فصل 04

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فصل 04

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CHAPTER FOUR

Inspector Neele was looking at the outside of Yewtree Lodge, a large, solid, red-brick building. The gardens were laid out in rose beds and ponds, with large numbers of neat yew hedges - and there was a huge yew tree, clearly very old. And possibly the poisonous berries from that very tree…? Inspector Neele rang the bell. The door was opened by a nervous-looking middle-aged man who invited Neele and Sergeant Hay in.

‘Has Mrs Adele Fortescue returned yet?’

‘No, Sir.’

‘Nor Miss Elaine Fortescue?’

‘No, Sir.’

‘Then I would like to see Miss Dove, please.’

The man turned his head slightly. ‘Here’s Miss Dove now - coming down the stairs.’

The word housekeeper had given Neele an impression of someone large and powerful, dressed in black, and so the Inspector was quite unprepared for the small neat figure coming towards him. The light brown colour of her dress with its white collar and cuffs, the neat waves of hair and the slight smile, all seemed a little unreal, as though this young woman of under thirty was playing a part; not, Neele thought, the part of a housekeeper, but the part of Mary Dove, gentle and quiet like the bird, the dove, that shared her surname.

‘Inspector Neele?’

‘Yes. This is Sergeant Hay. It seems likely that Mr Fortescue’s death was caused by something he ate at breakfast this morning.

I would like Sergeant Hay to be taken to the kitchen, where he can ask about the food that was served.’

Her eyes met his for a moment, thoughtfully, then she said, ‘Of course.’ She turned to the butler, who was standing nervously nearby. ‘Crump, will you take Sergeant Hay?’

The two men left. Mary Dove said to Neele, ‘Will you come in here?’ She opened the door of a sitting room and led him into it. ‘Please sit down.’

Mary Dove sat opposite him. She chose, he noticed, to face the light. An unusual choice for a woman. Still more unusual if a woman had anything to hide. But perhaps Mary Dove had nothing to hide.

‘Mrs Adele Fortescue may return at any minute. And so may Mrs Jennifer. I have sent telegrams to Mr Percival Fortescue at various places.’

‘Thank you, Miss Dove.’

‘You say that Mr Fortescue’s death was caused by something he may have eaten for breakfast? It seems unlikely. For breakfast this morning there was bacon and eggs, coffee, toast and marmalade. There was a cold ham, too, but that was also eaten yesterday, and no one was ill. No fish of any kind was served. For dinner last night…’

‘No.’ Inspector Neele interrupted her. ‘We are not interested in dinner last night. Will you tell me exactly what Mr Fortescue ate and drank this morning?’

‘He had early tea brought to his room at eight o’clock. Breakfast was at a quarter past nine. Mr Fortescue had eggs, bacon, coffee, toast and marmalade.’

‘Any cereal?’

‘No, he didn’t like cereal.’

‘The sugar for the coffee…’

‘Mr Fortescue did not take sugar in his coffee,’ Miss Dove interrupted.

‘Did he take any medicines in the morning?’

‘No, nothing like that.’

‘Who was at breakfast?’

‘Mrs Adele, Miss Elaine and Mrs Jennifer. Mrs Adele has only coffee, orange juice and toast, Mrs Jennifer and Miss Elaine always eat a large breakfast. As well as eating eggs and cold ham, they would probably have cereal as well. Mrs Jennifer drinks tea, not coffee.’

Three people had had breakfast with the deceased. Any of them might have had the opportunity to put taxine in Fortescue’s cup of coffee. The bitterness of the coffee would have hidden the bitter taste of the Taxine… Neele looked up to find Mary Dove watching him.

‘Your questions about medicines seem to me rather strange, Inspector,’ she said. ‘It seems to suggest that either there was something wrong with a medicine, or that something had been put into it.’

Neele looked at her seriously. ‘I did not say that Mr Fortescue died of food poisoning. But some kind of poisoning. In fact - just poisoning.’

She repeated quietly, ‘Poisoning…’ She appeared neither surprised nor anxious, simply interested. She said, ‘I have never been involved with a poisoning case before.’

‘It’s not very pleasant,’ Neele told her.

‘No - I suppose not…’ She looked up at him with a sudden smile. ‘I didn’t do it,’ she said. ‘But I suppose everybody says that!’

‘Have you any idea who did do it, Miss Dove?’

She shrugged her shoulders. ‘He was a horrible man. Anybody might have done it.’

‘Miss Dove, tell me something about the household here.’

She looked up at him. He was a little surprised to see she looked amused.

‘I don’t want what I am going to say to be repeated at the inquest, but I would like to say it - unofficially.’

‘I’m listening, Miss Dove.’

She leaned back. ‘Let me start by saying that I’ve no feeling of loyalty to my employers. I work for them because it’s a job that pays well and I insist that it pays well.’

Neele said, ‘I was a little surprised to find you doing this type of job. With your obvious intelligence…’

‘I ought to be working in an office?’ interrupted Mary Dove. ‘My dear Inspector Neele, some people will pay anything - anything - to avoid household worries. Firstly, finding and employing staff is very boring. Secondly, running the house properly requires abilities that most of the people I work for don’t have.’

‘And what happens if your staff leave you unexpectedly? I’ve heard of such things.’

Mary smiled. ‘If necessary, I can make the beds, clean the rooms, cook a meal and serve it, without anyone noticing the difference. But I work only for the extremely rich, who will pay anything to be comfortable. I pay top prices and so I get the best people available.’

‘Such as the butler?’ Neele asked, remembering the nervous Crump, whose red nose said he clearly liked alcohol too much.

She was amused. ‘Crump stays because of Mrs Crump, who is one of the best cooks I’ve ever worked with. As for Crump, he’s not such a bad butler, really. I keep the key of the wine cellar and I watch the whisky and gin carefully. But you wanted to know what I think of the family. They are all really horrible. The late Mr Fortescue was the type of businessman who is always careful to work just on the right side of the law. He was rude and a bully. Mrs Fortescue, Adele - is about thirty years younger than he was - with real s@x appeal, if you know what I mean.’

Inspector Neele was shocked. A girl like Mary Dove ought not to say such things, he felt.

The young lady was continuing, Adele married him for his money, and Percival and Elaine are as nasty as they can be to her, but she doesn’t care. Rex Fortescue would do anything for her. Oh dear, the wrong tense. I haven’t really understood yet that he’s dead…’

‘Let’s hear about Percival Fortescue.’

‘Percival is a sly man. He’s terrified of his father and has always let himself be bullied.’

‘And his wife?’

‘Jennifer is quiet and seems very stupid. But she was a hospital nurse before her marriage - she nursed Percival when he had pneumonia and then he married her. Rex Fortescue disliked poor Jennifer. She dislikes - disliked him a lot, I think. Her main interests are shopping and the cinema; her main complaint is that her husband, Percival, doesn’t give her enough money.’

‘What about the daughter?’

‘Elaine? She’s one of those schoolgirls who never grow up. There was some sort of romance with a young schoolmaster, Gerald Wright, but Mr Fortescue discovered the young man had communist ideas and made them end the relationship.’

‘She hadn’t got the courage to stand up to him?’

‘She had. It was the young man who went away. I don’t think he liked the idea that if she had married him, her father would have stopped giving her money to live on. Elaine is not particularly attractive.’

‘And the other son?’

‘I’ve never seen Mr Lance. He’s attractive, everyone says, but a bad boy. He forged a cheque in the past. He lives in East Africa. Mr Fortescue couldn’t throw him out of the business completely because he’d already made him a junior partner, but he hadn’t kept in touch with him for years. All the same, I wouldn’t be surprised if old Fortescue had been planning to get him back here. About a month ago, he discovered something that his eldest son, Percival, had been doing behind his back - I don’t know what it was - and he was furious.’

‘Now, what about the servants? You’ve described the Crumps. Who else is there?’

‘Gladys Martin is the parlour maid. She cleans the downstairs rooms, lays the table, clears away and helps Crump wait at table. Quite a respectable sort of girl, but very stupid. Ellen Curtis is elderly and bad-tempered, but an excellent housemaid.’

‘And those are the only people living here?’

‘There’s old Miss Ramsbottom, Mr Fortescue’s first wife’s sister, who is well over seventy. She has a room on the second floor and never comes downstairs. She never liked her brother- in-law, but she came here while her sister was alive and stayed on when she died. Mr Fortescue isn’t very interested in her. She’s quite a character, though, is Miss Ramsbottom - or Aunt Effie as everyone calls her.’

‘So we come to you, Miss Dove.’

‘I’m an orphan. I took a secretarial course and then a job as a shorthand typist. I decided I was in the wrong business, and started on my present career. I have been with three different employers. After about eighteen months I get tired of a place and move on. I have been at Yewtree Lodge for just over a year. I will type out the names and addresses of my previous employers and give them, with a copy of my references, to Sergeant Hay.’

Neele was silent for a moment, enjoying a mental image of Miss Dove collecting yew berries in a little basket. With a sigh he returned to the present. ‘Now, I would like to see Gladys Martin and then Ellen Curtis.’ He added as he stood up, ‘By the way, Miss Dove, can you give me any idea why Mr Fortescue would be carrying loose grain - rye, in fact - in his pocket?’

‘Grain?’ She stared at him.

‘Yes - grain. Does that mean anything to you, Miss Dove?’

‘Nothing at all.’

‘Who looked after his clothes?’

‘Crump.’

‘I see. Did Mr Fortescue and Mrs Fortescue share the same bedroom?’

‘Yes. He had a dressing room and bathroom, of course, and so did she…’ Mary looked down at her wristwatch. ‘I really think that she ought to be back very soon now.’

The Inspector said in a pleasant voice, ‘It seems to me very strange that even though there are three golf courses in the neighbourhood, it has not been possible to find Mrs Fortescue on one of them. Who was she playing with?’

‘I think it is possible that it might be Mr Vivian Dubois.’

‘I see.’

‘I’ll send Gladys in to you. She’ll probably be scared to death.’ Mary Dove went out. Inspector Neele looked at the closed door. What she had told him was very useful. If Rex Fortescue had been deliberately poisoned, and it seemed almost certain that he had, then there appeared to be plenty of motives at Yewtree Lodge.

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