فصل 15

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فصل 15

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CHAPTER FIFTEEN

Jennifer Fortescue was in her own sitting room upstairs, writing letters.

‘I’m afraid,’ Neele said comfortingly, ‘we have to ask people questions again and again, and so much depends on the exact timing of events. You came down to tea late, I understand? In fact, Miss Dove came up to get you.’

‘Yes, she did. I had no idea it was so late. I had been writing letters.’

‘I see,’ he said. ‘I thought you had been out for a walk.’

‘Did she say so? Yes - I believe you’re right. I felt I needed some fresh air and I went out and - er - went for a walk. Only round the garden.’

‘I see. You didn’t meet anyone?’

‘Meet anyone? I saw the gardener in the distance, that’s all.’ She was looking at him suspiciously.

‘Then you came in, and you were just taking your coat off when Miss Dove came to tell you that tea was ready?’

‘Yes. Yes, and so I came down. We had tea. Then Lance went up to see Aunt Effie and I came up to finish my letters. I left Elaine with Adele.’

Neele nodded. ‘Yes. Miss Elaine seems to have been with Mrs Adele Fortescue for five or ten minutes after you left. Your husband hadn’t come home yet?’

‘Oh no. Percival didn’t get home until about half-past six or seven.’

‘I see,’ said Inspector Neele. ‘I asked your husband if Mrs Fortescue had made a will before she died. He said he thought not. I suppose you don’t happen to have any idea?’

‘Oh, yes,’ she said, to his surprise. ‘Adele made a will about a month ago. I saw her coming out of the solicitor’s office, Ansell and Worrall’s, in the High Street. And I said to her, “Whatever have you been doing there?” And she laughed and said, “I’ve been making my will. Everyone ought to make a will.” She hadn’t wanted to go to the family solicitor in London, Mr Billingsley. “No,” she said, “my will’s my own business, Jennifer, and nobody’s going to know about it.”

“Well,” I said, “I won’t tell anybody.” And I didn’t tell anyone, not even Percival.’

Well, thank you very much, Mrs Fortescue, for being so helpful to me,’ said Inspector Neele. ‘There’s one other thing, Mrs Fortescue. Do you know anything about blackbirds?’

Jennifer Fortescue looked shocked. ‘Blackbirds, Inspector? What kind of blackbirds?’

‘Just blackbirds. Alive or dead or even, shall we say, in a nursery rhyme?’

She said slowly, ‘I suppose you mean the ones last summer in the pie. All very silly.’

‘There were some left on the library table, too, weren’t there?’

‘It was all a very silly joke. Mr Fortescue, my father-in-law, was very much annoyed by it. He asked us if there were any strangers about the place.’

‘Strangers? Did he seem afraid in any way?’

‘Yes. Yes, he did.’

Percival Fortescue was in London, but Inspector Neele found his brother Lance sitting with his wife Pat in the library.

‘Do you know anything about blackbirds, Mr Fortescue?’

‘Blackbirds?’ Lance looked amused. ‘Do you mean real birds?’ Inspector Neele said with a sudden, sweet smile, ‘I’m not sure what I mean, Mr Fortescue. It’s just that blackbirds have been mentioned.’

‘Good Lord. Not the old Blackbird Mine, I suppose?’

‘The Blackbird Mine? What was that?’

Lance frowned. ‘I just have an idea about some unpleasant business in my papa’s past, on the west coast of Africa. Aunt Effie once mentioned it when she was having an argument with him, but I can’t remember much about it.’

‘I’ll go and ask her about it,’ said Inspector Neele, adding, ‘She’s rather a frightening old lady.’

Lance laughed. ‘Yes. But she may be helpful to you, Inspector. I went up to see her, you know, soon after I got back here. And she was talking about Gladys, the maid who got killed. Not that we knew she was dead then, of course. But Aunt Effie was saying she was quite sure that Gladys knew something that she hadn’t told the police.’

‘That seems fairly certain,’ said Inspector Neele. ‘She’ll never tell it now, poor girl.’

To his surprise, when he went up to see Miss Ramsbottom, he found Miss Marple with her, discussing foreign missions.

‘I’ll go away, Inspector.’ Miss Marple rose to her feet.

‘No need, Madam,’ said Inspector Neele.

‘I’ve asked Miss Marple to come and stay,’ said Miss Ramsbottom. ‘There is no sense in her spending her money in that Golf Hotel. It’s a wicked place. Drinking and card playing all the evening. She had better come and stay in a respectable household. There’s a room next door to mine.’

‘It’s very kind of you,’ said Miss Marple gratefully. ‘I’ll go and cancel my booking.’ She left the room and Miss Ramsbottom said sharply to the Inspector, ‘Well, and what do you want?’

‘I wondered if you could tell me anything about the Blackbird Mine, Madam.’

Miss Ramsbottom gave a shout of laughter. ‘Ha. You’ve got on to that, have you! Well, what do you want to know about it?’

‘Anything you can tell me, Madam.’

‘I can’t tell you much. It’s a long time ago now - oh, twenty to twenty-five years maybe, in East Africa. My brother-in-law went into business with a man called MacKenzie. They went out there to investigate the mine together and MacKenzie died of fever. Rex came home and said there was no gold in the mine. That’s all I know.’

‘I think you know a little more than that, Madam,’ said Neele. ‘Well, the MacKenzies insisted that Rex had cheated MacKenzie and he probably had, but they couldn’t prove anything. Mrs MacKenzie came here and said Rex had murdered her husband. I think she was a bit mad - in fact, I believe she went into a hospital for the insane not long after. She came here with a couple of young children who looked scared to death. She said she would bring up her children to get revenge. Madness, all of it. Well, that’s all I can tell you. And the Blackbird Mine wasn’t the only bad thing that Rex did in his lifetime. You’ll find a good many more if you look for them.’

‘You don’t know what happened to the MacKenzie family, Madam?’

‘No idea,’ said Miss Ramsbottom. ‘And I don’t think Rex would have actually murdered MacKenzie, but he might have left him to die. If he did, then he’s been paid back. You should go away now, I can’t tell you any more.’

‘Thank you very much for what you have told me,’ said Inspector Neele.

‘Send that Marple woman back,’ Miss Ramsbottom called after him. ‘She knows how to organize things properly.’

Inspector Neele made a couple of telephone calls, the first to Adele Fortescue’s lawyers, Ansell and Worrall and the second to the Golf Hotel, then he told Sergeant Hay, ‘I have to visit a solicitor’s office - after that, you can find me at the Golf Hotel if anything urgent happens.’

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