Authors: Margaret Yorke
Tags: #Cast For Death
‘Now for that bothersome handkerchief,’ she said. ‘It’s very good, Patrick. He’s a wonderful Othello.’
‘Yes – better than Joss Ruxton was – very different,’ Patrick agreed.
Manolakis was sitting forward, gazing at the stage, eager not to lose a syllable of the next act.
‘He isn’t really missing much,’ Liz said.
‘No,’ said Patrick, and added, dourly, ‘He doesn’t, ever.’
‘He’s very nice,’ said Liz.
Patrick did not want to see Liz hurt again by her tendency to be swayed by passing fancies; thinking it was for her protection, not his own, he took her hand and clasped it firmly as Iago and Othello entered.
By the end of the play all three of them were wrung out with emotion. Manolakis had missed none of the poignancy; Patrick and Liz, hanging on every familiar word, were borne along by the tide of the disaster. At the end, they could not speak, and at first could not come down to earth enough even to applaud.
As they filed slowly out, Liz slipped her hand into Patrick’s again, and that, suddenly, seemed important.
Tessa Frayne was standing on some steps arranging plates along a beam when Patrick called at Pear Tree Cottage the following day. It was a fine morning and the sun was pouring in through the latticed windows. She was aware of a shadow falling across the threshold of the opened front door and turned to see a tall man, broadly built, with thick-rimmed spectacles and straight dark hair, standing there.
‘Miss Tessa Frayne?’ he asked.
She thought he must be yet another lawyer; he looked that sort of man.
‘My name’s Patrick Grant. I came to ask about your aunt. I was so sorry to hear about her death,’ he said.
Tessa climbed down from her ladder.
‘I’m interrupting you. Here, let me,’ said Patrick. He took the remaining plates from her, reached up, and arranged them neatly without need of the steps.
‘Oh—thanks,’ said Tessa, somewhat taken aback. ‘What about my aunt?’
‘We never met, but we had a mutual acquaintance.’ It was fair to describe the poodle thus. ‘It must have been a dreadful shock for you.’
‘I haven’t really taken it in yet,’ Tessa admitted. ‘It’s only just happened and look at me as a result.’
‘”Thou art translated,”’ Patrick murmured, and added, ‘You’ll stay here?’
‘Wouldn’t you, if you’d the chance?’ she asked. ‘It’s everybody’s dream cottage.’
‘It’s certainly charming.’ Patrick was stooping to avoid resting his head against the ceiling. ‘Your aunt never lived here.’
‘No. It makes the whole thing so hard to understand, doesn’t it? Why should she kill herself?’
‘Do you know why she was moving up here? She was fond of the theatre, I believe.’
‘Yes, that’s true. It may have been the reason. Or she may have wanted to be further from London. Or there may have been complications. I really don’t know.’
Complications: Hugo Barry. If they had been having an affair and he had ended it, she might have wanted to get away.
‘After all,’ Tessa went on, ‘if you haven’t got to live somewhere for a particular reason, how do you choose?’
‘It’s meant a big decision for you, hasn’t it? You made your mind up pretty quickly,’ said Patrick.
‘Well, the other house had to be cleared. I couldn’t mess things up for the buyers by squatting in it,’ said Tessa. ‘I’m really only a custodian here until probate’s been granted.’
This was true, but she could have sent everything to store while she took stock.
‘Did your aunt know Sam Irwin?’ Patrick asked.
‘Sam Irwin? Who’s he?’
‘He was an actor, but he’s dead. He was found in the Thames about a fortnight ago.’
Tessa looked startled.
‘I’ve never heard of him. Should I have?’
‘If you were to see a photograph of him you’d probably recognise him,’ said Patrick.
‘I never heard Tina mention him, but that doesn’t mean she didn’t know him,’ said Tessa. ‘Why do you ask?’
Patrick looked at the porcelain she had been unpacking from the removal men’s wrappings.
‘He wanted his friends to have various mementoes,’ he invented. ‘But he didn’t leave a list. Someone thought your aunt was a friend of his.’
‘There might be letters – something like that – or a photograph. I haven’t had time to go through everything yet. There are various papers in her desk.’
Tessa crossed to a walnut bureau which stood in a comer and opened a drawer. She took out a bundle of papers.
‘There are some photographs here. Would you like a quick look?’ she said. ‘But it doesn’t matter now, as Tina’s dead.’
‘You should have something instead. There were a lot of records. You might like some of them.’
‘Well, Tina wasn’t particularly keen on music, but I am – most sorts,’ said Tessa. ‘However, I don’t see why I should be given anything. I didn’t know this poor man. Here,’ she handed her bundle to him. ‘Have a look among these and see if he’s there, if you want to.’
She settled him down with the heap of envelopes full of old photographs, and resumed her own unpacking, looking rather pensive. Patrick’s queries had raised questions in her mind, he saw. He began looking through snapshots of people quite unknown to him. There were various lean, dark men, and some were so indistinct that they might have been anyone, not excluding Sam. He queried one, and learned he was a painter. Then, among the pile, he came to a collection of old theatre programmes, and in several of them he saw Sam’s name. They covered productions with touring companies, and even the recent Playhouse season in Oxford.
‘It doesn’t prove they were friends,’ Tessa objected, when shown these.
‘I wouldn’t like to accept anything of his unless we were really sure. It wouldn’t be right,’ said Tessa.
‘”Oh upright judge,”’ said Patrick. ‘No, of course you wouldn’t,’ he added, as she looked at him in surprise. ‘You might find some letters later, when you’re sorting other things. Would you get in touch with me if you do?’
‘Yes, if you like. Anything signed Sam,’ she said.
‘Please.’ He rose to go. ‘Here’s my address,’ he added, producing a card. ‘Can I do anything for you while I’m here? Shift something bulky, for instance?’ He wanted an excuse to see more of the house, although he could think of nothing he might learn thereby.
‘No, it’s all right, thanks. Some friends are coming this afternoon – they’re watching the Birthday procession this morning.’
So were Liz and Manolakis. Patrick had left them in the town and driven over in Liz’s car. They had spent the night in Chipping Camden.
‘Sure?’ he asked Tessa.
‘Well—there is that enormous suitcase to go upstairs. It’s full of sheets and things,’ she said, pointing to one that was almost as big as a trunk. ‘I forgot about it, while the removal men were here. It was difficult to decide about everything.’
She seemed to have done pretty well, all the same, Patrick thought. He picked up the case.
‘Right,’ he said. ‘Where do you want it?’
On her instructions, he took it into one of the bedrooms where there was a huge old oak press, heavily carved, in a corner.
‘How did you get that upstairs?’ he marvelled, for the staircase was narrow and twisting.
‘I didn’t. It was here. I think it goes with the cottage,’ she said. ‘One feels the place was built round it – it’s big enough to be a priest’s hole in itself. It’ll hold all the spare sheets and blankets and so on.’
As they returned downstairs, Patrick remembered what he had seen through the window on his previous visit.
‘What’s the kitchen like? Modern or Tudor?’ he asked.
‘See for yourself.’
She waved a hand and he peered in. It was up-to-date, fitted with a stainless steel sink and formica worktops. On the drainer stood a kettle similar to the one he had seen there before. Various packets and tins stood about, among them an open packet of Earl Grey tea.
‘Tina must have been camping here,’ Tessa volunteered. ‘There was a camp bed and some deck chairs and a sleeping bag here, and the kettle and some tea, and a few other things. She probably came to arrange about carpets and so on. But you don’t really need carpets on these floors.’
Indeed, upstairs Patrick had noticed the huge, wide boards in the bedrooms, great oaken planks. Downstairs, the floors were all stone flags.
‘Odd that they both committed suicide,’ Tessa said slowly, walking with Patrick to the door. ‘Do you think – if she did know this Sam person – it could have been the reason she killed herself?’
‘I was wondering about that, yes,’ said Patrick.
‘Why did he do it?’
‘I don’t know.’
‘It must be terrible if someone you’re in—you’re very fond of does that. And you haven’t realised that they’re desperate, perhaps. Or you think there’s something going between you and there isn’t.’
‘It must, indeed.’
A perceptive, as well as a decisive young woman, Patrick reflected.
‘I’ll go through those papers as soon as I can,’ she said. ‘It doesn’t matter a bit about the keepsake for me, but you want to know about your friend, don’t you?’
‘And I’d quite like to, too, in a way. It would provide a reason,’ said Tessa. ‘They might have had some sort of pact. But then you’d expect them to do it together, wouldn’t you?’
‘It could all be some sad misunderstanding between them,’ Patrick said, thinking of the waste in Romeo and Juliet.
‘She was very nervy. She’d been pretty depressed at one time – on tranquillizers and anti-depressant drugs. That’s why I thought it might have been an accident. But apparently she’d taken so many pills that it couldn’t have been. No one could have done that by mistake.’
‘Her divorce,’ Patrick tried.
‘Oh, that was ages ago.’
‘No. I don’t know why not.’
‘She was your mother’s sister?’
‘Your mother’s alive?’
‘Very much so. She lives in Dorset. My father’s a farmer. Tina was always more one for the merry life and so on, but coming back here was a bit like going back to country life. In a way.’
Only in a way, thought Patrick, if she meant to involve herself with the theatre, but no one knew if that was her plan.
‘What did her husband do?’
‘He makes motor cars in Coventry. He’s got another wife – traded Tina in for a newer model, you could say.’
‘Is that what she thought?’
‘I’d guess so. That’s why she tried so hard to grab someone else. Scared them off, if you ask me.’
That didn’t sound as if she would be Sam’s sort of person.
‘Maybe she wasn’t a good picker?’ he suggested. He had sometimes thought it about himself.
‘Or didn’t meet the right person at the right time. There’s always that. Still, it’s all a gamble, isn’t it?’ said Tessa.
‘What did your aunt do with her time?’ Patrick asked. The dead woman was not at all real to him. She had owned some good bits of furniture and some charming ornaments. Various pictures were stacked against the wall of the living-room; he had not looked at them, but from what he had seen of her possessions her taste was good, and she was no pauper. ‘She had no career, had she?’
‘Not now. She did work in an antique shop once, but she gave it up. She took her poodle for walks – went shopping – had her hair done. That sort of thing. Sounds awful, doesn’t it?’ said Tessa cheerfully.
‘No satisfying occupation? No hobby?’
‘I think she liked the antique shop. I don’t know why she gave it up.’
Patrick nodded at the pictures, whose backs faced them.
‘Was she keen on art? Are those any good?’
‘I shouldn’t think so. Have a look at them.’
They were oil paintings of dark, moorland landscapes. At any minute Heathcliff or Cathy would come marching into view, Patrick thought, inspecting the sixth one. He tapped the back of it; it sounded very solid.
‘Hm,’ he said.
‘Pity, isn’t it? I might have sold them for thousands of pounds,’ said Tessa. ‘As it is, I’ll be lucky if I can give them away.’
‘They’re certainly not up to much,’ Patrick said. ‘But I expect someone will buy them. Well, thank you for putting up with me. We’ll meet’Yes.’ Tessa walked with him to the gate. ‘There were a lot of people at Tina’s funeral,’ she said. ‘She was cremated. They were mostly neighbours. They were truly shocked, I think. But I wonder if any of them were really fond of her. If they were, you’d think they’d have realised she was desperate.’
‘It doesn’t always show,’ Patrick said.
Tessa turned to go back to the cottage, then hesitated.
‘There was something else rather odd,’ she said. ‘It came up at the inquest. My aunt was nervous at night – she always put the chain up on the door. That night she didn’t, and the door wasn’t bolted. It was just shut on the Yale.’
‘What did the coroner think about that?’ Patrick asked. He remembered Lettie Barry’s comment on the same thing.
‘If she was upset enough to commit suicide, she wouldn’t bother about locking up,’ she said.
She might have wanted to be found before it was too late,
Patrick thought, as he drove away; or someone might have been with her – someone who often visited her at night and who had let the dog out inadvertently, perhaps while slipping out himself and pulling the door shut after Tina had unsuspectingly swallowed the fatal dose of pills.
‘I couldn’t very well steal it,’ Patrick said.
‘It would be easy if you were a policeman,’ mourned Manolakis. ‘You would have the right – and to test all the other things, also.’
While they ate ham rolls in the garden of a pub by the river, Patrick had told him and Elizabeth about the packet of Earl Grey tea he had seen at Pear Tree Cottage. It might easily, he propounded, bear Sam’s fingerprints, for he held the theory that it was Sam who had been camping at the cottage.
‘Why should he want to?’ Liz asked. ‘He was acting in London – he couldn’t have spent many nights there, anyway. And you’ve no proof yet that they knew one another.’
‘Maybe he stayed there while he looked for digs. Maybe he meant to do a bit of painting for Tina,’ said Patrick. ‘And another thing – those paintings weren’t right. Tina’s other things were good – even the valueless ones were in good taste. But the pictures were awful.’