The body in the library


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The body in the library

  1. 1. Chapter 1Mrs Bantry was dreaming. Her sweet peas hadjust taken aFirst at the flower show. The vicar, dressed incassock andsurplice, was giving out the prizes in church. Hiswife wanderedpast, dressed in a bathing suit, but, as is theblessed habit ofdreams, this fact did not arouse the disapprovalof the parish inthe way it would assuredly have done in reallife...Mrs Bantry was enjoying her dream a good deal.She usuallydid enjoy those early-morning dreams that wereterminated bythe arrival of early-morning tea. Somewhere inher innerconsciousness was an awareness of the usualearly-morningnoises of the household. The rattle of the curtainrings on thestairs as the housemaid drew them, the noises ofthe secondhousemaids dustpan and brush in the passageoutside. In thedistance the heavy noise of the front-door boltbeing drawnback.Another day was beginning. In the meantime shemust extract
  2. 2. as much pleasure as possible from the flowershow, for alreadyits dreamlike quality was becoming apparent.Below her was the noise of the big woodenshutters in thedrawing room being opened. She heard it, yet didnot hear it.For quite half an hour longer the usual householdnoises wouldgo on, discreet, subdued, not disturbing becausethey were sofamiliar. They would culminate in a swift,controlled sound offootsteps along the passage, the rustle of a printdress, thesubdued chink of tea things as the tray wasdeposited on thetable outside, then the soft knock and the entryof Mary to drawthe curtains.In her sleep Mrs Bantry frowned. Somethingdisturbing waspenetrating through the dream state, somethingout of its time.Footsteps along the passage, footsteps that weretoo hurriedand too soon. Her ears listened unconsciouslyfor the chink ofchina, but there was no chink of china.The knock came at the door. Automatically, fromthe depths ofher dream, Mrs Bantry said, "Come in."
  3. 3. The door opened; now there would be the chinkof curtain ringsas the curtains were drawn back. But there wasno chink ofcurtain rings. Out of the dull green light Marysvoice came,breathless, hysterical."Oh, maam, oh, maam, theres a body in thelibrary!"And then, with a hysterical burst of sobs, sherushed out of theroom again.Mrs Bantry sat up in bed.Either her dream had taken a very odd turn orelse - or elseMary had really rushed into the room and hadsaid - incrediblyfantastic! - that there was a body in the library."Impossible," said Mrs Bantry to herself. "I musthave beendreaming."But even as she said it, she felt more and morecertain that shehad not been dreaming; that Mary, her superiorself-controlledMary, had actually uttered those fantastic words.Mrs Bantry reflected a minute and then appliedan urgentconjugal elbow to her sleeping spouse."Arthur, Arthur, wake up."Colonel Bantry grunted, muttered and rolled overon his side."Wake up, Arthur. Did you hear what she said?"
  4. 4. "Very likely," said Colonel Bantry indistinctly. "Iquite agreewith you, Dolly," and promptly went to sleepagain.Mrs Bantry shook him."Youve got to listen. Mary came in and said thatthere was abody in the library.""Eh, what?""A body in the library.""Who said so?""Mary."Colonel Bantry collected his scattered facultiesand proceededto deal with the situation. He said, "Nonsense,old girl! Youvebeen dreaming.""No, I havent. I thought so, too, at first. But Ihavent. She reallycame in and said so.""Mary came in and said there was a body in thelibrary?""Yes.""But there couldnt be," said Colonel Bantry."No, no, I suppose not," said Mrs Bantrydoubtfully. Rallying,she went on, "But then why did Mary say therewas?""She cant have.""She did.""You must have imagined it.""I didnt imagine it."
  5. 5. Colonel Bantry was by now thoroughly awakeand prepared todeal with the situation on its merits. He saidkindly, "Youvebeen dreaming. Dolly. Its that detective story youwere reading- The Clue of the Broken Match. You know, LordEdgbastonfinds a beautiful blonde dead on the libraryhearth rug. Bodiesare always being found in libraries in books. Ivenever known acase in real life.""Perhaps you will now," said Mrs Bantry,"Anyway Arthur,youve got to get up and see.""But really, Dolly, it must have been a dream.Dreams often doseem wonderfully vivid when you first wake up.You feel quitesure theyre true.""I was having quite a different sort of dreamabout a flowershow and the vicars wife in a bathing dress,something likethat."Mrs Bantry jumped out of bed and pulled backthe curtains. Thelight of a fine autumn day flooded the room."I did not dream it," said Mrs Bantry firmly. "Getup at once,Arthur, and go downstairs and see about it."
  6. 6. "You want me to go downstairs and ask if theresa body in thelibrary? I shall look a fool.""You neednt ask anything," said Mrs Bantry. "Ifthere is a body- and of course its just possible that Marys gonemad andthinks she sees things that arent there - well,somebody will tellyou soon enough. You wont have to say a word."Grumbling, Colonel Bantry wrapped himself inhis dressinggown and left the room. He went along thepassage and downthe staircase. At the foot of it was a little knot ofhuddledservants; some of them were sobbing. The butlersteppedforward impressively."Im glad you have come, sir. I have directed thatnothingshould be done until you came. Will it be in orderfor me to ringup the police, sir?""Ring em up about what?"The butler cast a reproachful glance over hisshoulder at thetall young woman who was weeping hystericallyon the cooksshoulder."I understood, sir, that Mary had alreadyinformed you. Shesaid she had done so."
  7. 7. Mary gasped out, "I was so upset, I dont knowwhat I said! It allcame over me again and my legs gave way andmy insidesturned over! Finding it like that. Oh, oh, oh!"She subsided again onto Mrs Eccles, who said,"There, there,my dear," with some relish."Mary is naturally somewhat upset, sir, havingbeen the one tomake the gruesome discovery," exclaimed thebutler. "Shewent into the library, as usual, to draw thecurtains, and - andalmost stumbled over the body.""Do you mean to tell me," demanded ColonelBantry, "thattheres a dead body in my library - my library?"The butler coughed. "Perhaps, sir, you would liketo see foryourself."Ill"Hullo, ullo, ullo. Police station here. Yes, whosspeaking?"Police Constable Palk was buttoning up his tunicwith one handwhile the other held the telephone receiver."Yes, yes, Gossington Hall. Yes?... Oh, goodmorning, sir."Police Constable Palks tone underwent a slightmodification. Itbecame less impatiently official, recognizing thegenerous
  8. 8. patron of the police sports and the principalmagistrate of thedistrict."Yes, sir? What can I do for you?... Im sorry, sir, Ididnt quitecatch... A body, did you say?... Yes?... Yes, if youplease, sir...Thats right, sir... Young woman not known toyou, you say?...Quite, sir... Yes, you can leave it all to me."Police Constable Palk replaced the receiver,uttered a longdrawnwhistle and proceeded to dial his superiorofficersnumber.Mrs Palk looked in from the kitchen, whenceproceeded anappetizing smell of frying bacon."What is it?""Rummiest thing you ever heard of," replied herhusband."Body of a young woman found up at the Hall. Inthe colonelslibrary.""Murdered?""Strangled, so he says.""Who was she?""The colonel says he doesnt know her fromAdam.""Then what was she doing in is library?"Police Constable Palk silenced her with areproachful glanceand spoke officially into the telephone.
  9. 9. "Inspector Slack? Police Constable Palk here. Areport has justcome in that the body of a young woman wasdiscovered thismorning at seven-fifteen..."IVMiss Marples telephone rang when she wasdressing. Thesound of it flurried her a little. It was an unusualhour for hertelephone to ring. So well ordered was her primspinsters lifethat unforeseen telephone calls were a source ofvividconjecture."Dear me," said Miss Marple, surveying theringing instrumentwith perplexity. "I wonder who that can be?"Nine oclock to nine-thirty was the recognizedtime for thevillage to make friendly calls to neighbours.Plans for the day,invitations, and so on, were always issued then.The butcherhad been known to ring up just before nine ifsome crisis in themeat trade had occurred. At intervals during thedayspasmodic calls might occur, though it wasconsidered badform to ring up after nine-thirty at night. It wastrue that Miss
  10. 10. Marples nephew, a writer, and therefore erratic,had beenknown to ring up at the most peculiar times; onceas late as tenminutes to midnight. But whatever RaymondWestseccentricities, early rising was not one of them.Neither he noranyone of Miss Marples acquaintance would belikely to ring upbefore eight in the morning. Actually a quarter toeight.Too early even for a telegram, since the postoffice did not openuntil eight. "It must be," Miss Marple decided, "awrongnumber."Having decided this, she advanced to theimpatient instrumentand quelled its clamour by picking up thereceiver."Yes?" she said."Is that you, Jane?"Miss Marple was much surprised."Yes, its Jane. Youre up very early, Dolly."Mrs Bantrys voice came, breathless andagitated, over thewire. "The most awful thing has happened.""Oh, my dear!""Weve just found a body in the library."For a moment Miss Marple thought her friend hadgone mad."Youve found a what?"
  11. 11. "I know. One doesnt believe it, does one? I meanI thought theyonly happened in books. I had to argue for hourswith Arthurthis morning before hed even go down and see."Miss Marple tried to collect herself. Shedemandedbreathlessly, "But whose body is it?""Its a blonde." "A what?""A blonde. A beautiful blonde - like books again.None of ushave ever seen her before. Shes just lying therein the library,dead. Thats why youve got to come up at once.""You want me to come up?""Yes, Im sending the car down for you."Miss Marple said doubtfully, "Of course, dear, ifyou think I canbe of any comfort to you.""Oh, I dont want comfort. But youre so good atbodies.""Oh, no, indeed. My little successes have beenmostlytheoretical.""But youre very good at murders. Shes beenmurdered yousee; strangled. What I feel is that if one has got tohave amurder actually happening in ones house, onemight as wellenjoy it, if you know what I mean. Thats why Iwant you to come
  12. 12. and help me find out who did it and unravel themystery and allthat. It really is rather thrilling, isnt it?""Well, of course, my dear, if I can be of any help.""Splendid! Arthurs being rather difficult. Heseems to think Ishouldnt enjoy myself about it at all. Of course, Ido know itsvery sad and all that, but then I dont know thegirl and whenyouve seen her youll understand what I meanwhen I say shedoesnt look real at all."VA little breathless Miss Marple alighted from theBantrys car,the door of which was held open for her by thechauffeur.Colonel Bantry came out on the steps and lookeda littlesurprised."Miss Marple? Er - very pleased to see you.""Your wife telephoned to me," explained MissMarple."Capital, capital. She ought to have someonewith her. Shellcrack up otherwise. Shes putting a good face onthings at themoment, but you know what it is."At this moment Mrs Bantry appeared andexclaimed, "Do goback and eat your breakfast, Arthur. Your baconwill get cold."
  13. 13. "I thought it might be the inspector arriving,"explained ColonelBantry."Hell be here soon enough," said Mrs Bantry."Thats why itsimportant to get your breakfast first. You needit.""So do you. Much better come and eatsomething, Dolly." "Illcome in a minute," said Mrs Bantry. "Go on,Arthur."Colonel Bantry was shooed back into the diningroom ratherlike a recalcitrant hen."Now!" said Mrs Bantry with an intonation oftriumph. "Comeon."She led the way rapidly along the long corridor tothe east ofthe house. Outside the library door ConstablePalk stood onguard. He intercepted Mrs Bantry with a show ofauthority."Im afraid nobody is allowed in, madam.Inspectors orders.""Nonsense, Palk," said Mrs Bantry. "You knowMiss Marpleperfectly well." Constable Palk admitted toknowing MissMarple."Its very important that she should see thebody," said Mrs
  14. 14. Bantry. "Dont be stupid, Palk. After all, its mylibrary, isnt it?"Constable Palk gave way. His habit of giving in tothe gentrywas life-long. The inspector, he reflected, neednever knowabout it."Nothing must be touched or handled in anyway," he warnedthe ladies."Of course not," said Mrs Bantry impatiently. "Weknow that.You can come in and watch, if you like."Constable Palk availed himself of thispermission. It had beenhis intention anyway.Mrs Bantry bore her friend triumphantly acrossthe library tothe big old-fashioned fireplace. She said, with adramatic senseof climax, "There!"Miss Marple understood then just what her friendhad meantwhen she said the dead girl wasnt real. Thelibrary was a roomvery typical of its owners. It was large andshabby and untidy. Ithad big, sagging armchairs, and pipes and booksand estatepapers laid out on the big table. There were oneor two goodold family portraits on the walls, and some badVictorian water
  15. 15. colours, and some would-be-funny huntingscenes. There was abig vase of flowers in the corner. The whole roomwas dim andmellow and casual. It spoke of long occupationand familiar useand of links with tradition.And across the old bearskin hearth rug there wassprawledsomething new and crude and melodramatic.The flamboyant figure of a girl. A girl withunnaturally fair hairdressed up off her face in elaborate curls andrings. Her thinbody was dressed in a backless evening dress ofwhitespangled satin; the face was heavily made up,the powderstanding out grotesquely on its blue, swollensurface, themascara of the lashes lying thickly on thedistorted cheeks, thescarlet of the lips looking like a gash. Thefingernails wereenamelled a deep blood red, and so were thetoenails in theircheap silver sandal shoes. It was a cheap,tawdry, flamboyantfigure, most incongruous in the solid, old-fashioned comfort ofColonel Bantrys library. Mrs Bantry said in a lowvoice, "Yousee what I mean? It just isnt true?"
  16. 16. The old lady by her side nodded her head. Shelooked downlong and thoughtfully at the huddled figure. Shesaid at last in agentle voice, "Shes very young.""Yes, yes, I suppose she is."Mrs Bantry seemed almost surprised, like onemaking adiscovery.There was the sound of a car crunching on thegravel outside.Constable Palk said with urgency, "Thatll be theinspector."True to his ingrained belief that the gentry didntlet you down,Mrs Bantry immediately moved to the door. MissMarplefollowed her.Mrs Bantry said, "Thatll be all right, Palk"Constable Palk wasimmensely relieved. VIHastily downing the last fragments of toast andmarmalade witha drink of coffee Colonel Bantry hurried out intothe hall andwas relieved to see Colonel Melchett, the chiefconstable of thecounty, descending from a car, with InspectorSlack inattendance. Melchett was a friend of thecolonels; Slack he hadnever very much taken to. An energetic man whobelied his
  17. 17. name and who accompanied his bustling mannerwith a gooddeal of disregard for the feelings of anyone hedid not considerimportant."Morning, Bantry," said the chief constable."Thought Id bettercome along myself. This seems an extraordinarybusiness.""Its - its -" Colonel Bantry struggled to expresshimself- "itsincredible -fantastic!""No idea who the woman is?""Not in the slightest. Never set eyes on her in mylife.""Butler knows anything?" asked Inspector Slack."Lorrimer is just as taken aback as I am.""Ah," said Inspector Slack. "I wonder."Colonel Bantry said, "Theres breakfast in thedining room,Melchett, if youd like anything.""No, no, better get on with the job. Haydockought to be hereany minute now... Ah, here he is."Another car drew up and big, broad-shoulderedDoctorHaydock, who was also the police surgeon, gotout.A second police car had disgorged two plain-clothes men, onewith a camera."All set, eh?" said the chief constable. "Right.Well go along. In
  18. 18. the library, Slack tells me."Colonel Bantry groaned. "Its incredible! Youknow, when mywife insisted this morning that the housemaidhad come in andsaid there was a body in the library, I justwouldnt believe her.""No, no, I can quite understand that. Hope yourmissus isnt toobadly upset by it all.""Shes been wonderful, really wonderful. Shesgot old MissMarple up here with her from the village, youknow.""Miss Marple?" The chief constable stiffened."Why did shesend for her?" "Oh, a woman wants anotherwoman dont youthink so?"Colonel Melchett said with a slight chuckle, "Ifyou ask me, yourwifes going to try her hand at a little amateurdetecting. MissMarples quite the local sleuth. Put it over usproperly once,didnt she Slack?"Inspector Slack said, "That was different.""Different fromwhat?""That was a local case, that was, sir. The old ladyknowseverything that goes on in the village, thats trueenough. But
  19. 19. shell be out of her depth here."Melchett said dryly, "You dont know very muchabout ityourself yet, Slack.""Ah, you wait, sir. It wont take me long to getdown to it."VIIIn the dining room Mrs Bantry and Miss Marple,in their turn,were partaking of breakfast.After waiting on her guest, Mrs Bantry saidurgently, "Well,Jane?"Miss Marple looked up at her slightly bewildered.Mrs Bantry said hopefully, "Doesnt it remind youof anything?"For Miss Marple had attained fame by her abilityto link up trivialvillage happenings with graver problems in sucha way as tothrow light upon the latter."No," said Miss Marple thoughtfully. "I cant saythat it does -not at the moment. I was reminded a little of MrsChettysyoungest Edie, you know, but I think that wasjust because thispoor girl bit her nails and her front teeth stuckout a little.Nothing more than that. And of course," went onMiss Marple,pursuing the parallel further, "Edie was fond ofwhat I call
  20. 20. cheap finery too.""You mean her dress?" said Mrs Bantry. "Yes,very tawdrysatin, poor quality."Mrs Bantry said, "I know. One of those nasty littleshops whereeverything is a guinea." She went on hopefully,"Let me see.What happened to Mrs Chettys Edie?""Shes just gone into her second place, anddoing very well, Ibelieve," said Miss Marple.Mrs Bantry felt slightly disappointed. The villageparallel didntseem to be exactly hopeful."What I cant make out," said Mrs Bantry, "iswhat she couldpossibly be doing in Arthurs study. The windowwas forced,Palk tells me. She might have come down herewith a burglar,and then they quarrelled. But that seems suchnonsense,doesnt it?""She was hardly dressed for burglary," said MissMarplethoughtfully."No, she was dressed for dancing or a party ofsome kind. Buttheres nothing of that kind down here oranywhere near.""N-no," said Miss Marple doubtfully.
  21. 21. Mrs Bantry pounced. "Somethings in your mind,Jane.""Well, I was just wondering -""Yes?""Basil Blake."Mrs Bantry cried impulsively, "Oh, no!" andadded as though inexplanation, "I know his mother."The two women looked at each other.Miss Marple sighed and shook her head. "I quiteunderstandhow you feel about it.""Selina Blake is the nicest woman imaginable.Her herbaceousborders are simply marvellous; they make megreen with envy.And shes frightfully generous with cuttings."Miss Marple, passing over these claims toconsideration on thepart of Mrs Blake, said, "All the same, you know,there has beena lot of talk.""Oh, I know, I know. And of course Arthur goessimply lividwhen he hears him mentioned. He was really veryrude toArthur, and since then Arthur wont hear a goodword for him.Hes got that silly slighting way of talking thatthese boys havenowadays - sneering at people, sticking up fortheir school or
  22. 22. the Empire or that sort of thing. And then, ofcourse, the clotheshe wears! People say," continued Mrs Bantry,"that it doesntmatter what you wear in the country. I neverheard suchnonsense. Its just in the country that everyonenotices." Shepaused and added wistfully, "He was an adorablebaby in hisbath.""There was a lovely picture of the Cheviotmurderer as a babyin the paper last Sunday," said Miss Marple."Oh, but, Jane, you dont think he -""No, no, dear, I didnt mean that at all. That wouldindeed bejumping to conclusions. I was just trying toaccount for theyoung womans presence down here. St MaryMead is such anunlikely place. And then it seemed to me that theonly possibleexplanation was Basil Blake. He does haveparties. Peoplecome down from London and from the studios.You rememberlast July? Shouting and singing, the most terriblenoise,everyone very drunk, Im afraid, and the messand the brokenglass next morning simply unbelievable. So oldMrs Berry told
  23. 23. me and a young woman asleep in the bath withpracticallynothing on!"Mrs Bantry said indulgently, "I suppose theywere youngpeople.""Very likely. And then what I expect youve heardseveralweekends lately hes brought down a youngwoman with him. Aplatinum blonde."Mrs Bantry exclaimed, "You dont think its thisone?""Well, I wondered. Of course, Ive never seen herclose, onlyjust getting in and out of the car, and once in thecottagegarden when she was sunbathing with just someshorts and abrassiere. I never really saw her face. And allthese girls, withtheir make-up and their hair and their nails, lookso alike.""Yes. Still, it might be. Its an idea, Jane."Chapter 2It was an idea that was being at that momentdiscussed byColonel Melchett and Colonel Bantry.The chief constable, after viewing the body andseeing his
  24. 24. subordinates set to work on their routine tasks,had adjournedwith the master of the house to the study in theother wing.Colonel Melchett was an irascible-looking manwith a habit oftugging at his short red moustache. He did sonow, shooting aperplexed sideways glance at the other man.Finally he rappedout, "Look here, Bantry; got to get this off mychest. Is it a factthat you dont know from Adam who this womanis?"The others answer was explosive, but the chiefconstableinterrupted him."Yes, yes, old man, but look at it like this: mightbe deucedawkward for you. Married man fond of yourmissus and all that.But just between ourselves, if you were tied upwith this girl inany way, better say so now. Quite natural to wantto suppressthe fact; should feel the same myself. But it wontdo. Murdercase. Facts bound to come out. Dash it all, Imnot suggestingyou strangled the girl -not the sort of thing youddo. I knowthat! But, after all, she came here to this house.Put it, she
  25. 25. broke in and was waiting to see you, and somebloke or otherfollowed her down and did her in. Possible, youknow. See whatI mean?""Ive never set eyes on that girl in my life! Im notthat sort ofman!""Thats all right then. Shouldnt blame you, youknow. Man ofthe world. Still, if you say so. Question is, whatwas she doingdown here? She doesnt come from these parts,thats quitecertain.""That whole things a nightmare," fumed theangry master ofthe house. "The point is, old man, what was shedoing in yourlibrary?" "How should I know? I didnt ask herhere.""No, no. But she came here all the same. Looksas though shewanted to see you. You havent had any oddletters oranything?""No, I havent."Colonel Melchett inquired delicately, "What wereyou doingyourself last night?""I went to the meeting of the ConservativeAssociation. Nineoclock, at Much Benham."
  26. 26. "And you got home when?""I left Much Benham just after ten. Had a bit oftrouble on theway home, had to change a wheel. I got back at aquarter totwelve.""You didnt go into the library?""No.""Pity.""I was tired. I went straight up to bed.""Anyone waiting up for you?""No. I always take the latchkey. Lorrimer goes tobed at eleven,unless I give orders to the contrary.""Who shuts up the library?""Lorrimer. Usually about seven-thirty this time ofyear.""Would he go in there again during the evening?""Not with my being out. He left the tray withwhiskey andglasses in the hall.""I see. What about your wife?""She was in bed when I got home, and fastasleep. She mayhave sat in the library yesterday evening, or inthe drawingroom. I didnt ask her.""Oh, well, we shall soon know all the details. Ofcourse itspossible one of the servants may be concerned,eh?"Colonel Bantry shook his head. "I dont believe it.Theyre all a
  27. 27. most respectable lot. Weve had em for years."Melchett agreed. "Yes, it doesnt seem likely thattheyre mixedup in it. Looks more as though the girl camedown from townperhaps with some young fellow. Though whythey wanted tobreak into this house..."Bantry interrupted. "London. Thats more like it.We dont havegoings-on down here - at least-""Well, what is it?""Upon my word!" exploded Colonel Bantry."Basil Blake!""Whos he?""Young fellow connected with the film industry.Poisonousyoung brute. My wife sticks up for him becauseshe was atschool with his mother, but of all the decadentuseless youngJackanapes he wants his behind kicked. Hestaken thatcottage on the Lansham Road you know, ghastlymodern bit ofbuilding. He has parties there shrieking, noisycrowds and hehas girls down for the weekend.""Girls?""Yes, there was one last week one of theseplatinum blondes."The colonels jaw dropped.
  28. 28. "A platinum blonde, eh?" said Melchettreflectively. "Yes. I say,Melchett, you dont think..."The chief constable said briskly, "Its apossibility. It accountsfor a girl of this type being in St Mary Mead. Ithink Ill run alongand have a word with this young fellow - Braid -Blake - what didyou say his name was?""Blake. Basil Blake.""Will he be at home, do you know?" askedMelchett."Let me see, whats today? Saturday? Usuallygets here sometime Saturday morning."Melchett said grimly, "Well see if we can findhim."Basil Blakes cottage, which consisted of allmodernconveniences enclosed in a hideous shell of halftimbering andsham Tudor, was known to the postal authoritiesand to WilliamBooker, Builder, as "Chatsworth"; to Basil andhis friends as"The Period Piece"; and to the village of St MaryMead at largeas "Mr Bookers new house."It was little more than a quarter of a mile from thevillageproper, being situated on a new building estatethat had been
  29. 29. bought by the enterprising Mr Booker justbeyond the BlueBoar, with frontage on what had been aparticularly unspoiledcountry lane. Gossington Hall was about a milefarther on alongthe same road.Lively interest had been aroused in St Mary Meadwhen thenews went round that "Mr Bookers new house"had beenbought by a film star. Eager watch was kept forthe firstappearance of the legendary creature in thevillage, and it maybe said that as far as appearances went BasilBlake was all thatcould be asked for. Little by little, however, thereal factsleaked out. Basil Blake was not a film star, noteven a film actor.He was a very junior person, rejoicing in theposition of aboutfifteenth in the list of those responsible for setdecorations atLenville Studios, headquarters of British New EraFilms. Thevillage maidens lost interest and the ruling classof censoriousspinsters took exception to Basil Blakes way oflife. Only thelandlord of the Blue Boar continued to beenthusiastic about
  30. 30. Basil and Basils friends. The revenues of theBlue Boar hadincreased since the young mans arrival in theplace.The police car stopped outside the distortedrustic gate of MrBookers fancy, and Colonel Melchett, with aglance of distasteat the excessive half timbering of Chatsworth,strode up to thefront door and attacked it briskly with theknocker.It was opened much more promptly than he hadexpected. Ayoung man with straight, somewhat long blackhair, wearingorange corduroy trousers and a royal-blue shirt,snapped out,"Well, what do you want?""Are you Mr Basil Blake?""Of course I am.""I should be glad to have a few words with you ifI may, MrBlake.""Who are you?""I am Colonel Melchett, the chief constable of thecounty."Mr Blake said insolently, "You dont say so. Howamusing."And Colonel Melchett, following the other in,understoodprecisely what Colonel Bantrys reactions hadbeen. The toe of
  31. 31. his own boot itched.Containing himself, however, he said, with anattempt to speakpleasantly, "Youre an early riser, Mr Blake.""Not at all. I havent been to bed yet." "Indeed?""But I dont suppose youve come here to inquireinto my hoursof bed-going, or if you have its rather a waste ofthe countystime and money. What is it you want to speak tome about?"Colonel Melchett cleared his throat. "Iunderstand, Mr Blake,that last weekend you had a visitor a... er... fair-haired younglady."Basil Blake stared, threw back his head androared withlaughter."Have the old cats been on to you from thevillage? About mymorals? Damn it all, morals arent a policematter. You knowthat.""As you say," said Melchett dryly, "your moralsare no concernof mine. I have come to you because the body ofa fair-hairedyoung woman of slightly... er... exotic appearancehas beenfound murdered."Blake stared at him. "Where?" "In the library atGossington
  32. 32. Hall.""At Gossington? At old Bantrys? I say, thatspretty rich. OldBantry! The dirty old man!"Colonel Melchett went very red in the face. Hesaid sharplythrough the renewed mirth of the young manopposite him,"Kindly control your tongue, sir. I came to askyou if you canthrow any light on this business.""Youve come round to ask me it Ive missed ablonde? Is thatit? Why should -Hullo, ullo, ullo! Whats this?"A car had drawn up outside with a scream ofbrakes. Out of ittumbled a young woman dressed in flappingblack-and-whitepyjamas. She had scarlet lips, blackenedeyelashes and aplatinum-blond head. She strode up to the door,flung it open,and exclaimed angrily, "Why did you run out onme?"Basil Blake had risen. "So there you are. Whyshouldnt I leaveyou? I told you to clear out, and you wouldnt.""Why should I, because you told me to? I wasenjoying myself.""Yes, with that filthy brute, Rosenberg. You knowwhat heslike." "You were jealous, thats all."
  33. 33. "Dont flatter yourself. I hate to see a girl I likewho cant holdher drink and lets a disgusting Central Europeanpaw herabout.""Thats a lie. You were drinking pretty hardyourself and goingon with the black-haired Spanish girl.""If I take you to a party, I expect you to be able tobehaveyourself.""And I refuse to be dictated to, and thats that.You said wed goto the party and come on down here afterward.Im not going toleave a party before Im ready to leave it.""No, and thats why I left you flat. I was ready tocome downhere and I came. I dont hang round waiting forany fool of awoman.""Sweet, polite person you are.""You seem to have followed me down, all right.""I wanted to tell you what I thought of you.""If you think you can boss me, my girl, yourewrong.""And if you think you can order me about, youcan think again."They glared at each other. It was at this momentthat ColonelMelchett seized his opportunity and cleared histhroat loudly.Basil Blake swung round on him.
  34. 34. "Hullo, I forgot you were here. About time youtook yourself off,isnt it? Let me introduce you Dinah Lee. ColonelBlimp, of thecounty police... And now, Colonel, that youveseen that myblonde is alive and in good condition, perhapsyoull get on withthe good work concerning old Bantrys little bit offluff. Goodmorning."Colonel Melchett said, "I advise you to keep acivil tongue inyour head, young man, or youll let yourself in fortrouble," andstumped out, his face red and wrathful.Chapter 3In his office at Much Benham, Colonel Melchettreceived andscrutinized the reports of his subordinates."... so it all seems clear enough, sir," InspectorSlack wasconcluding. "Mrs Bantry sat in the library afterdinner and wentto bed just before ten. She turned out the lightswhen she leftthe room, and presumably no one entered theroom afterward.The servants went to bed at half past ten, andLorrimer, after
  35. 35. putting the drinks in the hall, went to bed at aquarter to eleven.Nobody heard anything out of the usual, exceptthe thirdhousemaid, and she heard too much! Groans andabloodcurdling yell and sinister footsteps and Idont know what.The second housemaid, who shares a room withher, says theother girl slept all night through without a sound.Its those onesthat make up things that cause us all thetrouble.""What about the forced window?""Amateur job, Simmons says, done with acommon chisel,ordinary pattern; wouldnt have made muchnoise. Ought to bea chisel about the house, but nobody can find it.Still, thatscommon enough where tools are concerned.""Think any of the servants know anything?"Rather unwillingly Inspector Slack replied, "No,sir. I dont thinkthey do. They all seemed very shocked andupset. I had mysuspicions of Lorrimer - reticent, he was, if youknow what Imean - but I dont think theres anything in it."Melchett nodded. He attached no importance toLorrimers
  36. 36. reticence. The energetic Inspector Slack oftenproduced thateffect on the people he interrogated. The dooropened andDoctor Haydock came in."Thought Id look in and give you the rough gistof things." "Yes,yes, glad to see you. Well?""Nothing much. Just what youd think. Death wasdue tostrangulation. Satin waistband of her own dress,which waspassed round the neck and crossed at the back.Quite easy andsimple to do. Wouldnt have needed greatstrength -that is, ifthe girl was taken by surprise. There are no signsof astruggle.""What about time of death?""Say between ten oclock and midnight." "Youcant get nearerthan that?"Haydock shook his head with a slight grin. "Iwont risk myprofessional reputation. Not earlier than ten andnot later thanmidnight.""And your own fancy inclines to which time?""Depends. There was a fire in the grate, the roomwas warm -all that would delay rigor and cadavericstiffening."
  37. 37. "Anything more you can say about her?""Nothing much. She was young - aboutseventeen or eighteen, Ishould say. Rather immature in some ways butwell developedmuscularly. Quite a healthy specimen. She wasvirgo intacta, bythe way." And with a nod of his head the doctorleft the room.Melchett said to the inspector, "Youre quite sureshed neverbeen seen before at Gossington?""The servants are positive of that. Quiteindignant about it.Theyd have remembered if theyd ever seen herabout in theneighbourhood, they say.""I expect they would," said Melchett. "Anyone ofthat typesticks out a mile round here. Look at that youngwoman ofBlakes.""Pity it wasnt her," said Slack. "Then we shouldbe able to geton a bit.""It seems to me this girl must have come downfrom London,"said the chief constable thoughtfully. "Dontbelieve there willbe any local leads. In that case, I suppose, weshould do well tocall in the Yard. Its a case for them, not for us."
  38. 38. "Something must have brought her down here,though," saidSlack. He added tentatively, "Seems to meColonel and MrsBantry must know something. Of course I knowtheyre friendsof yours, sir."Colonel Melchett treated him to a cold stare. Hesaid stiffly,"You may rest assured that Im taking everypossibility intoaccount. Every possibility." He went on, "Youvelooked throughthe list of persons reported missing, I suppose?"Slack nodded. He produced a typed sheet. "Gotem here. MrsSaunders, reported missing a week ago, dark-haired, blueeyed,thirty-six. Tisnt her. And anyway, everyoneknows,except her husband, that shes gone off with afellow fromLeeds commercial. Mrs Barnard - shes sixty-five.PamelaReeves, sixteen, missing from her home lastnight, hadattended Girl Guide rally, dark brown hair inpigtails, five feetfive -"Melchett said irritably, "Dont go on readingidiotic detailsSlack. This wasnt a schoolgirl. In my opinion -"He broke off as
  39. 39. the telephone rang."Hullo... Yes, yes. Much Benham policeheadquarters...What?... Just a minute." He listened and wroterapidly. Then hespoke again, a new tone in his voice. "RubyKeene, eighteen,occupation, professional dancer, five feet fourinches, slender,platinum-blond hair, blue eyes, retrousse nose,believed to bewearing white diamante evening dress, silversandal shoes. Isthat right?... What?... Yes, not a doubt of it, Ishould say. Illsend Slack over at once."He rang off and looked at his subordinate withrisingexcitement. "Weve got it, I think. That was theGlenshirepolice." Glenshire was the adjoining county. "Girlreportedmissing from the Majestic Hotel, Danemouth.""Danemouth," said Inspector Slack. "Thats morelike it."Danemouth was a large and fashionable wateringplace on thecoast not far away."Its only a matter of eighteen miles or so fromhere," said thechief constable. "The girl was a dance hostess orsomething at
  40. 40. the Majestic. Didnt come on to do her turn lastnight and themanagement was very fed up about it. When shewas stillmissing this morning, one of the other girls gotthe wind upabout her, or someone else did. It sounds a bitobscure. Youdbetter go over to Danemouth at once Slack.Report there toSuperintendent Harper and cooperate with him."Chapter 4Activity was always to Inspector Slacks taste. Torush in a car,to silence rudely those people who were anxiousto tell himthings, to cut short conversations on the plea ofurgentnecessity all this was the breath of life toInspector Slack.In an incredibly short time, therefore, he hadarrived atDanemouth, reported at police headquarters, hada briefinterview with a distracted and apprehensivehotel manager,and, leaving the latter with the doubtful comfortof "Got to makesure it is the girl first, before we start raising thewind," was
  41. 41. driving back to Much Benham in company withRuby Keenesnearest relative.He had put through a short call to Much Benhambefore leavingDanemouth, so the chief constable was preparedfor his arrival,though not perhaps for the brief introduction of"This is Josie,sir."Colonel Melchett stared at his subordinate coldly.His feelingwas that Slack had taken leave of his senses.The young woman who had just got out of the carcame to therescue."Thats what Im known as professionally," sheexplained with amomentary flash of large, handsome white teeth."Raymondand Josie, my partner and I call ourselves, and ofcourse all thehotel know me as Josie. Josephine Turners myreal name."Colonel Melchett adjusted himself to the situationand invitedMiss Turner to sit down, meanwhile casting aswift professionalglance over her.She was a good-looking young woman ofperhaps nearer thirtythan twenty; her looks depending more on skilfulgrooming than
  42. 42. actual features. She looked competent and good-tempered,with plenty of common sense. She was not thetype that wouldever be described as glamorous, but she had,nevertheless,plenty of attraction. She was discreetly made upand wore adark tailor-made suit. She looked anxious andupset, but not,the colonel decided, particularly grief-stricken.As she satdown she said, "It all seems too awful to be true.Do you reallythink its Ruby?""That, Im afraid, is what weve got to ask you totell us. Imafraid it may be rather unpleasant for you."Miss Turner said apprehensively, "Does she...does she lookvery terrible?""Well, Im afraid it may be rather a shock to you.""Do do youwant me to look at her right away?""It would be best, I think, Miss Turner. You see,its not muchgood asking you questions until were sure. Bestget it over,dont you think?""All right."They drove down to the mortuary.When Josie came in after a brief visit she lookedrather sick.
  43. 43. "Its Ruby, right," she said shakily. "Poor girl!Goodness, I dowish it wasnt -" she looked round wistfully.Whisky was not available, but brandy was andafter a little whileMiss Turner regained her composure. She saidfrankly, "It givesyou a turn, doesnt it, seeing anything like that?Poor little Ruby!What swine men are, arent they?""You believe it was a man?"Josie looked slightly taken aback. "Wasnt it?Well, I mean Inaturally thought -""Any special man you were thinking of?"She shook her head vigorously. "No, not me. Ihavent the leastidea. Naturally, Ruby wouldnt have let on to me if-""If what?"Josie hesitated. "Well, if shed been going aboutwith anyone."Melchett shot her a keen glance. He said no moreuntil theywere back at his office. Then he began, "Now,Miss Turner, Iwant all the information you can give me.""Yes, of course. Where shall I begin?""Id like the girls full name and address, herrelationship to youand all that you know about her."Josephine Turner nodded. Melchett wasconfirmed in his
  44. 44. opinion that she felt no particular grief. She wasshocked anddistressed, but no more. She spoke readilyenough."Her name was Ruby Keene - her professionalname, that is.Her real name was Rosy Legge. Her mother wasmy motherscousin. Ive known her all my life, but notparticularly well, if youknow what I mean. I ve got a lot of cousins;some in business,some on the stage. Ruby was more or lesstraining for a dancer.She had some good engagements last year inpantomime andthat sort of thing. Not really classy, but goodprovincialcompanies. Since then shes been engaged asone of thedancing partners at the Palais de Danse inBrixwell, SouthLondon. Its a nice, respectable place and theylook after thegirls well, but there isnt a great deal of money init."She paused. Colonel Melchett nodded."Now this is where I come in. Ive been dance andbridgehostess at the Majestic in Danemouth for threeyears. Its agood job, well paid and pleasant to do. You lookafter people
  45. 45. when they arrive. Size them up, of course - somelike to be leftalone and others are lonely and want to get intothe swing ofthings. You try and get the right people togetherfor bridge andall that, and get the young people dancing withone another. Itneeds a bit of tact and experience."Again Melchett nodded. He thought that this girlwould be goodat her job. She had a pleasant, friendly way withher and was,he thought, shrewd without being in the leastintellectual."Besides that," continued Josie, "I do a couple ofexhibitiondances every evening with Raymond. RaymondStarr - hes thetennis and dancing pro. Well, as it happens, thissummer Islipped on the rocks bathing one day and gavemy ankle a nastyturn."Melchett had noticed that she walked with aslight limp."Naturally, that put the stop to dancing for a bitand it wasrather awkward. I didnt want the hotel to getsomeone else inmy place. Theres always a danger -" for a minuteher goodnatured
  46. 46. blue eyes were hard and sharp; she was thefemalefighting for existence - "that they may queer yourpitch, yousee. So I thought of Ruby and suggested to themanager that Ishould get her down. Id carry on with thehostess business andthe bridge and all that. Ruby would just take onthe dancing.Keep it in the family, if you see what I mean."Melchett said he saw."Well, they agreed, and I wired to Ruby and shecame down.Rather a chance for her. Much better class thananything shedever done before. That was about a month ago."Colonel Melchett said, "I understand. And shewas a success?""Oh, yes," Josie said carelessly. "She went downquite well.She doesnt dance as well as I do, but Raymondsclever andcarried her through, and she was quite nice-looking, you know -slim and fair and baby-looking. Overdid themake-up a bit I wasalways at her about that. But you know what girlsare. She wasonly eighteen, and at that age they always go andoverdo it. Itdoesnt do for a good-class place like theMajestic. I was always
  47. 47. ticking her off about it and getting her to tone itdown."Melchett asked, "People liked her?""Oh, yes. Mind you, Ruby hadnt got much come-back. She wasa bit dumb. She went down better with the oldermen than withthe young ones.""Had she got any special friend?"The girls eyes met his with completeunderstanding."Not in the way you mean. Or, at any rate, notthat I knew about.But then, you see, she wouldnt tell me."Just for a moment Melchett wondered why not.Josie did notgive the impression of being a strictdisciplinarian. But he onlysaid, "Will you describe to me now when you lastsaw yourcousin.""Last night. She and Raymond do two exhibitiondances. One atten-thirty and the other at midnight. They finishedthe first one.After it, I noticed Ruby dancing with one of theyoung menstaying at the hotel. I was playing bridge withsome people inthe lounge. Theres a glass panel between thelounge and theballroom. Thats the last time I saw her. Just aftermidnight
  48. 48. Raymond came up in a terrible taking; said wherewas Ruby;she hadnt turned up and it was time to begin. Iwas vexed, I cantell you! Thats the sort of silly things girls doand get themanagements back up, and then they get thesack! I went upwith him to her room, but she wasnt there. Inoticed that shedchanged; the dress shed been dancing in - a sortof pink, foamything with full skirts - was lying over a chair.Usually she keptthe same dress on, unless it was the specialdance night -Wednesdays, that is."Id no idea where shed got to. We got the bandto play onemore fox trot. Still no Ruby, so I said to RaymondId do theexhibition dance with him. We chose one thatwas easy on myankle and made it short, but it played up myankle pretty badlyall the same. Its all swollen this morning. StillRuby didnt showup. We sat about waiting up for her until twooclock. Furiouswith her, I was."Her voice vibrated slightly. Melchett caught thenote of real
  49. 49. anger in it. Just for a moment, he wondered. Hehad a feeling ofsomething deliberately left unsaid. He said, "Andthis morning,when Ruby Keene had not returned and her bedhad not beenslept in, you went to the police?"He knew, from Slacks brief telephone messagefromDanemouth, that that was not the case. But hewanted to hearwhat Josephine Turner would say.She did not hesitate. She said, "No, I didnt.""Why not, Miss Turner?"Her eyes met his frankly. She said, "You wouldnt- in my place!""You think not?"Josie said, "Ive got my job to think about! Theone thing a hoteldoesnt want is scandal - especially anything thatbrings in thepolice. I didnt think anything had happened toRuby. Not for aminute! I thought shed just made a fool ofherself about someyoung man. I thought shed turn up all right, and Iwas going togive her a good dressing down when she did!Girls of eighteenare such fools."Melchett pretended to glance through his notes."Ah, yes, I see
  50. 50. it was a Mr Jefferson who went to the police. Oneof the guestsstaying at the hotel?"Josephine Turner said shortly, "Yes."Colonel Melchett asked, "What made this MrJefferson dothat?"Josie was stroking the cuff of her jacket. Therewas aconstraint in her manner. Again Colonel Melchetthad a feelingthat something was being withheld.She said rather sullenly, "Hes an invalid. He hegets upsetrather easily. Being an invalid, I mean."Melchett passed from that. He asked, "Who wasthe young manwith whom you last saw your cousin dancing?""His names Bartlett. Hes been there about tendays." "Werethey on very friendly terms?""Not specially, I should say. Not that I knew,anyway." Again acurious note of anger in her voice."What does he have to say?""Said that after their dance Ruby went upstairs topowder hernose.""That was when she changed her dress?""I suppose so.""And that is the last thing you know? After that,she just -""Vanished," said Josie. "Thats right."
  51. 51. "Did Miss Keene know anybody in St Mary Mead?Or in thisneighbourhood?""I dont know. She may have. You see, quite a lotof young mencome in to Danemouth to the Majestic, from allround about. Iwouldnt know where they lived unless theyhappened tomention it.""Did you ever hear your cousin mentionGossington?""Gossington?" Josie looked patently puzzled."GossingtonHall."She shookher head. "Never heard of it." Her tonecarriedconviction. There was curiosity in it too."Gossington Hall," explained Colonel Melchett,"is where herbody was found." "Gossington Hall?" She stared."Howextraordinary!"Melchett thought to himself: Extraordinarys theword. Aloud hesaid, "Do you know a Colonel or Mrs Bantry?"Again Josie shook her head."Or a Mr Basil Blake?"She frowned slightly. "I think Ive heard thatname. Yes, Im sureI have, but I dont remember anything about him."The diligent Inspector Slack slid across to hissuperior officer a
  52. 52. page torn from his notebook On it was pencilled:"Col. Bantrydined at Majestic last week."Melchett looked up and met the inspectors eye.The chiefconstable flushed. Slack was an industrious andzealous officerand Melchett disliked him a good deal, but hecould notdisregard the challenge. The inspector wastacitly accusinghim of favouring his own class, of shielding an"old school tie."He turned to Josie."Miss Turner, I should like you, if you do notmind, toaccompany me to Gossington Hall."Coldly, defiantly, almost ignoring Josies murmurof assent,Melchetts eyes met Slacks.Chapter 5St Mary Mead was having the most excitingmorning it hadknown for a long time.Miss Wetherby, a long-nosed, acidulatedspinster, was the firstto spread the intoxicating information. Shedropped in upon herfriend and neighbour Miss Hartnell."Forgive my coming so early, dear, but I thoughtperhaps you
  53. 53. mightnt have heard the news.""What news?" demanded Miss Hartnell. She hada deep bassvoice and visited the poor indefatigably, howeverhard theytried to avoid her ministrations."About the body of a young woman that wasfound this morningin Colonel Bantrys library.""In Colonel Bantrys library?""Yes. Isnt it terrible?""His poor wife!" Miss Hartnell tried to disguiseher deep andardent pleasure."Yes, indeed. I dont suppose she had any idea."Miss Hartnell observed censoriously, "Shethought too muchabout her garden and not enough about herhusband. Youvegot to keep an eye on a man all the time, all thetime," repeatedMiss Hartnell fiercely."I know. I know. Its really too dreadful.""I wonder what Jane Marple will say? Do youthink she knewanything about it? Shes so sharp about thesethings.""Jane Marple has gone up to Gossington.""What? Thismorning?" "Very early. Before breakfast.""But really! I do think - well, I mean, I think that iscarrying
  54. 54. things too far. We all know Jane likes to poke hernose intothings, but I call this indecent!""Oh, but Mrs Bantry sent for her.""Mrs Bantry sent for her?""Well, the car came. With Muswell driving it.""Dear me. How very peculiar."They were silent a minute or two, digesting thenews."Whose body?" demanded Miss Hartnell."You know that dreadful woman who comesdown with BasilBlake?""That terrible peroxide blonde?" Miss Hartnellwas slightlybehind the times. She had not yet advanced fromperoxide toplatinum. "The one who lies about in the gardenwith practicallynothing on?""Yes, my dear. There she was on the hearth rugstrangled!""But what do you mean - at Gossington?"Miss Wetherby nodded with infinite meaning."Then Colonel Bantry too -"Again Miss Wetherby nodded."Oh!"There was a pause as the ladies savoured thisnew addition tovillage scandal."What a wicked woman!" trumpeted Miss Hartnellwith
  55. 55. righteous wrath. "Quite, quite abandoned, Imafraid!""And Colonel Bantry such a nice quiet man..."Miss Wetherby said zestfully, "Those quiet onesare often theworst. Jane Marple always says so."IIMrs Price Ridley was among the last to hear thenews. A richand dictatorial widow, she lived in a large housenext door tothe vicarage. Her informant was her little maid,Clara."A woman, you say, Clara? Found dead onColonel Bantryshearth rug?""Yes, mam. And they say, mam, as she hadntanything on at all,mam not a stitch!""That will do, Clara. It is not necessary to go intodetails.""No, mam, and they say, mam, that at first theythought it wasMr Blakes young lady what comes down for theweekends withim to Mr Bookers new ouse. But now they sayits quite adifferent young lady. And the fishmongersyoung man, he sayshed never have believed it of Colonel Bantry notwith himhanding round the plate on Sundays and all."
  56. 56. "There is a lot of wickedness in the world, Clara,"said MrsPrice Ridley. "Let this be a warning to you.""Yes, mam. Mother, she never will let me take aplace wheretheres a gentleman in the ouse.""That will do, Clara," said Mrs Price Ridley.IllIt was only a step from Mrs Price Ridleys houseto the vicarage.Mrs Price Ridley was fortunate enough to find thevicar in hisstudy.The vicar, a gentle, middle-aged man was alwaysthe last tohear anything."Such a terrible thing," said Mrs Price Ridley,panting a littlebecause she had come rather fast. "I felt I musthave youradvice, your counsel about it, dear vicar."Mr Clement looked mildly alarmed. He said, "Hasanythinghappened?""Has anything happened!" Mrs Price Ridleyrepeated thequestion dramatically. "The most terriblescandal! None of ushad any idea of it. An abandoned woman,completelyunclothed, strangled on Colonel Bantrys hearthrug!"
  57. 57. The vicar stared. He said, "You... you are feelingquite well?""No wonder you cant believe it! I couldnt at first!Thehypocrisy of the man! All these years.""Please tell me exactly what all this is about."Mrs Price Ridley plunged into a full-swingnarrative. When shehad finished, the Reverend Mr Clement saidmildly, "But there isnothing, is there, to point to Colonel Bantrysbeing involved inthis?""Oh, dear vicar, you are so unworldly! But I musttell you a littlestory. Last Thursday - or was it the Thursdaybefore - well, itdoesnt matter -1 was going to London by thecheap day train.Colonel Bantry was in the same carriage. Helooked, I thought,very abstracted. And nearly the whole way heburied himselfbehind The Times. As though, you know, hedidnt want to talk."The vicar nodded his head with completecomprehension andpossible sympathy."At Paddington I said goodbye. He had offered tocall me a taxi,but I was taking the bus down to Oxford Street;but he got into
  58. 58. one, and I distinctly heard him tell the driver togo to - Where doyou think?"Mr Clement looked inquiring."An address in St Johns Wood!" Mrs PriceRidley bellowedtriumphantly.The vicar remained completely withoutunderstanding."That, I consider, proves it," said Mrs PriceRidley.IVAt Gossington Mrs Bantry and Miss Marple werein the drawingroom."You know," said Mrs Bantry, "I cant help feelingglad theyvetaken the body away. Its not nice to have a bodyin oneshouse."Miss Marple nodded. "I know, dear. I know justhow you feel.""You cant," said Mrs Bantry. "Not until youvehad one. I knowyou had one next door once, but thats not thesame thing. I onlyhope," she went on - "that Arthur wont take adislike to thelibrary. We sit there so much. What are youdoing, Jane?"For Miss Marple, with a glance at her watch, wasrising to her
  59. 59. feet. "Well, I was thinking Id go home, if theresnothing more Ican do for you.""Dont go yet," said Mrs Bantry. "The fingerprintmen and thephotographers and most of the police have gone,I know, but Istill feel something might happen. You dont wantto missanything."The telephone rang and she went off to answer.She returnedwith a beaming face."I told you more things would happen. That wasColonelMelchett. Hes bringing the poor girls cousinalong.""I wonder why?" said Miss Marple."Oh, I suppose to see where it happened, and allthat.""More than that, I expect," said Miss Marple."What do you mean, Jane?""Well, I think, perhaps, he might want her to meetColonelBantry."Mrs Bantry said sharply, "To see if sherecognizes him? Isuppose oh, yes, I suppose theyre bound tosuspect Arthur.""Im afraid so.""As though Arthur could have anything to dowith it!"
  60. 60. Miss Marple was silent. Mrs Bantry turned on heraccusingly."And dont tell me about some frightful old manwho kept hishousemaid, Arthur isnt like that.""No, no, of course not""No, but he really isnt. Hes just, sometimes, alittle bit sillyabout pretty girls who come to tennis. You know,rather famousand avuncular. Theres no harm in it. And whyshouldnt he?After all," finished Mrs Bantry rather obscurely,"Ive got thegarden."Miss Marple smiled."You must not worry Dolly," she said."No, I dont mean to. But all the same I do, a little.So doesArthur. Its upset him. All these policemenlooking about. Hesgone down to the farm. Looking at pigs andthings alwayssoothes him if hes been upset... Hullo, here theyare."The chief constables car drew up outside.Colonel Melchett came in, accompanied by asmartly dressedyoung woman."This is Miss Turner, Mrs Bantry. The cousin ofthe... er...victim."
  61. 61. "How do you do," said Mrs Bantry, advancingwith outstretchedhand. "All this must be rather awful for you."Josephine Turner said frankly, "Oh, it is. None ofit seems real,somehow. Its like a bad dream."Mrs Bantry introduced Miss Marple.Melchett said casually, "Your good man about?""He had to go down to one of the farms. Hell beback soon.""Oh." Melchett seemed rather at a loss.Mrs Bantry said to Josie, "Would you like to seewhere, where ithappened? Or would you rather not?"Josephine said, after a moments pause, "I thinkId like to see."Mrs Bantry led her to the library, with MissMarple and Melchettfollowing behind."She was there," said Mrs Bantry, pointingdramatically. "Onthe hearth rug.""Oh!" Josie shuddered. But she also lookedperplexed. Shesaid, her brow creased, "I just cant understandit! I cant!""Well, we certainly cant," said Mrs Bantry.Josie said slowly, "It isnt the sort of place -" andbroke off.Miss Marple nodded her head gently inagreement with theunfinished sentiment.
  62. 62. "That," she murmured, "is what makes it so veryinteresting.""Come now Miss Marple," said ColonelMelchettgoodhumouredly,"havent you got an explanation?""Oh, yes, Ive got an explanation," said MissMarple. "Quite afeasible one. But of course its only my own idea.Tommy Bond,"she continued, "and Mrs Martin, our newschoolmistress. Shewent to wind up the clock and a frog jumpedout."Josephine Turner looked puzzled. As they allwent out of theroom she murmured to Mrs Bantry, "Is the oldlady a bit funny inthe head?""Not at all," said Mrs Bantry indignantly.Josie said, "Sorry. I thought perhaps she thoughtshe was afrog or something."Colonel Bantry was just coming in through theside door.Melchett hailed him and watched JosephineTurner as heintroduced them. But there was no sign ofinterest orrecognition in her face. Melchett breathed a sighof relief.Curse Slack and his insinuations.In answer to Mrs Bantrys questions, Josie waspouring out the
  63. 63. story of Ruby Keenes disappearance."Frightfully worrying for you, my dear," said MrsBantry."I was more angry than worried," said Josie."You see, I didntknow then.""And yet," said Miss Marple, "you went to thepolice. Wasntthat, excuse me, rather premature?"Josie said eagerly, "Oh, but I didnt. That was MrJefferson."Mrs Bantry said, "Jefferson?" "Yes, hes aninvalid.""Not Conway Jefferson? But I know him well.Hes an old friendof ours... Arthur, listen. Conway Jefferson, hesstaying at theMajestic, and it was he who notified the police!Isnt that acoincidence?"Josephine Turner said, "Mr Jefferson was therelast summertoo.""Fancy! And we never knew. I havent seen himfor a long time."She turned to Josie. "How how is he nowadays?"Josie considered. "I think hes wonderful, reallyquitewonderful. Considering, I mean. Hes alwayscheerful alwaysgot a joke.""Are the family there with him?"
  64. 64. "Mr Gaskell, you mean? And young MrsJefferson? And Peter?Oh, yes."There was something inhibiting in JosephineTurners ratherattractive frankness of manner. When she spokeof theJeffersons there was something not quite naturalin her voice.Mrs Bantry said, "Theyre both very nice, arentthey? Theyoung ones, I mean."Josie said rather uncertainly, "Oh, yes; yes, theyare. They arereally."V"And what," demanded Mrs Bantry as she lookedthrough thewindow at the retreating car of the chiefconstable, "did shemean by that? They are really. Dont you think,Jane, thattheres something -"Miss Marple fell upon the words eagerly."Oh, I do; indeed I do. Its quite unmistakable!Her mannerchanged at once when the Jeffersons werementioned. She hadseemed quite natural up to then.""But what do you think it is, Jane?""Well, my dear, you know them. All I feel is thatthere is
  65. 65. something, as you say, about them which isworrying thatyoung woman. Another thing. Did you notice thatwhen youasked her if she wasnt anxious about the girlbeing missing,she said that she was angry? And she lookedangry, reallyangry! That strikes me as interesting, you know. Ihave afeeling, perhaps Im wrong, that thats her mainreaction to thefact of the girls death. She didnt care for her, Imsure. Shesnot grieving in any way. But I do think, verydefinitely, that thethought of that girl, Ruby Keene, makes herangry. And theinteresting point is: Why?""Well find out!" said Mrs Bantry. "Well go overto Danemouthand stay at the Majestic - yes, Jane, you too. Ineed a change formy nerves after what has happened here. A fewdays at theMajestic thats what we need. And youll meetConwayJefferson. Hes a dear, a perfect dear. Its thesaddest storyimaginable. He had a son and a daughter, both ofwhom heloved dearly. They were both married, but theystill spent a lot
  66. 66. of time at home. His wife, too, was the sweetestwoman, and hewas devoted to her. They were flying home oneyear fromFrance and there was an accident. They were allkilled. Thepilot, Mrs Jefferson, Rosamund and Frank.Conway had bothlegs so badly injured they had to be amputated.And hes beenwonderful, his courage, his pluck. He was a veryactive man,and now hes a helpless cripple, but he nevercomplains. Hisdaughter-in-law lives with him; she was a widowwhen FrankJefferson married her, and she had a son by herfirst marriagePeter Carmody. They both live with Conway. AndMark Gaskell,Rosamunds husband, spends most of his timethere. Well, itwas all a great tragedy.""And now," said Miss Marple, "there is anothertragedy -""Oh yes, but it doesnt involve the Jeffersons.""No?" asked Miss Marple. "It was Mr Jeffersonwho called thepolice.""Really, Jane... It is curious."
  67. 67. Chapter 6Colonel Melchett was facing a much annoyedhotel manager.With him was Superintendent Harper, of thedenshire police,and the inevitable Inspector Slack - the latterrather disgruntledat the chief constables wilful usurpation of thecase.Superintendent Harper was inclined to besoothing with thealmost tearful Mr Prestcott; Colonel Melchetttended toward ablunt brutality."No good crying over spilt milk," he said sharply."The girlsdead, strangled. Youre lucky that she wasntstrangled in yourhotel. This puts the inquiry in a different countyand lets yourestablishment down extremely lightly. But certaininquirieshave got to be made, and the sooner we get onwith it thebetter. You can trust us to be discreet and tactful.So I suggestyou cut the cackle and come to the horses. Justwhat, exactly,do you know about the girl?""I know nothing of her nothing at all. Josiebrought her here."
  68. 68. "Josies been here some time?" "Two years, no,three." "Andyou like her?""Yes, Josies a good girl, a nice girl. Competent.She gets onwith people and smoothes over differences.Bridge, you know,is a touchy sort of game."Colonel Melchett nodded feelingly. His wife was akeen but anextremely bad bridge player.Mr Prestcott went on, "Josie was very good atcalming downunpleasantness. She could handle people well,sort of brightand firm, if you know what I mean."Again Melchett nodded. He knew now what it wasthat MissJosephine Turner had reminded him of. In spiteof the make-upand the smart turnout, there was a distinct touchof the nurserygoverness about her."I depend upon her," went on Mr Prestcott. Hismanner becameaggrieved. "What does she want to go playingabout on slipperyrocks in that damn-fool way for? Weve got a nicebeach here.Why couldnt she bathe from that? Slipping andfalling andbreaking her ankle! It wasnt fair to me! I pay herto dance and
  69. 69. play bridge and keep people happy and amused,not to gobathing off rocks and breaking her ankle.Dancers ought to becareful of their ankles, not take risks. I was veryannoyed aboutit. It wasnt fair to the hotel."Melchett cut the recital short. "And then shesuggested thatthis girl, her cousin come down?"Prestcott assented grudgingly. "Thats right. Itsounded quite agood idea. Mind you, I wasnt going to payanything extra. Thegirl could have her keep, but as for salary, thatwould have tobe fixed up between her and Josie. Thats theway it wasarranged. I didnt know anything about the girl.""But she turned out all right?""Oh, yes, there wasnt anything wrong with her,not to look at,anyway. She was very young, of course; rathercheap in style,perhaps, for a place of this kind, but nicemanners, quiet andwell-behaved. Danced well. People liked her.""Pretty?"It had been a question hard to answer from aview of the blue,swollen face. Mr Prestcott considered."Fair to middling. Bit weaselly - if you know whatI mean.
  70. 70. Wouldnt have been much without make-up. As itwas, shemanaged to look quite attractive.""Many young men hanging about after her?""I know what youre trying to get at, sir," MrPrestcott becameexcited. "I never saw anything! Nothing special.One or two ofthe boys hung around a bit, but all in the dayswork, so tospeak. Nothing in the strangling line, Id say. Shegot on wellwith the older people, too; had a kind of prattlingway with her.Seemed quite a kid, if you know what I mean. Itamused them."Superintendent Harper said in a deep,melancholy voice, "MrJefferson, for instance?"The manager agreed. "Yes, Mr Jefferson was theone I had inmind. She used to sit with him and his family alot. He used totake her out for drives sometimes. Mr Jeffersonsvery fond ofyoung people and very good to them. I dont wantto have anymisunderstandings. Mr Jeffersons a cripple. Hecant get aboutmuch only where his wheelchair will take him.But hes alwayskeen on seeing young people enjoy themselves;watches the
  71. 71. tennis and the bathing, and all that, and givesparties for youngpeople here. He likes youth, and theres nothingbitter abouthim, as there well might be. A very populargentleman and, Idsay, a very fine character."Melchett asked, "And he took an interest in RubyKeene?""Her talk amused him, I think.""Did his family share his liking for her?""They were always very pleasant to her."Harper said, "And it was he who reported the factof her beingmissing to the police?"He contrived to put into the words a significanceand areproach to which the manager instantlyresponded, "Putyourself in my place, Mr Harper. I didnt dream fora minuteanything was wrong. Mr Jefferson came along tomy office,storming and all worked up. The girl hadnt sleptin her room.She hadnt appeared in her dance last night. Shemust havegone for a drive and had an accident, perhaps.The police mustbe informed at once. Inquiries made. In a state,he was, andquite high-handed. He rang up the police stationthen and
  72. 72. there.""Without consulting Miss Turner?""Josie didnt like it much. I could see that. Shewas veryannoyed about the whole thing, annoyed withRuby, I mean. Butwhat could she say?""I think," said Melchett, "wed better see MrJefferson, ehHarper?"Superintendent Harper agreed.IIMr Prestcott went up with them to ConwayJeffersons suite. Itwas on the first floor, overlooking the sea.Melchett said carelessly, "Does himself prettywell, eh? Richman?""Very well off indeed, I believe. Nothings everstinted when hecomes here. Best rooms reserved, food usually ala carte,expensive wines, best of everything."Melchett nodded.Mr Prestcott tapped on the outer door and awomans voicesaid, "Come in." The manager entered, the othersbehind him.Mr Prestcotts manner was apologetic as hespoke to thewoman who turned her head, at their entrance,from her seatby the window.
  73. 73. "I am so sorry to disturb you, Mrs Jefferson, butthesegentlemen are from the police. They are veryanxious to have aword with Mr Jefferson. Er... Colonel Melchett,SuperintendentHarper, Inspector er... Slack, Mrs Jefferson!"Mrs Jefferson acknowledged the introduction bybending herhead.A plain woman, was Melchetts first impression.Then, as aslight smile came to her lips and she spoke, hechanged hisopinion. She had a singularly charming andsympathetic voice,and her eyes, clear hazel eyes, were beautiful.She was quietlybut not unbecomingly dressed and was, hejudged, about thirtyfiveyears of age.She said, "My father-in-law is asleep. He is notstrong at all, andthis affair has been a terrible shock to him. Wehad to have thedoctor, and the doctor gave him a sedative. Assoon as hewakes he will, I know, want to see you. In themeantime,perhaps I can help you? Wont you sit down?"Mr Prestcott, anxious to escape, said to ColonelMelchett,
  74. 74. "Well... er... if thats all I can do for you -" andthankfullyreceived permission to depart.With his closing of the door behind him, theatmosphere took ona mellow and more social quality. AdelaideJefferson had thepower of creating a restful atmosphere. She wasa woman whonever seemed to say anything remarkable, butwho succeededin stimulating other people to talk and in settingthem at theirease. She struck, now, the right note when shesaid, "Thisbusiness has shocked us all very much. We sawquite a lot ofthe poor girl, you know. It seems quiteunbelievable. My fatherin-law is terribly upset. He was very fond of Ruby."Colonel Melchett said, "It was Mr Jefferson, Iunderstand, whoreported her disappearance to the police."He wanted to see exactly how she would react tothat. Therewas a flicker, just a flicker of- annoyance?Concern? He couldnot say what exactly, but there was something,and it seemedto him that she had definitely to brace herself, asthough to anunpleasant task, before going on.
  75. 75. She said, "Yes, that is so. Being an invalid, hegets easily upsetand worried. We tried to persuade him that it wasall right, thatthere was some natural explanation, and that thegirl herselfwould not like the police being notified. Heinsisted. Well -" shemade a slight gesture - "he was right and wewere wrong!"Melchett asked, "Exactly how well did you knowRuby Keene,Mrs Jefferson?"She considered. "Its difficult to say. My father-in-law is veryfond of young people and likes to have themround him. Rubywas a new type to him; he was amused andinterested by herchatter. She sat with us a good deal in the hoteland my fatherin-law took her out for drives in the car." Her voicewas quitenoncommittal.Melchett thought: She could say more if shechose.He said, "Will you tell me what you can of thecourse of eventslast night?""Certainly, but there is very little that will beuseful, Im afraid.After dinner Ruby came and sat with us in thelounge. She
  76. 76. remained even after the dancing had started. Wehad arrangedto play bridge later, but we were waiting for Mark,that is MarkGaskell, my brother-in-law, he married MrJeffersons daughter,you know, who had some important letters towrite, and also forJosie. She was going to make a fourth with us.""Did that often happen?""Quite frequently. Shes a first-class player, ofcourse, and verynice. My father-in-law is a keen bridge player and,wheneverpossible, liked to get hold of Josie to make thefourth, instead ofan outsider. Naturally, as she has to arrange thefours, shecant always play with us, but she does whenevershe can, andas -" her eyes smiled a little - "my father-in-lawspends a lot ofmoney in the hotel, the management is quitepleased for Josieto favour us."Melchett asked, "You like Josie?""Yes, I do. Shes always good-humoured andcheerful, workshard and seems to enjoy her job. Shes shrewdwithout being atall intellectual and well, never pretends aboutanything. Shesnatural and unaffected."
  77. 77. "Please go on, Mrs Jefferson.""As I say, Josie had to get her bridge foursarranged and Markwas writing, so Ruby sat and talked with us alittle longer thanusual. Then Josie came along,and Ruby went off to do her first solo dance withRaymond, hesthe dance and tennis professional. She cameback to usafterward, just as Mark joined us. Then she wentoff to dancewith a young man and we four started ourbridge."She stopped and made a slight, significantgesture ofhelplessness."And thats all I know! I just caught a glimpse ofher once,dancing, but bridge is an absorbing game and Ihardly glancedthrough the glass partition at the ballroom. Then,at midnight,Raymond came along to Josie very upset andasked whereRuby was. Josie, naturally, tried to shut him up,but -"Superintendent Harper interrupted. He said in hisquiet voice,"Why naturally, Mrs Jefferson?""Well -" She hesitated; looked, Melchett thought,a little put out.
  78. 78. "Josie didnt want the girls absence made toomuch of. Sheconsidered herself responsible for her in a way.She said Rubywas probably up in her room, she telephoned upto Rubysroom, but apparently there was no answer, andhe came backin rather a state temperamental, you know. Josiewent off withhim and tried to soothe him down, and in the endshe dancedwith him instead of Ruby. Rather plucky of her,because youcould see afterward it had hurt her ankle. Shecame back to uswhen the dance was over and tried to calm downMr Jefferson.He had got worked up by then. We persuadedhim, in the end,to go to bed; told him Ruby had probably gonefor a spin in a carand that theyd had a puncture. He went to bedworried and thismorning he began to agitate at once." Shepaused. "The restyou know.""Thank you, Mrs Jefferson. Now Im going to askyou if youveany idea who could have done this thing?"She said immediately, "No idea whatever. Imafraid I cant helpyou in the slightest."
  79. 79. He pressed her. "The girl never said anything?Nothing aboutjealousy? About some man she was afraid of? Orintimatewith?"Adelaide Jefferson shook her head to eachquery. Thereseemed nothing more that she could tell them.The superintendent suggested that they shouldinterview youngGeorge Bartlett and return to see Mr Jeffersonlater. ColonelMelchett agreed and the three men went out, MrsJeffersonpromising to send word as soon as Mr Jeffersonwas awake."Nice woman," said the colonel, as they closedthe door behindthem. "A very nice lady indeed," saidSuperintendent Harper.Chapter 7George Bartlett was a thin, lanky youth with aprominent Adamapple and an immense difficulty in saying whathe meant. Hewas in such a state of dither that it was hard toget a calmstatement from him."I say, it is awful, isnt it? Sort of thing one readsabout in the
  80. 80. Sunday papers, but one doesnt feel it reallyhappens, dont youknow?""Unfortunately there is no doubt about it, MrBartlett," said thesuperintendent."No, no, of course not. But it seems so rumsomehow. Andmiles from here and everything in some countryhouse, wasntit? Awfully country and all that. Created a bit of astir in theneighbourhood, what?"Colonel Melchett took charge. "How well did youknow the deadgirl, Mr Bartlett?"George Bartlett looked alarmed. "Oh, n-n-not wellat all, s-s-sir.No, hardly, if you know what I mean. Danced withher once ortwice, passed the time of day, bit of tennis youknow!""You were, I think, the last person to see her alivelast night?""I suppose I was. Doesnt it sound awful? I meanshe wasperfectly all right when I saw her, absolutely.""What time was that, Mr Bartlett?""Well, you know, I never know about time. Wasntvery late, ifyou know what I mean.""You danced with her?"
  81. 81. "Yes, as a matter of fact well, yes, I did. Early onin the evening,though. Tell you what. It was just after herexhibition dance withthe pro fellow. Must have been ten, half past,eleven I dontknow.""Never mind the time. We can fix that. Please tellus exactlywhat happened." "Well, we danced, dontyouknow. Not that Immuch of a dancer.""How you dance is not really relevant, MrBartlett."George Bartlett cast an alarmed eye on thecolonel andstammered, "No - er - n-n-no, I suppose it isnt.Well, as I say,we danced round and round, and I talked, butRuby didnt sayvery much, and she yawned a bit. As I say, I dontdance awfullywell, and so girls well, inclined to give it a miss, ifyou knowwhat I mean too. I know where I get off, so I saidrighty ho, andthat was that.""What was the last you saw of her?" "She wentoff upstairs.""She said nothing about meeting anyone? Orgoing for a drive?Or - or having a date?"
  82. 82. The colonel used the colloquial expression with aslight effort.Bartlett shook his head. "Not to me." He lookedrathermournful. "Just gave me the push.""What was her manner? Did she seem anxious,abstracted,anything on her mind?"George Bartlett considered. Then he shook hishead."Seemed a bit bored. Yawned, as I said. Nothingmore."Colonel Melchett said, "And what did you do, MrBartlett?""Eh?""What did you do when Ruby Keene left you?"George Bartlett gaped at him. "Lets see now.What did I do?""Were waiting for you to tell us.""Yes, yes, of course. Jolly difficult, rememberingthings, what?Let me see. Shouldnt be surprised if I went intothe bar and hada drink.""Did you go into the bar and have a drink?""Thats just it. I did have a drink. Dont think itwas just then.Have an idea I wandered out, dont you know. Bitof air. Ratherstuffy for September. Very nice outside. Yes,thats it. I strolledaround a bit, then I came in and had a drink, andthen I strolled
  83. 83. back to the ballroom. Wasnt much doing.Noticed - whats-ername- Josie was dancing again. With the tennis fellow.Shebeen on the sick list, twisted ankle orsomething.""That fixes the time of your return at midnight.Do you intend usto understand that you spent over an hourwalking aboutoutside?""Well, I had a drink, you know. I was well, I wasthinking ofthings."This statement received more incredulity thanany other.Colonel Melchett said sharply, "What were youthinking about?""Oh, I dont know. Things," said Mr Âartlettvaguely."You have a car, Mr Bartlett?""Oh, yes, Ive got a car.""Where was it, in the hotel garage?""No, it was outside. I thought about going for aride, you know.""And you didnt go for a ride?""No, no. I didnt. I swear I didnt.""You didnt go for a ride with, say, Miss Keene?""I already told you. Listen, what are you drivingat? I didnt, Iswear.""Thanks, Mr Bartlett. That will be all for themoment. For the
  84. 84. moment," repeated Colonel Melchett.They left Bartlett with an comical expression ofalarm on hisface. "A fool," said Colonel Melchett. "Or not?"InspectorHarper shook his head. "We still have a long wayahead."Chapter 8Neither the night porter nor the barman provedhelpful. Thenight porter remembered ringing up MissKeenes room justafter midnight and getting no reply. He had notnoticed MrBartlett leaving or entering the hotel. A lot ofgentlemen andladies were strolling in and out, the night beingfine. And therewere side doors off the corridor as well as theone in the mainhall. He was fairly certain Miss Keene had notgone out by themain door, but if she had come down from herroom, which wason the first floor, there was a staircase next to itand a door outat the end of the corridor leading onto the sideterrace. Shecould have gone out of that, unseen, easilyenough. It was notlocked until the dancing was over at two oclock.
  85. 85. The barman remembered Mr Bartlett being in thebar thepreceding evening, but could not say when.Somewhere aboutthe middle of the evening, he thought. Mr Bartletthad satagainst the wall and was looking rathermelancholy. He did notknow how long he was in there. There were a lotof outsideguests coming and going in the bar. He hadnoticed Mr Bartlett,but he couldnt fix the time in any way.IIAs they left the bar they were accosted by a smallboy aboutnine years old. He burst immediately into excitedspeech."I say, are you the detectives? Im PeterCarmody. It was mygrandfather, Mr Jefferson, who rang up the policeabout Ruby.Are you from Scotland Yard? You dont mind myspeaking toyou, do you?"Colonel Melchett looked as though he were aboutto return ashort answer, but Superintendent Harperintervened. He spokebenignly and heartily."Thats all right, my son. Naturally interests you, Iexpect?"
  86. 86. "You bet it does. Do you like detective stories? Ido. I read themall and Ive got autographs from Dorothy Sayersand AgathaChristie and Dickson Carr and H.C. Bailey. Willthe murder be inthe papers?""Itll be in the papers all right," saidSuperintendent Harpergrimly."You see, Im going back to school next weekand I shall tellthem all that I knew her, really knew her well.""What did you think of her, eh?" Peterconsidered."Well, I didnt like her very much. I think she wasrather a stupidsort of girl. Mum and Uncle Mark didnt like hermuch, either.Only grandfather. Grandfather wants to see you,by the way.Edwards is looking for you."Superintendent Harper murmured encouragingly,"So yourmother and your Uncle Mark didnt like RubyKeene much? Whywas that?""Oh, I dont know. She was always butting in.And they didntlike grandfather making such a fuss of her. Iexpect," said Petercheerfully, "that theyre glad shes dead."
  87. 87. Superintendent Harper looked at himthoughtfully. He said,"Did you hear them - er - say so?""Well, not exactly. Uncle Mark said, Well, its oneway outanyway, and mum said, Yes, but such a horribleone, andUncle Mark said it was no good beinghypocritical."The men exchanged glances. At that moment aclean-shavenman neatly dressed in blue serge came up tothem."Excuse me, gentlemen. I am Mr Jeffersonsvalet. He is awakenow and sent me to find you, as he is veryanxious to see you."Once more they went up to Conway Jeffersonssuite. In thesitting room Adelaide Jefferson was talking to atall, restlessman who was prowling nervously about theroom. He swungaround sharply to view the newcomers."Oh, yes. Glad youve come. My father-in-lawsbeen asking foryou. Hes awake now. Keep him as calm as youcan, wont you?His healths not too good. Its a wonder, really,that this shockdidnt do for him."Harper said, "Id no idea his health was as bad asthat."
  88. 88. "He doesnt know it himself," said Mark Gaskell."Its his heart,you see. The doctor warned Addie that hemustnt beoverexcited or startled. He more or less hintedthat the endmight come any time, didnt he, Addie?"Mrs Jefferson nodded. She said, "Its incrediblethat hes ralliedthe way he has."Melchett said dryly, "Murder isnt exactly asoothing incident.Well be as careful as we can."He was sizing up Mark Gaskell as he spoke. Hedidnt muchcare for the fellow. A bold, unscrupulous,hawklike face. One ofthose men who usually get their own way andwhom womenfrequently admire.But not the sort of fellow Id trust, the colonelthought tohimself.Unscrupulous - that was the word for him. Thesort of fellowwho wouldnt stick at anything.IllIn the big bedroom overlooking the sea, ConwayJefferson wassitting in his wheeled chair by the window.No sooner were you in the room with him thanyou felt the
  89. 89. power and magnetism of the man. It was asthough the injurieswhich had left him a cripple had resulted inconcentrating thevitality of his shattered body into a narrower andmore intensefocus.He had a fine head, the red of the hair slightlygrizzled. The facewas rugged and powerful, deeply sun-tanned,and the eyeswere a startling blue. There was no sign of illnessor feeblenessabout him. The deep lines on his face were thelines ofsuffering, not the lines of weakness. Here was aman whowould never rail against fate, but accept it andpass on tovictory.He said, "Im glad youve come." His quick eyestook them in.He said to Melchett, "Youre the chief constableofRadfordshire? Right. And youre SuperintendentHarper? Sitdown. Cigarettes on the table beside you."They thanked him and sat down.Melchett said, "I understand, Mr Jefferson, thatyou wereinterested in the dead girl?"A quick, twisted smile flashed across the linedface.
  90. 90. "Yes, theyll all have told you that! Well, its nosecret. Howmuch has my family said to you?"He looked quickly from one to the other as heasked thequestion.It was Melchett who answered. "Mrs Jeffersontold us very littlebeyond the fact that the girls chatter amusedyou and that shewas by way of being a protegee. We have onlyexchanged half adozen words with Mr Gaskell."Conway Jefferson smiled. "Addies a discreetcreature, blessher. Mark would probably have been moreoutspoken. I think,Melchett, that Id better tell you some facts ratherfully. Itsnecessary, in order that you should understandmy attitude.And, to begin with, its necessary that I go backto the bigtragedy of my life. Eight years ago I lost my wife,my son and mydaughter in an aeroplane accident. Since thenIve been like aman whos lost half himself and Im not speakingof my physicalplight! I was a family man. My daughter-in-lawand my son-inlawhave been very good to me. Theyve done all theycan to
  91. 91. take the place of my flesh and blood. But Iverealized,especially of late, that they have, after all, theirown lives to live.So you must understand that, essentially, Im alonely man. I likeyoung people. I enjoy them. Once or twice Iveplayed with theidea ofadopting some girl or boy. During this lastmonth I gotvery friendly with the child whos been killed. Shewasabsolutely natural, completely naive. Shechattered on abouther life and her experiences in pantomime, withtouringcompanies, with mum and dad as a child incheap lodgings.Such a different life from any Ive known! Nevercomplaining,never seeing it as sordid. Just a natural,uncomplaining, hardworkingchild, unspoilt and charming. Not a lady,perhaps, butthank God neither vulgar nor abominable. I gotmore and morefond of Ruby. I decided, gentlemen, to adopt herlegally. Shewould become, by law, my daughter. That, I hope,explains myconcern for her and the steps I took when I heardof herunaccountable disappearance."
  92. 92. There was a pause. Then Superintendent Harper,hisunemotional voice robbing the question of anyoffence, asked,"May I ask what your son-in-law and daughter-in-law said tothat?"Jeffersons answer came back quickly."What could they say? They didnt, perhaps, likeit very much.Its the sort of thing that arouses prejudice. Butthey behavedvery well yes, very well. Its not as though, yousee, they weredependent on me. When my son Frank married, Iturned overhalf my worldly goods to him then and there. Ibelieve in that.Dont let your children wait until youre dead.They want themoney when theyre young, not when theyremiddle-aged. Inthe same way, when my daughter Rosamundinsisted onmarrying a poor man, I settled a big sum ofmoney on her. Thatsum passed to him at her death. So, you see, thatsimplified thematter from the financial angle.""I see, Mr Jefferson," said SuperintendentHarper.But there was a certain reserve in his tone.Conway Jefferson