They were assembled once more in the dining-room where a fire sparkled weakly in the sunlight.
Henry Mortimer said: "lf I had my life over again I should form the habit of nightly composing myself to thoughts of death. I would practise, as it were, the remembrance of death. There is no other practise which so I intensifies life. Death, when it approaches, ought not to take one by surprise. It should be part of the full expectancy of life. Without an ever-present sense of death life is insipid. You might as well live on the whites of eggs."
Dame Lettie said suddenly and sharply, "Who is the man, Henry?"
"My dear Lettie. I can't help you, there." She looked so closely at him, he felt almost that she suspected himself.
"Lettie thinks you are the man," said Alec wickedly.
"I hardly think," said Henry, "Lettie would attribute to me such energy and application as the culprit evidently possesses."
"All we want," said Godfrey, "is to stop him. And to do that we've got to find the man."
"I consider," said Janet Sidebottome, "that what Mr. Mortimer was saying just now about resigning ourselves to death is most uplifting and consoling. The religious point of view is too easily forgotten these days, and I thank you, Mr. Mortimer."
"Why, thank you, Janet. Perhaps 'resigning ourselves to death' doesn't quite convey what I mean. But of course, I don't attempt to express a specifically religious point of view. My observations were merely confined ---"
"You sound most religious to me," said Janet.
"Thank you, Janet."
"Poor young man," mused Charmian. "He may be lonely, and simply wanting to talk to people and so he rings them up."
"The police, of course, are hopeless. Really, Henry, it is time there was a question in the House," said Lettie warningly.
"Considering the fairly wide discrepancies in your various reports," said Henry, "the police at one stage in their investigations assumed that not one man but a gang was at work. The police have, however, employed every method of detection known to criminology and science, so far without success. Now, one factor is constant in all your reports. The words, 'Remember you must die.' It is, you know, an excellent thing to remember this, for it is nothing more than the truth. To remember one's death is, in short, a way of life."
"To come to the point ---" said Godfrey.
"Godfrey," said Charmian, "I am sure everyone is fascinated by what Henry is saying."
"Most consoling," said Janet Sidebottome. "Do continue, Mr. Mortimer, with your words."
"Ah yes," said Miss Lottinville who was also enjoying Henry's philosophising.
And Mrs. Rose, with her longanimous eyes and resignation, nodded her head in sad, wise and ancient assent.
"Have you considered," said Alec Warner, "the possibility of mass hysteria"
"Making telephones ring?" said Mr. Rose, spreading wide his palms.
"Absurd!" said Dame Lettie. "We can eliminate mass hysteria."
"Oh no," said Mortimer. "In a case like this we can't eliminate any possibility. That is just our difficulty."
"Tell me," Alec asked the Chief Inspector with his piercing look, "would you describe yourself as a mystic?"
"Never having previously been called upon to describe myself, I really couldn't say."
"The question is," said Mr. Rose, "who's the fellow that's trying to put the fear of God in us?"
"And what's the motive?" said Godfrey. "That's what I ask."
"The question of motive may prove to be different in each case, to judge by the evidence before us," said Mortimer. "I think we must all realise that the offender is, in each case, whoever we think he is ourselves."
§ § §
Did you tell them," said Emmeline Mortimer when they had gone, "what your theory is?"
"No --- oh no, my dear. I treated them to brief philosophical sermons instead. It helped to pass the time."
"Did they like your little sermons ?"
"Some of the women did. The young girl seemed less bored than at other times. Lettie objected."
"She said the whole afternoon had been pointless."
"How rude. After my lovely tea."
"It was a lovely tea. It was my part that was pointless. I'm afraid it had to be."
"How I wish," said Emmeline, "you could have told them outright, 'Death is the culprit.' And I should like to have seen their faces."
"It's a personal opinion. One can't make up one's mind for others."
"Can they make up their own minds, then?"
"No. I think I'll go and spray the pears."
"Now, darling," said Mrs. Mortimer. "You know you've done enough for one day. I'm sure it's been quite enough for me."
"The trouble with these people," he said, "they think that the C.I.D. are God, understanding all mysteries and all knowledge. Whereas we are only policemen."
He went to read by the fire in the dining-room. Before he sat down he straightened the chairs round the table and put back some of them in their places round the wall. He emptied the ash-trays into the fire. He looked out of the window at the half-light and hoped for a fine summer. He had not mentioned it to Emmeline yet, but this summer he hoped to sail that yacht of his for which, in his retirement, he had sacrificed a car. Already he could feel the bright wet wind about his ears.
The telephone rang. He went out to the hall, answered it. Within a few seconds he put down the receiver. How strange, he thought, that mine is always a woman. Everyone else gets a man on the line to them, but mine is always this woman, gentle-spoken and respectful.--- From Memento Mori