The Works of Sydney Fowler Wright 1874 - 1965

Miss Rosemead

by S. Fowler Wright

Incomplete manuscript

Miss Rosemead

page 16

an innocent man to death, against whom she had no apparent cause for animosity. What could be adequate reason for that?

        It must be considered in the light of the equal certainty that, if it were so, she must be seeking to save another, of whose guilt she must be aware. Would love be motive enough for so base a crime? And for the risk of detection and punishment which it would involve? Or what other motive, under such circumstances, could there be?

        Was it likely, he went on to question, that one of such licentious promiscuity would be capable of affection of such unselfish strength?

        He wished that his knowledge of his fellowmen - and women - were greater and more assured.

        But it was the practical question which should have priority. To find the culprit by direct enquiry might be impossible. But if he should discover someone the woman loved, would it not surely be he? That was, if his existence should be assumed. But was it not more probable that he had undertaken to find one who was no more than an invention of Aaron's desperate mind?

        He supposed it to be a problem which would appear simpler to the Chief Inspector's experience. Yet, however difficult the proposition, and however blundering his own efforts were likely to be, he was not one to shirk that which he had undertaken to do. It was while he was returning to his own office that these thoughts had engaged his mind. Now he spoke to the taxi-driver: "I have changed my intention," he said. "I should like you to put me down at 9 Clumber Place. I would give you a more precise direction, but I regret that I do not know in what part of London it is."

        But it appeared that the driver did.



Clumber Place was a street of those high narrow-fronted houses which are frequent in the older parts of western London. They were built when space had become valuable, but it was still possible to maintain a domestic staff at moderate cost. They commonly have two g good rooms on the lower floors, and more numerous ones on those above, which may rise to a sum of six, without counting the basement kitchens.

        They had been of a respectability which had seemed invincible - equally aloof from the vulgarities of mansion or slum, but time had brought them to a peculiar squalor, hard to define. Even their infrequent surviving trees have an aspect of furtive shabbiness, more evident in the pale light of the London sun than when their leaves are washed by a cleansing rain.

        Now it was improbable that there was a single house in the whole monotonous row which was occupied by a single family, Most of them, if they were not let out as flats, had been converted to service rooms.

        Mr Jellipot, alighting at number nine, found that there was no occasion to ring a bell. In fact, there was none to ring. He looked into an open hall. He read names on the wall. He learnt that Miss Rosemead occupied the third floor. There was no lift. He went up wooden stairs, observing that they were clean, and the linoleum good. At the top of the third flight, he came to a door which was close on the stairs, for the passage had been taken into the flat, which was now the whole of the third floor. He rang the bell, and, after a rather long interval, Miss Rosemead appeared.

        He saw a woman who was tall and blonde, and still young, though she had lost the freshness of youth. She looked as though she would be normally good-humoured, and perhaps attractive in a crude way, though she had a squint. Now a look of wary hostility was relaxed as she decided that she was not confronted either by the law of the press. But she did not find her caller easy to place. She said: "Well?" in an unwelcoming way, through a narrowly opened door.

        "I am Mr Aaron Levinbloom's solicitor, Mr Jellipot replied, with his usual mildness. "I hope you will forgive me for troubling you, but there are one or two points which you may be able to make clearer to me than they now are.

        There was a moment's pause, during which he was inclined to expect that he would be answered by a closed door, but after that the woman's face changed. She said: "Well, of course, if there's anything I can do - ", and held the door wider.

        She led him into a rather tawdry commonplace lounge, brightened only by daffodils which bloomed in a box outside the open window. She said: "You can sit down, but there's really nothing I can say that will be any good to you.

The police have told me not to talk about it till I give evidence tomorrow. It's bad enough to have to do that."

        "It is an experience," Mr Jellipot agreed, "which many people prefer to avoid, but I can assure you that they are less reluctant to do so on a second occasion, from which you may deduce that it was not as unpleasant as they had feared that it would be. But as to the police telling you to say nothing till you go into court tomorrow, I should suppose that it was the idle gossip of curiosity which they advised you not to encourage, and, if they went beyond that, it was more than they had any right to do."

        "Well, that's what they said."

        Mr Jellipot recognised that the lady, from whatever cause, was not inclined to be voluble. He became equally direct: "Mr Aaron says that his brother was already mortally wounded when he entered the room."

        "Then he's saying what isn't true."

        "That must be for the court to decide, You will see that if he should be convicted - which I do not anticipate - it will be entirely on your evidence. Surely you would not like to be the cause of the condemnation of an innocent man?"

        "Why don't you anticipate it?"

        "Because innocent men seldom, if ever , are."

        "Innocent, my hat!"

        "If I interpret your remark accurately, you are reluctant to admit that he did not commit the crime. But you must not forget the man he met on the stairs."

        "It's rather clever of him to make that up. But you'll find that it won't wash."

        "Again, if I understand your metaphor accurately, I think you may be mistaken. Suppose that he may be traced by his description, and it be proved that he was here at the time?"

        "You can suppose anything you've a mind," she replied, with contempt in her voice. "It's a free world."

        Mr Jellipot controlled an impulse to question whether the world in which they lived could be accurately so described. He said: "Miss Rosemead, I am engaged to defend Aaron Levinbloom, and I ask nothing more from you than the simple absolute truth; and I urge you earnestly, in your own interest, as well as that of the accused man, to say nothing other than that. If a false statement be made there is almost always some point - some oversight of sequence or detail - which breaks it down, and the consequences might be most serious for yourself. If there be one you seek to protect, it may not only be vain, it may actually make it the worse for him in the end, and your own penalty will be no consolation´┐Ż You should not forget that if you deny a fact entirely you cannot put forward any extenuating circumstance in connection therewith."

        "If that mouthful's all you've got to say, you can clear out; and you can tell Aaron that I'm not going to make up any more lies to get him out of the soup. I did that once before, as we both know. He did it - everyone'll tell you that he's a quick-tempered brute - and he's got to learn how to swing.

        "That is where you may find that you are quite wrong."

        Saying which, Mr Jellipot got up to go. As the conversation had proceeded, he had become convinced that the woman lied, and that Aaron was an innocent man. But how was that to be proved?



        Mr Jellipot hesitated. Twice his hand stretched to the telephone on his desk, and was withdrawn. He considered the implications of this with his usual scrupulosity. It ad been his inflexible rule that he would not undertake the defence of criminal proceedings (which he always sought to avoid) unless he were convinced that it was for the cause of innocence that he fought.

        Now he had been induced to do so where that confidence, which had never been great, had become less. Yet, if he lacked assurance of innocence, still less was he sure of guilt. To withdraw now might be prejudicial to his client, but was not a breach of professional honour or practice, while to undertake the defence with less than his whole heart would be a betrayal beyond the forgiveness of his own mind. "It is Patience," he thought, "who got me into this mess. It will be interesting to hear what she will say now." He remembered how she had once taken up the cause of Edith Westerham, and, even after that vivacious young lady had been convicted of blackmail, and received a prison sentence, had continued her friendly attitude, taking her into her own home on her release. "Which," he thought with an inward smile, "is a measure of advocacy which, in the case of Aaron, she certainly will not repeat.'

        As he contemplated this absurdity, he reached for the telephone again with an altered mind. "Get me through to Chief Inspector Combridge," he said, "if you can; or find out when he will be available. Say I wish to speak to him on a matter of some urgency." And next minute he heard the well-known voice on the wire."It is the Levinbloom murder on which I should be glad to have your opinion with a frankness which you will equally have from me. I have been asked to undertake Aaron's defence. As you have arrested him, I must conclude that you have good reason to think him the guilt man. Would you tell me whether you regard this as certain, or are you still looking for further evidence, with an open mind?"

        "We're always open to consider fresh evidence. But you're surely not telling me that you're undertaking that swine's defence. He's one of the lowest vermin - "

        "Which is precisely why I may feel it wrong to decline to do so, the question being whether he killed his brother, which should not be confused with that of whether he be of a pachydermatous kind."

        "I expect you've got the right word for it, though I've no idea what it means. But I should have thought you wouldn't have touched the man with a ten-foot pole."

        "The question does not arise. But it would be obviously inequitable for a man to be prejudiced by an unsavoury character when meeting a specific charge for a crime which he had not committed before.

        "Well, we go further than that. We don't mention it if he's been committing them once a week."

        "That is at the trial itself. It may be different when you consider whether a charge should be brought."

        "yes. I'll give you that. It's common sense, if you ask me. But as to this man, he's in it up to the neck. He cracked his brother's skull with a witness eight feet away, which made it simpler for us than most murderers prefer it to be."

        "You consider Miss Rosemead to be a witness on whose veracity you can depend?"

        "I don't see why she should tell such a thumping lie. And, besides, we know Aaron was there, and he'd got motive enough. And we don't know that anyone else was."

        "You have his explicit statement to that effect."

        "Which is just an effort to save his neck, and which the lady denies. You'll need something better than that, if you're hoping to get him off."

        "It is an opinion with which I am disposed to agree."

        "Then it's a case of 'two minds with but a single thought' ", the chief Inspector said cheerfully, "and if you stop wasting your time I don't suppose anyone, even Aaron, will be any worse off than they are now." With which remark the conversation ended, both of them having successfully planted a seed of doubt in the other's mind.



        A defence may be reserved, but attack must be delivered in force and detail for committal to be obtained. A line of battle must be deployed which can be probed and tested at leisure before the decisive day.

        For that occasion, counsel must be briefed, for a solicitor will not be heard, but he may appear in the magistrates' court, which Mr Jellipot, having resolved that the defence would be reserved, decided to do.

        The first witness was a police surgeon, Dr Wellgood, who had been quickly upon the scene. Translated into simpler language than he would have felt it proper to use, he said that the injured man had died from the effect of a heavy blow on the skull, which had broken it, and lacerated the brain. After his arrival the man had lived for about half an hour, but he had not been conscious, and his condition had been hopeless.

        Mr Jellipot saw nothing in this which he was prepared to challenge. He only asked: "When you arrived on the scene, there were three people present besides the dying man - his brother, Miss Rosemead, and Constable Brownlow, Can you tell the court how they were occupied?"

        "The two men were kneeling on the floor. The constable had been attempting to arrest the hemorrhage, but without success."

        "Assisted by Aaron Levinbloom?"

        "Yes. He was trying to help,"

        "In fact he was acting as it would be natural to do on finding his brother in such a condition?"

        "Yes. I wouldn't say he seemed overmuch concerned,"

        "Which you were not asked. It was surely a time for action rather than for a display of emotion?"

        "I should say it was a case where no action would be any use."

        "Again, that is not what you were asked. You do not deny that, with his limited knowledge, he was doing all he could to assist his brother?"

        "I don't say he could have done anything more."

        "And how was Miss Rosemead occupied?"

        "I didn't notice particularly, my attention was given to the injured man.

        "Whom she was not assisting in any way?"

        "I don't see what she could have done which would have been any use."

        "After your arrival did Aaron show any disposition to leave?"

        "The constable told him he'd have to ask him to wait till the Chief Inspector arrived."

        "But the constable had been called in from the street. How was a Chief Inspector coming onto the scene?"

        "Constable Brownlow telephoned the station, as it was his duty to do."

        "Naturally. But there must have been a time before that when Aaron could have left had he wished to do so?"

        "It wouldn't have done him much good after the lady said she'd seen what happened."

        "Dr Wellgood, "Mr Jellipot said patiently, "would you mind answering my questions? I did not ask what would have done him much good. I asked what, in fact, he did."

        "Well, that's what I told you."

        "So you may honestly suppose, but when you read

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