‘Oh, but I didn’t know Miss Murchan,’ protested Deborah. ‘I mean, it’s all the same to me, whoever it is. That’s to say…’ she floundered, watched by the keen black eyes and appraised by the beaky little mouth, pursed now in kindly but, she sensed, unerring judgement upon her.

‘Never mind. The point is that I’ve been told I must report upon your courage.’

‘My courage? But…’ A desire came upon Deborah to retort that she had not any courage; that she had obtained her present post because she possessed good testimonials and a ladylike style of handwriting. She yielded to it. Mrs Bradley cackled. Then, taking from a capacious skirt pocket a notebook and a fountain-pen, she turned over a few pages, scribbled some hieroglyphics in tiny script, and, putting the impedimenta away, said briskly: ‘I am here to make mountains out of molehills, child… or, possibly, molehills out of mountains.’

Deborah searched the witch-like countenance. The black eyes looked into hers. It appeared that the opinion had not been facetiously rendered. She straightened up in her chair and said: ‘What do you mean, Mrs Bradley?’

‘Exactly what I say, child. I’ve come here, at Miss du Mugne’s request, to trace Miss Murchan, who, it seems, disappeared last June at the College End of Term Dance, and has not been heard of since. The students were told that she had been taken ill — peritonitis — and the Principal herself officiated here in Athelstan Hall for the last two days of the term. That was ten weeks ago. Not the slightest trace of Miss Murchan has come to light. Interesting, is it not? And in the hands of the police, of course, although, so far, at the earnest request of the Principal, not in the newspapers.’

‘I see,’ said Deborah.

‘Well, now, if I’m to have your help I must at least let you know as much about the background of the case as I know myself. That is only fair. It appears that before she came here just two years ago, Miss Murchan had been Biology mistress at the County Secondary School for Girls at a place called Cuddy Bay, and, unfortunately, just before she left, they had a very nasty accident. A child was killed in the school gymnasium.’


‘She seems to have been lowering the boom, and a rope parted, and the thing came down on her head. It happened after school hours and as it could not be proved that anybody had given the child permission to stay and practise, the verdict was accidental death, with the school authorities completely exonerated from blame.’

‘Oh, what a good thing. Children can be disobedient little beasts; don’t I know it!’

‘Yes. The grandfather of the child, however, wanted further action taken. He persisted in saying that the child had had permission to stay; that she had stayed on other occasions, and that one of the mistresses stayed too. He argued that a great deal more was known about the accident than the evidence given in court served to show. He had to be taken to a mental hospital in the end, completely off his head, poor fellow.’

‘Beastly sort of affair altogether. But if the evidence was correct — ’

‘There is some slight indication that it was not,’ said Mrs Bradley. ‘A month after the inquest the police received an anonymous letter suggesting that Miss Murchan was in a position to offer them definite information if they would assure the writer of police protection if she became involved.’


‘The handwriting experts thought that the letter had been written by a woman, and thereby hangs a point of peculiar interest. However, when the police interviewed Miss Murchan, not only did she deny all knowledge of the letter, but very soon afterwards she sent in her resignation to the County authority, and, according to Miss Paldred, the headmistress, whom I have interviewed, so far as the school was concerned she soon dropped out. She did not tell anyone where she was going, and it was not until her disappearance from the College was reported that the police here discovered that she had ever been on the staff of that particular school.’

‘Oh, you think the grandfather of the child found out where she was, and… ?’

‘That is a possibility, of course.’

‘But you don’t think it’s the truth?’

‘Do you?’

‘I don’t know.’

‘And you don’t want to ask any questions?’

‘Well, I suppose Miss Murchan was going to confess something to the police, and then funked it?’

‘Do you really suppose that?’

‘I don’t know. I don’t actually suppose anything, because I haven’t enough to go on, so far, have I? You said Miss Murchan was the Biology mistress. That being so, I don’t see what she had to do with the gymnasium. Surely she wasn’t also the Physical Training mistress?’

‘No, but she helped with the games. So did two other mistresses. It is a very large school. Incidentally, the Physical Training mistress resigned immediately after the inquest.’

‘Was she on the building when the accident happened?’

‘Nobody confessed to having been on the building later than five o’clock that evening, and, according to the medical evidence, the child could not have died before seven.’

‘When was she found?’

‘When the first physical training class went into the gymnasium on the following morning.’

‘But — what about the caretaker? — the cleaners?’

‘Thereby hangs a tale which I have tested and found to be correct. The floor of the gymnasium is sacred, being specially made, laid, sprung, and oiled, and so jealous of it was the headmistress that she would not allow people into the gymnasium unless they were wearing the regulation rubber-soled shoes. The Physical Training mistress, a young woman named Paynter-Tree, and, incidentally, Miss Murchan’s half-sister, went further. She would not have the caretaker or the cleaners in at all, rubber-soled or not. She tended the gymnasium with her own fair hands, occasionally press-ganging the girls into service. So, you see, there was no reason, if the child had gone in there alone, why anybody should have found her

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