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Project Gutenberg Australia
Title: The Chinese Apple
Author: Marjorie Bowen, writing as Joseph Shearing
eBook No.: 2301161h.html
Language: English
Date first posted: 2023
Most recent update: 2023

This eBook was produced by: Colin Choat

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The Chinese Apple


Marjorie Bowen, writing as Joseph Shearing


PGA e-Book Cover
Based on an image created with Microsoft Bing software


Cover of The Illustrated London News, 18 Nov 1948

Published in
The Illustrated London News, 18 Nov 1948;
Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, Apr 1949;
Mystery for Christmas, edited by Richard Dalby, Gallery Books, New York City, 1990.

Isabelle Crosland felt very depressed when the boat train drew into the vast London station. The gas lamps set at intervals down the platform did little more than reveal filth, fog and figures huddled in wraps and shawls. It was a mistake to arrive on Christmas Eve, a matter of missed trains, of indecision and reluctance about the entire journey. The truth was she had not wanted to come to London at all. She had lived in Italy too long to be comfortable in England. In Florence she had friends, admirers; she had what is termed 'private means' and she was an expert in music. She performed a little on the harpsichord and she wrote a great deal about ancient musical instruments and ancient music. She had been married and widowed some years before and was a childless woman who had come to good terms with life. But with life in Florence, not London. Mrs Crosland really rather resented the fact that she was performing a duty. She liked things to be taken lightly, even with a touch of malice, of heartlessness, and here she was in this gloomy, cold station, having left the pleasant south behind, just because she ought to be there.

'How,' she thought, as she watched the porter sorting out her baggage, 'I dislike doing the right thing; it is never becoming, at least to me.'

A widowed sister she scarcely remembered had died: there was a child, quite alone. She, this Lucy Bayward, had written; so had her solicitors. Mrs Crosland was her only relation. Money was not needed, companionship was. At last it had been arranged, the child was coming up from Wiltshire, Mrs Crosland was to meet her in London and take her back to Florence.

It would really be, Isabelle Crosland reflected, a flat sort of Christmas. She wished that she could shift her responsibility, and, as the four-wheeled cab took her along the dingy streets, she wondered if it might not be possible for her to evade taking Lucy back to Italy.

London was oppressive. The gutters were full of dirty snow, overhead was a yellow fog.

'I was a fool,' thought Mrs Crosland, 'ever to have left Florence. The whole matter could have been settled by letter.'

She did not care for the meeting-place. It was the old house in Islington where she and her sister had been born and had passed their childhood. It was her own property and her tenant had lately left, so it was empty. Convenient, too, and suitable. Only Isabelle Crosland did not very much want to return to those sombre rooms. She had not liked her own childhood, nor her own youth. Martha had married, though a poor sort of man, and got away early. Isabelle had stayed on, too long, then married desperately, only saving herself by Italy and music. The south had saved her in another way, too. Her husband, who was a dull, retired half-pay officer, had died of malaria.

Now she was going back. On Christmas Eve, nothing would be much altered; she had always let the house furnished. Why had she not sold, long ago, those heavy pieces of Jamaica mahogany? Probably out of cowardice, because she did not wish to face up to writing, or hearing anything about them. There it was, just as she remembered it, Roscoe Square, with the church and graveyard in the centre, and the houses, each like one another as peas in a pod, with the decorous areas and railings and the semicircular fanlights over the doors with heavy knockers.

The street lamps were lit. It was really quite late at night. 'No wonder,' Mrs Crosland thought, 'that I am feeling exhausted.' The sight of the Square chilled her: it was as if she had been lured back there by some malign power. A group of people were gathered round the house in the corner, directly facing her own that was number twelve. 'Carols,' she thought, 'or a large party.' But there seemed to be no children and the crowd was very silent.

There were lights in her own house. She noticed that bright facade with relief. Alike in the parlour and in the bedrooms above, the gas flared. Lucy had arrived then. That part of the arrangements had gone off well. The lawyers must have sent the keys, as Isabelle Crosland had instructed them to do, and the girl had had the good sense to get up to London before the arrival of the boat train.

Yet Mrs Crosland felt unreasonably depressed. She would, after all, have liked a few hours by herself in the hateful house.

Her own keys were ready in her purse. She opened the front door and shuddered. It was as if she had become a child again and dreaded the strong voice of a parent.

There should have been a maid. Careful in everything that concerned her comfort, Mrs Crosland had written to a woman long since in her employment to be in attendance. The woman had replied, promising compliance. But now she cried: 'Mrs Jocelyn! Mrs Jocelyn!' in vain, through the gas-lit house.

The cabby would not leave his horse and his rugs, but her moment of hesitancy was soon filled. One of the mongrel idlers who, more frequently than formerly, lounged about the streets, came forward. Mrs Crosland's trunks and bags were placed in the hall, and she had paid her dues with the English money carefully acquired at Dover.

The cab drove away, soon lost in the fog. But the scrawny youth lingered. He pointed to the crowd the other side of the Square, a deeper patch amid the surrounding gloom.

'Something has happened there, Mum,' he whispered.

'Something horrible, you mean?' Mrs Crossland was annoyed she had said this, and added: 'No, of course not; it is a gathering for Christmas.' With this she closed her front door on the darkness and stood in the lamp-lit passage.

She went into the parlour, so well remembered, so justly hated.

The last tenant, selected prudently, had left everything in even too good a state of preservation. Save for some pale patches on the walls where pictures had been altered, everything was as it had been.

Glowering round, Mrs Crosland thought what a fool she had been to stay there so long.

A fire was burning and a dish of cakes and wine stood on the deep red mahogany table.

With a gesture of bravado, Mrs Crosland returned to the passage, trying to throw friendliness into her voice as she called out: 'Lucy, Lucy, my dear, it is I, your aunt Isabelle Crosland.'

She was vexed with herself that the words did not have a more genial sound. 'I am ruined,' she thought, 'for all family relationship.'

A tall girl appeared on the first landing.

'I have been waiting,' she said, 'quite a long time.'

In the same second Mrs Crosland was relieved that this was no insipid bore, and resentful of the other's self-contained demeanour.

'Well,' she said, turning it off with a smile. 'It doesn't look as if I need have hurried to your assistance.'

Lucy Bayward descended the stairs.

'Indeed, I assure you, I am extremely glad to see you,' she said gravely.

The two women seated themselves in the parlour. Mrs Crosland found Lucy looked older than her eighteen years and was also, in her dark, rather flashing way, beautiful. Was she what one might have expected Martha's girl to be? Well, why not?

'I was expecting Mrs Jocelyn, Lucy.'

'Oh, she was here; she got everything ready, as you see—then I sent her home because it is Christmas Eve.'

Mrs Crosland regretted this; she was used to ample service.

'We shall not be able to travel until after Christmas,' she complained.

'But we can be very comfortable here,' said Lucy, smiling.

No,' replied Mrs Crosland, the words almost forced out of her. 'I don't think I can—be comfortable here—I think we had better go to an hotel.'

'But you arranged this meeting.'

'I was careless. You can have no idea—you have not travelled?'


'Well, then, you can have no idea how different things seem in Florence, with the sun and one's friends about—'

'I hope we shall be friends.'

'Oh, I hope so. I did not mean that, only the Square and the house. You see, I spent my childhood here.'

Lucy slightly shrugged her shoulders. She poured herself out a glass of wine. What a false impression those school-girlish letters had given! Mrs Crosland was vexed, mostly at herself.

'You—since we have used the word—have friends of your own?' she asked.

Lucy bowed her dark head.

'Really,' added Mrs Crosland, 'I fussed too much. I need not have undertaken all that tiresome travelling at Christmas, too.'

'I am sorry that you did—on my account; but please believe that you are being of the greatest help to me.'

Mrs Crosland apologised at once.

'I am over-tired. I should not be talking like this. I, too, will have a glass of wine. We ought to get to know each other.'

They drank, considering one another carefully.

Lucy was a continuing surprise to Mrs Crosland. She was not even in mourning, but wore a rather ill-fitting stone-coloured satin, her sleek hair had recently been twisted into ringlets, and there was no doubt that she was slightly rouged.

'Do you want to come to Italy? Have you any plans for yourself?'

'Yes—and they include a trip abroad. Don't be afraid that I shall be a burden on you.'

'This independence could have been expressed by letter,' smiled Mrs Crosland. 'I have my own interests—that Martha's death interrupted—'

'Death always interrupts—some one or some thing, does it not?'

'Yes, and my way of putting it was harsh. I mean you do not seem a rustic miss, eager for sympathy.'

'It must be agreeable in Florence,' said Lucy. 'I dislike London very much.'

'But you have not been here more than a few hours—'

'Long enough to dislike it—'

'And your own home, also?'

'You did not like your own youth, either, did you?' asked Lucy, staring.

'No, no, I understand. Poor Martha would be dull, and it is long since your father died. I see, a narrow existence.'

'You might call it that. I was denied everything. I had not the liberty, the pocket-money given to the kitchenmaid.'

'It was true of me also,' said Mrs Crosland, shocked at her own admission.

'One is left alone, to struggle with dark things,' smiled Lucy. 'It is not a place that I dislike, but a condition—that of being young, vulnerable, defenceless.'

'As I was,' agreed Mrs Crosland. 'I got away and now I have music.'

'I shall have other things.' Lucy sipped her wine.

'Well, one must talk of it: you are not what I expected to find. You are younger than I was when I got away,' remarked Mrs Crosland.

'Still too old to endure what I endured.'

Mrs Crosland shivered.

'I never expected to hear this,' she declared. 'I thought you would be a rather flimsy little creature.'

'And I am not?'

'No, indeed, you seem to me quite determined.'

'Well, I shall take your small cases upstairs. Mrs Jocelyn will be here in the morning.'

'There's a good child.' Mrs Crosland tried to sound friendly. She felt that she ought to manage the situation better. It was one that she had ordained herself, and now it was getting out of hand.

'Be careful with the smallest case in red leather: it has some English gold in it, and a necklace of Roman pearls that I bought as a Christmas present for you—'

Mrs Crosland felt that the last part of this sentence fell flat. '...pearl beads, they are really very pretty.'

'So are these.' Lucy put her hand to her ill-fitting tucker and pulled out a string of pearls.

'The real thing,' said Mrs Crosland soberly. 'I did not know that Martha—'

Lucy unclasped the necklace and laid it on the table; the sight of this treasure loosened Mrs Crosland's constant habit of control. She thought of beauty, of sea-water, of tears, and of her own youth, spilled and wasted away, like water running into sand.

'I wish I had never come back to this house,' she said passionately.

Lucy went upstairs. Mrs Crosland heard her moving about overhead. How well she knew that room. The best bedroom, where her parents had slept, the huge wardrobe, the huge dressing-table, the line engravings, the solemn air of tedium, the hours that seemed to have no end. What had gone wrong with life anyway? Mrs Crosland asked herself this question fiercely, daunted, almost frightened by the house.

The fire was sinking down and with cold hands she piled on the logs.

How stupid to return. Even though it was such a reasonable thing to do. One must be careful of these reasonable things. She ought to have done the unreasonable, the reckless thing, forgotten this old house in Islington, and taken Lucy to some cheerful hotel.

The steps were advancing, retreating, overhead. Mrs Crosland recalled old stories of haunted houses. How footsteps would sound in an upper storey and then, on investigation, the room be found empty.

Supposing she were to go upstairs now and find the great bedroom forlorn and Lucy vanished! Instead, Lucy entered the parlour.

'I have had the warming-pan in the bed for over two hours, the fire burns briskly and your things are set out—'

Mrs Crosland was grateful in rather, she felt, an apathetic manner.

This journey had upset a painfully acquired serenity. She was really fatigued, the motion of the ship, the clatter of the train still made her senses swim.

'Thank you, Lucy, dear,' she said, in quite a humble way, then leaning her head in her hand and her elbow on the table, she began to weep. Lucy regarded her quietly and drank another glass of wine.

'It is the house,' whimpered Mrs Crosland, 'coming back to it—and those pearls—I never had a necklace like that—'

She thought of her friends, of her so-called successful life, and of how little she had really had.

She envied this young woman who had escaped in time.

'Perhaps you had an accomplice?' she asked cunningly.

'Oh, yes, I could have done nothing without that.'

Mrs Crosland was interested, slightly confused by the wine and the fatigue. Probably, she thought, Lucy meant that she was engaged to some young man who had not been approved by Martha. But what did either of them mean by the word 'accomplice'?

'I suppose Charles Crosland helped me,' admitted his widow. 'He married me and we went to Italy. I should never have had the courage to do that alone. And by the time he died, I had found out about music, and how I understood it and could make money out of it—' 'Perhaps,' she thought to herself, 'Lucy will not want, after all, to come with me to Italy—what a relief if she marries someone. I don't really care if she has found a ruffian, for I don't like her—no, nor the duty, the strain and drag of it.'

She was sure that it was the house making her feel like that. Because in this house she had done what she ought to have done so often. Such wretched meals, such miserable silences, such violences of speech. Such suppression of all one liked or wanted. Lucy said:

'I see that you must have suffered, Mrs Crosland. I don't feel I can be less formal than that—we are strangers. I will tell you in the morning what my plans are—'

'I hardly came from Italy in the Christmas season to hear your plans,' replied Mrs Crosland with a petulance of which she was ashamed. 'I imagined you as quite dependent and needing my care.'

'I have told you that you are the greatest possible service to me,' Lucy assured her, at the same time taking up the pearls and hiding them in her bosom. 'I wear mourning when I go abroad, but in the house I feel it to be a farce,' she added.

'I never wore black for my parents,' explained Mrs Crosland. 'They died quite soon, one after the other; with nothing to torment, their existence became insupportable.'

Lucy sat with her profile towards the fire. She was thin, with slanting eyebrows and a hollow at the base of her throat:

'I wish you would have that dress altered to fit you,' remarked Mrs Crosland. 'You could never travel in it, either, a grey satin—'

'Oh, no, I have some furs and a warm pelisse of a dark rose colour.'

'Then certainly you were never kept down as I was—'

Perhaps I helped myself, afterwards—is not that the sensible thing to do?'

'You mean you bought these clothes since Martha's death? I don't see how you had the time or the money.' And Mrs Crosland made a mental note to consult the lawyers as to just how Lucy's affairs stood.

'Perhaps you have greater means than I thought,' she remarked. 'I always thought Martha had very little.'

'I have not very much,' said Lucy. 'But I shall know how to spend it. And how to make more.'

Mrs Crosland rose. The massive pieces of furniture seemed closing in on her, as if they challenged her very right to exist.

Indeed, in this house she had no existence, she was merely the wraith of the child, of the girl who had suffered so much in this place, in this house, in this Square with the church and the graveyard in the centre, and from which she had escaped only just in time. Lucy also got to her feet.

'It is surprising,' she sighed, 'the amount of tedium there is in life. When I think of all the dull Christmases—'

'I also,' said Mrs Crosland, almost in terror. 'It was always so much worse when other people seemed to be rejoicing.' She glanced round her with apprehension. 'When I think of all the affectations of good will, of pleasure—'

'Don't think of it,' urged the younger woman. 'Go upstairs, where I have put everything in readiness for you.'

'I dread the bedroom.'

The iron bell clanged in the empty kitchen below.

'The waits,' added Mrs Crosland. 'I remember when we used to give them sixpence, nothing more. But I heard no singing.'

'There was no singing. I am afraid those people at the corner house have returned.'

Mrs Crosland remembered vaguely the crowd she had seen from the cab window, a blot of dark in the darkness. 'You mean someone has been here before?' she asked. 'What about?'

'There has been an accident, I think. Someone was hurt—'

'But what could that have to do with us?'

'Nothing, of course. But they said they might return—'

'Who is "they"?'

Mrs Crosland spoke confusedly and the bell rang again.

'Oh, do go, like a good child,' she added. She was rather glad of the distraction. She tried to think of the name of the people who had lived in the house on the opposite corner. Inglis—was not that it? And one of the family had been a nun, a very cheerful, smiling nun, or had she recalled it all wrongly?

She sat shivering over the fire, thinking of those past musty Christmas Days, when the beauty and magic of the season had seemed far away, as if behind a dense wall of small bricks. That had always been the worst of it, that somewhere, probably close at hand, people had really been enjoying themselves.

She heard Lucy talking with a man in the passage. The accomplice, perhaps? She was inclined to be jealous, hostile.

But the middle-aged and sober-looking person who followed Lucy into the parlour could not have any romantic complications.

He wore a pepper-and-salt-pattern suit and carried a bowler hat. He seemed quite sure of himself, yet not to expect any friendliness.

'I am sorry to disturb you again,' he said.

'I am sorry that you should,' agreed Mrs Crosland. 'But on the other hand, my memories of this house are by no means pleasant.'

'Name of Teale, Henry Teale,' said the stranger.

'Pray be seated,' said Mrs Crosland.

The stranger, this Mr. Teale, took the edge of the seat, as if very diffident. Mrs Crosland was soon fascinated by what he had to say.

He was a policeman in private clothes. Mrs Crosland meditated on the word 'private'—'private life,' 'private means.' He had come about the Inglis affair, at the corner house.

'Oh, yes, I recall that was the name, but we never knew anyone—who are they now—the Inglis family?'

'I've already told Miss Bayward here—it was an old lady, for several years just an old lady living with a companion—'

'And found dead, you told me, Mr Teale,' remarked Lucy.

'Murdered, is what the surgeon says and what was suspected from the first.'

'I forgot that you said that, Mr. Teale. At her age it does not seem to matter very much—you said she was over eighty years of age, did you not?' asked Lucy, pouring the detective a glass of wine.

'Very old, nearly ninety years of age, I understand, Miss Bayward. But murder is murder.'

Mrs Crosland felt this affair to be an added weariness. Murder in Roscoe Square on Christmas Eve. She felt that she ought to apologise to Lucy.

'I suppose that was what the crowd had gathered for,' she remarked.

'Yes, such news soon gets about, Ma'am. A nephew called to tea and found her—gone.'

Mr. Teale went over, as if it were a duty, the circumstances of the crime. The house had been ransacked and suspicion had fallen on the companion, who had disappeared. Old Mrs Inglis had lived so much like a recluse that no one knew what she possessed. There had been a good deal of loose money in the house, the nephew, Mr Clinton, thought. A good deal of cash had been drawn every month from the Inglis bank account, and very little of it spent. The companion was a stranger to Islington. Veiled and modest, she had flitted about doing the meagre shopping for the old eccentric, only for the last few weeks.

The woman she had replaced had left in tears and temper some months ago. No one knew where this creature had come from—probably an orphanage; she must have been quite friendless and forlorn to have taken such a post.

'You told me all this,' protested Lucy.

'Yes, Miss, but I did say that I would have to see Mrs Crosland when she arrived—'

'Well, you are seeing her,' remarked that lady. 'And I cannot help you at all. One is even disinterested. I lived, Mr. Teale, so cloistered a life when I was here, that I knew nothing of what was going on—even in the Square.'

'So I heard from Miss Bayward here, but I thought you might have seen someone; I'm not speaking of the past, but of the present—'

'Seen someone here—on Christmas Eve—?'

Mr. Teale sighed, as if, indeed, he had been expecting too much.

'We've combed the neighbourhood, but can't find any trace of her—'

'Why should you? Of course, she has fled a long way off—'

'Difficult, with the railway stations and then the ports all watched.'

'You may search again through the cellars if you wish,' said Lucy. 'I am sure that my aunt won't object—'

Mrs Crosland put no difficulties in the way of the detective, but she felt the whole situation was grotesque.

'I hope she escapes,' Mrs Crosland, increasingly tired and confused by the wine she had drunk without eating, spoke without her own volition. 'Poor thing—shut up—caged—'

'It was a very brutal murder,' said Mr. Teale indifferently.

Was it? An over-draught of some sleeping potion, I suppose?'

'No, Ma'am, David and Goliath, the surgeon said. A rare kind of murder. A great round stone in a sling, as it might be a lady's scarf, and pretty easy to get in the dusk round the river ways.'

Mrs Crosland laughed. The picture of this miserable companion, at the end of a dismal day lurking round the dubious dockland streets to find a target for her skill with sling and stone, seemed absurd.

'I know what you are laughing at,' said Mr. Teale without feeling. 'But she found her target—it was the shining skull of Mrs Inglis, nodding in her chair—'

'One might understand the temptation,' agreed Mrs Crosland. 'But I doubt the skill.'

'There is a lovely walled garden,' suggested the detective. 'And, as I said, these little by-way streets. Anyway, there was her head smashed in, neatly; no suffering, you understand.'

'Oh, very great suffering, for such a thing to be possible,' broke out Mrs Crosland. 'On the part of the murderess, I mean—'

'I think so, too,' said Lucy soberly.

'That is not for me to say,' remarked the detective. 'I am to find her if I can. There is a fog and all the confusion of Christmas Eve parties, and waits, and late services at all the churches.'

Mrs Crosland impulsively drew back the curtains. Yes, there was the church, lit up, exactly as she recalled it, light streaming from the windows over the graveyard, altar tombs and headstones, sliding into oblivion.

'Where would a woman like that go?' asked Lucy, glancing over Mrs Crosland's shoulder at the churchyard.

'That is what we have to find out,' said Mr. Teale cautiously. 'I'll be on my way again, ladies, just cautioning you against any stranger who might come here, on some pretext. One never knows.'

'What was David's stone? A polished pebble? I have forgotten.' Mrs Crosland dropped the curtains over the view of the church and the dull fog twilight of evening in the gas-lit Square.

'The surgeon says it must have been a heavy stone, well aimed, and such is missing. Mr. Clinton, the nephew, her only visitor and not in her confidence, remarked on such a weapon, always on each of his visits, on the old lady's table.'

'How is that possible?' asked Mrs Crosland.

Mr. Teale said that the object was known as the Chinese apple. It was of white jade, dented like the fruit, with a leaf attached, all carved in one and beautifully polished. The old lady was very fond of it, and it was a most suitable weapon.

'But this dreadful companion,' said Mrs Crosland, now perversely revolted by the crime, 'could not have had time to practise with this—suitable weapon—she had not been with Mrs Inglis long enough.'

'Ah,' smiled Mr. Teale. 'We don't know where she was before, Ma'am. She might have had a deal of practice in some lonely place—birds, Ma'am, and rabbits. Watching in the woods, like boys do.'

Mrs Crosland did not like this picture of a woman lurking in coverts with a sling. She bade the detective 'Good-evening' and Lucy showed him to the door.

In the moment that she was alone, Mrs Crosland poured herself another glass of wine. When Lucy returned, she spoke impulsively.

'Oh, Lucy, that is what results when people are driven too far—they kill and escape with the spoils, greedily. I do wish this had not happened. What sort of woman do you suppose this may have been? Harsh, of course, and elderly—'

'Mr. Teale, when he came before, said she might be in almost any disguise.'

'Almost any disguise,' repeated Mrs Crosland, thinking of the many disguises she had herself worn until she had found herself in the lovely blue of Italy, still disguised, but pleasantly enough. She hoped that this mask was not now about to be torn from her; the old house was very oppressive, it had been foolish to return. A relief, of course, that Lucy seemed to have her own plans. But the house was what really mattered: the returning here and finding everything the same, and the memories of that dreadful childhood.

Lucy had suffered also, it seemed. Odd that she did not like Lucy, did not feel any sympathy with her or her schemes.

At last she found her way upstairs and faced the too-familiar bedroom. Her own was at the back of the house; that is, it had been. She must not think like this: her own room was in the charming house of the villa in Fiesole, this place had nothing to do with her at all.

But it had, and the knowledge was like a lead cloak over her. Of course it had. She had returned to meet not Lucy, but her own childhood. Old Mrs Inglis—how did she fit in?

Probably she had always been there, even when the woman who was now Isabelle Crosland had been a child. Always there, obscure, eccentric, wearing out a succession of companions until one of them brained her with the Chinese apple, the jade fruit, slung from a lady's scarf.

'Oh, dear,' murmured Mrs Crosland, 'what has that old, that very old woman got to do with me?'

Her cases were by her bedside. She was too tired to examine them.

Lucy had been scrupulous in putting out her toilet articles. She began to undress. There was nothing to do but to rest; what was it to her that a murderess was being hunted round Islington—what had Mr. Teale said? The stations, the docks...She was half-undressed and had pulled out her wrapper when the front-door bell rang.

Hastily covering herself up, she was out on the landing. At least this was an excuse not to get into the big, formal bed where her parents had died, even if this was only Mr. Teale returned. Lucy was already in the hall, speaking to someone. The gas-light in the passage illuminated the girl in the stone-coloured satin and the man on the threshold to whom she spoke.

It was not Mr. Teale.

Isabelle Crosland, half-way down the stairs, had a glance of a sharp face, vividly lit. A young man, with his collar turned up and a look of expectation in his brilliant eyes. He said something that Isabelle Crosland could not hear, and then Lucy closed the heavy front door.

Glancing up at her aunt, she said:

'Now we are shut in for the night.'

'Who was that?' asked Mrs Crosland, vexed that Lucy had discerned her presence.

'Only a neighbour; only a curiosity-monger.'

Lucy's tone was reassuring. She advised her aunt to go to bed.

'Really, it is getting very late. The church is dark again. All the people have gone home.'

'Which room have you, Lucy, dear?'

'That which you had, I suppose; the large room at the back of the house.'

'Oh, yes—that—'

'Well, do not concern yourself—it has been rather a disagreeable evening, but it is over now.'

Lucy, dark and pale, stood in the doorway, hesitant for a second. Mrs Crosland decided, unreasonably, not to kiss her and bade her a quick good-night of a forced cheerfulness.

Alone, she pulled the chain of the gas-ring and was at once in darkness. Only wheels of light across the ceiling showed the passing of a lonely hansom cab. Perhaps Mr. Teale going home.

Mrs Inglis, too, would have gone home by now; the corner house opposite would be empty.

Isabelle Crosland could not bring herself to sleep on the bed after all. Wrapped in travelling rugs, snatched up in the dark, she huddled on the couch. Presently she slept, but with no agreeable dreams. Oppressive fancies lay heavily on her and several times she woke, crying out.

It was with a dismal sense of disappointment that she realised each time that she was not in Florence.

With the dawn she was downstairs. Christmas morning; how ridiculous!

No sign of Lucy, and the cold, dismal house was like a trap, a prison. Almost crying with vexation, Mrs Crosland was forced to look into the room that once had been her own. The bed had not been slept in. On the white honeycomb coverlet was a package and a note.

This, a single sheet of paper, covered an opened letter. Mrs Crosland stared at this that was signed 'Lucy Bayward.' It was a childish sort of scrawl, the writer excused herself from reaching London until after the holidays.

The note was in a different hand:

I promised to let you know my plans. I am away down the river with my accomplice. Taking refuge in your empty house I found this note. The whole arrangement was entirely useful to me. I left the Roman pearls for Lucy, as I had those of my late employer, but I took the gold. No one will ever find us. I leave you a Christmas present.

Mrs Crosland's cold fingers undid the package. In the ghastly half-light she saw the Chinese apple.



Cover of "Ellery Queen's Mystery Magzine", April 1949

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