Miss Somers, who was not the best typist in the office, poured the tea and took the cups round.
Miss Griffith, the well-organized head typist who had been with Consolidated Investments Trust for sixteen years, tasted her tea and asked sharply. ‘Are you sure the water was boiling when you put it on the tea leaves, Somers? If it isn’t boiling, the tea tastes horrible!
At that moment Miss Grosvenor, an incredibly glamorous blonde, who was Mr Fortescue’s personal secretary, came in to make his tea herself. Then she went out again, carrying the tea tray in front of her.
Mr Fortescue’s office was a large room with a shining wood floor and behind a huge desk sat Mr Fortescue, a large, fat man with a bald head. Miss Grosvenor put the tray on the desk saying quietly, ‘Your tea, Mr Fortescue,’ then left. Miss Grosvenor went back into her own office, made two telephone calls and looked at the clock. It was ten minutes past eleven. Just then a terrible cry came from Mr Fortescue’s office. Miss Grosvenor rushed in and found her employer behind his desk, his body twisting in pain. He was finding it difficult to speak.
‘Tea – what did you put in the tea – get a doctor…’
Miss Grosvenor went running into the typists’ office, shouting, ‘Mr Fortescue – we must get a doctor – I’m sure he’s dying.’
But it had never been necessary to call a doctor to the office before now. Where was there a doctor nearby? Miss Griffith said, ‘We can call his own doctor! Get the private address book.’ Then, just to be sure, she told the office boy to go out and find a doctor – anywhere.
Miss Grosvenor said tearfully, ‘There couldn’t have been anything wrong with the tea. But Mr Fortescue – he said it was the tea…’
A short while later Dr Isaacs, a local doctor the office boy had found and Sir Edwin Sandeman, Mr Fortescue’s doctor, met in the lift.
Detective Inspector Neele sat behind Mr Fortescue’s desk. One of his officers sat quietly against the wall near the door with a notebook. Inspector Neele looked like an ordinary man, but his way of thinking was very imaginative.
Miss Griffith had just left, after giving him an exact report of the morning’s events. Inspector Neele thought of possible reasons why the head typist could have poisoned her employer’s tea, and rejected them as unlikely, because Miss Griffith was (a) not the type of person to be a poisoner, (b) not in love with her employer, (c) not a woman who held grudges.
It was possible, of course, that Mr Fortescue’s sudden illness had a natural cause, but neither Dr Isaacs nor Sir Edwin Sandeman had thought so.
Miss Grosvenor now came in and said at once, ‘I didn’t do it! There wasn’t anything wrong with the tea!’
Inspector Neele thought of a possible reason why Miss Grosvenor might have poisoned Mr Fortescue: perhaps a love affair that had gone wrong?
‘I see,’ said Inspector Neele. ‘Your name and address, please?’
‘Irene Grosvenor, 14 Rushmoor Road, Muswell Hill.’
No love affair, Neele said to himself. The address was a respectable one and she probably lived there with her parents. Inspector Neele questioned her about how she had made Mr Fortescue’s tea. The cup, saucer and teapot had already been sent for analysis. Irene Grosvenor and only Irene Grosvenor had touched that cup, saucer and teapot. The kettle had been refilled from the tap in the small kitchen by Miss Grosvenor.
‘And the tea itself?’ asked Neele.
‘It was Mr Fortescue’s own special China tea. We keep it in my room.’
Inspector Neele asked about sugar and heard that Mr Fortescue didn’t take sugar. The telephone rang and Inspector Neele picked it up and spoke. ‘Sergeant Hay?’ He nodded to Miss Grosvenor and said, ‘That’s all for now, thank you.’ She went out of the room quickly.
‘He died five minutes ago, you say?’ Neele said into the phone. Sergeant Hay had gone to St Jude’s Hospital, where Mr Fortescue had been taken. Twelve forty-three, he wrote in his notebook. Hay then said that Dr Bernsdorff would like to speak to Inspector Neele. A moment later a loud voice made Neele take the telephone away from his ear.
‘Hello, you old crime hunter!’ Inspector Neele and Dr Bernsdorff of St Jude’s had worked together on a case of poisoning a year ago and had become friends.
‘Mr Fortescue’s dead, I hear, doc. And the cause of death?’
‘There will have to be an autopsy, naturally. It’s a very interesting case. Very interesting indeed.’
‘You don’t think it was a natural death?’ asked Neele.
‘Not a chance of it.’
‘He was poisoned?’
‘Definitely. And I’m almost sure what the poison was. Taxine, my boy. Taxine.’
‘Taxine? I’ve never heard of it,’ said Neele.
‘It’s really very unusual! I don’t think I would have thought of it myself if I hadn’t had a case only three weeks ago. A couple of kids playing dolls’ tea parties pulled some berries off a yew tree and made tea with them. Extremely poisonous, but I don’t think I’ve heard of a case where it was used deliberately. It really is most interesting and unusual. You have no idea, Neele, how boring it is when weed killer is used all the time. Interesting for you, too, I would think!’
‘So enjoyable for everyone, is that the idea? Except for the victim. Did he say anything before he died? ‘
‘He said that he had been given something in his tea at the office – but that’s nonsense, because Taxine doesn’t work that fast. It takes two or three hours to work. And if he had eaten a big breakfast, it would take even longer.’
‘Breakfast,’ said Inspector Neele thoughtfully. ‘Thanks, doctor. I’d like to speak to my Sergeant again, if you don’t mind.’ Moments later Sergeant Hay said urgently, ‘Sir. The suit the victim was wearing – I checked the contents of the pockets. There were the usual things – handkerchief, keys, change, wallet – but there was one thing that’s really strange. The right-hand pocket of his jacket had grain in it. It looked like rye to me. Quite a lot of it.’ Inspector Neele got up and went into the typists’ office. ‘Miss Griffith? Can I have a word with you?’
Miss Griffith followed Neele back into Mr Fortescue’s office and he said, ‘I have heard from St Jude’s Hospital. Mr Rex Fortescue died at 12.43.’
‘I was afraid he was very ill,’ she said.
She was not, Neele noted, at all upset. ‘Will you please give me the details of his home and family?’
‘Of course. I tried to speak to Mrs Fortescue, but it seems she is out playing golf. They do not know where she is playing, but they will tell her that Mr Fortescue is in hospital when she returns. I’ve written down the telephone number for you, but they live at Baydon Heath and the name of the house is Yewtree Lodge…’
‘What?’ exclaimed Neele, immediately connecting the name of the house with the poison that had been used.
Miss Griffith looked at him with interest, but Inspector Neele said no more on the subject. ‘Can you give me details of his family?’
‘Mrs Adele Fortescue is his second wife. She is much younger than he is. The first Mrs Fortescue has been dead a long time. There are two sons and a daughter from the first marriage. The daughter, Elaine, lives at home and so does the elder son, Percival, who is a partner in the firm. He is away in the north of England today on business. They are expecting him to return tomorrow.’
‘When did he go away?’
‘The day before yesterday.’
‘And the second son?’
‘Because of a disagreement with his father, Lance Fortescue lives abroad.’
‘Are both sons married?’
‘Yes. Mr Percival has been married for three years. He and his wife, Jennifer, are moving into their own house soon.’
‘You were not able to get in touch with Jennifer Fortescue either, when you rang?’
‘She had gone to London for the day.’ Miss Griffith went on, ‘Mr Lance got married less than a year ago. To the widow of Lord Frederick Anstice. I expect you’ve seen pictures of Mrs Patricia in magazines such as the Tatler – with horses, you know. And at horse races.’
Neele assumed that the disagreement with his father was because young Lance Fortescue had been guilty of some bad behaviour, possibly in business. And now he was married to the widow of Lord Frederick Anstice, a man who had killed himself rather than face an inquiry about his racehorses.
Neele picked up the phone and dialled and soon a man’s voice said, ‘Baydon Heath 3400.’
‘I want to speak to Mrs Adele Fortescue or Miss Elaine Fortescue.’
‘They aren’t in, either of them.’
Are you the butler?’
‘Is there anyone in the house I can speak to about Mr Rex Fortescue’s illness?’
‘Well, there’s Miss Dove, the housekeeper.’
‘I’ll speak to Miss Dove, please.’
A minute or two later a woman’s voice spoke. ‘This is Miss Dove.’ The voice was low and musical.
‘I am sorry to have to tell you, Miss Dove, that Mr Rex Fortescue died a short time ago. I need to contact his relatives…’
‘Of course,’ she said, her voice calm. ‘The person you really want to speak to is Mr Percival Fortescue. You might find him at the Midland Hotel in Manchester or possibly at the Grand in Leicester. Mrs Adele Fortescue will be home for dinner and she may be in to tea. It will be a great shock to her. Mr Fortescue was well when he left here this morning. What was it? His heart? ‘
‘Did he have heart trouble?’ Neele asked.
‘No, but as it was so sudden…’ She broke off. ‘Are you speaking from St Jude’s Hospital?’
‘No, Miss Dove, I’m speaking from Mr Fortescue’s office. I am Detective Inspector Neele and I will be coming down to see you as soon as I can get there.’
‘Detective Inspector? Do you mean… what do you mean?’
‘Miss Dove, when there is a sudden death, we are called to the scene, especially when the deceased hadn’t seen a doctor lately – he hadn’t, had he?’
‘No. Mr Percival made an appointment twice for him, but he refused to go. He was quite unreasonable – they were all worried…’ She broke off and then continued as calmly as before. ‘If Mrs Fortescue returns to the house before you arrive, what do you want me to tell her?’
What a practical and sensible woman she is, thought Inspector Neele. Aloud he said, ‘Just tell her that in a case of sudden death we have to make a few inquiries. Routine inquiries.’
Neele looked at Miss Griffith seriously. ‘So they wanted him to see a doctor. You didn’t tell me that.’
‘I didn’t think of it,’ said Miss Griffith. ‘He never seemed to me really ill – just unlike himself. Once or twice I thought he had been drinking… For most of the time I’ve been here he was always very secretive about his business affairs, but recently he’d been talking openly about them, and spending large amounts of money – which wasn’t like him. It seemed like he was looking forward to something exciting. And some very strange-looking people came to see him on business. It worried Mr Percival. Mr Fortescue was doing a lot of things that Mr Percival thought were unwise. But suddenly his father didn’t listen to him any more and Mr Percival was very upset.’
‘And they had a real fight about it all?’ Inspector Neele asked. ‘I don’t know about a fight, but once, Mr Fortescue came into the typists’ room with Mr Percival and he called him names and swore at him. He said Mr Percival was too scared to expand the business in a big way. He said, “I shall bring Lance home again. He’s worth ten of you – and he married well. Lance is fearless and brave, even if he did risk a criminal prosecution once.” Oh dear,
I wish I hadn’t said that!’
‘Don’t worry,’ said Inspector Neele comfortingly. ‘What’s past is past. Tell me a little more about the staff here.’
Inspector Neele was looking at the outside of Yewtree Lodge, a large, solid, red-brick building. The gardens were laid out in rose beds and ponds, with large numbers of neat yew hedges – and there was a huge yew tree, clearly very old. And possibly the poisonous berries from that very tree…? Inspector Neele rang the bell. The door was opened by a nervous-looking middle-aged man who invited Neele and Sergeant Hay in.
‘Has Mrs Adele Fortescue returned yet?’
‘Nor Miss Elaine Fortescue?’
‘Then I would like to see Miss Dove, please.’
The man turned his head slightly. ‘Here’s Miss Dove now – coming down the stairs.’
The word housekeeper had given Neele an impression of someone large and powerful, dressed in black, and so the Inspector was quite unprepared for the small neat figure coming towards him. The light brown colour of her dress with its white collar and cuffs, the neat waves of hair and the slight smile, all seemed a little unreal, as though this young woman of under thirty was playing a part; not, Neele thought, the part of a housekeeper, but the part of Mary Dove, gentle and quiet like the bird, the dove, that shared her surname.
‘Yes. This is Sergeant Hay. It seems likely that Mr Fortescue’s death was caused by something he ate at breakfast this morning.
I would like Sergeant Hay to be taken to the kitchen, where he can ask about the food that was served.’
Her eyes met his for a moment, thoughtfully, then she said, ‘Of course.’ She turned to the butler, who was standing nervously nearby. ‘Crump, will you take Sergeant Hay?’
The two men left. Mary Dove said to Neele, ‘Will you come in here?’ She opened the door of a sitting room and led him into it. ‘Please sit down.’
Mary Dove sat opposite him. She chose, he noticed, to face the light. An unusual choice for a woman. Still more unusual if a woman had anything to hide. But perhaps Mary Dove had nothing to hide.
‘Mrs Adele Fortescue may return at any minute. And so may Mrs Jennifer. I have sent telegrams to Mr Percival Fortescue at various places.’
‘Thank you, Miss Dove.’
‘You say that Mr Fortescue’s death was caused by something he may have eaten for breakfast? It seems unlikely. For breakfast this morning there was bacon and eggs, coffee, toast and marmalade. There was a cold ham, too, but that was also eaten yesterday, and no one was ill. No fish of any kind was served. For dinner last night…’
‘No.’ Inspector Neele interrupted her. ‘We are not interested in dinner last night. Will you tell me exactly what Mr Fortescue ate and drank this morning?’
‘He had early tea brought to his room at eight o’clock. Breakfast was at a quarter past nine. Mr Fortescue had eggs, bacon, coffee, toast and marmalade.’
‘No, he didn’t like cereal.’
‘The sugar for the coffee…’
‘Mr Fortescue did not take sugar in his coffee,’ Miss Dove interrupted.
‘Did he take any medicines in the morning?’
‘No, nothing like that.’
‘Who was at breakfast?’
‘Mrs Adele, Miss Elaine and Mrs Jennifer. Mrs Adele has only coffee, orange juice and toast, Mrs Jennifer and Miss Elaine always eat a large breakfast. As well as eating eggs and cold ham, they would probably have cereal as well. Mrs Jennifer drinks tea, not coffee.’
Three people had had breakfast with the deceased. Any of them might have had the opportunity to put taxine in Fortescue’s cup of coffee. The bitterness of the coffee would have hidden the bitter taste of the Taxine… Neele looked up to find Mary Dove watching him.
‘Your questions about medicines seem to me rather strange, Inspector,’ she said. ‘It seems to suggest that either there was something wrong with a medicine, or that something had been put into it.’
Neele looked at her seriously. ‘I did not say that Mr Fortescue died of food poisoning. But some kind of poisoning. In fact – just poisoning.’
She repeated quietly, ‘Poisoning…’ She appeared neither surprised nor anxious, simply interested. She said, ‘I have never been involved with a poisoning case before.’
‘It’s not very pleasant,’ Neele told her.
‘No – I suppose not…’ She looked up at him with a sudden smile. ‘I didn’t do it,’ she said. ‘But I suppose everybody says that!’
‘Have you any idea who did do it, Miss Dove?’
She shrugged her shoulders. ‘He was a horrible man. Anybody might have done it.’
‘Miss Dove, tell me something about the household here.’
She looked up at him. He was a little surprised to see she looked amused.
‘I don’t want what I am going to say to be repeated at the inquest, but I would like to say it – unofficially.’
‘I’m listening, Miss Dove.’
She leaned back. ‘Let me start by saying that I’ve no feeling of loyalty to my employers. I work for them because it’s a job that pays well and I insist that it pays well.’
Neele said, ‘I was a little surprised to find you doing this type of job. With your obvious intelligence…’
‘I ought to be working in an office?’ interrupted Mary Dove. ‘My dear Inspector Neele, some people will pay anything – anything – to avoid household worries. Firstly, finding and employing staff is very boring. Secondly, running the house properly requires abilities that most of the people I work for don’t have.’
‘And what happens if your staff leave you unexpectedly? I’ve heard of such things.’
Mary smiled. ‘If necessary, I can make the beds, clean the rooms, cook a meal and serve it, without anyone noticing the difference. But I work only for the extremely rich, who will pay anything to be comfortable. I pay top prices and so I get the best people available.’
‘Such as the butler?’ Neele asked, remembering the nervous Crump, whose red nose said he clearly liked alcohol too much.
She was amused. ‘Crump stays because of Mrs Crump, who is one of the best cooks I’ve ever worked with. As for Crump, he’s not such a bad butler, really. I keep the key of the wine cellar and I watch the whisky and gin carefully. But you wanted to know what I think of the family. They are all really horrible. The late Mr Fortescue was the type of businessman who is always careful to work just on the right side of the law. He was rude and a bully. Mrs Fortescue, Adele – is about thirty years younger than he was – with real sex appeal, if you know what I mean.’
Inspector Neele was shocked. A girl like Mary Dove ought not to say such things, he felt.
The young lady was continuing, Adele married him for his money, and Percival and Elaine are as nasty as they can be to her, but she doesn’t care. Rex Fortescue would do anything for her. Oh dear, the wrong tense. I haven’t really understood yet that he’s dead…’
‘Let’s hear about Percival Fortescue.’
‘Percival is a sly man. He’s terrified of his father and has always let himself be bullied.’
‘And his wife?’
‘Jennifer is quiet and seems very stupid. But she was a hospital nurse before her marriage – she nursed Percival when he had pneumonia and then he married her. Rex Fortescue disliked poor Jennifer. She dislikes – disliked him a lot, I think. Her main interests are shopping and the cinema; her main complaint is that her husband, Percival, doesn’t give her enough money.’
‘What about the daughter?’
‘Elaine? She’s one of those schoolgirls who never grow up. There was some sort of romance with a young schoolmaster, Gerald Wright, but Mr Fortescue discovered the young man had communist ideas and made them end the relationship.’
‘She hadn’t got the courage to stand up to him?’
‘She had. It was the young man who went away. I don’t think he liked the idea that if she had married him, her father would have stopped giving her money to live on. Elaine is not particularly attractive.’
‘And the other son?’
‘I’ve never seen Mr Lance. He’s attractive, everyone says, but a bad boy. He forged a cheque in the past. He lives in East Africa. Mr Fortescue couldn’t throw him out of the business completely because he’d already made him a junior partner, but he hadn’t kept in touch with him for years. All the same, I wouldn’t be surprised if old Fortescue had been planning to get him back here. About a month ago, he discovered something that his eldest son, Percival, had been doing behind his back – I don’t know what it was – and he was furious.’
‘Now, what about the servants? You’ve described the Crumps. Who else is there?’
‘Gladys Martin is the parlour maid. She cleans the downstairs rooms, lays the table, clears away and helps Crump wait at table. Quite a respectable sort of girl, but very stupid. Ellen Curtis is elderly and bad-tempered, but an excellent housemaid.’
‘And those are the only people living here?’
‘There’s old Miss Ramsbottom, Mr Fortescue’s first wife’s sister, who is well over seventy. She has a room on the second floor and never comes downstairs. She never liked her brother- in-law, but she came here while her sister was alive and stayed on when she died. Mr Fortescue isn’t very interested in her. She’s quite a character, though, is Miss Ramsbottom – or Aunt Effie as everyone calls her.’
‘So we come to you, Miss Dove.’
‘I’m an orphan. I took a secretarial course and then a job as a shorthand typist. I decided I was in the wrong business, and started on my present career. I have been with three different employers. After about eighteen months I get tired of a place and move on. I have been at Yewtree Lodge for just over a year. I will type out the names and addresses of my previous employers and give them, with a copy of my references, to Sergeant Hay.’
Neele was silent for a moment, enjoying a mental image of Miss Dove collecting yew berries in a little basket. With a sigh he returned to the present. ‘Now, I would like to see Gladys Martin and then Ellen Curtis.’ He added as he stood up, ‘By the way, Miss Dove, can you give me any idea why Mr Fortescue would be carrying loose grain – rye, in fact – in his pocket?’
‘Grain?’ She stared at him.
‘Yes – grain. Does that mean anything to you, Miss Dove?’
‘Nothing at all.’
‘Who looked after his clothes?’
‘I see. Did Mr Fortescue and Mrs Fortescue share the same bedroom?’
‘Yes. He had a dressing room and bathroom, of course, and so did she…’ Mary looked down at her wristwatch. ‘I really think that she ought to be back very soon now.’
The Inspector said in a pleasant voice, ‘It seems to me very strange that even though there are three golf courses in the neighbourhood, it has not been possible to find Mrs Fortescue on one of them. Who was she playing with?’
‘I think it is possible that it might be Mr Vivian Dubois.’
‘I’ll send Gladys in to you. She’ll probably be scared to death.’ Mary Dove went out. Inspector Neele looked at the closed door. What she had told him was very useful. If Rex Fortescue had been deliberately poisoned, and it seemed almost certain that he had, then there appeared to be plenty of motives at Yewtree Lodge.
The girl who entered the room looked a bit dirty in spite of being tall and smartly dressed in a dark red uniform. She said at once, anxiously, ‘I didn’t do anything. I didn’t really. I don’t know anything about it.’
‘That’s all right, Gladys,’ said Neele in a comforting voice. ‘Sit down here. I just want to know about breakfast this morning.’
He learnt little from her that he did not know already. Neele questioned her about herself and discovered that she had been in a private house first and after that had worked in various cafes. She had come to Yewtree Lodge in September. She had been there two months.
‘Tell me about Mr Fortescue’s clothes – his suits. Who took care of them?’
Gladys looked slightly annoyed. ‘Mr Crump’s supposed to. But half the time he makes me do it.’
‘Have you ever found grain in the pocket of one of his suits? Rye, to be exact. There was some in the pocket of your master’s jacket. Do you know how it got there?’
‘I couldn’t say. I never saw any.’
He could get no more information from her. She certainly seemed uneasy – but that was probably a natural fear of the police.
Inspector Neele went down to the kitchen where a very fat woman stepped towards him in a threatening way. ‘Police!’ she said. ‘Any food that I’ve sent into the dining room has been just what it should be. How dare you come here and say that I poisoned the master! No bad food has ever been served in this house.’
It was some time before Neele could reassure Mrs Crump that no one was accusing her of poisoning Rex Fortescue, then their conversation was ended by the ringing of the telephone.
Neele went out into the hall to find Mary Dove taking the call. She was writing down a message on a notepad. Turning her head she said, ‘It’s a telegram. The post office can’t send anyone so they called instead…’
She handed the notepad to the Inspector. The telegram had come from Paris and the message, addressed to Rex Fortescue, said:
I’m sorry but your letter to me was delayed. We will be with you tomorrow about teatime. I will expect roast beef for dinner. Lance.
‘So the Bad Boy son had been asked to come home,’ Inspector Neele said.
Inspector Neele was still holding the message when he heard a car drive up. Mary Dove said, ‘That will be Mrs Fortescue now.’ As Inspector Neele moved forwards to the front door, he saw Mary Dove disappear.
The car was a Rolls Bentley sports model. Two people came towards the house as Neele opened the front door. Surprised, Adele Fortescue stared at Inspector Neele, who realized at once that Adele Fortescue spoke and moved and breathed sex appeal. He then looked at the man behind her, who was carrying her golf clubs. He knew the type very well. They made their living from the young wives of rich elderly men.
‘Mrs Fortescue? I am Inspector Neele. I’m afraid I have bad news for you. Your husband became seriously ill this morning. We’ve been trying to contact you since half-past eleven. He was taken to St Jude’s and I’m afraid you must prepare yourself for a shock.’
‘You don’t mean – he’s – dead.’ She fell forward a little and held onto his arm and the Inspector took her into the hall. Crump was there. ‘She’ll be needing brandy,’ he said.
The deep voice of Mr Dubois said, ‘That’s right, Crump. Get the brandy.’ To the Inspector he said, ‘In here.’ He opened the sitting room door and Adele Fortescue sat down on a chair, her eyes covered with her hand. She accepted the glass that the Inspector offered a minute later and drank a tiny amount, then pushed it away. ‘I don’t want it. Tell me, what was it? A stroke. I suppose? Poor Rex.’
‘It wasn’t a stroke. I’m afraid we need to find out as soon as possible exactly what Mr Fortescue had to eat or drink before he left for the office this morning.’
‘Do you mean he might have been poisoned? I can’t believe it. Oh – you mean food poisoning.’
His face showing nothing, Inspector Neele said, ‘Madam? What did you think I meant?’
She ignored that question as Dubois said, looking at his watch, ‘I must go, Adele. I’m very, very sorry. You’ll be all right, won’t you?’
‘Oh, Vivian, don’t. Don’t go!’ Adele Fortescue said.
‘I’m really sorry but I’ve got an important meeting. I’m staying at the Golf Hotel, by the way, Inspector. If you – er – want me for anything.’
Inspector Neele nodded. Mr Dubois was clearly running away from trouble! Adele Fortescue said, ‘I expect it’s the awful bacon we get. It’s quite uneatable sometimes.’
‘We shall find out, Mrs Fortescue. You’ve got a lot of yew trees round the house. Is it possible that some of the berries or leaves got mixed up in any food or drink?’
Adele put her hands to her head. ‘I don’t want to talk about it! I can’t stand any more. Mr Percival Fortescue will arrange everything. I can’t… I can’t… it isn’t fair to ask me.’
‘There’s just one thing, Mrs Fortescue. There was a small amount of grain in your husband’s pocket. Could you give me some explanation of that?’
She shook her head, puzzled.
Would anyone have put it in there as a joke?’
‘I don’t see why it would be a joke.’ She pulled out a handkerchief. ‘It’s so awful,’ she said. ‘Poor Rex. Poor dear Rex.’ She began to cry as Inspector Neele watched her.
‘It’s been very sudden, I know,’ he said. ‘I’ll send someone in to you.’ He went towards the door and paused for a moment before looking back.
Adele Fortescue still held the handkerchief to her eyes. The ends of it hung down but did not quite hide her mouth. On her lips was a very small smile.
‘I’ve got what I could, Sir,’ Sergeant Hay reported. ‘The marmalade, a piece of the ham and samples of tea, coffee and sugar. What they actually drank has been thrown away, of course, but there was a lot of coffee left over and the staff had it in the servants’ hall.’
‘So if the poison was in the coffee Fortescue drank, it must have been put into the actual cup by someone at the table,’ said Neele.
The telephone rang and Neele nodded to Sergeant Hay, who went to answer it. It was Scotland Yard. They had finally contacted Percival Fortescue, who was returning to London immediately. As the Inspector replaced the telephone receiver, a woman arrived at the front door, her arms full of parcels. Crump took them from her.
‘Thanks, Crump. I’ll have tea now. Is Mrs Fortescue or Miss Elaine in?’
The butler hesitated. ‘We’ve had bad news, ma’am,’ he said. ‘About the master.’
Neele came forward as she said, ‘What’s happened? An accident?’ Mrs Jennifer Fortescue was a slightly overweight woman of about thirty. Her questions came with obvious interest.
‘I’m sorry to tell you that Mr Rex Fortescue was taken to St Jude’s Hospital. He was seriously ill and has since died,’ Neele said quietly.
‘Died?’ The news was clearly more exciting than sad. ‘Dear me – are you from the office? You’re not a doctor, are you?’
‘I’m a police officer. Mr Fortescue’s death was very sudden and…’
She interrupted him. ‘Do you mean he was murdered?’ It was the first time that word had been spoken.
‘Now why should you think that, Madam?’
‘Well, you said sudden. And you’re police. Have you seen her about it? What did she say?’
‘Who are you talking about?’
‘Adele, of course. He was completely under that awful woman’s spell – and now look what’s happened… What was it? Arsenic?’
‘The cause of death has not been decided yet. There will be an autopsy and an inquest.’
‘But you know already, don’t you? Or you wouldn’t have come down here.’ There was a sudden look of understanding in her rather silly face. ‘You’ve been asking about what he ate and drank, I suppose?’
Neele said, ‘It seems possible that Mr Fortescue’s illness was caused by something he ate at breakfast.’
‘Breakfast? I don’t see how she could have done it, then… unless she put something into the coffee – when Elaine and I weren’t looking…’
A quiet voice spoke softly, ‘Your tea is in the library, Mrs Jennifer.’
Jennifer Fortescue jumped. ‘Oh thank you, Miss Dove. What about you, Mr – Inspector…’
‘Thank you, no tea just now.’
Jennifer went slowly away as Mary Dove said quietly, ‘I don’t think she’s ever heard of the word slander. Is there anything I can do for you, Inspector Neele?’
‘Where can I find the housemaid, Ellen?’
Ellen was as bad-tempered as Mary Dove had said she was, but she was also unafraid. ‘It’s a shocking business. Sir. And I never thought I’d find myself in a house where such an awful thing has happened. But I can’t say that it surprises me. Of course, I don’t approve of what’s been going on here. All this pretending to play golf – or tennis – and the library door was open one day and there they were, kissing.’
Neele really felt it unnecessary to say, ‘Whom do you mean?’ but he said it anyway.
‘I mean Mrs Adele – and that man Dubois. You’ve been asking questions, Sir, about what the master ate and drank and who gave it to him. That Dubois found some kind of poison somewhere and she gave it to the master, I’ve no doubt.’
‘Have you ever seen any yew berries in the house?’
‘Yew? Nasty poisonous stuff. Don’t you even touch yew berries, my mother said to me when I was a child. Was that what was used, Sir? Well, I’ve never seen her with yew berries.’ Ellen sounded disappointed.
Neele questioned her about the grain found in Fortescue’s pocket.
‘No, Sir. I know nothing about that.’
Finally he asked if he could see Miss Ramsbottom, and Ellen took him upstairs. She knocked on a door, then opened it and said, ‘There’s a policeman here, an Inspector, who would like to speak to you, Miss.’
The room he entered was full of furniture and an old lady was sitting at a table in front of a gas fire, laying out cards in a game of patience. Without looking up, she said impatiently, ‘Well, come in, come in. What is it?’
‘I’m sorry to tell you, Miss Ramsbottom, that your brother- in-law, Mr Fortescue, became ill and died this morning. I hope it’s not a shock to you?’
Miss Ramsbottom looked at him sharply and said, ‘Not at all. Rex Fortescue was always a sinful man and I never liked him.’
‘It seems possible that he may have been poisoned…’
‘Well, I didn’t poison him, if that’s what you want to know.’
‘Have you any idea who might have done so?’
‘Two of my dead sister’s children are living in this house,’ said the old lady. ‘I refuse to believe that anybody with Ramsbottom blood in them could be guilty of murder. Because it is murder, isn’t it? Plenty of people have wanted to murder Rex. He is – was – a very crooked man.’
‘And is there anyone in particular you believe might have wanted to murder Mr Fortescue?’
Miss Ramsbottom collected her cards and rose to her feet. ‘I think you’d better go now,’ she said. ‘If you want my opinion, it was probably one of the servants. Good evening.’
Inspector Neele found himself walking out without argument. He came down the stairs and came face to face with a tall, dark girl wearing a damp raincoat.
‘I’ve just come back,’ she said. ‘And they told me – that Father’s dead.’
‘I’m afraid that’s true.’
Slowly two tears ran down her cheeks. ‘It’s awful,’ Elaine Fortescue said. ‘Do you know, I didn’t think that I even liked him… I thought I hated him… But that can’t be so, or I wouldn’t be upset. And I am upset. The awful thing is that it makes everything alright. I mean, Gerald – my boyfriend – and I can get married now. But I hate it happening this way. I don’t want Father to be dead… Oh Daddy – Daddy…’
For the first time since he had come to Yewtree Lodge, Inspector Neele was surprised by what seemed to be real grief for the dead man.
Back at Scotland Yard, the Assistant Commissioner had been listening to Neele giving his report. ‘It sounds to me as if the wife murdered him,’ said the Assistant Commissioner. ‘What do you think, Neele, eh?’
Inspector Neele said that it looked like the wife to him, too. ‘What about the other people in the house who had the opportunity?’ asked the Assistant Commissioner.
‘The daughter, Elaine, was involved with a young man, Gerald Wright, but her father didn’t want her to marry him. And he definitely wasn’t going to marry her unless she had money. That gives her a motive. As to the daughter-in-law, Jennifer, I don’t know enough about her yet. But any one of the three of them could have poisoned him. The parlour maid, the butler and the cook all handled the breakfast or brought it in, but I don’t see how any of them could have been sure that Fortescue would get the Taxine and nobody else. The butler and the parlour maid both seem nervous, but there’s nothing unusual about that with servants. The cook’s angry and the housemaid was pleased. In fact, all quite natural and normal.’
‘Is there anybody else who might be suspicious in some way?’
‘No, I don’t think so, Sir.’ Inspector Neele’s mind went to Mary Dove, but aloud he said, ‘Now that analysis has shown that it’s definitely Taxine, it should be possible to find some evidence as to how it was prepared.’
‘Well, go ahead, Neele. By the way, Mr Percival Fortescue is waiting to see you. We’ve found the other son, Lance, too. He’s in Paris, leaving today. You’ll arrange for someone to meet him at the airport, won’t you?’
Mr Percival Fortescue was a neat, fair man of about thirty, with pale hair and eyelashes. ‘This has been a terrible shock to me, Inspector Neele, as you can well imagine. I can only say that my father was perfectly well when I left. This food poisoning must have been very sudden?’
‘It was very sudden, yes. But it wasn’t food poisoning. Your father was poisoned by Taxine.’
‘Taxine? I’ve never heard of it.’
‘Very few people have. It is a most unpleasant poison.’
‘Yes indeed, Mr Fortescue.’
‘May I ask, do you have any ideas, any suspicions of who could… Really, I…’ He broke off.
‘It’s rather soon for that, Mr Fortescue. It would be helpful if you could give us some idea of your father’s will.’
‘My father made a new will when he got married two years ago,’ said Percival. ‘He left 100,000 pounds to his wife and 50,000 pounds to my sister, Elaine. I inherit everything else. I am already, of course, a partner in the firm.’
‘There was no bequest to your brother, Lance?’
‘No, my father had refused to have any contact with my brother for a long time.’
‘So,’ said Inspector Neele, ‘the three people who inherit your father’s fortune are Mrs Adele Fortescue, Miss Elaine Fortescue and yourself?’
‘I don’t think there will be much of a fortune.’ Percival sighed. ‘There are death duties, and lately my father had been behaving recklessly in some of his financial dealings.’
‘You say your father and brother were not in touch with one another? Then perhaps you can tell me what this means?’ Neele gave him the telephone message Mary Dove had written down.
Percival was surprised and annoyed. ‘I can’t understand it, I really can’t. I can hardly believe it.’
‘Your father said nothing to you about it?’
‘He certainly did not. How outrageous of him. To go behind my back and send for Lance.’
‘You’ve no idea, I suppose, why he did such a thing?’
‘Of course I haven’t. It’s exactly like all his behaviour lately – crazy! It’s got to be stopped. I…’ Percival came to a stop. The colour went from his already pale face. ‘I had forgotten… for a moment I had forgotten that my father was dead…’
‘It’s quite amazing,’ said Lance Fortescue. He stared at Detective Inspector Neele, who had met him and his wife at the airport and had taken them into a small office. Neele said, ‘You’ve no idea then at all, who might have poisoned your father?’
‘No. I expect the old man made a lot of enemies in business. But poisoning? Anyway, I’ve been abroad for years and know very little of what was going on at home.’
‘Would you like to tell me why you came home at this time?’
‘Certainly, Inspector. I heard from my father six months ago, soon after my marriage. He suggested that I came home and enter the firm. I came over to England three months ago and went down to see him at Yewtree Lodge. He made me a very good offer and I flew back to East Africa to discuss it with my wife, Pat. And I decided to accept the offer. I had to finish up my business there, and I told him I would send him a telegram with the date of my arrival in England.’
Inspector Neele coughed. ‘This seems to have caused your brother some surprise.’
Lance’s attractive face lit up with laughter. ‘I believe Percival knew nothing about it,’ he said. ‘He was on holiday in Norway when I came over and I suspect that my father made his offer to me because he had had a huge fight with poor Percival. It would be just the old man’s idea of a good joke to bring me home. However, as usual, Percy wins. I’ve arrived too late.’
‘Yes,’ said Inspector Neele thoughtfully. ‘On your visit last August, did you meet any other members of the family?’
‘My stepmother was there at tea.’ He grinned. ‘The old boy certainly knew how to choose a woman.’
‘Were you upset about your father’s remarriage?’
‘I certainly wasn’t. What I’m really surprised at, is that the old man didn’t marry again before. Is that how it is, Inspector? Do you suspect my stepmother of poisoning my father?’
Inspector Neele’s face became blank. ‘It’s early days to have any definite ideas about anything, Mr Fortescue,’ he said pleasantly. ‘Now, may I ask you what your plans are?’
‘Where is the family? All down at Yewtree Lodge?’
‘I should go down there straight away.’ He turned to his wife. ‘And you should go and stay at the Barnes’s Hotel, Pat. I’m not sure of my welcome – and I don’t want to take you to a house where there’s a poisoner around.’
Vivian Dubois tore up Adele Fortescue’s letter angrily. Adele had telephoned him three times, and now she had written. On the whole, writing was far worse. He went to the telephone. ‘Can I speak to Mrs Adele Fortescue, please?’ A minute or two later he heard her voice.
‘Vivian, at last! Oh, darling, the police have finally gone!’
‘Yes, yes, but look here, Adele, we’ve got to be careful. Don’t telephone me and don’t write. Just for now, you understand? We must be careful. And Adele, my letters to you. You did burn them, didn’t you?’ There was a moment’s hesitation before Adele Fortescue said, ‘Of course.’
‘That’s all right then. You’ll hear from me soon.’ He didn’t like that hesitation. His letters were innocent enough, he thought, but he could not be sure. Even if Adele had not already burnt his letters, would she have the sense to burn them now? Where did she keep them? Probably in that sitting room of hers upstairs in that fake antique desk. She had said there was a secret drawer in it. Secret drawer! That wouldn’t fool the police for long. But there were no police at the house now. They were probably busy looking for how Rex Fortescue was poisoned. They would not have done a room-by-room search of the house. It was possible that if he acted at once…
Mary Dove paused at the window on the stairs, and in the late afternoon light outside noticed a man disappearing behind some bushes. Was it Lance Fortescue, walking round the garden before coming in to face a possibly unfriendly family? In the hall she saw Gladys, who jumped in surprise when she saw her.
‘Was that the telephone I heard just now?’ Mary asked.
‘Oh, that was a wrong number.’ Gladys sounded breathless. ‘And before that, it was Mr Dubois. He wanted to speak to the mistress.’
Mary said, ‘Haven’t you taken the tea in yet? It’s twenty minutes to five. Bring it in now, will you?’ Mary Dove went into the library and Gladys went to the kitchen, where Mrs Crump was making a pie. ‘The library bell’s been ringing and ringing. It’s time you took in the tea, my girl.’
‘All right, all right, Mrs Crump.’
Gladys went into the pantry. She wasn’t going to make sandwiches. They had cakes and biscuits and scones and honey. She had other things to think about. She made the tea in the silver pot, then carried the tea things on the big silver tray through to the library. She went back for the other tray with the food on it and had carried it as far as the hall, when the sudden ringing of the clock in the hall at five o’clock made her jump.
In the library, Adele Fortescue said sharply to Mary Dove, ‘Where is everybody?’
‘I really don’t know, Mrs Fortescue. Miss Elaine came in some time ago and I think Mrs Jennifer’s writing letters in her room. I’ll tell her that tea is ready.’
Going towards the door, she stood aside as Elaine Fortescue came into the room, then stopped for a moment in the hall. A large tray with cakes and scones on it was on one of the hall tables and she thought she heard Jennifer Fortescue walking upstairs. Nobody, however, came down the stairs and Mary went up and along the corridor. She knocked on a door and Mrs Jennifer’s voice said, ‘Come in.’ Mary opened the door. ‘Tea is just about to be served, Mrs Jennifer.’ She was rather surprised to see Jennifer
Fortescue taking off a warm coat. ‘I didn’t know you’d been out,’ said Mary.
Jennifer sounded slightly out of breath. ‘Oh, I was just in the garden, getting a little fresh air. But really, it was too cold.’ Jennifer Fortescue followed Mary out of the room.
Downstairs in the hall, to Mary’s surprise, the tray of food was still on the table. She was about to go and call Gladys when Adele Fortescue appeared in the door of the library, saying, ‘Aren’t we ever going to have anything to eat for tea?’
Quickly, Mary picked up the tray and took it in. She was carrying the empty tray out again when the front door bell rang. Mary went to the door. If this was Lance Fortescue at last, she was rather curious to see him.
‘How unlike the rest of the Fortescues,’ Mary thought, as she looked up into the dark, handsome face. She said quietly, ‘Mr Lance Fortescue?’
Mary looked past him. ‘Your luggage?’
‘I’ve paid the taxi. This is all I’ve got.’ He picked up a medium-sized bag.
‘Oh, I thought you walked up. And your wife?’
‘My wife won’t be coming. At least, not just yet.’
‘I see. Come this way, Mr Fortescue. Everyone is having tea.’ She took him to the library door and left him there. She thought to herself that Lance Fortescue was a very attractive man. A second thought followed the first, probably a great many other women thought so, too.
‘Lance!’ Elaine threw her arms round his neck with delight. He took them away gently and looked around the room.
‘This is Jennifer?’
Jennifer Fortescue looked at him with curiosity. ‘I’m afraid Percival’s been delayed in town,’ she said. ‘He has to organize everything. You really have no idea what we’re all feeling.’
‘It must be terrible for you,’ said Lance seriously, then he turned to the woman on the sofa, who was sitting with a piece of scone and honey in her hand.
‘Of course,’ cried Jennifer, ‘you don’t know Adele, do you?’ Lance said quietly, ‘Oh yes, I do,’ as he took Adele Fortescue’s hand in his. As he looked down at her, her eyelids fluttered. She said in her lovely soft voice, ‘Sit down here on the sofa beside me, Lance. I’m so glad you’ve come, we badly need another man in the house.’ Lance said, ‘You must let me do everything I can to help.’
‘The police here. They think… they think…’ she broke off and cried out passionately. ‘Oh, it’s awful! He was poisoned, and I really do believe they think it was one of us.’
Lance gave her a sudden quick smile. ‘It’s no good worrying,’ he said, and changing the subject, exclaimed, ‘Oh what a wonderful chocolate cake. I must have some.’ Cutting himself a slice, he asked, ‘Is Aunt Effie alive still?’
‘Oh, yes, Lance. She won’t come down and have meals with us, but she’s quite well. Only she’s getting very strange,’ said Elaine.
‘She always was strange,’ said Lance. ‘I must go up and see her after tea. And who’s the young lady with the soft voice and sweet face who let me in? What goes on behind it, I wouldn’t like to say.’
‘That,’ said Jennifer, ‘is Mary Dove. She looks after everything for us.’
‘Does she, now?’
Adele said, ‘She’s really very useful.’
‘But what is so nice,’ said Jennifer, ‘is that she knows her place.’
‘Clever Mary Dove,’ said Lance, and took another piece of chocolate cake.
‘So you’ve turned up again!’ said Miss Ramsbottom.
Lance grinned at her. ‘Just as you say, Aunt Effie.’
Miss Ramsbottom looked disapproving. ‘Have you got your wife with you?’
‘No. I left Pat in London.’
‘That shows some sense. You never know what might happen here.’
‘To anybody,’ said Miss Ramsbottom.
Lance Fortescue looked at her thoughtfully. ‘What’s been going on here? What gives the police the idea that Father was killed in this house?’
‘Adultery is one thing and murder is another,’ said Miss Ramsbottom. ‘I would hate to think that she could kill someone.’
Lance looked alert. ‘Adele?’
‘I’m not saying anything else,’ said Miss Ramsbottom, ‘but I’ll tell you one thing. I believe that girl knows something about it.’
‘The one that never looks completely clean,’ said Miss Ramsbottom. ‘The one that should have brought up my tea this afternoon, but didn’t. She’s gone out without permission, so Ellen told me. I wouldn’t be surprised if she has gone to the police. Who let you in?’
‘Someone called Mary Dove. Is she the one who’s gone to the police?’
‘Mary Dove wouldn’t go to the police,’ said Miss Ramsbottom. ‘No – I mean that silly little parlour maid. She’s been looking frightened all day. “What’s the matter with you?” I said to her.
“Have you got a guilty conscience?” She said, “I never did anything – I wouldn’t do a thing like that.” Then she began to cry and said she didn’t want to get anybody into trouble, she was sure it must all be a mistake. I said to her, “Now, my girl, you go to the police and tell them anything you know, because bad things happen when you hide the truth.” Then she said she couldn’t go to the police and said that anyway she didn’t know anything at all.’
‘You don’t think that she was just making herself important?’
‘No, I don’t. She was scared. I think she saw something or heard something that’s given her some idea about the whole thing. It may be important, or it may not.’
‘The whole thing seems so strange. Like a detective story,’ Lance said.
‘Percival’s wife used to be a hospital nurse,’ said Miss Ramsbottom. ‘Hospital nurses are used to handling drugs.’ Lance looked doubtful.
‘Family affection is one thing,’ said Miss Ramsbottom, ‘and I hope I’ve got as much of it as anyone. But I won’t have wickedness. Wickedness has to be destroyed.’
‘Gladys went out without a word to me,’ said Mrs Crump to Mary Dove. ‘The master’s dead, Mr Lance is coming home, and I said to Crump, “Day off or no day off, I know my duty. There’s not going to be cold supper tonight as is usual on a Thursday, but a proper dinner.” You know me, Miss, you know I like to do good work.’
Mary Dove nodded her head gently as Mrs Crump continued. ‘And what did Crump say? “It’s my day off and I’m going out,” that’s what he said. So out he went and I told Gladys she’d have to manage alone tonight. She just said, “All right, Mrs Crump,” then she went out, without telling anyone.’
‘We shall manage, Mrs Crump,’ Mary’s voice was comforting. ‘I shall serve at table if Gladys doesn’t come back in time.’
‘She won’t come back,’ said Mrs Crump. ‘She’s got a young man, Miss, though you wouldn’t think any man would be attracted to her with all those spots on her face! Albert his name is. They’re going to get married next spring, so she tells me.’ She sighed. ‘What about tea things, Miss. Who’s going to clear them away and wash them up?’
‘I’ll do that,’ said Mary.
The lights had not been turned on in the library, though Adele Fortescue was still sitting on the sofa behind the tea tray.
‘Shall I switch the lights on, Mrs Fortescue?’ Mary asked.
Adele did not answer. Mary switched on the lights and it was only when she turned her head, that she saw the half-eaten scone spread with honey beside Adele, and her teacup still half full. Death had come to Adele Fortescue suddenly.
‘Well?’ demanded Inspector Neele.
The doctor said, ‘Cyanide – potassium cyanide probably – in the tea.’
Neele was angry. Poisoned! While he was in the house. Elaine had been the last to leave the library. According to her, Adele had been pouring herself a last cup of tea. And after that, it was twenty minutes until Mary Dove came into the room and discovered the body. Inspector Neele swore to himself and went out into the kitchen where Mrs Crump hardly moved as he came in. ‘Where’s that girl? Has she come back yet?’
‘She made the tea, you say, and took it in.’
‘Inspector Neele, I don’t believe Gladys would do a thing like that – not Gladys. She’s a bit silly, that’s all – not wicked.’
No, Neele did not think that Gladys was wicked. And the cyanide had not been in the teapot. ‘But what made her go out suddenly – it wasn’t her day off, you say.’
‘No, Sir, tomorrow’s her day off. But she had her best nylons on,’ said Mrs Crump. ‘So she was going to do something that wasn’t connected with her work. Oh yes, she was up to something. I’ll give her a good telling-off when she comes back.’ When she comes back – Neele felt uneasy suddenly and couldn’t think why. He went upstairs to Adele Fortescue’s sitting room. He had searched it carefully the day before and found the secret drawer in the desk. Now he made a small exclamation. On the centre of the carpet was a small piece of mud. Neele went over and picked it up. It was still damp. He looked round – there were no footprints – only this one bit of mud.
Inspector Neele looked round the bedroom that belonged to Gladys Martin. It was past eleven o’clock but there was still no sign of Gladys. Ellen, the housemaid, whose help he had wanted, had not been helpful. She didn’t know what clothes Gladys owned, so she couldn’t say what, if anything, was missing. He turned to the drawers where Gladys kept her treasures. There were postcards and bits cut out of newspapers with hints on beauty, dressmaking and fashion advice.
Inspector Neele sorted them into groups. The postcards were mainly of views of places where he guessed Gladys had spent her holidays, but there were three from someone named ‘Albert.’ The first postcard said – in uneducated handwriting:
All the best. Missing you a lot. Yours ever, Albert.
The second one said:
Lots of nice-looking girls here, but not one that’s as lovely as you. Be seeing you soon. Don’t forget our date. And remember after that – we’ll be living happy ever after.
The third just said:
Don’t forget. I trust you. Love, B.
Next, Neele looked through the pieces of newspaper and sorted them into three piles. There were the fashion and beauty hints, there were items about cinema stars, and she had also been interested in science. There were articles about secret weapons and about truth drugs used by Russians to make people confess to crimes. But there was nothing to give him a clue to her disappearance. She had kept no diary. Neele left the room, and as he went down the stairs he heard the noise of running feet. Then Sergeant Hay’s worried face looked up at him from the bottom of the stairs.
‘Sir,’ he said urgently. ‘Sir! We’ve found the parlour maid! The housemaid, Ellen, remembered that she hadn’t brought the clothes in from the washing line. So she went out with a torch and she almost fell over the girl’s body – strangled, she was, with a stocking round her throat – she’s been dead for hours, I’d say. And, Sir, it’s a wicked kind of joke – there was a clothes peg on her nose…’
Two days later Crump opened the door and saw a tall, elderly lady wearing an old-fashioned tweed coat and skirt, a couple of scarves and a small hat with a bird’s wing on it. An old but good-quality suitcase was by her feet. Crump recognized a lady when he saw one and said, ‘Yes, Madam?’ in his most respectful voice.
‘I have come,’ Miss Marple said, ‘to speak about the poor girl who was killed. Gladys Martin. Could I see the mistress of the house, please?’
‘Oh, I see, Madam. Well in that case…’ he looked towards the library door from which a tall young woman had just come out. ‘This is Mrs Patricia Fortescue, Madam. I’m afraid Mr Percival’s wife and Miss Elaine are out.’
Patricia came forward and Miss Marple was aware of a faint feeling of surprise. She had not expected to see someone like Patricia Fortescue in this luxuriously decorated house.
‘It’s about Gladys, Madam,’ said Crump helpfully.
Pat said rather hesitantly, ‘Will you come in here? We shall be completely alone.’ She led the way into the library and Miss Marple followed her.
‘My husband and I only came back from Africa a few days ago,’ said Pat, ‘and I only came to Yewtree Lodge yesterday, so I don’t really know anything much about the household.’
Miss Marple looked at the girl and liked her. At the gymkhanas held locally round her village, St Mary Mead, Miss Marple had met many Pats and knew them well. She felt comfortable with this rather unhappy-looking girl.
‘It’s very simple, really,’ said Miss Marple. ‘I read in the paper, you see, about Gladys Martin having been killed. And of course I know all about her. I trained her, in fact, to be a parlour maid.
And since this terrible thing has happened to her, I felt – well, I felt that I ought to come and see if there was anything I could do about it.’
‘Yes,’ said Pat. ‘Of course. I see.’ And she did see at once just why Miss Marple needed to do something for a girl she had known so well. ‘Nobody seems to know very much about her,’ said Pat. ‘I mean her relations and all that.’
‘No,’ said Miss Marple, ‘she had no relations. She came to me from the orphanage. St Faith’s, and I taught her how to wait at table and look after the silverware. As soon as she got a little experience, she took a job in a cafe.’
‘I never saw her,’ said Pat. ‘Was she a pretty girl?’
‘Oh, no,’ said Miss Marple. ‘And she had bad skin. She was rather stupid, too. She was very interested in men, poor girl. But men didn’t take much notice of her and other girls made use of her – got her to do things for them and were then unkind to her.’
‘It sounds rather cruel.’ said Pat.
‘Yes, my dear,’ said Miss Marple, ‘life is cruel, I’m afraid. Girls like Gladys enjoy going to the cinema and all that, but they’re always dreaming of impossible things that can’t possibly happen to them and they get disappointed. It was the clothes peg that made me so very angry. It was such a cruel thing to do! It’s very wicked, you know, to show such disrespect. Particularly if you’ve already killed.’
Pat said slowly, ‘I believe I see what you mean. I think you should come and see Inspector Neele. He’s a very human person.’ She gave a sudden shiver. ‘The whole thing is such a horrible nightmare. Pointless. Mad. Without rhyme or reason to it.’
‘I wouldn’t say that, you know,’ said Miss Marple. ‘No, I wouldn’t say that.’
Inspector Neele was looking extremely tired and worried. Adele Fortescue, his main suspect, was now the second victim in an unsolved murder case. But strangely, Inspector Neele had felt some satisfaction. The explanation that the wife and the lover had been responsible for Rex Fortescue’s death had been too easy. He had always mistrusted it. And now that mistrust was confirmed. He looked with interest at the gentle, serious face of the old lady who sat with him now at Yewtree Lodge.
‘It’s very good of you to come here, Miss Marple,’ he said.
‘It was my duty, Inspector Neele. The girl had lived in my house. I feel responsible for her. She was a very silly girl, you know.’ Inspector Neele looked at her with respect. She had gone, he felt, to the heart of the matter. ‘When you say that she was silly…’
‘She was the sort of girl who would give all her money to any man who told her she was beautiful and he needed it – if she had any money. Of course, Gladys never did have any because she always spent it on most unsuitable clothes.’
‘What about men?’ asked the Inspector.
‘She wanted a young man badly,’ said Miss Marple. ‘And I understand she got herself one in the end?’
Inspector Neele nodded. ‘Albert Evans. She met him at some holiday camp. He was an engineer who worked in mines abroad, so she told the cook.’
‘That seems most unlikely,’ said Miss Marple, ‘but I am sure that is what he told her. You don’t connect him with this business at all?’
Inspector Neele shook his head. ‘No. He never seems to have visited her.’
‘Well,’ said Miss Marple, ‘I’m pleased she had her little romance. Since her life has been cut short in this way… I wonder – could I help you in my very small way? This is a wicked murderer, Inspector Neele, and the wicked should not go unpunished.’
‘That’s an unfashionable belief nowadays, Miss Marple,’ Inspector Neele said. ‘Not that I don’t agree with you.’
‘There is a hotel near the station,’ said Miss Marple, ‘and I believe there’s a Miss Ramsbottom in this house who is interested in the work of foreign missions. As I am. You know, help for poor people in Africa and India and so on. I believe we could have a good conversation about that – and other things…’
Inspector Neele looked at Miss Marple with respect. ‘Yes, I think that would be a great help. I can’t say that I’ve had great success with the lady.’
‘It’s really very kind of you, Inspector Neele,’ said Miss Marple. ‘I’m so happy you don’t think I’m just being a curious old woman.’
Inspector Neele gave a sudden unexpected smile. Miss Marple seemed a very unlikely person to be helping him find a murderer. She continued speaking. ‘Newspapers,’ she said, ‘so often make their reports more exciting than they really are.’ She looked at Inspector Neele. ‘Can you tell me the simple facts?’
‘Mr Fortescue died in his office,’ said Neele, ‘as a result of Taxine poisoning. Taxine comes from the berries and leaves of yew trees.’
‘And Mrs Fortescue?’
‘Adele Fortescue had tea with the family in the library. The last person to leave the room was Miss Elaine Fortescue, her stepdaughter. Twenty minutes later, Miss Dove, who is the housekeeper, went in to remove the tea tray. Adele was sitting on the sofa, dead. Beside her was a tea cup a quarter full and in it was potassium cyanide.’
‘Such dangerous stuff,’ said Miss Marple quietly. ‘Gardeners keep it to destroy insect nests, but I’m always very, very careful.’
‘You’re quite right,’ said Inspector Neele. ‘There was a packet of it among the gardener’s things.’
‘Very convenient,’ said Miss Marple. She added, ‘Was Mrs Fortescue eating anything?’
‘Cake, I suppose? Bread and butter? Jam? Honey?’
‘There was honey and scones and chocolate cake.’ He looked at her curiously. ‘The potassium cyanide was in the tea, Miss Marple.’
‘Oh, yes, yes. I understand that. I was just getting the whole picture. Rather significant, don’t you think?’
He looked at her, slightly puzzled. Her eyes were bright. ‘And the third death, Inspector Neele?’
‘Well, Gladys took in the tea tray, then she brought the next tray into the hall, but left it there. After that no one saw her. The cook, Mrs Crump, thought that the girl had gone out for the evening without permission. She thought that because the girl was wearing a good pair of nylon stockings and her best shoes. She was wrong. Gladys had obviously remembered suddenly that she had not taken in some clothes that were drying outside. She ran out to get them in and somebody put a stocking round her neck and – well, that was that. The girl was nervous, when we first questioned her, but I’m afraid we didn’t think that meant anything.’
‘Oh, but how could you?’ cried Miss Marple. ‘People so often do look guilty and uncomfortable when they are questioned by the police.’
‘That’s just it. But I think Gladys had seen someone doing something that she didn’t understand – and I think she asked that person for an explanation.’
‘And so Gladys was strangled and a clothes peg put on her nose,’ Miss Marple said quietly.
‘Yes, a nasty, unnecessary thing to do.’
Miss Marple shook her head. ‘Hardly unnecessary. It does all make a pattern, doesn’t it? First we have Rex Fortescue – killed in his office. And then we have Mrs Fortescue, sitting having tea. There were scones and honey. And then poor Gladys with the clothes peg on her nose. That very sweet Patricia Fortescue said that there seemed to be no rhyme or reason in it, but it’s the rhyme that makes you think, isn’t it?’
Inspector Neele said slowly, ‘I don’t think…’
Miss Marple continued quickly, ‘I expect you’re about thirty-five or thirty-six, aren’t you, Inspector Neele? I think that when you were a little boy, nursery rhymes were out of fashion. But I was brought up on them – and so, to me, it is really highly significant. What I wondered was…’ Miss Marple paused, then appearing to take her courage in her hands, continued, ‘Of course I know I am very old and perhaps my idea is of no value at all, but what I mean to say is, have you thought about blackbirds?’
Inspector Neele’s first thought was that the old lady had gone mad. ‘Blackbirds?’ he repeated.
Miss Marple nodded and said,
‘Sing a song of sixpence, a pocketful of rye,
Four and twenty blackbirds baked in a pie.
When the pie was opened the birds began to sing.
Wasn’t that a dainty dish to set before the king?
The king was in his counting house, counting out his money,
The queen was in the parlour eating bread and honey,
The maid was in the garden hanging out the clothes,
When there came a little dickey bird and nipped off her nose.’
‘My goodness,’ Inspector Neele said.
‘I mean, it does fit,’ said Miss Marple. ‘Rex Fortescue. Rex means King. In his Counting House, in other words at his place of work, dealing with money. And Mrs Fortescue, the Queen in the parlour, eating bread and honey. And so, of course, the murderer had to put that clothes peg on poor Gladys’s nose.’
‘You mean the whole thing is crazy?’
‘Well, it is certainly very strange. But you really must make inquiries about blackbirds. Because there must be blackbirds!’
It was at this point that Sergeant Hay came into the room saying urgently, ‘Sir.’ He broke off at the sight of Miss Marple.
Inspector Neele said, ‘Thank you, Miss Marple. I’ll think about what you’ve said. As you are interested in the girl, perhaps you would like to look at the things from her room. Sergeant Hay will show you them in a few minutes.’
Miss Marple nodded her head and went out.
‘Blackbirds!’ said Inspector Neele to himself. ‘Yes, Hay, what is it?’
‘Sir,’ said Sergeant Hay. ‘Look at this.’ He showed him an object wrapped in a handkerchief. ‘I found it in the bushes,’ said Sergeant Hay. ‘It could have been thrown there from one of the back windows.’
It was a nearly full pot of marmalade.
In his mind, the Inspector saw a new pot of marmalade; he saw hands carefully removing its cover; he saw a small amount of marmalade being removed, mixed with a preparation of Taxine and replaced in the pot, the top smoothed over and the lid carefully replaced.
‘And,’ said Sergeant Hay, ‘Mr Fortescue was the only one that had marmalade for breakfast. The others had jam or honey.’
Neele nodded. ‘That made it very simple, didn’t it?’ In his mind he saw the breakfast table now. Rex Fortescue stretching out his hand for the marmalade pot, taking out a spoonful and putting it on his toast. And afterwards? The pot of marmalade being replaced by another with exactly the same amount taken from it. And then an open window. A hand and an arm throwing that pot out into the bushes. The only thing he couldn’t see was whose hand and arm it was.
Inspector Neele said in a business-like voice, ‘Well, we’ll have to get this analysed. How do they order marmalade and where is it kept?’
‘Marmalade comes in six pots at a time. A new pot would be taken into the pantry when the old one was nearly empty.’
‘That means,’ said Neele, ‘that the Taxine could have been put into the marmalade several days before it was actually put onto the breakfast table. And anyone who was in the house, or who could have got into the house, could have done it.’
Inspector Neele went to look for Mary Dove. She asked, ‘Did you want to see me about something?’
Neele said pleasantly, ‘It’s becoming important to get exact times clear. Members of the family all seem a little unsure about times. You, Miss Dove, have been extremely accurate. Now, the last time you saw Gladys Martin was in the hall before tea, and that was at twenty minutes to five?’
‘Where were you coming from?’
‘From upstairs – I had heard the telephone.’
‘Gladys had answered the telephone?’
‘Yes. It was a wrong number,’ said Miss Dove.
‘And that was the last time you saw her?’
‘She brought the tea tray into the library about ten minutes later.’
‘After that Miss Elaine Fortescue came in?’
‘Yes, about three minutes later. Then I went up to tell Mrs Jennifer tea was ready.’
‘Did you usually do that?’ Neele asked.
‘No – people came in to tea when they pleased – but Mrs Adele Fortescue asked where everybody was. I thought I heard Mrs Jennifer coming – but that was a mistake…’
Neele interrupted. ‘You mean you heard someone upstairs moving about?’
‘Yes – but no one came down, so I went up. Mrs Jennifer was in her bedroom. She had been out for a walk.’
‘The time was then…?’ asked Neele ‘Oh – nearly five o’clock.’
And Mr Lance Fortescue arrived – when?’
‘A few minutes after I came downstairs – I thought he had arrived earlier – but…’
Inspector Neele interrupted, ‘Why did you think he had arrived earlier?’
‘Because I thought I had seen him through the window. I caught a glimpse of someone through the yew bushes – and I thought it would be him.’
‘This was when you were coming down after telling Mrs Jennifer Fortescue tea was ready?’
Mary corrected him, ‘No, when I came down the first time.’ Inspector Neele kept his inner excitement out of his voice as he said, ‘It couldn’t have been Lance Fortescue. His train arrived at Baydon Heath at 4.37. He had to wait for a taxi. It was actually nearly a quarter to five (five minutes after you had seen the man in the garden) when he left the station and it is a ten-minute drive. He paid the taxi at the gate here at about five minutes to five at the earliest.’
‘I’m sure I did see someone.’
‘He was going – which way?’
‘Along behind the yew bushes towards the east side of the house.’
‘There is a side door there. Is it kept locked?’
‘Not until the house is locked up for the night.’
‘Anyone could have come in by that side door without being seen by any of the household?’
‘Yes.’ She added quickly, ‘You mean – the person I heard later upstairs could have come in that way? Could have been hiding – upstairs? But who…?’
‘That we have to find out. Thank you, Miss Dove.’
As she turned to go, Inspector Neele said in a casual voice, ‘By the way, you can’t tell me anything about blackbirds, can you?’ For the first time Mary Dove looked surprised. ‘You mean that silly business last summer? It must, I think, have been some nasty joke. Four dead blackbirds were on Mr Fortescue’s desk in his study here, and then more were found in a pie.’
‘Any sort of reason behind it – any connection with blackbirds?’
Mary shook her head. ‘I don’t think so.’
‘Was Mr Fortescue annoyed?’
‘But he was not upset in any way?’
‘I really can’t remember.’
‘I see,’ said Inspector Neele.
Mary Dove once more turned away, but this time, he thought, she went slowly, as if she would like to know more of what was in his mind. Well, Miss Marple had suggested that there would be blackbirds and, sure enough, there the blackbirds were! Inspector Neele was not going to let this blackbird business take his attention away from the logical investigation of murder by a sane murderer for a sane reason. But of course he would still consider the crazier possibilities of the case.
What Mary Dove had said about hearing someone moving about upstairs explained the small piece of mud Neele had found on the floor of the sitting room. He thought of the pretty desk in that room with its obvious ‘secret’ drawer.
He had found three letters in that drawer, written by Vivian Dubois to Adele Fortescue. Neele had sent them up at once to the Yard because at that time it looked as if Rex Fortescue had been poisoned by his wife, with or without her lover’s help. But there had been nothing in any of the letters to suggest that a crime was being planned. Inspector Neele believed that Dubois had asked Adele to destroy his letters and that she had told him she had done so.
Well, now they had two more deaths to investigate. That should mean that Adele Fortescue had not killed her husband. Unless Adele Fortescue had wanted to marry Vivian Dubois and Vivian Dubois had wanted, not Adele, but the hundred thousand pounds which would come to her on the death of her husband. He had believed, perhaps, that Rex Fortescue’s death would be blamed on natural causes.
What if Adele Fortescue and Vivian Dubois had been guilty? Adele might have rung up Dubois, talking loudly and he had realized that someone in Yewtree Lodge might have overheard her. What would Vivian Dubois have done next?
Inspector Neele decided to make inquiries at the Golf Hotel to find out if Dubois had been in or out of the hotel between the hours of quarter past four and six o’clock. Vivian Dubois was tall and dark like Lance Fortescue. He might have gone through the garden to the side door, gone upstairs and then what? Looked for the letters and found them missing? Or maybe waited until tea was over and then gone down to the library when Adele Fortescue was alone?
But all this was going too fast; he must see what Jennifer Fortescue had to say.
Jennifer Fortescue was in her own sitting room upstairs, writing letters.
‘I’m afraid,’ Neele said comfortingly, ‘we have to ask people questions again and again, and so much depends on the exact timing of events. You came down to tea late, I understand? In fact, Miss Dove came up to get you.’
‘Yes, she did. I had no idea it was so late. I had been writing letters.’
‘I see,’ he said. ‘I thought you had been out for a walk.’
‘Did she say so? Yes – I believe you’re right. I felt I needed some fresh air and I went out and – er – went for a walk. Only round the garden.’
‘I see. You didn’t meet anyone?’
‘Meet anyone? I saw the gardener in the distance, that’s all.’ She was looking at him suspiciously.
‘Then you came in, and you were just taking your coat off when Miss Dove came to tell you that tea was ready?’
‘Yes. Yes, and so I came down. We had tea. Then Lance went up to see Aunt Effie and I came up to finish my letters. I left Elaine with Adele.’
Neele nodded. ‘Yes. Miss Elaine seems to have been with Mrs Adele Fortescue for five or ten minutes after you left. Your husband hadn’t come home yet?’
‘Oh no. Percival didn’t get home until about half-past six or seven.’
‘I see,’ said Inspector Neele. ‘I asked your husband if Mrs Fortescue had made a will before she died. He said he thought not. I suppose you don’t happen to have any idea?’
‘Oh, yes,’ she said, to his surprise. ‘Adele made a will about a month ago. I saw her coming out of the solicitor’s office, Ansell and Worrall’s, in the High Street. And I said to her, “Whatever have you been doing there?” And she laughed and said, “I’ve been making my will. Everyone ought to make a will.” She hadn’t wanted to go to the family solicitor in London, Mr Billingsley. “No,” she said, “my will’s my own business, Jennifer, and nobody’s going to know about it.”
“Well,” I said, “I won’t tell anybody.” And I didn’t tell anyone, not even Percival.’
Well, thank you very much, Mrs Fortescue, for being so helpful to me,’ said Inspector Neele. ‘There’s one other thing, Mrs Fortescue. Do you know anything about blackbirds?’
Jennifer Fortescue looked shocked. ‘Blackbirds, Inspector? What kind of blackbirds?’
‘Just blackbirds. Alive or dead or even, shall we say, in a nursery rhyme?’
She said slowly, ‘I suppose you mean the ones last summer in the pie. All very silly.’
There were some left on the library table, too, weren’t there?’
‘It was all a very silly joke. Mr Fortescue, my father-in-law, was very much annoyed by it. He asked us if there were any strangers about the place.’
‘Strangers? Did he seem afraid in any way?’
‘Yes. Yes, he did.’
Percival Fortescue was in London, but Inspector Neele found his brother Lance sitting with his wife Pat in the library.
‘Do you know anything about blackbirds, Mr Fortescue?’
‘Blackbirds?’ Lance looked amused. ‘Do you mean real birds?’ Inspector Neele said with a sudden, sweet smile, ‘I’m not sure what I mean, Mr Fortescue. It’s just that blackbirds have been mentioned.’
‘Good Lord. Not the old Blackbird Mine, I suppose?’
‘The Blackbird Mine? What was that?’
Lance frowned. ‘I just have an idea about some unpleasant business in my papa’s past, on the west coast of Africa. Aunt Effie once mentioned it when she was having an argument with him, but I can’t remember much about it.’
‘I’ll go and ask her about it,’ said Inspector Neele, adding, ‘She’s rather a frightening old lady.’
Lance laughed. ‘Yes. But she may be helpful to you, Inspector. I went up to see her, you know, soon after I got back here. And she was talking about Gladys, the maid who got killed. Not that we knew she was dead then, of course. But Aunt Effie was saying she was quite sure that Gladys knew something that she hadn’t told the police.’
‘That seems fairly certain,’ said Inspector Neele. ‘She’ll never tell it now, poor girl.’
To his surprise, when he went up to see Miss Ramsbottom, he found Miss Marple with her, discussing foreign missions.
‘I’ll go away, Inspector.’ Miss Marple rose to her feet.
‘No need, Madam,’ said Inspector Neele.
‘I’ve asked Miss Marple to come and stay,’ said Miss Ramsbottom. ‘There is no sense in her spending her money in that Golf Hotel. It’s a wicked place. Drinking and card playing all the evening. She had better come and stay in a respectable household. There’s a room next door to mine.’
‘It’s very kind of you,’ said Miss Marple gratefully. ‘I’ll go and cancel my booking.’ She left the room and Miss Ramsbottom said sharply to the Inspector, ‘Well, and what do you want?’
‘I wondered if you could tell me anything about the Blackbird Mine, Madam.’
Miss Ramsbottom gave a shout of laughter. ‘Ha. You’ve got on to that, have you! Well, what do you want to know about it?’
‘Anything you can tell me, Madam.’
‘I can’t tell you much. It’s a long time ago now – oh, twenty to twenty-five years maybe, in East Africa. My brother-in-law went into business with a man called MacKenzie. They went out there to investigate the mine together and MacKenzie died of fever. Rex came home and said there was no gold in the mine. That’s all I know.’
‘I think you know a little more than that, Madam,’ said Neele. ‘Well, the MacKenzies insisted that Rex had cheated MacKenzie and he probably had, but they couldn’t prove anything. Mrs MacKenzie came here and said Rex had murdered her husband. I think she was a bit mad – in fact, I believe she went into a hospital for the insane not long after. She came here with a couple of young children who looked scared to death. She said she would bring up her children to get revenge. Madness, all of it. Well, that’s all I can tell you. And the Blackbird Mine wasn’t the only bad thing that Rex did in his lifetime. You’ll find a good many more if you look for them.’
‘You don’t know what happened to the MacKenzie family, Madam?’
‘No idea,’ said Miss Ramsbottom. ‘And I don’t think Rex would have actually murdered MacKenzie, but he might have left him to die. If he did, then he’s been paid back. You should go away now, I can’t tell you any more.’
‘Thank you very much for what you have told me,’ said Inspector Neele.
‘Send that Marple woman back,’ Miss Ramsbottom called after him. ‘She knows how to organize things properly.’
Inspector Neele made a couple of telephone calls, the first to Adele Fortescue’s lawyers, Ansell and Worrall and the second to the Golf Hotel, then he told Sergeant Hay, ‘I have to visit a solicitor’s office – after that, you can find me at the Golf Hotel if anything urgent happens.’
Mr Ansell was anxious to help the police in every way possible. Yes, he said, he had made a will for the late Mrs Adele Fortescue. He had not done any legal business before that for Mrs Fortescue or for any of the Fortescue family. ‘Naturally,’ said Mr Ansell, ‘she didn’t want to go to her husband’s firm of lawyers.’
The facts were simple. Adele Fortescue had made a will leaving everything she possessed to Vivian Dubois.
‘But I understood,’ said Mr Ansell, ‘that she didn’t actually have much to leave.’
Inspector Neele nodded. At the time Adele Fortescue made her will that was true. But since then Rex Fortescue had died, and Adele Fortescue had inherited 100,000 pounds and that now belonged to Vivian Edward Dubois.
At the Golf Hotel, Inspector Neele found Vivian Dubois nervously waiting for him.
‘I do hope you realize, Inspector Neele, that it is very inconvenient for me to have to stay on. I really have important business.’
‘I didn’t know you were in business, Mr Dubois,’ said Inspector Neele in a friendly way. ‘Mrs Fortescue’s death must have been a terrible shock to you. You were great friends, were you not?’
‘Yes, the whole thing is terrible.’
‘You actually telephoned her, I believe, on the afternoon of her death? About four o’clock. Do you remember what your conversation was about, Mr Dubois?’
‘I think I asked her how she was feeling and if there was any further news about her husband’s death – a more or less ordinary inquiry.’
‘I see,’ said Inspector Neele. ‘And then you went out for a walk?’
‘Er – not a walk, I went and played golf.’
‘I think not, Mr Dubois. The doorman here saw you walking down the road towards Yewtree Lodge.’
Dubois’s eyes met his, then moved away again nervously. ‘I’m afraid I can’t remember, Inspector.’
‘Perhaps you actually went to visit Mrs Fortescue?’
Dubois said sharply, ‘No. No. I never went near the house.’
‘Where did you go, then?’
‘Oh, I… down the road as far as the pub. The Three Pigeons, and then I turned around and came back by the golf course.’ The Inspector shook his head. ‘You know, Mr Dubois,’ he said pleasantly, ‘I think we’ll have to ask you for a statement and perhaps you should have a solicitor present.’
The colour left Dubois’ face. ‘You’re threatening me! I had nothing to do with it at all, I tell you! Nothing!’
‘Come now, Mr Dubois, you were at Yewtree Lodge about half-past four on that day. Somebody saw you. Didn’t you go in by the side door and up the stairs to Mrs Fortescue’s sitting room? You were looking for something in the desk there?’
‘You’ve got the letters, I suppose,’ said Dubois. ‘But they don’t mean what you think they mean.’
‘You’re not denying are you, that you were a very close friend of Mrs Fortescue’s?’
‘No – but don’t think that we – that she – ever thought of killing Rex Fortescue. I’m not that kind of man!’
‘But perhaps she was that kind of woman?’
‘Nonsense! Wasn’t she killed, too? So didn’t the same person who killed her husband kill her?’
‘Possibly. But it’s also possible that Mrs Fortescue murdered her husband, and that after his death she became a danger to someone else. Someone who had, perhaps, not helped her with what she had done but who had at least encouraged her and provided the motive. She might be a danger to that person.’
Dubois said nervously, ‘You can’t build up a case against me. You can’t.’
‘She left all her money to you.’
‘I don’t want the money!’
‘Of course, it isn’t very much,’ said Inspector Neele.
‘But I thought her husband…’ He stopped dead.
‘Did you, Mr Dubois?’ said Inspector Neele, and there was no friendliness now in his voice. ‘That’s very interesting. I wondered if you knew exactly what Rex Fortescue’s will said.’
Inspector Neele’s second interview at the hotel was with Mr Gerald Wright, a very superior young man, not unlike Vivian Dubois in appearance.
‘What can I do for you, Inspector Neele?’ he asked.
‘I thought you might be able to help us with a little information, Mr Wright, in connection with the recent events at Yewtree Lodge.’
‘I know nothing. I was actually in the Isle of Man when Mr Rex Fortescue was killed.’
‘You arrived here very shortly afterwards, Mr Wright. You had a telegram, I believe, from Miss Elaine Fortescue. And you are, I understand, to be married?’
‘Quite right, Inspector Neele.’
‘I understand that Mr Fortescue refused to give his permission and told you that if his daughter married against his wishes, he would not give her any money to live on. You then broke off the engagement.’
Gerald Wright smiled. ‘Not exactly true, Inspector Neele. Actually, Rex Fortescue was a capitalist and my political beliefs would not let me live off his money.’
‘But you have no objection to marrying a woman who has just inherited 50,000 pounds?’
Gerald Wright gave a satisfied smile. ‘Not at all, Inspector Neele. The money will be used to help other people.’
‘Mr Wright, Mrs Adele Fortescue died as a result of cyanide poisoning on the afternoon of November 5th. As you were in the neighbourhood of Yewtree Lodge on that afternoon, I thought you might have seen or heard something that might help our investigations.’
‘And why do you believe that I was in the neighbourhood of Yewtree Lodge?’
‘You left this hotel at a quarter-past four. After you left the hotel you walked down the road towards Yewtree Lodge. It seems natural to believe that you were going there.’
‘I already had an arrangement to meet Elaine at the hotel at six. I went for a walk and returned to the hotel just before six o’clock. Elaine, quite naturally, did not keep her appointment.’
‘Did anybody see you on this walk, Mr Wright?’
‘No one I knew.’
‘So I’ve only got your word that you were where you say you were?’
Gerald Wright continued to smile in a superior way, ‘Very sad for us both, Inspector, but there it is.’
Inspector Neele said softly, ‘Then if someone said they looked out of a window and saw you in the garden of Yewtree Lodge at about four thirty-five…’ He paused and left the sentence unfinished.
Gerald Wright shook his head. ‘It was getting dark by then. I think it would be difficult for anyone to be sure.’
‘Do you know Mr Vivian Dubois, who is also staying here?’
‘Dubois? Is that the tall, dark man who wears very brightly coloured ties?’
‘Yes. He also was out for a walk that afternoon. You did not notice him in the road by any chance?’
‘No. No. I can’t say I did.’ Gerald Wright looked for the first time slightly worried.
Inspector Neele said thoughtfully, ‘It wasn’t really a very nice afternoon for walking, especially after dark. It’s strange how full of energy everyone seems to have felt.’
‘So you’re Lance’s wife,’ Miss Ramsbottom said. ‘You’re a tall girl and you look healthy. Where did you meet my nephew?’
‘In Kenya, when I was staying with some friends,’ Pat replied. ‘You’ve been married before, I understand.’
‘Yes. Twice. My first husband was a fighter pilot. He was killed in the war.’
‘And your second husband shot himself. Was it your fault?’
‘No,’ said Pat. ‘It wasn’t my fault.’
‘He was a horse-racing man, wasn’t he?’
‘I’ve never been to a horse race in my life,’ said Miss Ramsbottom. ‘Gambling and card playing – all evil! Ah, well, it’s a wicked world nowadays. A lot of wickedness was going on in this house, but they got what they deserved. I’ll tell you this. My sister Elvira was a fool, my brother-in-law Rex was a horrible man, Percival is nasty, and your Lance was always the bad boy of the family. Don’t trust Percival. I’ve never liked him. Mind you, I don’t trust Lance, but I can’t help being fond of him. He’s a reckless sort of boy – always has been. You’ve got to look after him and see he doesn’t go too far. Tell him not to believe everything that Percival says. They’re all liars in this house.’
The triple tragedy at Yewtree Lodge had shocked the Fortescues’ lawyer, Mr Billingsley. He was only too anxious to help the police. ‘It’s a most extraordinary business. I’ll tell you whatever I can.’
‘First let me ask you how well you knew Mr Rex Fortescue, and how well you know the affairs of his firm.’
‘I’ve known Rex Fortescue for sixteen years – although we are not the only firm of solicitors he employed.’
Inspector Neele nodded. Billingsley, Horsethorpe & Walters were respectable solicitors. For his less honest business, Rex Fortescue had employed less honest firms.
‘Now what do you want to know?’
‘I’m interested in the will of his widow. On Mr Fortescue’s death she inherited the sum of one hundred thousand pounds, I understand?’
Billingsley nodded. ‘A large amount of money. And one the firm would have found difficult to pay out.’
‘The firm is not doing well?’
‘Well, Consolidated Investments Trust was doing very well, buying and selling stocks and shares wisely. But for the last year Rex Fortescue had been acting like a madman. Selling good stock here, buying very questionable projects there. Really, he seemed to have been a changed man.’
‘But not, I understand, a depressed man,’ said Inspector Neele. ‘No, no. The opposite. He had become very overexcited and convinced only he knew how to run the firm.’
Inspector Neele nodded. An idea was forming in his mind. Mr Billingsley was continuing, ‘But it’s no good asking me about the wife’s will. I didn’t make any will for her.’
‘I know that,’ said Neele. ‘I’m simply checking that she had a hundred thousand pounds from Rex Fortescue’s will to leave.’ Mr Billingsley was shaking his head. ‘No, no, my dear Sir. She did not inherit the hundred thousand pounds unless she lived for one month after his death.’
Inspector Neele was staring at him. ‘Then what happens to that money?’
‘It goes to Mr Percival Fortescue. And with the firm in a poor condition, I would say that he’ll need it!’
In the drawing room at Yewtree Lodge, the whole Fortescue family was together.
‘I think we might discuss future plans,’ said Percival. ‘I suppose you’ll be off again back to Kenya – or Canada – or climbing Mount Everest or something fairly exciting, Lance?’
‘Now what makes you think that?’ Lance smiled. ‘I’m coming into the firm with you. I have got the share in it that Father gave me years ago and that gives me the right to be involved, doesn’t it?’
Percival frowned. ‘Things are in a very bad way, you know. We’ll only just be able to pay Elaine her share, if she insists on having it. So are you serious, Lance?’
‘It won’t work! You’ll soon get bored,’ Percival said.
‘Why are you so angry, dear brother? Don’t you look forward to having me sharing your problems?’
‘You haven’t the slightest idea of the mess everything’s in,’ replied Percival. ‘For the last six months – no, a year, Father was not himself. He sold good stock and bought some very strange investments.’
‘In fact,’ said Lance, ‘it’s just as well for the family that he had Taxine in his tea.’
‘That’s a very ugly way of putting it, but it’s about the only thing that saved us from bankruptcy. We shall have to be very careful for a while.’
Lance shook his head. ‘I don’t agree with you. We must take a few risks, go for something big.’
Percival walked up and down angrily. ‘It’s no good, Lance. Our ways of doing business are totally different. The only sensible thing is to end the partnership.’
‘You’re going to buy me out – is that the idea?’
‘Well, I didn’t mean in cash,’ said Percival. ‘We could – er – divide everything up.’
‘With you keeping the best bits and me getting the mad investments Father bought recently, I suppose?’
‘They seem to be what you prefer,’ said Percival.
Lance grinned. ‘You’re right in a way, old boy. But I’ve got Pat here to think of.’
Pat opened her mouth, then shut it again. Whatever game Lance was playing, it was best that she did not become involved.
‘So what are you planning to give me?’ said Lance, laughing. ‘Diamond mines that have no diamonds, the oil fields where no oil has been found? Do you think I’m quite as big a fool as I look?’
Percival said, ‘Of course, some of these things that Father bought have turned out to be worthless, but some of them may turn out to be very valuable.’
Lance grinned. ‘Are you going to offer me the old Blackbird Mine as well? By the way, has the Inspector been asking you about this Blackbird Mine?’
Percival frowned. ‘Yes, he did. I couldn’t tell him much. You and I were children at the time. I just remember that Father went out there and came back saying the whole thing was no good.’
‘What was it – a gold mine?’
‘I believe so. Father came back certain that there was no gold there.’
‘Who involved him in it? A man called MacKenzie, wasn’t it? And MacKenzie died out there. I seem to remember… Mrs MacKenzie, wasn’t it? She came here and accused Father of murdering her husband.’
‘Really?’ said Percival. ‘I can’t remember anything like that.’
‘I do, though,’ said Lance. ‘Where was Blackbird? West Africa wasn’t it?’
‘Yes, I think so.’
‘I must find the paperwork on it sometime,’ said Lance, ‘when I’m at the office.’
‘You can be quite sure,’ said Percival, ‘that if Father came back saying there was no gold, there was no gold.’
‘You’re probably right there,’ said Lance. ‘Poor Mrs MacKenzie. I wonder what happened to her and to those two kids she brought along. Funny – they must be grown up by now.’
At the Pinewood Private Sanatorium. Inspector Neele was facing a grey-haired lady. Helen MacKenzie was sixty-three, though she looked younger. She was holding a large book and was looking down at it as Inspector Neele talked to her.
‘She’s a voluntary patient,’ Dr Crosbie, the sanatorium’s director, had told him. ‘Most of the time she’s as sane as you or me. It’s one of her good days today, so you’ll be able to have a completely normal conversation with her.’
Inspector Neele said now, ‘It’s very kind of you to see me, Madam. My name is Neele. I’ve come to see you about a Mr Rex Fortescue, who has recently died. I expect you know the name.’ Mrs MacKenzie said, ‘I don’t know what you’re talking about.’
‘I think, Mrs MacKenzie, you knew him many years ago.’
‘Not really,’ said Mrs MacKenzie. ‘It was yesterday.’
‘I see,’ said Inspector Neele. ‘I believe that you paid him a visit many years ago at Yewtree Lodge.’
‘A house decorated with money, but no taste,’ said Mrs MacKenzie.
‘He had been connected with your husband, I believe, over a certain mine in Africa. The Blackbird Mine?’
‘It was my husband’s mine. He found it and wanted money to get the gold out. He went to Rex Fortescue.’
‘And they went out together to Africa, and your husband died of fever.’
‘I must read my book,’ said Mrs MacKenzie.
‘Do you think Mr Fortescue cheated your husband over the Blackbird Mine, Mrs MacKenzie?’
Without raising her eyes from the book, Mrs MacKenzie said, ‘How stupid you are.’
‘Yes, yes, perhaps… But you see, finding out about a thing that was over a long time ago is rather difficult.’
‘Who said it was over? Nobody knows where my husband died or how he died or where he was buried. All anyone knows is what Rex Fortescue said. And Rex Fortescue was a liar!’
‘Somebody put dead blackbirds on Rex Fortescue’s desk about a month or two before he died. Have you any idea who might have done that?’
‘Ideas aren’t any help to anyone. There has to be action. I brought them up to take action. Donald and Ruby. They were nine and seven and left without a father. I told them every day. I made them promise every night.’
Inspector Neele leant forward. ‘What did you make them promise?’
‘That they would kill him, of course.’
Inspector Neele spoke as though it was the most reasonable comment in the world. ‘Did they?’
‘Donald went to fight in France. They sent me a telegram saying that he had been killed in action. Action, you see, the wrong kind of action.’
‘I’m sorry to hear that, Madam. What about your daughter?’
‘Do you know what I’ve done to Ruby? Look here at the Book.’
He saw then that what she was holding in her lap was a very old family Bible in which the old-fashioned custom had been continued of entering each new birth. Mrs MacKenzie pointed to the two last names. Donald MacKenzie with the date of his birth, and Ruby MacKenzie with the date of hers. But a thick line was drawn through Ruby MacKenzie’s name.
‘You see?’ said Mrs MacKenzie. ‘I crossed her out of the Book. She doesn’t exist anymore!’
Mrs MacKenzie looked at him slyly. ‘She didn’t do as I said.’
‘Where is your daughter now, Madam?’
‘There isn’t such a person as Ruby MacKenzie any longer.’ Mrs MacKenzie refused to say more and Neele had another short interview with Dr Crosbie.
‘Do any of her relations come to see her?’ he asked.
‘I believe a daughter did come to see her before my time here, but her visit upset the patient so much that they advised her not to come again. Since then everything has been arranged through solicitors.’
Inspector Neele had already been to see those solicitors. They were unable, or said they were unable, to tell him anything. A trust fund had been arranged for Mrs MacKenzie, which they managed.
‘So there we are, Sir,’ said Inspector Neele as he reported to the Assistant Commissioner. ‘It’s crazy, but it all fits together. It must mean something.’
The Assistant Commissioner nodded. ‘The blackbirds in the pie and the Blackbird Mine, rye in the dead man’s pocket, bread and honey with Adele Fortescue’s tea, that girl strangled with a stocking and a clothes peg put on her nose. Yes, crazy as it all is, it certainly can’t be ignored.’
‘Half a minute, Sir,’ said Inspector Neele.
‘What is it?’
Neele was frowning. ‘You know, what you’ve just said. It was wrong somewhere.’ He shook his head. ‘No. I can’t see it.’
Lance and Pat walked around the grounds of Yewtree Lodge. ‘There’s something extremely frightening about a poisoner,’ said Pat. ‘I mean they must have a terrible mind, filled with thoughts of revenge.’
‘Funny! I just think of it as business-like and cold-blooded.’
‘To do three murders… Whoever did it must be mad,’ Pat said.
‘Yes,’ said Lance, in a low voice. ‘I’m afraid so. Please, Pat, go back to London – it worries me to death to have you here.’
Pat said quietly, ‘You know who it is, don’t you?’
‘No, I don’t.’
‘But you think you know… That’s why you’re frightened for me. I wish you would tell me. But I’m staying here. Lance, you’re my husband and my place is here with you.’ She added, ‘Although maybe you would be better without me – because I always bring bad luck to the men I love.’
‘My dearest, you haven’t brought bad luck to me. Look how after I married you, Father sent for me to come home and make friends with him.’
‘Yes, and what happened when you did come home? I tell you, I’m unlucky to people.’
Lance took her by the shoulders and shook her. ‘You’re my Pat and to be married to you is the greatest luck in the world. But Pat, I just wish you’d go away from here.’
‘Darling,’ said Pat. ‘I’m not going.’
‘Then when I’m not around, stay close to that old lady. What’s-her-name? Marple. Why do you think Aunt Effie asked her to stay here?’
‘Goodness knows why Aunt Effie does anything. Lance, how long are we going to stay here? The house belongs to your brother now and he doesn’t really want us here, does he? Are we going back to East Africa or what?’
‘Is that what you’d like to do, Pat?’ She nodded.
‘That’s lucky,’ said Lance, ‘because it’s what I’d like to do, too.’ Pat’s face brightened. ‘From what you said the other day, I was afraid you might want to stay here.’
‘You mustn’t say anything about our plans, Pat,’ Lance said. ‘I want to worry Percival a little longer.’
‘Oh, Lance, do be careful.’
‘I’ll be careful, my sweet, but I don’t see why he should always get what he wants!’
With her head a little on one side, Miss Marple sat in the large drawing-room listening to Jennifer Fortescue. Jennifer had a lot of complaints and the relief of telling them to a stranger was huge.
‘Of course I never want to complain,’ said Jennifer. ‘What I always say is that I must put up with things and I’m sure I’ve never said a word to anyone, but in some ways I feel very lonely here. Fortunately our new house is almost ready to move into. My husband, of course, has been quite satisfied living here. But then it’s different for a man. Don’t you agree?’
Miss Marple agreed, and it was what she really believed. Men needed two eggs plus bacon for breakfast, three good meals a day and were never to be argued with before dinner. Jennifer continued. ‘My husband, you see, is away all day in the city. But I am alone here with no pleasant company at all. The people round here are really not my kind. They’re all very rich down here. They play cards for money, and there’s a great deal of drinking. And I don’t want to say anything against the dead, but my mother-in-law was absolutely man-mad. And the way she spent money! It troubled Percival very much, very much indeed. And then what with Mr Fortescue being so terribly angry some days and spending huge amounts of money. Well – it wasn’t at all nice.’
‘That must have worried your husband, too?’ asked Miss Marple.
‘Oh, yes, it did. For the last year he’s been very worried indeed. He changed, even towards me. Then Elaine, my sister- in-law, she’s a very strange sort of girl. She never wants to go to London and shop, or go to a play. She isn’t even interested in clothes.’ Jennifer sighed. ‘You must think it most strange, talking to you like this when we really don’t know one another…’
‘Not at all strange, my dear, I know just how you feel,’ said Miss Marple. And this again was true. Jennifer’s husband was obviously bored by her and the poor woman hadn’t made any local friends. ‘I hope it’s not rude of me to say so,’ said Miss Marple in a gentle old lady’s voice, ‘but I really feel that Mr Rex Fortescue cannot have been a very nice man.’
‘He wasn’t,’ said his daughter-in-law. ‘He was a horrible old man. It’s not surprising that someone murdered him.’
‘You’ve no idea at all who…’ began Miss Marple and broke off. ‘Oh dear, perhaps this is a question I should not ask – not even an idea who – who – well, who it might have been?’
‘Oh, I think it was that horrible man Crump,’ said Jennifer. ‘I’ve always disliked him very much.’
‘Still, there would have to be a motive.’
‘I really don’t know if that sort of person needs much motive. Of course, I did suspect that it was Adele who poisoned Mr Fortescue. But now we can’t suspect that as she’s been poisoned herself. Oh dear, sometimes I feel I must get away – that if it doesn’t all stop soon, I shall – I shall actually run away.’ She leant back, studying Miss Marple’s face. ‘But perhaps – that wouldn’t be wise?’
‘No – I don’t think it would be very wise – the police could soon find you, you know.’
‘You think they’re clever enough for that?’
‘It is very foolish to underestimate the police. Inspector Neele seems to be a particularly intelligent man,’ said Miss Marple.
‘I can’t help feeling…’ Jennifer Fortescue hesitated, ‘that it’s dangerous to stay here.’
‘Dangerous for you, you mean? Because of something you – know?’
‘Oh no – of course I don’t know anything. What should I know? It’s just – just that I’m nervous. That man Crump…’
But it was not, Miss Marple thought, of Crump that Mrs Jennifer Fortescue was thinking. And for some reason Jennifer Fortescue was very badly frightened indeed.
CHAPTER TWENTY ONE
It was getting dark. Miss Marple had taken her knitting over to the glass doors in the library. Looking out she saw Pat Fortescue walking up and down outside. Miss Marple opened the door and called, ‘Come in, my dear. It’s much too damp for you to be out there without a coat on.’
Pat came in and closed the door behind her and turned on two of the lamps. ‘Yes,’ she said, ‘it’s not a very nice afternoon.’ She sat down on the sofa by Miss Marple. ‘What are you making?’
‘Oh, just a little baby’s coat, dear. I always make the second size. Babies so soon grow out of the first size.’
Pat stretched out long legs towards the fire. ‘It’s nice in here today,’ she said. ‘With the fire and the lamps and you knitting things for babies. It all seems just like England ought to be.’
‘It’s like England is,’ said Miss Marple. ‘There are not so many Yewtree Lodges, my dear.’
‘I don’t believe anybody was ever happy here, in spite of all the money and the things they had. Oh, how I want to get away from here!’ She looked at Miss Marple and smiled suddenly. ‘Do you know, Lance told me to stay as close to you as I could. He seemed to think I would be safe that way.’
‘Your husband’s no fool,’ said Miss Marple.
‘No. Somebody in this house is mad, and madness is always frightening, because you don’t know how mad people’s minds will work. You don’t know what they’ll do next.’
‘My poor child,’ said Miss Marple.
‘Oh, I’m all right, really. I ought to be tough enough by now.’ Miss Marple said gently, ‘You’ve had a lot of unhappiness, haven’t you, my dear?’
‘Oh, I’ve had some very good times, too. I had a lovely childhood in Ireland, riding horses, swimming in the sea when the weather was good… It was afterwards – when I grew up – that things seemed always to go wrong.’
‘Your first husband was a pilot in the war, wasn’t he?’
‘Yes. We had only been married about a month when Don’s plane was shot down. I thought at first I wanted to die, too. And yet – in the end – I almost began to see that it had been the best thing. Don was brave and reckless – all the qualities that are needed in a war. But I don’t believe peace would have suited him. He would have fought against things. He was – well, antisocial in a way. No, he wouldn’t have fitted in.’
‘It’s wise of you to see that, my dear. And your second husband?’
‘Freddy? We were very happy together, but Freddy wasn’t very honest in his horse-racing business. However, it didn’t seem to matter, between us two, that is. Because, you see, Freddy loved me and I loved him and I tried not to know what was happening. That wasn’t very brave, I suppose, but I couldn’t have changed him you know. You can’t change people.’
‘No,’ said Miss Marple, ‘you can’t change people.’
‘Then things went wrong and he shot himself and I went out to Kenya to stay with some friends there. And I met Lance.’ Her face softened, then after a short pause she said, ‘Tell me, Miss Marple, what do you really think of Percival?’
‘Well, I don’t think he likes my being here very much.’
Pat laughed suddenly. ‘He’s mean. He goes over the housekeeping accounts with Miss Dove, complaining about every item. But Miss Dove manages to win every time. She’s really rather wonderful, don’t you think?’
‘Yes, indeed,’ agreed Miss Marple. ‘She reminds me of Mrs Latimer in my own village, St Mary Mead. She ran the Girl
Guides, and indeed, she ran practically everything there. She had been doing it for five years when we discovered that… oh, but I mustn’t gossip. You must forgive me, my dear.’
‘Is St Mary Mead a very nice village?’
‘Well, it’s quite a pretty village. There are some nice people living in it and some extremely unpleasant people as well. Human nature is much the same everywhere, is it not?’
‘You go up and see Miss Ramsbottom a lot, don’t you?’ said Pat. ‘Now she really frightens me. She sits up there and thinks about wickedness. Well, she might have felt in the end that it was up to her to deliver justice.’
‘Is that what your husband thinks?’
‘I don’t know what Lance thinks about the murders really. But I’m quite sure of one thing – that he believes that the murderer is someone who’s mad, and it’s someone in the family. And I don’t see how it can be anybody from outside. And so – and so that’s why there’s this terrible atmosphere here. Everyone is watching everybody else. Only something’s got to happen soon.’
‘There won’t be any more deaths,’ said Miss Marple. ‘The murderer’s got what he or she wanted, you see.’
‘And what is that?’
Miss Marple shook her head – she was not yet quite sure herself.
CHAPTER TWENTY TWO
In the office of Consolidated Investments, once again Miss Somers had just made tea in the typists’ room, and once again the kettle had not been boiling. As so often before, Miss Griffith said sharply, ‘The water’s not boiling again, Somers,’ but she was interrupted by the entrance of Lance Fortescue. Miss Griffith jumped up. ‘Mr Lance,’ she exclaimed.
His face lit up in a smile. ‘Hello, Miss Griffith.’
Miss Griffith was delighted. Eleven years since he had seen her and he knew her name. She said in an excited voice, ‘You remember me!’
And Lance said easily, smiling his attractive smile, ‘Of course I remember.’ He looked round him. ‘So everything’s still going on just the same here.’
‘Not many changes, Mr Lance. I suppose you must have had a very interesting life abroad.’
‘You could call it that,’ said Lance, ‘but perhaps I am now going to try and have an interesting life in London.’
‘You’re coming back here to the office?’
‘Maybe. You’ll have to show me how everything works again, Miss Griffith.’
Miss Griffith laughed delightedly. ‘It will be very nice to have you back, Mr Lance. Very nice indeed. We never believed – none of us thought…’ Miss Griffith broke off.
Lance patted her on the arm. ‘You didn’t believe I was as guilty as it seemed I was? Well, perhaps I wasn’t. But that’s all old history now. The future’s the important thing now.’ He added, ‘Is my brother here?’
‘He’s in the inner office.’
Lance nodded and walked on through to his father’s office. Somewhat to his surprise it was not Percival who was sitting behind the desk there, but Inspector Neele.
‘Good morning, Mr Fortescue. Are you really going to become a city man? It doesn’t seem the kind of life that would suit you.’ Lance sat down, smiling. ‘You’re more intelligent than my brother, Inspector. Percival thinks I’ve decided to join the firm again and that I’ll spend the firm’s money on risky investments. It would be almost worth doing just for the fun of it! But I couldn’t really stand an office life. However, I want to make him worry a bit. I’ve got to have just a little revenge!’
‘There was a problem with a forged cheque some years ago, I understand. Would that be what you want revenge for?’ enquired Inspector Neele.
‘How much you know, Inspector!’
‘There was no question of prosecution, I understand,’ said Neele. ‘Your father wouldn’t have done that.’
‘No. He just got rid of me, that’s all.’
Inspector Neele thought about Percival. It seemed to him that wherever his investigations got in the case, there was Percival Fortescue. On the surface, he seemed to be a man who had never said no to his father. Neele was trying now, through Lance, to learn more about Percival’s personality. ‘Your brother seems always to have been very much – well, how shall I put it – controlled by your father.’
‘I don’t know,’ Lance said. ‘I’m not sure that it was really the truth. It’s amazing, when I look back through life, to see how Percival always got what he wanted without seeming to do so, if you know what I mean.’
Neele pushed a letter across the desk towards Lance. ‘This is a letter you wrote last August, isn’t it, Mr Fortescue?’
‘Yes,’ he said, ‘I wrote it after I got back to Kenya last summer, saying I would re-join the firm. Where was it – here in the office?’
‘No, it was among your father’s papers in Yewtree Lodge. Where did you address this letter, Mr Fortescue?’
Lance frowned. ‘The office. Why?’
‘I wondered,’ said Inspector Neele. ‘Your father did not put it on the file here among his private papers. I found it in his desk at Yewtree Lodge there. I wondered why he would have done that.’ Lance laughed. ‘To hide it from Percival, I suppose. He always did read other people’s letters. And just look who’s here!’
Percival Fortescue came in. About to speak to the Inspector he stopped, frowning, as he saw Lance. ‘Hello,’ he said. ‘You didn’t tell me you were coming here today.’
‘Oh, I felt I had to come and get started on my new working life,’ said Lance. ‘By the way, why did you get rid of the old man’s glamorous secretary, Grosvenor? Did you think she knew a bit too much?’
‘Of course not. What an idea!’ Percy spoke angrily. He turned to the Inspector. ‘You mustn’t pay any attention to my brother,’ he said coldly. ‘He has a rather strange sense of humour. I never had a very high opinion of Miss Grosvenor’s intelligence and in any case, we have to save money – the firm is in a bad state.’
‘That’s one of the things I wanted to talk to you about, Mr Fortescue,’ Inspector Neele said to Percival.
‘I understand that your father’s recent behaviour made you worry and you tried to make him see a doctor, but he refused?’
‘That is correct.’
‘May I ask you if you suspected that your father had one of those mental illnesses which make people behave in an extreme way?’
‘That is exactly what I did suspect.’
Neele continued, ‘So from the business point of view, your father’s death was very fortunate.’
‘You can’t believe that I would think of my father’s death in that way!’
‘It is not a question of how you think of it, Mr Fortescue. I’m speaking about a fact.’
‘Yes. But really, Inspector, I don’t see what you’re trying to say…’ Percival broke off.
‘Oh, I’m not trying to say anything, Mr Fortescue,’ said Neele. ‘I just like getting my facts together. Now, you said that you hadn’t had any communication at all with your brother since he left England many years ago – but last spring you wrote and told him you were worried about your father’s behaviour. You wanted your brother to support you in getting your father medically examined.’
‘I – I – I thought it only right. After all, Lance was a junior partner.’
Inspector Neele looked at Lance, who was smiling.
‘You received that letter?’ Inspector Neele asked.
Lance Fortescue nodded.
‘What did you reply to it?’
‘I told Percy to leave the old man alone. I said the old man knew what he was doing. And that is one of the reasons why, when I got a letter from my father, I came home to see for myself. In the short interview I had with my father, he appeared to me to be quite capable of managing his business. Anyway, after I got back to Africa and had talked things over with Pat, I decided that I would come home and make sure that my father wasn’t pushed into something that he didn’t want.’ He looked at Percival as he spoke.
‘I object strongly to what you are suggesting. I was worried about my father’s health. I admit that I was also worried…’ Percival paused.
Lance filled the pause quickly. ‘Worried about your pocket, eh?’ He got up and all of a sudden his behaviour changed. ‘All right, Percy, I was going to annoy you for a while by pretending to work here, but I’ve had enough of it. It makes me sick to be in the same room with you. You’ve always been nasty and mean since you were a child, lying and making trouble. I’ve always believed it was you who forged that cheque – for one thing it was a very bad forgery. I can’t understand why Father didn’t realize that if I had forged his name, I would have done it much better. Well, I’m sick of little men like you with their almost criminal financial deals. We’ll divide everything as you suggested, and I’ll get back with Pat to a country where there’s room to breathe. Give me Father’s latest risky investments. I’ll bet that one or two of them will make a great deal of money in the end! As for you, you little…’ Lance walked towards his brother, who stepped backwards quickly.
‘All right,’ said Lance, ‘I’m not going to touch you. You wanted me out of here, you’re getting me out of here.’ He added as he walked towards the door, ‘You can also give me the old Blackbird Mine too, if you like. If we’ve got murdering MacKenzies following us, I’ll lead them off to Africa. Revenge – after all these years – it doesn’t seem likely. But Inspector Neele seems to take it seriously, don’t you, Inspector?’
‘Nonsense,’ said Percival. ‘Such a thing is impossible!’
Gently stroking his upper lip, Inspector Neele said, ‘You remember the blackbirds last summer, Mr Fortescue. There are reasons for us to investigate.’
‘Nonsense,’ said Percival again. ‘Nobody’s heard of the MacKenzies for years.’
‘And yet,’ said Lance, ‘I’d almost believe that there’s a MacKenzie very near us. I imagine the Inspector thinks so, too.’
Inspector Neele followed Lance Fortescue into the street. ‘Mr Fortescue, when you came into the inner office and saw me, you were surprised. Why?’
‘Because I thought I’d find Percy there. Miss Griffith said he was in his office.’
‘I see – so nobody knew he’d gone out. There’s no second door out of the inner office – but there is a door leading straight into the corridor from the secretary’s office – I suppose your brother went out that way.’
Lance looked at him. ‘What’s the idea, Inspector?’
‘Just puzzling over a few little things, that’s all, Mr Fortescue.’
CHAPTER TWENTY THREE
On the train on the way back down to Baydon Heath, Inspector Neele read the news in The Times with only half his brain taking it in. He read of an earthquake in Japan; of the discovery in Tanganyika of valuable uranium, needed to make nuclear weapons; of the body of a sailor found on the beach near Southampton. All these items made a strange kind of pattern in the back of his mind and when he reached Yewtree Lodge he had made a decision. He said to Sergeant Hay, ‘Where’s Miss Marple? I’d like to see her.’
Miss Marple arrived a few minutes later, looking quite pink. ‘You want to see me, Inspector Neele? I do hope I haven’t kept you waiting. I was in the kitchen talking to Mrs Crump about her wonderful cooking.’
‘What you really wanted to talk to her about,’ said Inspector Neele, ‘was Gladys Martin?’
Miss Marple nodded. ‘Yes. Gladys. You see, Mrs Crump was able to tell me about her behaviour lately and the things she said. I really think, you know, that things are becoming very much clearer, don’t you?’
‘I do and I don’t. Look here, Miss Marple, I’ve heard something about you at the Yard.’ He smiled, ‘It seems you’re fairly well known there.’
‘I don’t know how it is,’ said Miss Marple, ‘but I so often seem to get mixed up in crimes and strange events.’
‘You’ve got a reputation.’ said Inspector Neele, ‘and you and I have different points of view. But our base is the same. This murder benefits certain people. One person in particular. The second murder benefits the same person. But the third murder – well, you could say the third murder was done to keep the murderer safe.’
‘But which do you call the third murder?’ Miss Marple asked. Her eyes, a very bright blue, looked intelligently at the Inspector. He nodded. ‘Yes. When the Assistant Comissioner was speaking to me of these murders, something that he said seemed to me to be wrong. That was it. The nursery rhyme says: the king in his counting house, the queen in the parlour and the maid hanging out the clothes.’
‘Exactly,’ said Miss Marple. ‘But actually Gladys must have been murdered before Mrs Fortescue, mustn’t she?’
‘I think so,’ said Neele. ‘Her body wasn’t discovered till late that night, but she must almost certainly have been murdered round about five o’clock, because otherwise she would have taken the second tray into the drawing room. She took one tray in with the tea on it, and then she saw or heard something. It might have been Dubois coming down the stairs from Mrs Fortescue’s room. It might have been Gerald Wright coming in at the side door. Whoever it was persuaded her to leave the tea tray and go out into the garden. And once that had happened I believe she was killed immediately.’
‘You’re quite right,’ said Miss Marple. ‘It was never a case of “the maid was in the garden hanging up the clothes”. She wouldn’t be hanging up clothes at that time of the evening and the clothes peg was simply to make the thing fit in with the rhyme.’
‘It fits,’ said Neele, ‘but I’m going to describe my side of the case now, Miss Marple. I’m going by the simple facts and the reasons for which sane people do murders. First, the death of Rex Fortescue, and who benefits by his death. Well, most of all, Percival. If a hundred thousand pounds had to be paid to Adele Fortescue according to her husband’s will, Consolidated would have been finished as a business. But she didn’t live longer than a month after her husband’s death and the person who gained from her death was Percival Fortescue again. But although he could have put the taxine into the marmalade, he couldn’t have poisoned his stepmother or strangled Gladys. According to his secretary he was in his city office at five o’clock that afternoon, and he didn’t arrive back here until nearly seven. However, there are other people who had a perfectly good motive.’
‘Mr Dubois, of course,’ said Miss Marple. ‘And that young Mr Wright. Whenever there is any question of gain, one has to be very suspicious. Never trust anyone.’
Neele smiled. Miss Marple never failed to surprise him! ‘Always think the worst, eh?’ he asked.
‘Oh yes,’ said Miss Marple. ‘Always!’
‘All right,’ said Neele, ‘let’s think the worst. Dubois could have done it, Gerald Wright could have done it if he had been working together with Elaine Fortescue and she put the taxine in the marmalade. Jennifer Fortescue could have done it, but none of them seem to have any connection with blackbirds and pockets full of rye. That’s your theory and it points to one person. Mrs MacKenzie’s in a mental hospital and her son Donald was killed in the war. That leaves the daughter, Ruby MacKenzie. And if your theory is correct, if this whole series of murders is because of the old Blackbird Mine business, then Ruby MacKenzie must be here in this house, and there’s only one person that Ruby MacKenzie could be.’
‘I think, you know,’ said Miss Marple, ‘that you may not be seeing the whole picture, Inspector.’
Inspector Neele paid no attention. ‘Just one person,’ he said. He got up and went out of the room.
Mary Dove was in her sitting room. How wonderfully self- controlled the girl was, Neele thought. She said calmly, ‘Yes, Inspector? What can I do for you?’
Inspector Neele said quietly, ‘Is your real name Dove?’
Mary raised her eyebrows. ‘Are you suggesting that my name is not Mary Dove?’
‘I’m suggesting that your name is Ruby MacKenzie. Is your name Ruby MacKenzie?’
‘I have told you my name is Mary Dove. Do you want to see my birth certificate?’
‘You might have the birth certificate of a Mary Dove. That Mary Dove might be a friend of yours or might be someone who had died.’
‘Yes, there are a lot of possibilities, aren’t there?’ There was laughter now in Mary Dove’s voice. ‘I think you know, Inspector, that you have to prove I am this Ruby MacKenzie, whoever she is.’ Looking him straight in the eyes, Mary Dove said, ‘Yes, Inspector. Prove that I’m Ruby MacKenzie, if you can.’
CHAPTER TWENTY FOUR
Miss Marple was talking to Jennifer Fortescue while she knitted. ‘I had such a nice nurse looking after me when I once broke my wrist. She went on from me to nurse Mrs Sparrow’s son, a very nice young naval officer and they married and had two dear little children. That was the beginning of your romance, was it not? I mean, you came here to nurse Mr Percival Fortescue, did you not? One should not listen to servants’ gossip, of course, but I’m afraid an old lady like myself is always interested to hear about the people in the house. There was another nurse at first, was there not, and she got sent away – something like that? They said she was careless, I believe.’
‘I don’t think she was careless,’ said Jennifer. ‘I believe her father was extremely ill, and so I came to replace her.’
‘I see,’ said Miss Marple. ‘And you fell in love with Percival and that was that. Yes, very nice indeed, very nice.’
‘I’m not so sure about that,’ said Jennifer Fortescue. ‘I often wish…’ her voice was very quiet, ‘I was back in the hospital again. Life’s so boring, you know. Oh, it’s what I deserve! I should not have done it.’
‘Should not have done what, my dear?’
‘I should not have married Percival. Oh, well,’ she sighed. ‘Don’t let’s talk of it any more.’
And Miss Marple began to talk about the new skirts that were being worn in Paris.
Miss Marple knocked at the door of the study and Inspector Neele told her to come in.
‘We didn’t really finish our talk just now,’ she said, ‘and I wasn’t quite ready then to make any accusation unless I was absolutely sure about it. And I am sure, now.’
‘You’re sure about what, Miss Marple?’
‘Well, certainly about who killed Mr Fortescue. The marmalade shows how, as well as who, and though she was not clever, she was intelligent enough to do it. The beginning is Gladys. And what with the nylon stockings and the telephone calls and one thing and another, it was perfectly clear as to who put the Taxine into Mr Fortescue’s marmalade.’
‘You have a theory?’ asked Inspector Neele.
‘It isn’t a theory,’ said Miss Marple. ‘I know.’
Inspector Neele looked surprised.
‘It was Gladys, of course,’ said Miss Marple.
CHAPTER TWENTY FIVE
‘Are you saying,’ Inspector Neele said, astonished, ‘that Gladys Martin deliberately murdered Rex Fortescue?’
‘No, of course she didn’t mean to murder him,’ said Miss Marple, ‘but she put the Taxine in the marmalade. She didn’t think it was poison, of course.’
‘What did she think it was?’
‘I believe she thought it was a truth drug,’ said Miss Marple. ‘It’s very interesting, you know, the things these girls cut out of papers and keep, because they believe that if a story is in a newspaper, then it must be true. And if she had it read in the papers, then Gladys would have believed it when he told her that it was a truth drug.’
‘When who told her?’ said Inspector Neele.
‘Albert Evans,’ said Miss Marple. ‘That’s not his real name, of course. He met her last summer at a holiday camp, and he said sweet things to her, kissed her, and probably told her some story of being cheated out of money by Rex Fortescue. The point was that Rex Fortescue had to be made to confess what he had done. I don’t know this, of course, Inspector Neele, but I’m quite sure about it. He persuaded her to take a job here – it’s really very easy nowadays with the shortage of domestic staff, to get a job where you want one. They then arranged a date together. You remember on that last postcard he said, Remember our date. That was to be the day Gladys would put the drug that he gave her into the top of the marmalade, so that Mr Fortescue would eat it at breakfast, and she would also put the rye in his pocket. I don’t know what story he told her to explain the rye, but Gladys Martin was a girl who would believe almost anything.’
‘Please continue,’ said Inspector Neele in an amazed voice.
‘The idea probably was that Albert was going to visit him at the office that day, and that by that time the truth drug would have worked, and so Mr Fortescue would confess everything. You can imagine the poor girl’s feelings when she heard that Mr Fortescue was dead.’
‘But, surely,’ Inspector Neele objected, ‘she would have told someone?’
‘What was the first thing she said to you when you questioned her?’
‘She said, “I didn’t do it”,’ Inspector Neele said.
‘Exactly,’ said Miss Marple. ‘When she worked for me, Gladys would always say if she broke anything, “I didn’t do it, Miss Marple. I can’t think how it happened.” You don’t think that a nervous young woman who had murdered someone when she didn’t mean to murder him, is going to admit it, do you? Her first idea would be to deny it all. Then in a confused way she would try to sort it all out. Perhaps Albert hadn’t known how strong the truth drug was. She’d think of excuses for him. She would hope he would contact her, which he did. By telephone. There were unexplained calls that day. People rang up and, when Crump or Mrs Crump answered, nobody spoke, so they would put the telephone down. That’s what he would do, you know. Ring up and wait until Gladys answered the phone, and then he would make an appointment with her to meet him.’
‘You mean she had an appointment to meet him on the day she died.’
Miss Marple nodded quickly. ‘Yes. The girl was wearing her best nylon stockings and her good shoes. Only she wasn’t going out to meet him. He was coming to Yewtree Lodge. That’s why she was so excited and late with tea. Then, as she brought the second tray into the hall, she looked along the hall to the side door, and saw him there, waving to her. She put the tray down and went out to meet him.’
‘And then he strangled her,’ said Neele.
‘He couldn’t risk her talking. She had to die, poor, silly girl. And then – he put a clothes peg on her nose!’ There was great anger in the old lady’s voice. ‘To make it fit in with the rhyme. The rye, the blackbirds, the counting house, the bread and honey, and the clothes peg – the nearest he could get to a little dickey bird that nipped off her nose -‘
And I suppose at the end of it all he’ll go to Broadmoor and we won’t be able to hang him because he’s crazy!’ said Neele slowly.
‘I think you’ll hang him all right,’ said Miss Marple. ‘He’s not crazy, Inspector!’
Inspector Neele looked hard at her. ‘Now see here, Miss Marple, you’re saying that a man is responsible for these crimes. A man who called himself Albert Evans was someone who wanted revenge for the old Blackbird Mine business. You’re suggesting, aren’t you, that Mrs MacKenzie’s son, Don MacKenzie, didn’t die in France. That he is responsible for all this?’
‘Oh no!’ she said. ‘This blackbird business is a complete fake. It was used, that was all, by somebody who heard about the blackbirds on the desk and in the pie. The blackbirds were real enough. They were put there by someone who knew about the old business, who wanted revenge for it. But only the revenge of trying to frighten Mr Fortescue. I don’t believe that children can really be brought up to carry out revenge. But someone whose father had been cheated and perhaps left to die, might want to play a trick on the person who was supposed to have done it. That’s what happened, I think. And the killer used it.’
‘The killer,’ said Inspector Neele. ‘Who was he?’
‘He’s sane, brilliantly intelligent, and quite without morals. And he did it, of course, for money.’
‘Percival Fortescue?’ Inspector Neele almost begged, but he knew as he spoke that he was wrong.
‘Oh, no,’ said Miss Marple. ‘Not Percival. Lance.’
CHAPTER TWENTY SIX
Miss Marple leaned forward in her chair. ‘He’s always been bad, completely bad, although he’s also always been attractive. Especially attractive to women. And because of his charm, people have always believed the best about him. He came home in the summer to see his father. I don’t believe for a moment that his father invited him – he probably flew over here and tried to get his father to forgive him, but Mr Fortescue wouldn’t do it. You see, Lance was very much in love with Pat – who is a dear girl – and he wanted a respectable life with her. And that meant having a lot of money.
‘When he was at Yewtree Lodge, he must have heard about these blackbirds. He guessed that MacKenzie’s daughter was in the house and he realized that she would make a very good scapegoat for murder. Because when he couldn’t get his father to do what he wanted, he cold-bloodedly decided that murder it would have to be. Perhaps the coincidence of his father’s first name being Rex, together with hearing about the blackbirds in the pie, suggested the idea of the nursery rhyme. Then he could make a crazy business of the whole thing – and connect it to that old revenge threat of the MacKenzies. Then, you see, he could kill Adele, too, and stop that hundred thousand pounds going out of the firm. But there would have to be a third character, the “maid in the garden hanging up the clothes”. An innocent accomplice whom he could silence before she could talk. And that would give him a real alibi for the first murder.
‘He arrived here just before five o’clock, which was the time Gladys brought the second tray into the hall. He came to the side door and waved to her. It would only have taken him three or four minutes to strangle her and carry her body to where the clothes lines were. Then he rang the front-door bell and joined the family for tea. After tea he went up to see Miss Ramsbottom. When he came down, he went into the drawing room, found Adele alone, drinking a last cup of tea, and sat down by her on the sofa. While he was talking to her, he managed to put the cyanide into her tea without her noticing.’
Inspector Neele said slowly, ‘But I cannot see what he thought he would get from it. Of course, unless old Fortescue died, the business would soon be finished, but is Lance’s share really big enough to make him plan three murders?’
‘That is a little difficult,’ admitted Miss Marple. ‘But is it really true that the Blackbird Mine is worthless?’
Neele thought about it. A gold mine. A worthless gold mine. And where was the mine? West Africa, Lance had said. But Miss Ramsbottom had said it was in East Africa. Lance had just come from East Africa. Maybe he had some recent knowledge?
Suddenly another piece fitted into the Inspector’s puzzle. Sitting in the train, reading The Times. Uranium deposits found in Tanganyika. What if the uranium was in the Blackbird Mine? Lance was there when it was found – and knew the mine was now worth a fortune. An enormous fortune! Neele sighed and looked at Miss Marple. ‘How do you think,’ he asked, ‘that I’m ever going to be able to prove all this?’
Miss Marple nodded at him encouragingly. ‘You’ll prove it,’ she said. ‘You’re a very, very clever man, Inspector Neele. Now you know who it is, you ought to be able to get the evidence. At that holiday camp they’ll recognize Lance’s photograph. He must have gone there when he came over to see his father, looking for an innocent, vulnerable girl who would do anything for him. He’ll find it hard to explain why he stayed there for a week, calling himself Albert Evans.’
‘Yes,’ Inspector Neele thought, ‘I’ll get him!’ Then, suddenly feeling unsure, he looked at Miss Marple. ‘It’s all theory, you know.’
‘Yes – but you are sure, aren’t you?’
‘I suppose so. After all, I’ve known people like him before.’
The old lady nodded. ‘Yes – that’s really why I’m sure.’
‘Because of your knowledge of criminals,’ Neele asked.
‘Oh no – of course not. Because of Pat – a dear girl – and the kind that always marries a bad man – that’s really what made me suspect him at the start.’
‘But there’s a lot that needs explaining,’ said the Inspector. ‘The Ruby MacKenzie business for instance. I could swear that…’
Miss Marple interrupted, ‘Go and talk to Jennifer.’
‘Mrs Fortescue,’ said Inspector Neele, ‘do you mind telling me your name before you were married.’
‘Oh!’ Jennifer exclaimed. ‘It – it was MacKenzie…’
‘You needn’t be nervous, Madam,’ said Inspector Neele gently, and added, ‘I was talking to your mother a few days ago at Pinewood Sanatorium.’
‘She’s very angry with me,’ said Jennifer. ‘Poor Mother, she loved Dad so much. She kept making us promise that we would kill Rex Fortescue one day. Of course, once I’d started my nursing training, I began to realize that her mental balance wasn’t what it should be.’
‘You yourself must have wanted revenge though, Mrs Fortescue?’
‘Well, of course I did. Rex Fortescue practically murdered my father! I’m quite certain that he left Father to die. So I did want to pay him back. When a friend of mine came to nurse his son,
Percival, I persuaded her to leave and suggested that I replace her. I don’t know exactly what I meant to do. I had some idea, I think, of nursing his son so badly that he would die. But of course, if you are a nurse, you can’t do that sort of thing. Actually I had great difficulty saving Percival. And then he asked me to marry him and I thought, “Well, that’s a far more sensible revenge than anything else.” I mean, to marry Mr Fortescue’s eldest son and get the money he cheated Father out of that way.’
‘Yes, indeed,’ said Inspector Neele, ‘far more sensible. It was you, I suppose, who put the blackbirds on the desk and in the pie?’ Jennifer looked down. ‘Yes. I suppose it was silly of me really… But I didn’t do anything else.’
‘You don’t – you don’t honestly think I would murder anyone, do you?’
Inspector Neele smiled. ‘No,’ he said, ‘I don’t.’ He added, ‘By the way, have you given Miss Dove any money lately?’
Jennifer looked shocked. ‘How did you know?’
‘We know a lot of things,’ said Inspector Neele and added to himself: And guess a good many, too.
‘She came to me and said that you had accused her of being Ruby MacKenzie. She said if I gave her five hundred pounds, she would let you continue thinking she was Ruby MacKenzie.
I found it very difficult to get the money. I had to sell a very beautiful necklace my husband had given me.’
‘Don’t worry, Mrs Fortescue,’ said Inspector Neele, ‘I think we can get your money back for you.’
Inspector Neele had another interview with Miss Mary Dove. ‘I wonder, Miss Dove,’ he said, ‘if you would give me a cheque for five hundred pounds payable to Mrs Jennifer Fortescue.’ He had the pleasure of seeing Mary Dove’s calmness disappear.
‘The silly fool told you, I suppose,’ she said.
‘Yes. Blackmail. Miss Dove, is rather a serious crime.’
‘I think you’d find it hard to prove that I was guilty of blackmail.’
‘Well, if you’ll give me that cheque, Miss Dove, we’ll leave it like that. Otherwise we have no proof against you at all. It is a strange, though, that in each of the last three places you have worked, there have been robberies about three months after you left. The thieves seemed to have known exactly where fur coats, jewels, etc. were kept. Strange coincidence, isn’t it?’
‘Coincidences do happen, Inspector.’
‘Oh, yes,’ said Neele. ‘But they mustn’t happen too often, Miss Dove. It is possible,’ he added, ‘that we may meet again in the future.’
‘I hope…’ said Mary Dove, ‘I don’t mean to be rude, Inspector Neele – but I hope we don’t.’
CHAPTER TWENTY SEVEN
Miss Marple went to say goodbye to Miss Ramsbottom. ‘I’m afraid,’ said Miss Marple, ‘that I’ve repaid you badly for your kindness to me.’
‘Hah,’ said Miss Ramsbottom. ‘You found out what you wanted to, I suppose. And I suppose you’ve told that police Inspector all about it? Will he be able to prove a case?’
‘I’m almost sure he will,’ said Miss Marple. ‘It may take a little time.’
‘I don’t blame you for what you’ve done. Wickedness is wickedness and has got to be punished. Handsome, Lance is, but he has always been bad. Yes, I was afraid of it. Ah, well, sometimes it can be difficult not to love a bad boy. The boy always had charm. He lied about the time he left me that day Adele died. But he was my beloved sister Elvira’s boy – I couldn’t possibly say anything against him. You’re a good woman, Jane Marple, and good must always win. I’m sorry for his wife, though.’
‘So am I,’ said Miss Marple.
In the hall Pat Fortescue was waiting to say goodbye. ‘I wish you weren’t going,’ she said. ‘I shall miss you.’
‘It’s time for me to go,’ said Miss Marple. ‘I’ve finished what I came here to do. It’s important, you know, that wickedness shouldn’t win.’
Pat looked puzzled. ‘I don’t understand.’
‘No, my dear. But if I might advise you, if anything ever goes wrong in your life – go back to where you were happy as a child. Go back to Ireland, my dear. Horses and dogs. All that.’
Pat nodded. ‘Sometimes I wish I had done just that when Freddy died. But if I had,’ her voice softened, ‘I would not have met Lance. We’re not staying here, you know. We’re going back to East Africa. I’m so pleased.’
‘Be happy, dear child,’ said Miss Marple. ‘One needs a great deal of courage to get through life. I think you have it.’ She patted the girl’s hand and went through the front door to the waiting taxi.
Miss Marple reached home late that evening. Kitty – the latest girl she had taken in to train – greeted her with a smiling face. ‘I’m so happy to see you – you’ll find everything very nice in the house. I’ve cleaned and cleaned!’
‘That’s very nice, Kitty – I’m happy to be home.’ There were six spider’s webs on the ceiling, Miss Marple noted. These girls never looked up. She was too kind to say anything.
‘Your letters are on the hall table, Miss. And there’s one that was delivered to the wrong house – it only arrived today.’
Miss Marple recognized the childish handwriting. She tore the envelope open.
I hope you’ll forgive me writing this but I really don’t know what to do and I never meant any harm. It was murder, they say, but it wasn’t me that did it, not really. I would never do anything wicked like that and I know he wouldn’t either. Albert, I mean.
We met last summer and we were going to be married, but Albert had been cheated out of his inheritance by Mr Rex Fortescue. And Mr Fortescue just denied everything and everybody believed him, and not Albert, because he was rich and Albert was poor. But Albert has a friend who works in a place where they make these new drugs and they have what they call a truth drug and it makes people speak the truth whether they want to or not.
Albert was going to see Mr Fortescue in his office on Nov. 5th, taking a lawyer with him. The only thing I had to do was to give Mr Fortescue the drug at breakfast that morning and then it would work just when they arrived and he’d admit that everything that Albert said was quite true. Well, Madam, I put the drug in the marmalade – but now Mr Fortescue is dead! I think it must have been too strong, but it wasn’t Albert’s fault because Albert would never do a thing like that. I can’t tell the police because maybe they’d think Albert did it on purpose, which I know he didn’t.
Oh, Madam, I don’t know what to do and I haven’t heard from Albert. If you could only come here and help me, they’d listen to you. You were always so kind to me, and I didn’t mean to do anything wrong and Albert didn’t either. If you could only help us. Yours respectfully,
- S. – I’m enclosing a photograph of Albert and me. One of the boys took it at the holiday camp and gave it to me. Albert doesn’t know I’ve got it – he hates being photographed. But you can see, Madam, what a nice boy he is.
Miss Marple stared down at the photograph, to the dark, handsome, smiling face of Lance Fortescue. The last words of the sad little letter echoed in her mind, You can see what a nice boy he is.
Tears rose in Miss Marple’s eyes. But following her sadness for poor Gladys, there came anger – anger against a cold-blooded killer.
And then there came a huge feeling of triumph – there was no escape now for Lance Fortescue!