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CHAPTER TWENTY ONE

Miss Marple stood in the Great Hall and asked the Inspector to stand beside her. ‘It’s something I want to show you. Something Alex Restarick made me see. It’s a question of magic tricks. They do it with mirrors, you know - that sort of thing - if you understand me.’

Inspector Curry did not understand. He wondered if Miss Marple was quite right in the head.

‘I want you to think of this place as a stage set, Inspector. As it was on the night Christian Gulbrandsen was killed. You’re here in the audience, looking at the people on the stage. Mrs Serrocold and myself and Mrs Strete, and Gina and Stephen - and just like on the stage there are entrances and exits and the characters go out to different places. Only, when you’re in the audience, you don’t think where they are really going. They go out “to the front door” or “to the kitchen” and when the door opens you see a little bit of painted scenery. But really of course they go out to the sides of the stage - or the back of the stage with carpenters and electricians, and other characters waiting to come on. They go out - to a different world.’

‘I don’t quite see, Miss Marple.’

‘Oh, I know - I suppose it sounds very silly - but if you think of this as a play and the scene is “the Great Hall at Stonygates” - what exactly is behind the scene? I mean - what is behind the stage? The terrace - isn’t it? The terrace and a lot of windows opening on to it.

‘And that, you see, is how the magic trick was done. It was the trick of the Lady Cut in Half that made me think of it.’

‘The Lady Cut in Half?’ Inspector Curry was now quite sure that Miss Marple was mad.

‘A most exciting magic trick. You must have seen it - only not really one girl but two girls. The head of one and the feet of the other. It looks like one person and is really two. And so I thought it could equally be the other way about. Two people could be really one person.’

‘Two people really one?’ Inspector Curry looked desperate.

‘Yes. Not for long. How long did your Constable take in the garden to run to this house and back? Two minutes and forty-five seconds, wasn’t it? This would be less than that. Well under two minutes.’

‘What was under two minutes?’

‘The magic trick. The trick when it wasn’t two people but one person. In there - in the study. We’re only looking at the visible part of the stage. Behind the scenes there is the terrace and a row of windows. So easy when there are two people in the study to open the study window, get out, run along the terrace - those footsteps Alex heard - in at the side door, shoot Christian Gulbrandsen and run back. During that time, the other person in the study does both voices so that we’re all quite sure there are two people in there. And so there were most of the time, but not for that little period of under two minutes.’

Inspector Curry found his breath and his voice. ‘Do you mean that it was Edgar Lawson who ran along the terrace and shot Gulbrandsen? Edgar Lawson who poisoned Mrs Serrocold?’

‘But you see, Inspector, no one has been poisoning Mrs Serrocold at all. That’s where the misdirection comes in. Someone very cleverly used the fact that Mrs Serrocold’s pains from arthritis were not unlike the symptoms of arsenic poisoning. It’s the old magician’s trick of forcing a card on you. It is easy to add arsenic to a bottle of medicine - easy to add a few lines to a typewritten letter. But the real reason for Mr Gulbrandsen’s coming here was the most likely reason - something to do with the Gulbrandsen Trust. Money, in fact. Suppose that there had been embezzlement - embezzlement on a very big scale - you see where that points? To just one person.’

Inspector Curry gasped, ‘Lewis Serrocold?’ he said in disbelief.

‘Lewis Serrocold.’ said Miss Marple.

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