The Inspector of Corpses was standing in the front entrance looking outwards, as if he was a man with all the time in the world.
“Excuse me, Master Inspector,” I said, with all the courtesy I could muster. Impelled by my voice, but affecting to ignore me, the Inspector stepped out into the Sixth Circle and, without any prompting from me, set his feet towards the stables. I quickly caught him up and walked alongside him in silence.
“Were you waiting in the entrance to talk to me?” I said eventually.
“My lips are sealed,” came the reply.
“Nevertheless, might there not be something which you would ask of me?”
“Yes. There is.” The Inspector spoke slowly, choosing his words with care. “Why is it, Master Goswedriol, that a man publicly proclaimed to be a great lover of truth should utter such prize porkies?”
“I do indeed love the truth, when spoken by other people. On occasions, however, I am disinclined to speak it myself, when silence is the better counsel. But back there in the Captain’s office, did I utter a single untruthful word?”
“Not all utterances consist of words,” observed the Inspector. “Some utter counterfeit coinage. Some utter forged documents. Some even utter corpses, intending to deceive therewith.”
“Please clarify your meaning.”
“I imagine you think you’re being frightfully clever. How long do you suppose you can keep this up?”
“I really must confess, Inspector, to being at a loss to know what you mean.”
“Whither are you heading now?” he said. I thought he was changing the subject, but I soon discovered he wasn’t.
“To the stables, to ascertain the welfare of my horse, which I left behind with unaccustomed haste. After that I go to the Houses of Healing.”
“I will go with you as far as the stables,” he said. “I would have words with you.”
“I should be glad of your company.” I said it in my most professional monotone.
“That remains to be seen. And I suppose you are going to tell me that your errand at the Houses of Healing is to visit Master Morfindel, who lies within: having been conveyed thence through your good offices?”
“And all the time Master Morfindel, the greater part of him, lies cold upon a marble slab. Yet you profess yourself at a loss to know what I mean.”
“Master Morfindel lives!” I protested.
“In the memory, no doubt. And he will continue to live in the memory for many a long year. The memory will be sweet to some, if not to others.”
He stopped and turned to face me full on. “Your solace for his poor state of health is misplaced. In every sense of the word.”
“I must remind you of the oath you have sworn before Captain Bergil,” I replied, with as much dignity as I could muster. He laughed his dry booming laugh. His buttons I imagined were buzzing fit to fly off.
“I am sorry,” I said, genuinely ashamed of myself. “What I meant was: please keep your voice down and keep to yourself whatever may pass between us.”
“You have my word, Sir,” he said. “As one man of honour to another.”
That dry laugh again. I held out my hand. Gravely, to my surprise, he took it.
Letting go I said, “The true condition of Master Morfindel is known only to Captain Bergil, myself and the King. How then do you presume to share in this knowledge?”
“That I choose not to reveal,” he said. But he said it after a pause, suggesting that he was on the point of telling me something, but bit it back at the last moment. He still did not trust me, I told myself. Just then I could not really find it in my heart to blame him.
We were now outside the stable and I went in to see my horse was properly cared for. It was as well that I did, for the fool of an ostler has left neither straw in the manger nor water in the trough. When I came out, the Inspector of Corpses was no longer to be seen.
…to be continued.