Mr Pond was thinking about going home. The late March weather was surprisingly pleasant, and he was considering buying some daffodils as a little surprise for Mrs Pond. The blue skies and warm winds outside made it difficult to concentrate on the masses of paper telling mutely of Mr Urquhart’s financial double-dealings. Urquhart himself was now approaching trial, amidst noisy speculation in the more vulgar papers about whether he would be the second solicitor to hang for murder, and Miss Murchison and the few other staff were all long gone. Only Mr Pond was was left, still drawing his weekly pay at the instructions of Mr. Urquhart’s far-off Australian relatives, attempting to close or transfer his clients’ accounts and shut down the office properly. However, a job that he had anticipated would take no more than a few weeks had now lasted a mortifying two months and more, as it became apparent that few of them had had their accounts un-tampered with and that tracing the sources of the irregularities required more patient financial sleuthing than he had known he was capable of. His initial disbelief at the news of Urquhart’s arrest for murder had receded in face of the remorseless evidence of his thievery. A man capable of cold-blooded theft of this sort was, in Mr Pond's opinion, equally capable of cold-blooded murder.
The crash of a bucket outside and the clattering of mops and brooms announced the arrival of Mrs Hodges.
“Beg pardon, sir! I didn’t know you was still in here.”
“Yes, Mrs Hodges, I have a good deal here still to do — please carry on.”
She began carrying on, running a broom almost underneath his feet and swiping the feather duster on shelves inches from his head. He gritted his teeth and said nothing — the less he objected, the sooner she would be gone. He bent his head to the line of figures in front of him, but they seemed to swim in front of his eyes.
“I didn’t think what it took so long to close up an office,” Mrs. Hodges remarked as a deed-box came perilously close to crashing to the floor. “When Mr Smith and Mr Brierly shut down, it didn’t take them more’n a week or two. But there! It’s one thing when a man’s done things on the up and up, and another when he’s been doing the dirty on someone. I told Jim last January, after I seen Miss Murchison, I told him, Mr Urquhart’s going to have the law after him soon enough, I said, and sure enough —“
Mr Pond turned his head sharply. “What? What did Miss Murchison — you knew he would be arrested?”
“Not for murder or nothing, sir, nothing like that. But when I seen Miss Murchison creeping around the deed-boxes and pretending as she lost a pattern so she could look behind that sliding panel in Mr Urquhart’s office, I says to myself, Oho! He’s been robbing some people as trusted him with their money and she’s a lady ‘tec as is going to find him out. Jim always says as you can never trust them solicitors, they’re just thieves as has some education.”
“You knew about the panel?” Even these fascinating revelations about Miss Murchison, whom Mr. Pond had previously regarded as a thoroughly second-rate specimen of both a secretary and a female, could not take away his surprise at this. His own first inkling of the panel had come only when two courteous but inflexible policemen had made their way into the office with a warrant. He had watched in enthralled horror as they opened the panel, picked the lock behind it, and brought forth the horrifying contents.
“I thought as everyone knew about them — all the inner offices have them, as to keep thieves from finding things. Not that a lot of documents goes into them, as a rule — Mr Partridge keeps his best brandy there and Mr Alderman keeps the little things from his lady friends as he doesn’t want his wife to know about. But I never could tell what Mr Urquhart kept there on account of that lock. Brrr! I’m glad I didn’t, either, what if I’d touched that powder accidental?”
Mr. Pond was aghast. “Did it never occur to you to warn Mr Urquhart that Miss Murchison was going through his papers? Of course, it’s as well that she did, but as a matter of principle—“
Mrs Hodges flicked the feather duster uncomfortably close to his nose. “Not him! He was as tight as the bark to a tree — no tips, nothing for Christmas even. I didn't see no call to look out for him. And Miss Murchison, she was that clever, I didn’t want to keep her finding out what he was up to. Though she could have saved herself a lot of trouble if she’d have asked me if there was any hiding places in these offices, I’d have told her that.”
Mr Pond rose and reached for his hat. “I'll miss my train. Do you have the key? Very good. Good night, Mrs Hodges."
He walked out onto Chancery Row, barely seeing what was ahead of him. Miss Murchison a detective, Mrs Hodges — both of them had known that something very deep and dark was happening, whereas he, the senior clerk …
He was halfway home before he realized that he had forgotten Mrs Pond’s daffodils.
“Have another bun, Aunt Lucy,” said George. “You look famished. Do you know, I hardly recognized you when you arrived the other day — ever since I was small I’ve barely seen you without the veil.”
Miss Booth took the bun and poured another cup of tea. She was famished, ravenous even — which was odd, considering how little real energy her last job had needed until the end. Mrs Wrayburn’s death at the end of May had followed her great-nephew’s execution by only one week, and that week had been an agonizing one. After the corpse was laid out, Miss Booth had slipped into the room and whispered to her, “Thank you for leading us to the truth, dear Mrs Wrayburn.” The next day she had been paid her final wages and left. Only after arriving at her brother’s house for a visit had she realized how very tired she was.
“I read all about it,” George was saying. “Who would think that you would find yourself in the middle of a sensation up in Windle?”
“Not in the middle of one, precisely,” said Miss Booth, taking another bun. “The nephew lived in London, though I did see him every few months, when he came to visit.”
“Talking to a murderer! I hope he didn’t offer you any drinks -- or omelettes,” said George, and laughed. Tom and Beatrice looked at him disapprovingly. “It’s hardly a joking matter,” said Tom. “Your aunt was fortunate.”
“All the same,” said Beatrice, “It did seem such a strange case. I find it very hard to believe that they would have arrested that girl and brought her to trial if she really weren’t involved. The police are very careful, you know, and she sounds such a strange girl. I wonder if she and that nephew may have done the murder together.”
“But I thought,” said Miss Booth, “That they had never met each other — that’s what it said in the papers.”
“Of course,” said Beatrice, “But that’s what they would say, isn’t it, if they’re trying to protect her. And you can’t tell me that when a My Lord takes an interest, the police and the papers won’t listen to him. No, mark my words, she was involved in some way.”
“That’s as may be, Mother,” said George, who was less inclined to be severe upon women of relaxed reputation (his years in France had been educational in more ways than one). “But that Urquhart was involved, there was no doubt of it — they tested his hair and everything. So even if the girl helped him, they haven’t hanged an innocent man.”
“The girl didn’t help him in the slightest!” Miss Booth burst out. Three shocked pairs of eyes looked at her, obviously wondering at the emotion she was showing. “I mean,” she said, “That he surely would have mentioned it.”
“Who would have mentioned it?” said George.
“Philip Boyes, or even Mrs Wrayburn. I have a most wonderful medium friend who helped me speak to Mrs Wrayburn’s spirit even while she was alive, and she knew that there was something strange about that will, and that Mr. Urquhart was involved -- she was so concerned that we should find it and send it to him. And this was all long before he was arrested or there was any suspicion at all, so as you can see, it must have been true.”
The other three shot quick glances at each other of a type which Miss Booth knew very well; dear Lucy, talking nonsense again. But this time she knew that she was in the right — she had been at that seance, and had seen for herself Mrs Wrayburn’s knowledge of Norman and the will. Besides — “After he was arrested, we communicated with the spirit of Philip Boyes as well. My friend wasn’t sure he’d come, he sounded like such an angry spirit, but he did come once.”
“Really,” said George, grinning. “What did he have to say for himself? I read Nineveh a few months ago; if he talked like the people in the book he probably singed your hair.”
“He was very tiresome,” Miss Booth admitted. “He only wanted to know about his sales. But when I asked him if the girl had poisoned him he said `Don’t talk nonsense — as if she could.’ “
“That’s not exactly a denial,” said George. “Perhaps he didn’t know who did it.”
“I feel very sure that he knew her better than we could.”
“I’ll say he did,” said George.
“And I refuse to believe that the spirits would have left us ignorant if she really were involved.”
“Be that as it may,” said Beatrice. “There’s something shady about her. Living with men and buying all those poisons, and now she’s got a Duke’s son on a string if the papers know anything about it. You keep your spirits, I believe the papers.”
There was a moment or two of silence, finally broken by George’s observation that the weather looked like turning to rain and they had better get indoors. “How long will you be staying with Mum and Dad, Aunt Lucy?” he asked as they went inside.
“Not very long, I think,” said Miss Booth. She found that her energy had been restored, and tomorrow she would visit the agency to see about finding another job. Perhaps, while in town, she would buy a Harriet Vane novel, as a gift for her sister-in-law.