Murder in Amber
THERE'S A MURDERER ABOARD! COMMENCING A GRIPPING NEW NOVEL OF A MYSTERY THAT TERRORIZED A WHOLE SHIP'S COMPANY
ON A SATURDAY afternoon in mid-July. I stepped over the threshold from the elegant lounge of the S.S. Orion onto the promenade deck. Looking down the long row of chairs, it was easy to find my place by the fact that my husband’s long legs protruded a good six inches farther than those of anyone else, and I made my way down the deck reflecting thankfully that, with his usual foresight, Timothy had chosen the side which was shaded from the glaring afternoon sun. Three weeks of stifling heat in Shanghai had made me wonder whether I was ever going to be really cool again. Not even the sight of the Pacific, stretching out calm and deeply blue, nor the sound of frosty spray which fell away from the Orion’s bow, could lift the feeling of sweltering oppression that had hung like thick damp mist over the crowded confusion of the strange city.
I settled myself in the chair beside Timothy and tried to take a breath of sea air deep enough to drive out the lingering memory of varied and pungent harbor aromas which still hovered in our stateroom below.
Timothy looked up from his book. “Hello. All through unpacking as soon as this?”
I shook my head. “I gave up when the stateroom got to the boiling point. The stewardess tells me it will be a charming bower of refreshing breezes by dinner time— owing to prevailing winds in latitude XYZ or something like that. Anyway, I’m not going down there again until some of the local atmosphere of dear old China evaporates - not if I have to stay here all night.” I fetched up my knitting bag, opened it and extracted pencil and pad. “I’m going to write,” I announced.
“Write? Write what?” Timothy looked impressed.
“A book,” I said. “A detective story—about you.” Timothy looked pleased, but not quite so impressed. “After all,” I went on, “what’s the use of being married to a perfectly good detective who gets sent off on exciting things like tracing a dope-smuggling ring to China if I don’t use the material?”
Timothy laughed. “You ought to know better than to write about a real detective. Why don’t you try some of our fellow passengers? The collection I encountered at the doctor’s table for lunch is queer enough even for modern fiction.”
“Oh, I’ve been wondering what they’d be like”—my literary ambitions were forgotten for the moment—“but even my curiosity couldn’t have lured me down to the dining room in that awful heat.”
“Well, you didn’t miss much,” said Timothy comfortingly. “The doctor himself is a dark-haired, high-pressure lad, with an intense, two-watt brain ...”
“That’ll be nice, if we get sick.”
“Very. And there’s an old sawbones of a missionary, mouth dragged down, soul dragged up— both equally painful—and his miserable-looking wife. Shaw, the name is. Three lone men: a Nicholas Brande, the type who seems to think you ought to have heard of him and quibbles with the steward about wine; an elderly and vague soul named Samuel Norman; and a young Tod Cutten who
appears to be a student in a graduate school and a rather classic example of a pain in the neck ...”
“Not as rare as you might think. That finishes the bachelor males. Our only unattached lady is Mrs. Gideon Hertz, who looks exactly as she sounds, bless her heart. She runs to bosom, conversation and common sense—and she’s a nice lady. That’s all, except for a dashing young couple named Covell who came in late and annoyed the steward by asking for a plate of scraps to take to their dog.”
“Well, they sound nice, anyway.” Timothy nodded. “But the others, as you must have gathered from my deft portrait sketches, are not what you’d call an inspiring group. Which means, my pet, that you’re likely to be thrown rather exclusively on my society for the voyage.”
“And what could be nicer—for a second honeymoon?”
“Excuse me”—a woman’s voice at my elbow made me turn just in time to see a large lady settle herself in the deck chair next to mine — “but aren’t you Mrs. Fowler? We met your good husband at lunch and we did hope your not being in the dining room didn’t mean you were sick or anything.”
“Oh, no. Only the heat, and the —the rather complicated atmosphere of the harbor.”
“I know just exactly what you mean,” she nodded emphatically. “Mr. Hertz is the same way. Sensitive. He says foreign travel is just one long smell to him. But with me it's just the other way. I love anything strange, even a smell ...”
VXZE WERE off, and within ten * V minutes I had an adequate understanding of the precise points wherein the attitude of Mrs. Gideon Hertz toward travel differed from that of her husband. It hadn’t taken Timothy’s murmured
introduction to tell me who my new acquaintance was. One look at her friendly blue eyes, the firm but generous set of her mouth and chin, and the extreme amplitude of her figure, had recalled his description, "She runs to bosom, conversation and common sense.” And at the end of an hour, when I was pretty well versed in the affairs of Mrs. Hertz, the little Hertzes, and the more intimate details of Mr. Hertz’s character and convictions, I was beginning to wonder whether having my deck chair next to such a fountain of confidences would be particularly conducive to authorship.
We were dressing for dinner in the comparative coolness of the early evening when a light tap sounded at the stateroom door and I turned to see the beaming countenance of Mrs. Hertz peeking at me.
“Are you dressed? Oh, and how sweet and cool you look, Mrs. Fowler, in that yellow chiffon. Just like lemon ice. I do feel hot in black, but Mr. Hertz always thinks it’s more dignified.” A layer of light pink powder did not quite conceal the glowing warmth of Mrs. Hertz’s face and neck. “Now I don’t want to disturb you —but there are just two things. First, should I wear this here—or here?” Like a prestidigitator, she produced a tremendous red silk rose from somewhere, and holding it first at her waist, where it seemed lost beneath bosom, and then on her shoulder, where it seemed lost above bosom, she waited for my verdict.
When I had, somewhat tentatively, suggested the shoulder, Mrs. Hertz clamped the flower into place with a competent jab of a pin, and proceeded to her second question. It concerned a note, written in a spidery and not too steady handwriting on ship’s stationery.
“What,” Mrs. Hertz demanded, “do you think I ought to do about this? I found it under my door when I came down to dress.”
I scanned the courteously worded invitation, signed by Samuel Norman, asking Mrs. Hertz to join him in the lounge for a cocktail before dinner. Recalling Timothy’s description of Mr. Norman as a vague and elderly soul, and being more than confident of Mrs. Hertz’s ability to deal discreetly with a chance gentleman acquaintance, I would have advised her to accept were it not for a rather peculiar postscript at the bottom of the page. In letters which were noticeably unsteady, a single sentence was scrawled downward across the lower corner.
“In reference to the matter we discussed this afternoon, I have something of importance to say to you.”
The final word trailed off the edge of the paper, almost as though the writer had been unable to finish; and yet the note was neatly folded and the envelope carefully sealed and addressed.
“Doesn’t that strike you as kind of—well, queer?” Mrs. Hertz eyed me anxiously. “Particularly as I don’t remember having said anything very special to Mr. Norman, though we did talk for a few minutes this afternoon. As I recall, he did moçt of the talking.”
This last statement 1 had reason to doubt, but I handed back the note after only a moment’s hesitation. “Well, I’d certainly go and see what it’s all about anyway. It could hardly do any harm; and if this Mr. Norman seems a nice old gentleman ...”
“Oh, very nice,” Mrs. Hertz nodded quickly, “and do you know, I think he’s kind of lonesome. It struck me that he wasn’t so awfully well either—or else he was worried about something.” ,
“I think you certainly ought to go and cheer him up then,” I said decisively. “He sounds as if he needed it.”
“I suppose you could look at it that way—but I’m sure I don’t know what Mr. Hertz would think.” Mrs. Hertz glanced at the note in her hand, hesitated one last minute, and then sjxike with firmness. “'I here’s no use beating about the bush I’m too curious a woman not to go and find out what under the shining sun Mr. Norman can possibly have to tell me ‘of importance.’ So thanks for giving me the advice I wanted to hear.” She tucked the folded paper into the frontal expanse of her black lace dress. “And if I only have one cocktail,” Mrs. Hertz added earnestly, “I don’t believe Mr. Hertz could possibly object, do you?”
VWTIEN TIMOTHY and I reached our places in the ** dining room, only the missionary and his wife and Dr. Sloane were at the table. My impression fof the Reverend Asa Shaw was immediate and complicated. The man looked so terribly worn out and threadbare and sincere that you couldn’t help feeling sorry for him—yet one glance at the lines of care and weariness in his wife’s face, at the pathetic effort of her made-over taffeta dress, at her red, work-roughened hands which she tried .so hard to keep out of sight beneath the table, all made me instinctively resent the gleam of fanatic righteousness in the Reverend Shaw’s eyes. Nor did his conversation, consisting mostly of telling us things we already knew about China, do much to improve my opinion of him.
Dr. Sinclair Sloane seemed, on the whole, rather more attractive than Timothy’s description would have led me to expect. Aside from a tendency to eat too fast and twitch at his small black mustache, I saw no indications of the “intense two-watt brain.” and I observed that he was careful to give at least momentary attention to Mrs. Shaw each time she ventured a timid remark or smile. Which was more than could be said for young Tod Cutten w'hen he arrived from a rather evident session at the bar. He proceeded, in the course of two minutes, to flatly contradict one statement of Mrs. Shaw’s, and to dismiss her second effort with such obvious disregard that she lapsed into an unhappy silence.
Meanwhile Cutten held forth with great authorita' iveness on a bit of ship’s gossip he had just gleaned in the .smoking room.
“It seems.” he said, “that J. T. Ezry— the Ezryis aboard the Orion, travelling incognito, and taking a ernsignrrent of absolutely priceless Oriental antiques heme fer his collection. The captain is busy denying the story right and left, but one of the stewards saw some letters and
baggage marked with Ezry’s name—and it’s a pretty good bet that the old gent really is aboard—particularly since he’s been in China for the past few months on the trail of some special manuscripts and pottery that have been dug up lately.”
Since, despite our interest, we all must have seemed a trifle vague as to the precise identity and position of 'be j. T. Ezry, Tod Cutten obliged us with an account of Ins tremendous importance as an art connoisseur and collector, his fabulous wealth, and—a fact which appeared to give Tod the greatest satisfaction—Ezry’s reputation for somewhat bizarre peccadilloes. Warming to his subject, Tod was in the midst of a detailed and unfortunate anecdote involving the learned and cultured Mr. Ezry and a certain nurse, when the arrival of a handsome and breezy young couple interrupted him.
TNTRODUCED to me as Mr. and Mrs. Coveil, the new arrivals very bright of eye and glib of tongue— launched into their version of the Ezry rumor. While their remarks were by no means lacking in spirit, I was relieved to note that they lacked the extreme explicitness of Tod’s story, which had brought spots of color to Mrs. Shaw’s sallow cheeks and made her reverend husband look as if, for all his obvious Protestantism, he were mentally crossing himself with every breath.
“The absolutely marvellous part of the rumor,” Mrs. Coveil was saying, “the absolutely priceless thing is—that while everybody’s perfectly sure that Ezry really is on board, no one has the dimmest notion what he looks like. But I know which one he is, and furthermore”—she lowered her voice and bent forward with such an air of confidence that even the Reverend Shaw leaned closer to listen— “furthermore, he sits at this table.”
“Oh, dear,” Mrs. Shaw drew back in fluttering alarm. “Not really?” Tod Cutten played up to the drama of the moment.
“Absolutely,” Sally Coveil nodded solemnly. “And the reason I know is because he—”
“Shut up, my sweet, shut up,” Ned Coveil hissed the words with a warning nudge in his wife’s ribs. I looked up to follow his glance and saw that a tall, distinguishedlooking man was approaching our table.
Sally, likewise sighting the newcomer, had just time to murmur “Speak of the devil—” below her breath, and change the subject before the handsome, grey-haired stranger drew out a chair next to Timothy, nodded to Dr. Sloane, and seated himself. He glanced once in the direction of Sally, who had plunged into a rather pointless story about her dog, named Haile Selassie. He lifted one eyebrow very slightly, bowed to me when Dr. Sloane introduced him as Mr. Nicholas Brande, and then turned his attention to the menu.
Under cover of Sally’s anecdote about the charms of Haile Selassie, I bent toward Timothy. “What do you suppose has become of Mrs. Hertz and her date?” I demanded.
Timothy shrugged. “Either she’s so far forgotten herself and Mr. Hertz as to have two cocktails, or else Mr. Norman, dazzled by the glory of that red silk rose, is pouring out his life story on her motherly chest. But either way, they’re taking a devilishly long time about it.”
XTEITHER of Timothy’s suggestions turned out to be correct. Just as we were finishing our cheese and crackers, Mrs. Hertz came to the table alone.
Catching my questioning look a moment later, Mrs. Hertz flushed a little. “Really,” she murmured, “I can’t imagine what could have happened to Mr. Norman, but it was embarrassing for me, waiting in the”—she glanced toward Mrs. Shaw and lowered her voice confidentially— “bar.” She turned to the head of the table. “Dr. Sloane, you haven’t by any chance seen Mr. Norman, have you?” “Norman?” The doctor seemed to recall his thoughts from some distance. “Why, no.”
“Well, I just wondered. He had an appointment with me and when he didn’t come I thought possibly he might be id. He doesn’t look like a well man to me.”
"I can’t say that I’d noticed anything wrong about his appearance, Mrs. Hertz.” Dr. Sloane twitched at his mustache.
“Don’t you think, Mr. Fowler,” Mrs. Hertz appealed to Timothy, “that perhaps someone ought to go to Mr. Norman’s cabin just to see if he is ill? After all you know, he might be in need of a doctor.”
“You’re quite right, Mrs. Hertz, he might.” The gravity of Timothy’s answer made me turn to see whether he were in earnest. Apparently he was.
“Then would you do it, Mr. Fowler?” Mrs. Hertz pursued the question anxiously. “Go and see about Mr. Norman, I mean.”
“Well, really—” Timothy hesitated.
“Don’t you bother, Mr. Fowler,” the Reverend Shaw pushed back his chair. “We’ve finished our meal, and Til be very pleased to look in on Mr. Norman and see if by chance there is any service I can do him.” He made it sound as though he were accepting an impressive challenge in the line of Christian duty. “Come, Pearl.” He rose.
“Do you know, Shaw, I shouldn’t if I were you.” It was Nicholas Brande who spoke, very quietly. Everyone turned to look at him.
“What do you mean, I shouldn’t?”
Mr. Brande passed his long, elegantly groomed fingers back over his close-cropped grey hair, and shrugged slightly. “Oh, nothing very definite. But it strikes me we’re making rather a fuss over the simple fact that a man has exercised his simple privilege of not coming into this crowded, overheated dining room and sitting with ten strangers, while a not particularly good dinner is not very efficiently served to him. In all probability Mr. Norman has dined on deck, or in his cabin—and if he should be in need of what you call ‘service,’ Mr. Shaw, I think it quite likely that he understands the meaning of a small printed card which says ‘ring for steward.’ That’s quite all I meant.” Without any particular emphasis, Mr. Brande concluded his speech and bent his attention to the portion of fish which had just been placed before him.
Mrs. Shaw, who had half-risen to follow her husband, sank back in the chair and fingered a small string of pink coral beads at her throat, while her gaze wavered uncertainly between Mr. Brande’s bent head and the expression of angry embarrassment on the Reverend Shaw’s face.
“Well, I’m sure I wouldn’t want to intrude,” said Shaw stiffly.
There was no reply from Mr. Brande, who continued to regard the filet de sole on his plate without noticeable approval.
Dr. Sloane looked up, rather as though he would like to say something which would smooth over the awkward moment. But apparently nothing occurred to him, and he remained silent.
“Are you ready, Pearl?” The Reverend Shaw turned toward his wife again, and this time she rose quickly and followed her husband as he turned away from the table.
I looked after the two of them—he with his gaunt, drooping shoulders beneath the rusty black coat, and she in her bunchy blue taffeta—as they walked self-consciously through the dining room.
It must have been about ten minutes later when a steward came hurrying toward our table and bent down to murmur something in Dr. Sloane’s ear. Despite the fact that I was only two places away from the doctor and frankly curious, I failed to hear a word of the steward's message, but I did observe the startled expression with which the news was received. Twice the doctor nodded quickly, and then, as the steward departed, he rose, and without looking directly at anyone, made a sort of explanation.
“If you will excuse me,” Dr. Sloane said, “I—ah must ...” He coughed slightly, gave one last twitch to his napkin, and put it down. “That is—if you will excuse me, please.” He turned abruptly and was gone, leaving me, at least, still intensely curious.
TF THE OTHERS were as preoccupied as I in wondering
about the mysterious message they gave no sign of it; and the conversation presently resolved itself into a sort of competition in monologues between Mrs. Hertz and Tod Cutten. Mrs. Hertz, slightly in the lead by virtue of superior enthusiasm and sheer bulk, had just launched into an account of her first grandchild, the arrival of which had provided the motive for her visit to her married daughter in Peiping, when the steward who had come to fetch Dr. Sloane appeared once more. This time the message he delivered was plainly audible to all of us at the table.
“Pardon, madam, but the captain would like a word with you. In his quarters on the boat deck, please.”
Mrs. Hertz, caught squarely in the middle of a sentence, paused at the steward’s words, closed her mouth, and stared up at him with wide eyes.
“The captain—wants to speak to me?”
“Yes, madam. At once, if you jilease.”
But I—my dinner.” Mrs. Hertz looked at the generous helping of steak. “I was just in the midst of it.”
“And the captain asked me, madam, to deliver this to you. The steward produced a square white envelope. Slowly, wonderingly, Mrs. Hertz turned the envelope,
and then, as she caught sight of the address, I saw the quick change which came over her face. Without pausing to open the note, she pushed back her chair and struggled a little to rise. “Please tell the captain I'll be there right away.”
As the steward turned away, Mrs. Hertz murmured some excuse to the table at large, and then, for just a moment, she caught my eye. I was puzzled at first by the expression of anxiety, almost of fear, which seemed to hover over her normally cheerful and sensible countenance.
C ALLY COYELL put down her knife and fork and ^ stared after the retreating form of Mrs. Hertz. “Well, will somebody jalease tell me,” she demanded, “what this is all about?” She looked at those of us who were still left at the table, but no one seemed inclined to answer.
Sally fixed her bright gaze on Timothy. “Mr. Fowler,
why don’t you have something to say about all this hocus-pocus? You're a detective, aren’t you?”
“Of sorts.” Timothy admitted. “But that doesn’t, fortunately, make me a mind reader. And besides, I can’t see that anything particularly detectable has happened . . . ” He paused.
Mr. Nicholas Brande did not look at Timothy. But I noticed that for the first time since he reached the table, he seemed momentarily distracted from the subject of food.
Tod Cutten registered frank interest when Timothy’s occupation was mentioned. “So”—he blew out a match— "you're a detective, are you, Mr. Fowler? That interests me, because it happens I’ve done some work in criminal psychology.”
“Have you?” said Timothy.
“Quite a bit. as a matter of fact. Some rather surjjrising things came out in a series of laboratory experiments we tried at college last winter. The experiments were mostly concerned with the use of drugs that lowered the threshold of normal inhibitions; on the theory, of course, that criminal impulses are frequently present in non-criminal tyj)es, and that the only difference between the person who actually commits the crime and the one who only thinks of it lies in the potency of his inhibitory reflexes. The same relationship holds good for confessions of crimes also.” “Very novel idea, I’m sure,” said Timothy. “We must have a talk about it some time, although I'm afraid I won’t have much to contribute.” He put down his najikin, looked at me, and we rose to go. “See you later. ”
Tod Cutten crushed out his cigarette, jiojiped a last hit of cheese and cracker into his mouth, and pushed back his chair to follow us. “I'll come along now, if you like,” he said.
I caught a fleeting glimpse of the look on Timothy’s face, and then, as my eye met Sally Co veil’s, we both laughed.
“Why don’t you come along with us, Mrs. Fowler?” Sally suggested, “while we feed Haile Selassie. And then we might do the movie and leave the great criminal brains to bulge in peace.”
I was on the jx>int of agreeing with pleasure, when I saw' Ned Coveil frown and shake his head. “Aren’t you forgetting, Sal. that we promised the plushy coujfle from dowm East a rubber of bridge?” His tone was as light and casual as before, but it brought a curious change in his wife’s expression. For the first time the gay sparkle in her eyes faded, and she glanced down quickly.
“Yes, of course, I did forget.” she murmured almost inaudibly. But the next moment she was all vivaciousness again as she scooped up the scraps from Ned's plate and, quite without self-consciousness, carried the bowl aloft between the tables of diners who turned to observe her curiously. “At least we’ve got time to feed Haile Selassie,” Sally said to me over her shoulder, “and you really must come down and meet him. He’s an enchanting pooch, and I can tell to look at you that you’re the doggy tyr>e.”
But Haile Selassie was doomed to wait for his supper that evening. For we were met in the outer lounge by Mrs. Shaw, with a message which drove all other thoughts from our minds for the next few minutes.
Very warm and red of face, Mrs. Shaw bore down ujwm us. “Oh, Mrs. Fowler, excuse me, but I have a message for you.
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Will you go to the captain’s quarters right away, please.”
“I—to the captain’s quarters?” Very much in the manner of Mrs. Hertz, I pressed a fluttering hand against my bosom. “What for, for heaven’s sake?” More than anything else I was struck by the sudden importance of Mrs. Shaw’s manner. Her blue taffeta dress fairly rustled with assurance and general efficiency as she addressed me.
“I don’t know exactly what’s wanted, Mrs. Fowler,” she said, “but it’s quite urgent. Mrs. Hertz is with the captain now, and I’ve no doubt it’s something about poor Mr. Norman—”
“Poor Mr. Norman? What’s the matter with him?”
“Oh—why, hadn’t you heard?” Mrs. Shaw was all concern. “I hope, my dear, the news won’t shock you—but you may just as well be told straight out. Poor Mr. Norman passed away this evening.”
T DID NOT wish at the moment, and do
not wish now, to be thought heartless, but I was certainly able to hear without undue shock that an elderly man whom I had never seen had died. But Mrs. Shaw was intent on making the most of it.
“Of course,” she went on solemnly, “it was a terrible blow to Mrs. Hertz. I expect that’s why she asked the captain to send for you.”
I looked over Mrs. Shaw’s shoulder at Timothy and Tod Cuíten. Tod was obviously bored and restive, but it didn’t take my wifely eye to see that Timothy was distinctly interested. Hoping to please him, I played up like a true detective’s wife, with a question.
“Was it Mr. Shaw,” I enquired, “who discovered that Mr. Norman had died?”
“Yes, it was,” Mrs. Shaw answered me with a sort of sad triumph in her voice. “In spite of the—well, the rather hasty remarks Mr. Brande made, my husband still felt that it was his duty to enquire for Mr. Norman—and when he got there he found the poor old gentleman dead. And now wasn’t it a fortunate thing that Mr. Shaw did go? Otherwise there’s no knowing how long the poor soul might have lain there before anyone found him. Oh, dear; it does seem such a sad thing to pass away alone like that—” She broke off suddenly and her pale blue eyes filled with tears.
“What did Mr. Norman die of?” Sally Covell enquired. Her tone was polite enough, but coming after Mrs. Shaw’s remarks, the question sounded strangely abrupt.
“Well, I wouldn’t want to say for sure,” Mrs. Shaw removed her pince-nez and polished the lenses vigorously, “but I think I overheard Dr. Sloane say something about an accident. Of course, Mr. Shaw sent for doctor the moment he found out what had happened to poor Mr. Norman, and the two of them were in Mr. Norman’s cabin, you see, when—oh, dear ...” She stopped suddenly. “There’s Mr. Shaw looking for me now.” Having reminded me once more that I was expected immediately in the captain’s quarters, Mrs. Shaw hurried away.
CAPTAIN COBB was standing, feet braced apart, fingertips in his blue coat pockets, in the centre of his small office when we entered—Timothy had insisted on coming with me. A rather short man, very square of chin and shoulder, very shaggy of brow and blue of eye, I thought he looked precisely like one’s traditional notion of a sea captain. It occurred to me, furthermore, that he thought so too.
Nodding in the direction of Mrs. Hertz, Captain Cobb explained very briefly about Mr. Norman’s sudden death, and added
that the reason for Mrs. Hertz being involved in the matter concerned a legacy which the old gentleman had left her.
“Rather unusual, of course,” the captain said, “to make a bequest of that sort to a comparative stranger. But then—ah— Norman seemed an odd chap if I may say so without offense. At any rate, I’m afraid it’s upset Mrs. Hertz—ah—most unfortunate occurrence all round. I thought perhaps you people would be good enough to stay with her awhile.”
“Why, of course.” I went directly to the large chair where Mrs. Hertz, looking as nearly crushed as her bulk would allow, sat quietly. In one hand site held a sheet of crumpled note paper and an oblong white box, and with the other she dabbed a handkerchief against her eyes from time to time. I patted her shoulder and murmured something which I hoped would sound comforting.
Mrs. Hertz looked up at me gratefully. “It was nice of you to come,” she said. "1 don’t want to be foolish about this, but the shock of the poor man dying—and then to find that he’d left me a note and this.” She held out the box. “It just all seems so terribly queer, you know ...” Her voice trailed off in a long sigh, and she dabbed at her eyes again.
Looking down at the package in her hand, I felt an almost overwhelming curiosity. “What . . .?” I began, but Mrs. Hertz was proceeding with the explanation in her own way.
“It all happened so very strangely,” she said. “You see, we were talking this afternoon—Mr. Norman and I. He seemed such a nice man and somehow we got onto the subject of jewellery. I suppose I shouldn’t have said it, but somehow it just slipped out about how, all my life, I’ve wanted to have a really beautiful amber necklace. Mr. Norman was so sympathetic about it, and he seemed to know so much about all kinds of jewellery, that the first thing I knew I was telling him exactly how I imagined the necklace would look.” Mrs. Hertz paused to look up at me in genuine distress. “I don’t need to tell you that I never for one moment meant to hint for anything when I talked like that to a strange man ...”
“Of course you didn’t,” I could barely restrain a smile at the thought of Mrs. Hertz in the role of gold-digger. “What you said was the most natural thing in the world.”
“Well, you’re very kind to look at it that way”—she sniffed a little—“but I'm afraid Mr. Hertz would say it was just a plain case of my talking too much again. Anyway, I never gave the conversation a second thought, and when I got Mr. Norman’s note saying he had something of importance to say to me, I didn’t even remember what we had talked about. Then—at the dinner table—the steward brought me that second note, and I still couldn’t understand what it meant at all. It wasn’t until Captain Cobb told me that poor Mr. Norman was dead—and that they had found this in his room, along with the note.” Again she indicated the oblong package in her hand. “Then I realized that Mr. Norman had meant to—to give me. . .” Mrs. Hertz’s voice faltered and broke. She thrust the crumpled sheet of note paper toward me. “Here—you read what he says.”
I smoothed the page. The old man’s handwriting was so delicately traced that I could scarcely make out the words.
“Dear Mrs. Hertz,
This package is for you, with sincere
good wishes. I am sure you will
TN SILENCE I handed the brief message
to Timothy, and watched his expression.
"So” lie glanced up "it looks as though the old chap had a notion he might die. doesn’t it?”
At his words, I felt Mrs. Hertz’s substantial shoulder heave convulsively beneath my hand. But the captain frowned, and cleared his throat briskly.
"I take it that you agree with me,” he said, “that Mrs. Hertz should quite properly accept the gift, despite the unfortunate and ah rather unusual circumstances under which it comes to her?”
“Oh, absolutely.” I spoke up with conviction, but, to my surprise, Timothy remained silent.
“And you, Mr. Fowler?” the cu; tain asked.
"I’d say yes,” Timothy answered slowly, “if if Mrs. 1 lertz really wants to own the gift whatever it is.”
“Oh, I do, Mr. Fowler.” Mrs. Hertz raised her eyes and regarded him through a blur of tears. “Even though it all happened so strangely and I do feel so sorry for poor Mr. Norman and although I don't know how 1 can ever explain it to Mr. Hertz.” She paused and gulped. “It’s so lovely; it's like ...” She groped for a word and then, failing to find it. she opened the oblong box in her hand and slowly, almost reverently, lifted out an amber necklace.
I can remember to this moment the thrill I felt as I watched that long, shimmering strand uncoil. 1 had certainly not been prepared for anything half so gorgeous. The amber beads were square-cut instead of rounded in the usual way, and the effect was like a rope of sparkling, honey-colored sunlight strung on the long gold cord.
“A most unusual necklace, don’t you think?” Captain Cobb’s voice cut through the silence. “I may say I know a bit about amber I’ve picked up a few pieces myself, as a matter of fact, travelling here and there but, by Jove, I don’t think I ever saw any better than that. I said so to Doctor Sloane right off. when I found the package there in Mr. Norman’s room—”
“Oh?” Timothy sounded surprised. “So it was you who discovered the beads?”
“Well—quite naturally, Mr. Fowler.” The captain looked up sharply. “The package and this ah, note, addressed to Mrs. Hertz, were lying on the desk in Norman’s cabin.”
“Doesn’t it strike you as a trifle odd,” said Timothy, “that Mr. Norman should have left a written note with the package? After all, he had an engagement to meet Mrs. Hertz before dinner; why shouldn’t he have given her the necklace in person?”
rT'HE CAPTAIN beetled his eyebrows.
“Well, there’s no accounting for the sudden notions a chap like Norman might take. He’d crossed with me several times before, as a matter of fact, and I’d always set him down as an odd sort of iish. Nothing wrong, you know; only a bit queer in his ways.”
There was a moment’s silence, then Timothy s|X)ke carefully. “I was just wondering." he said, “whether in this case Mr. Norman might have had his mind changed for him. I mean, for instance, that some unforeseen circumstance might have prevented his meeting Mrs. Hertz as he planned.”
"What circumstance did you have in mind. Mr. Fowler?”
“Death.” said Timothy.
“Oh, 1 say -come now. Mr. Fowler ’— the captain’s beetling frown deepened as he looked quickly at Mrs. Hertz and me— “isn’t that a bit strong? 1 mean to put it that way?”
“Well, of course.” said Timothy. “I don’t quite know how to put it, really, since 1 haven't happened to hear what killed Mr. Norman, or when he died.” "Heart." said Captain Cobb, and tapped his chest significantly. "He’d been ailing quite some time. 1 believe. I remember speaking to him this afternoon shortly
after we sailed, and he told me then that his heart had been troubling him lately. Evidently the attack came on suddenly— at least I knew nothing of it until a steward came to me just as I left the dining room and said I was wanted at once in Norman’s cabin. Bit of a nasty shock, it was. getting there and finding the poor old chap gone. ” The captain shrugged his broad shoulders and gazed out through the window at the distant horizon of deep blue sky and water. “But then.” he sighed, “we all go some timeand that’s the best way, I should think.”
“Oh. quite,” said Timothy. His drawl was a shade more pronounced than usual. “ƒƒ that was the way it happened. I thought I heard Mrs. Shaw say something about an accident though.” He hesitated as the captain shifted his glance quickly from the horizon to Timothy’s face.
“Shaw? Oh, yes, the missionary woman. Excitable sort of creature she seemed. I don’t quite know what she meant by accident unless ...”
“She was there,” Timothy went on calmly, “when Dr. Sloane was first called to look at Norman. It was Mr. Shaw who sent for the doctor, you know.”
“Oh, yes. Yes, I recall now.” The captain’s face cleared. “No doubt what Mrs. Shaw heard was a remark Doctor Sloane made concerning the possibility that Norman may have struck his head against something as he fell. Very sudden, those heart things, you knowand it seemed as if the poor old chap had bumped against the corner of the desk as he collapsed. Not a very pretty subject.” Captain Cobb glanced apologetically at me. “That’s likely what the Shaw woman overheard—and twisted it around to make some story of an accident. You never know what a woman is going to make of what she hears, if you’ll allow me to say so, Mrs. Fowler.” This time he gave me a slight smile. “Ah well, that explains your point,
I believe, Mr. Fowler.”
“Yes; very nicely, thank you, captain. All except the matter of tuhen Mr. Norman probably died.”
“As to that, I’m afraid I can’t say.” The captain shook his head. “Personally, I can’t see that it makes very much difference—but in any case, Dr. Sloane would have a fairly accurate notion I presume. These things are all figured by science nowadays.”
“Yes,” said Timothy. “Yes, I believe they are.” He rose from the edge of the desk where he had been sitting. “If that’s all you wanted of us. captain ...”
Mrs. Hertz looked up suddenly. She had been staring at her necklace, apparently as oblivious to the conversation of the two men as if she had been hypnotized by the glittering strand of amber. She raised her eyes and looked directly at Timothy.
“Do you see, Mr. Fowler,” she asked, “why I want to keep the necklace?” Timothy walked over to her chair and nodded slowJy.
“Yes,” he said, “I think I do see.”
C UNDAY morning we rose late, and ^ came out on deck just as the sound of a rather wheezy hymn indicated that divine services had got underway in the main lounge.
Mrs. Hertz was already in her chair, and Sally Covell stood in front of her, with a black cocker spaniel on the leash.
“Well, he was a good doggie, yes he was. He was a nice Haile Selassie.” Mrs. Hertz puffed a bit with the effort of leaning forward in her deck chair as she stroked the spaniel’s silky ears.
Sally beamed with approval when Timothy and I came up to admire her little dog. He was, quite as Sally had said, an enchanting pooch and our enthusiasm was perfectly sincere, a fact which Haile Selassie obviously sensed. Wriggling all over with almost unbearable delight, he turned his soft brown eyes on first one and then another of us, and waved a front paw ardently in the direction of Mrs. Hertz’s caressing hand.
The next moment Sally was jerking back the leash in sudden alarm. “Haile; careful !” She managed to drag him away just in time, for the eager black paw had caught on the long string of amber beads which swung forward from the bosom of Mrs. Hertz, and in another second the beads would have scattered far and wide on the smooth deck floor.
“Just for that, sir,” Sally addressed her pet severely, “you'll have no more attention and compliments today. Come along; we’ll finish our mile.” With a wave for us, she was off down the deck—a slim figure in her little-girl’s frock of white linen with a high round collar, and bright green belt matching Haile’s leash. The spaniel bounded amiably along beside her.
When they were out of sight, I glanced at Mrs. Hertz and saw her hand still closely clasped about her precious necklace. “Maybe,” she said, “I oughtn’t to wear my beads just for every day like this when there’s the danger of—of some accident.” The words were vague enough, but I gathered somehow that Mrs. Hertz was thinking of some danger other than a spaniel’s paw.
I looked at Timothy, and he looked at the open book on his lap. Mrs. Hertz frowned a little anxiously. “Do you think I’m foolish, Mr. Fowler?” she enquired.
For another moment Timothy’s glance remained fixed on his detective story, then he said slowly: “I really wouldn’t know, Mrs. Hertz. Only, Mr. Norman seemed to think quite a lot of the necklace. I mean, he made quite a point of giving it away— don’t you think?”
“Well, but after all, Mr. Fowler, don’t you think Mr. Norman was just a little bit —well, queer? Not that I’d breathe one word against a man who did such a wonderful thing for mebut everybody that I’ve told the story to thinks it was odd of him to give me the necklace that way.”
Timothy raised one eyebrow slightly. “Have you told that story to very many people, Mrs. Hertz?”
“Oh, I know I shouldn’t have even mentioned it, Mr. Fowler.” Mrs. Hertz’s amiable face was instantly flushed with distress. “Mr. Hertz would look at me just the way you’re doing if he were here. But I only actually told Sally Covell and that nice young Mr. Cuíten. There couldn’t be any harm in telling Sally, of course, and Mr. Cutten didn’t seem to be especially interested, so I expect he just forgot about it as soon as I’d finished, don’t you think so?”
Timothy took his time about answering, and just as he opened his mouth to speak, he looked up to see one of the deck stewards coming toward his chair.
“A message from the captain, Mr. Fowler. He’d like to speak with you as soon as you can come up to his office.”
Timothy nodded to the steward and rose at once.
T REFLECTED, when he had gone, that
he had certainly wasted no time in answering the captain’s summons. I picked up the detective story he had left, but I had scarcely reached the gory and unexpected corpse at the end of chapter three when I caught sight of Timothy coming down the deck as fast as his long legs would bring him.
“Hi, Joanie”—he stopped in front of my chair—“how’s for a turn around the
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deck before lunch?” He sounded excited, and as I murmured some excuse to Mrs. Hertz and tried to avoid her frankly curious look, he took my arm and swung me off down the deck at a great pace.
“For heaven's sake, Timothy, what is this all about? Have you discovered a fire or something?”
“Better than that! The captain broke right down and told me all about this J. T. Ezry business. It seems that the responsibility of being the only one in on the secret has been weighing on our captain’s brain so he decided to confide in me.”
“Why on earth did he pick you?” Timothy glanced down sideways at me. “It would be more tactful,” he said, “if you would try to remember my profession.”
“Yes, darling, I know you’re a fine detective, but why would that make the captain tell you about his big-shot passenger?”
“Because, darling”—Timothy’s tone was very sweet indeed—“it just happens that our big-shot passenger is dead.” “Dead? But I thought that snooty Mr. Brande at our table was really Ezry—” “Which, my pet, was precisely what Mr. Brande hoped you would think. Actually, it appears that old Norman was our man.”
“You mean Norman was J. T. Ezrv?” “I do.”
“Well, I still don’t see why the captain should tell you about it. After all, if he’s dead, he’s dead.”
Timothy gave me another slanting look. “Are you by any chance the gal who was going to write a mystery story about this trip? Because, if you are, this is the time to start writing.”
“Timothy, what do you mean by all this?”
“I mean,” said my husband seriously, “that you’ve got a corpse; a good one too, and plenty of suspects.”
“But you’re not making sense.” I said. “Mr. Norman is a corpse, all right, but there isn’t any mystery about a man dying of heart failure. And there aren’t any suspects, because he wasn’t murdered.” “Oh, yes he was,” said Timothy very firmly.
I stopped and stared. “Did the captain tell you that?” I demanded.
“Certainly not. I told the captain. As a matter of fact, he already suspected it, deep down in his subtle mind. That’s why he sent for me, but of course he hadn’t a notion of how the dirty deed was done or who did it.”
“Don’t tell me you answered those questions too?”
“Oh, no.” Timothy shook his head cheerfully. “I only know two things so far. One is, we’ve got to keep our eyes open, you and I. And the other is that those amber beads may be worth more than you think. Old J. T. Ezry wouldn’t have made such a fuss over any ordinary necklace, and I think Mrs. Hertz ought to be warned about that before she tells the entire passenger list the story of her legacy.”
T AGREED to that readily enough, but first I pressed Timothy for more details. “If you’re so sure Norman was murdered, how was it done?”
“Hit on the head,” said Timothy. “You may remember all that dainty hedging the captain gave us last night to the effect that Norman must have tapped his head on the edge of the desk as he went down with the heart attack.”
“Oh yes—and what about that heart attack?”
“Nothing about it. For all I know, Norman may have had heart troublebut he didn’t die of it any more than I did. He died when someone plunked him on the head with something good and heavy. But who did it, or with what, or when—I don’t know yet.”
We walked in silence for a few moments. “Timothy, if what you’ve said is true then Dr. Sloane must have known it last night. I mean, he couldn't make a mistake ike that.”
“He knew all right”—Timothy’s tone was grim -‘‘and he told the captain too. But the captain couldn’t see things that way.”
“You don’t mean the captain would dare try to hush up a murder? And especially of anyone as important as this.”
"He dared try,” Timothy said, “hut he had a sudden change of heart when he heard there was a cop on board.”
We rounded the corner of the deck. "Here’s where we break the news to Mrs. Hertz,” said Timothy. He stopped as he saw that her chair was empty. "She's probably gone down to lunch—and ten to one it’ll be too late to do any warning by the time we get there.”
Timothy was right. When we reached the doctor’s table Sally Coveil was regaling the entire group with the story, plus various flourishes of her own, of the late Mr. Norman’s amazing bequest to Mrs. Ilertz.
"And I shouldn’t be surprised,” Sally finished, “if it all had something to do with that Ezry person being on board. He collects jewels, you know, and why should he keep himself such a secret unless he’s planning something about---well, something.” She finished vaguely and stared hard at Mr. Brande, who was regarding a rather flat omelet on his plate with a detached sort of air.
AFTER lunch Timothy and I agreed 4*that there was no use warning Mrs. Hertz, now that the story was out.
“After all.” Timothy said, “no one but us knows that Mr. Norman was Ezry. and 1 doubt if the captain lets that fact out. He seemed very much inclined, in spite of his suspicions, to let matters rest, unless something further should happen. And maybe nothing more will happen. Maybe.”
Until a little after midnight on the following night, which' was Monday, nothing more did happen. In spite of our resolute policy of keeping our eyes open in (lie meanwhile, Timothy and I had found nothing more suspicious to observe than Dr. Sloane's rather futile efforts at a flirtation with Sally Coveil, who was attempting, in her turn, to make an impression on Mr. Brande. Ned Coveil was likewise aware of this double play and commented on it while I was dancing with him.
“Trust Sally.” Ned said good-naturedly, “to pick the toughest proposition on the ship and try to make a dent in him.” He looked across the lantern-lit afterdeck where we were dancing, at the couple standing by the rail. Nicholas Brande, more elegant than ever in a white dinner jacket, was watching the churning wake that lay in a phosphorescent path against the blackness of sea and sky. Sally, close beside him, leaned back with her elbows on the rail and did her best. A warm night breeze blew the soft, dark curls away from her upturned face, and outlined her figure beneath the white crepe evening gown. Ned, obviously appreciative of her points, shook his head slowly. “At that, I shouldn’t be surprised if she managed it,” he said, “until she tackles him for a job for me. That’ll be curtains - as usual.”
There was a bitterness in his tone which made me glance up curiously.
“Y’ou see,” Ned explained, “Sally has a theory that Brande is really this Ezry person, and she also has a theory that every rich man she meet s has been scouring the earth for a nice useless person like me to fill a long-felt vacancy in his business. Somehow it never seems to work—and Sally never seems to learn.” He broke off with a short laugh as the music stopped, and the next moment he changed the subject abruptly. “What do you say we tackle the missionaries for a dance? They look a bit forlorn, you know, in spite of their faith.”
Fortunately Timothy appeared at my elbow just then, which spared me the
possibility of having to dance with the Reverend Shaw, but a few minutes later Ned waltzed past us with Mrs. Shaw. Under his expert, guidance she quite forgot her embarrassment and really danced. 11er cheeks were flushed with unaccustomed pleasure, and when her eye-glasses steamed up, she took them off and looked almost pretty.
“All the same.” said Timothy when our dance was ended, “it’s still too warm for all this exertion. A nightcap, my pet, and then to bed we go.”
' I 'OD CUTTEN was in the lounge when we got there, and with him. to my considerable surprise, was Mrs. Hertz. To my further astonishment, I realized that Tod was listening, with apparent patience, to an account of the wedding of Mrs. Hertz's daughter, for which occasion, she was explaining, Mr. Hertz had given her the handsome beige lace dress she wore. And as she talked Tod C-utten watched the glittering amber beads as they rose and
fell with each energetic breath Mrs. Hertz drew.
In spite of an enthusiastic signal from Mrs. Hertz to join them, Timothy steered me as far as possible from Tod’s range of vision—and when we left to go below at a little after eleven o’clock, Mrs. Hertz was still talking and her escort was still watching.
In our cabin, Timothy retired to the upper berth with his detective story which he vowed he must finish before he could possibly hope to shut an eye, but I dropjied off to sleep almost immediately, and awoke only with the greatest difficulty to the sound of insistent knocking at our stateroom door. I opened my eyes to see Timothy’s lengthy frame clambering down from the upper berth, and I couíd hear him muttering something to himself. I glanced at the clock and saw that it was only ten minutes past twelve. The next moment Timothy had opened the door and Mrs. Hertz, clad in a kimona of the largest and most striking flowered pattern I had
ever seen, was leaning against a corner of the dresser and breathing heavily.
“Why”—I sat up in bed—“for heaven’s sake, what’s happened?”
“Oh, my dear”—Mrs. Hertz clutched the kimona about her dramatically—“my dear, I’m almost scared to death! Someone.” she gasped, “someone broke into my cabin to steal my necklace!”
“Good lord,” Timothy broke in, “as soon as this? Tell me—did they get the beads?”
Mrs. Hertz shook her head, and Timothy looked relieved. “That’s something, anyway. Now—what did happen?”
“Oh, it was too dreadful!” Mrs. Hertz sank down upon the foot of my bed. “I had just got to bed, and I must have gone to sleep right away. It usually takes me quite a while. Anyway, I'd barely closed my eyes when I woke again, and I realized, that way you do, that someone was in the cabin. I just lay still for a moment and waited. Of course, the first thing I thought of was the necklace—but I didn’t think anyone would ever guess where I had it hidden, so—”
“Where did you have it, Mrs. Hertz?” She leaned toward Timothy and lowered her voice. “Under my pillow. And the strange thing is, Mr. Fowler, that they seemed to know where the necklace was. At least, while I was lying there, frightened out of my wits and not making a sound, I could absolutely feel this person coming nearer and nearer to my berth — and then the pillow sort of moved under my head, and I realized suddenly that a hand was reaching for my necklace. Well, I couldn’t keep quiet then, so I let out a scream—and rather loud I’m afraid, and at the same time I reached out and grabbed the hand.”
“You did?” I leaned forward eagerly. “Y’es—but all I touched was a coat sleeve, and then the arm was snatched away, and the next thing I knew the person had got out of my stateroom and banged the door shut. By the time I got up to look, the corridor was empty; and after a moment I decided to come and ask you people what you thought I ought to do. You know—whether I ought to report it to the captain or something.” Mrs. Hertz looked at Timothy.
“I do not,” said Timothy firmly, “think you should. Not now, anyway.”
“Well—” Mrs. Hertz seemed relieved. “I’m awfully glad you feel that way. I do hate to make a fuss. But, do you know”— she rose and went slowly toward the door —“I can’t quite forget feeling that hand moving under my pillow.”
“Suppose,” said Timothy, and did not look at me, “you stay here for the rest of the night, Mrs. Hertz, and let me go to your cabin. That hand might come back, you know, and I’d rather like a chance at grabbing it myself. By the way, did it seem to be a lady or a gentleman hand?”
“I really couldn’t tell, except that the arm felt quite solid—strong, you know— and there was something on the coat sleeve that felt like ...” Mrs. Hertz hesitated a moment. “I hate to say this when I’m not sure, Mr. Fowler, but I could have sworn there was gold braid trimming on that sleeve. Like the ship’s officers wear, you know.”
“Yes,” said Timothy slowly, “I know.” “That’s why I sort of didn’t want to report it to the captain.”
“Yes,” said Timothy, “I can understand that too.” He belted his dressing gown and opened the stateroom door. “Well, sleep soundly, you two, and maybe I’ll have some news by morning.” He turned back. “By the by, where are the beads now, Mrs. Hertz?”
“Right here,” she answered promptly, and fetched up the long strand from the front of the flowered kimona.
“Good,” Timothy nodded. “You keep them there.” He answered my look with a bright smile. “Y’ou don’t mind, do you, Joanie?” he asked—and shut the door before I could reply.
To Be Continued