“I fully understand your reluctance to profit from murder, Miss Vane,” the solicitor said, his hands steepled before him. “Indeed, your scruples do you great credit, but none the less...”
For the first time since she had entered the room, indeed, his expression had shown some warmth. Something - a too-prickly honesty, maybe - made her interrupt him.
“No, you misunderstand me. I don't have any objection to profiting from murder. That is, if Philip had left me a weeping widow with four infants, I'd have no reluctance in taking all Miss Garden's money and spending it to the best of my ability. But as it is...”
He was shaking his head , regretfully. “Miss Vane, again, I fully appreciate your scruples. But Mr Boyes' will makes it clear that he regards you as his wife, and that he fully recognised his duty, therefore, to protect you as such. If more men had recognised their responsibilities outside, as well as in marriage, I may say, my life as a solicitor would have been a happier one.”
And to say that she had been badgered and harassed and bored and patronised and ignored until somehow the love had leaked out of her and only a sense of hopeless duty was left – all that seemed so inappropriate in this polished room, with the deed boxes all around, that Mr Murbles was able to continue.
“And if I may be frank, the actions of the late Mr Urquhart were such that there is no-one else to accept the legacy. After Reverend Boyes' decease, and Mrs Wrayburn's sudden death... One can only wonder at what was in his mind when he poisoned both Mr Philip Boyes and himself that evening. It seems really quite inexplicable.”
That was not what Eiluned had said, or Sylvia either. They had clearly both thought – although, to be fair, only Eiluned had said it straight out – that it was perfectly explicable for anyone enduring a three course meal with Philip Boyes to feel that the best filling for the omlette would be arsenic all round.
“Now, had Mrs Wrayburn died an hour after Mr Boyes, rather than an hour before him,” Murbles went on, “We would not be in this position. But we must deal with the facts as they are.”
“I'm sure some distant relative can be dragged up, if the fortune is as large as you imply,” Harriet said. “Some long lost claimant from overseas, if necessary.”
“Oh no, Miss Vane,” and Murbles seemed to gain a new energy. “No, not since the new Property Act of 1925. The law has changed entirely on that point. No, if a person dies intestate, only their parents, spouse, siblings and their issue can inherit. The matter is quite clear. Now, that means that there is no-one to inherit from Mr Boyes, should you refuse the legacy. The money would simply go to the Duchy of Lancaster, or, in other words, to the Crown. And,” he gave a little dry, papery laugh, “I can assure you that the Crown has quite enough money as it is.”
“How much is it, then?” she said, and was startled to hear the weary watchfulness in her own voice.
The amount he said left her speechless until she was on the doorstep.