Millicent is stalked by reporters after the body at Helvstead is found; Edward Depilliar, is identified; Ramona visits Millicent’s lawyer and some really quite startling revelations ensue.
I arrived in London that afternoon, knowing only I must talk to Millicent and her lawyers, and preferably before the police. This thought had taken rather an alarmingly long time to occur: that the police would need to speak to me. There was the assurance, at least, that I knew what to do if confronted with questions: say what Millicent and I had arranged.
Still, I suppose, in retrospect I felt less panic at the prospect than I ought: I felt safe, hidden behind the same shield that sheltered Millicent. While there is some truth to this, it seems a wildly, willfully naïve thing for a grown woman to believe. Millicent might have great advantages of connection and wealth and that is undeniably the way the world works, but my complete faith not only in this but that I too, would be protected from any possible ‘mess’ at hand seems skirting on the edge of fantasy.
I arrived in London at three, and braving the tangles of traffic, decided to head for the part of Belgravia near Millicent’s flat and the lawyer’s offices. I parked on one of the quieter streets and rang Millicent from a call box. When that proved fruitless I tried Siegel & Siegel. Again, I stressed my relation to Millicent, feeling silly and self-important, but unsure how else to get the attention of the elusive Siegels; the secretary didn’t have a moment’s pause in saying no one was available. As I had no number to leave, I told her I would ring later. Digging deeper into my handbag for coin, I placed a call with the operator to Helvstead. The ringing went on and on, unanswered, and sounded false, like that in a play. I dropped in at several of Millicent’s haunts, the ones I knew of at least, the Drake & Royal, the Wilkinson, and a few women’s social clubs. I doubt any of the concierges or house managers would have told me if she had been there, but I left notes wherever I went.
It was a long fruitless day and as the church bells clanged five, I stepped dejectedly out of the call box. It seemed unlikely I’d be able to reach anyone till after the weekend. I found a cafe, ordered tea and sank into the chair, closing my eyes. When I opened them again my order was in front of me the sandwiches looked somehow fraudulent, as if only impersonating sandwiches. Grateful I had thought to buy cigarettes the day before, I sat back, smoking, watching the passersby.
Of all the thoughts I could have been entertaining at that moment, what I found myself pondering was how little I had been noticed since I’d arrived in London. That a woman out of the flush of youth, dressed in drab, ill-fitting clothes, wearing no makeup, with her hair undressed, rated few glances was little surprise, but I was highly self-conscious of my relative invisibility; I seemed a phantom, unnoticed and free from prying eyes and with the nightmarish glare of attention on Millicent, it struck me for the first time, as rather fortuitous.
I drank the last of my tea, scanning the afternoon edition that had been left on the seat of the chair for news, of which there was none. My eyes skipped to an advert: Hotel Spartan, for Ladies Only: Cleanliness is Our Hallmark. Reasonable Rates. I wrote down the number, paid for my tea, returned to the call box and engaged a room. An hour later, I set my suitcase down in Hotel Spartan’s lobby thinking for one wild moment it was the hotel Ralph Arbuthnot had taken me to all those years ago, christened now with a different name. But, no, I remembered; that had been in Chelsea. That had been some other place.
I woke up rather late the next morning after a fretful night, nearly missing breakfast, and emerged out of the Hotel Spartan—a name quite lived up to from the thinness of mattress to the diminutive size of the face flannels—to find it an unsuitably propitious day. The sky looked fresh-scrubbed and very blue, new leaves on the trees waving like flags in a gentle breeze. A few high clouds idled in the sky, clustering and pulling apart, like conspirators. The newspaper suggested a possibility of rain later, but for the moment, it was a day for picnics and parks and walks by the river. I got into the car and decided to start at Millicent’s flat and after a few confused turns, I found it.
Four men in suits slouched outside, one of them nursing a camera in his arms. Reporters. Of course. I drove slowly, looking at the picture window next to where we’d had our tea. I found myself straining to for a sign, a waving hand, a light turned on or extinguished in some significant way, perhaps signaling with mirrors. It was ridiculous, but I looked anyway. The weight of the car shifted and I started and turned to find a man in a pinstriped suit and grey hat standing on the dashboard. With a waft of licorice gum and cigarette smoke he leaned in, smiling ingratiatingly.
“Hello, love. You looking for Lady von Favre? She’s not in there, you know.”
“Holing up at some hotel, word has it. No one will say where.” He glanced at me. “Are you her secretary?” His head moved in a little closer. “Housekeeper? Maid?”
“I really don’t know what you’re talking about,” I said, pointedly returning my attention to the road, and aware that relation obviously hadn’t even occurred to the man.
“C’mon. Don’t get sore, love. You can tell me. Safe as horses.”
“No, as a matter of fact, I’m rather lost,” I said. “Could you tell me how to get to Harrod’s from here?”
He gave me a mild, assessing look, and jumped off with a philosophical shrug. I turned the car round, biting my nail, and drove away.
Well, that was that.
I returned the car to the hotel and took the train back in to the Albert and Victoria museum and spent the afternoon, like spare change, with little interest in what it bought me, winding around the portrait-lined corridors, awaiting the hour I might go back to my hotel and check to see if I had any messages. At four thirty, I pulled open my umbrella and ducked headlong into the pelting wet with the rest of crowds making their way home for the evening. I purchased some cigarettes and the afternoon edition and saw the headline:
WIFE CONFIRMS BODY FOUND AT HELVSTEAD
AS MISSING INDUSTRIALIST EDWARD DEPILLIAR
My nerveless fingers loosened. The paper slid to the ground, and was instantly sodden. A man ducked down, returned it to me and hurried on as I dumbly nodded my thanks. The crowds rushed by as I made my way dazedly back to the hotel, stunned: I could only assimilate small things, a bit of tobacco clinging to a man’s lower lip, a silver key in the sewer grate shining under street lamps, a red tag sticking out from the cuff of a woman’s overcoat.
In my room I removed my hat, gloves, coat, frock and cardigan, reassembling their soaked shapes over the coat rack and sat on the bed. The rain against the roof sounded artificial, like the applause button on the wireless. I picked up the paper, swollen with water and surprised myself by giving a bark of laughter as I ineffectually tried to peel the top sheet from the mass of it. After spending untold hours these last months glutting myself with papers, now that I actually had some personal need for the information, I couldn’t possibly read it. I painstakingly peeled the sheets apart, draping pages around the room, the ones in front of the coal grate, I found, began to toast if I wasn’t careful. There was nothing to do but wait and watch the steam pull out of the paper.
An hour later, the facts lay portioned out, in appetizing readiness for the reader: Millicent, her marriages, Clive family, Edward Depillar, his businesses, antecedents, marriage. There was a picture, of Millicent, Edward and Pippa at a party, cocktails in hand, that seemed very damning; Millicent stood closer to him than Pippa, remote but somehow suggestive in how her pinky finger, lifted ever so slightly from the glass, was nearly touching his sleeve. The article concluded: Because of the median temperature of the cellar, the coroner is having a difficult time establishing a time and date of death; he has stated that January was the very earliest Mr. Depilliar had been killed.
I put the paper down: January?
I knew, of course, it wasn’t Edward Depillar, it couldn’t have been, but now with this apparently irrefutable fact of some other person in front of me, the question came bearing down full bore: whoever, truly whoever, could it be?
That Saturday I spent admiring the mummies in the British Museum, an absurd way to spend my time—certainly I was in no need of memento mori—but I’d often wanted to when I lived in London and never managed to have time with all my volunteering. It seemed as good a way to pass the hours as any and so I did, glad to be out in the wash of the crowds and streets and people. There was no new news in the papers that morning although more photos of Pippa looking abased and saying rather thinly disguised remarks about the sort of women who ‘threaten the family.’ Millicent, whose picture appeared beside them, looked almost preternaturally glamorous and very much the husband-absconder.
Some of the mummies wrappings looked rather the color of old newspaper, and I thought of my scrapbook at the bottom of my trunk, the newsprint yellowing a bit with time and paste At another point in my life, how exciting I would have found this and I imagined myself half-guilty, half-excited, pasting the article in the scrapbook, sure Millicent would be vindicated, wondering how I might offer up my help and get to witness the excitement firsthand.
I returned to the hotel to find I had a message from one of my quarries: Siegel and Siegel. I clutched the phone as I rang to keep my hands from trembling. A secretary answered, procured my name, and with remarkable speed a man’s voice came on the line.
“Miss Bright? Lytton Siegel here from Sigel and Siegel. Terribly sorry we haven’t gotten to you sooner. There was some…confusion—about, ehm, your relation to Lady Von Favre. We’ve had rather an awful lot of stunts, reporters claiming connections, and we’ve had to be very careful, I’m sure you understand. But still most unfortunate. Of course you’ve been at Helvstead this last year.”
“Yes, that’s right,” I said. I paused, suddenly unsure. I’d been in such a panic to speak to someone at the firm. I hadn’t considered as much as I ought about what I might say.
“Somehow you managed to get under the newspaper’s radar, Miss Bright, and I would say that was entirely to be encouraged.”
“Yes, yes, I quite agree.”
“Good. Now, I wonder if it would be possible to meet. It is appallingly short notice, but I did hope you might possibly be free this evening?”
“Capital. Do you think you could come to my chambers? Usually, I’d offer the courtesy of a meal at Sorofin’s, but I’m afraid time is rather tight and I’ve a deposition tomorrow. My secretary and I are working late this evening,” he said with a deliberate off-handedness to allay any fears of propriety, I think, and I found myself wondering, just how Millicent had described me. I agreed to meet at six thirty, and rung off.
I sat there for a good few minutes, biting my thumbnail, and staring at the black sturdy face of the phone. If Millicent had wanted to speak to me, she most certainly could have by now. And while I was upset in her decision not to, suddenly I had a sense of the implicit trust of this and I could feel myself straighten even as I thought it, my nerves steadying. Millicent trusted me; I would not let her down. I’d follow our blueprint of that night; what Millicent had instructed me to remember and what actually happened were now equally real in my mind.
The landlady paused with an armful of towels watching me, her eyebrows raised in inquiry. I motioned to her I would be making a call, and spun round carefully dialing the numbers I had memorized. The phone rang a good number of times and the familiar secretarial voice answered. I said I had an appointment with Siegel but I wanted to make sure of the time. She’d just put it in the calendar; 6:30 p.m. at their office. Did I need directions?
I declined and rung off. Well. I felt very foolish. How self-important one must be to think a conspiracy might surround this, luring me into a confession. And who else was I imagining behind this call? A reporter, I envisioned, hoodwinking me into an interview or Millicent concocting a situations to test my loyalty, even perhaps something more sinister, although what I couldn’t have said. How embarrassing I found these self-dramatizing imaginings and how glad I’d not told them to anyone.
I nicked the evening edition and poured over it lying in bed, finding it bursting at the seams with Edward Depillar and Millicent. It took up much space in the gossip columns as well, much of it planted from Pippa Depillar, I suspected, as the photos from the family were quite personal snaps. These domestic scenes, with Pippa’s absurd prettiness, cast a rather succubus light on Millicent by comparison. The photo of her emerging out of chauffeur driven Bentley in a strapless black gown, laughing, eyes knowing, her face caught face in one of it’s moments of absurd seductive beauty, a series of pictures of the men she’d been allied with off to the side.
I put the paper down. I changed into one of my better outfits from the ‘O’ days, a graying frock twenty years out of fashion topped with dun-colored cardigan where I repinned my mother’s broach to a thicker part of the stretched side. Why had I never done that before, I wondered. Years and years it had been stretching thin. I pulled on a lace collar, and then, after a moment of great deliberation, added some lipstick, a coral color I’d found left behind on a tram a few years back, a orangey-pink shade so vibrant it seemed on the verge of hysteria, and emphasized my pallor, making me appear all the more in need of make up.
The street lay nearly deserted as I emerged from the taxi in front of Siegel and Siegel’s offices, I rang the bell and noticing a half-crown on the pavement, picked it up, and fell back a half-step, near to a swoon. Had it been two days since I’d eaten more than a Hob-Nob at tea? Three? I cursed my foolishness, wondering if I might dash down to a kiosk on the corner for a packet of crisps, when a tall, fantastically elegant creature in a chestnut upsweep, later identified as Miss Harchester, Mr. Siegel’s secretary, opened the door and bid me inside. She offered tea as she led us up the stairs, which I accepted, fervently hoping this would include some form of comestibles. With a sweep of manicured hand I was ushered into Mr. Seigel’s office.
Mr. Siegel (I was later to find out there where seven in the firm, father, grandfather, brothers and uncles) was a small, slender man, bronzed as if he’d just been on holiday, perhaps forty-five or fifty. He had an arresting face, something like handsomeness but more potent for its irregularities: prominent cheekbones, a strong, sizeable nose, a wide jaw, a square chin, pale blue eyes disconcerting in their brightness, a really very beautiful Byronic sort of mouth. The lines on his face seemed to underscore each feature, as if drawn for emphasis.
Seeing me, he wiped away the day’s weariness and replaced it with a professional smile, bidding me to enter. He rose and came round his enormous oak desk, his eyes taking in my reheeled flats, my worn skirt and fraying jumper with a professional eye.
He thanked me again for meeting at such short notice.
“Yes,” I said. “Yes of course. I’ve been so worried.”
“Please. Do sit down.”
He rounded his desk again, sat, and folded his hands. He asked if I found my accommodations suitable. I said I did.
“Good, good. So. Perhaps I should get you up to speed on the current situation. Well, first and most importantly I want to assure you it very likely nothing may come of any of this. It wouldn’t be the first mare’s nest we’ve had this year. But best be prepared, and we take pride at the firm in our abilities to avoid any unnecessary unpleasantness. How that unfortunate Mr. Depilliar arrived at Helvstead is as much a mystery to your cousin, of course, as it is everyone else—the police included, if I may say. Hideous business, in the press. In any case, I thought it best if you and I have a talk.”
It might have been the gravity of sitting in the somber, wood-paneled office or my sudden recognition of Mr. Siegel’s proximity to Millicent’s and my secret that made ‘talk,’ sound so ominously euphemistic. I nodded, feeling a wave of lightheadedness. Why hadn’t I the sense to get a meat pasty? Even a Choc-O-Bloc?
At the clip of Miss Harchester heels I felt a rise of hope, as it heralded the arrival of the tea tray but it sunk just as quickly, devoid, as it was, of solid refreshment. I accepted a cup and to my horror felt myself come over faint at the smell and put the cup aside. My hands crept to my cheeks. I could hear the rattle of papers.
“Now, Miss Bright, if you could—”
“Mr. Siegel,” I interrupted.
He looked up from his notes, surprised.
“Do excuse me.” I hesitated. “You’ll think me very silly.”
The lines of his face smoothed to an expression of even more remote politeness. I faltered, moistening my lips.
“You see, with this business…well, I’m afraid that I haven’t been eating like I should. Could I possibly trouble you–if you might have a few biscuits—anything really…I do so hate to be a bother, but–”
“Why, you do look peaky. Are you going to faint? Sure? Oh dear. You poor woman. Of course we’ll get you something,” he said, relieved, I think, not to have been confronted with some halting confession of troubles much less easily remedied. He pressed a button.
“Mrs. Harchester, we are rather in need of some more fortification.
Could you bring in the rest from today’s tea? Thank you.” He released the button. “Nothing fancy I’m afraid, but fairly substantial,” he said.
“Oh, please don’t go to any trouble—”
Miss Harchester entered carrying a heaping plate. I gave her a grateful smile, which she returned with a sardonic but not unkindly lift of the eyebrow, a motion for me to dig in, as she left.
“You’ll must think me so foolish,” I said, not quite able to keep myself from reaching for another cucumber sandwich before I’d finished one. With effort, I just might keep myself from bolting them all. “It’s very stupid of me.”
“You’re like my sister. She can’t eat a thing when she’s upset, and then it hits her all at time. Go on, go on,” he smiled. “You’re of no earthly use if you’re faint from malnutrition. Please.”
I cast about for a topic, hoping I might distract him as I devoured a small cake, from what must have been a fine pastry shop, filled with an unexpected glob of raspberry jam, my eyes nearly rolling back in my head in pleasure. But I needn’t have worried; his manners were impeccable, meaning, as all impeccable manners do, he ignored the gaps of manners in others. He spoke a bit about the firm in a manner that required me to nod and make a few polite noises. I tucked away four more sandwiches and another slice of sponge. I dabbed at the corners of my mouth and put my napkin down. The sound of heels clicking down the hall filtered in the room.
“Will Miss Harchester be returning to take notes?” I asked.
“No, no, an informal talk for now, although I may jot down a thought or two. I see you’re feeling better? Good. Hold my calls, Miss Harchester.”
“Yes, Mr. Siegel,” her smooth voice returned, and the door clicked shut.
“So. Let us start by your telling me a bit about your stay at Helvstead this last year and what you can remember on the date of Edward Depilliar’s disappearance.”
He was a good listener, I’ll give him that, a little knot of interest collecting in his forehead as I spoke. He nodded occasionally as if I’d given a correct answer from which I assumed my account matched Millicent’s. I found him narrowing his eyes at me sometimes; not with suspicion, I thought, so much as imagining my saying the same things in some official tableau.
“Is there anyone you keep in contact with in London?”
“Oh, yes, well…you might think it peculiar. Cleavus, the doorman at my flat in London and his wife, I sent regular postcards too. Mrs. Cleavus is an invalid, and I thought it would be—kind to send her the odd note. They’re getting on in years, and lost their daughter—” I was starting to chatter. “Well, I thought it the Christian thing to do.”
He paged back through his notes. “Oh, yes, one more thing: did you say you attended service regularly while at Helvstead?”
He nodded with satisfaction. The final touch of the respectable spinster, no doubt. He made a note, capped his Mont Blanc, laying it and the pad on his desk.
“Well, this is all very much what she has told me.”
Relief washed through me, blissful and tingling.
“The police very well may approach you at some point,” he lowered his head to look at me assessingly, to see how I might take this prospect.
“I’d be glad to talk to them, Mr. Siegel—anything that might help clear up this situation.”
“Good, good. It’s best to be as absolutely cooperative as we can.”
“But…I do need to ask, the prospect of the police—does it make you uneasy in any way? If you fear yourself being unable to talk to them in a…useful manner, it’s probably best not to wait until one is ready or we’ve discussed things…I can be present, but it’s best I’m not. Looks better I mean.”
“No, no. I think it’ll be quite all right. I need only tell the truth, and I can do that.”
“Yes Exactly. And I must say you do seem most composed. If you would inform me, however, if they do speak to you, I’d be most appreciative. Now, Miss Bright if you’ll allow me to broach a sensitive manner?”
I wondered what could be considered more sensitive than what we’d spoken of already, but merely nodded.
“Solicitors sometimes speak of things that otherwise would be considered intrusive.”
There seemed to be no necessary answer to this, so I nodded.
“The allowance that’s been set up by Lady Von Favre…it was managed by post, of course, while you were in France. We often conduct business this way; nothing irregular there.” His fingertips came together and his head tilted at a lawyerly angle. “However, in light of the recent…events, I felt obliged to query about this account. She told me she felt your family had been treated unfairly, especially as your mother had been the victim of some…rather unfortunate circumstances. If you’ll forgive me for being so candid,” he coughed deprecatingly. “Lady Von Favre wanted to be sure you were at least nominally cared for now that she has married Mr. Carstairs. Still, as you know, it is not an inconsequential sum.”
He pulled a few official looking pieces of paper from a file and turned them round to face me.
“If you invest it wisely, you ought to be able to live in a minimum of comfort for the rest of your life. You still may have to supplement it through work, depending on the manner in which you care to live, of course. Still, if I may say so, it is a generous sum.”
“She’s been very kind.”
“Lady Von Favre was quite clear that if you should need more funds, all you need do is ask. I believe she was rather afraid if she offered more you might not take it. She wasn’t sure if you would even accept this much.”
I pressed my lips together and gave him a quick nervous smile.
“She knows me rather well,” I said, feeling like an actress.
“Well, however unfortunate, it must be said: someone might try to make something of it. Not that much can be made. Certainly when looking at the whole of her holdings it is quite inconsequential. And in fact, such a gift could be said makes her appear in a rather benevolent light. But I mention this as a caution; you may be asked about it at some point.” His eyes probed mine. Apparently whatever comprehension he looked for in my expression wasn’t there.
He coughed. “This money could be perceived as a sort of …. inducement to your silence, you see. For Lady Von Favre’s alleged criminal behavior.”
I made a shocked sound.
“Yes, I know, nasty minds prosecutor’s have. You don’t know the half of it. But I mustn’t shirk the subject, however unpleasant. It’s my duty, I’m afraid.” He leaned forward, his cuffs startlingly white against his bronzed skin. “Which is to say, if, in the next weeks, you need to withdraw from the account, by all means do. But if I may be so impertinent as to caution you to be aware of withdrawing any …especially large sums for less pressing sorts of purchases…”
It took me a moment to realize he had let the sentence dangle for me to finish.
“Oh, of course,” I said. “No, no. You needn’t worry.”
“Please, don’t misunderstand me,” he hastened. “Lady Von Favre would be most disturbed if you left feeling you oughtn’t spend what is fully yours. I simply meant this is perhaps not the time to…and, again, forgive my forwardness…to make a major purchase towards some luxury, perhaps, such as a…fur coat. Or a new car. Or some… special…brooch. After everything has been cleared up, but before…as much as I dislike to say it, it’s probably in Lady Von Favre and your best interest for you to be more…prudent.”
“Oh, of course, Mr. Siegel. I wouldn’t dream of buying any of those sorts of things anyway, really.”
“I thought as much; in fact I’d have been very surprised otherwise, but I feel better for saying so. And if for some reason, Miss Bright, a large expense does become pressing, please come to me. It would probably be better that we made…other arrangements…for now. Does that sound suitable to you?”
It didn’t sound suitable, exactly, and I was surprised he suggested it but I knew he merely wanted my agreement and I gave it.
“Good,” he said. “Well, that’s all I wanted to consult you about. Yes—that is except—this number—will I be able to reach you at there?
“For the time being.” I paused. “I may move to a lodging house if I it looks like I’ll need to be here for—for some time yet. But I will contact you if I do.”
“Yes, quite. Now, perhaps you have a question or two for me?”
I had been bracing myself for dismissal. My shoulders relaxed. “Well, yes, I do rather. That’s kind of you.”
“You’re bound to—it’s a troubling business. I can’t say I’ll be able to answer—but I am at your disposal.”
“I’ve tried calling Millicent—Lady Von Favre several times—I
even dropped by her flat.” I thought of the reporter who jumped on my car. “There were journalists outside.”
“Did you speak to them?” he said, quickly.
“No. I pretended I was lost.”
“Ah. Good thinking.”
“I assure you I have no interest—no interest whatsoever— in speaking to them, Mr. Siegel.” I thought of tea with Molly at the in Oxford, imagined the article I’d dreaded finally coming to pass: “not the first time the Clive family has known misfortune… it one of it’s little known chapter’s Lady Millicent Von Favre’s aunt, Sarah Clive Bright, was sent to…”
“—very good, I’m most glad to hear it,” Mr. Siegel was saying.
I coughed. “Mr. Siegel, I find myself wondering and you know the papers are not saying…well, however—however did this nonsense actually start?”
His face became politely blank again. I hurried along.
“Well, I know you said the police have become involved—and they have discovered Millicent and Mr. Depilliar were in the midst of an…er…romance. But it seems this indiscretion was so sub-fusc—I wondered however did the police come round to her name in the first place? The papers almost make it sound like they had been investigating her concerning the Mr. Depilliar’s disappearance even before they found a body at Helvstead. It’s very confusing.”
He raised his eyebrows and shifted a few things on his desk. He seemed to be making a decision. “Well, it’s rather peculiar, Miss Bright. There was an anonymous communication.”
“What?” I said, genuinely startled, for this was the first I’d heard of it.
“Yes. A postcard. After Mr. Depillar disappeared.”
“Postcard?” I repeated faintly.
“Yes. Addressed to the police. Suggested Lady Von Favre and Edward Depillar had been seeing each other.”
I stared at him uncomprehendingly. It struck me as a very good thing I had eaten. “But who…who could have possibly sent it?”
“I’m afraid we don’t know, Miss Bright.”
“But that’s dreadful,” I said with real feeling, my heart beginning to pound unpleasantly hard in my chest.
“Yes. Quite. It only mentioned that Edward Depilliar and Lady Von Favre had been…lovers. Nothing about what might have happened to him, or even accusing your cousin of being a party to it. It was sent after Eddie Depillar’s disappearance appeared in the newspapers. Before his body was found.”
“Oh.” I felt a spot of relief, but not much. “I suppose that’s not quite so…damning. Still how awful,” I shook my head. “But who could have done it?”
“I haven’t the faintest. Nor does Lady Von Favre. Could be anybody really: a rival, a friend, and a spurned gentleman. Some lunatic, reading too many of the society pages, adding up one and one to make four. Rather surprising the police took any notice. Usually they ignore that sort of bosh. But this time, most unfortunately, they followed up, especially as they were so concerned about Mr. Depilliar’s whereabouts. They were to ask Lady Von Favre back for questions when—well, the body was found.”
“I suppose—she must know about this postcard now? You’ve told her, I mean.”
He nodded. “Looks peculiar to the police you see, even if it doesn’t mean…”
“Yes, yes, I can see that…” I trailed off again. “Well, it’s rather worrisome.”
“And, they’d already found an I.O.U. in Edward Depillars safety deposit box. From mid-October of this year. Between Depillar and your cousin.”
It took me a moment to find my voice. “An I.O.U.?” I said.
“Ah. Yes.” He toyed with the pen on his desk for a moment. “For thirty thousand pounds, in fact.”
“Thirty thousand pounds!” I exclaimed. I couldn’t help it. “I don’t understand. Why would she loan him such an enormous sum?”
“No, no,” coughed Mr. Siegel. “A loan from Mr. Depillar.”
“Oh! But Millicent didn’t need—!” I reined myself in. “Well. I just—I had no idea.”
“It seems it was related to some business dealings as a matter of fact.”
“Business dealings?” I repeated. “But whatever…” I trailed off. “She never spoke of it. I mean, but then it’s not like she spoke of her other…investments or things.”
“I imagine she didn’t.”
“I’m sure it means nothing,” I burst out. “The postcard—all of it. I mean nothing that the police would think it means. Simply bad timing is all. Terrible, terrible timing.”
“Yes, it is indeed, Miss Bright.”
“It feels very odd to not have spoken directly to her,” I fretted. “I wish she would return my calls.”
“If I may speak candidly, I wouldn’t feel unduly—upset—that she hasn’t. When I’ve been privy to managing a situation during some difficult times—particularly the divorce from Lord Von Favre—and the press was so avid, she became quite reclusive.”
“Ah?” I thought of a headline from my scrapbook of Millicent’s press clippings, from her first divorce: Lady Von Favre In Hiding. How captivating I found that single sentence, it held everything she possessed: her standing in life, the perpetual interest in her that she had no craving for extra attention.
“Well, Mr. Siegel, could you possibly give her a message from me?”
“Tell her,” I paused. “That I came to London immediately and that I am doing anything and everything in my power to be of assistance,” I said.
“You’ve been very helpful already, Miss Bright.”
“Well, I do want her to know she has my full support. So important to rally when family’s in crisis.”
“Yes, indeed,” he made a little bow, as if in tribute to my loyalty.
“Have you—have you spoken to Molly?”
“No, I haven’t. I’ll be meeting with her at the end of the week.” I thought a look of amusement crossed his face registering my expression. “I’ve spoken to Mrs. Ryerton several times in the course of my work with Lady Von Favre.”
I imagined Molly’s saying of the venality of Millicent’s soul. “So you’re aware of…what a…particular…well, er, person she…”
“Yes, indeed. Quite so. Thank heavens for her loyalty to the Clive name. The press shan’t get a word out of her. I’ve also had a word with that Lucy of yours. Very good head on her shoulders. A rare thing, truth told. Now. Any other questions?”
“I hope you won’t think it terribly ghoulish of me, but I have wondered—how—well, that man died. It’s just so awful, thinking of him…at Helvstead and I wondered if knowing what had happened I might not find it so upsetting as imagining…. I..oh dear…” I glanced at him. He had drawn back into his assiduously polite shell. “It’s all so strange, I—”
Mr. Siegel folded his hands.
“The papers they’re not saying anything, you see.” I finished lamely.
There was an embarrassing pause, which as it lengthened I found myself rushing into headlong: “I’m sorry, Mr. Siegel, I shouldn’t have—you must think me such a ghoul for asking such a thing—”
“No, no,” he said. “I only was debating how much I ought to say. Well, there’s no reason for you not to, it will be public tomorrow.” He refolded his hands. “Looks like he took a nasty fall, as I understand it. Broke his neck. Found in the wine cellar.”
Every cell it felt in my body came to stillness. I, of course, had known it really could not be Edward Depilliar (if it were, it the number of questions already numerous, multiplied by the thousands) but hearing this, so starkly far from the truth I did know, startled me.
“Really?” popped out of my mouth before I could stop it.
“Yes,” he said, a little surprised at my surprise.
“Oh, of course. I just—do go on.”
“He had other cuts and bruises—looked like there may have been an altercation.”
“Goodness, it’s all so horrid, you’ll excuse me.” I pulled out my handkerchief and held it to my lips, afraid my consternation obvious.
“Yes, it is. Not very pleasant I’m afraid.”
“How could they ever think Millicent could do such a thing?” I wasn’t acting; I felt it very much right at that moment, with my best handkerchief to my mouth, the affront of it.
“You see what I mean about prosecutorial minds,” he said. “Now we can’t have you leaving upset, Miss Bright. Please know we are doing our very utmost, and any ‘case’ that could be building against Lady Von Favre, if it can be called that, is, at best, highly circumstantial. We’ll know much more after the inquest. But I assure you, we are giving it our every attention. I would hate to feel as if I worried you unduly. It is my top priority.”
“That is most reassuring.”
He nodded, acknowledging this tribute. “Capital. Now,” he said, with a perfunctory and avuncular gallantry. “Shall I get you a taxi?”
My mouth opened to refuse, then stopped; how often did the opportunity arise for a man to do such a thing for me?
“That would be kind, thank you,” I said, gathering my gloves and pocketbook.
We headed down the darkened stairs into the street and a moment later I found myself lowered into the worn leather seat of a taxi, his hand a brief warmth on my arm. He handed the driver a few pounds notes and I turned to watch him retreat to his office.
He disappeared from view and I swiveled in my seat to face forward, biting my thumbnail. I had dithered since I arrived at the offices of Siegel and Siegel. Some part of me felt ashamed; another recognized it was most likely the best thing I could have done. The streets were empty. I leaned against the seat, and then, the incredulity I’d had to squash down so firmly, finally came bubbling to the fore: a man with a broken neck? In the cellar?
Gilmore Tamny is a writer and musician who lives in Somerville, MA. She has a tumblr of line drawings here.