Olive Betterton said quickly:
‘I know. You said so in your letter. But I wondered if—since then—oh! I was glad to come up. Just sitting at home wondering and brooding—that’s the worst of it all. Because there’s nothing one can do!’
The man called Jessop said soothingly:
‘You mustn’t mind, Mrs Betterton, if I go over the same ground again and again, ask you the same questions, stress the same points. You see it’s always possible that some small point might arise. Something that you hadn’t thought of before, or perhaps hadn’t thought worth mentioning.’
‘Yes. Yes, I understand. Ask me all over again about everything.’
‘The last time you saw your husband was on the 23rd of August?’
‘That was when he left England to go to Paris to a conference there.’
Jessop went on rapidly:
‘He attended the first two days of the conference. The third day he did not turn up. Apparently he had mentioned to one of his colleagues that he was going instead for a trip on a bateau mouche that day.’
‘A bateau mouche? What’s a bateau mouche?’
‘One of those small boats that go along the Seine.’ He looked at her sharply. ‘Does that strike you as unlike your husband?’
She said doubtfully:
‘It does, rather. I should have thought he’d be so keen on what was going on at the conference.’
‘Possibly. Still the subject for discussion on this particular day was not one in which he had any special interest, so he might reasonably have given himself a day off. But it doesn’t strike you as being quite like your husband?’
She shook her head.
‘He did not return that evening to his hotel,’ went on Jessop. ‘As far as can be ascertained he did not pass any frontier, certainly not on his own passport. Do you think he could have had a second passport, in another name perhaps?’
‘Oh, no, why should he?’
He watched her.
‘You never saw such a thing in his possession?’
She shook her head with vehemence.
‘No, and I don’t believe it. I don’t believe it for a moment. I don’t believe he went away deliberately as you all try to make out. Something’s happened to him, or else—or else perhaps he’s lost his memory.’
‘His health had been quite normal?’
‘Yes. He was working rather hard and sometimes felt a little tired, nothing more than that.’
‘He’d not seemed worried in any way or depressed?’
‘He wasn’t worried or depressed about anything!’ With shaking fingers she opened her bag and took out her handkerchief. ‘It’s all so awful.’ Her voice shook. ‘I can’t believe it. He’d never have gone off without a word to me. Something’s happened to him. He’s been kidnapped or he’s been attacked perhaps. I try not to think it but sometimes I feel that that must be the solution. He must be dead.’
‘Now please, Mrs Betterton, please—there’s no need to entertain that supposition yet. If he’s dead, his body would have been discovered by now.’
‘It might not. Awful things happen. He might have been drowned or pushed down a sewer. I’m sure anything could happen in Paris.’
‘Paris, I can assure you, Mrs Betterton, is a very well-policed city.’
She took the handkerchief away from her eyes and stared at him with sharp anger.
‘I know what you think, but it isn’t so! Tom wouldn’t sell secrets or betray secrets. He wasn’t a communist. His whole life is an open book.’
‘What were his political beliefs, Mrs Betterton?’
‘In America he was a Democrat, I believe. Here he voted Labour. He wasn’t interested in politics. He was a scientist, first and last.’ She added defiantly, ‘He was a brilliant scientist.’
‘Yes,’ said Jessop, ‘he was a brilliant scientist. That’s really the crux of the whole matter. He might have been offered, you know, very considerable inducements to leave this country and go elsewhere.’
‘It’s not true.’ Anger leapt out again. ‘That’s what the papers try to make out. That’s what you all think when you come questioning me. It’s not true. He’d never go without telling me, without giving me some idea.’
‘And he told you—nothing?’
Again he was watching her keenly.
‘Nothing. I don’t know where he is. I think he was kidnapped, or else, as I say, dead. But if he’s dead, I must know. I must know soon. I can’t go on like this, waiting and wondering. I can’t eat or sleep. I’m sick and ill with worry. Can’t you help me? Can’t you help me at all?’
He got up then and moved round his desk. He murmured:
‘I’m so very sorry, Mrs Betterton, so very sorry. Let me assure you that we are trying our very best to find out what has happened to your husband. We get reports in every day from various places.’
‘Reports from where?’ she asked sharply. ‘What do they say?’
He shook his head.
‘They all have to be followed up, sifted and tested. But as a rule, I am afraid, they’re vague in the extreme.’
‘I must know,’ she murmured brokenly again. ‘I can’t go on like this.’
‘Do you care for your husband very much, Mrs Betterton?’
‘Of course I care for him. Why, we’ve only been married six months. Only six months.’
‘Yes, I know. There was—forgive me for asking—no quarrel of any kind between you?’