วันอาทิตย์ที่ 6 มกราคม พ.ศ. 2556

J.Jefferson Farjeon - Waiting for the Police: Part one


                                 

'I wonder where Mr. Wainwright's gone? ' said Mrs. Mayton. It didn't matter to her in the least whether he had gone. All that mattered in regard to her second-floor back was that he paid his three guineas a week regularly for board and lodging, baths extra. But life-and particularly evening life-was notoriously dull in her boarding-house, and every now and again one tried to whip up a little interest.
           'Did he go?' asked Monty Smith.
           It didn't matter to him, either, but he was as polite as he was pale, and he always did his best to keep any ball rolling.
           'I thought I heard the front door close,' answered Mrs. Mayton.
           'Perhaps he went out to post a letter,' suggested Miss Wicks, without pausing in her knitting. She had knitted for seventy years,and looked good for another seventy.
          'Or perhaps it wasn't him at all' added Bella Randall, Bella was the boarding-house lovely, but no one had taken advantage of the fact.
          'You mean,it might have been someone else?' inquired Mrs.Mayton
          'Yes,' agreed Bella.
          They all considered the alternative earnestly. Mr. Calthrop, coming suddenly out of a middle-aged doze, joined in the thing without any idea what he was thinking.
‘Perhaps it was Mr. Penbury,’ said Mr. Mayton, at last. He’s always popping in and out.’
        But it was not Mr. Penbury, for that rather eccentric individual  walked into the drawing–room a moment later.
        His arrival interrupted the conversation, and the company reverted to silence.
        Penbury always had a chilling effect. He possessed a brain, and since no one understood it when he used it, it was resented. But Mrs. Mayton never allowed more than three minutes to go by without a word; and so when the new silence had reached its allotted span, she turned to Penbury and asked:
        ‘Was that Mr. Wainwright who went out a little time ago?’
        Penbury looked at her oddly
        ‘What makes you ask that?’ he said.
        ‘Well, I was just wondering.’
        ‘I see,’ answered Penbury slowly. The atmosphere seemed to tighten, but Miss Wicks went on knitting. ‘And are you all wondering?’
        ‘We decided perhaps he’d gone out to post a letter,’ murmured Bella.
        ‘No, Waingwright hasn’t gone out to post a letter,’ responded Penbury. ‘He’s dead.’
        The effect was instantaneous and galvanic. Bella gave a tiny shriek. Mrs. Mayton’s eyes became too startled glass marbles. Monty Smith opened his mouth and kept it open. Mr. Calthrop, in a split second, lost all inclination to doze. Miss Wicks looked definitely interested, though she did not stop knitting. That meant nothing, however. She had promised to knit at her funeral.
        ‘Dead?’ gasped Mr. Calthrop.
        ‘Dead,’ repeated Penbury. ‘He is lying on the floor of his room. He is rather a nasty mess.’
        Monty leapt up, and then sat down again.
        ‘You – don’t mean…?’ he gulped.
        ‘That is exactly what I mean,’ replied Penbury.
        There had been countless silences in Mrs. Mayton’s drawing-room, but never a silence like this one. Miss Wicks broke it.
        ‘Shouldn’t the police be sent for?’ she suggested.
‘The police have already been sent for,’ said Penbury. ‘I phoned the station just before coming into the room.’
        ‘God  bless my soul!’ said Mr. Calthrop.
        ‘How long – that is – when do you expect…?’ stammered Monty.   
        ‘The police? I should say in two or three minutes, ‘ responded Penbury. His voice suddenly shed its cynicism and became practical.
        ‘Shall we try and make use of these two or three minutes? We shall all be questioned, and perhaps we can clear up a little ground before they arrive,’ Mr. Calthrop bridled.
        ‘But this is nothing to do with any of us, sir! He exclaimed.’
        ‘The police will not necessarily accept our word for it,’ answered Penbury. ‘That is why I propose that we consider our alibis in advance. I am not a doctor, but I estimate from my brief examination of the body that it has not been dead more than an hour. It could not, of course, be more than an hour and a half,’ he went on, glancing at the clock, ‘since it is now ten past nine, and at twenty to eight we saw him leave the dining-room for his bedroom….’

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