The Yellow Streak by Valentine Williams
Chapter VII. Voices in the Library
The swift tragedy of the winter afternoon had convulsed the well-organized repose of Hartley Parrish's household. Nowhere had his master grasp of detail been seen to better advantage than in the management of his country home. Overwhelmed with work though he constantly was, accustomed to carry his business and often part of his business staff to Harkings with him for the week-ends, there was never the least confusion about the house. The methodical calm of Harkings was that of a convent.
Hartley Parrish was wont to say that he paid his butler and housekeeper well to save himself from worry. It was rather to ensure his orders being punctiliously and promptly carried out. His was the mind behind the method which ensured that meals were punctually served and trains at Stevenish Station never missed.
But it was into a house in turmoil that Mary Trevert stepped when she left the drawing-room and passed along the corridor to go to her room. Doors slammed and there was the heavy thud of footsteps on the floor above. The glass door leading into the gardens was open, as Mary passed it, swinging in the gusts of cold rain. In the gardens without there was a confused murmur of voices and the flash of lanterns.
In the hall a knot of servants were gossiping in frightened whispers with a couple of large, rather bovine country constables who, bareheaded, without their helmets, which they held under their arms, looked curiously undressed.
The whispers died away as Mary crossed the hall. All eyes followed her with interest as she went. It was as though an echo of her talk with the Inspector had by some occult means already spread through the little household. Through the half-open green baize door leading to the servants' quarters some unseen person was bawling down the telephone in a heated controversy with the exchange about a long-distance call to London. And but an hour since, the girl reflected sadly, as she mounted the oaken staircase, the house had been wrapt in its wonted evening silence in response to that firm and dominating personality who had passed out in the gloom of the winter twilight.
When, about six months before, Mary and her mother had begun to be regular visitors at Harkings, Hartley Parrish had insisted on giving Mary a boudoir to herself. This, in response to a chance remark of Mary's in admiration of a Chinese room she had seen at a friend's house, Parrish had had decorated in the Chinese style with black walls and black-and-gold lacquer furniture. The room had been transformed from a rather prosaic morning-room with old oak and chintz in the space of three days as a surprise for Mary. She remembered now how Parrish had left her to make the discovery of the change for herself. She loved colour and line, and the contrast between this quaint and delightful room with her rather shabby bedroom in her mother's small house in Brompton had made this surprise one of the most delightful she had ever experienced.
She rang the bell and sat down listlessly in a charmingly lacquered Louis Seize armchair in front of the log-fire blazing brightly in the fireplace. She was conscious that a great disaster had overtaken her, but only dimly conscious. For more poignantly than this dull sense of tragedy she was aware of a great aching at her heart, and her thoughts, after hovering over the events of the afternoon, settled down upon her talk that afternoon ... already how far off it seemed ... with Robin Greve in the library,
Robin had always been her hero. She could see him now in the glow of the fire as he had been when in the holidays he had come and snatched her away from a home already drab and difficult for a matinée and an orgy of cream cakes at Gunter's afterwards. He was then a long, slim, handsome boy of irrepressible spirits and impulsive generosity which usually left him, after the first few days of his holidays, in a state of lamentable impecuniosity. All their lives, it seemed to her, they had been friends, but with no stronger feeling between them until Robin, having joined the Army on the outbreak of war, had come to say good-bye on being ordered to France.
But by that time money troubles at home with which, as it seemed to her, she had been surrounded all her life, had grown so pressing that, apart from Lady Margaret's reiterated counsels, she herself had come to recognize that a suitable marriage was the only way out of their ever-increasing embarrassment.
She and Robin, she recalled with a feeling of relief, had never discussed the matter. He, too, had understood and had sailed for France without seeking to take advantage of the circumstance.
Outside in the black night a car throbbed. Footsteps crunched the gravel beneath her window. The sounds brought her back to the present with a sudden pang. She began to think of Hartley Parrish. All her life she had been so very poor that, until she had met this big, vigorous, intensely vital man, she had never known what a lavish command of money meant. Hartley Parrish did things in a big way. If he wanted a thing he bought it, as he had bought Bude, as he had bought a car he had seen standing outside a Pall Mall club and admired. He had rooted the owner out, bade him name his price, and had paid it, there and then, by cheque, and driven Mary off to a lawn tennis tournament at Queen's, hugely delighted by her bewilderment.
She did not love him. She could never have learnt to love him. There was a gleeful zest in his enjoyment of his money, an ostentatious parade of his riches which repelled her. And there was a look in his face, those narrow eyes, that hard mouth, which revealed to her womanly intuition a ruthlessness which she guessed he kept for his business. But she liked him, especially his reverent and chivalrous devotion to her, and the thought that his dominating and vital personality was extinguished for ever made her conscious of a great void in her life.
And now she was rich. Hartley Parrish's idea of "proper provision" for her, she knew, meant wealth for her beyond anything she had ever dreamed. The perpetual debasing struggle with poverty which she and her mother had carried on for years was a thing of the past. Money meant freedom, freedom to live ... and to love.
She stretched her hands out to the blaze. Was she free to love? What had driven Hartley Parrish to suicide? Or who? She went over in her mind her interview with Robin Greve in the billiard-room. He had spoken of other women in connection with Hartley Parrish. Had he used that knowledge to threaten his rival? What had Robin done after he had left her that afternoon with his final taunt?
She felt the blood rise to her cheeks as she thought of it. Mary Trevert had all the pride of her ancient race. The recollection of that taunt galled her. Her loyalty to the man from whom she had received nothing but chivalry, whose fortune was to banish a hideous nightmare from her life, rose up in arms. What had Robin done? She must know the truth ...
A tap came at the door. Bude appeared.
"I think you rang, Miss," he said in his quiet, deep voice. "I was with the Inspector, Miss, and I couldn't come before. Was there anything?..."
The girl turned in her chair.
"Come in and shut the door, Bude," she said. "I want to speak to you."
The butler obeyed and came over to where she sat. He seemed ill at ease and rather apprehensive.
"Bude," said the girl, "I want you to tell me why you were certain that Mr. Greve was going to Mr. Parrish in the library when he passed you in the hall this afternoon!"
The butler smoothed his hands down his trousers in embarrassment.
"I thought he ... Mr. Greve ... would be sure to be going to fetch Mr. Parrish in to tea, Miss ..." he replied, eyeing the girl anxiously.
Mary Trevert continued gazing into the fire.
"You know it is a rule in this house, Bude," she said, "that Mr. Parrish is never disturbed in the library ..."
The butler changed his position uneasily.
"Yes, Miss, but I thought ..."
Slowly Mary Trevert turned and looked at the man.
"Bude,"--her voice was very calm,--"I want you to tell me the truth. You know that Mr. Greve went in to Mr. Parrish ..."
Bude looked uneasily about him.
"Oh, Miss," he answered, almost in a whisper, "whatever are you saying?"
"I want your answer, Bude," the girl said coldly.
Bude did not speak. He rubbed his hands up and down his trousers in desperation.
"I wish to know why Mr. Parrish did this thing, Bude. I mean to know. And I think you are keeping something back!"
The challenge resounded clearly, firmly.
"Miss Trevert, ma'am," the butler said in a low voice, "I wouldn't take it upon me to say anything as would get anybody in this house into trouble...."
"You saw Mr. Greve go into Mr. Parrish?"
The butler raised his hands in a quick gesture of denial.
"God forbid, Miss!" he ejaculated in horror.
"What, then, do you know that is likely to get anybody here into trouble?"
The butler hesitated an instant. Then he spoke.
"That Inspector Humphries has been asking me questions, Miss, in a nasty, suspicious sort o' way. I told him, what I told him already, that just after I'd done serving the tea Mr. Greve crossed the hall and went down the library corridor...."
"You didn't tell him everything, Bude?"
The butler took a step nearer.
"Oh, Miss," he said, lowering his voice, "if you'll pardon my frankness, but I know as how you and Mr. Greve are old friends, and I wouldn't take it upon me to tell the police anything as might ..."
Mary Trevert stood up and faced the man.
"Bude," said she, "Mr. Parrish was your master, a kind and generous master as he was kind and generous to every one in this house. We must clear up the mystery of his ... of his death. Neither you nor I nor Mr. Greve nor anybody must stand in the way. Now, tell me the truth!"
She dropped back into her chair. She gave the order imperiously like the mistress of the house. The butler, trained through life to receive orders, surrendered.
"There's nothing much to tell, Miss. When Mr. Humphries asked me if I were the last person to see Mr. Parrish alive, I made sure that Mr. Greve would say he had been in to tell him tea was ready. But Mr. Greve, who heard the Inspector's question and my answer, said nothing. So I thought, maybe, he had his reasons and I did not feel exactly as how it was my place ..."
Mary Trevert tapped with her foot impatiently.
"But what grounds have you for saying that Mr. Greve went in to Mr. Parrish? Mr. Greve declared quite positively that he went out by the side door and did not go into the library at all."
"But, Miss, I heard him speaking to Mr. Parrish ..."
The girl turned round and the man saw fear in her wide-open eyes.
The butler put his hand on the back of her chair and leaned forward.
"Better leave things where they are, Miss," he said in a low voice. "Mr. Parrish, I dare say, had his reasons. He's gone to his last account now. What does it matter why he done it ..."
The man was agitated, and in his emotion his carefully studied English was forsaking him.
But the girl broke in incisively.
"Please explain what you mean!" she commanded.
"Why, Miss," replied the butler, "we know that Mr. Greve had no call to like Mr. Parrish seeing how things were between you and the master ..."
"You mean the servants know that Mr. Parrish and I were engaged ..."
Bude made a deprecatory gesture.
"Know, Miss? I wouldn't go so far as to say 'know.' But there has been some talk in the servants' 'all, Miss. You know what young female servants are, Miss ..."
"And you think that Mr. Greve went to Mr. Parrish to talk about ... me?"
Mary Trevert's voice faltered a little. She looked eagerly at the other's fat, smooth face.
"I presoomed as much, Miss, I must confess!"
"But what did you hear Mr. Greve say?"
"I heard nothing, Miss, except just only the sound of voices. After Mr. Greve had crossed me in the hall, I took the salver I was carrying into the butler's pantry. I stayed there a minute or two, and then I remembered I had not collected the letters from the box in the hall for the chauffeur to take to the post, the same as he does every evening. I went back to the hall, and just as I opened the green baize door I heard voices from the library ..."
"Was it Mr. Greve's voice?"
"I cannot say, Miss. It was just the sound of voices, rather loud-like. I caught the sound because the door leading from the hall to the library corridor was ajar. Mr. Greve must have forgotten to shut it."
"What did you do?"
"Well, Miss, I closed the corridor door ..."
"Why did you do that?"
"Well, Miss, seeing the voices sounded angry-like, I thought perhaps it would be better not to let any one else hear.... And Mr. Greve looked upset-like when he passed me. He gave me quite a turn, he did, when I saw his face under the hall lamp...."
"Did you stay there ... and listen?"
Bude drew himself up.
"That is not my 'abit, Miss, not 'ere nor in hany of the 'ouses where I 'ave seen service...."
The butler broke off. The h's were too much for him in his indignation.
"I didn't mean to suggest anything underhand," the girl said quickly. "I mean, did you hear any more?"
"No, Miss. I emptied the letter-box and took the letters to the servants' hall."
"But," said Mary in a puzzled way, "why do you say it was Mr. Greve if you didn't hear his voice?"
Bude spread out his hands in bewilderment.
"Who else should it have been, Miss? Sir Horace and the doctor were in the lounge at tea. Jay and Robert were in the servants' hall. It could have been nobody else...."
The girl's head sank slowly on her breast. She was silent. The butler shifted his position.
"Was there anything more, Miss?" he asked after a little while.
"There is nothing further, thank you, Bude," replied Mary. "About Mr. Greve, I am sure there must be some mistake. He cannot have understood Mr. Humphries's question. I'll ask him about it when I see him. I don't think I should say anything to the Inspector about it, at any rate, not until I've seen Mr. Greve. He'll probably speak to you about it himself...."
Bude made a motion as though he were going to say something. Then apparently he thought better of it, for he made a little formal bow and in his usual slow and dignified manner made his exit from the room.