Vera nodded.

‘The whole jolly lot of them?’

‘In Betsy’s cottage? Incredible!’

‘Of course Betsy hasn’t an idea as to what they are,’ said Vera; ‘she just knows that they are something valuable and that she must keep quiet about them. I found out quite by accident what they were and how they came to be there. You see, the people who had them were at their wits’ end to know where to stow them away for safe keeping, and some one who was motoring through the village was struck by the snug loneliness of the cottage and thought it would be just the thing. Mrs Lamper arranged the matter with Betsy and smuggled the things in.’

‘Mrs Lamper?’

‘Yes; she does a lot of district visiting, you know.’

‘I am quite aware that she takes soup and flannel and improving literature to the poorer cottages,’ said Mrs Bebberly Cumble, ‘but that is hardly the same sort of thing as disposing of stolen goods, and she must have known something about their history; any one who reads the papers, even casually, must have been aware of the theft, and I should think the things were not hard to recognise. Mrs Lamper has always had the reputation of being a very conscientious woman.’

‘Of course she was screening some one else,’ said Vera. ‘A remarkable feature of the affair is the extraordinary number of quite respectable people who have involved themselves in its meshes by trying to shield others. You would be really astonished if you knew some of the names of the individuals mixed up in it, and I don’t suppose a tithe of them knew who the original culprits were; and now I’ve got you entangled in the mess by letting you into the secret of the cottage.’

‘You most certainly have not entangled me,’ said Mrs Bebberly Cumble indignantly. ‘I have no intention of shielding anybody. The police must know about it at once; a theft is a theft, whoever is involved. If respectable people choose to turn themselves into receivers and disposers of stolen goods, well, they’ve ceased to be respectable, that’s all. I shall telephone immediately—’

‘Oh, aunt,’ said Vera reproachfully, ‘it would break the poor Canon’s heart if Cuthbert were to be involved in a scandal of this sort. You know it would.’

‘Cuthbert involved! How can you say such things when you know how much we all think of him?’

‘Of course I know you think a lot of him, and that he’s engaged to marry Beatrice, and that it will be a frightfully good match, and that he’s your ideal of what a son-in-law ought to be. All the same, it was Cuthbert’s idea to stow the things away in the cottage, and it was his motor that brought them. He was only doing it to help his friend Pegginson, you know—the Quaker man, who is always agitating for a smaller Navy. I forget how he got involved in it. I warned you that there were lots of quite respectable people mixed up in it, didn’t I? That’s what I meant when I said it would be impossible for old Betsy to leave the cottage; the things take up a good bit of room, and she couldn’t go carrying them about with her other goods and chattels without attracting notice. Of course if she were to fall ill and die it would be equally unfortunate. Her mother lived to be over ninety, she tells me, so with due care and an absence of worry she ought to last for another dozen years at least. By that time perhaps some other arrangements will have been made for disposing of the wretched things.’

‘I shall speak to Cuthbert about it—after the wedding,’ said Mrs Bebberly Cumble.

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