mrs. Carpenter was after him like a shot. “Paul! Paul!” she hollered. “What about your dessert?”

It didn’t matter to me. Peach cobbler is best while it’s hot, but it’s just as good the next day. I carried it back out to the kitchen, finished cleaning up, and got back into my going-home clothes. I did hope that Mrs. Carpenter would pay me my five dollars so I would have something to show, to Deucy and Earl and Wesley, so I hung around for a bit.

But it wasn’t Mrs. Carpenter who came into the kitchen. It was him. He stood in the doorway, pulling at his ear and looking at me as if he wished me off the face of the earth. Then he sloped into the kitchen and came right up to me where I was standing with my back against the refrigerator and took my chin in his hand. He held my face up so I had to look at him unless I closed my eyes, which I did for half a minute, but I opened them again because I was beginning to get scared. Then he put his hand on my shoulder and took the collar of my dress between his fingers and felt of it softly. At last he spoke.

“You’re a Taggert, aren’t you, girl?”

“Yes, I am. I’m Jennet Maybelle Taggert.” I spoke up proudly because I’d learned in the little bit of time I’d spent in school that lots of folks thought Taggerts was trash and the only way to deal with that was not to be ashamed.

Then he said something I didn’t understand. “Am I never to be rid of Taggerts? Will Taggerts hound me to my grave?”

“You look pretty healthy to me,” I said, adding “sir” so he wouldn’t think I was being pert.

He didn’t say anything to that, but took his wallet out of his pocket and opened it up. I thought he was going to pay me my five dollars, so I got ready to say thank you and good night, but he pulled out a photograph and handed it to me.

“Who do you think that is?” he asked me.

Well, I looked but I didn’t know who it was. The photograph was in colour and it showed a girl about my age with yellow curling hair and a big smile. She was wearing a real pretty dress, all blue and ruffly, like she was going to a party or a dance. I handed the picture back to him.

“She’s real pretty, but I don’t know who she is.”

“She’s my daughter, Claudia.”

I didn’t know what else to say, so I said again, “She’s real pretty.”

“No, she’s not,” he said. “She’s a spoiled brat. She thinks she’s the most beautiful female creature that ever trod the earth. But she’s useless, vain, and unlovable. And it’s all my fault.”

I didn’t know why he was telling me all this, but it was making me fidgety and anyway I had to get home to get supper for the boys.

They’d be pretty upset that I was so late. “Well,” I said, “I guess I’ll be getting along.”

“Don’t go.” He grabbed my arm and hauled me over to where there was a mirror hanging on the wall and made me stand in front of it. “Look there,” he said. “Who do you see?”

“Well, that’s just me.” I tried to pull away from him, but he held on tight.

“That’s a pretty young woman,” he said. “That’s what a young woman is supposed to be, decent and clean and modest. I wish you were my daughter, Jenny Taggert, instead of that hellion who won’t stay home where she belongs and behaves so no man in his right mind would marry her. How would you like that? Would you like to live here and be my girl?”

Well, I felt my neck getting hot, ’cause Ace had told me that when a man starts paying compliments there’s only one thing he’s after, and I’d sure heard enough of Deucy speaking sugar words to his ladies on the porch swing.

“Excuse me, Mr. Carpenter,” I said, “but I got to be gettin’ home and would you please pay me my five dollars so I can carry home some supper to those boys?” I know that was bold, but he was making me nervous and it just came out that way.

He let go of me and pulled out his wallet again. “Is that what Clemmie’s paying you? Five dollars? Well, it’s not enough. Here and here and here.”

The bills came leaping out of his wallet and he stuffed them into my hands. When I looked, I saw I had three ten-dollar bills. Not only that, he started hauling out the leftover chicken that I had put away and shoving it into a paper sack.

“Take the peach cobbler, too,” he said, “and anything else you’d like. Take it all.”

“Now I can’t do that. What would Miz Carpenter say?”

“I’ll tell her I ate it for a midnight snack.” He laughed then, but it wasn’t a happy-sounding laugh. It sounded like something was breaking inside him.

“Thank you, sir,” I said, and skedaddled out the back door before he could think up some new craziness that would get me into trouble.

His voice came after me. “You’ll come back tomorrow, won’t you?”

“Sure thing,” I called back. But I wasn’t so sure I would.

All the way home I pondered on Mr. Carpenter and his strange ways. But I just plain couldn’t figure it out. All I could think was that having so much money had addled his mind and I thanked God that we was poor and couldn’t afford to be crazy.

I put it all out of my mind, though, when I reached the dirt road that led up to our place. The moon was just clearing the top of the big old lilac bush at the edge of the property, and its kindly light smoothened away some of the ugliness you could see in daylight.

The house looked welcoming with lights shining from its windows, and there in the dooryard was Pembrook’s dinky little car. I ran up the porch and busted into the house, shouting his name.

They was all gathered in the kitchen and I could see from their dark Taggert faces that I had interrupted an argument. But I didn’t care. I set the Carpenter food down on the table and said, “Here’s supper, boys. Dig in.” Deucy and Earl and Wesley did just that, not even bothering with plates but snatching up that chicken in their fingers.

Then I sat down and took off my left sneaker and pulled out the money. “There and there and there,” I said, as I counted the bills out on the table. Deucy’s eyes bugged out, and Earl and Wesley shouted, “Whoopee!” as best they could with their mouths full of drumstick meat.

Pembrook looked miserable.

“Where’d you get all that, Jenny?” he asked.

“I went as a maid,” I told him.

“Where did you go as a maid?”

“To Miz Carpenter.”

“And she gave you all that?”

I was about to lie and say she did, but I was never very good at lying. It makes my nose run. “No. He did.”

“You’re not to go there any more,” said Pembrook.

Well, I’d just about decided that for myself, but I wasn’t about to have Pembrook, much as I dearly love him, telling me what not to do. “I will if I want to,” I said. “And when did you get home, and how long you staying for?”

“Forever, if I have to, to keep you out of trouble.”

“That’s pretty nice trouble,” piped up Deucy. “Thirty dollars for a day’s work and all this food. You ought to have some, Pem.”

“Shut up, you idiot!”

I had never seen Pembrook so angry. Taggert blood boils easy, but until this minute Pembrook had always managed to keep his temper under control. He turned back to me, his eyes glittering and mean, like a chicken hawk about to pounce.

“You are not to go back to the Carpenter house, not ever again.

You are to put it right out of your mind. And tomorrow I am going to mail that money back. And that’s the end of it.”

I only said one thing. “Why?”

“Never mind why.”

Well, that did it. I had worked hard for that money. Whether it was five dollars or thirty dollars, it was mine. The first money I had ever earned. And Pembrook had no right to take it away from me.

I had done nothing wrong, as far as I could see, and it wasn’t fair for him to punish me. I reared back in my chair, looked him square in the eye, and opened my mouth.

“Pembrook Taggert, in case you hadn’t noticed, I am no longer Sweet Baby Jenny. I am a woman growed and able to make up my own mind about things. You can’t stand there and give me orders and tell me to never mind why. I took it from Pop and I took it from Ace and I been taking it from these three, while you’ve been off at your college learning your way out of this mess. I ain’t gonna take it no more.”

The hard bitterness faded from his eyes and he took my two hands in his.

“You’re right, Jenny,” he said. “There are things you ought to know. Come out to the porch swing and I’ll tell you.”

“Don’t make it a long story,” Deucy called after us. “Ardith Potter’s comin’ over tonight and we got things to discuss.”

But it was a long story that Pembrook told me. One that went back through the years to the time before I was born. All the boys knew it, but Pop had sworn them on the Bible never to tell me. It accounted for all the things I’d wondered about and never had the gumption to ask. If I had asked, they wouldn’t have told me, although Pembrook said he was mighty tempted from time to time because it was my life and I had a right to know.

He told me that Pop wasn’t my true father, that Mr. Carpenter was. He told me that about a month after I was born, our mother had told Pop the truth and packed her bag and said she was running off with Mr. Carpenter to have a better life than scratching around on a poor old dirt farm. He told me that Pop had choked the life out of her right there in the bedroom with me looking on with my blind baby eyes from the cradle beside the bed. And then Pop had gone to Mr. Carpenter and told him the whole thing and got him to hush it up because the scandal wouldn’t have done anybody any good.

They gave out that our mother had died of childbirth fever.

The tears were rolling down my face, but I managed to ask, “How could you keep on living here, after he did that?”

“Well,” said Pembrook, “Ace was the oldest and he wasn’t but twelve. We had nowhere else to go. And he was our father.”

“What happened then?” I asked. “Why did Pop run off?”

“He didn’t,” said Pembrook. “He lies buried under Mr. Carpenter’s rose garden.”

He went on to tell me how the years went by and Pop took up drinking and the farm went even further downhill until it was just a wasteland. Then one day Pop got it into his head that Mr. Carpenter ought to be paying money to take care of his child, meaning me. He went up to the Carpenter house, full of liquor and hate, and demanded a thousand dollars. Pembrook and Ace tagged along behind and listened outside the window of a room that was full of books and a big desk and a hunting rifle on the wall over the fireplace.

“I seen that room,” I told him. “Miz Carpenter calls it his study.”

Pembrook nodded. “That’s where Pop got it.”

He said how he and Ace heard them arguing in the room, and Mr. Carpenter shouted that it was blackmail and he wouldn’t stand for it, and then there was a lot of scuffling around, with Pop shouting that he would kill Mr. Carpenter for ruining his life. And finally there was a shot. Just the one shot, but it was enough.

They peeked over the window sill and saw Pop lying on the rug bleeding his life out, and Mr. Carpenter standing there like a statue with the rifle in his hands.

They were about to run away home, but Mr. Carpenter saw them and made them come into the house and help him carry Pop out to the rose garden. The three of them dug up the roses and put Pop in the ground and planted the roses back on top of him. Then Mr.

Carpenter told them to get on home and keep their mouths shut or he’d have the marshal come and chuck us all off the farm and into reform school.

And they did, until this minute.

“I guess,” said Pembrook, “I guess that’s why Ace is so wild, but that’s not the way to fix it up. That’s why I’m studying to be a lawyer.

One of these days I’ll know how to take care of Mr. Carpenter legally and make it stick. So that’s why I don’t want you going back there, Jenny. You’re likely to spoil my plan, and I it isn’t good for him to be reminded that you exist. I need to get him off guard when I’m ready.”

I wiped my eyes and blew my nose and said, “Thank you, Pembrook, for telling me. Now I understand.”

“And you won’t go back.”

“I’m going to bed.”

And I did. But I didn’t sleep. I lay there pondering over the things that Pembrook had told me, trying to find the right and the wrong of it. Our mother was maybe wrong for pleasuring herself with Mr.

Carpenter, but if she hadn’t I wouldn’t be here. Pop was wrong for taking life away from our mother, but she gave him cause in his eyes. Mr. Carpenter was wrong for shooting Pop, but the Taggert blood was up and Pop probably attacked him first. Hardest of all to think about was me being Mr. Carpenter’s daughter. If it was true and he knew it, how could he have let me live all these hard years as Sweet Baby Jenny Taggert while that other girl, that Claudia, had everything her heart desired and then some?

Just before dawn I decided what to do. The boys, even Pembrook, were all sound asleep. I got up quiet as a mouse and dressed in our mother’s green-and-white polkadot dress and my high-top sneakers and snuck out to the barn. The barn used to be a busy place, but it was still and empty that morning. No more cows to bellow for me to come and milk them, no horses to gaze sad-eyed after an apple or a carrot. Way in the back, behind the piles of rotten harness, in a dark corner draped over with cobwebs, I found what I was looking for.

It was a can of stuff that Pop used to put down to kill the rats that infested the barn and ate their way through the winter fodder. There wasn’t much left in the can, and what there was looked dry and caked. Maybe it was so old it wouldn’t even work any more. But I scooped some out with a teaspoon and put it into one of Deucy’s Bull Durham pouches and set off down the road.

I kept up a good pace because I wanted to get there before Mr.

Carpenter went off to the bank, and before the boys woke up and came after me in Pembrook’s car. The morning was fresh and cool, and I didn’t sweat one bit.

When I got to the Carpenter house, the milkman was just driving away. I went around to the back, picked up the two quarts of milk, and knocked at the back door. Mrs. Carpenter opened up. She looked sleepy-eyed but pleased to see me.

“Why, Jenny,” she said, “you’re here bright and early. Come in.

Come in.”

“Yes, ma’am,” I said. “I came to make breakfast.”

“Well, that’s wonderful. Mr. Carpenter is shaving. He’ll be down in a few minutes. He likes two four-minute eggs, I never can get them right, two slices of toast, and lots of strong black coffee. And now that you’re here, I think I’ll go back to bed and get a little more beauty sleep.” She giggled like a silly girl, waved at me, and pranced out.

I put the milk away and started in making the coffee. There was an electric coffee pot, but my coffee is good because I make it the old-fashioned way. I boiled up some water and when it was bubbling away, I threw in the ground coffee, lots of it, to make it nice and strong. Then I turned the fire down to keep it hot while it brewed, and I cracked an egg so I could have an eggshell to throw in to make it clear. And I emptied out the stuff that was in the tobacco pouch right into the pot.

When I heard his footsteps on the stairs I put on another pot to boil up water for his eggs. He came into the kitchen smiling and smelling sweet.

“Well, Jenny,” he said. “You came back. I’m glad, because you and I are going to get along just fine. You’ll be happy here. I’ll see to that.”

I got out a cup and saucer.

“I been hearing things, Mr. Carpenter,” I said. “Things I never dreamed of.”

He frowned. “What things have you been hearing, Jenny?”

I poured coffee into the cup.

“I hear that you’re my daddy.”

He sank down into a kitchen chair. “Yes,” he said, “that’s true enough.”

I put the cup and saucer on the counter to let it cool off a bit so it wouldn’t be too hot for him to take a nice big swallow.

“I hear that you shot our Pop and buried him in your rose garden.

They’re mighty pretty roses you got out there.”

He held his head in his two hands. “They swore never to tell you.

Those boys swore.”

“Pembrook told me because he’s afraid I’ll come to some harm in your house.” I set the cup and saucer on the table in front of him.

“Oh, Jenny, sweet baby Jenny, I would never harm you. If anything, I’d like to make up for all those years I tried to put you out of my mind. I’d like you to come and live here and be my daughter and let me give you all the things you should have had.”

“Don’t call me that. I’m not a baby any more.”

“No, you’re not. You’re a fine lovely woman, just like your mother was. God, how I loved that woman! She was the only wonderful thing that ever happened in my whole life. I wanted to take her away with me. We were all set to go. We could have gone to some other town or to a big city where no one knew us. We’d have taken you along. And we’d have been happy. Instead, she died.”

“Pop killed her. Because of you.”

“You know that, too.” He sighed. “Yes. He killed her and I killed him, and I’ve been living out my days in an agony of remorse.

There’s no one I can talk to. Clemmie doesn’t know any of this.

Sometimes I wish I were dead.”

“Drink your coffee.”

The water for his eggs was boiling. Gently I rolled the two eggs into the pot and stuck two slices of bread into the toaster. He left the table and came to where I was working.

“Jenny.” He put his hands on my shoulders and turned me around to face him. “What can I do to make it up to you? I’ll do anything in my power, and believe me that’s a lot. You name it. It’s yours.”

I thought a minute. Would it be right or wrong to take from this man? I was having my usual trouble figuring out the difference between the two. Would it be right or wrong to let him drink the coffee?

Then I said, “Could you put Pembrook through law school?”

“Consider it done.”

“And Earl and Wesley, can you find jobs for them? They’re good workers, only down on their luck.”

“Tell them to come to the bank.”

“And what about Deucy? Would you get him a new guitar and a ticket to Nashville? He sings real fine.”

“Not only that. I know Johnny Cash personally. We’ll work something out.”

“Now this one’s hard. Can you get Ace out of jail and set him on a straight path?”

“The warden is Clemmie’s cousin. And I own a ranch in Wyoming. He can go there and work off his wildness. But what about you, Jenny. What can I do for you?”

I shrugged. “Oh, I guess I’ll just live here for a while. I can help Mrs. Carpenter and sort of keep an eye on things.”

He hugged me and planted a big kiss on my cheek. “That’s my girl,” he said. “That’s what I was hoping you’d say. You’ll never regret it. Mmm, that coffee smells good.”

He was heading back to the table and his coffee cup. But I got there first and swiped it out from under his nose.

“That’s coffee’s cold,” I said. “Come to think of it, the whole batch is bitter. I tasted it before you came down. I’ll make some fresh.”

I poured all the coffee down the drain and dished him up his eggs and toast. We drank the fresh coffee together, and he went off to his bank.

And that’s the way it is now. Pembrook’s way is better, and he’s studying real hard. He’ll graduate sooner now that he doesn’t have to work his way through. Earl and Wesley really like being bank tellers, and Deucy has his leopardskin Cadillac and all the girls he can handle, although he says he misses the porch swing. Ace sent a photograph of himself on a horse wearing a big old cowboy hat. He looks funny but he says he’s doing fine.

And me? Every day while the roses are blooming I cut some and put them in the house. Mrs. Carpenter just loves them. I’m waiting.

Someday us Taggerts are gonna dig up that rose garden.

Wild Mustard

MARCIA MULLER

Marcia Muller (b. 1944) is one of the most celebrated and versatile writers of crime fiction to debut in the last quarter of the twentieth century. Born in Detroit and educated at the University of Michigan, she lives in Northern California, the setting for most of her fiction.

Though it caused barely a ripple at the time of its publication, Muller’s Edwin of the Iron Shoes (1977) is now accorded primacy in one of the major trends of recent decades: the female private-eye novel. All previous efforts in this line demand an asterisk: characters like Carter Brown’s Mavis Seidlitz, Henry Kane’s Maria Trent, and G. G. Fickling’s Honey West were male wish-fulfillment fantasies not to be taken seriously; Fran Huston’s Nicole Sweet in The Rich Get It All (1973) was an attempt at a more realistic character but was actually the work of a man (Ron S. Miller) using an androgynous pseudonym; and the first of the wave of female-by-female private eyes, Maxine O’Callaghan’s Delilah West, appeared in print in a 1974 short story but not in a novel until 1980.

Sharon McCone did not return for a second case until Ask the Cards a Question (1982), the same year her two most famous female p.i. colleagues, Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Millhone and Sara Paretsky’s V.I.

Warshawski, made their debuts, but has averaged about a book a year since. McCone differs from most earlier private eyes in other ways than gender: she is not the traditional loner but part of an or-ganization, the All Souls Legal Cooperative, and her professional and personal relationships with her colleagues are important to her.

This leads to Muller’s other and more subtle distinction: she was one of the pioneers of the now-general practice of equipping the series sleuth with a large supporting cast of friends, family, and co-workers that recur from book to book. Unfortunately, few of the writers who have adopted this practice are able to do it as well as Muller does.

In 1992 she married novelist Bill Pronzini, with whom she has collaborated on three novels, beginning with Double (1984), in which McCone shares an investigation with Pronzini’s Nameless Detective; a short-story collection, many anthologies, and the valuable reference volume 1001 Midnights: The Aficionado’s Guide to Mystery and Detective Fiction (1986). Muller has also written series about two amateur detectives, museum curator Elena Oliverez, who appeared in The Tree of Death (1983) and two subsequent novels, and art security consult-ant Joanna Stark, the first of whose three appearances was The Cavalier in White (1986).

Among Muller’s honors is a 1993 Lifetime Achievement Award from the Private Eye Writers of America. Appropriately, “Wild Mustard,” one of the earliest Sharon McCone short stories, comes from the PWA’s first anthology, The Eyes Have It (1984).

The first time I saw the old Japanese woman, I was having brunch at the restaurant above the ruins of San Francisco’s Sutro Baths. The woman squatted on the slope, halfway between its cypress-covered top and the flooded ruins of the old bathhouse. She was uprooting vegetation and stuffing it into a green plastic sack.

“I wonder what she’s picking,” I said to my friend Greg.

He glanced out the window, raising one dark-blond eyebrow, his homicide cop’s eye assessing the scene. “Probably something edible that grows wild. She looks poor; it’s a good way to save grocery money.”

Indeed the woman did look like the indigent old ladies one sometimes saw in Japantown; she wore a shapeless jacket and trousers, and her feet were clad in sneakers. A gray scarf wound around her head.

“Have you ever been down there?” I asked Greg, motioning at the ruins. The once-elegant baths had been destroyed by fire. All that remained now were crumbling foundations, half submerged in water. Seagulls swam on its glossy surface and, beyond, the surf tossed against the rocks.

“No. You?”

“No. I’ve always meant to, but the path is steep and I never have the right shoes when I come here.”

Greg smiled teasingly. “Sharon, you’d let your private eye’s instinct be suppressed for lack of hiking boots?”

I shrugged. “Maybe I’m not really that interested.”

“Maybe not.”

Greg often teased me about my sleuthing instinct, but in reality I suspected he was proud of my profession. An investigator for All Souls Cooperative, the legal services plan, I had dealt with a full range of cases — from murder to the mystery of a redwood hot tub that didn’t hold water. A couple of the murders I’d solved had been in Greg’s bailiwick, and this had given rise to both rivalry and romance.

In the months that passed, my interest in the old Japanese woman was piqued. Every Sunday that we went there — and we went there often because the restaurant was a favorite — the woman was scouring the slope, foraging for…what?

One Sunday in early spring, Greg and I sat in our window booth, watching the woman climb slowly down the dirt path. To comple-ment the season, she had changed her gray headscarf for bright yellow. The slope swarmed with people, enjoying the release from the winter rains. On the far barren side where no vegetation had taken hold, an abandoned truck leaned at a precarious angle at the bottom of the cliff near the baths. People scrambled down, inspected the old truck, then went to walk on the concrete foundations or disappeared into a nearby cave.

When the waitress brought our check, I said, “I’ve watched long enough; let’s go down there and explore.”

Greg grinned, reaching in his pocket for change. “But you don’t have the right shoes.”

“Face it, I’ll never have the right shoes. Let’s go. We can ask the old woman what she’s picking.”

He stood up. “I’m glad you finally decided to investigate her. She might be up to something sinister.”

“Don’t be silly.”

He ignored me. “Yeah, the private eye side of you has finally won out. Or is it your Indian blood? Tracking instinct, papoose?”

I glared at him, deciding that for that comment he deserved to pay the check. My one-eighth Shoshone ancestry — which for some reason had emerged to make me a black-haired throw-back in a family of Scotch-Irish towheads — had prompted Greg’s dubbing me “papoose.” It was a nickname I did not favor.

We left the restaurant and passed through the chain link fence to the path. A strong wind whipped my long hair about my head, and I stopped to tie it back. The path wound in switch-backs past huge gnarled geranium plants and through a thicket. On the other side of it, the woman squatted, pulling up what looked like weeds. When I approached she smiled at me, a gold tooth flashing.

“Hello,” I said. “We’ve been watching you and wondered what you were picking.”

“Many good things grow here. This month it is the wild mustard.”

She held up a spring. I took it, sniffing its pungency.

“You should try it,” she added. “It is good for you.”

“Maybe I will.” I slipped the yellow flower through my button-hole and turned to Greg.

“Fat chance,” he said. “When do you ever eat anything healthy?”

“Only when you force me.”

“I have to. Otherwise it would be Hershey bars day in and day out.”

“So what? I’m not in bad shape.” It was true; even on this steep slope I wasn’t winded.

Greg smiled, his eyes moving appreciatively over me. “No, you’re not.”

We continued down toward the ruins, past a sign that advised us:

CAUTION!

CLIFF AND SURE AREA

EXTREMELY DANGEROUS

PEOPLE HAVE BEEN SWEPT

FROM THE ROCKS AND DROWNED

I stopped, balancing with my hand on Greg’s arm, and removed my shoes. “Better footsore than swept away.”

We approached the abandoned truck, following the same impulse that had drawn other climbers. Its blue paint was rusted and there had been a fire in the engine compartment. Everything, including the seats and steering wheel, had been stripped.

“Somebody even tried to take the front axle,” a voice beside me said, “but the fire had fused the bolts.”

I turned to face a friendly looking, sunbrowned youth of about fifteen. He wore dirty jeans and a torn T-shirt.

“Yeah,” another voice added. This boy was about the same age; a wispy attempt at a moustache sprouted on his upper lip. “There’s hardly anything left, and it’s only been here a few weeks.”

“Vandalism,” Greg said.

“That’s it.” The first boy nodded. “People hang around here and drink. Late at night they get bored.” He motioned at a group of un-savory-looking men who were sitting on the edge of the baths with a couple of six-packs.

“Destruction’s a very popular sport these days.” Greg watched the men for a moment with a professional eye, then touched my elbow. We skirted the ruins and went toward the cave. I stopped at its entrance and listened to the roar of the surf.

“Come on,” Greg said.

I followed him inside, feet sinking into coarse sand that quickly became packed mud. The cave was really a tunnel, about eight feet high. Through crevices in the wall on the ocean side I saw spray flung high from the rolling waves at the foot of the cliff. It would be fatal to be swept down through those jagged rocks.

Greg reached the other end. I hurried as fast as my bare feet would permit and stood next to him. The precipitous drop to the sea made me clutch at his arm. Above us, rocks towered.

“I guess if you were a good climber you could go up, and then back to the road,” I said.

“Maybe, but I wouldn’t chance it. Like the sign says…”

“Right.” I turned, suddenly apprehensive. At the mouth of the tunnel, two of the disreputable men stood, beer cans in hand. “Let’s go, Greg.”

If he noticed the edge to my voice, he didn’t comment. We walked in silence through the tunnel. The men vanished. When we emerged into the sunlight, they were back with the others, opening fresh beers. The boys we had spoken with earlier were perched on the abandoned truck, and they waved at us as we started up the path.

And so, through the spring, we continued to go to our favorite restaurant on Sundays, always waiting for a window booth. The old Japanese woman exchanged her yellow headscarf for a red one. The abandoned truck remained nose down toward the baths, provoking much criticism of the Park Service. People walked their dogs on the slope. Children balanced precariously on the ruins, in spite of the warning sign. The men lolled about and drank beer. The teenaged boys came every week and often were joined by friends at the truck.

Then, one Sunday, the old woman failed to show.

“Where is she?” I asked Greg, glancing at my watch for the third time.

“Maybe she’s picked everything there is to pick down there.”

“Nonsense. There’s always something to pick. We’ve watched her for almost a year. That old couple is down there walking their German Shepherd. The teenagers are here. That young couple we talked to last week is over by the tunnel. Where’s the old Japanese woman?”

“She could be sick. There’s a lot of flu going around. Hell, she might have died. She wasn’t all that young.”

The words made me lose my appetite for my chocolate cream pie.

“Maybe we should check on her.”

Greg sighed. “Sharon, save your sleuthing for paying clients. Don’t make everything into a mystery.”

Greg had often accused me of allowing what he referred to as my

“woman’s intuition” to rule my logic — something I hated even more than references to my “tracking instinct.” I knew it was no such thing; I merely gave free rein to the hunches that every good investigator follows. It was not a subject I cared to argue at the moment, however, so I let it drop.

But the next morning — Monday — I sat in the converted closet that served as my office at All Souls, still puzzling over the woman’s absence. A file on a particularly boring tenants’ dispute lay open on the desk in front of me. Finally I shut it and clattered down the hall of the big brown Victorian toward the front door.

“I’ll be back in a couple of hours,” I told Ted, the secretary.

He nodded, his fingers never pausing as he plied his new Selectric.

I gave the typewriter a resentful glance. It, to my mind, was an extravagance, and the money it was costing could have been better spent on salaries. All Souls, which charged clients on a sliding-fee scale according to their incomes, paid so low that several of the attorneys were compensated by living in free rooms on the second floor. I lived in a studio apartment in the Mission District. It seemed to get smaller every day.

Grumbling to myself, I went out to my car and headed for the restaurant above the Sutro Baths.

“The old woman who gathers wild mustard on the cliff,” I said to the cashier, “was she here yesterday?”

He paused. “I think so. Yesterday was Sunday. She’s always here on Sunday. I noticed her about eight, when we opened up. She always comes early and stays until about two.”

But she had been gone at eleven. “Do you know her? Do you know where she lives?”

He looked curiously at me. “No, I don’t.”

I thanked him and went out. Feeling foolish, I stood beside the Great Highway for a moment, then started down the dirt path, toward where the wild mustard grew. Halfway there I met the two teenagers. Why weren’t they in school? Dropouts, I guessed.

They started by, avoiding my eyes like kids will do. I stopped them. “Hey, you were here yesterday, right?”

The mustached one nodded.

“Did you see the old Japanese woman who picks the weeds?”

He frowned. “Don’t remember her.”

“When did you get here?”

“Oh, late! Really late. There was this party Saturday night.”

“I don’t remember seeing her either,” the other one said, “but maybe she’d already gone by the time we got here.”

I thanked them and headed down toward the ruins.

A little farther on, in the dense thicket through which the path wound, something caught my eye and I came to an abrupt stop. A neat pile of green plastic bags lay there, and on top of them was a pair of scuffed black shoes. Obviously she had come here on the bus, wearing her street shoes, and had only switched to sneakers for her work. Why would she leave without changing her shoes?

I hurried through the thicket toward the patch of wild mustard.

There, deep in the weeds, its color blending with their foliage, was another bag. I opened it. It was a quarter full of wilting mustard greens. She hadn’t had much time to forage, not much time at all.

Seriously worried now, I rushed up to the Great Highway. From the phone booth inside the restaurant, I dialled Greg’s direct line at the SFPD. Busy. I retrieved my dime and called All Souls.

“Any calls?”

Ted’s typewriter rattled in the background. “No, but Hank wants to talk to you.”

Hank Zahn, my boss. With a sinking heart, I remembered the conference we had had scheduled for half an hour ago. He came on the line.

“Where the hell are you?”

“Uh, in a phone booth.”

“What I mean is, why aren’t you here?”

“I can explain—”

“I should have known.”

“What?”

“Greg warned me you’d be off investigating something.”

“Greg? When did you talk to him?”

“Fifteen minutes ago. He wants you to call. It’s important.”

“Thanks!”

“Wait a minute—”

I hung up and dialed Greg again. He answered, sounding rushed.

Without preamble, I explained what I’d found in the wild mustard patch.

“That’s why I called you.” His voice was unusually gentle. “We got word this morning.”

“What word?” My stomach knotted.

“An identification on a body that washed up near Devil’s Slide yesterday evening. Apparently she went in at low tide, or she would have been swept much farther to sea.”

I was silent.

“Sharon?”

“Yes, I’m here.”

“You know how it is out there. The signs warn against climbing.

The current is bad.”

But I’d never, in almost a year, seen the old Japanese woman near the sea. She was always up on the slope, where her weeds grew.

“When was low tide, Greg?”

“Yesterday? Around eight in the morning.”

Around the time the restaurant cashier had noticed her, and several hours before the teenagers had arrived. And in between? What had happened out there?

I hung up and stood at the top of the slope, pondering. What should I look for? What could I possibly find?

I didn’t know, but I felt certain the old woman had not gone into the sea by accident. She had scaled those cliffs with the best of them.

I started down, noting the shoes and the bags in the thicket, marching resolutely past the wild mustard toward the abandoned truck. I walked all around it, examining its exterior and interior, but it gave me no clues. Then I started toward the tunnel in the cliff.

The area, so crowded on Sundays, was sparsely populated now.

San Franciscans were going about their usual business, and visitors from the tour buses parked at nearby Cliff House were leery of climbing down here. The teenagers were the only other people in sight. They stood by the mouth of the tunnel, watching me.

Something in their postures told me they were afraid. I quickened my steps.

The boys inclined their heads toward one another. Then they whirled and ran into the mouth of the tunnel.

I went after them. Again, I had the wrong shoes. I kicked them off and ran through the coarse sand. The boys were halfway down the tunnel.

One of them paused, frantically surveying a rift in the wall. I prayed he wouldn’t go that way, into the boiling waves below.

He turned and ran after his companion. They disappeared at the end of the tunnel.

I hit the hard-packed dirt and increased my pace. Near the end, I slowed and approached more cautiously. At first I thought the boys had vanished, but then I looked down. They crouched on a ledge below. Their faces were scared and young, so young.

I stopped where they could see me and made a calming motion.

“Come on back up,” I said. “I won’t hurt you.”

The mustached one shook his head.

“Look, there’s no place you can go. You can’t swim in that surf.”

Simultaneously they glanced down. They looked back at me and both shook their heads.

I took a step forward. “Whatever happened, it couldn’t have—”

Suddenly I felt the ground crumble. My foot slipped and I pitched forward. I fell to one knee, my arms frantically searching for a support.

“Oh, God!” the mustached boy cried. “Not you, too!” He stood up, swaying, his arms outstretched.

I kept sliding. The boy reached up and caught me by the arm. He staggered back toward the edge and we both fell to the hard rocky ground. For a moment, we both lay there panting. When I finally sat up, I saw we were inches from the sheer drop to the surf.

The boy sat up, too, his scared eyes on me. His companion was flattened against the cliff wall.

“It’s okay,” I said shakily.

“I thought you’d fall just like the old woman,” the boy beside me said.

“It was an accident, wasn’t it?”

He nodded. “We didn’t mean for her to fall.”

“Were you teasing her?”

“Yeah. We always did, for fun. But this time we went too far. We took her purse. She chased us.”

“Through the tunnel, to here.”

“Yes.”

“And then she slipped.”

The other boy moved away from the wall. “Honest, we didn’t mean for it to happen. It was just that she was so old. She slipped.”

“We watched her fall,” his companion said. “We couldn’t do anything.”

“What did you do with the purse?”

“Threw it in after her. There were only two dollars in it. Two lousy dollars.” His voice held a note of wonder. “Can you imagine, chasing us all the way down here for two bucks?”

I stood up carefully, grasping the rock for support. “Okay,” I said.

“Let’s get out of here.”

They looked at each other and then down at the surf.

“Come on. We’ll talk some more. I know you didn’t mean for her to die. And you saved my life.”

They scrambled up, keeping their distance from me. Their faces were pale under their tans, their eyes afraid. They were so young.

To them, products of the credit-card age, fighting to the death for two dollars was inconceivable. And the Japanese woman had been so old. For her, eking out a living with the wild mustard, two dollars had probably meant the difference between life and death.

I wondered if they’d ever understand.

Jemima Shore at the Sunny Grave

ANTONIA FRASER

Lady Antonia Fraser (b. 1932), the London-born daughter of Lord Longford, earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in history at Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford, and served as editor of the publisher Weidenfeld and Nicolson’s Kings and Queens of England series before her marriage to Hugh Fraser in 1956. Her first books were children’s accounts of King Arthur and Robin Hood, followed by Dolls (1963) and A History of Toys (1966). Beginning with the hugely successful Mary Queen of Scots (1969), she became a best-selling author of popular British history and biography. Books on Cromwell, James I, Charles II, and the wives of Henry VIII followed. Her broad literary background also includes a translation from the French of Christian Dior’s autobiography, radio and television plays, and the editorship of a number of poetry anthologies. Her first marriage having been dissolved in 1977, she married the playwright Harold Pinter in 1980.

She turned to crime fiction with Quiet As a Nun (1977), the first novel about Jemima Shore, one of the first and most successful sleuths to come from the world of broadcast journalism. In the final revised edition of his crime-fiction history Bloody Murder (1992), Julian Symons wrote that Fraser “might reasonably be called a feminist crime writer, but she could also be called a cosy one. Her writing has an evident pleasure in what she is doing that is engaging but her individual distinction is in the construction of particularly clever plots, of which Cool Repentance (1982) seems to me the most brilliant.”

Detection with a touch of romance in an exotic background show the author and character at their best in “Jemima Shore at the Sunny Grave.”

This is your graveyard in the sun—” The tall young man standing in her path was singing the words lightly but clearly.

It took Jemima Shore a moment to realize exactly what message he was intoning to the tune of the famous calypso. Then she stepped back. It was a sinister and not particularly welcoming little parody.

“This is my island in the sun

Where my people have toiled since time begun—”

Ever since she had arrived in the Caribbean, she seemed to have had the tune echoing in her ears. How old was it? How many years was it since the inimitable Harry Belafonte had first implanted it in everybody’s consciousness? No matter. Whatever its age, the calypso was still being sung today with charm, vigour, and a certain relentlessness on Bow Island, and on the other West Indian islands she had visited in the course of her journey.

It was not the only tune to be heard, of course. The loud noise of music, she had discovered, was an inseparable part of Caribbean life, starting with the airport. The heavy, irresistible beat of the steel band, the honeyed wail of the singers, all this was happening somewhere if not everywhere all over the islands late into the night: the joyous sound of freedom, of dancing, of drinking (rum punch), and, for the tourists at any rate, the sound of holiday.

It wasn’t the sound of holiday for Jemima Shore, Investigator. Or not officially so. That was all to the good, Jemima being one of those people temperamentally whose best holidays combined some work with a good deal of pleasure. She could hardly believe it when Megalith Television, her employers, had agreed to a program which took her away from freezing Britain to the sunny Caribbean in late January. This was a reversal of normal practice, by which Cy Fredericks, Jemima’s boss — and the effective boss of Megalith — was generally to be found relaxing in the Caribbean in February while Jemima herself, if she got there at all, was liable to be dispatched there in the inconvenient humidity of August. And it was a fascinat-ing project to boot. This was definitely her lucky year.

“This is my island in the sun—” But what the young man facing her had actually sung was “your graveyard in the sun.” Hers? Or whose? Since the man was standing between Jemima and the historic grave she had come to visit, it was possible that he was being pro-prietorial as well as aggressive. On second thought, surely not. It was a joke, a cheerful joke on a cheerful, very sunny day. But the young man’s expression was, it seemed to her, more threatening than that.

Jemima gazed back with that special sweet smile so familiar to viewers of British television. (These same viewers were also aware from past experience that Jemima, sweet as her smile might be, stood no nonsense from anyone, at least not on her program.) On closer inspection, the man was not really as young as all that. She saw someone of perhaps roughly her own age — early thirties. He was white, although so deeply tanned that she guessed he wasn’t a tourist but one of the small loyal European population of Bow Island, a place fiercely proud of its recent independence from a much larger neighbor.

The stranger’s height, unlike his youth, was not an illusion. He towered over Jemima and she herself was not short. He was also handsome, or would have been except for an oddly formed, rather large nose with a high bridge to it and a pronounced aquiline curve.

But if the nose marred the regularity of his features, the impression left was not unattractive. He was wearing whitish cotton shorts, like more or less every male on Bow Island, black or white. His orange T-shirt bore the familiar island logo or crest: the outline of a bow in black and a black hand drawing it back. Beneath the logo was printed one of the enormous variety of local slogans — cheerful again — designed to make a play upon the island’s name. This one read: THIS IS THE END OF THE SUN-BOW!

No, in that friendly T-shirt, he was surely not intending to be aggressive.

In that case, the odd thing about the whole encounter was that the stranger still stood absolutely still in Jemima’s path. She could glimpse the large stone Archer Tomb just behind him, which she recognized from the postcards. For a smallish place, Bow Island was remarkably rich in historic relics. Nelson in his time had visited it with his fleet, for like its neighbors Bow Island had found itself en-gulfed in the Napoleonic Wars. Two hundred or so years before that, first British, then French, then British again had invaded and settled the island which had once belonged to Caribs, and before that Arawaks. Finally, into this melting pot, Africans had been brought forcibly to work the sugar plantations on which its wealth depended. All these elements in various degrees had gone to make up the people now known casually among themselves as the Bo’landers.

The Archer Tomb, the existence of which had in a sense brought Jemima across the Atlantic, belonged to the period of the second — and final — British settlement. Here was buried the most celebrated Governor in Bow Island’s history, Sir Valentine Archer.

Even its name commemorated his long reign. Bow Island had originally been called by the name of a saint, and while it was true the island was vaguely formed in the shape of a bow it was Governor Archer who had made the change: to signify ritu-ally that this particular archer was in command of this particular bow.

Jemima knew that the monument, splendidly carved, would show Sir Valentine Archer with Isabella, his wife, beside him. This double stone bier was capped with a white wood structure reminiscent of a small church, done either to give the whole monument additional importance — although it must always have dominated the small churchyard by its sheer size — or to protect it from the weather. Jemima had read that there were no Archer children inscribed on the tomb, contrary to the usual seventeenth-century practice. This was because, as a local historian delicately put it, Governor Archer had been as a parent to the entire island. Or in the words of another purely local calypso:

“Across the sea came old Sir Valentine—

He came to be your daddy, and he came to be mine.”

In short, no one monument could comprise the progeny of a man popularly supposed to have sired over a hundred children, legitimate and illegitimate. The legitimate line was, however, now on the point of dying out. It was to see Miss Isabella Archer, officially at least the last of her race, that Jemima had come to the Caribbean. She hoped to make a program about the old lady and her home, Archer Plantation House, alleged to be untouched in its decoration these fifty years. She wanted also to interview her generally about the changes Miss Archer had seen in her lifetime in this part of the world.

“Greg Harrison,” said the man standing in Jemima’s path suddenly. “And this is my sister, Coralie.” A girl who had been standing unnoticed by Jemima in the shade of the arched church porch stepped rather shyly forward. She, too, was extremely brown and her blond hair, whitened almost to flax by the sun, was pulled back into a ponytail. His sister. Was there a resemblance? Coralie Harrison was wearing a similar orange T-shirt, but otherwise she was not much like her brother. She was quite short, for one thing, and her features were appealing rather than beautiful — and, perhaps fortunately, she lacked her brother’s commanding nose.

“Welcome to Bow Island, Miss Shore,” she began. But her brother interrupted her. He put out a hand, large, muscular, and burnt to nut color by the sun.

“I know why you’re here and I don t like it,” said Greg Harrison.

“Stirring up forgotten things. Why don’t you leave Miss Izzy to die in peace?” The contrast between his apparently friendly handshake and the hostile, if calmly spoken words was disconcerting.

“I’m jemima Shore,” she said, though he obviously knew that.

“Am I going to be allowed to inspect the Archer Tomb? Or is it to be across your dead body?” Jemima smiled again with sweetness.

My dead body!” Greg Harrison smiled back in his turn. The effect, however, was not particularly warming. “Have you come armed to the teeth, then?” Before she could answer, he began to hum the famous calypso again, jemima imagined the words: “This is your graveyard in the sun.” Then he added: “Might not be such a bad idea, that, when you start to dig up things that should be buried.”

Jemima decided it was time for action. Neatly sidestepping Greg Harrison, she marched firmly toward the Archer Tomb. There lay the carved couple. She read: “Sacred to the memory of Sir Valentine Archer, first Governor of this island, and his only wife, Isabella, daughter of Randal Oxford, gentleman.” She was reminded briefly of her favorite Philip Larkin poem about the Arundel Monument, beginning, “The Earl and Countess lie in stone—” and ending, “All that remains of us is love.”

But that couple lay a thousand miles away in the cloistered cool of Chichester Cathedral. Here the hot tropical sun burnt down on her naked head. She found she had taken off her large straw hat as a token of respect and quickly clapped it back on again. Here, too, in contrast to the very English-looking stone church with pointed Gothic windows beyond, there were palm trees among the graves instead of yews, their slender trunks bending like giraffes’ necks in the breeze. She had once romantically laid white roses on the Arundel Monument. It was as the memory of the gesture returned to her that she spied the heap of bright pink and orange hibiscus blos-soms lying on the stone before her. A shadow fell across it.

“Tina puts them there.” Greg Harrison had followed her. “Every day she can manage it. Most days. Then she tells Miss Izzy what she’s done. Touching, isn’t it?” But he did not make it sound as if he found it especially touching. In fact, there was so much bitterness, even malevolence, in his voice that for a moment, standing as she was in the sunny graveyard, Jemima felt quite chilled. “Or is it revolting?” he added, the malevolence now quite naked.

“Greg,” murmured Coralie Harrison faintly, as if in protest.

“Tina?” Jemima said. “That’s Miss Archer’s — Miss Izzy’s — companion. We’ve corresponded. For the moment I can’t remember her other name.”

“She’s known as Tina Archer these days, I think you’ll find. When she wrote to you, she probably signed the letter Tina Harrison.”

Harrison looked at Jemima sardonically but she had genuinely forgotten the surname of the companion — it was, after all, not a particularly uncommon one.

They were interrupted by a loud hail from the road. Jemima saw a young black man at the wheel of one of the convenient roofless minis everyone seemed to drive around Bow Island. He stood up and started to shout something.

“Greg! Cora! You coming on to—” She missed the rest of it — something about a boat and a fish. Coralie Harrison looked suddenly radiant, and for a moment even Greg Harrison actually looked properly pleased.

He waved back. “Hey, Joseph. Come and say hello to Miss Jemima Shore of BBC Television!”

“Megalith Television,” Jemima interrupted, but in vain. Harrison continued:

“You heard, Joseph. She’s making a program about Miss Izzy.”

The man leapt gracefully out of the car and approached up the palm-lined path. Jemima saw that he, too, was extremely tall. And like the vast majority of the Bo’landers she had so far met, he had the air of being a natural athlete. Whatever the genetic mix in the past of Carib and African and other people that had produced them, the Bo’landers were certainly wonderful-looking. He kissed Coralie on both cheeks and patted her brother on the back.

“Miss Shore, meet Joseph—” but even before Greg Harrison had pronounced the surname, his mischievous expression had warned Jemima what it was likely to be “—Joseph Archer. Undoubtedly one of the ten thousand descendants of the philoprogenitive old gentleman at whose tomb you are so raptly gazing.” All that remains of us is love indeed, thought Jemima irreverently as she shook Joseph Archer’s hand — with all due respect to Philip Larkin, it seemed that a good deal more remained of Sir Valentine than that.

“Oh, you 11 find we’re all called Archer round here,” murmured Joseph pleasantly. Unlike Greg Harrison, he appeared to be genuinely welcoming. “As for Sir Val-en-tine”—he pronounced it syllable by syllable like the calypso—“don’t pay too much attention to the stories. Otherwise, how come we’re not all living in that fine old Archer Plantation House?”

“Instead of merely my ex-wife. No, Coralie, don’t protest. I could kill her for what she’s doing.” Again Jemima felt a chill at the extent of the violence in Greg Harrison’s voice. “Come, Joseph, we’ll see about that fish of yours. Come on, Coralie.” He strode off, unsmiling, accompanied by Joseph, who did smile. Coralie, however, stopped to ask Jemima if there was anything she could do for her. Her manner was still shy but in her brother’s absence a great deal more friendly.

Jemima also had the strong impression that Coralie Harrison wanted to communicate something to her, something she did not necessarily want her brother to hear.

“I could perhaps interpret, explain—” Coralie stopped. Jemima said nothing. “Certain things,” went on Coralie. “There are so many layers in a place like this. Just because it’s small, an outsider doesn’t always understand—”

“And I’m the outsider? Of course I am.” Jemima had started to sketch the tomb for future reference, something for which she had a minor but useful talent. She forbore to observe truthfully, if platitudinously, that an outsider could also sometimes see local matters rather more clearly than those involved — she wanted to know what else Coralie had to say. Would she explain, for example, Greg’s quite blatant dislike of his former wife?

But an impatient cry from her brother now in the car beside Joseph meant that Coralie for the time being had nothing more to add. She fled down the path and Jemima was left to ponder with renewed interest on her forthcoming visit to Isabella Archer of Archer Plantation House. It was a visit which would include, she took it, a meeting with Miss Archer’s companion, who, like her employer, was currently dwelling in comfort there.

Comfort! Even from a distance, later that day, the square, lowbuilt mansion had a comfortable air. More than that, it conveyed an impression of gracious and old-fashioned tranquillity. As Jemima drove her own rented Mini up the long avenue of palm trees — much taller than those in the churchyard — she could fancy she was driving back in time to the days of Governor Archer, his copious banquets, parties, and balls, all served by black slaves.

At that moment, a young woman with coffee-colored skin and short black curly hair appeared on the steps. Unlike the maids in Jemima’s hotel who wore a pastiche of bygone servants’ costume at dinner — brightly colored dresses to the ankle, white-muslin aprons, and turbans — this girl was wearing an up-to-the-minute scarlet halter-top and cutaway shorts revealing most of her smooth brown legs. Tina Archer: for so she introduced herself.

It did not surprise Jemima Shore one bit to discover that Tina Archer — formerly Harrison — was easy to get on with. Anyone who left the hostile and graceless Greg Harrison was already ahead in Jemima’s book. But with Tina Archer chatting away at her side, so chic and even trendy in her appearance, the revelation of the interior of the house was far more of a shock to her than it would otherwise have been. There was nothing, nothing at all, of the slightest modernity about it. Dust and cobwebs were not literally there perhaps, but they were suggested in its gloom, its heavy wooden furniture — where were the light cane chairs so suitable to the climate? — and above all in its desolation. Archer Plantation House reminded her of poor Miss Havisham’s time-warp home in Great Expectations. And still worse, there was an atmosphere of sadness hanging over the whole interior. Or perhaps it was mere loneliness, a kind of somber, sterile grandeur you felt must stretch back centuries.

All this was in violent contrast to the sunshine still brilliant in the late afternoon, the rioting bushes of brightly colored tropical flowers outside. None of it had Jemima expected. Information garnered in London had led her to form quite a different picture of Archer Plantation House, something far more like her original impression, as she drove down the avenue of palm trees, of antique mellow grace.

Just as Jemima was adapting to this surprise, she discovered the figure of Miss Archer herself to be equally astonishing. That is to say, having adjusted rapidly from free and easy Tina to the moldering, somber house, she now had to adjust with equal rapidity all over again. For the very first inspection of the old lady, known by Jemima to be at least eighty, quickly banished all thoughts of Miss Havisham. Here was no aged, abandoned bride, forlorn in the decaying wedding-dress of fifty years before. Miss Izzy Archer was wearing a coolie straw hat, apparently tied under her chin with a duster, a loose, white, man’s shirt, and faded blue-jeans cut off at the knee. On her feet were a pair of what looked like child’s brown sandals. From the look of her, she had either just taken a shower wearing all this or been swimming. She was dripping wet, making large pools on the rich carpet and dark, polished boards of the formal drawing room, all dark-red brocade and swagged, fringed curtains, where she had received Jemima. It was possible to see this even in the filtered light seeping through the heavy brown shutters which shut out the view of the sea.

“Oh, don’t fuss so, Tina dear,” exclaimed Miss Izzy impatiently — although Tina had, in fact, said nothing. “What do a few drops of water matter? Stains? What stains?” (Tina still had not spoken.) “Let the government put it right when the time comes.”

Although Tina Archer continued to be silent, gazing amiably, even cheerfully, at her employer, nevertheless in some way she stiffened, froze in her polite listening attitude. Instinctively Jemima knew that she was in some way upset.

“Now don’t be silly, Tina, don’t take on, dear.” The old lady was now shaking herself free of water like a small but stout dog. “You know what I mean. If you don’t, who does — since half the time I don’t know what I mean, let alone what I say. You can put it all right one day, is that better? After all, you’ll have plenty of money to do it. You can afford a few new covers and carpets.” So saying, Miss Izzy, taking jemima by the hand and attended by the still-silent Tina, led the way to the farthest dark-red sofa. Looking remarkably wet from top to toe, she sat down firmly in the middle of it.

It was in this way that jemima first realized that Archer Plantation House would not necessarily pass to the newly independent government of Bow Island on its owner’s death. Miss Izzy, if she had her way, was intending to leave it all, house and fortune, to Tina. Among other things, this meant that Jemima was no longer making a program about a house destined shortly to be a national museum — which was very much part of the arrangement that had brought her to the island and had, incidentally, secured the friendly cooperation of that same new government. Was all this new? How new? Did the new government know? If the will had been signed, they must know.

“I’ve signed the will this morning, dear,” Miss Archer pronounced triumphantly, with an uncanny ability to answer unspoken questions.

“I went swimming to celebrate. I always celebrate things with a good swim — so much more healthy than rum or champagne. Although there’s still plenty of that in the cellar.”

She paused. “So there you are, aren’t you, dear? Or there you will be. Here you will be. Thompson says there’ll be trouble, of course. What can you expect these days? Everything is trouble since independence. Not that I’m against independence, far from it. But everything new brings new trouble here in addition to all the old troubles, so that the troubles get more and more. On Bow Island no troubles ever go away. Why is that?”

But Miss Izzy did not stop for an answer. “No, I’m all for independence and I shall tell you all about that, my dear”—she turned to Jemima and put one damp hand on her sleeve—“on your program.

I’m being a Bo’lander born and bred, you know.” It was true that Miss Izzy, unlike Tina for example, spoke with the peculiar, slightly sing-song intonation of the islanders — not unattractive to Jemima’s ears.

“I was born in this very house eighty-two years ago in April,”

went on Miss Izzy. “You shall come to my birthday party. I was born during a hurricane. A good start! But my mother died in childbirth, they should never have got in that new-fangled doctor, just because he came from England. A total fool he was, I remember him well. They should have had a good Bo’lander midwife, then my mother wouldn’t have died and my father would have had sons—”

Miss Izzy was drifting away into a host of reminiscences — and while these were supposed to be what Jemima had come to hear, her thoughts were actually racing off in quite a different direction.

Trouble? What trouble? Where did Greg Harrison, for example, stand in all this — Greg Harrison who wanted Miss Izzy to be left to

“die in peace”? Greg Harrison who had been married to Tina and was no longer? Tina Archer, now heiress to a fortune.

Above all, why was this forthright old lady intending to leave everything to her companion? For one thing, Jemima did not know how seriously to treat the matter of Tina’s surname. Joseph Archer had laughed off the whole subject of Sir Valentine’s innumerable descendants. But perhaps the beautiful Tina was in some special way connected to Miss Izzy. She might be the product of some rather more recent union between a rakish Archer and a Bo’lander maiden. More recent than the seventeenth century, that is.

Her attention was wrenched back to Miss Izzy’s reminiscing monologue by the mention of the Archer Tomb.

“You’ve seen the grave? Tina has discovered it’s all a fraud. A great big lie, lying under the sun — yes, Tina dear, you once said that.

Sir Valentine Archer, my great great great—” An infinite number of greats followed before Miss Izzy finally pronounced the word

“grandfather,” but Jemima had to admit that she did seem to be counting. “He had a great big lie perpetuated on his tombstone.”

“What Miss Izzy means—” This was the first time Tina had spoken since they entered the darkened drawing room. She was still standing, while Jemima and Miss Izzy sat.

“Don’t tell me what I mean, child,” rapped out the old lady; her tone was imperious rather than indulgent. Tina might for a moment have been a plantation worker two hundred years earlier rather than an independent-minded girl in the late twentieth century. “It’s the inscription which is a lie. She wasn’t his only wife. The very inscription should have warned us. Tina wants to see justice done to poor little Lucie Anne and so do I. Independence indeed! I’ve been independent all my life and I’m certainly not stopping now. Tell me, Miss Shore, you’re a clever young woman from television. Why do you bother to contradict something unless it’s true all along? That’s the way you work all the time in television, don’t you?”

Jemima was wondering just how to answer this question diplo-matically and without traducing her profession when Tina firmly, and this time successfully, took over from her employer.

“I read history at university in the UK, Jemima. Genealogical research is my speciality. I was helping Miss Izzy put her papers in order for the museum — or what was to be the museum. Then the request came for your program and I began to dig a little deeper.

That’s how I found the marriage certificate. Old Sir Valentine did marry his young Carib mistress, known as Lucie Anne. Late in life — long after his first wife died. That’s Lucie Anne who was the mother of his youngest two children. He was getting old, and for some reason he decided to marry her. The church, maybe. In its way, this has always been a God-fearing island. Perhaps Lucie Anne, who was very young and very beautiful, put pressure on the old man, using the church. At any rate, these last two children of all the hundreds he sired would have been legitimate!”

“And so?” questioned Jemima in her most encouraging manner.

“I’m descended from Lucie Anne — and Sir Valentine, of course.”

Tina returned sweet smile for sweet smile. “I’ve traced that, too, from the church records — not too difficult, given the strength of the church here. Not too difficult for an expert, at all events. Oh, I’ve got all sorts of blood, like most of us round here, including a Spanish grandmother and maybe some French blood, too. But the Archer descent is perfectly straightforward and clear.”

Tina seemed aware that Jemima was gazing at her with respect.

Did she, however, understand the actual tenor of Jemima’s thoughts?

This is a formidable person, Jemima was reflecting. Charming, yes, but formidable. And ruthless, maybe, on occasion. Jemima was also, to be frank, wondering just how she was going to present this sudden change of angle in her program on Megalith Television. On the one hand, it might now be seen as a romantic rags-to-riches story, the discovery of the lost heiress. On the other hand, just supposing Tina Archer was not so much an heiress as an adventuress? In that case, what would Megalith — what did Jemima Shore — make of a bright young woman putting across a load of false history on an innocent old lady? In those circumstances, Jemima could understand how the man by the sunny grave might display his contempt for Tina Archer.

“I met Greg Harrison by the Archer Tomb this morning,” Jemima commented deliberately. “Your ex-husband, I take it.”

“Of course he’s her ex-husband.” It was Miss Izzy who chose to answer. “That no-good. Gregory Harrison has been a no-good since the day he was born. And that sister of his. Drifters. Not a job between them. Sailing. Fishing. As if the world owes them a living.”

“Half sister. Coralie is his half sister. And she works in a hotel boutique.” Tina spoke perfectly equably, but once again Jemima guessed that she was in some way put out. “Greg is the no-good in that family.” For all her calm, there was a hint of suppressed anger in her reference to her former husband. With what bitterness that marriage must have ended!

“No-good, the pair of them. You’re well out of that marriage, Tina dear,” exclaimed Miss Izzy. “And do sit down, child — you’re standing there like some kind of housekeeper. And where is Hazel, anyway? It’s nearly half past five. It’ll begin to get dark soon. We might go down to the terrace to watch the sun sink. Where is Henry?

He ought to be bringing us some punch. The Archer Plantation punch, Miss Shore — wait till you taste it. One secret ingredient, my father always said—”

Miss Izzy was happily returning to the past.

“I’ll get the punch,” said Tina, still on her feet. “Didn’t you say Hazel could have the day off? Her sister is getting married over at Tamarind Creek. Henry has taken her.”

“Then where’s the boy? Where’s what’s-his-name? Little Joseph.”

The old lady was beginning to sound petulant.

“There isn’t a boy any longer,” explained Tina patiently. “Just Hazel and Henry. As for Joseph — well, little Joseph Archer is quite grown up now, isn’t he?”

“Of course he is! I didn’t mean that Joseph — he came to see me the other day. Wasn’t there another boy called Joseph? Perhaps that was before the war. My father had a stable boy—”

“I’ll get the rum punch.” Tina vanished swiftly and gracefully.

“Pretty creature,” murmured Miss Izzy after her. “Archer blood.

It always shows. They do say the best-looking Bo’landers are still called Archer.”

But when Tina returned, the old lady’s mood had changed again.

“I’m cold and damp,” she declared. “I might get a chill sitting here. And soon I’m going to be all alone in the house. I hate being left alone. Ever since I was a little girl I’ve hated being alone.

Everyone knows that. Tina, you have to stay to dinner. Miss Shore, you must stay, too. It’s so lonely here by the sea. What happens if someone breaks in? — Don’t frown, there are plenty of bad people about. That’s one thing that hasn’t gotten better since independence.”

“Of course I’m staying,” replied Tina easily. “I’ve arranged it with Hazel.” Jemima was wondering guiltily if she, too, ought to stay.

But it was the night of her hotel’s weekly party on the beach — barbecue followed by dancing to a steel band. Jemima, who loved to dance in the Northern Hemisphere, was longing to try it here. Dancing under the stars by the sea sounded idyllic. Did Miss Izzy really need extra company? Her eyes met those of Tina Archer across the old lady’s straw-hatted head. Tina shook her head slightly.

After a sip of the famous rum punch — whatever the secret ingredient, it was the strongest she had yet tasted on the island — Jemima was able to make her escape. In any case, the punch was having a manifestly relaxing effect on Miss Izzy herself. She became rapidly quite tipsy and Jemima wondered how long she would actually stay awake. The next time they met must be in the freshness of a morning.

Jemima drove away just as the enormous red sun was rushing down below the horizon. The beat of the waves from the shore pursued her. Archer Plantation House was set in a lonely position on its own spit of land at the end of its own long avenue. She could hardly blame Miss Izzy for not wanting to be abandoned there. Jemima listened to the sound of the waves until the very different noise of the steel band in the next village along the shore took over.

That transferred her thoughts temporarily from recent events at Archer Plantation House to the prospect of her evening ahead. One way or another, for a brief space of time, she would stop thinking altogether about Miss Isabella Archer.

That was because the beach party was at first exactly what Jemima had expected — relaxed, good-natured, and noisy. She found her cares gradually floating away as she danced and danced again with a series of partners, English, American, and Bo’lander, to the beat of the steel band. That rum punch of Miss Izzy’s, with its secret ingredient, must have been lethal because its effects seemed to stay with her for hours. She decided she didn’t even need the generous profferings of the hotel mixture — a good deal weaker than Miss Izzy’s beneath its lavish surface scattering of nutmeg. Others, however, decided that the hotel punch was exactly what they did need.

All in all, it was already a very good party long before the sliver of the new moon became visible over the now-black waters of the Caribbean. Jemima, temporarily alone, tilted back her head as she stood by the lapping waves at the edge of the beach and fixed the moon in her sights.

“You going to wish on that new little moon?” She turned. A tall man — at least a head taller than she was — was standing beside her on the sand. She had not heard him, the gentle noise of the waves masking his approach. For a moment she didn’t recognize Joseph Archer in his loose flowered shirt and long white trousers, so different did he look from the fisherman encountered that noon at the graveside.

In this way it came about that the second part of the beach party was quite unexpected, at least from Jemima’s point of view.

“I ought to wish. I ought to wish to make a good program, I suppose. That would be a good, professional thing to do.”

“Miss Izzy Archer and all that?”

“Miss Izzy, Archer Plantation House, Bow Island — to say nothing of the Archer Tomb, old Sir Valentine, and all that.” She decided not to mention Tina Archer and all that for the time being.

“All that!” He sighed. “Listen, Jemima — it’s good, this band. We’re saying it’s about the best on the island these days. Let’s be dancing, shall we? Then you and me can talk about all that in the morning. In my office, you know.”

It was the distinct authority with which Joseph Archer spoke quite as much as the mention of his office which intrigued Jemima. Before she lost herself still further in the rhythm of the dance — which she had a feeling that with Joseph Archer to help her she was about to do — she must find out just what he meant. And, for that matter, just who he was.

The second question was easily answered. It also provided the answer to the first. Joseph Archer might or might not go fishing from time to time when he was off-duty, but he was also a member of the newly formed Bo’lander government. Quite an important one, in fact. Important in the eyes of the world in general, and particularly important in the eyes of jemima Shore, Investigator. For Joseph Archer was the minister dealing with tourism, his brief extending to such matters as conservation, the Bo’lander historic heritage, and — as he described it to her—“the future National Archer Plantation House Museum.”

Once again it didn’t seem the appropriate moment to mention Tina Archer and her possible future ownership of the plantation house. As Joseph himself had said, the morning would do for all that. In his office in Bowtown.

They danced on for a while, and it was as jemima had suspected it would be: something to lose herself in, perhaps dangerously so.

The tune to “This is my island in the sun” was played and Jemima never once heard the graveyard words in her imagination. Then Joseph Archer, most politely and apparently regretfully, said he had to leave. He had an extremely early appointment — and not with a fish, either, he added with a smile. Jemima felt a pang which she hoped didn’t show. But there was plenty of time, wasn’t there? There would be other nights and other parties, other nights on the beach as the moon waxed to full in the two weeks she had before she must return to England.

Jemima’s personal party stopped, but the rest of the celebration went on late into the night, spilling onto the sands, even into the sea, long after the sliver of the moon had vanished. Jemima, sleeping fitfully and visited by dreams in which Joseph Archer, Tina, and Miss Izzy executed some kind of elaborate dance, not at all like the kind of island jump-up she had recently been enjoying, heard the noise in the distance.

Far away on Archer Plantation’s lonely peninsula, the peace was broken not by a steel band but by the rough sound of the waves bashing against the rocks at its farthest point. A stranger might have been surprised to see that the lights were still on in the great drawing room, the shutters having been drawn back once the sun was gone, but nobody born on Bow Island — a fisherman out to sea, for example — would have found it at all odd. Everyone knew that Miss Izzy Archer was frightened of the dark and liked to go to bed with all her lights blazing. Especially when Hazel had gone to her sister’s wedding and Henry had taken her there — another fact of island life which most Bo’landers would have known.

In her room overlooking the sea, tossing in the big four-poster bed in which she had been born over eighty years ago, Miss Izzy, like Jemima Shore, slept fitfully. After a while, she got out of bed and went to one of the long windows. Jemima would have found her nightclothes, like her swimming costume, bizarre, for Miss Izzy wasn’t wearing the kind of formal Victorian nightdress which might have gone with the house. Rather, she was “using up,” as she quaintly put it, her father’s ancient burgundy-silk pajamas, purchased many aeons ago in Jermyn Street. And as the last Sir John Archer, Baronet, had been several feet taller than his plump little daughter, the long trouser legs trailed on the floor behind her.

Miss Izzy continued to stare out of the window. Her gaze followed the direction of the terrace, which led in a series of parterres, once grandly planted, now overgrown, down to the rocks and the sea.

Although the waters themselves were mostly blackness, the Caribbean night was not entirely dark. Besides, the light from the drawing-room windows streamed out onto the nearest terrace. Miss Izzy rubbed her eyes, then she turned back into the bedroom, where the celebrated oil painting of Sir Valentine hung over the mantelpiece dominated the room. Rather confusedly — she must have drunk far too much of that punch — she decided that her ancestor was trying to encourage her to be valiant in the face of danger for the first time in her life. She, little Isabella Archer, spoilt and petted Izzy, his last legitimate descendant — no, not his last legitimate descendant, but the habits of a lifetime were difficult to break — was being spurred on to something courageous by the hawklike gaze of the fierce old autocrat.

But I’m so old, thought Miss Izzy. Then: But not too old. Once you let people know you’re not, after all, a coward—

She looked out of the window once more. The effects of the punch were wearing off. Now she was quite certain of what she was seeing.

Something dark, darkly clad, dark-skinned — What did it matter, someone dark had come out of the sea and was now proceeding silently in the direction of the house.

I must be brave, thought Miss Izzy. She said aloud: “Then he’ll be proud of me. His brave girl.” Whose brave girl? No, not Sir Valentine’s — Daddy’s brave girl. Her thoughts began to float away again into the past. I wonder if Daddy will take me on a swim with him to celebrate?

Miss Izzy started to go downstairs. She had just reached the door of the drawing room and was standing looking into the decaying red-velvet interior, still brightly illuminated, at the moment when the black-clad intruder stepped into the room through the open window.

Even before the intruder began to move softly toward her, dark-gloved hands outstretched, Miss Izzy Archer knew without doubt in her rapidly beating old heart that Archer Plantation, the house in which she had been born, was also the house in which she was about to die.

“Miss Izzy Archer is dead. Some person went and killed her last night. A robber, maybe.” It was Joseph Archer who broke the news to Jemima the next morning.

He spoke across the broad desk of his formal office in Bowtown.

His voice was hollow and distant, only the Bo’lander sing-song to connect him with Jemima’s handsome dancing partner of the night before. In his short-sleeved but official-looking white shirt and dark trousers, he looked once again completely different from the cheerful ragged fisherman Jemima had first encountered. This was indeed the rising young Bo’lander politician she was seeing: a member of the newly formed government of Bow Island. Even the tragic fact of the death — the murder, as it seemed — of an old lady seemed to strike no chord of emotion in him.

Then Jemima looked again and saw what looked suspiciously like tears in Joseph Archer’s eyes.

“I just heard myself, you know. The Chief of Police, Sandy Marlow, is my cousin.” He didn’t attempt to brush away the tears. If that was what they were. But the words were presumably meant as an explanation. Of what? Of shock? Grief? Shock he must surely have experienced, but grief? Jemima decided at this point that she could at least inquire delicately about his precise relationship to Miss Izzy.

It came back to her that he had visited the old lady the week previously,” if Miss Izzy’s rather vague words concerning “Little Joseph” were to be trusted. She was thinking not so much of a possible blood relationship as some other kind of connection. After all, Joseph Archer himself had dismissed the former idea in the graveyard. His words about Sir Valentine and his numerous progeny came back to her: “Don’t pay too much attention to the stories.

Otherwise, how come we’re not all living in that fine old Archer Plantation House?” At which Greg Harrison had commented with such fury: “Instead of merely my ex-wife.” The exchange made more sense to her now, of course, that she knew of the position of Tina Harrison, now Tina Archer, in Miss Izzy’s will.

The will! Tina would now inherit! And she would inherit in the light of a will signed the very morning of the day of Miss Izzy’s death. Clearly, Joseph had been correct when he dismissed the claim of the many Bo’landers called Archer to be descended in any meaningful fashion from Sir Valentine. There was already a considerable difference between Tina, the allegedly sole legitimate descendant other than Miss Izzy, and the rest of the Bo’lander Archers. In the future, with Tina come into her inheritance, the gap would widen even more.

It was extremely hot in Joseph’s office. It was not so much that Bow Island was an unsophisticated place as that the persistent breeze made air-conditioning generally unnecessary. The North American tourists who were beginning to request air-conditioning in the hotels, reflected Jemima, would only succeed in ruining the most perfect kind of natural ventilation. But a government office in Bowtown was rather different. A huge fan in the ceiling made the papers on Joseph’s desk stir uneasily. Jemima felt a ribbon of sweat trickle down beneath her long loose white T-shirt, which she had belted as a dress to provide some kind of formal attire to call on a Bo’lander minister in working hours.

By this time, Jemima’s disbelieving numbness on the subject of Miss Izzy’s murder was wearing off. She was struck by the frightful poignancy of that last encounter in the decaying grandeur of Archer Plantation House. Worse still, the old lady’s pathetic fear of loneliness was beginning to haunt her. Miss Izzy had been so passionate in her determination not to be abandoned. “Ever since I was a little girl I’ve hated being alone. Everyone knows that. It’s so lonely here by the sea. What happens if someone breaks in?”

Well, someone had broken in. Or so it was presumed. Joseph Archer’s words: “A robber, maybe.” And this robber — maybe — had killed the old lady in the process.

Jemima began hesitantly: “I’m so sorry, Joseph. What a ghastly tragedy! You knew her? Well, I suppose everyone round here must have known her—”

“All the days of my life, since I was a little boy. My mama was one of her maids. Just a little thing herself, and then she died. She’s in that churchyard, you know, in a corner. Miss Izzy was very good to me when my mama died, oh, yes. She was kind. Now you’d think that independence, our independence, would be hard for an old lady like her, but Miss Izzy she just liked it very much. ‘England’s no good to me any more, Joseph,’ she said, ‘I’m a Bo’lander just like the rest of you.’”

“You saw her last week, I believe. Miss Izzy told me that herself.”

Joseph gazed at Jemima steadily — the emotion had vanished. “I went to talk with her, yes. She had some foolish idea of changing her mind about things. Just a fancy, you know. But that’s over. May she rest in peace, little old Miss Izzy. We’ll have our National Museum now, that’s for sure, and we’ll remember her with it. It’ll make a good museum for our history. Didn’t they tell you in London, Jemima?” There was pride in his voice as he concluded: “Miss Izzy left everything in her will to the people of Bow Island.”

Jemima swallowed hard. Was it true? Or rather, was it still true?

Had Miss Izzy really signed a new will yesterday? She had been quite circumspect on the subject, mentioning someone called Thompson — her lawyer, no doubt — who thought there would be

“trouble” as a result. “Joseph,” she said, “Tina Archer was up at Archer Plantation House yesterday afternoon, too.”

“Oh, that girl, the trouble she made, tried to make. Tina and her stories and her fine education and her history. And she’s so pretty!”

Joseph’s tone was momentarily violent but he finished more calmly.

“The police are waiting at the hospital. She’s not speaking yet, she’s not even conscious.” Then even more calmly: “She’s not so pretty now, I hear. That robber beat her, you see.”

It was hotter than ever in the Bowtown office and even the papers on the desk were hardly stirring in the waft of the fan. Jemima saw Joseph’s face swimming before her. She absolutely must not faint — she never fainted. She concentrated desperately on what Joseph Archer was telling her, the picture he was recreating of the night of the murder. The shock of learning that Tina Archer had also been present in the house when Miss Izzy was killed was irrational, she realized that. Hadn’t Tina promised the old lady she would stay with her?

Joseph was telling her that Miss Izzy’s body had been found in the drawing room by the cook, Hazel, returning from her sister’s wedding at first light. It was a grisly touch that because Miss Izzy was wearing red-silk pajamas — her daddy’s — and all the furnishings of the drawing room were dark-red as well, poor Hazel had not at first realized the extent of her mistress’s injuries. Not only was there blood everywhere, there was water, too — pools of it.

Whatever — whoever — had killed Miss Izzy had come out of the sea.

Wearing rubber shoes — or flippers — and probably gloves as well.

A moment later, Hazel was in no doubt about what had hit Miss Izzy. The club, still stained with blood, had been left lying on the floor of the front hall. (She herself, deposited by Henry, had originally entered by the kitchen door.) The club, although not of Bo’lander manufacture, belonged to the house. It was a relic, African probably, of Sir John Archer’s travels in other parts of the former British Em-pire, and hung heavy and short-handled on the drawing-room wall.

Possibly Sir John had in mind to wield it against unlawful intruders but to Miss Izzy it had been simply one more family memento. She never touched it. Now it had killed her.

“No prints anywhere,” Joseph said. “So far.”

“And Tina?” asked Jemima with dry lips. The idea of the pools of water stagnant on the floor of the drawing room mingled with Miss Izzy’s blood reminded her only too vividly of the old lady when last seen — soaking wet in her bizarre swimming costume, defiantly sitting down on her own sofa.

“The robber ransacked the house. Even the cellar. The champagne cases Miss Izzy boasted about must have been too heavy, though.

He drank some rum. The police don’t know yet what he took — silver snuff-boxes maybe, there were plenty of those about.” Joseph sighed.

“Then he went upstairs.”

“And found Tina?”

“In one of the bedrooms. He didn’t hit her with the same weapon — lucky for her, as he’d have killed her just like he killed Miss Izzy. He left that downstairs and picked up something a good deal lighter. Probably didn’t reckon on seeing her or anyone there at all. ’Cept for Miss Izzy, that is. Tina must have surprised him.

Maybe she woke up. Robbers — well, all I can say is that robbers here don’t generally go and kill people unless they’re frightened.”

Without warning, Joseph slumped down in front of her and put his head in his hands. He murmured something like: “When we find who did it to Miss Izzy—”

It wasn’t until the next day that Tina Archer was able to speak I even haltingly to the police. Like most of the rest of the Bow Island population, Jemima Shore was informed of the fact almost immediately.

Claudette, manageress of her hotel, a sympathetic if loquacious character, just happened to have a niece who was a nurse. But that was the way information always spread about the island — no need for newspapers or radio, this private telegraph was far more efficient.

Jemima had spent the intervening twenty-four hours swimming rather aimlessly, sunbathing, and making little tours of the island in her Mini. She was wondering at what point she should inform Megalith Television of the brutal way in which her projected program had been terminated and make arrangements to return to London.

After a bit, the investigative instinct, that inveterate curiosity which would not be stilled, came to the fore. She found she was speculating all the time about Miss Izzy’s death. A robber? A robber who had also tried to kill Tina Archer? Or a robber who had merely been surprised by her presence in the house? What connection, if any, had all this with Miss Izzy’s will?

The will again. But that was one thing Jemima didn’t have to speculate about for very long. For Claudette, the manageress, also just happened to be married to the brother of Hazel, Miss Izzy’s cook. In this way, Jemima was apprised — along with the rest of Bow Island, no doubt — that Miss Izzy had indeed signed a new will down in Bowtown on the morning of her death, that Eddie Thompson, the solicitor, had begged her not to do it, that Miss Izzy had done it, that Miss Izzy had still looked after Hazel all right, as she had promised (and Henry who had worked for her even longer), and that some jewelry would go to a cousin in England, “seeing as Miss Izzy’s mother’s jewels were in an English bank anyway since long back.”

But for the rest, well, there would be no National Bo’lander Museum now, that was for sure. Everything else — that fine old Archer Plantation House, Miss Izzy’s fortune, reputedly enormous but who knew for sure? — would go to Tina Archer.

If she recovered, of course. But the latest cautious bulletin from Claudette via the niece-who-was-a-nurse, confirmed by a few other loquacious people on the island, was that Tina Archer was recovering.

The police had already been able to interview her. In a few days she would be able to leave the hospital. And she was determined to attend Miss Izzy’s funeral, which would be held, naturally enough, in that little English-looking church with its incongruous tropical vegetation overlooking the sunny grave. For Miss Izzy had long ago made clear her own determination to be buried in the Archer Tomb along with Governor Sir Valentine and “his only wife, Isabella.”

“As the last of the Archers. But she still had to get permission since it’s a national monument. And of course the government couldn’t do enough for her. So they gave it. Then. Ironic, isn’t it?”

The speaker making absolutely no attempt to conceal her disgust was Coralie Harrison. “And now we learn that she wasn’t the last of the Archers, not officially, and we shall have the so-called Miss Tina Archer as chief mourner. And while the Bo’lander government desperately looks for ways to get round the will and grab the house for their precious museum, nobody quite had the bad taste to go ahead and say no — no burial in the

Archer Tomb for naughty old Miss Izzy. Since she hasn’t, after all, left the people of Bow Island a penny.”

“It should be an interesting occasion,” Jemima murmured. She was sitting with Coralie Harrison under the conical thatched roof of the hotel’s beach bar. This was where she first danced, then sat out with Joseph Archer on the night of the new moon — the night Miss Izzy had been killed. Now the sea sparkled under the sun as though there were crystals scattered on its surface. Today there were no waves at all and the happy water-skiers crossed and recrossed the wide bay with its palm-fringed shore. Enormous brown pelicans perched on some stakes which indicated where rocks lay. Every now and then, one would take off like an unwieldy airplane and fly slowly and inquisitively over the heads of the swimmers. It was a tranquil, even an idyllic scene, but somewhere in the distant peninsula lay Archer Plantation House, not only shuttered but now, she imagined, also sealed by the police.

Coralie had sauntered up to the bar from the beach. She traversed the few yards with seeming casualness — all Bo’landers frequently exercised their right to promenade along the sands unchecked (as in most Caribbean islands, no one owned any portion of the beach in Bow Island, even outside the most stately mansion like Archer Plantation House, except the people). Jemima, however, was in no doubt that this was a planned visit. She had not forgotten that first meeting, and Coralie’s tentative approach to her, interrupted by Greg’s peremptory cry.

It was the day after the inquest on Miss Izzy’s death. Her body had been released by the police and the funeral would soon follow.

Jemima admitted to herself that she was interested enough in the whole Archer family, and its various branches, to want to attend it, quite apart from the tenderness she felt for the old lady herself, based on that brief meeting. To Megalith Television, in a telex from Bowtown, she had spoken merely of tying up a few loose ends resulting from the cancellation of her program.

There had been an open verdict at the inquest. Tina Archer’s evidence in a sworn statement had not really contributed much that wasn’t known or suspected already. She had been asleep upstairs in one of the many fairly derelict bedrooms kept ostensibly ready for guests. The bedroom chosen for her by Miss Izzy had not faced onto the sea. The chintz curtains in this back room, bearing some dated rosy pattern from a remote era, weren’t quite so bleached and tattered since they had been protected from the sun and salt.

Miss Izzy had gone to bed in good spirits, reassured by the fact that Tina Archer was going to spend the night. She had drunk several more rum punches and had offered to have Henry fetch some of her father’s celebrated champagne from the cellar. As a matter of fact, Miss Izzy often made this offer after a few draughts of punch, but Tina reminded her that Henry was away and the subject was dropped.

In her statement, Tina said she had no clue as to what might have awakened the old lady and induced her to descend the stairs — it was right out of character in her own opinion. Isabella Archer was a lady of independent mind but notoriously frightened of the dark, hence Tina’s presence at the house in the first place. As to her own recollection of the attack, Tina had so far managed to dredge very few of the details from her memory — the blow to the back of the head had temporarily or permanently expunged all the immediate circumstances from her consciousness. She had a vague idea that there had been a bright light, but even that was rather confused and might be part of the blow she had suffered. Basically, she could remember nothing between going to bed in the tattered, rose-patterned four-poster and waking up in hospital.

Coralie’s lip trembled. She bowed her head and sipped at her long drink through a straw — she and Jemima were drinking some exotic mixture of fruit juice, alcohol-free, invented by Matthew, the barman.

There was a wonderful soft breeze coming in from the sea and Coralie was dressed in a loose flowered cotton dress, but she looked hot and angry. “Tina schemed for everything all her life and now she’s got it. That’s what I wanted to warn you about that morning in the churchyard — don’t trust Tina Archer, I wanted to say. Now it’s too late, she’s got it all. When she was married to Greg, I tried to like her, Jemima, honestly I did. Little Tina, so cute and so clever, but always trouble—”

“Joseph Archer feels rather the same way about her, I gather,”

Jemima said. Was it her imagination or did Coralie’s face soften slightly at the sound of Joseph’s name?

“Does he? I’m glad. He fancied her, too, once upon a time. She is quite pretty.” Their eyes met. “Well, not all that pretty, but if you like the type—” Jemima and Coralie both laughed. The fact was that Coralie Harrison was quite appealing, if you liked her type, but Tina Archer was ravishing by any standards.

“Greg absolutely loathes her now, of course,” Coralie continued firmly, “especially since he heard the news about the will. When we met you that morning up at the church he’d just been told. Hence, well, I’m sorry, but he was very rude, wasn’t he?”

“More hostile than rude.” But Jemima had begun to work out the timing. “You mean your brother knew about the will before Miss Izzy was killed?” she exclaimed.

“Oh, yes. Someone from Eddie Thompson’s office told Greg — Daisy Marlow, maybe, he takes her out. Of course, we all knew it was on the cards, except we hoped Joseph had argued Miss Izzy out of it. And he would have argued her out of it given time.

That museum is everything to Joseph.”

“Your brother and Miss Izzy — that wasn’t an easy relationship, I gather.”

Jemima thought she was using her gentlest and most persuasive interviewer’s voice, but Coralie countered with something like defi-ance: “You sound like the police!”

“Why, have they—?”

“Well, of course they have!” Coralie answered the question before Jemima had completed it. “Everyone knows that Greg absolutely hated Miss Izzy — blamed her for breaking up his marriage, for taking little Tina and giving her ideas!”

“Wasn’t it rather the other way around — Tina delving into the family records for the museum and then my program? You said she was a schemer.”

“Oh, I know she was a schemer! But did Greg? He did not. Not then. He was besotted with her at the time, so he had to blame the old lady. They had a frightful row — very publicly. He went round to the house one night, went in by the sea, shouted at her. Hazel and Henry heard, so then everyone knew. That was when Tina told him she was going to get a divorce and throw in her lot with Miss Izzy for the future. I’m afraid my brother is rather an extreme person — his temper is certainly extreme. He made threats—”

“But the police don’t think—” Jemima stopped. It was clear what she meant.

Coralie swung her legs off the bar stool. Jemima handed her the huge straw bag with the archer logo on it and she slung it over her shoulder in proper Bo’lander fashion.

“How pretty,” Jemima commented politely.

“I sell them at the hotel on the North Point. For a living.” The remark sounded pointed. “No,” Coralie went on rapidly before Jemima could say anything more on that subject, “of course the police don’t think, as you put it. Greg might have assaulted Tina — but Greg kill Miss Izzy when he knew perfectly well that by so doing he was handing his ex-wife a fortune? No way. Not even the Bo’lander police would believe that.”

That night Jemima Shore found Joseph Archer again on the beach under the stars. But the moon had waxed since their first encounter.

Now it was beginning to cast a silver pathway on the waters of the night. Nor was this meeting unplanned as that first one had been.

Joseph had sent her a message that he would be free and they had agreed to meet down by the bar.

“What do you say I’ll take you on a night drive round our island, Jemima?”

“No. Let’s be proper Bo’landers and walk along the sands.” Jemima wanted to be alone with him, not driving past the rows of lighted tourist hotels, listening to the eternal beat of the steel bands.

She felt reckless enough not to care how Joseph himself would interpret this change of plan.

They walked for some time along the edge of the sea, in silence except for the gentle lap of the waves. After a while, Jemima took off her sandals and splashed through the warm receding waters, and a little while after that Joseph took her hand and led her back onto the sand. The waves grew conspicuously rougher as they rounded the point of the first wide bay. They stood for a moment together, Joseph and Jemima, he with his arm companionably round her waist.

“Jemima, even without that new moon, I’m going to wish—” Then Joseph stiffened. He dropped the encircling arm, grabbed her shoulder, and swung her around. “Jesus, oh sweet Jesus, do you see that?”

The force of his gesture made Jemima wince. For a moment she was distracted by the flickering moonlit swathe on the dark surface of the water. There were multitudinous white — silver — horses out beyond the land where high waves were breaking over an outcrop of rocks. She thought Joseph was pointing out to sea. Then she saw the lights.

“The Archer house!” she cried. “I thought it was shut up!” It seemed that all the lights of the house were streaming out across the promontory on which it lay. Such was the illumination that you might have supposed some great ball was in progress, a thousand candles lit as in the days of Governor Archer. More somberly, Jemima realized that was how the plantation house must have looked on the night of Miss Izzy’s death. Tina Archer and others had borne witness to the old lady’s insistence on never leaving her house in darkness. The night her murderer had come in from the sea, this is how the house must have looked to him.

“Come on!” said Joseph. The moment of lightness — or loving, perhaps? — had utterly vanished. He sounded both grim and determined.

“To the police?”

“No, to the house. I need to know what’s happening there.”

As they half ran along the sands, Joseph said, “This house should have been ours.”

Ours: the people of Bow Island.

His restlessness on the subject of the museum struck Jemima anew since her conversation with Coralie Harrison. What would a man — or a woman, for that matter — do for an inheritance? And there was more than one kind of inheritance. Wasn’t a national heritage as important to some people as a personal inheritance to others? Joseph Archer was above all a patriotic Bo’lander. And he had not known of the change of will on the morning after Miss Izzy’s death. She herself had evidence of that. Might a man like Joseph Archer, a man who had already risen in his own world by sheer determination, decide to take the law into his own hands in order to secure the museum for his people while there was still time?

But to kill the old lady who had befriended him as a boy? Batter her to death? As he strode along, so tall in the moonlight, Joseph was suddenly a complete and thus menacing enigma to Jemima.

They had reached the promontory, had scrambled up the rocks, and had got as far as the first terrace when all the lights in the house went out. It was as though a switch had been thrown. Only the cold eerie glow of the moon over the sea behind them remained to illuminate the bushes, now wildly overgrown, and the sagging balus-trades.

But Joseph strode on, helping Jemima up the flights of stone steps, some of them deeply cracked and uneven. In the darkness, Jemima could just see that the windows of the drawing room were still open.

There had to be someone in there behind the ragged red-brocade curtains which had been stained by Miss Izzy’s blood.

Joseph, holding Jemima’s hand, pulled her through the center window.

There was a short cry like a suppressed scream and then a low sound, as if someone was laughing at them there in the dark. An instant later, all the lights were snapped on at once.

Tina was standing at the door, her hand at the switch. She wore a white bandage on her head like a turban — and she wasn’t laughing, she was sobbing.

“Oh, it’s you, Jo-seph and Je-mi-ma Shore.” For the first time, Jemima was aware of the sing-song Bo’lander note in Tina’s voice. “I was so fright-ened.”

“Are you all right, Tina?” asked Jemima hastily, to cover the fact that she had been quite severely frightened herself. The atmosphere of angry tension between the two other people in the room, so different in looks yet both of them, as it happened, called Archer, was almost palpable. She felt she was in honor bound to try to relieve it.

“Are you all alone?”

“The police said I could come.” Tina ignored the question. “They have finished with everything here. And besides—” her terrified sobs had vanished, there was something deliberately provocative about her as she moved toward them “why ever not?” To neither of them did she need to elaborate. The words “since it’s all mine”

hung in the air.

Joseph spoke for the first time since they had entered the room.

“I want to look at the house,” he said harshly.

“Jo-seph Archer, you get out of here. Back where you came from, back to your off-ice and that’s not a great fine house.” Then she addressed Jemima placatingly, in something more like her usual sweet manner. “I’m sorry, but, you see, we’ve not been friends since way back. And, besides, you gave me such a shock.”

Joseph swung on his heel. “I’ll see you at the funeral, Miss Archer.”

He managed to make the words sound extraordinarily threatening.

That night it seemed to Jemima Shore that she hardly slept, although the threads of broken, half remembered dreams disturbed her and indicated that she must actually have fallen into some kind of doze in the hour before dawn. The light was still gray when she looked out of her shutters. The tops of the tall palms were bending — there was quite a wind.

Back on her bed, Jemima tried to recall just what she had been dreaming. There had been some pattern to it: she knew there had.

She wished rather angrily that light would suddenly break through into her sleepy mind as the sun was shortly due to break through the eastern fringe of palms on the hotel estate. No gentle, slow-developing, rosy-fingered dawn for the Caribbean: one brilliant low ray was a herald of what was to come, and then, almost immediately, hot relentless sunshine for the rest of the day. She needed that kind of instant clarity herself.

Hostility. That was part of it all — the nature of hostility. The hostility, for example, between Joseph and Tina Archer the night before, so virulent and public — with herself as the public — that it might almost have been managed for effect.

Then the management of things: Tina Archer, always managing, always a schemer (as Coralie Harrison had said — and Joseph Archer, too). That brought her to the other couple in this odd, four-pointed drama: the Harrisons, brother and sister, or rather half brother and sister (a point made by Tina to correct Miss Izzy).

More hostility. Greg, who had once loved Tina and now loathed her. Joseph, who had once also perhaps loved Tina. Coralie, who had once perhaps — very much perhaps, this one — loved Joseph and certainly loathed Tina. Cute and clever little Tina, the Archer Tomb, the carved figures of Sir Valentine and his wife, the inscription. Jemima was beginning to float back into sleep, as the four figures, all Bo’landers, all sharing some kind of common past, began to dance to a calypso whose wording, too, was confused:

“This is your graveyard in the sun

Where my people have toiled since time begun—”

An extraordinarily loud noise on the corrugated metal roof above her head recalled her, trembling, to her senses. The racket had been quite immense, almost as if there had been an explosion or at least a missile fired at the chalet. The thought of a missile made her realize that it had in fact been a missile: it must have been a coconut which had fallen in such a startling fashion on the corrugated roof. Guests were officially warned by the hotel against sitting too close under the palm trees, whose innocuous-looking fronds could suddenly dispense their heavily lethal nuts. COCONUTS CAN CAUSE INJURY ran the printed notice.

That kind of blow on my head would certainly have caused injury, thought Jemima, if not death.

Injury, if not death. And the Archer Tomb: my only wife.

At that moment, straight on cue, the sun struck low through the bending fronds to the east and onto her shutters. And Jemima realized not only why it had been done but how it had been done. Who of them all had been responsible for consigning Miss Izzy Archer to the graveyard in the sun.

The scene by the Archer Tomb a few hours later had that same strange mixture of English tradition and Bo’lander exoticism which had intrigued Jemima on her first visit. Only this time she had a deeper, sadder purpose than sheer tourism. Traditional English hymns were sung at the service, but outside a steel band was playing at Miss Izzy’s request. As one who had been born on the island, she had asked for a proper Bo’lander funeral.

The Bo’landers, attending in large numbers, were by and large dressed with that extreme formality — dark suits, white shirts, ties, dark dresses, dark straw hats, even white gloves — which Jemima had observed in churchgoers of a Sunday and in the Bo’lander children, all of them neatly uniformed on their way to school. No Bow Island T-shirts were to be seen, although many of the highly colored intricate and lavish wreaths were in the bow shape of the island’s logo. The size of the crowd was undoubtedly a genuine mark of respect. Whatever the disappointments of the will to their government, to the Bo’landers Miss Izzy Archer had been part of their heritage.

Tina Archer wore a black scarf wound round her head which almost totally concealed her bandage. Joseph Archer, standing far apart from her and not looking in her direction, looked both elegant and formal in his office clothes, a respectable member of the government. The Harrisons stood together, Coralie with her head bowed.

Greg’s defiant aspect, head lifted proudly, was clearly intended to give the lie to any suggestions that he had not been on the best of terms with the woman whose body was now being lowered into the family tomb.

As the coffin — so small and thus so touching — vanished from view, there was a sigh from the mourners. They began to sing again: a hymn, but with the steel band gently echoing the tune in the background.

Jemima moved discreetly in the crowd and stood by the side of the tall man.

“You’ll never be able to trust her,” she said in a low voice. “She’s managed you before, she’ll manage you again. It’ll be someone else who will be doing the dirty work next time. On you. You’ll never be able to trust her, will you? Once a murderess, always a murderess.

You may wish one day you’d finished her off.”

The tall man looked down at her. Then he looked across at Tina Archer with one quick savagely doubting look. Tina Archer Harrison, his only wife.

“Why, you—” For a moment, Jemima thought Greg Harrison would actually strike her down there at the graveside, as he had struck down old Miss Izzy and — if only on pretense — struck down Tina herself.

“Greg darling.” It was Coralie Harrison’s pathetic, protesting murmur. “What are you saying to him?” she demanded of Jemima in a voice as low as Jemima’s own. But the explanations — for Coralie and the rest of Bow Island — of the conspiracy of Tina Archer and Greg Harrison were only just beginning.

The rest was up to the police, who with their patient work of investigation would first amplify, then press, finally concluding the case.

And in the course of the investigations; the conspirators would fall apart, this time for real. To the police fell the unpleasant duty of disentangling the new lies of Tina Archer, who now swore that her memory had just returned, that it had been Greg who had half killed her that night, that she had had absolutely nothing to do with it.

And Greg Harrison denounced Tina in return, this time with genuine ferocity. “It was her plan, her plan all along. She managed everything. I should never have listened to her!”

Before she left Bow Island, Jemima went to say goodbye to Joseph Archer in his Bowtown office. There were many casualties of the Archer tragedy beyond Miss Izzy herself. Poor Coralie was one: she had been convinced that her brother, for all his notorious temper, would never batter down Miss Izzy to benefit his ex-wife. Like the rest of Bow Island, she was unaware of the deep plot by which Greg and Tina would publicly display their hostility, advertise their divorce, and all along plan to kill Miss Izzy once the new will was signed. Greg, ostentatiously hating his ex-wife, would not be suspected, and Tina, suffering such obvious injuries, could only arouse sympathy.

Another small casualty, much less important, was the romance which just might have developed between Joseph Archer and Jemima Shore. Now, in his steamingly hot office with its perpetually moving fan, they talked of quite other things than the new moon and new wishes.

“You must be happy you’ll get your museum,” said Jemima.

“But that’s not at all the way I wanted it to happen,” he replied.

Then Joseph added: “But you know, Jemima, there has been justice done. And in her heart of hearts Miss Izzy did really want us to have this National Museum. I’d have talked her round to good sense again if she had lived.”

“That’s why they acted when they did. They didn’t dare wait given Miss Izzy’s respect for you,” suggested Jemima. She stopped but her curiosity got the better of her. There was one thing she had to know before she left. “The Archer Tomb and all that. Tina being descended from Sir Valentine’s lawful second marriage. Is that true?”

“Yes, it’s true. Maybe. But it’s not important to most of us here.

You know something, Jemima? I, too, am descended from that well-known second marriage. Maybe. And a few others maybe. Lucie Anne had two children, don’t forget, and Bo’landers have large families. It was important to Tina Archer, not to me. That’s not what I want. That’s all past. Miss Izzy was the last of the Archers, so far as I’m concerned. Let her lie in her tomb.”

“What do you want for yourself? Or for Bow Island, if you prefer.”

Joseph smiled and there was a glimmer there of the handsome fisherman who had welcomed her to Bow Island, the cheerful dancing partner. “Come back to Bow Island one day, Jemima. Make another program about us, our history and all that, and I’ll tell you then.”

“I might just do that,” said Jemima Shore.

The Case of the Pietro Andromache

SARA PARETSKY

Sara Paretsky (b. 1947) was born in Ames, Iowa, and educated at the University of Kansas, Lawrence, and the University of Chicago, where she attained a Ph.D. in history. After working as a business writer and direct-mail marketing manager for an insurance company, she turned to fiction writing with Indemnity Only, which introduced Chicago private detective V. I. Warshawski, one of two renowned female p.i.’s to debut in the watershed year of 1982. As fictional sleuths go, Warshawski is a specialist. Paretsky writes in St. James Guide to Crime & Mystery Writers (4th edition, 1996), “Like Lew Archer before her she looks beyond the surface to ‘the far side of the dollar,’ the side where power and money corrupt people into making criminal decisions to preserve their positions. All of her cases explore some aspect of white-collar crime where senior executives preserve position or bolster their companies without regard for the ordinary people who work for them.” These guidelines provide scope for plenty of variety of background from medicine to politics to religion to law enforcement.

Along with producing her own fiction, Paretsky has done much to advance the cause of women crime writers generally, editing anthologies of their work and founding the highly successful Sisters in Crime.

Paretsky’s name is invariably bracketed with that of Sue Grafton, who also introduced her female private eye Kinsey Millhone in 1982.

The two writers are about equally capable, though V. I. Warshawski is a bit harder-edged and certainly more overtly political in her point of view than Millhone. One result of the continual comparison, Paretsky admits in a recent interview in Crime Time magazine, is that she is no longer able to read Grafton, whom she previously enjoyed, for fear of being unconsciously influenced.

Like many of the female private eyes, V. I. Warshawski has an extended family of friends that recur from book to book. Two of them, Lotty Herschel and Max Loewenthal, appear in “The Case of the Pietro Andromache,” a story that has achieved the status of a modern classic judging by the number of times it has been antholo-gized.

I

You only agreed to hire him because of his art collection. Of that I’m sure.” Lotty Herschel bent down to adjust her stockings.

“And don’t waggle your eyebrows like that — it makes you look like an adolescent Groucho Marx.”

Max Loewenthal obediently smoothed his eyebrows, but said,

“It’s your legs, Lotty; they remind me of my youth. You know, going into the Underground to wait out the air raids, looking at the ladies as they came down the escalators. The updraft always made their skirts billow.”

“You’re making this up, Max. I was in those Underground stations, too, and as I remember the ladies were always bundled in coats and children.”

Max moved from the doorway to put an arm around Lotty. “That’s what keeps us together, Lottchen: I am a romantic and you are severely logical. And you know we didn’t hire Caudwell because of his collection. Although I admit I am eager to see it. The board wants Beth Israel to develop a transplant program. It’s the only way we’re going to become competitive—”

“Don’t deliver your publicity lecture to me,” Lotty snapped. Her thick brows contracted to a solid black line across her forehead. “As far as I am concerned he is a cretin with the hands of a Caliban and the personality of Attila.”

Lotty’s intense commitment to medicine left no room for the mundane consideration of money. But as the hospital’s executive director, Max was on the spot with the trustees to see that Beth Israel ran at a profit. Or at least at a smaller loss than they’d achieved in recent years. They’d brought Caudwell in part to attract more paying patients — and to help screen out some of the indigent who made up 12 percent of Beth Israel’s patient load.

Max wondered how long the hospital could afford to support personalities as divergent as Lotty and Caudwell with their radically differing approaches to medicine.

He dropped his arm and smiled quizzically at her. “Why do you hate him so much, Lotty?”

I am the person who has to justify the patients I admit to this — this troglodyte. Do you realize he tried to keep Mrs. Mendes from the operating room when he learned she had AIDS? He wasn’t even being asked to sully his hands with her blood and he didn’t want me performing surgery on her.”

Lotty drew back from Max and pointed an accusing finger at him.