twenty minutes afore.”

“What did you do then?”

“Well, it were plain ’e were murdered, an’ it looked like someone’d broke in: the glass were all inside, and the catch were undone.” His face clouded. “But a shockin’ amacher job it were; no star-glazin’ nor nuthin’-an’ such a mess!”

Pitt did not need to ask what star-glazing was; many expert thieves used the trick of pasting paper over glass to hold all the shards while cutting a neat, silent circle which could be lifted out so a hand could be inserted to open the latch. A master cracksman could do the job in fifteen seconds.

“I asked the footman if they ’ad one o’ them telephone instruments,” Lowther continued. “ ’E said as they ’ad, so I went out o’ the libr’y an’ told ’im to stay at the door. I found the instrument and called the station an’ reported the crime. Then the butler came down-’e must ’ave ’eard the noise and when the footman didn’t go back upstairs, ’e come ter see what was goin’ on. ’E formally identified the dead man as Mr. Robert York, the son o’ the Honorable Piers York, the master o’ the ’ouse. But ’e was away from ’ome on business, so there was nothin’ for it but to tell the elder Mrs. York, the victim’s mother. The butler sent for ’er lady’s maid, in case she were overcome at the news. But when she came down and we ’ad ter tell ’er, she were very calm, very dignified.” He sighed in admiration. “Makes yer realize what real Quality is. She were white as a ghost an’ looked like she were dead ’erself, poor soul, but she never wept in front of us, just asked ’er maid to steady ’er a bit.”

Pitt knew of many great women who were bred to bear physical pain, loneliness, or bereavement by always showing the world a serene face, shedding all their tears in private. They were the sort of women who had sent their husbands and sons to battle on the fields of Waterloo and Balaklava, or to explore the Hindu Kush or find the source of the Blue Nile, and then to settle and administer the empire. Many had gone themselves into unknown lands, enduring appalling privation and the loss of every familiar sight and sound. In his mind Mrs. York was such a woman.

Lowther went on quietly, recalling the somber house and its grief. “I asked them if anything were missing as they knew. It were ’ard to ’ave ter ask a lady at such a time, but we ’ad ter know. She were quite calm and jus’ walked round the room careful like, and she told us that as far as she could say, there was two silver framed minicher portraits dated 1773, a crystal paperweight engraved with a design o’ scrolls and flowers, a small silver jug used fer fla’hers-and that weren’t ’ard ter come at, because the fla’hers theirselves was on the floor and the water spilled on the carpet; don’t know ’ow we missed seein’ it before-an’ a first edition of a book by Jonathan Swift. She said as she couldn’t see anythin’ else.”

“Where was the book kept?”

“On the shelves with the other books, Mr. Pitt-which means as ’e knew it were there! I asked, and she said as it didn’t look nothin’ special from the back of it you’d see ordinary.”

“Ah.” Pitt let out his breath slowly. He changed the subject.

“Was the dead man married?” he asked.

“Oh yes. But I didn’t disturb ’is wife, poor creature. She ’adn’t woke, an’ I couldn’t see no point in ’avin’ ter tell ’er in the middle o’ the night. Better to let ’er own family do that.”

Pitt could hardly blame him. Having to tell the sad news to the loved ones of the victim was one of the hardest duties in a murder case; the only thing even more difficult was seeing the faces of those who loved the guilty when at last they understood.

“Material evidence?” he said aloud.

Lowther shook his head. “Nothin’, sir; least nothin’ as means much. There weren’t nothin’ in the ’ouse as didn’t belong, nothin’ to show the intruder went anywhere ’cept the libr’y. No footmarks, no ’airs nor bits o’ cloth, nothin’ ter see. Followin’ day, we asked all the servants in the ’ouse, but they ’eard nothin’. No one ’eard the winder break. But then servants sleeps at the top o’ the ’ouse, up in the attics like, so maybe they wouldn’t.”

“Anything outside?” Pitt pressed.

Lowther shook his head again. “Nothin’ sir. No footmarks outside the winder, but it were ’ard frost, wicked that night, an’ the ground were like iron. Didn’t leave no marks meself, an’ I weighs near fourteen stone.”

“Dry enough so you left no footmarks on the carpet either?” Pitt questioned.

“Not a one sir; I thought o’ that.”

“Any witnesses?”

“No, Mr. Pitt. I saw no one meself, and never did find anyone else as ’ad. Y’see ’anover Close is a real close, no through road, so no one as didn’t live there’d ’ave any reason to pass that way, specially in the middle of a winter night. An’ it’s not exac’ly an ’arlots’ patch.”

That was more or less what Pitt had expected to hear, but there was always the chance. He tried the last obvious avenue. “What about the stolen articles?”

Lowther made a face. “Nothin’. An’ we tried ‘ard, because of it bein’ murder.”

“Is there anything else?”

“No, Mr. Pitt. Mr. Mowbray took over talkin’ to the family. ’E could tell you more, maybe.”

“I’ll ask him. Thank you.”

Lowther looked puzzled and only slightly relieved. “Thank you, sir.”

Pitt found Mowbray back in his office.

“Get what you wanted?” Mowbray asked, his dark face puckering into an expression of curiosity and resignation. “Lowther’s a good man: if there’d been anything he’d ’ave found it.”

Pitt sat down as near the fire as he could. Mowbray moved fractionally to make room for him and lifted the teapot, offering more tea by raising his eyebrows. Pitt nodded. It was dark brown, stewed, but it was hot.

“You went the following day?” Pitt pursued the subject.

Mowbray frowned. “Early as seemed decent. Hate having to do that, go and talk to people the moment they’re bereaved, before they’ve even got over the first shock. Still, has to be done. Pity. York himself wasn’t there, only the mother and the widow-”

“Tell me about them,” Pitt interrupted. “Not just the facts; how did they impress you?”

Mowbray took a deep breath and sighed slowly. “The elder Mrs. York was a remarkable woman. Been something of a beauty in ’er day, I should think, still fine-looking, very …”

Pitt did not prompt him; he wanted Mowbray’s own words.

“Very womanly.” Mowbray was not satisfied with this description. He frowned and blinked several times. “Soft, like-like one of them flowers in the botanical gardens. …” His face eased with the flash of memory. “Camellias. Pale colors and perfect shape. All ordered, not higgledy-piggledy like a wildflower, or one o’ them late roses that falls open.”

Pitt liked late roses: they were magnificent, exuberant; but it was a matter of taste. Perhaps Mowbray found them a little vulgar.

“What about the widow?” Pitt kept his voice level, trying not to betray any extra interest.

But Mowbray was too perceptive. A very slight smile curved his mouth and he kept his eyes on Pitt’s face.

“She were ’it so ’ard wi’ shock she were as white as a corpse ’erself, I’d swear to that. I’ve seen a lot o’ women in times o’ grief; it’s one o’ the rottenest parts o’ the job. Them as are puttin’ it on tend to weep an’ faint and talk a lot about ’ow they feel. Mrs. York ’ardly spoke a word an’ seemed sort o’ numb. She didn’t look at us, like liars do; in fact I don’t think she cared what we thought.”

Pitt smiled in spite of himself. “Not a camellia?”

A bleak humor flickered at the back of Mowbray’s eyes. “Quite different sort o’ woman altogether, much more. .”

Again Pitt waited.

“More delicate, more easy to ’urt. I suppose partly because she were younger, o’ course; but I got the feelin’ she didn’t ’ave the same strength inside ’er. But even shocked as she were, she were one o’ the best-lookin’ women I ever seen, tall and very slight, like a spring flower, ’ceptin dark. Fragile, you might say; one of those faces you don’t forget, different from most. ’Igh cheeks, fine bones.” He shook his head a little. “Face all full o’ feelin’.”

Pitt sat quietly for a moment, trying to picture the woman. What did the Foreign Office really fear-murder, treason, or merely scandal? What was the real reason they had asked Ballarat to open this case again now? Was it just to make sure there was nothing sordid that could come out later and ruin an ambassador? Even in this short interview Pitt had formed a respect for Mowbray. He was a good professional policeman. If Mowbray believed

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