فصل 12

مجموعه: کارآگاه مارپل / کتاب: یک جیب پر از گندم سیاه / فصل 12

فصل 12

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CHAPTER TWELVE

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?’

‘Oh, yes.’

‘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?’

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