فصل 07

مجموعه: کارآگاه مارپل / کتاب: یک جیب پر از گندم سیاه / فصل 7

فصل 07

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CHAPTER SEVEN

‘I’ve got what I could, Sir,’ Sergeant Hay reported. ‘The marmalade, a piece of the ham and samples of tea, coffee and sugar. What they actually drank has been thrown away, of course, but there was a lot of coffee left over and the staff had it in the servants’ hall.’

‘So if the poison was in the coffee Fortescue drank, it must have been put into the actual cup by someone at the table,’ said Neele.

The telephone rang and Neele nodded to Sergeant Hay, who went to answer it. It was Scotland Yard. They had finally contacted Percival Fortescue, who was returning to London immediately. As the Inspector replaced the telephone receiver, a woman arrived at the front door, her arms full of parcels. Crump took them from her.

‘Thanks, Crump. I’ll have tea now. Is Mrs Fortescue or Miss Elaine in?’

The butler hesitated. ‘We’ve had bad news, ma’am,’ he said. ‘About the master.’

Neele came forward as she said, ‘What’s happened? An accident?’ Mrs Jennifer Fortescue was a slightly overweight woman of about thirty. Her questions came with obvious interest.

‘I’m sorry to tell you that Mr Rex Fortescue was taken to St Jude’s Hospital. He was seriously ill and has since died,’ Neele said quietly.

‘Died?’ The news was clearly more exciting than sad. ‘Dear me - are you from the office? You’re not a doctor, are you?’

‘I’m a police officer. Mr Fortescue’s death was very sudden and…’

She interrupted him. ‘Do you mean he was murdered?’ It was the first time that word had been spoken.

‘Now why should you think that, Madam?’

‘Well, you said sudden. And you’re police. Have you seen her about it? What did she say?’

‘Who are you talking about?’

‘Adele, of course. He was completely under that awful woman’s spell - and now look what’s happened… What was it? Arsenic?’

‘The cause of death has not been decided yet. There will be an autopsy and an inquest.’

‘But you know already, don’t you? Or you wouldn’t have come down here.’ There was a sudden look of understanding in her rather silly face. ‘You’ve been asking about what he ate and drank, I suppose?’

Neele said, ‘It seems possible that Mr Fortescue’s illness was caused by something he ate at breakfast.’

‘Breakfast? I don’t see how she could have done it, then… unless she put something into the coffee - when Elaine and I weren’t looking…’

A quiet voice spoke softly, ‘Your tea is in the library, Mrs Jennifer.’

Jennifer Fortescue jumped. ‘Oh thank you, Miss Dove. What about you, Mr - Inspector…’

‘Thank you, no tea just now.’

Jennifer went slowly away as Mary Dove said quietly, ‘I don’t think she’s ever heard of the word slander. Is there anything I can do for you, Inspector Neele?’

‘Where can I find the housemaid, Ellen?’

Ellen was as bad-tempered as Mary Dove had said she was, but she was also unafraid. ‘It’s a shocking business. Sir. And I never thought I’d find myself in a house where such an awful thing has happened. But I can’t say that it surprises me. Of course, I don’t approve of what’s been going on here. All this pretending to play golf - or tennis - and the library door was open one day and there they were, kissing.’

Neele really felt it unnecessary to say, ‘Whom do you mean?’ but he said it anyway.

‘I mean Mrs Adele - and that man Dubois. You’ve been asking questions, Sir, about what the master ate and drank and who gave it to him. That Dubois found some kind of poison somewhere and she gave it to the master, I’ve no doubt.’

‘Have you ever seen any yew berries in the house?’

‘Yew? Nasty poisonous stuff. Don’t you even touch yew berries, my mother said to me when I was a child. Was that what was used, Sir? Well, I’ve never seen her with yew berries.’ Ellen sounded disappointed.

Neele questioned her about the grain found in Fortescue’s pocket.

‘No, Sir. I know nothing about that.’

Finally he asked if he could see Miss Ramsbottom, and Ellen took him upstairs. She knocked on a door, then opened it and said, ‘There’s a policeman here, an Inspector, who would like to speak to you, Miss.’

The room he entered was full of furniture and an old lady was sitting at a table in front of a gas fire, laying out cards in a game of patience. Without looking up, she said impatiently, ‘Well, come in, come in. What is it?’

‘I’m sorry to tell you, Miss Ramsbottom, that your brother- in-law, Mr Fortescue, became ill and died this morning. I hope it’s not a shock to you?’

Miss Ramsbottom looked at him sharply and said, ‘Not at all. Rex Fortescue was always a sinful man and I never liked him.’

‘It seems possible that he may have been poisoned…’

‘Well, I didn’t poison him, if that’s what you want to know.’

‘Have you any idea who might have done so?’

‘Two of my dead sister’s children are living in this house,’ said the old lady. ‘I refuse to believe that anybody with Ramsbottom blood in them could be guilty of murder. Because it is murder, isn’t it? Plenty of people have wanted to murder Rex. He is - was - a very crooked man.’

‘And is there anyone in particular you believe might have wanted to murder Mr Fortescue?’

Miss Ramsbottom collected her cards and rose to her feet. ‘I think you’d better go now,’ she said. ‘If you want my opinion, it was probably one of the servants. Good evening.’

Inspector Neele found himself walking out without argument. He came down the stairs and came face to face with a tall, dark girl wearing a damp raincoat.

‘I’ve just come back,’ she said. ‘And they told me - that Father’s dead.’

‘I’m afraid that’s true.’

Slowly two tears ran down her cheeks. ‘It’s awful,’ Elaine Fortescue said. ‘Do you know, I didn’t think that I even liked him… I thought I hated him… But that can’t be so, or I wouldn’t be upset. And I am upset. The awful thing is that it makes everything alright. I mean, Gerald - my boyfriend - and I can get married now. But I hate it happening this way. I don’t want Father to be dead… Oh Daddy - Daddy…’

For the first time since he had come to Yewtree Lodge, Inspector Neele was surprised by what seemed to be real grief for the dead man.

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