Authors: Frances Lockridge
Murder within Murder
A Mr. and Mrs. North Mystery
Frances and Richard Lockridge
Miss Amelia Gipson presented a firm front to the world; she stood for no nonsense. For the conscious period of her fifty-two years she had stood for no nonsense in a world which was stubbornly nonsensical. The nonsense in the world had not been greatly abated by her attitude, but Miss Gipson's skirts were clean. What one person could do, she had done. If that was inadequate, the fault lay elsewhere; there was a laxity in higher places. Miss Gipson often suspected that there was.
She wore a gray rayon dress on this, the last evening of her life. It was fitted smoothly on her substantial body, which, although Miss Gipson was not notably a large woman, was apt to give frailer persons an impression of massiveness. It followed her firm bosomâa meticulously undivided expanseâwith discretion; it was snug over her corseted hips. There was a touch of white at the throat; there was a little watch hanging from a silver pin on the left side of the central expanse. Above the touch of white at the throat, Miss Gipson's face was firm and untroubled; it was a face on which assurance rode, sure of a welcome. Miss Gipson did not know that it was the last evening of her life. Nothing was further from her thoughts.
The colored elevator man in the Holborn Annex greeted her with docile respect and rather as if he expected her to smell his breath. She had complained to the management on one occasion that there had been, in George's car, an unmistakable odor of liquor. She had indicated a belief that it might have had its origin in George. She had pointed out that an elevator operated by a person under the influence of alcohol was a menace to the tenants. The management had listened, nodding agreement, and had taken it up.
“Beer ain't liquor,” George had insisted. “I had me a beer. A beer ain't liquor.”
Anything was liquor to Miss Gipson, the management thought, fleetingly, and as it thought of Miss Gipson had a sudden, unaccountable longing for a drink. But the management merely cautioned George, a little vaguely, not to let it happen again. He hoped, this evening, that Miss Gipson would not detect that it had happened again.
Miss Gipson was not thinking of George. She had collected her mail at the desk when she came in, and the top letter was addressed to Miss Amelia Gibson. Miss Gipson's eyes had hardened when she saw this, and realized that the world was at its nonsense again. There was no reason why the world, including department stores with fur collections to announce, should not learn that Miss Gipson's name was spelled with a
, instead of a common
. Miss Gipson had had a good deal of trouble with the world about this and resignedly expected to have more. It was not that she did not make the difference clear.
“Gip-son,” she had always said, with the clearest possible enunciation. “With a
, not a
But the world was slovenly. To the world, Gipson sounded very like Gibson, and Gibson was easier. So Miss Gipson was, except by those who knew her best, almost always incorrectly addressed, and this did nothing to lessen her conviction that things were, in general, very badly run. They had been badly run as long as she could remember, and her memory started, with clarity, at the age of five. Of late years, things had been worse run than before, if anything.
“Good evening,” Miss Gipson said to George, automatically and without sniffing. She said nothing more and George said nothing more until the car stopped at the tenth floor of the Holborn Annex. Miss Gipson stepped firmly out and went firmly down the corridorâdown the middle of the corridorâto her door. She opened it and went in to her one-room furnished apartment, with bath, and laid her letters on the coffee tableâfrom which Miss Gipson never drank coffeeâwhich was in front of the sofa, on which Miss Gipson never lounged. She took off her hat and put it on the closet shelf and went to the bathroom and washed her face in lukewarm water. She dried her face and did not examine it further, knowing what it looked like. She washed her hands. She went back and sat down, erectly, on the sofa and opened her letters, beginning with the first one. She looked at it, sniffedâMiss Gipson did not wear furs, and disapproved of those who didâput it back in its envelope and laid it on the coffee table. She laid it so that it squared with the oblong of the table. She picked up the next letter.
It was correctly addressed. It began: “Dear Aunt Amelia.” The writing of the letter was almost like printing; to it there was a certain flagrance, a kind of impertinence. But the content of the letter was straight-forward, almost blunt. Miss Gipson read it and sat for a moment looking at it.
“Well!” Miss Gipson said to herself. “She will, will she? Nonsense!”
Miss Gipson read the letter again, and smiled a little. She looked at the postmark and smiled again. By this time Nora would have got her letter; by this time Nora would know better, as she should have known from the beginning. That nonsense was going to end; that nonsense had, in fact, ended. No niece of hers.â¦ Miss Gipson let the thought go unfinished. She took up the next letter. It, also, was correctly addressed. It began: “Dear Amelia.” Miss Gipson read it and her eyes narrowed. She read it again and put it down on her lap and looked at the opposite wall without seeing it clearly. It was as if she were looking through the opposite wall out into a world full of nonsenseâreprehensible nonsense. Miss Gipson's face was not expressive, and there was no one there to attempt its reading. But it was for a moment troubled; for a moment confidence was uneasy on it. There was more than one kind of nonsense in the world, Miss Gipson thought.
“But,” she reminded herself, “there are more ways than one of killing a cat, too.”
She put the letter down on top of the one which began “Dear Aunt Amelia” and opened her fourth letter. She merely glanced at it and put it down on the letter advertising furs. She made it expressly clear that she had no intention of paying good money for unsatisfactory merchandise, war or no war. If storekeepers chose to disregard her irrefutable statements, the responsibilityâand the inevitable chagrinâwere theirs. Miss Gipson's position had been stated.
She sat for a moment and then picked up the letter which began “Dear Amelia” and read it again. She also read again the letter from Nora. Then she put these two letters in a pigeonhole of a small secretary. She put the other two letters in a wastebasket, after tearing them twice across. She thought a moment, took out the letter which had contained a bill she had no intention of paying, and tore it into even small fragments. It was entirely possible that the maid who cleaned the room read letters thrown into the wastebasket, piecing them together like crossword puzzles. There was, certainly, little to indicate that she did much else in the room. Miss Gipson absently ran a finger along the writing shelf of the secretary and looked at it. She made a small, disparaging sound with her tongue and teeth. Nonsense! War or no war, an apartment hotel like the Annex could manage to get proper help. The management was shiftless and indifferent. It permitted chambermaids not only to neglect their jobs, but to wear perfume while doing it. Miss Gipson sniffed. More than usual, this time, and a new brand. No improvement, however; there were no gradations in perfume, so far as Miss Gipson could tell. All represented laxity, at the best. At the worst they were invitations to the most nonsensical of human activities. It was an activity in which Miss Gipson had never had a part, and whichâshe hardly needed to assure herselfâshe had no interest. Wherein, it had to be admitted, she differed from far too much of the world. Miss Gipson had no illusion that the particular nonsense to which perfumeâand so much else you could see and hear and in other fashions not ignoreâinvited, was of limited scope. Miss Gipson saw it, in its secondary manifestations, to be sure, everywhere. She had disapproved of it since she was ten; her disapproval had never faltered.
“Chambermaids!” Miss Gipson thought. “Boys, nothing but boys. And Nora.”
Miss Gipson would not have spoken thus scatteredly. Her conversation was never scattered. But her thoughts, as she so often had occasion to point out, were her own.
She looked at the watch. It told her the time was ten minutes of six. Then the telephone rang.
“Miss Gipson speaking,” she said, as soon as she picked up the telephone. She waited a moment for the inevitable readjustment to take place. “
is Miss Gipson,” she said. She said it in the tone of forbearance she had used so often when she had a desk of her own at the college, before it became necessary for her to resign because nonsenseâand worse than nonsenseâwas so widespread even at Ward; before it was clear that, even there, the moral laxity which was demoralizing the world was creeping in. Not that the world's morality, even at its best, had ever met Miss Gipson's standards.
“Yes, John?” Miss Gipson said into the telephone. Her tone was not inviting. She listened.
“There is no reason for any further discussion,” she said. “And in any case, I am occupied this evening.”
She listened again.
“There is no use going over that again, John,” she said. “I am perfectly aware that it says at my discretion. I am exercising my discretion. Mr. Backley entirely agrees.”