Death of Cold
Carolus was still feeling rather grim when he reached Oldhaven next day. He had lost the amused curiosity with which he had started to investigate the death of Mr. Wirral, the happy riding of his hobby-horse which had carried him through the first interviews. As he came into the town, he felt rather that he was approaching the scene of his enemy’s crimes.
He had no smile for the Original Gypsy Lee walking down to her booth, no doubt after getting her husband’s dinner, a buxom, ordinary-looking woman with a basket who seemed more interested in the shop-windows than the mysteries of the future. He stopped the car for a moment opposite the pier entrance and could just see the nautical head and shoulders of Old Hammond, but he did not greet him. Then he drove across to Number 7 Havelock Terrace, which was not more than a hundred yards away.
He found Mrs. Kemp a tall, skinny, scared-looking woman whose face was set in lines of pained surprise. He explained that he was a friend of Dr. and Mrs. Fyrth and that they had asked him to come down and make inquiries about the disappearance of Miss Pepys.
“Come in,” whispered Mrs. Kemp. “I am glad you have come. The police aren’t doing anything.”
“How do you know?”
“I don’t know, of course, but they hadn’t time to hear me out, either of them. There’s things about this that have got to be got to the bottom of.” Carolus wondered how the Fowler brothers would like that sentence. “There’s more in this than what anyone would think for.”
“I knew Ethel Pepys as well as what anyone can know a person, and I can tell you that what between one thing and another this is not something that wants to be made light of. If she’s alive at all—which if I was you I wouldn’t be too sure about in the first place, after all the cases you read about in the paper—she could tell you more than what you’d ever have thought for. I tell you this, though. There was something she was bothering herself about. She had something on her mind.”
“Something that made her hold things back even from me, and that’s saying something, because if ever anyone told things to anyone else Ethel Pepys would tell me. We were more than landlady and lodger, as you might say, though in all the time she was here she was never spoken to as other than Miss Pepys when I had occasion to say anything to her, any more than what I was ever anything different than Mrs. Kemp. But we used to go to church together on Sundays, always the Eleven O’Clock and sometimes to the Evening as well, if it wasn’t too wet to go out in.”
“St. Winifred’s?” suggested Carolus.
Mrs. Kemp nodded.
“So you can see for yourself we was more like friends, as you might say, though not to be familiar or out of place when we was speaking, nor yet to take advantage of. Well, as I say, I noticed she had something on her mind, but she didn’t say a word to me, as you might of expected of anyone, but kept it all to herself. I could tell, though. There was something she couldn’t but help feeling herself upset through.” This rapid but circuitous conversation had taken place so far in a dark passage-way, and Carolus was relieved when Mrs. Kemp opened a door and led him into a sitting-room.
“This was the room she spent most of her time in,” said Mrs. Kemp. “Just the way she left it in. We’ve got to think she’s coming back, and I’m sure it’s to be hoped for, though no one can be sure of what’s happened to her, if it’s not past hoping for.”
Carolus gazed about him. A neat room dominated by a plush-covered dining-table. There were lace curtains over a large Victorian bay window which did not look towards the sea, but had a rather dreary view of the street corner, a public-house called the Albion, a telephone-booth, a tobacconist’s shop and a passing policeman.
“Since when have you noticed anything unusual about Miss Pepys?” he asked.
“Only the last week to speak of,” returned Mrs. Kemp anxiously. “When the late Mayor was found washed-up and there was all that talk about whatever could have made him do anything like that, Miss Pepys was quite excited as you might say, and anyone would have thought she was pleased, though I’m sure it was farthest from her mind.’ She came to me in the kitchen when I was just getting her dinner out of the oven and said, ‘There! You know I must be the last person to have seen poor Mr. Wirral alive! I’d been standing over a hot stove and I’m afraid I was a bit short with her, which I’ve been sorry for since, with all that’s happened. ‘Rubbish,’ I said; ‘you was home and having your tea at half-past four and never went out again that day, and it said in the papers that he’d been seen up to past six, so don’t get ideas in your head which you might be sorry for,’ I said. She took that the wrong way and walked out of the room without a word. She was all right at tea-time, though, and told me she’d been to tell the police about it because she thought it only right, but it seemed they hadn’t barely listened to what she had to say, any more than what they did when they came to see me about her having walked out of the house and not come back on Monday, though with her you couldn’t really blame them because they knew about Mr. Wirral later than what she was on the pier.”
“And that changed Miss Pepys?”
“No. That’s what I’m saying. It didn’t seem to make a lot of difference to her as though it was just something to talk about, and I think she rather upset Mrs. Fyrth telling her the same thing when it was her father she was talking of, and you could understand her being upset.” Carolus unravelled this and nodded. “No. It was sometime later. It must be a week ago now—that’s to say the Thursday before she disappeared—that she went out in the morning to do a bit of shopping and came back looking white as a sheet. I said, ‘Whatever’s come over you, Miss Pepys? You look as though you’ve seen a ghost. You better sit down,’ I said, ‘and I’ll make you a cup of tea.’ ‘Oh, Mrs. Kemp,’ she said, ‘something dreadful happened,’ she said, ‘and I don’t know what I ought to do for the best.’ I didn’t try to get it out of her then because I could see she was upset and didn’t want to talk about it, and when I asked her later she seemed to have made up her mind to shut up like an oyster and wouldn’t hardly answer me at all, which wasn’t like her at all. I said, ‘Why don’t you go and tell Mrs. Fyrth about it?’ she having been Mrs. Fyrth’s governess when she was a little girl and thinking the world of her, as I knew. But she said she’d seen Mrs. Fyrth, and she and her husband were going back to London that day, having finished their holiday. So she moved around, and I knew something was wrong. Then on Monday she came in from her walk in the afternoon and after tea suddenly said she was going out for a little while. It was a dark, windy night with some rain and I said, ‘Whatever for?’ but she just said she wouldn’t be long and popped out. That’s the last I’ve seen of her, and I can’t help thinking something dreadful may have happened, though I hope I may be wrong and she’s just gone off somewhere and lost her memory perhaps, as people do, and turn up later somewhere else, not knowing what they’ve been up to.”
“Yes. Thank you, Mrs. Kemp. There are just one or two questions I would like to ask you about Miss Pepys. Had she many friends?”
Mrs. Kemp shook her head.
“I wouldn’t really say she had any—not to say friends. I mean even Mrs. Fyrth she scarcely ever saw anything of not since she’s been married. She was funny about that. She was asked to the wedding at St. Winifred’s and the reception afterwards, but she told me she wasn’t going. ‘I’ve got nothing to wear,’ she said, ‘and I should feel out of place,’ so she just sent a little silver salt-cellar that she treasured because it had been her mother’s and never went. She told me once she’d never seen the gentleman Mrs. Fyrth got married to and she wished she had because she liked to know what anyone was like to speak to. Then when Mrs. Fyrth moved away from here with her husband they didn’t see one another scarcely at all, and beyond that I don’t think she had any friends to speak of. She knew some of the people who came to St. Winifred’s, but only just to say good evening to.”
“Who were they?”
“Well, there was Mrs. Rowlands and her Glad, who are nice people, though I say it, even if young Glad is a barmaid, which I don’t approve of, being strict TT myself. But Miss Pepys only knew them just to have a word with after service.”
“What about Mrs. Thump, the late Mayor’s housekeeper?”
“Oh, she knew her, of course, but they weren’t speaking. Miss Pepys wasn’t one to speak ill of anybody but she didn’t like Mrs. Thump and that’s a fact, though what had happened between them I couldn’t say because it was before she came here and was still living in Wellesley Crescent that she used to go up to the house to give lessons. I know they didn’t get on together and didn’t speak if they met anywhere. But she did just know Mr. and Mrs. Hammock to exchange a few words with. He works for the Council and they are very respectable people, though Mrs. Hammock is the Original Gypsy Lee. Still, none of those were what you could call friends, and I often thought to myself I must be the only real friend the poor soul’s got, which makes it all the worse now wondering whatever’s happened to her.”
“Would you say Miss Pepys was perhaps a rather nosy person?”
“Well, I wasn’t going to mention it because it’s like speaking ill of the dead, us not knowing what’s happened to her, but if she did have a weakness that was what it was. Well, you could understand it in a way; not having anyone of her own to bother about, she liked to know what was happening to other people. She’d sit for hours in that window and when she went out anywhere she was all eyes and ears and seemed to know what was going on everywhere, even though she didn’t have a lot of friends to talk to. She did like a bit of gossip, there’s no mistake, and I often said to her, ‘You do like a bit of gossip,’ I said, and she wouldn’t say anything, but you could see she did, but not to make mischief of.”
“You never got any hint of what she meant when she said that something dreadful had happened that morning?”
“No. I didn’t and I wish I could have because that might have been at the bottom of everything if only we knew what to look for. I can’t think what she meant because nothing dreadful did happen that anyone knew of in the town that day, and unless it was something only she understood how dreadful it was, I can’t imagine what it can have been she can have heard of. Well, now I’ve told you all that I can I hope you’re going to find out where she is and what’s happened to her because it’s on my mind something cruel, and Dr. Fyrth said on the telephone that very likely you’d be able to say right away what had come over her going off like that.”
“I have an idea,” admitted Carolus. “I hope I am wrong.”
“Well, I hope you are, too, if you think she’s been done for by someone, though what the police are up to goodness knows to let it happen to anyone like that who hadn’t an enemy and meant no harm, whatever she may have seen or said. Where they think she got to I can’t say, when there’s nowhere she can have gone that I know of.”
“Have any letters come for her?”
“No. But then she never did get much in the way of letters, only about her insurance and from the bank and once or twice from her niece in Australia, who will have to be told what’s happened, I suppose, because she’s the only one related to her as far as I can make out. No, there’ve been no letters. Just the Parish Magazine as usual, which she used to take, and the Daily Mail every morning from Mr. Judd the newsagent on the corner, till I stopped it coming because it only went to waste, with her not here to read it. I take the Herald myself because my husband was a strong Labour man and I like to keep it up, if only because he’d have wished it. Now you see what you can do to find the poor little soul if she’s still breathing, which I hope she is, and let me know as soon as ever you get to hear of anything because it’s not very nice to have anyone walk out like that without a by your leave so that you don’t know if they’ve been murdered or not. I’d like to know one way or the other so that it can all be got over with. ”
“I will do what do all I can,” promised Carolus quietly.
This did not seem to satisfy Mrs. Kemp.
“Yes, but I wonder if you’ve any idea where she might have got to on her own like that, if she wasn’t whisked away by someone or other and done for, like one of those poor girls you read in the paper about.”
“Yes,” said Carolus sadly. “I have an idea.”
“You have? You mean you think you may know where she is at this very minute, poor little soul?”
“I would rather not say anything just yet, Mrs. Kemp, though I know how anxious you are. I have only one idea, and if it’s correct I’m afraid you won’t see Miss Pepys alive again. I think I ought to prepare you for that, though my idea may be completely wrong.”
He saw tears in the eyes of the voluble woman who had spoken so kindly and naturally about her friend.
“Oh dear! Oh, isn’t that awful? I shall never get over it. If it had of been someone who could look after themselves or someone that had done wrong by anyone I could have understood it better, but there’s no one she’d ever have thought of doing any harm to.”
“I know. I’m very sorry. I hope I’m wrong.”
“When will you know anything?”
“It’s just possible that I may know tonight. But only just possible. I’m going to look in one place where—but it’s only a possibility,” repeated Carolus.
“You’ll let me know, won’t you?”
“I will,” promised Carolus as he left her.