Authors: Patricia Wentworth
These things flashed on the screen of his mind without taking up any time at all. They were all there at once, and nothing to do about it except to keep on moving as fast as possible without breaking into a run.
But in the end he had to run, for the hunt came round the corner and in the forefront of it what he had most dreaded, a man on a motor-bicycle. He ran for all he was worth, heard the loud, angry voice of authority calling on him to stop, and felt a bullet go whistling past his ear. It struck with a plop against the wall of a house. There were more plops, more bullets. The man was a very bad shot. Not altogether happy on his motor-bicycle eitherâor perhaps that was wishful thinking. He was level with Antony now, but there was a turning at last, a narrow cut between two houses running down to the waterside, walls to the right and left high overhead, cobblestones under foot. A horrid place to be shot in, like a rat in a runway. He felt a stinging pain in his left arm, but he was through.
He came blinding out of the end of the cut, across a dozen feet of cobbled walk and over the edge of it to the deck of a barge. The place was an inlet from the harbour. It was stiff with barges. If he could get across to the other side he would be all right. A motor-bicycle has its limitations.
He scrambled across the first barge and faced a six-foot jump and, with a sickening check, the realization that the second barge was full of Germans. The language of Goethe and Wagner struck like a nightmare upon his ear. Who said German was a beautiful language? Antony Rossiterâbefore the men who speak it went mad.
He looked over his shoulder and saw the motor-bicycle standing on the cobblestones. The man who had ridden it was standing tooâstanding and taking careful aim. This time he would not miss. Well, that was that.
The automatic went off with a loud report. Antony yelled, spun round, and went down like a stone between the barges.
“And you say that this man was your nephew?”
Anna Brandt squared her shoulders. That her life hung on what she said, and on whether the men to whom she said it would believe that she was telling the truth, she knew very well. In that knowledge she lifted her head and looked at them frankly. “Oh, yes, he is my nephew Piet Maartens, my sister's son. Anyone can tell you that. He has been here beforeâalways comes back when he's sick or broke, and then off again and not a word out of him till next time.”
The man in uniform looked down at his notes. It was true that there was a nephew who came and went, a ne'er-do-well. He said sharply, “If he was your nephew, why did he run away when the police entered your place?”
Anna's glance never wavered. She said with a slight shrug of the shoulders, “Because he is a good-for-nothing and he is afraid of the police. Only that morning I caught him with his fingers in my till. I told him then that I should send for the police. You know how it is, Mijnheer, one says that kind of thing, but one does not mean itânot when it is one's own flesh and blood. I meant to give him a fright, that is all. But when your police came in he thought I had sent for them, and he took to his heels.”
Her manner was calm and assured. He looked at her, and she met the look without a tremor.
He said harshly, “Well, you can come along and identify the body,” and watched to see how she would take it.
She took it calmly. If he was her nephew, and a rogue, that is how a decent woman would receive the news of his death.
“Is he dead, Mijnheer?” And, when he nodded, “Well, it is a good thing my poor sister did not live to see the day. I did what I could, but some people are bad from the beginning. He took after his father. Our family, thank God, have always been respected.”
He turned to the door.
“You will accompany me to the mortuary.”
Later on in the day Barend Roos walked in upon Mina van Eyden and her sister. They were orphans, living with an invalid aunt. Heiresses tooâhe would not do so badly for himself if he married Mina. Besides he was in love with her. Enough to make him dislike the errand upon which he was come and to put as good a face on it as possible. He could have wished that Letta was not there. She did not like him, and he had a feeling that he could manage Mina better alone. When they were married, his sister-in-law would not be very often in his houseâhe meant to see to that.
He came into the room and stood for a moment without speaking. Then he said in a tone of concern,
“I am afraid something very unpleasant has happened. Do you remember, Mina, at lunch the other day you said that you thought you had seen Antony Rossiter?”
Mina turned pale. She threw a frightened look at her sister and took a step towards her. As she did so she said in a nervous voice, stumbling and hurrying over the words,
“I don't knowâI can't be sureâI didn't really know him at all wellâit might have been somebody else.”
“But that's not what you said the other day.”
“Mina is always seeing likenesses,” said Letta.
Barend frowned. “What has happened is thisâsomeone else must have recognized him, because the Gestapo were informed. They went to arrest him at an eating-house kept by a woman who used to be in the Rossiters' service, but he got away. They made after him, and there was, I believe, some shooting down by the waterside. He tried to cross on the barges and was shot down. The body wasn't recovered at once, and now there is a question of identification.” He paused, and added in a concerned voice, “I am afraid, Mina, it is going to be necessary for you to identify him.”
Mina gazed at him in a bewildered manner.
“Oh, Barend, I couldn'tâI couldn't possibly! You don't mean that I've got to go and look at him!”
“I'm afraid you'll have to. You see, there isn't anyone else.”
She took another step away from him, her eyes wide with horror. “There's Cornelius.”
“Cornelius can't be found.”
“How do you mean, he can't be found? Look for him.”
“The Gestapo are looking for him,” said Barend grimly. “If they find him, I shall lose a cousin. I'm afraid we can't count on Cornelius. Come, my dearâI will go with you, and it will all be over very quickly.”
All this time they had taken no notice of Letta. She might not have been there. In herself, in her mind and spirit, she was alone. In that April week which seemed so long ago she had given Antony Rossiter a quick, passionate love. It had never occurred to her that he would love her. It had never occurred to her that she would love anyone else. She was not jealous of Mina, or of any girl whom he might love. She only wanted to love him. And now he was deadâ
She came back from the thought to the sound of Mina's hysterical tears. “Barend, I can't! It would kill me! I have never seen a dead person! Indeed I can't!”
A high pride rose in Letta. At least she would see him again. She stepped forward and said, speaking slowly and clearly, “There is no need for Mina to goâshe would only faint. I knew Antony just as well as she did. If someone is wanted to identify him, I will go with you, Barend.”
On the way to the mortuary she was wondering what she would say. If it was going to get anyone else into trouble, perhaps she ought to say she wasn't sure. No, that wouldn't do, because then they would drag Mina into it. She never thought it strange that Mina, who didn't love Antony and had betrayed him, should be shielded at her expense.
She sat in the car beside Barend and felt a hatred for him that was like a burning fire. That it was he who had given Antony away to the Gestapo, she was as sure as she was of her own hatred. Never while she lived should he marry Minaâshe made herself that promise. And some day she would tell him why, and tell him that the van Eydens didn't marry traitors.
When they came to the mortuary she went calmly in and looked at a dead, drowned face. She looked at it for a long time. There was a disfiguring wound on the temple. It was rather a horrible sight, but she looked steadily and long. She might have been meeting a lover loved and lost. She might have been taking a last farewell. Her small, dark features were icily composed. Her eyelids were cast down. Only the dead man could have seen her eyes. If there was a dangerous spark in them, only he could have told. She said at last in a clear, controlled voice, “Yes, it is Antony Rossiter.”
Delia felt much happier after she had deposited the parcel at the bank. She sang all the way home, and nobody followed her, which just showed. When you have been feeling very young, inexperienced, and uncertain, it is heartening to find that you have done the right thing. She forgot about Miss Murdle for nearly a quarter of an hour, after which she had an attack of remorse and rang up the cottage hospital. It was a relief to hear that Miss Murdle
It was after she had got this off her mind that she began to notice Parker's gloom. He came and went like a mute at a funeral. When Delia went into the dining-room to see if the flowers would do, he was putting away spoons and forks with the air of one who is about to drop the unavailing tear. After five years of co-operation she had not the heart to leave him to it. The flowers would do, so there was really no hurry. She said, “What is itâare you stuck?”
He turned round gratefully with a tablespoon in his hand.
“Completely, Miss Deliaâall hung up for one word. You don't happen to think of one seven letters long meaning âa bright bridge that sounds cold'? Neither Mrs. Parker nor me can call anything of the sort to mind, and it's not the kind of thing that a dictionary would be any help for neither.”
“A bright bridge?”
“Sounding cold. Sounding nonsense, is what Mrs. Parker says, but I say there's always something behind these teasers when you get to the bottom of them and as it were clear them up. Of course it stands to reason there must be hundreds and thousands of bridges which me and Mrs. Parker have never so much as heard mention ofânor likely to.” His voice plumbed the depths. “That's what makes it so disheartening, because even with a college education, which was a thing that never come my way, there 'ud still be all the bridges in a lot of foreign countries which the best education that money could buy mightn't just happen to bring to your notice, so to speak. I can't help feeling it's a very disheartening circumstance, Miss Delia.”
Delia said, “'Mâ” and nodded. “Wait a minuteâsomething's hovering. Did you say it sounded cold?”
“Yes, Miss Delia.”
“And seven letters?” She ticked them off on her fingers. “Then I've got itâat least I hope I have! But don't be too buoyed up, in case there's a snag. Would Bifrost do?”
Parker looked doubtful. “Is there a bridge by that name?”
She nodded again. “A rainbow bridge. You see, that fits in with its being bright, and the frost part of it sounds cold. It was the bridge which led up to Valhalla where the old Norse gods and goddesses livedâThor and Odin, and all that lot.”
“Indeed, miss? Now Mrs. Parker and me couldn't have been expected to know that.”
“I had a book of stories about them when I was a little girl.”
She was going to say that Antony had given it to her, when she remembered that she wasn't to talk about Antony. It made him seem very far away.
The day went on. Six people rang up to say wasn't it dreadful about Miss Murdle, and what would Mrs. Felton do without her niece. Delia said perhaps she wouldn't have to do without her, but most of the ladies who telephoned inclined to a gloomier view. Wayshot had never had anything like a murder before, and was all out to extract as much drama from the situation as possible.
The last person to ring up was Cynthia Kyrle. She giggled and said, “Suppose it had been meâ”
“Why should it have been you?”
Cynthia giggled again. “But, darling, why should it have been Miss Murdle? Do you think it was a
“I think you're a perfect beast to talk like that!”
“I am rather. But she isn't going to die, you knowâthe parent says so. He says she's got a very hard skull. But why on earth should anyone try to crack itâthat's what I want to know. Now if it had been me, everyone would have said that it served me right for picking up young men I knew nothing about. They don't think it's safe to know anyone unless all your grandfathers and great-grandfathers were at school together. Everybody else is a homicidal lunatic, or a triple bigamist, or something like that. Nobody would have been at all surprised if I had been found weltering in a lane.”
Delia hung up. She was very glad to hear that Miss Murdle wasn't going to die, and that being that, she didn't want to think or talk about her any more. She had been clever and resourceful, she had done the right thing, and everything was going to be all right. Uncle Philip would get well, Antony would come back, the war would come to an end, and they would be married. She began to plan her wedding dress.
The afternoon was slipping into dusk when Parker opened the drawing-room door and announced Mr. Brown. Delia came out of her dream and got up. She saw a big, heavy man coming to meet her. Parker shut the door, and he said in very good English with just a trace of accent, “How do you do, Miss Merridewâyou are Miss Merridew?”
He bowed and put out his hand. Delia felt obliged to take it. It was large, and strong, and cold.
“Miss Merridew, now that your servant has gone, I must tell you that my name is not Brown. I am Cornelius Rossiter. You will, perhaps, have heard of me from my brother Antony.”
“You will wonder why I have called myself Brown. It is because I am over here on some very confidential business. It was thought best that I should not use my own nameâyou can understand that.”
He made her feel about six years oldâbig, smooth, easy, with that impassive face.
The light, expressionless eyes looked at her as if she wasn't there. They made her wish to be anywhere else.