Authors: Patricia Wentworth
He stood where he was and waited.
The thing took a little time. He heard a clock strike inside the house, two faint strokes, and again the tinkle of falling glass. The shadow moved from the window and went back by the way that it had come. The glass door shimmered vaguely and fell to. He heard the key turn in the lock.
Ten minutes went by. They passed at an intolerable slow, dragging pace. He looked at his watch and found that they had really gone. It was ten minutes past two, and Spike Reilly was now officially here.
He walked up the steps and made his way along the terrace to where he had seen the shadow at his work, and he had no sooner reached the spot than he knew that the curtain was sliding back. Someone looked at him. Not a face, nor eyes, but someone thereâaware of himâwatching. A voice soft and muttering said, not in a whisper but also without sound,
“Give your name.”
He said, “Spike Reilly,” and immediately something was pushed at him through the square which had been robbed of its glass. It was a long rollâa canvas roll tied up with string at either end. The ends were about three feet apartâthat was how he thought of it, feeling for it in the dark. An awkward thing to carry, an awkward thing to be seen with.
He said, “What am I to do with it?” and the faint mutter from inside said,
“Put it in the boot of your car. You will receive instructions.”
Peter thought, “If I was really Spike Reilly, I'm hanged if I'd keep the corpse in my car.” As it was, it might lead to a useful contact. He left that vague, and said,
“All right. Anything else?”
The voice said, “Noâhurry!”
He went away down the steps and into his cover again, because he wanted time to think. It was the devil and all playing a part like this in the dark.
He waited to see if anything more would happen, but there was not so much as a flicker of light from behind any of those curtained or uncurtained windows. After the first few minutes he knew that that was what he was waiting for. If a light went on anywhere, he could mark the window, and it would be a clue. Man or woman, whoever was awake in that house with a light burning, it was to him or to her that the finger of certainty would be pointing.
But there was nothing to point atânot so much as the flicker of a match. The house slept under its eaves in the shadow of the cloud-bank, and every window was black, and blank, and secret.
The morning broke upon discovery. A housemaid shrieked and scurried. The butler arrivedâa thin, intelligent man, as efficient as he looked. Whilst reporting in person to Mr. Cresswell, he sent Robert the footman to telephone to the police.
Descent of James Cresswell in a dressing-gown. Descent of Emily. Highly regrettable language on James's part. Ineffectual tears from Emily. Descent of guestsâJoseph Applegarth, Fabian Roxley, Basil Ridgefieldâa male chorus of horror and sympathy.
Because the Turner had gone.
The frame leaned against one of the green linen chairs, but the canvas, very neatly cut, was missing, and a glance at the other side of the room showed how it had gone. A pane had been removed from the window on the right of the long glass doorâquite professionally and noiselessly taken out by sticking a piece of treacled paper over the glass before breaking it. The sticky mess encrusted with splinters lay there upon the pearl-coloured carpet.
It was Barnes, the efficient butler, who insisted that no one should touch it, or in fact come near the window at allâ“in case of finger-marks and footprints.” There were no visible footprints, but then, of course, it had been a dry night.
Terry Clive, coming down next, found two groups of people all staring at a broken window, with an open lane between them. She saw at once that the picture was gone, and ran to Emily, who allowed herself to be supported to a chair. Terry was very fond of Emily Cresswell, but she had never expected to find her a comfort, yet at this moment what she would have done without her she could not think. It was all right to be Terry Clive on her knees by a weeping hostess, murmuring “Darling, don't cry,” but the idea of being Terry Clive just standing there for everyone to see that she looked like a ghost, and a guilty ghost at thatâno, that wasn't so good.
The police arrived.
Norah Margesson looked around the door in a flame-coloured dressing-gown, said irritably, “A burglary? What's gone? One of the pictures? I thought someone had been murdered,” and trailed away up the stairs again.
Mrs. Yorke kept her room. Not for anything the world could offer would she leave it until every rite that served her beauty had been fulfilled. These took time, and could by no means be hurried. What was a dead picture on canvas to the living one which she daily presented to the world?
Downstairs the police inspected everything. And discovered nothing except that there were no finger-marks on frame or window. The burglar must be supposed to have worn gloves.
“Not the slightest doubt about what sort of job it is. Daring lot, I must say. You'd have thought they'd have lain low a bit after the Oppenstein affair. Bad business that poor chap of a butler being murdered there. 'Tisn't often a burglar carries arms either these days. And a lucky thing none were used here, Mr. Cresswell, because there's no doubt about it's being the same lot. The ordinary criminalâwell, it stands to reason he wouldn't know how to handle this high-class picture business. No, it's a line by itself. We'll be communicating with Scotland Yard at once, and they'll be sending someone down. You see, it's murder now, not just this picture racket.”
James Cresswell listened with an air of abstracted gloom. He didn't care who had been murdered so long as he got his Turner back. He had no opinion of the local police, and a fairly low one of Scotland Yard. This picture-stealing game had been going on for a year, and they hadn't caught anyone yet. As a considerable contributor to the country's taxes, he wanted to know what they did with the money. If an employee in his business was not efficient he got the sack. The police were there to catch criminals and restore stolen property. If they couldn't do their job they should be replaced by others who could. He judged by results, and he wanted his Turner back. These feelings, though not put into words, were plainly discernible.
The police did not linger. They removed the treacled paper, and Barnes instructed the housemaid who had screamed to sweep up the splinters of glass. The guests retired to their rooms to dress. Emily Cresswell stopped weeping, and reflected that it might have been worse. She said so to Terry as they went upstairs.
“You know, it might have been my pearls. And wouldn't that have been dreadful, because they were just there on my dressing-table, and once pearls are gone you can never trace themâyou've only got to cut the string, and of course no one can swear to themâand I don't really think I could bear it.”
She shut her bedroom door upon the two of them and went across to the dressing-table. The pearls lay there in a heap just as Terry had dropped them down in the darkness and the fear of the night which had gone. The sun was shining in at the windows now. It showed up the veins of Emily's thin hands, and it showed up the sheen on the pearls. They really were too beautiful. Emily looked down at them.
“James gave them to me when our little boy was born. It's all gone, you know.”
Terry's eyes stung. She said,
“Oh, no, darling!”
Emily shook her head.
“He stopped loving me a long time ago. I shouldn't like the pearls to go too.”
Terry kissed her and ran out of the room.
All through breakfast she was wondering what she was going to do. She had never had a secret before, not one that mattered, and this one might be going to matter terribly. Norah Margesson had taken Emily Cresswell's pearls and given them to a man who was waiting at the foot of the terrace. Norah had called him Jimmy, and he was waiting there for the pearls.â¦
Of course he was. And if it hadn't been for Terry Clive, he would have got away with them, and poor darling Emily would never have seen them again, because she was quite rightâyou can't trace pearls.
Terry had saved them and put them back. And then someone had cut the Turner from its frame and got away with it. Well, what did Terry know about that?
She sat at the breakfast table between Joseph Applegarth and Fabian Roxley, and drank Barnes's admirable coffee, and thought miserably about what she knew. She had taken the pearls and put them down on Emily's dressing-table. And then she had gone into her own room, but she hadn't been able to sleep. She really had tried, but it was no good at all. She had tried for quite a long time, but it wasn't any good, so she had gone and looked out of the window again.
Why had she done it? Oh, why, why,
had she done it?
Fabian Roxley said, “Terry, you look like a ghost,” and something shuddered inside her, because that had been her own thought.
And ghosts walk in the night
She made a gallant attempt at an impudent grin and said,
“No time to make upâthat's all. The natural face isn't too good, is it? The old lady I was telling you about last night is always saying, âBut, my dear, why can't you girls just leave yourselves to nature?' So if I go and see her like this, she'll know.”
On her other side, Mr. Applegarth chuckled.
“We used to say âAs pretty as paint' when I was a young man, but a girl couldn't paint then unless she was going in for private theatricals. I remember my sister taking a poppy out of her Sunday hat and rubbing her cheeks with it before she went to a dance, and my mother made her go upstairs and wash her face with soap and water. She's got granddaughters nowâshe's older than Iâand last time I saw the eldest one she'd got lips the colour of orange-peel, and her eyebrows plucked, and stuff on her eyelashes.” He made a comical grimace. “Well, I don't like it, I must say, but I suppose that shows I'm getting on.”
“Plucked eyebrows have gone out,” said Norah Margesson. Her own had never needed plucking. They grew in a fine and delicate arch, and she was perhaps not sorry to draw attention to them.
Terry, looking at her across the table, wondered that she could be and look so like herself. How could you be a thief in the dead of night, and take Emily's pearls and run out with them to an accomplice who was all ready and waiting so that one couldn't even think it had been a sudden frightful temptation, and then come down to breakfast as if nothing had happened?
It shook Terry a lot. If Norah could do thatâand Norah had done thatâwhy then, shouldn't it have been Norah who had cut the Turner from its frame? She felt her cheeks grow suddenly hot. It didn't fitâshe couldn't make it fit. Something inside her said, “Please let it be Norah.” Because she knew already that Norah was a thief, and it would be horrible to have to know a thing like that about anyone else.
The thoughts went on in her mind. She passed Mr. Applegarth the marmalade, and she spoke when she was spoken to, but the thoughts went on.
She was very glad when breakfast was over, because by that time she knew what she was going to do. She followed Emily out of the room, put an arm round her waist, and got her away from the others. There was a cold north-looking room behind the dining-room where nobody ever came. She took Emily there and said,
“Darling, I want to speak to you.”
Mrs. Cresswell looked at her with surprise and concern.
“My dear, what is it? You look so pale.”
“I feel pale,” said Terry. “Darling, listen. I got up in the night, and I looked out of my window, and I saw something. And I don't want to tell the police, so I thought I had better tell you.”
Emily Cresswell looked alarmed. She said “Oh, Terry!” in her nervous, fluttered way; and then, “What did you see?”
“You'd better sit down,” said Terry. She put Emily into a chair and knelt beside her. “Now, darling, brace up, because it's no good our both going at the knees.”
“Oh, my dearâwhat did you see?”
Terry patted her.
“Well, that's just itâI don't want to sayânot yetânot unless I'm obliged to. Because, you see, that burglary wasn't really a burglary at all. That is to say, it wasn't an outside job like the police think it was.”
“Terry!” gasped Mrs. Cresswell.
“I'm sorry, darling, but it wasn't. It was someone in the house. You've got to brace up, because I've got a most lovely plan. I know just what you feel, because I've been feeling like it myself ever since the middle of last night. But I really have got a plan. I was getting greener and greener all through breakfast, and then suddenly when I was passing Mr. Applegarth's cup for a third go of tea I had a brainwave and I saw how Mr. Cresswell could get his picture back, and no horrible scandal.”
Emily blinked at her.
“Oh, my dearâit sounds too dreadful! Are you sure?”
“It's a very good plan,” said Terry in her most earnest voice. “It just dropped on me from heaven. Listen, darling. I'll go round having heart-to-hearts with everybody, like we're having now. I shall tell themâone at a time of course, and in the most deadly confidenceâthat I was looking out of my window last night, and that I saw something.
But I shan't tell them what I saw
. And I shall say that I don't want to tell the police or anyone because of the horrid scandal, and you and Mr. Cresswell hating it. And if the picture was returned, well, then I wouldn't ever say what I'd seen, but if it wasn't back by the day after tomorrow, then I should have to tell the police.”
“Oh!” said Emily Cresswell in a shaking voice. A hairpin fell into her lap and she picked it up and put it back again. “Oh!” she said again. “Terry, I can't believe itâI can't! What did you see?”
Terry got to her feet. Talking about the plan had made her feel much better. There was colour in her cheeks and a sparkle in her eye.