Miss Marple 3-Book Collection 1: The Murder at the Vicarage, The Body in the Library, The Moving Finger Agatha Christie The first three full-length Miss Marple novels, set before and during the Second World War, see the world's most accomplished amateur sleuth unravelling the dark side of human nature to uncover three cases of Murder Most Foul!The Murder at the VicarageAgatha Christie’s first ever Miss Marple mystery. It was a careless remark for a man of the cloth. And one which was to come back and haunt the clergyman just a few hours later. From seven potential murderers, Miss Marple must seek out the suspect who has both motive and opportunity.The Body in the LibraryIt’s seven in the morning. The Bantrys wake to find the body of a young woman in their library. She is wearing evening dress and heavy make-up, which is now smeared across her cheeks.The Moving FingerLymstock is a town with more than its share of shameful secrets – a town where even a sudden outbreak of anonymous hate-mail causes only a minor stir. But all that changes when one of the recipients, Mrs Symmington, commits suicide. Only Miss Marple questions the coroner’s verdict of suicide. Was this the work of a poison-pen? Or of a poisoner? Copyright (#ulink_8d866381-445c-5ad3-9fcd-b5e1566f2769) HarperCollinsPublishers Ltd. 1 London Bridge Street London SE1 9GF www.harpercollins.co.uk (http://www.harpercollins.co.uk) Murder At The Vicarage first published in Great Britain by Collins 1930 The Body In The Library first published in Great Britain by Collins 1942 The Moving Finger first published in Great Britain by Collins 1943 Copyright © 1930, 1942, 1943 Agatha Christie Ltd. All rights reserved. www.agathachristie.com (http://www.agathachristie.com/) Agatha Christie asserts the moral right to be identified as the author of this work All rights reserved. This book is sold subject to the condition that it shall not, by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, re-sold, hired out or otherwise circulated without the publisher's prior consent. No part of this text may be reproduced, transmitted, downloaded, reverse engineered, or stored in or introduced into any information storage and retrieval system, in any form or by any means whether electronic or mechanical, now known or hereinafter invented, without the express written permission of HarperCollins ebooks HarperCollinsPublishers has made every reasonable effort to ensure that any picture content and written content in this ebook has been included or removed in accordance with the contractual and technological constraints in operation at the time of publication Ebook Edition © DECEMBER 2010 ISBN: 9780007431724 Version: 2017-10-02 Contents Title Page (#udb47e685-d342-55be-8cdb-b601e4c02418) Copyright The Murder at the Vicarage (#ub59afe1c-66d4-529f-a91c-f90db471cc4b) The Body in the Library (#litres_trial_promo) The Moving Finger (#litres_trial_promo) Keep Reading (#litres_trial_promo) About Agatha Christie The Agatha Christie Collection www.agathachristie.com About the Publisher The Murder at the Vicarage (#ulink_0a503ba1-6fa7-5d84-8fd7-0b7d51b2e985) To Rosalind Contents Cover (#ub59afe1c-66d4-529f-a91c-f90db471cc4b) Title Page (#ue31bbb1a-3ee0-5e8b-8bfd-d51508d57f9a) Chapter 1 It is difficult to know quite where to begin this… Chapter 2 Griselda is a very irritating woman. On leaving the luncheon… Chapter 3 ‘Nasty old cat,’ said Griselda, as soon as the door… Chapter 4 I had entirely forgotten that we had asked Lawrence Redding… Chapter 5 It was nearer seven than half-past six when I… Chapter 6 We puzzled over the business of the clock for some… Chapter 7 Colonel Melchett is a dapper little man with a habit… Chapter 8 We were rather silent on our way down to the… Chapter 9 After leaving a message at the police station, the Chief… Chapter 10 His remarks on the subject of Miss Marple as we… Chapter 11 I saw at a glance that Colonel Melchett and Inspector… Chapter 12 I was summoned to the study when Lawrence Redding arrived. Chapter 13 I hardly thought it likely that Mrs Price Ridley had… Chapter 14 On my way home, I ran into Miss Hartnell and… Chapter 15 Hawes’s appearance distressed me very much. His hands were shaking… Chapter 16 As I went out I ran into Haydock on the… Chapter 17 Inspector Slack came round to see me the following morning. Chapter 18 The inquest was held that afternoon (Saturday) at two o’clock… Chapter 19 ‘Very glad to have met you,’ said Lawrence. ‘Come to… Chapter 20 When I got back to the Vicarage I found that… Chapter 21 I cannot say that I have at any time had… Chapter 22 Inspector Slack’s orders, once I had got him on the… Chapter 23 On the way back, I proposed to Griselda that we… Chapter 24 I returned to the Vicarage to find Hawes waiting for… Chapter 25 I found it hard to shake off the impression left… Chapter 26 I was in a strange mood when I mounted the… Chapter 27 Griselda and Dennis had not yet returned. I realized that… Chapter 28 I hurried down the village street. It was eleven o’clock,… Chapter 29 I don’t know how long I sat there—only a… Chapter 30 We stared at her. I really think that for a… Chapter 31 Colonel Melchett and I both stared at her. Chapter 32 There is little more to be told. Miss Marple’s plan… Credits Chapter 1 (#u04b8872f-0303-5345-8ae0-3fef39498551) It is difficult to know quite where to begin this story, but I have fixed my choice on a certain Wednesday at luncheon at the Vicarage. The conversation, though in the main irrelevant to the matter in hand, yet contained one or two suggestive incidents which influenced later developments. I had just finished carving some boiled beef (remarkably tough by the way) and on resuming my seat I remarked, in a spirit most unbecoming to my cloth, that anyone who murdered Colonel Protheroe would be doing the world at large a service. My young nephew, Dennis, said instantly: ‘That’ll be remembered against you when the old boy is found bathed in blood. Mary will give evidence, won’t you, Mary? And describe how you brandished the carving knife in a vindictive manner.’ Mary, who is in service at the Vicarage as a stepping-stone to better things and higher wages, merely said in a loud, businesslike voice, ‘Greens’, and thrust a cracked dish at him in a truculent manner. My wife said in a sympathetic voice: ‘Has he been very trying?’ I did not reply at once, for Mary, setting the greens on the table with a bang, proceeded to thrust a dish of singularly moist and unpleasant dumplings under my nose. I said, ‘No, thank you,’ and she deposited the dish with a clatter on the table and left the room. ‘It is a pity that I am such a shocking housekeeper,’ said my wife, with a tinge of genuine regret in her voice. I was inclined to agree with her. My wife’s name is Griselda – a highly suitable name for a parson’s wife. But there the suitability ends. She is not in the least meek. I have always been of the opinion that a clergyman should be unmarried. Why I should have urged Griselda to marry me at the end of twenty-four hours’ acquaintance is a mystery to me. Marriage, I have always held, is a serious affair, to be entered into only after long deliberation and forethought, and suitability of tastes and inclinations is the most important consideration. Griselda is nearly twenty years younger than myself. She is most distractingly pretty and quite incapable of taking anything seriously. She is incompetent in every way, and extremely trying to live with. She treats the parish as a kind of huge joke arranged for her amusement. I have endeavoured to form her mind and failed. I am more than ever convinced that celibacy is desirable for the clergy. I have frequently hinted as much to Griselda, but she has only laughed. ‘My dear,’ I said, ‘if you would only exercise a little care –’ ‘I do sometimes,’ said Griselda. ‘But, on the whole, I think things go worse when I’m trying. I’m evidently not a housekeeper by nature. I find it better to leave things to Mary and just make up my mind to be uncomfortable and have nasty things to eat.’ ‘And what about your husband, my dear?’ I said reproachfully, and proceeding to follow the example of the devil in quoting Scripture for his own ends I added: ‘She looketh to the ways of her household…’ ‘Think how lucky you are not to be torn to pieces by lions,’ said Griselda, quickly interrupting. ‘Or burnt at the stake. Bad food and lots of dust and dead wasps is really nothing to make a fuss about. Tell me more about Colonel Protheroe. At any rate the early Christians were lucky enough not to have churchwardens.’ ‘Pompous old brute,’ said Dennis. ‘No wonder his first wife ran away from him.’ ‘I don’t see what else she could do,’ said my wife. ‘Griselda,’ I said sharply. ‘I will not have you speaking in that way.’ ‘Darling,’ said my wife affectionately. ‘Tell me about him. What was the trouble? Was it Mr Hawes’s becking and nodding and crossing himself every other minute?’ Hawes is our new curate. He has been with us just over three weeks. He has High Church views and fasts on Fridays. Colonel Protheroe is a great opposer of ritual in any form. ‘Not this time. He did touch on it in passing. No, the whole trouble arose out of Mrs Price Ridley’s wretched pound note.’ Mrs Price Ridley is a devout member of my congregation. Attending early service on the anniversary of her son’s death, she put a pound note in the offertory bag. Later, reading the amount of the collection posted up, she was pained to observe that one ten-shilling note was the highest item mentioned. She complained to me about it, and I pointed out, very reasonably, that she must have made a mistake. ‘We’re none of us so young as we were,’ I said, trying to turn it off tactfully. ‘And we must pay the penalty of advancing years.’ Strangely enough, my words only seemed to incense her further. She said that things had a very odd look and that she was surprised I didn’t think so also. And she flounced away and, I gather, took her troubles to Colonel Protheroe. Protheroe is the kind of man who enjoys making a fuss on every conceivable occasion. He made a fuss. It is a pity he made it on a Wednesday. I teach in the Church Day School on Wednesday mornings, a proceeding that causes me acute nervousness and leaves me unsettled for the rest of the day. ‘Well, I suppose he must have some fun,’ said my wife, with the air of trying to sum up the position impartially. ‘Nobody flutters round him and calls him “the dear Vicar”, and embroiders awful slippers for him, and gives him bed-socks for Christmas. Both his wife and his daughter are fed up to the teeth with him. I suppose it makes him happy to feel important somewhere.’ ‘He needn’t be offensive about it,’ I said with some heat. ‘I don’t think he quite realized the implications of what he was saying. He wants to go over all the Church accounts – in case of defalcations – that was the word he used. Defalcations! Does he suspect me of embezzling the Church funds?’ ‘Nobody would suspect you of anything, darling,’ said Griselda. ‘You’re so transparently above suspicion that really it would be a marvellous opportunity. I wish you’d embezzle the S.P.G. funds. I hate missionaries – I always have.’ I would have reproved her for that sentiment, but Mary entered at that moment with a partially cooked rice pudding. I made a mild protest, but Griselda said that the Japanese always ate half-cooked rice and had marvellous brains in consequence. ‘I dare say,’ she said, ‘that if you had a rice pudding like this every day till Sunday, you’d preach the most marvellous sermon.’ ‘Heaven forbid,’ I said with a shudder. ‘Protheroe’s coming over tomorrow evening and we’re going over the accounts together,’ I went on. ‘I must finish preparing my talk for the C.E.M.S. today. Looking up a reference, I became so engrossed in Canon Shirley’s Reality that I haven’t got on as well as I should. What are you doing this afternoon, Griselda?’ ‘My duty,’ said Griselda. ‘My duty as the Vicaress. Tea and scandal at four-thirty.’ ‘Who is coming?’ Griselda ticked them off on her fingers with a glow of virtue on her face. ‘Mrs Price Ridley, Miss Wetherby, Miss Hartnell, and that terrible Miss Marple.’ ‘I rather like Miss Marple,’ I said. ‘She has, at least, a sense of humour.’ ‘She’s the worst cat in the village,’ said Griselda. ‘And she always knows every single thing that happens – and draws the worst inferences from it.’ Griselda, as I have said, is much younger than I am. At my time of life, one knows that the worst is usually true. ‘Well, don’t expect me in for tea, Griselda,’ said Dennis. ‘Beast!’ said Griselda. ‘Yes, but look here, the Protheroes really did ask me for tennis today.’ ‘Beast!’ said Griselda again. Dennis beat a prudent retreat and Griselda and I went together into my study. ‘I wonder what we shall have for tea,’ said Griselda, seating herself on my writing-table. ‘Dr Stone and Miss Cram, I suppose, and perhaps Mrs Lestrange. By the way, I called on her yesterday, but she was out. Yes, I’m sure we shall have Mrs Lestrange for tea. It’s so mysterious, isn’t it, her arriving like this and taking a house down here, and hardly ever going outside it? Makes one think of detective stories. You know – “Who was she, the mysterious woman with the pale, beautiful face? What was her past history? Nobody knew. There was something faintly sinister about her.” I believe Dr Haydock knows something about her.’ ‘You read too many detective stories, Griselda,’ I observed mildly. ‘What about you?’ she retorted. ‘I was looking everywhere for The Stain on the Stairs the other day when you were in here writing a sermon. And at last I came in to ask you if you’d seen it anywhere, and what did I find?’ I had the grace to blush. ‘I picked it up at random. A chance sentence caught my eye and…’ ‘I know those chance sentences,’ said Griselda. She quoted impressively, “And then a very curious thing happened – Griselda rose, crossed the room and kissed her elderly husband affectionately.”’ She suited the action to the word. ‘Is that a very curious thing?’ I inquired. ‘Of course it is,’ said Griselda. ‘Do you realize, Len, that I might have married a Cabinet Minister, a Baronet, a rich Company Promoter, three subalterns and a ne’er-do-weel with attractive manners, and that instead I chose you? Didn’t it astonish you very much?’ ‘At the time it did,’ I replied. ‘I have often wondered why you did it.’ Griselda laughed. ‘It made me feel so powerful,’ she murmured. ‘The others thought me simply wonderful and of course it would have been very nice for them to have me. But I’m everything you most dislike and disapprove of, and yet you couldn’t withstand me! My vanity couldn’t hold out against that. It’s so much nicer to be a secret and delightful sin to anybody than to be a feather in their cap. I make you frightfully uncomfortable and stir you up the wrong way the whole time, and yet you adore me madly. You adore me madly, don’t you?’ ‘Naturally I am very fond of you, my dear.’ ‘Oh! Len, you adore me. Do you remember that day when I stayed up in town and sent you a wire you never got because the postmistress’s sister was having twins and she forgot to send it round? The state you got into and you telephoned Scotland Yard and made the most frightful fuss.’ There are things one hates being reminded of. I had really been strangely foolish on the occasion in question. I said: ‘If you don’t mind, dear, I want to get on with the C.E.M.S.’ Griselda gave a sigh of intense irritation, ruffled my hair up on end, smoothed it down again, said: ‘You don’t deserve me. You really don’t. I’ll have an affair with the artist. I will – really and truly. And then think of the scandal in the parish.’ ‘There’s a good deal already,’ I said mildly. Griselda laughed, blew me a kiss, and departed through the window. Chapter 2 (#u04b8872f-0303-5345-8ae0-3fef39498551) Griselda is a very irritating woman. On leaving the luncheon table, I had felt myself to be in a good mood for preparing a really forceful address for the Church of England Men’s Society. Now I felt restless and disturbed. Just when I was really settling down to it, Lettice Protheroe drifted in. I use the word drifted advisedly. I have read novels in which young people are described as bursting with energy –joie de vivre, the magnificent vitality of youth…Personally, all the young people I come across have the air of animal wraiths. Lettice was particularly wraith-like this afternoon. She is a pretty girl, very tall and fair and completely vague. She drifted through the French window, absently pulled off the yellow beret she was wearing and murmured vaguely with a kind of far-away surprise: ‘Oh! it’s you.’ There is a path from Old Hall through the woods which comes out by our garden gate, so that most people coming from there come in at that gate and up to the study window instead of going a long way round by the road and coming to the front door. I was not surprised at Lettice coming in this way, but I did a little resent her attitude. If you come to a Vicarage, you ought to be prepared to find a Vicar. She came in and collapsed in a crumpled heap in one of my big armchairs. She plucked aimlessly at her hair, staring at the ceiling. ‘Is Dennis anywhere about?’ ‘I haven’t seen him since lunch. I understood he was going to play tennis at your place.’ ‘Oh!’ said Lettice. ‘I hope he isn’t. He won’t find anybody there.’ ‘He said you asked him.’ ‘I believe I did. Only that was Friday. And today’s Tuesday.’ ‘It’s Wednesday,’ I said. ‘Oh, how dreadful!’ said Lettice. ‘That means that I’ve forgotten to go to lunch with some people for the third time.’ Fortunately it didn’t seem to worry her much. ‘Is Griselda anywhere about?’ ‘I expect you’ll find her in the studio in the garden– sitting to Lawrence Redding.’ ‘There’s been quite a shemozzle about him,’ said Lettice. ‘With father, you know. Father’s dreadful.’ ‘What was the she – whatever it was about?’ I inquired. ‘About his painting me. Father found out about it. Why shouldn’t I be painted in my bathing dress? If I go on a beach in it, why shouldn’t I be painted in it?’ Lettice paused and then went on. ‘It’s really absurd – father forbidding a young man the house. Of course, Lawrence and I simply shriek about it. I shall come and be done here in your studio.’ ‘No, my dear,’ I said. ‘Not if your father forbids it.’ ‘Oh! dear,’ said Lettice, sighing. ‘How tiresome everyone is. I feel shattered. Definitely. If only I had some money I’d go away, but without it I can’t. If only father would be decent and die, I should be all right.’ ‘You must not say things like that, Lettice.’ ‘Well, if he doesn’t want me to want him to die, he shouldn’t be so horrible over money. I don’t wonder mother left him. Do you know, for years I believed she was dead. What sort of a young man did she run away with? Was he nice?’ ‘It was before your father came to live here.’ ‘I wonder what’s become of her. I expect Anne will have an affair with someone soon. Annehates me – she’s quite decent to me, but she hates me. She’s getting old and she doesn’t like it. That’s the age you break out, you know.’ I wondered if Lettice was going to spend the entire afternoon in my study. ‘You haven’t seen my gramophone records, have you?’ she asked. ‘No.’ ‘How tiresome. I know I’ve left them somewhere. And I’ve lost the dog. And my wrist watch is somewhere, only it doesn’t much matter because it won’t go. Oh! dear, I am so sleepy. I can’t think why, because I didn’t get up till eleven. But life’s very shattering, don’t you think? Oh! dear, I must go. I’m going to see Dr Stone’s barrow at three o’clock.’ I glanced at the clock and remarked that it was now five-and-twenty to four. ‘Oh! Is it? How dreadful. I wonder if they’ve waited or if they’ve gone without me. I suppose I’d better go down and do something about it.’ She got up and drifted out again, murmuring over her shoulder: ‘You’ll tell Dennis, won’t you?’ I said ‘Yes’ mechanically, only realizing too late that I had no idea what it was I was to tell Dennis. But I reflected that in all probability it did not matter. I fell to cogitating on the subject of Dr Stone, a well-known archaeologist who had recently come to stay at the Blue Boar, whilst he superintended the excavation of a barrow situated on Colonel Protheroe’s property. There had already been several disputes between him and the Colonel. I was amused at his appointment to take Lettice to see the operations. It occurred to me that Lettice Protheroe was something of a minx. I wondered how she would get on with the archaeologist’s secretary, Miss Cram. Miss Cram is a healthy young woman of twenty-five, noisy in manner, with a high colour, fine animal spirits and a mouth that always seems to have more than its full share of teeth. Village opinion is divided as to whether she is no better than she should be, or else a young woman of iron virtue who purposes to become Mrs Stone at an early opportunity. She is in every way a great contrast to Lettice. I could imagine that the state of things at Old Hall might not be too happy. Colonel Protheroe had married again some five years previously. The second Mrs Protheroe was a remarkably handsome woman in a rather unusual style. I had always guessed that the relations between her and her stepdaughter were not too happy. I had one more interruption. This time, it was my curate, Hawes. He wanted to know the details of my interview with Protheroe. I told him that the Colonel had deplored his ‘Romish tendencies’ but that the real purpose of his visit had been on quite another matter. At the same time, I entered a protest of my own, and told him plainly that he must conform to my ruling. On the whole, he took my remarks very well. I felt rather remorseful when he had gone for not liking him better. These irrational likes and dislikes that one takes to people are, I am sure, very unChristian. With a sigh, I realized that the hands of the clock on my writing-table pointed to a quarter to five, a sign that it was really half-past four, and I made my way to the drawing-room. Four of my parishioners were assembled there with teacups. Griselda sat behind the tea table trying to look natural in her environment, but only succeeded in looking more out of place than usual. I shook hands all round and sat down between Miss Marple and Miss Wetherby. Miss Marple is a white-haired old lady with a gentle, appealing manner – Miss Wetherby is a mixture of vinegar and gush. Of the two Miss Marple is much the more dangerous. ‘We were just talking,’ said Griselda in a honeysweet voice, ‘about Dr Stone and Miss Cram.’ A ribald rhyme concocted by Dennis shot through my head. ‘Miss Cram doesn’t give a damn.’ I had a sudden yearning to say it out loud and observe the effect, but fortunately I refrained. Miss Wetherby said tersely: ‘No nice girl would do it,’ and shut her thin lips disapprovingly. ‘Do what?’ I inquired. ‘Be a secretary to an unmarried man,’ said Miss Wetherby in a horrified tone. ‘Oh! my dear,’ said Miss Marple. ‘I think married ones are the worst. Remember poor Mollie Carter.’ ‘Married men living apart from their wives are, of course, notorious,’ said Miss Wetherby. ‘And even some of the ones living with their wives,’ murmured Miss Marple. ‘I remember…’ I interrupted these unsavoury reminiscences. ‘But surely,’ I said, ‘in these days a girl can take a post in just the same way as a man does.’ ‘To come away to the country? And stay at the same hotel?’ said Mrs Price Ridley in a severe voice. Miss Wetherby murmured to Miss Marple in a low voice: ‘And all the bedrooms on the same floor…’ Miss Hartnell, who is weather-beaten and jolly and much dreaded by the poor, observed in a loud, hearty voice: ‘The poor man will be caught before he knows where he is. He’s as innocent as a babe unborn, you can see that.’ Curious what turns of phrase we employ. None of the ladies present would have dreamed of alluding to an actual baby till it was safely in the cradle, visible to all. ‘Disgusting, I call it,’ continued Miss Hartnell, with her usual tactlessness. ‘The man must be at least twenty-five years older than she is.’ Three female voices rose at once making disconnected remarks about the Choir Boys’ Outing, the regrettable incident at the last Mothers’ Meeting, and the draughts in the church. Miss Marple twinkled at Griselda. ‘Don’t you think,’ said my wife, ‘that Miss Cram may just like having an interesting job? And that she considers Dr Stone just as an employer?’ There was a silence. Evidently none of the four ladies agreed. Miss Marple broke the silence by patting Griselda on the arm. ‘My dear,’ she said, ‘you are very young. The young have such innocent minds.’ Griselda said indignantly that she hadn’t got at all an innocent mind. ‘Naturally,’ said Miss Marple, unheeding of the protest, ‘you think the best of everyone.’ ‘Do you really think she wants to marry that baldheaded dull man?’ ‘I understand he is quite well off,’ said Miss Marple. ‘Rather a violent temper, I’m afraid. He had quite a serious quarrel with Colonel Protheroe the other day.’ Everyone leaned forward interestingly. ‘Colonel Protheroe accused him of being an ignoramus.’ ‘How like Colonel Protheroe, and how absurd,’ said Mrs Price Ridley. ‘Very like Colonel Protheroe, but I don’t know about it being absurd,’ said Miss Marple. ‘You remember the woman who came down here and said she represented Welfare, and after taking subscriptions she was never heard of again and proved to having nothing whatever to do with Welfare. One is so inclined to be trusting and take people at their own valuation.’ I should never have dreamed of describing Miss Marple as trusting. ‘There’s been some fuss about that young artist, Mr Redding, hasn’t there?’ asked Miss Wetherby. Miss Marple nodded. ‘Colonel Protheroe turned him out of the house. It appears he was painting Lettice in her bathing dress.’ ‘I always thought there was something between them,’ said Mrs Price Ridley. ‘That young fellow is always mouching off up there. Pity the girl hasn’t got a mother. A stepmother is never the same thing.’ ‘I dare say Mrs Protheroe does her best,’ said Miss Hartnell. ‘Girls are so sly,’ deplored Mrs Price Ridley. ‘Quite a romance, isn’t it?’ said the softer-hearted Miss Wetherby. ‘He’s a very good-looking young fellow.’ ‘But loose,’ said Miss Hartnell. ‘Bound to be. An artist! Paris! Models! The Altogether!’ ‘Painting her in her bathing dress,’ said Mrs Price Ridley. ‘Not quite nice.’ ‘He’s painting me too,’ said Griselda. ‘But not in your bathing dress, dear,’ said Miss Marple. ‘It might be worse,’ said Griselda solemnly. ‘Naughty girl,’ said Miss Hartnell, taking the joke broad-mindedly. Everybody else looked slightly shocked. ‘Did dear Lettice tell you of the trouble?’ asked Miss Marple of me. ‘Tell me?’ ‘Yes. I saw her pass through the garden and go round to the study window.’ Miss Marple always sees everything. Gardening is as good as a smoke screen, and the habit of observing birds through powerful glasses can always be turned to account. ‘She mentioned it, yes,’ I admitted. ‘Mr Hawes looked worried,’ said Miss Marple. ‘I hope he hasn’t been working too hard.’ ‘Oh!’ cried Miss Wetherby excitedly. ‘I quite forgot. I knew I had some news for you. I saw Dr Haydock coming out of Mrs Lestrange’s cottage.’ Everyone looked at each other. ‘Perhaps she’s ill,’ suggested Mrs Price Ridley. ‘It must have been very sudden, if so,’ said Miss Hartnell. ‘For I saw her walking round her garden at three o’clock this afternoon, and she seemed in perfect health.’ ‘She and Dr Haydock must be old acquaintances,’ said Mrs Price Ridley. ‘He’s been very quiet about it.’ ‘It’s curious,’ said Miss Wetherby, ‘that he’s never mentioned it.’ ‘As a matter of fact –’ said Griselda in a low, mysterious voice, and stopped. Everyone leaned forward excitedly. ‘I happen to know,’ said Griselda impressively. ‘Her husband was a missionary. Terrible story. He was eaten, you know. Actually eaten. And she was forced to become the chief’s head wife. Dr Haydock was with an expedition and rescued her.’ For a moment excitement was rife, then Miss Marple said reproachfully, but with a smile: ‘Naughty girl!’ She tapped Griselda reprovingly on the arm. ‘Very unwise thing to do, my dear. If you make up these things, people are quite likely to believe them. And sometimes that leads to complications.’ A distinct frost had come over the assembly. Two of the ladies rose to take their departure. ‘I wonder if there is anything between young Lawrence Redding and Lettice Protheroe,’ said Miss Wetherby. ‘It certainly looks like it. What do you think, Miss Marple?’ Miss Marple seemed thoughtful. ‘I shouldn’t have said so myself. Not Lettice. Quite another person I should have said.’ ‘But Colonel Protheroe must have thought…’ ‘He has always struck me as rather a stupid man,’ said Miss Marple. ‘The kind of man who gets the wrong idea into his head and is obstinate about it. Do you remember Joe Bucknell who used to keep the Blue Boar? Such a to-do about his daughter carrying on with young Bailey. And all the time it was that minx of a wife of his.’ She was looking full at Griselda as she spoke, and I suddenly felt a wild surge of anger. ‘Don’t you think, Miss Marple,’ I said, ‘that we’re all inclined to let our tongues run away with us too much. Charity thinketh no evil, you know. Inestimable harm may be done by foolish wagging of tongues in ill-natured gossip.’ ‘Dear Vicar,’ said Miss Marple, ‘You are so unworldly. I’m afraid that observing human nature for as long as I have done, one gets not to expect very much from it. I dare say the idle tittle-tattle is very wrong and unkind, but it is so often true, isn’t it?’ That last Parthian shot went home. Chapter 3 (#ulink_7edbf50f-9cad-5c73-b882-9ef4b95315e3) ‘Nasty old cat,’ said Griselda, as soon as the door was closed. She made a face in the direction of the departing visitors and then looked at me and laughed. ‘Len, do you really suspect me of having an affair with Lawrence Redding?’ ‘My dear, of course not.’ ‘But you thought Miss Marple was hinting at it. And you rose to my defence simply beautifully. Like – like an angry tiger.’ A momentary uneasiness assailed me. A clergyman of the Church of England ought never to put himself in the position of being described as an angry tiger. ‘I felt the occasion could not pass without a protest,’ I said. ‘But Griselda, I wish you would be a little more careful in what you say.’ ‘Do you mean the cannibal story?’ she asked. ‘Or the suggestion that Lawrence was painting me in the nude! If they only knew that he was painting me in a thick cloak with a very high fur collar – the sort of thing that you could go quite purely to see the Pope in – not a bit of sinful flesh showing anywhere! In fact, it’s all marvellously pure. Lawrence never even attempts to make love to me – I can’t think why.’ ‘Surely knowing that you’re a married woman –’ ‘Don’t pretend to come out of the ark, Len. You know very well that an attractive young woman with an elderly husband is a kind of gift from heaven to a young man. There must be some other reason – it’s not that I’m unattractive – I’m not.’ ‘Surely you don’t want him to make love to you?’ ‘N-n-o,’ said Griselda, with more hesitation than I thought becoming. ‘If he’s in love with Lettice Protheroe –’ ‘Miss Marple didn’t seem to think he was.’ ‘Miss Marple may be mistaken.’ ‘She never is. That kind of old cat is always right.’ She paused a minute and then said, with a quick sidelong glance at me: ‘You do believe me, don’t you? I mean, that there’s nothing between Lawrence and me.’ ‘My dear Griselda,’ I said, surprised. ‘Of course.’ My wife came across and kissed me. ‘I wish you weren’t so terribly easy to deceive, Len. You’d believe me whatever I said.’ ‘I should hope so. But, my dear, I do beg of you to guard your tongue and be careful of what you say. These women are singularly deficient in humour, remember, and take everything seriously.’ ‘What they need,’ said Griselda, ‘is a little immorality in their lives. Then they wouldn’t be so busy looking for it in other people’s.’ And on this she left the room, and glancing at my watch I hurried out to pay some visits that ought to have been made earlier in the day. The Wednesday evening service was sparsely attended as usual, but when I came out through the church, after disrobing in the vestry, it was empty save for a woman who stood staring up at one of our windows. We have some rather fine old stained glass, and indeed the church itself is well worth looking at. She turned at my footsteps, and I saw that it was Mrs Lestrange. We both hesitated a moment, and then I said: ‘I hope you like our little church.’ ‘I’ve been admiring the screen,’ she said. Her voice was pleasant, low, yet very distinct, with a clearcut enunciation. She added: ‘I’m so sorry to have missed your wife yesterday.’ We talked a few minutes longer about the church. She was evidently a cultured woman who knew something of Church history and architecture. We left the building together and walked down the road, since one way to the Vicarage led past her house. As we arrived at the gate, she said pleasantly: ‘Come in, won’t you? And tell me what you think of what I have done.’ I accepted the invitation. Little Gates had formerly belonged to an Anglo-Indian colonel, and I could not help feeling relieved by the disappearance of the brass tables and Burmese idols. It was furnished now very simply, but in exquisite taste. There was a sense of harmony and rest about it. Yet I wondered more and more what had brought such a woman as Mrs Lestrange to St Mary Mead. She was so very clearly a woman of the world that it seemed a strange taste to bury herself in a country village. In the clear light of her drawing-room I had an opportunity of observing her closely for the first time. She was a very tall woman. Her hair was gold with a tinge of red in it. Her eyebrows and eyelashes were dark, whether by art or by nature I could not decide. If she was, as I thought, made up, it was done very artistically. There was something Sphinxlike about her face when it was in repose and she had the most curious eyes I have ever seen – they were almost golden in shade. Her clothes were perfect and she had all the ease of manner of a well-bred woman, and yet there was something about her that was incongruous and baffling. You felt that she was a mystery. The word Griselda had used occurred to me –sinister. Absurd, of course, and yet – was it so absurd? The thought sprang unbidden into my mind: ‘This woman would stick at nothing.’ Our talk was on most normal lines – pictures, books, old churches. Yet somehow I got very strongly the impression that there was something else – something of quite a different nature that Mrs Lestrange wanted to say to me. I caught her eye on me once or twice, looking at me with a curious hesitancy, as though she were unable to make up her mind. She kept the talk, I noticed, strictly to impersonal subjects. She made no mention of a husband or relations. But all the time there was that strange urgent appeal in her glance. It seemed to say: ‘Shall I tell you? I want to. Can’t you help me?’ Yet in the end it died away – or perhaps it had all been my fancy. I had the feeling that I was being dismissed. I rose and took my leave. As I went out of the room, I glanced back and saw her staring after me with a puzzled, doubtful expression. On an impulse I came back: ‘If there is anything I can do –’ She said doubtfully: ‘It’s very kind of you –’ We were both silent. Then she said: ‘I wish I knew. It’s difficult. No, I don’t think anyone can help me. But thank you for offering to do so.’ That seemed final, so I went. But as I did so, I wondered. We are not used to mysteries in St Mary Mead. So much is this the case that as I emerged from the gate I was pounced upon. Miss Hartnell is very good at pouncing in a heavy and cumbrous way. ‘I saw you!’ she exclaimed with ponderous humour. ‘And I was so excited. Now you can tell us all about it.’ ‘About what?’ ‘The mysterious lady! Is she a widow or has she a husband somewhere?’ ‘I really couldn’t say. She didn’t tell me.’ ‘How very peculiar. One would think she would be certain to mention something casually. It almost looks, doesn’t it, as though she had a reason for not speaking?’ ‘I really don’t see that.’ ‘Ah! But as dear Miss Marple says, you are so unworldly, dear Vicar. Tell me, has she known Dr Haydock long?’ ‘She didn’t mention him, so I don’t know.’ ‘Really? But what did you talk about then?’ ‘Pictures, music, books,’ I said truthfully. Miss Hartnell, whose only topics of conversation are the purely personal, looked suspicious and unbelieving. Taking advantage of a momentary hesitation on her part as to how to proceed next, I bade her good-night and walked rapidly away. I called in at a house farther down the village and returned to the Vicarage by the garden gate, passing, as I did so, the danger point of Miss Marple’s garden. However, I did not see how it was humanly possible for the news of my visit to Mrs Lestrange to have yet reached her ears, so I felt reasonably safe. As I latched the gate, it occurred to me that I would just step down to the shed in the garden which young Lawrence Redding was using as a studio, and see for myself how Griselda’s portrait was progressing. I append a rough sketch here which will be useful in the light of after happenings, only sketching in such details as are necessary. I had no idea there was anyone in the studio. There had been no voices from within to warn me, and I suppose that my own footsteps made no noise upon the grass. I opened the door and then stopped awkwardly on the threshold. For there were two people in the studio, and the man’s arms were round the woman and he was kissing her passionately. The two people were the artist, Lawrence Redding, and Mrs Protheroe. I backed out precipitately and beat a retreat to my study. There I sat down in a chair, took out my pipe, and thought things over. The discovery had come as a great shock to me. Especially since my conversation with Lettice that afternoon, I had felt fairly certain that there was some kind of understanding growing up between her and the young man. Moreover, I was convinced that she herself thought so. I felt positive that she had no idea of the artist’s feelings for her stepmother. A nasty tangle. I paid a grudging tribute to Miss Marple. She had not been deceived but had evidently suspected the true state of things with a fair amount of accuracy. I had entirely misread her meaning glance at Griselda. I had never dreamt of considering Mrs Protheroe in the matter. There has always been rather a suggestion of Caesar’s wife about Mrs Protheroe – a quiet, selfcontained woman whom one would not suspect of any great depths of feeling. I had got to this point in my meditations when a tap on my study window aroused me. I got up and went to it. Mrs Protheroe was standing outside. I opened the window and she came in, not waiting for an invitation on my part. She crossed the room in a breathless sort of way and dropped down on the sofa. I had the feeling that I had never really seen her before. The quiet self-contained woman that I knew had vanished. In her place was a quick-breathing, desperate creature. For the first time I realized that Anne Protheroe was beautiful. She was a brown-haired woman with a pale face and very deep set grey eyes. She was flushed now and her breast heaved. It was as though a statue had suddenly come to life. I blinked my eyes at the transformation. ‘I thought it best to come,’ she said. ‘You – you saw just now?’ I bowed my head. She said very quietly: ‘We love each other…’ And even in the middle of her evident distress and agitation she could not keep a little smile from her lips. The smile of a woman who sees something very beautiful and wonderful. I still said nothing, and she added presently: ‘I suppose to you that seems very wrong?’ ‘Can you expect me to say anything else, Mrs Protheroe?’ ‘No – no, I suppose not.’ I went on, trying to make my voice as gentle as possible: ‘You are a married woman –’ She interrupted me. ‘Oh! I know – I know. Do you think I haven’t gone over all that again and again? I’m not a bad woman really – I’m not. And things aren’t – aren’t – as you might think they are.’ I said gravely: ‘I’m glad of that.’ She asked rather timorously: ‘Are you going to tell my husband?’ I said rather dryly: ‘There seems to be a general idea that a clergyman is incapable of behaving like a gentleman. That is not true.’ She threw me a grateful glance. ‘I’m so unhappy. Oh! I’m so dreadfully unhappy. I can’t go on. I simply can’t go on. And I don’t know what to do.’ Her voice rose with a slightly hysterical note in it. ‘You don’t know what my life is like. I’ve been miserable with Lucius from the beginning. No woman could be happy with him. I wish he were dead…It’s awful, but I do…I’m desperate. I tell you, I’m desperate.’ She started and looked over at the window. ‘What was that? I thought I heard someone? Perhaps it’s Lawrence.’ I went over to the window which I had not closed as I had thought. I stepped out and looked down the garden, but there was no one in sight. Yet I was almost convinced that I, too, had heard someone. Or perhaps it was her certainty that had convinced me. When I re-entered the room she was leaning forward, drooping her head down. She looked the picture of despair. She said again: ‘I don’t know what to do. I don’t know what to do.’ I came and sat down beside her. I said the things I thought it was my duty to say, and tried to say them with the necessary conviction, uneasily conscious all the time that that same morning I had given voice to the sentiment that a world without Colonel Protheroe in it would be improved for the better. Above all, I begged her to do nothing rash. To leave her home and her husband was a very serious step. I don’t suppose I convinced her. I have lived long enough in the world to know that arguing with anyone in love is next door to useless, but I do think my words brought to her some measure of comfort. When she rose to go, she thanked me, and promised to think over what I had said. Nevertheless, when she had gone, I felt very uneasy. I felt that hitherto I had misjudged Anne Protheroe’s character. She impressed me now as a very desperate woman, the kind of woman who would stick at nothing once her emotions were aroused. And she was desperately, wildly, madly in love with Lawrence Redding, a man several years younger than herself. I didn’t like it. Chapter 4 (#ulink_0dfb21fc-f17a-551e-8fce-13e9f11edcf3) I had entirely forgotten that we had asked Lawrence Redding to dinner that night. When Griselda burst in and scolded me, pointing out that it lacked two minutes to dinner time, I was quite taken aback. ‘I hope everything will be all right,’ Griselda called up the stairs after me. ‘I’ve thought over what you said at lunch, and I’ve really thought of some quite good things to eat.’ I may say, in passing, that our evening meal amply bore out Griselda’s assertion that things went much worse when she tried than when she didn’t. The menu was ambitious in conception, and Mary seemed to have taken a perverse pleasure in seeing how best she could alternate undercooking and overcooking. Some oysters which Griselda had ordered, and which would seem to be beyond the reach of incompetence, we were, unfortunately, not able to sample as we had nothing in the house to open them with – an omission which was discovered only when the moment for eating them arrived. I had rather doubted whether Lawrence Redding would put in an appearance. He might very easily have sent an excuse. However, he arrived punctually enough, and the four of us went in to dinner. Lawrence Redding has an undeniably attractive personality. He is, I suppose, about thirty years of age. He has dark hair, but his eyes are of a brilliant, almost startling blue. He is the kind of young man who does everything well. He is good at games, an excellent shot, a good amateur actor, and can tell a first-rate story. He is capable of making any party go. He has, I think, Irish blood in his veins. He is not, at all, one’s idea of the typical artist. Yet I believe he is a clever painter in the modern style. I know very little of painting myself. It was only natural that on this particular evening he should appear a shade distrait. On the whole, he carried off things very well. I don’t think Griselda or Dennis noticed anything wrong. Probably I should not have noticed anything myself if I had not known beforehand. Griselda and Dennis were particularly gay – full of jokes about Dr Stone and Miss Cram – the Local Scandal! It suddenly came home to me with something of a pang that Dennis is nearer Griselda’s age than I am. He calls me Uncle Len, but her Griselda. It gave me, somehow, a lonely feeling. I must, I think, have been upset by Mrs Protheroe. I’m not usually given to such unprofitable reflections. Griselda and Dennis went rather far now and then, but I hadn’t the heart to check them. I have always thought it a pity that the mere presence of a clergyman should have a dampening effect. Lawrence took a gay part in the conversation. Nevertheless I was aware of his eyes continually straying to where I sat, and I was not surprised when after dinner he manoeuvred to get me into the study. As soon as we were alone his manner changed. ‘You’ve surprised our secret, sir,’ he said. ‘What are you going to do about it?’ I could speak far more plainly to Redding than I could to Mrs Protheroe, and I did so. He took it very well. ‘Of course,’ he said, when I had finished, ‘you’re bound to say all this. You’re a parson. I don’t mean that in any way offensively. As a matter of fact I think you’re probably right. But this isn’t the usual sort of thing between Anne and me.’ I told him that people had been saying that particular phrase since the dawn of time, and a queer little smile creased his lips. ‘You mean everyone thinks their case is unique? Perhaps so. But one thing you must believe.’ He assured me that so far – ‘there was nothing wrong in it.’ Anne, he said, was one of the truest and most loyal women that ever lived. What was going to happen he didn’t know. ‘If this were only a book,’ he said gloomily, ‘the old man would die – and a good riddance to everybody.’ I reproved him. ‘Oh! I didn’t mean I was going to stick him in the back with a knife, though I’d offer my best thanks to anyone else who did so. There’s not a soul in the world who’s got a good word to say for him. I rather wonder the first Mrs Protheroe didn’t do him in. I met her once, years ago, and she looked quite capable of it. One of those calm dangerous women. He goes blustering along, stirring up trouble everywhere, mean as the devil, and with a particularly nasty temper. You don’t know what Anne has had to stand from him. If I had a penny in the world I’d take her away without any more ado.’ Then I spoke to him very earnestly. I begged him to leave St Mary Mead. By remaining there, he could only bring greater unhappiness on Anne Protheroe than was already her lot. People would talk, the matter would get to Colonel Protheroe’s ears – and things would be made infinitely worse for her. Lawrence protested. ‘Nobody knows a thing about it except you, padre.’ ‘My dear young man, you underestimate the detective instinct of village life. In St Mary Mead everyone knows your most intimate affairs. There is no detective in England equal to a spinster lady of uncertain age with plenty of time on her hands.’ He said easily that that was all right. Everyone thought it was Lettice. ‘Has it occurred to you,’ I asked, ‘that possibly Lettice might think so herself ?’ He seemed quite surprised by the idea. Lettice, he said, didn’t care a hang about him. He was sure of that. ‘She’s a queer sort of girl,’ he said. ‘Always seems in a kind of dream, and yet underneath I believe she’s really rather practical. I believe all that vague stuff is a pose. Lettice knows jolly well what she’s doing. And there’s a funny vindictive streak in her. The queer thing is that she hates Anne. Simply loathes her. And yet Anne’s been a perfect angel to her always.’ I did not, of course, take his word for this last. To infatuated young men, their inamorata always behaves like an angel. Still, to the best of my observation, Anne had always behaved to her stepdaughter with kindness and fairness. I had been surprised myself that afternoon at the bitterness of Lettice’s tone. We had to leave the conversation there, because Griselda and Dennis burst in upon us and said I was not to make Lawrence behave like an old fogy. ‘Oh dear!’ said Griselda, throwing herself into an arm-chair. ‘How I would like a thrill of some kind. A murder – or even a burglary.’ ‘I don’t suppose there’s anyone much worth burgling,’ said Lawrence, trying to enter into her mood. ‘Unless we stole Miss Hartnell’s false teeth.’ ‘They do click horribly,’ said Griselda. ‘But you’re wrong about there being no one worthwhile. There’s some marvellous old silver at Old Hall. Trencher salts and a Charles II Tazza – all kinds of things like that. Worth thousands of pounds, I believe.’ ‘The old man would probably shoot you with an army revolver,’ said Dennis. ‘Just the sort of thing he’d enjoy doing.’ ‘Oh, we’d get in first and hold him up!’ said Griselda. ‘Who’s got a revolver?’ ‘I’ve got a Mauser pistol,’ said Lawrence. ‘Have you? How exciting. Why do you have it?’ ‘Souvenir of the war,’ said Lawrence briefly. ‘Old Protheroe was showing the silver to Stone today,’ volunteered Dennis. ‘Old Stone was pretending to be no end interested in it.’ ‘I thought they’d quarrelled about the barrow,’ said Griselda. ‘Oh, they’ve made that up!’ said Dennis. ‘I can’t think what people want to grub about in barrows for, anyway.’ ‘The man Stone puzzles me,’ said Lawrence. ‘I think he must be very absent-minded. You’d swear sometimes he knew nothing about his own subject.’ ‘That’s love,’ said Dennis. ‘Sweet Gladys Cram, you are no sham. Your teeth are white and fill me with delight. Come, fly with me, my bride to be. And at the Blue Boar, on the bedroom floor –’ ‘That’s enough, Dennis,’ I said. ‘Well,’ said Lawrence Redding, ‘I must be off. Thank you very much, Mrs Clement, for a very pleasant evening.’ Griselda and Dennis saw him off. Dennis returned to the study alone. Something had happened to ruffle the boy. He wandered about the room aimlessly, frowning and kicking the furniture. Our furniture is so shabby already that it can hardly be damaged further, but I felt impelled to utter a mild protest. ‘Sorry,’ said Dennis. He was silent for a moment and then burst out: ‘What an absolutely rotten thing gossip is!’ I was a little surprised. ‘What’s the matter?’ I asked. ‘I don’t know whether I ought to tell you.’ I was more and more surprised. ‘It’s such an absolutely rotten thing,’ Dennis said again. ‘Going round and saying things. Not even saying them. Hinting them. No, I’m damned – sorry – if I’ll tell you! It’s too absolutely rotten.’ I looked at him curiously, but I did not press him further. I wondered very much, though. It is very unlike Dennis to take anything to heart. Griselda came in at that moment. ‘Miss Wetherby’s just rung up,’ she said. ‘Mrs Lestrange went out at a quarter past eight and hasn’t come in yet. Nobody knows where she’s gone.’ ‘Why should they know?’ ‘But it isn’t to Dr Haydock’s. Miss Wetherby does know that, because she telephoned to Miss Hartnell who lives next door to him and who would have been sure to see her.’ ‘It is a mystery to me,’ I said, ‘how anyone ever gets any nourishment in this place. They must eat their meals standing up by the window so as to be sure of not missing anything.’ ‘And that’s not all,’ said Griselda, bubbling with pleasure. ‘They’ve found out about the Blue Boar. Dr Stone and Miss Cram have got rooms next door to each other, BUT’ – she waved an impressive forefinger – ‘no communicating door!’ ‘That,’ I said, ‘must be very disappointing to everybody.’ At which Griselda laughed. Thursday started badly. Two of the ladies of my parish elected to quarrel about the church decorations. I was called in to adjudicate between two middle-aged ladies, each of whom was literally trembling with rage. If it had not been so painful, it would have been quite an interesting physical phenomenon. Then I had to reprove two of our choir boys for persistent sweet sucking during the hours of divine service, and I had an uneasy feeling that I was not doing the job as wholeheartedly as I should have done. Then our organist, who is distinctly ‘touchy’, had taken offence and had to be smoothed down. And four of my poorer parishioners declared open rebellion against Miss Hartnell, who came to me bursting with rage about it. I was just going home when I met Colonel Protheroe. He was in high good-humour, having sentenced three poachers, in his capacity as magistrate. ‘Firmness,’ he shouted in his stentorian voice. He is slightly deaf and raises his voice accordingly as deaf people often do. ‘That’s what’s needed nowadays – firmness! Make an example. That rogue Archer came out yesterday and is vowing vengeance against me, I hear. Impudent scoundrel. Threatened men live long, as the saying goes. I’ll show him what his vengeance is worth next time I catch him taking my pheasants. Lax! We’re too lax nowadays! I believe in showing a man up for what he is. You’re always being asked to consider a man’s wife and children. Damned nonsense. Fiddlesticks. Why should a man escape the consequences of his acts just because he whines about his wife and children? It’s all the same to me – no matter what a man is – doctor, lawyer, clergyman, poacher, drunken wastrel – if you catch him on the wrong side of the law, let the law punish him. You agree with me, I’m sure.’ ‘You forget,’ I said. ‘My calling obliges me to respect one quality above all others – the quality of mercy.’ ‘Well, I’m a just man. No one can deny that.’ I did not speak, and he said sharply: ‘Why don’t you answer? A penny for your thoughts, man.’ I hesitated, then I decided to speak. ‘I was thinking,’ I said, ‘that when my time comes, I should be sorry if the only plea I had to offer was that of justice. Because it might mean that only justice would be meted out to me…’ ‘Pah! What we need is a little militant Christianity. I’ve always done my duty, I hope. Well, no more of that. I’ll be along this evening, as I said. We’ll make it a quarter past six instead of six, if you don’t mind. I’ve got to see a man in the village.’ ‘That will suit me quite well.’ He flourished his stick and strode away. Turning, I ran into Hawes. I thought he looked distinctly ill this morning. I had meant to upbraid him mildly for various matters in his province which had been muddled or shelved, but seeing his white strained face, I felt that the man was ill. I said as much, and he denied it, but not very vehemently. Finally he confessed that he was not feeling too fit, and appeared ready to accept my advice of going home to bed. I had a hurried lunch and went out to do some visits. Griselda had gone to London by the cheap Thursday train. I came in about a quarter to four with the intention of sketching the outline of my Sunday sermon, but Mary told me that Mr Redding was waiting for me in the study. I found him pacing up and down with a worried face. He looked white and haggard. He turned abruptly at my entrance. ‘Look here, sir. I’ve been thinking over what you said yesterday. I’ve had a sleepless night thinking about it. You’re right. I’ve got to cut and run.’ ‘My dear boy,’ I said. ‘You were right in what you said about Anne. I’ll only bring trouble on her by staying here. She’s – she’s too good for anything else. I see I’ve got to go. I’ve made things hard enough for her as it is, heaven help me.’ ‘I think you have made the only decision possible,’ I said. ‘I know that it is a hard one, but believe me, it will be for the best in the end.’ I could see that he thought that that was the kind of thing easily said by someone who didn’t know what he was talking about. ‘You’ll look after Anne? She needs a friend.’ ‘You can rest assured that I will do everything in my power.’ ‘Thank you, sir.’ He wrung my hand. ‘You’re a good sort, Padre. I shall see her to say goodbye this evening, and I shall probably pack up and go tomorrow. No good prolonging the agony. Thanks for letting me have the shed to paint in. I’m sorry not to have finished Mrs Clement’s portrait.’ ‘Don’t worry about that, my dear boy. Goodbye, and God bless you.’ When he had gone I tried to settle down to my sermon, but with very poor success. I kept thinking of Lawrence and Anne Protheroe. I had rather an unpalatable cup of tea, cold and black, and at half-past five the telephone rang. I was informed that Mr Abbott of Lower Farm was dying and would I please come at once. I rang up Old Hall immediately, for Lower Farm was nearly two miles away and I could not possibly get back by six-fifteen. I have never succeeded in learning to ride a bicycle. I was told, however, that Colonel Protheroe had just started out in the car, so I departed, leaving word with Mary that I had been called away, but would try to be back by six-thirty or soon after. Chapter 5 (#ulink_669d2e03-5e41-5a7d-9624-1714558a2ce0) It was nearer seven than half-past six when I approached the Vicarage gate on my return. Before I reached it, it swung open and Lawrence Redding came out. He stopped dead on seeing me, and I was immediately struck by his appearance. He looked like a man who was on the point of going mad. His eyes stared in a peculiar manner, he was deathly white, and he was shaking and twitching all over. I wondered for a moment whether he could have been drinking, but repudiated the idea immediately. ‘Hallo,’ I said, ‘have you been to see me again? Sorry I was out. Come back now. I’ve got to see Protheroe about some accounts – but I dare say we shan’t be long.’ ‘Protheroe,’ he said. He began to laugh. ‘Protheroe? You’re going to see Protheroe? Oh, you’ll see Protheroe all right! Oh, my God – yes!’ I stared. Instinctively I stretched out a hand towards him. He drew sharply aside. ‘No,’ he almost cried out. ‘I’ve got to get away – to think. I’ve got to think. I must think.’ He broke into a run and vanished rapidly down the road towards the village, leaving me staring after him, my first idea of drunkenness recurring. Finally I shook my head, and went on to the Vicarage. The front door is always left open, but nevertheless I rang the bell. Mary came, wiping her hands on her apron. ‘So you’re back at last,’ she observed. ‘Is Colonel Protheroe here?’ I asked. ‘In the study. Been here since a quarter past six.’ ‘And Mr Redding’s been here?’ ‘Come a few minutes ago. Asked for you. I told him you’d be back at any minute and that Colonel Protheroe was waiting in the study, and he said he’d wait too, and went there. He’s there now.’ ‘No, he isn’t,’ I said. ‘I’ve just met him going down the road.’ ‘Well, I didn’t hear him leave. He can’t have stayed more than a couple of minutes. The mistress isn’t back from town yet.’ I nodded absent-mindedly. Mary beat a retreat to the kitchen quarters and I went down the passage and opened the study door. After the dusk of the passage, the evening sunshine that was pouring into the room made my eyes blink. I took a step or two across the floor and then stopped dead. For a moment I could hardly take in the meaning of the scene before me. Colonel Protheroe was lying sprawled across my writing table in a horrible unnatural position. There was a pool of some dark fluid on the desk by his head, and it was slowly dripping on to the floor with a horrible drip, drip, drip. I pulled myself together and went across to him. His skin was cold to the touch. The hand that I raised fell back lifeless. The man was dead – shot through the head. I went to the door and called Mary. When she came I ordered her to run as fast as she could and fetch Dr Haydock, who lives just at the corner of the road. I told her there had been an accident. Then I went back and closed the door to await the doctor’s coming. Fortunately, Mary found him at home. Haydock is a good fellow, a big, fine, strapping man with an honest, rugged face. His eyebrows went up when I pointed silently across the room. But, like a true doctor, he showed no signs of emotion. He bent over the dead man, examining him rapidly. Then he straightened himself and looked across at me. ‘Well?’ I asked. ‘He’s dead right enough – been dead half an hour, I should say.’ ‘Suicide?’ ‘Out of the question, man. Look at the position of the wound. Besides, if he shot himself, where’s the weapon?’ True enough, there was no sign of any such thing. ‘We’d better not mess around with anything,’ said Haydock. ‘I’d better ring up the police.’ He picked up the receiver and spoke into it. He gave the facts as curtly as possible and then replaced the telephone and came across to where I was sitting. ‘This is a rotten business. How did you come to find him?’ I explained. ‘Is – is it murder?’ I asked rather faintly. ‘Looks like it. Mean to say, what else can it be? Extraordinary business. Wonder who had a down on the poor old fellow. Of course I know he wasn’t popular, but one isn’t often murdered for that reason – worse luck.’ ‘There’s one rather curious thing,’ I said. ‘I was telephoned for this afternoon to go to a dying parishioner. When I got there everyone was very surprised to see me. The sick man was very much better than he had been for some days, and his wife flatly denied telephoning for me at all.’ Haydock drew his brows together. ‘That’s suggestive – very. You were being got out of the way. Where’s your wife?’ ‘Gone up to London for the day.’ ‘And the maid?’ ‘In the kitchen – right at the other side of the house.’ ‘Where she wouldn’t be likely to hear anything that went on in here. It’s a nasty business. Who knew that Protheroe was coming here this evening?’ ‘He referred to the fact this morning in the village street at the top of his voice as usual.’ ‘Meaning that the whole village knew it? Which they always do in any case. Know of anyone who had a grudge against him?’ The thought of Lawrence Redding’s white face and staring eyes came to my mind. I was spared answering by a noise of shuffling feet in the passage outside. ‘The police,’ said my friend, and rose to his feet. Our police force was represented by Constable Hurst, looking very important but slightly worried. ‘Good evening, gentlemen,’ he greeted us. ‘the Inspector will be here any minute. In the meantime I’ll follow out his instructions. I understand Colonel Protheroe’s been found shot – in the Vicarage.’ He paused and directed a look of cold suspicion at me, which I tried to meet with a suitable bearing of conscious innocence. He moved over to the writing table and announced: ‘Nothing to be touched until the Inspector comes.’ For the convenience of my readers I append a sketch plan of the room. He got out his note-book, moistened his pencil and looked expectantly at both of us. I repeated my story of discovering the body. When he had got it all down, which took some time, he turned to the doctor. ‘In your opinion, Dr Haydock, what was the cause of death?’ ‘Shot through the head at close quarters.’ ‘And the weapon?’ ‘I can’t say with certainty until we get the bullet out. But I should say in all probability the bullet was fired from a pistol of small calibre – say a Mauser .25.’ I started, remembering our conversation of the night before, and Lawrence Redding’s admission. The police constable brought his cold, fish-like eye round on me. ‘Did you speak, sir?’ I shook my head. Whatever suspicions I might have, they were no more than suspicions, and as such to be kept to myself. ‘When, in your opinion, did the tragedy occur?’ The doctor hesitated for a minute before he answered. Then he said: ‘The man has been dead just over half an hour, I should say. Certainly not longer.’ Hurst turned to me. ‘Did the girl hear anything?’ ‘As far as I know she heard nothing,’ I said. ‘But you had better ask her.’ But at this moment Inspector Slack arrived, having come by car from Much Benham, two miles away. All that I can say of Inspector Slack is that never did a man more determinedly strive to contradict his name. He was a dark man, restless and energetic in manner, with black eyes that snapped ceaselessly. His manner was rude and overbearing in the extreme. He acknowledged our greetings with a curt nod, seized his subordinate’s note-book, perused it, exchanged a few curt words with him in an undertone, then strode over to the body. ‘Everything’s been messed up and pulled about, I suppose,’ he said. ‘I’ve touched nothing,’ said Haydock. ‘No more have I,’ I said. The Inspector busied himself for some time peering at the things on the table and examining the pool of blood. ‘Ah!’ he said in a tone of triumph. ‘Here’s what we want. Clock overturned when he fell forward. That’ll give us the time of the crime. Twenty-two minutes past six. What time did you say death occurred, doctor?’ ‘I said about half an hour, but –’ The Inspector consulted his watch. ‘Five minutes past seven. I got word about ten minutes ago, at five minutes to seven. Discovery of the body was at about a quarter to seven. I understand you were fetched immediately. Say you examined it at ten minutes to – Why, that brings it to the identical second almost!’ ‘I don’t guarantee the time absolutely,’ said Haydock. ‘That is an approximate estimate.’ ‘Good enough, sir, good enough.’ I had been trying to get a word in. ‘About the clock –’ ‘If you’ll excuse me, sir, I’ll ask you any questions I want to know. Time’s short. What I want is absolute silence.’ ‘Yes, but I’d like to tell you –’ ‘Absolute silence,’ said the Inspector, glaring at me ferociously. I gave him what he asked for. He was still peering about the writing table. ‘What was he sitting here for?’ he grunted. ‘Did he want to write a note – Hallo – what’s this?’ He held up a piece of note-paper triumphantly. So pleased was he with his find that he permitted us to come to his side and examine it with him. It was a piece of Vicarage note-paper, and it was headed at the top 6.20. ‘Dear Clement’ – it began – ‘Sorry I cannot wait any longer, but I must…’ Here the writing tailed off in a scrawl. ‘Plain as a pikestaff,’ said Inspector Slack triumphantly. ‘He sits down here to write this, an enemy comes softly in through the window and shoots him as he writes. What more do you want?’ ‘I’d just like to say –’ I began. ‘Out of the way, if you please, sir. I want to see if there are footprints.’ He went down on his hands and knees, moving towards the open window. ‘I think you ought to know –’ I said obstinately. The Inspector rose. He spoke without heat, but firmly. ‘We’ll go into all that later. I’d be obliged if you gentlemen will clear out of here. Right out, if you please.’ We permitted ourselves to be shooed out like children. Hours seemed to have passed – yet it was only a quarter-past seven. ‘Well,’ said Haydock. ‘That’s that. When that conceited ass wants me, you can send him over to the surgery. So long.’ ‘The mistress is back,’ said Mary, making a brief appearance from the kitchen. Her eyes were round and agog with excitement. ‘Come in about five minutes ago.’ I found Griselda in the drawing-room. She looked frightened, but excited. I told her everything and she listened attentively. ‘The letter is headed 6.20,’ I ended. ‘And the clock fell over and has stopped at 6.22.’ ‘Yes,’ said Griselda. ‘But that clock, didn’t you tell him that it was always kept a quarter of an hour fast?’ ‘No,’ I said. ‘I didn’t. He wouldn’t let me. I tried my best.’ Griselda was frowning in a puzzled manner. ‘But, Len,’ she said, ‘that makes the whole thing perfectly extraordinary. Because when that clock said twenty past six it was really only five minutes past, and at five minutes past I don’t suppose Colonel Protheroe had even arrived at the house.’ Chapter 6 (#ulink_f5fdc727-2d99-54ee-bbb9-bc76e12f5f1f) We puzzled over the business of the clock for some time, but we could make nothing of it. Griselda said I ought to make another effort to tell Inspector Slack about it, but on that point I was feeling what I can only describe as ‘mulish’. Inspector Slack had been abominably and most unnecessarily rude. I was looking forward to a moment when I could produce my valuable contribution and effect his discomfiture. I would then say in a tone of mild reproach: ‘If you had only listened to me, Inspector Slack…’ I expected that he would at least speak to me before he left the house, but to our surprise we learned from Mary that he had departed, having locked up the study door and issued orders that no one was to attempt to enter the room. Griselda suggested going up to Old Hall. ‘It will be so awful for Anne Protheroe – with the police and everything,’ she said. ‘Perhaps I might be able to do something for her.’ I cordially approved of this plan, and Griselda set off with instructions that she was to telephone to me if she thought that I could be of any use or comfort to either of the ladies. I now proceeded to ring up the Sunday School teachers, who were coming at 7.45 for their weekly preparation class. I thought that under the circumstances it would be better to put them off. Dennis was the next person to arrive on the scene, having just returned from a tennis party. The fact that murder had taken place at the Vicarage seemed to afford him acute satisfaction. ‘Fancy being right on the spot in a murder case,’ he exclaimed. ‘I’ve always wanted to be right in the midst of one. Why have the police locked up the study? Wouldn’t one of the other door keys fit it?’ I refused to allow anything of the sort to be attempted. Dennis gave in with a bad grace. After extracting every possible detail from me he went out into the garden to look for footprints, remarking cheerfully that it was lucky it was only old Protheroe, whom everyone disliked. His cheerful callousness rather grated on me, but I reflected that I was perhaps being hard on the boy. At Dennis’s age a detective story is one of the best things in life, and to find a real detective story, complete with corpse, waiting on one’s own front doorstep, so to speak, is bound to send a healthy-minded boy into the seventh heaven of enjoyment. Death means very little to a boy of sixteen. Griselda came back in about an hour’s time. She had seen Anne Protheroe, having arrived just after the Inspector had broken the news to her. On hearing that Mrs Protheroe had last seen her husband in the village about a quarter to six, and that she had no light of any kind to throw upon the matter, he had taken his departure, explaining that he would return on the morrow for a fuller interview. ‘He was quite decent in his way,’ said Griselda grudgingly. ‘How did Mrs Protheroe take it?’ I asked. ‘Well – she was very quiet – but then she always is.’ ‘Yes,’ I said. ‘I can’t imagine Anne Protheroe going into hysterics.’ ‘Of course it was a great shock. You could see that. She thanked me for coming and said she was very grateful but that there was nothing I could do.’ ‘What about Lettice?’ ‘She was out playing tennis somewhere. She hadn’t got home yet.’ There was a pause, and then Griselda said: ‘You know, Len, she was really very quiet – very queer indeed.’ ‘The shock,’ I suggested. ‘Yes – I suppose so. And yet –’ Griselda furrowed her brows perplexedly. ‘It wasn’t like that, somehow. She didn’t seem so much bowled over as – well – terrified.’ ‘Terrified?’ ‘Yes – not showing it, you know. At least not meaning to show it. But a queer, watchful look in her eyes. I wonder if she has a sort of idea who did kill him. She asked again and again if anyone were suspected.’ ‘Did she?’ I said thoughtfully. ‘Yes. Of course Anne’s got marvellous self-control, but one could see that she was terribly upset. More so than I would have thought, for after all it wasn’t as though she were so devoted to him. I should have said she rather disliked him, if anything.’ ‘Death alters one’s feelings sometimes,’ I said. ‘Yes, I suppose so.’ Dennis came in and was full of excitement over a footprint he had found in one of the flower beds. He was sure that the police had overlooked it and that it would turn out to be the turning point of the mystery. I spent a troubled night. Dennis was up and about and out of the house long before breakfast to ‘study the latest developments’, as he said. Nevertheless it was not he, but Mary, who brought us the morning’s sensational bit of news. We had just sat down to breakfast when she burst into the room, her cheeks red and her eyes shining, and addressed us with her customary lack of ceremony. ‘Would you believe it? The baker’s just told me. They’ve arrested young Mr Redding.’ ‘Arrested Lawrence,’ cried Griselda incredulously. ‘Impossible. It must be some stupid mistake.’ ‘No mistake about it, mum,’ said Mary with a kind of gloating exultation. ‘Mr Redding, he went there himself and gave himself up. Last night, last thing. Went right in, threw down the pistol on the table, and “I did it,” he says. Just like that.’ She looked at us both, nodded her head vigorously, and withdrew satisfied with the effect she had produced. Griselda and I stared at each other. ‘Oh! It isn’t true,’ said Griselda. ‘It can’t be true.’ She noticed my silence, and said: ‘Len, you don’t think it’s true?’ I found it hard to answer her. I sat silent, thoughts whirling through my head. ‘He must be mad,’ said Griselda. ‘Absolutely mad. Or do you think they were looking at the pistol together and it suddenly went off ?’ ‘That doesn’t sound at all a likely thing to happen.’ ‘But it must have been an accident of some kind. Because there’s not a shadow of a motive. What earthly reason could Lawrence have for killing Colonel Protheroe?’ I could have answered that question very decidedly, but I wished to spare Anne Protheroe as far as possible. There might still be a chance of keeping her name out of it. ‘Remember they had had a quarrel,’ I said. ‘About Lettice and her bathing dress. Yes, but that’s absurd; and even if he and Lettice were engaged secretly – well, that’s not a reason for killing her father.’ ‘We don’t know what the true facts of the case may be, Griselda.’ ‘You do believe it, Len! Oh! How can you! I tell you, I’m sure Lawrence never touched a hair of his head.’ ‘Remember, I met him just outside the gate. He looked like a madman.’ ‘Yes, but – oh! It’s impossible.’ ‘There’s the clock, too,’ I said. ‘This explains the clock. Lawrence must have put it back to 6.20 with the idea of making an alibi for himself. Look how Inspector Slack fell into the trap.’ ‘You’re wrong, Len. Lawrence knew about that clock being fast. “Keeping the Vicar up to time!” he used to say. Lawrence would never have made the mistake of putting it back to 6.22. He’d have put the hands somewhere possible – like a quarter to seven.’ ‘He mayn’t have known what time Protheroe got here. Or he may have simply forgotten about the clock being fast.’ Griselda disagreed. ‘No, if you were committing a murder, you’d be awfully careful about things like that.’ ‘You don’t know, my dear,’ I said mildly. ‘You’ve never done one.’ Before Griselda could reply, a shadow fell across the breakfast table, and a very gentle voice said: ‘I hope I am not intruding. You must forgive me. But in the sad circumstances – the very sad circumstances…’ It was our neighbour, Miss Marple. Accepting our polite disclaimers, she stepped in through the window, and I drew up a chair for her. She looked faintly flushed and quite excited. ‘Very terrible, is it not? Poor Colonel Protheroe. Not a very pleasant man, perhaps, and not exactly popular, but it’s none the less sad for that. And actually shot in the Vicarage study, I understand?’ I said that that had indeed been the case. ‘But the dear Vicar was not here at the time?’ Miss Marple questioned of Griselda. I explained where I had been. ‘Mr Dennis is not with you this morning?’ said Miss Marple, glancing round. ‘Dennis,’ said Griselda, ‘fancies himself as an amateur detective. He is very excited about a footprint he found in one of the flower beds, and I fancy has gone off to tell the police about it.’ ‘Dear, dear,’ said Miss Marple. ‘Such a to-do, is it not? And Mr Dennis thinks he knows who committed the crime. Well, I suppose we all think we know.’ ‘You mean it is obvious?’ said Griselda. ‘No, dear, I didn’t mean that at all. I dare say everyone thinks it is somebody different. That is why it is so important to have proofs. I, for instance, am quite convinced I know who did it. But I must admit I haven’t one shadow of proof. One must, I know, be very careful of what one says at a time like this – criminal libel, don’t they call it? I had made up my mind to be most careful with Inspector Slack. He sent word he would come and see me this morning, but now he has just phoned up to say it won’t be necessary after all.’ ‘I suppose, since the arrest, it isn’t necessary,’ I said. ‘The arrest?’ Miss Marple leaned forward, her cheeks pink with excitement. ‘I didn’t know there had been an arrest.’ It is so seldom that Miss Marple is worse informed than we are that I had taken it for granted that she would know the latest developments. ‘It seems we have been talking at cross purposes,’ I said. ‘Yes, there has been an arrest – Lawrence Redding.’ ‘Lawrence Redding?’ Miss Marple seemed very surprised. ‘Now I should not have thought –’ Griselda interrupted vehemently. ‘I can’t believe it even now. No, not though he has actually confessed.’ ‘Confessed?’ said Miss Marple. ‘You say he has confessed? Oh! dear, I see I have been sadly at sea – yes, sadly at sea.’ ‘I can’t help feeling it must have been some kind of an accident,’ said Griselda. ‘Don’t you think so, Len? I mean his coming forward to give himself up looks like that.’ Miss Marple leant forward eagerly. ‘He gave himself up, you say?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘Oh!’ said Miss Marple, with a deep sigh. ‘I am so glad – so very glad.’ I looked at her in some surprise. ‘It shows a true state of remorse, I suppose,’ I said. ‘Remorse?’ Miss Marple looked very surprised. ‘Oh, but surely, dear, dear Vicar, you don’t think that he is guilty?’ It was my turn to stare. ‘But since he has confessed –’ ‘Yes, but that just proves it, doesn’t it? I mean that he had nothing to do with it.’ ‘No,’ I said. ‘I may be dense, but I can’t see that it does. If you have not committed a murder, I cannot see the object of pretending you have.’ ‘Oh, of course, there’s a reason!’ said Miss Marple. ‘Naturally. There’s always a reason, isn’t there? And young men are so hot-headed and often prone to believe the worst.’ She turned to Griselda. ‘Don’t you agree with me, my dear?’ ‘I – I don’t know,’ said Griselda. ‘It’s difficult to know what to think. I can’t see any reason for Lawrence behaving like a perfect idiot.’ ‘If you had seen his face last night –’ I began. ‘Tell me,’ said Miss Marple. I described my homecoming while she listened attentively. When I had finished she said: ‘I know that I am very often rather foolish and don’t take in things as I should, but I really do not see your point. ‘It seems to me that if a young man had made up his mind to the great wickedness of taking a fellow creature’s life, he would not appear distraught about it afterwards. It would be a premeditated and coldblooded action and though the murderer might be a little flurried and possibly might make some small mistake, I do not think it likely he would fall into a state of agitation such as you describe. It is difficult to put oneself in such a position, but I cannot imagine getting into a state like that myself.’ ‘We don’t know the circumstances,’ I argued. ‘If there was a quarrel, the shot may have been fired in a sudden gust of passion, and Lawrence might afterwards have been appalled at what he had done. Indeed, I prefer to think that this is what did actually occur.’ ‘I know, dear Mr Clement, that there are many ways we prefer to look at things. But one must actually take facts as they are, must one not? And it does not seem to me that the facts bear the interpretation you put upon them. Your maid distinctly stated that Mr Redding was only in the house a couple of minutes, not long enough, surely, for a quarrel such as you describe. And then again, I understand the Colonel was shot through the back of the head while he was writing a letter – at least that is what my maid told me.’ ‘Quite true,’ said Griselda. ‘He seems to have been writing a note to say he couldn’t wait any longer. The note was dated 6.20, and the clock on the table was overturned and had stopped at 6.22, and that’s just what has been puzzling Len and myself so frightfully.’ She explained our custom of keeping the clock a quarter of an hour fast. ‘Very curious,’ said Miss Marple. ‘Very curious indeed. But the note seems to me even more curious still. I mean –’ She stopped and looked round. Lettice Protheroe was standing outside the window. She came in, nodding to us and murmuring ‘Morning.’ She dropped into a chair and said, with rather more animation than usual: ‘They’ve arrested Lawrence, I hear.’ ‘Yes,’ said Griselda. ‘It’s been a great shock to us.’ ‘I never really thought anyone would murder father,’ said Lettice. She was obviously taking a pride in letting no hint of distress or emotion escape her. ‘Lots of people wanted to, I’m sure. There are times when I’d have liked to do it myself.’ ‘Won’t you have something to eat or drink, Lettice?’ asked Griselda. ‘No, thank you. I just drifted round to see if you’d got my beret here – a queer little yellow one. I think I left it in the study the other day.’ ‘If you did, it’s there still,’ said Griselda. ‘Mary never tidies anything.’ ‘I’ll go and see,’ said Lettice, rising. ‘Sorry to be such a bother, but I seem to have lost everything else in the hat line.’ ‘I’m afraid you can’t get it now,’ I said. ‘Inspector Slack has locked the room up.’ ‘Oh, what a bore! Can’t we get in through the window?’ ‘I’m afraid not. It is latched on the inside. Surely, Lettice, a yellow beret won’t be much good to you at present?’ ‘You mean mourning and all that? I shan’t bother about mourning. I think it’s an awfully archaic idea. It’s a nuisance about Lawrence – yes, it’s a nuisance.’ She got up and stood frowning abstractedly. ‘I suppose it’s all on account of me and my bathing dress. So silly, the whole thing…’ Griselda opened her mouth to say something, but for some unexplained reason shut it again. A curious smile came to Lettice’s lips. ‘I think,’ she said softly, ‘I’ll go home and tell Anne about Lawrence being arrested.’ She went out of the window again. Griselda turned to Miss Marple. ‘Why did you step on my foot?’ The old lady was smiling. ‘I thought you were going to say something, my dear. And it is often so much better to let things develop on their own lines. I don’t think, you know, that that child is half so vague as she pretends to be. She’s got a very definite idea in her head and she’s acting upon it.’ Mary gave a loud knock on the dining-room door and entered hard upon it. ‘What is it?’ said Griselda. ‘And Mary, you must remember not to knock on doors. I’ve told you about it before.’ ‘Thought you might be busy,’ said Mary. ‘Colonel Melchett’s here. Wants to see the master.’ Colonel Melchett is Chief Constable of the county. I rose at once. ‘I thought you wouldn’t like my leaving him in the hall, so I put him in the drawing-room,’ went on Mary. ‘Shall I clear?’ ‘Not yet,’ said Griselda. ‘I’ll ring.’ She turned to Miss Marple and I left the room. Chapter 7 (#ulink_69a2dec2-f218-50c7-9842-cb297fec847d) Colonel Melchett is a dapper little man with a habit of snorting suddenly and unexpected. He has red hair and rather keen bright blue eyes. ‘Good morning, Vicar,’ he said. ‘Nasty business, eh? Poor old Protheroe. Not that I liked him. I didn’t. Nobody did, for that matter. Nasty bit of work for you, too. Hope it hasn’t upset your missus?’ I said Griselda had taken it very well. ‘That’s lucky. Rotten thing to happen in one’s house. I must say I’m surprised at young Redding – doing it the way he did. No sort of consideration for anyone’s feelings.’ A wild desire to laugh came over me, but Colonel Melchett evidently saw nothing odd in the idea of a murderer being considerate, so I held my peace. ‘I must say I was rather taken aback when I heard the fellow had marched in and given himself up,’ continued Colonel Melchett, dropping on to a chair. ‘How did it happen exactly?’ ‘Last night. About ten o’clock. Fellow rolls in, throws down a pistol, and says: “Here I am. I did it.” Just like that.’ ‘What account does he give of the business?’ ‘Precious little. He was warned, of course, about making a statement. But he merely laughed. Said he came here to see you – found Protheroe here. They had words and he shot him. Won’t say what the quarrel was about. Look here, Clement – just between you and me, do you know anything about it? I’ve heard rumours – about his being forbidden the house and all that. What was it – did he seduce the daughter, or what? We don’t want to bring the girl into it more than we can help for everybody’s sake. Was that the trouble?’ ‘No,’ I said. ‘You can take it from me that it was something quite different, but I can’t say more at the present juncture.’ He nodded and rose. ‘I’m glad to know. There’s a lot of talk. Too many women in this part of the world. Well, I must get along. I’ve got to see Haydock. He was called out to some case or other, but he ought to be back by now. I don’t mind telling you I’m sorry about Redding. He always struck me as a decent young chap. Perhaps they’ll think out some kind of defence for him. After-effects of war, shell shock, or something. Especially if no very adequate motive turns up. I must be off. Like to come along?’ I said I would like to very much, and we went out together. Haydock’s house is next door to mine. His servant said the doctor had just come in and showed us into the dining-room, where Haydock was sitting down to a steaming plate of eggs and bacon. He greeted me with an amiable nod. ‘Sorry I had to go out. Confinement case. I’ve been up most of the night, over your business. I’ve got the bullet for you.’ He shoved a little box along the table. Melchett examined it. ‘Point two five?’ Haydock nodded. ‘I’ll keep the technical details for the inquest,’ he said. ‘All you want to know is that death was practically instantaneous. Silly young fool, what did he want to do it for? Amazing, by the way, that nobody heard the shot.’ ‘Yes,’ said Melchett, ‘that surprises me.’ ‘The kitchen window gives on the other side of the house,’ I said. ‘With the study door, the pantry door, and the kitchen door all shut, I doubt if you would hear anything, and there was no one but the maid in the house.’ ‘H’m,’ said Melchett. ‘It’s odd, all the same. I wonder the old lady – what’s her name – Marple, didn’t hear it. The study window was open.’ ‘Perhaps she did,’ said Haydock. ‘I don’t think she did,’ said I. ‘She was over at the Vicarage just now and she didn’t mention anything of the kind which I’m certain she would have done if there had been anything to tell.’ ‘May have heard it and paid no attention to it – thought it was a car back-firing.’ It struck me that Haydock was looking much more jovial and good-humoured this morning. He seemed like a man who was decorously trying to subdue unusually good spirits. ‘Or what about a silencer?’ he added. ‘That’s quite likely. Nobody would hear anything then.’ Melchett shook his head. ‘Slack didn’t find anything of the kind, and he asked Redding, and Redding didn’t seem to know what he was talking about at first and then denied point blank using anything of the kind. And I suppose one can take his word for it.’ ‘Yes, indeed, poor devil.’ ‘Damned young fool,’ said Colonel Melchett. ‘Sorry, Clement. But he really is! Somehow one can’t get used to thinking of him as a murderer.’ ‘Any motive?’ asked Haydock, taking a final draught of coffee and pushing back his chair. ‘He says they quarrelled and he lost his temper and shot him.’ ‘Hoping for manslaughter, eh?’ The doctor shook his head. ‘That story doesn’t hold water. He stole up behind him as he was writing and shot him through the head. Precious little “quarrel” about that.’ ‘Anyway, there wouldn’t have been time for a quarrel,’ I said, remembering Miss Marple’s words. ‘To creep up, shoot him, alter the clock hands back to 6.20, and leave again would have taken him all his time. I shall never forget his face when I met him outside the gate, or the way he said, “You want to see Protheroe – oh, you’ll see him all right!” That in itself ought to have made me suspicious of what had just taken place a few minutes before.’ Haydock stared at me. ‘What do you mean – what had just taken place? When do you think Redding shot him?’ ‘A few minutes before I got to the house.’ The doctor shook his head. ‘Impossible. Plumb impossible. He’d been dead much longer than that.’ ‘But, my dear man,’ cried Colonel Melchett, ‘you said yourself that half an hour was only an approximate estimate.’ ‘Half an hour, thirty-five minutes, twenty-five minutes, twenty minutes – possibly, but less, no. Why, the body would have been warm when I got to it.’ We stared at each other. Haydock’s face had changed. It had gone suddenly grey and old. I wondered at the change in him. ‘But, look here, Haydock.’ The Colonel found his voice. ‘If Redding admits shooting him at a quarter to seven –’ Haydock sprang to his feet. ‘I tell you it’s impossible,’ he roared. ‘If Redding says he killed Protheroe at a quarter to seven, then Redding lies. Hang it all, I tell you I’m a doctor, and I know. The blood had begun to congeal.’ ‘If Redding is lying,’ began Melchett. He stopped, shook his head. ‘We’d better go down to the police station and see him,’ he said. Chapter 8 (#ulink_a5cfd2d9-15d3-5f4f-ad01-bb98fa973ea0) We were rather silent on our way down to the police station. Haydock drew behind a little and murmured to me: ‘You know I don’t like the look of this. I don’t like it. There’s something here we don’t understand.’ He looked thoroughly worried and upset. Inspector Slack was at the police station and presently we found ourselves face to face with Lawrence Redding. He looked pale and strained but quite composed – marvellously so, I thought, considering the circumstances. Melchett snorted and hummed, obviously nervous. ‘Look here, Redding,’ he said, ‘I understand you made a statement to Inspector Slack here. You state you went to the Vicarage at approximately a quarter to seven, found Protheroe there, quarrelled with him, shot him, and came away. I’m not reading it over to you, but that’s the gist of it.’ ‘Yes.’ ‘I’m going to ask a few questions. You’ve already been told that you needn’t answer them unless you choose. Your solicitor –’ Lawrence interrupted. ‘I’ve nothing to hide. I killed Protheroe.’ ‘Ah! well –’ Melchett snorted. ‘How did you happen to have a pistol with you?’ Lawrence hesitated. ‘It was in my pocket.’ ‘You took it with you to the Vicarage?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘Why?’ ‘I always take it.’ He had hesitated again before answering, and I was absolutely sure that he was not speaking the truth. ‘Why did you put the clock back?’ ‘The clock?’ He seemed puzzled. ‘Yes, the hands pointed to 6.22.’ A look of fear sprang up in his face. ‘Oh! that – yes. I – I altered it.’ Haydock spoke suddenly. ‘Where did you shoot Colonel Protheroe?’ ‘In the study at the Vicarage.’ ‘I mean in what part of the body?’ ‘Oh! – I – through the head, I think. Yes, through the head.’ ‘Aren’t you sure?’ ‘Since you know, I can’t see why it is necessary to ask me.’ It was a feeble kind of bluster. There was some commotion outside. A constable without a helmet brought in a note. ‘For the Vicar. It says very urgent on it.’ I tore it open and read: ‘Please – please – come to me. I don’t know what to do. It is all too awful. I want to tell someone. Please come immediately, and bring anyone you like with you. Anne Protheroe.’ I gave Melchett a meaning glance. He took the hint. We all went out together. Glancing over my shoulder, I had a glimpse of Lawrence Redding’s face. His eyes were riveted on the paper in my hand, and I have hardly ever seen such a terrible look of anguish and despair in any human being’s face. I remembered Anne Protheroe sitting on my sofa and saying: ‘I’m a desperate woman,’ and my heart grew heavy within me. I saw now the possible reason for Lawrence Redding’s heroic self-accusation. Melchett was speaking to Slack. ‘Have you got any line on Redding’s movements earlier in the day? There’s some reason to think he shot Protheroe earlier than he says. Get on to it, will you?’ He turned to me and without a word I handed him Anne Protheroe’s letter. He read it and pursed up his lips in astonishment. Then he looked at me inquiringly. ‘Is this what you were hinting at this morning?’ ‘Yes. I was not sure then if it was my duty to speak. I am quite sure now.’ And I told him of what I had seen that night in the studio. The Colonel had a few words with the Inspector and then we set off for Old Hall. Dr Haydock came with us. A very correct butler opened the door, with just the right amount of gloom in his bearing. ‘Good morning,’ said Melchett. ‘Will you ask Mrs Protheroe’s maid to tell her we are here and would like to see her, and then return here and answer a few questions.’ The butler hurried away and presently returned with the news that he had despatched the message. ‘Now let’s hear something about yesterday,’ said Colonel Melchett. ‘Your master was in to lunch?’ ‘Yes, sir.’ ‘And in his usual spirits?’ ‘As far as I could see, yes, sir.’ ‘What happened after that?’ ‘After luncheon Mrs Protheroe went to lie down and the Colonel went to his study. Miss Lettice went out to a tennis party in the two-seater. Colonel and Mrs Protheroe had tea at four-thirty, in the drawing-room. The car was ordered for five-thirty to take them to the village. Immediately after they had left Mr Clement rang up’ – he bowed to me – ‘I told him they had started.’ ‘H’m,’ said Colonel Melchett. ‘When was Mr Redding last here?’ ‘On Tuesday afternoon, sir.’ ‘I understand that there was a disagreement between them?’ ‘I believe so, sir. The Colonel gave me orders that Mr Redding was not to be admitted in future.’ ‘Did you overhear the quarrel at all?’ asked Colonel Melchett bluntly. ‘Colonel Protheroe, sir, had a very loud voice, especially when it was raised in anger. I was unable to help overhearing a few words here and there.’ ‘Enough to tell you the cause of the dispute?’ ‘I understood, sir, that it had to do with a portrait Mr Redding had been painting – a portrait of Miss Lettice.’ Melchett grunted. ‘Did you see Mr Redding when he left?’ ‘Yes, sir, I let him out.’ ‘Did he seem angry?’ ‘No, sir; if I may say so, he seemed rather amused.’ ‘Ah! He didn’t come to the house yesterday?’ ‘No, sir.’ ‘Anyone else come?’ ‘Not yesterday, sir.’ ‘Well, the day before?’ ‘Mr Dennis Clement came in the afternoon. And Dr Stone was here for some time. And there was a lady in the evening.’ ‘A lady?’ Melchett was surprised. ‘Who was she?’ The butler couldn’t remember her name. It was a lady he had not seen before. Yes, she had given her name, and when he told her that the family were at dinner, she had said that she would wait. So he had shown her into the little morning-room. She had asked for Colonel Protheroe, not Mrs Protheroe. He had told the Colonel and the Colonel had gone to the morning-room directly dinner was over. How long had the lady stayed? He thought about half an hour. The Colonel himself had let her out. Ah! Yes, he remembered her name now. The lady had been a Mrs Lestrange. This was a surprise. ‘Curious,’ said Melchett. ‘Really very curious.’ But we pursued the matter no further, for at that moment a message came that Mrs Protheroe would see us. Anne was in bed. Her face was pale and her eyes very bright. There was a look on her face that puzzled me – a kind of grim determination. She spoke to me. ‘Thank you for coming so promptly,’ she said. ‘I see you’ve understood what I meant by bringing anyone you liked with you.’ She paused. ‘It’s best to get it over quickly, isn’t it?’ she said. She gave a queer, half-pathetic little smile. ‘I suppose you’re the person I ought to say it to, Colonel Melchett. You see, it was I who killed my husband.’ Colonel Melchett said gently: ‘My dear Mrs Protheroe –’ ‘Oh! It’s quite true. I suppose I’ve said it rather bluntly, but I never can go into hysterics over anything. I’ve hated him for a long time, and yesterday I shot him.’ She lay back on the pillows and closed her eyes. ‘That’s all. I suppose you’ll arrest me and take me away. I’ll get up and dress as soon as I can. At the moment I am feeling rather sick.’ ‘Are you aware, Mrs Protheroe, that Mr Lawrence Redding has already accused himself of committing the crime?’ Anne opened her eyes and nodded brightly. ‘I know. Silly boy. He’s very much in love with me, you know. It was frightfully noble of him – but very silly.’ ‘He knew that it was you who had committed the crime?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘How did he know?’ She hesitated. ‘Did you tell him?’ Still she hesitated. Then at last she seemed to make up her mind. ‘Yes – I told him…’ She twitched her shoulders with a movement of irritation. ‘Can’t you go away now? I’ve told you. I don’t want to talk about it any more.’ ‘Where did you get the pistol, Mrs Protheroe?’ ‘The pistol! Oh, it was my husband’s. I got it out of the drawer of his dressing-table.’ ‘I see. And you took it with you to the Vicarage?’ ‘Yes. I knew he would be there –’ ‘What time was this?’ ‘It must have been after six – quarter – twenty past – something like that.’ ‘You took the pistol meaning to shoot your husband?’ ‘No – I – meant it for myself.’ ‘I see. But you went to the Vicarage?’ ‘Yes. I went along to the window. There were no voices. I looked in. I saw my husband. Something came over me – and I fired.’ ‘And then?’ ‘Then? Oh, then I went away.’ ‘And told Mr Redding what you had done?’ Again I noticed the hesitation in her voice before she said ‘Yes.’ ‘Did anybody see you entering or leaving the Vicarage?’ ‘No – at least, yes. Old Miss Marple. I talked to her for a few minutes. She was in her garden.’ She moved restlessly on the pillows. ‘Isn’t that enough? I’ve told you. Why do you want to go on bothering me?’ Dr Haydock moved to her side and felt her pulse. He beckoned to Melchett. ‘I’ll stay with her,’ he said in a whisper, ‘whilst you make the necessary arrangements. She oughtn’t to be left. Might do herself a mischief.’ Melchett nodded. We left the room and descended the stairs. I saw a thin, cadaverous-looking man come out of the adjoining room and on impulse I remounted the stairs. ‘Are you Colonel Protheroe’s valet?’ The man looked surprised. ‘Yes, sir.’ ‘Do you know whether your late master kept a pistol anywhere?’ ‘Not that I know of, sir.’ ‘Not in one of the drawers of his dressing-table? Think, man.’ The valet shook his head decisively. ‘I’m quite sure he didn’t, sir. I’d have seen it if so. Bound to.’ I hurried down the stairs after the others. Mrs Protheroe had lied about the pistol. Why? Chapter 9 (#ulink_c83c09ed-da73-5e84-99e3-9771fd47c0bf) After leaving a message at the police station, the Chief Constable announced his intention of paying a visit to Miss Marple. ‘You’d better come with me, Vicar,’ he said. ‘I don’t want to give a member of your flock hysterics. So lend the weight of your soothing presence.’ I smiled. For all her fragile appearance, Miss Marple is capable of holding her own with any policeman or Chief Constable in existence. ‘What’s she like?’ asked the Colonel, as we rang the bell. ‘Anything she says to be depended upon or otherwise?’ I considered the matter. ‘I think she is quite dependable,’ I said cautiously. ‘That is, in so far as she is talking of what she has actually seen. Beyond that, of course, when you get on to what she thinks – well, that is another matter. She has a powerful imagination and systematically thinks the worst of everyone.’ ‘The typical elderly spinster, in fact,’ said Melchett, with a laugh. ‘Well, I ought to know the breed by now. Gad, the tea parties down here!’ We were admitted by a very diminutive maid and shown into a small drawing-room. ‘A bit crowded,’ said Colonel Melchett, looking round. ‘But plenty of good stuff. A lady’s room, eh, Clement?’ I agreed, and at that moment the door opened and Miss Marple made her appearance. ‘Very sorry to bother you, Miss Marple,’ said the Colonel, when I had introduced him, putting on his bluff military manner which he had an idea was attractive to elderly ladies. ‘Got to do my duty, you know.’ ‘Of course, of course,’ said Miss Marple. ‘I quite understand. Won’t you sit down? And might I offer you a little glass of cherry brandy? My own making. A recipe of my grandmother’s.’ ‘Thank you very much, Miss Marple. Very kind of you. But I think I won’t. Nothing till lunch time, that’s my motto. Now, I want to talk to you about this sad business – very sad business indeed. Upset us all, I’m sure. Well, it seems possible that owing to the position of your house and garden, you may have been able to tell us something we want to know about yesterday evening.’ ‘As a matter of fact, I was in my little garden from five o’clock onwards yesterday, and, of course, from there – well, one simply cannot help seeing anything that is going on next door.’ ‘I understand, Miss Marple, that Mrs Protheroe passed this way yesterday evening?’ ‘Yes, she did. I called out to her, and she admired my roses.’ ‘Could you tell us about what time that was?’ ‘I should say it was just a minute or two after a quarter past six. Yes, that’s right. The church clock had just chimed the quarter.’ ‘Very good. What happened next?’ ‘Well, Mrs Protheroe said she was calling for her husband at the Vicarage so that they could go home together. She had come along the lane, you understand, and she went into the Vicarage by the back gate and across the garden.’ ‘She came from the lane?’ ‘Yes, I’ll show you.’ Full of eagerness, Miss Marple led us out into the garden and pointed out the lane that ran along by the bottom of the garden. ‘The path opposite with the stile leads to the Hall,’ she explained. ‘That was the way they were going home together. Mrs Protheroe came from the village.’ ‘Perfectly, perfectly,’ said Colonel Melchett. ‘And she went across to the Vicarage, you say?’ ‘Yes. I saw her turn the corner of the house. I suppose the Colonel wasn’t there yet, because she came back almost immediately, and went down the lawn to the studio – that building there. The one the Vicar lets Mr Redding use as a studio.’ ‘I see. And – you didn’t hear a shot, Miss Marple?’ ‘I didn’t hear a shot then,’ said Miss Marple. ‘But you did hear one sometime?’ ‘Yes, I think there was a shot somewhere in the woods. But quite five or ten minutes afterwards – and, as I say, out in the woods. At least, I think so. It couldn’t have been – surely it couldn’t have been –’ She stopped, pale with excitement. ‘Yes, yes, we’ll come to all that presently,’ said Colonel Melchett. ‘Please go on with your story. Mrs Protheroe went down to the studio?’ ‘Yes, she went inside and waited. Presently Mr Redding came along the lane from the village. He came to the Vicarage gate, looked all round –’ ‘And saw you, Miss Marple.’ ‘As a matter of fact, he didn’t see me,’ said Miss Marple, flushing slightly. ‘Because, you see, just at that minute I was bending right over – trying to get up one of those nasty dandelions, you know. So difficult. And then he went through the gate and down to the studio.’ ‘He didn’t go near the house?’ ‘Oh, no! He went straight to the studio. MrsProtheroe came to the door to meet him, and then they both went inside.’ Here Miss Marple contributed a singularly eloquent pause. ‘Perhaps she was sitting for him?’ I suggested. ‘Perhaps,’ said Miss Marple. ‘And they came out – when?’ ‘About ten minutes later.’ ‘That was roughly?’ ‘The church clock had chimed the half-hour. They strolled out through the garden gate and along the lane, and just at that minute, Dr Stone came down the path leading to the Hall, and climbed over the stile and joined them. They all walked towards the village together. At the end of the lane, I think, but I can’t be quite sure, they were joined by Miss Cram. I think it must have been Miss Cram because her skirts were so short.’ ‘You must have very good eyesight, Miss Marple, if you can observe as far as that.’ ‘I was observing a bird,’ said Miss Marple. ‘A golden crested wren, I think he was. A sweet little fellow. I had my glasses out, and that’s how I happened to see Miss Cram (if it was Miss Cram, and I think so), join them.’ ‘Ah! Well, that may be so,’ said Colonel Melchett. ‘Now, since you seem very good at observing, did you happen to notice, Miss Marple, what sort of expression Mrs Protheroe and Mr Redding had as they passed along the lane?’ ‘They were smiling and talking,’ said Miss Marple. ‘They seemed very happy to be together, if you know what I mean.’ ‘They didn’t seem upset or disturbed in any way?’ ‘Oh, no! Just the opposite.’ ‘Deuced odd,’ said the Colonel. ‘There’s something deuced odd about the whole thing.’ Miss Marple suddenly took our breath away by remarking in a placid voice: ‘Has Mrs Protheroe been saying that she committed the crime now?’ ‘Upon my soul,’ said the Colonel, ‘how did you come to guess that, Miss Marple?’ ‘Well, I rather thought it might happen,’ said Miss Marple. ‘I think dear Lettice thought so, too. She’s really a very sharp girl. Not always very scrupulous, I’m afraid. So Anne Protheroe says she killed her husband. Well, well. I don’t think it’s true. No, I’m almost sure it isn’t true. Not with a woman like Anne Protheroe. Although one never can be quite sure about anyone, can one? At least that’s what I’ve found. When does she say she shot him?’ ‘At twenty minutes past six. Just after speaking to you.’ Miss Marple shook her head slowly and pityingly. The pity was, I think, for two full-grown men being so foolish as to believe such a story. At least that is what we felt like. ‘What did she shoot him with?’ ‘A pistol.’ ‘Where did she find it?’ ‘She brought it with her.’ ‘Well, that she didn’t do,’ said Miss Marple, with unexpected decision. ‘I can swear to that. She’d no such thing with her.’ ‘You mightn’t have seen it.’ ‘Of course I should have seen it.’ ‘If it had been in her handbag.’ ‘She wasn’t carrying a handbag.’ ‘Well, it might have been concealed – er – upon her person.’ Miss Marple directed a glance of sorrow and scorn upon him. ‘My dear Colonel Melchett, you know what young women are nowadays. Not ashamed to show exactly how the creator made them. She hadn’t so much as a handkerchief in the top of her stocking.’ Melchett was obstinate. ‘You must admit that it all fits in,’ he said. ‘The time, the overturned clock pointing to 6.22 –’ Miss Marple turned on me. ‘Do you mean you haven’t told him about that clock yet?’ ‘What about the clock, Clement?’ I told him. He showed a good deal of annoyance. ‘Why on earth didn’t you tell Slack this last night?’ ‘Because,’ I said, ‘he wouldn’t let me.’ ‘Nonsense, you ought to have insisted.’ ‘Probably,’ I said, ‘Inspector Slack behaves quite differently to you than he does to me. I had no earthly chance of insisting.’ ‘It’s an extraordinary business altogether,’ said Melchett. ‘If a third person comes along and claims to have done this murder, I shall go into a lunatic asylum.’ ‘If I might be allowed to suggest –’ murmured Miss Marple. ‘Well?’ ‘If you were to tell Mr Redding what Mrs Protheroe has done and then explain that you don’t really believe it is her. And then if you were to go to Mrs Protheroe and tell her that Mr Redding is all right – why then, they might each of them tell you the truth. And the truth is helpful, though I dare say they don’t know very much themselves, poor things.’ ‘It’s all very well, but they are the only two people who had a motive for making away with Protheroe.’ ‘Oh, I wouldn’t say that, Colonel Melchett,’ said Miss Marple. ‘Why, can you think of anyone else?’ ‘Oh! yes, indeed. Why,’ she counted on her fingers, ‘one, two, three, four, five, six – yes, and a possible seven. I can think of at least seven people who might be very glad to have Colonel Protheroe out of the way.’ The Colonel looked at her feebly. ‘Seven people? In St Mary Mead?’ Miss Marple nodded brightly. ‘Mind you I name no names,’ she said. ‘That wouldn’t be right. But I’m afraid there’s a lot of wickedness in the world. A nice honourable upright soldier like you doesn’t know about these things, Colonel Melchett.’ I thought the Chief Constable was going to have apoplexy. Chapter 10 (#ulink_3576673e-5795-5c42-9837-6b345cf6663e) His remarks on the subject of Miss Marple as we left the house were far from complimentary. ‘I really believe that wizened-up old maid thinks she knows everything there is to know. And hardly been out of this village all her life. Preposterous. What can she know of life?’ I said mildly that though doubtless Miss Marple knew next to nothing of Life with a capital L, she knew practically everything that went on in St Mary Mead. Melchett admitted that grudgingly. She was a valuable witness – particularly valuable from Mrs Protheroe’s point of view. ‘I suppose there’s no doubt about what she says, eh?’ ‘If Miss Marple says she had no pistol with her, you can take it for granted that it is so,’ I said. ‘If there was the least possibility of such a thing, Miss Marple would have been on to it like a knife.’ ‘That’s true enough. We’d better go and have a look at the studio.’ The so-called studio was a mere rough shed with a skylight. There were no windows and the door was the only means of entrance or egress. Satisfied on this score, Melchett announced his intention of visiting the Vicarage with the Inspector. ‘I’m going to the police station now.’ As I entered through the front door, a murmur of voices caught my ear. I opened the drawing-room door. On the sofa beside Griselda, conversing animatedly, sat Miss Gladys Cram. Her legs, which were encased in particularly shiny pink stockings, were crossed, and I had every opportunity of observing that she wore pink striped silk knickers. ‘Hullo, Len,’ said Griselda. ‘Good morning, Mr Clement,’ said Miss Cram. ‘Isn’t the news about the Colonel really too awful? Poor old gentleman.’ ‘Miss Cram,’ said my wife, ‘very kindly came in to offer to help us with the Guides. We asked for helpers last Sunday, you remember.’ I did remember, and I was convinced, and so, I knew from her tone, was Griselda, that the idea of enrolling herself among them would never have occurred to Miss Cram but for the exciting incident which had taken place at the Vicarage. ‘I was only just saying to Mrs Clement,’ went on Miss Cram, ‘you could have struck me all of a heap when I heard the news. A murder? I said. In this quiet one-horse village – for quiet it is, you must admit – not so much as a picture house, and as for Talkies! And then when I heard it was Colonel Protheroe – why, I simply couldn’t believe it. He didn’t seem the kind, somehow, to get murdered.’ ‘And so,’ said Griselda, ‘Miss Cram came round to find out all about it.’ I feared this plain speaking might offend the lady, but she merely flung her head back and laughed uproariously, showing every tooth she possessed. ‘That’s too bad. You’re a sharp one, aren’t you, Mrs Clement? But it’s only natural, isn’t it, to want to hear the ins and outs of a case like this? And I’m sure I’m willing enough to help with the Guides in any way you like. Exciting, that’s what it is. I’ve been stagnating for a bit of fun. I have, really I have. Not that my job isn’t a very good one, well paid, and Dr Stone quite the gentleman in every way. But a girl wants a bit of life out of office hours, and except for you, Mrs Clement, who is there in the place to talk to except a lot of old cats?’ ‘There’s Lettice Protheroe,’ I said. Gladys Cram tossed her head. ‘She’s too high and mighty for the likes of me. Fancies herself the county, and wouldn’t demean herself by noticing a girl who had to work for her living. Not but what I did hear her talking of earning her living herself. And who’d employ her, I should like to know? Why, she’d be fired in less than a week. Unless she went as one of those mannequins, all dressed up and sidling about. She could do that, I expect.’ ‘She’d make a very good mannequin,’ said Griselda. ‘She’s got such a lovely figure.’ There’s nothing of the cat about Griselda. ‘When was she talking of earning her own living?’ Miss Cram seemed momentarily discomfited, but recovered herself with her usual archness. ‘That would be telling, wouldn’t it?’ she said. ‘But she did say so. Things not very happy at home, I fancy. Catch me living at home with a stepmother. I wouldn’t sit down under it for a minute.’ ‘Ah! but you’re so high spirited and independent,’ said Griselda gravely, and I looked at her with suspicion. Miss Cram was clearly pleased. ‘That’s right. That’s me all over. Can be led, not driven. A palmist told me that not so very long ago. No. I’m not one to sit down and be bullied. And I’ve made it clear all along to Dr Stone that I must have my regular times off. These scientific gentlemen, they think a girl’s a kind of machine – half the time they just don’t notice her or remember she’s there. Of course, I don’t know much about it,’ confessed the girl. ‘Do you find Dr Stone pleasant to work with? It must be an interesting job if you are interested in archaeology.’ ‘It still seems to me that digging up people that are dead and have been dead for hundreds of years isn’t – well, it seems a bit nosy, doesn’t it? And there’s Dr Stone so wrapped up in it all, that half the time he’d forget his meals if it wasn’t for me.’ ‘Is he at the barrow this morning?’ asked Griselda. Miss Cram shook her head. ‘A bit under the weather this morning,’ she explained. ‘Not up to doing any work. That means a holiday for little Gladys.’ ‘I’m sorry,’ I said. ‘Oh! It’s nothing much. There’s not going to be a second death. But do tell me, Mr Clement, I hear you’ve been with the police all morning. What do they think?’ ‘Well,’ I said slowly, ‘there is still a little – uncertainty.’ ‘Ah!’ cried Miss Cram. ‘Then they don’t think it is Mr Lawrence Redding after all. So handsome, isn’t he? Just like a movie star. And such a nice smile when he says good morning to you. I really couldn’t believe my ears when I heard the police had arrested him. Still, one has always heard they’re very stupid – the county police.’ ‘You can hardly blame them in this instance,’ I said. ‘Mr Redding came in and gave himself up.’ ‘What?’ the girl was clearly dumbfounded. ‘Well – of all the poor fish! If I’d committed a murder, I wouldn’t go straight off and give myself up. I should have thought Lawrence Redding would have had more sense. To give in like that! What did he kill Protheroe for? Did he say? Was it just a quarrel?’ ‘It’s not absolutely certain that he did kill him,’ I said. ‘But surely – if he says he has – why really, Mr Clement, he ought to know.’ ‘He ought to, certainly,’ I agreed. ‘But the police are not satisfied with his story.’ ‘But why should he say he’d done it if he hasn’t?’ That was a point on which I had no intention of enlightening Miss Cram. Instead I said rather vaguely: ‘I believe that in all prominent murder cases, the police receive numerous letters from people accusing themselves of the crime.’ Miss Cram’s reception of this piece of information was: ‘They must be chumps!’ in a tone of wonder and scorn. ‘Well,’ she said with a sigh, ‘I suppose I must be trotting along.’ She rose. ‘Mr Redding accusing himself of the murder will be a bit of news for Dr Stone.’ ‘Is he interested?’ asked Griselda. Miss Cram furrowed her brows perplexedly. ‘He’s a queer one. You never can tell with him. All wrapped up in the past. He’d a hundred times rather look at a nasty old bronze knife out of those humps of ground than he would see the knife Crippen cut up his wife with, supposing he had a chance to.’ ‘Well,’ I said, ‘I must confess I agree with him.’ Miss Cram’s eyes expressed incomprehension and slight contempt. Then, with reiterated goodbyes, she took her departure. ‘Not such a bad sort, really,’ said Griselda, as the door closed behind her. ‘Terribly common, of course, but one of those big, bouncing, good-humoured girls that you can’t dislike. I wonder what really brought her here?’ ‘Curiosity.’ ‘Yes, I suppose so. Now, Len, tell me all about it. I’m simply dying to hear.’ I sat down and recited faithfully all the happenings of the morning, Griselda interpolating the narrative with little exclamations of surprise and interest. ‘So it was Anne Lawrence was after all along! Not Lettice. How blind we’ve all been! That must have been what old Miss Marple was hinting at yesterday. Don’t you think so?’ ‘Yes,’ I said, averting my eyes. Mary entered. ‘There’s a couple of men here – come from a newspaper, so they say. Do you want to see them?’ ‘No,’ I said, ‘certainly not. Refer them to Inspector Slack at the police station.’ Mary nodded and turned away. ‘And when you’ve got rid of them,’ I said, ‘come back here. There’s something I want to ask you.’ Mary nodded again. It was some few minutes before she returned. ‘Had a job getting rid of them,’ she said. ‘Persistent. You never saw anything like it. Wouldn’t take no for an answer.’ ‘I expect we shall be a good deal troubled with them,’ I said. ‘Now, Mary, what I want to ask you is this: Are you quite certain you didn’t hear the shot yesterday evening?’ ‘The shot what killed him? No, of course I didn’t. If I had of done, I should have gone in to see what had happened.’ ‘Yes, but –’ I was remembering Miss Marple’s statement that she had heard a shot ‘in the woods’. I changed the form of my question. ‘Did you hear any other shot – one down in the wood, for instance?’ ‘Oh! That.’ The girl paused. ‘Yes, now I come to think of it, I believe I did. Not a lot of shots, just one. Queer sort of bang it was.’ ‘Exactly,’ I said. ‘Now what time was that?’ ‘Time?’ ‘Yes, time.’ ‘I couldn’t say, I’m sure. Well after tea-time. I do know that.’ ‘Can’t you get a little nearer than that?’ ‘No, I can’t. I’ve got my work to do, haven’t I? I can’t go on looking at clocks the whole time – and it wouldn’t be much good anyway – the alarm loses a good three-quarters every day, and what with putting it on and one thing and another, I’m never exactly sure what time it is.’ This perhaps explains why our meals are never punctual. They are sometimes too late and sometimes bewilderingly early. ‘Was it long before Mr Redding came?’ ‘No, it wasn’t long. Ten minutes – a quarter of an hour – not longer than that.’ I nodded my head, satisfied. ‘Is that all?’ said Mary. ‘Because what I mean to say is, I’ve got the joint in the oven and the pudding boiling over as likely as not.’ ‘That’s all right. You can go.’ She left the room, and I turned to Griselda. ‘Is it quite out of the question to induce Mary to say sir or ma’am?’ ‘I have told her. She doesn’t remember. She’s just a raw girl, remember?’ ‘I am perfectly aware of that,’ I said. ‘But raw things do not necessarily remain raw for ever. I feel a tinge of cooking might be induced in Mary.’ ‘Well, I don’t agree with you,’ said Griselda. ‘You know how little we can afford to pay a servant. If once we got her smartened up at all, she’d leave. Naturally. And get higher wages. But as long as Mary can’t cook and has those awful manners – well, we’re safe, nobody else would have her.’ I perceived that my wife’s methods of housekeeping were not so entirely haphazard as I had imagined. A certain amount of reasoning underlay them. Whether it was worthwhile having a maid at the price of her not being able to cook, and having a habit of throwing dishes and remarks at one with the same disconcerting abruptness, was a debatable matter. ‘And anyway,’ continued Griselda, ‘you must make allowances for her manners being worse than usual just now. You can’t expect her to feel exactly sympathetic about Colonel Protheroe’s death when he jailed her young man.’ ‘Did he jail her young man?’ ‘Yes, for poaching. You know, that man, Archer. Mary has been walking out with him for two years.’ ‘I didn’t know that.’ ‘Darling Len, you never know anything.’ ‘It’s queer,’ I said, ‘that everyone says the shot came from the woods.’ ‘I don’t think it’s queer at all,’ said Griselda. ‘You see, one so often hears shots in the wood. So naturally, when you do hear a shot, you just assume as a matter of course that it is in the wood. It probably just sounds a bit louder than usual. Of course, if one were in the next room, you’d realize that it was in the house, but from Mary’s kitchen with the window right the other side of the house, I don’t believe you’d ever think of such a thing.’ The door opened again. ‘Colonel Melchett’s back,’ said Mary. ‘And that police inspector with him, and they say they’d be glad if you’d join them. They’re in the study.’ Chapter 11 (#ulink_69eb4d68-8973-5077-8bf0-68bf91259d7c) I saw at a glance that Colonel Melchett and Inspector Slack had not been seeing eye to eye about the case. Melchett looked flushed and annoyed and the Inspector looked sulky. ‘I’m sorry to say,’ said Melchett, ‘that Inspector Slack doesn’t agree with me in considering young Redding innocent.’ ‘If he didn’t do it, what does he go and say he did it for?’ asked Slack sceptically. ‘Mrs Protheroe acted in an exactly similar fashion, remember, Slack.’ ‘That’s different. She’s a woman, and women act in that silly way. I’m not saying she did it for a moment. She heard he was accused and she trumped up a story. I’m used to that sort of game. You wouldn’t believe the fool things I’ve known women do. But Redding’s different. He’s got his head screwed on all right. And if he admits he did it, well, I say he did do it. It’s his pistol – you can’t get away from that. And thanks to this business of Mrs Protheroe, we know the motive. That was the weak point before, but now we know it – why, the whole thing’s plain sailing.’ ‘You think he can have shot him earlier? At six thirty, say?’ ‘He can’t have done that.’ ‘You’ve checked up his movements?’ The Inspector nodded. ‘He was in the village near the Blue Boar at ten past six. From there he came along the back lane where you say the old lady next door saw him – she doesn’t miss much, I should say – and kept his appointment with Mrs Protheroe in the studio in the garden. They left there together just after six-thirty, and went along the lane to the village, being joined by Dr Stone. He corroborates that all right – I’ve seen him. They all stood talking just by the post office for a few minutes, then Mrs Protheroe went into Miss Hartnell’s to borrow a gardening magazine. That’s all right too. I’ve seen Miss Hartnell. Mrs Protheroe remained there talking to her till just on seven o’clock when she exclaimed at the lateness of the hour and said she must get home.’ ‘What was her manner?’ ‘Very easy and pleasant, Miss Hartnell said. She seemed in good spirits – Miss Hartnell is quite sure there was nothing on her mind.’ ‘Well, go on.’ ‘Redding, he went with Dr Stone to the Blue Boar and they had a drink together. He left there at twenty minutes to seven, went rapidly along the village street and down the road to the Vicarage. Lots of people saw him.’ ‘Not down the back lane this time?’ commented the Colonel. ‘No – he came to the front, asked for the Vicar, heard Colonel Protheroe was there, went in – and shot him – just as he said he did! That’s the truth of it, and we needn’t look further.’ Melchett shook his head. ‘There’s the doctor’s evidence. You can’t get away from that. Protheroe was shot not later than six-thirty.’ ‘Oh, doctors!’ Inspector Slack looked contemptuous. ‘If you’re going to believe doctors. Take out all your teeth – that’s what they do nowadays – and then say they’re very sorry, but all the time it was appendicitis. Doctors!’ ‘This isn’t a question of diagnosis. Dr Haydock was absolutely positive on the point. You can’t go against the medical evidence, Slack.’ ‘And there’s my evidence for what it is worth,’ I said, suddenly recalling a forgotten incident. ‘I touched the body and it was cold. That I can swear to.’ ‘You see, Slack?’ said Melchett. ‘Well, of course, if that’s so. But there it was – a beautiful case. Mr Redding only too anxious to be hanged, so to speak.’ ‘That, in itself, strikes me as a little unnatural,’ observed Colonel Melchett. ‘Well, there’s no accounting for tastes,’ said the Inspector. ‘There’s a lot of gentlemen went a bit balmy after the war. Now, I suppose, it means starting again at the beginning.’ He turned on me. ‘Why you went out of your way to mislead me about the clock, sir, I can’t think. Obstructing the ends of justice, that’s what that was.’ ‘I tried to tell you on three separate occasions,’ I said. ‘And each time you shut me up and refused to listen.’ ‘That’s just a way of speaking, sir. You could have told me perfectly well if you had had a mind to. The clock and the note seemed to tally perfectly. Now, according to you, the clock was all wrong. I never knew such a case. What’s the sense of keeping a clock a quarter of an hour fast anyway?’ ‘It is supposed,’ I said, ‘to induce punctuality.’ ‘I don’t think we need go further into that now, Inspector,’ said Colonel Melchett tactfully. ‘What we want now is the true story from both Mrs Protheroe and young Redding. I telephoned to Haydock and asked him to bring Mrs Protheroe over here with him. They ought to be here in about a quarter of an hour. I think it would be as well to have Redding here first.’ ‘I’ll get on to the station,’ said Inspector Slack, and took up the telephone. ‘And now,’ he said, replacing the receiver, ‘we’ll get to work on this room.’ He looked at me in a meaningful fashion. ‘Perhaps,’ I said, ‘you’d like me out of the way.’ The Inspector immediately opened the door for me. Melchett called out: ‘Come back when young Redding arrives, will you, Vicar? You’re a friend of his and you may have sufficient influence to persuade him to speak the truth.’ I found my wife and Miss Marple with their heads together. ‘We’ve been discussing all sorts of possibilities,’ said Griselda. ‘I wish you’d solve the case, Miss Marple, like you did the time Miss Wetherby’s gill of picked shrimps disappeared. And all because it reminded you of something quite different about a sack of coals.’ ‘You’re laughing, my dear,’ said Miss Marple, ‘but after all, that is a very sound way of arriving at the truth. It’s really what people call intuition and make such a fuss about. Intuition is like reading a word without having to spell it out. A child can’t do that because it has had so little experience. But a grown-up person knows the word because they’ve seen it often before. You catch my meaning, Vicar?’ ‘Yes,’ I said slowly, ‘I think I do. You mean that if a thing reminds you of something else – well, it’s probably the same kind of thing.’ ‘Exactly.’ ‘And what precisely does the murder of Colonel Protheroe remind you of ?’ Miss Marple sighed. ‘That is just the difficulty. So many parallels come to the mind. For instance, there was Major Hargreaves, a church-warden and a man highly respected in every way. And all the time he was keeping a separate second establishment – a former housemaid, just think of it! And five children – actually five children – a terrible shock to his wife and daughter.’ I tried hard to visualize Colonel Protheroe in the rôle of secret sinner and failed. ‘And then there was that laundry business,’ went on Miss Marple. ‘Miss Hartnell’s opal pin – left most imprudently in a frilled blouse and sent to the laundry. And the woman who took it didn’t want it in the least and wasn’t by any means a thief. She simply hid it in another woman’s house and told the police she’d seen this other woman take it. Spite, you know, sheer spite. It’s an astonishing motive – spite. A man in it, of course. There always is.’ This time I failed to see any parallel, however remote. ‘And then there was poor Elwell’s daughter – such a pretty ethereal girl – tried to stifle her little brother. And there was the money for the Choir Boys’ Outing (before your time, Vicar) actually taken by the organist. His wife was sadly in debt. Yes, this case makes one think so many things – too many. It’s very hard to arrive at the truth.’ ‘I wish you would tell me,’ I said, ‘who were the seven suspects?’ ‘The seven suspects?’ ‘You said you could think of seven people who would – well, be glad of Colonel Protheroe’s death.’ ‘Did I? Yes, I remember I did.’ ‘Was that true?’ ‘Oh! Certainly it was true. But I mustn’t mention names. You can think of them quite easily yourself. I am sure.’ ‘Indeed I can’t. There is Lettice Protheroe, I suppose, since she probably comes into money on her father’s death. But it is absurd to think of her in such a connection, and outside her I can think of nobody.’ ‘And you, my dear?’ said Miss Marple, turning to Griselda. Rather to my surprise Griselda coloured up. Something very like tears started into her eyes. She clenched both her small hands. ‘Oh!’ she cried indignantly. ‘People are hateful – hateful. The things they say! The beastly things they say…’ I looked at her curiously. It is very unlike Griselda to be so upset. She noticed my glance and tried to smile. ‘Don’t look at me as though I were an interesting specimen you didn’t understand, Len. Don’t let’s get heated and wander from the point. I don’t believe that it was Lawrence or Anne, and Lettice is out of the question. There must be some clue or other that would help us.’ ‘There is the note, of course,’ said Miss Marple. ‘You will remember my saying this morning that that struck me as exceedingly peculiar.’ ‘It seems to fix the time of his death with remarkable accuracy,’ I said. ‘And yet, is that possible? Mrs Protheroe would only have just left the study. She would hardly have had time to reach the studio. The only way in which I can account for it is that he consulted his own watch and that his watch was slow. That seems to me a feasible solution.’ ‘I have another idea,’ said Griselda. ‘Suppose, Len, that the clock had already been put back – no, that comes to the same thing – how stupid of me!’ ‘It hadn’t been altered when I left,’ I said. ‘I remember comparing it with my watch. Still, as you say, that has no bearing on the present matter.’ ‘What do you think, Miss Marple?’ asked Griselda. ‘My dear, I confess I wasn’t thinking about it from that point of view at all. What strikes me as so curious, and has done from the first, is the subject matter of that letter.’ ‘I don’t see that,’ I said. ‘Colonel Protheroe merely wrote that he couldn’t wait any longer –’ ‘At twenty minutes past six?’ said Miss Marple. ‘Your maid, Mary, had already told him that you wouldn’t be in till half-past six at the earliest, and he appeared to be quite willing to wait until then. And yet at twenty past six he sits down and says he “can’t wait any longer”.’ I stared at the old lady, feeling an increased respect for her mental powers. Her keen wits had seen what we had failed to perceive. It was an odd thing – a very odd thing. ‘If only,’ I said, ‘the letter hadn’t been dated –’ Miss Marple nodded her head. ‘Exactly,’ she said. ‘If it hadn’t been dated!’ I cast my mind back, trying to recall that sheet of notepaper and the blurred scrawl, and at the top that neatly printed 6.20. Surely these figures were on a different scale to the rest of the letter. I gave a gasp. ‘Supposing,’ I said, ‘it wasn’t dated. Supposing that round about 6.30 Colonel Protheroe got impatient and sat down to say he couldn’t wait any longer. And as he was sitting there writing, someone came in through the window –’ ‘Or through the door,’ suggested Griselda. ‘He’d hear the door and look up.’ ‘Colonel Protheroe was rather deaf, you remember,’ said Miss Marple. ‘Yes, that’s true. He wouldn’t hear it. Whichever way the murderer came, he stole up behind the Colonel and shot him. Then he saw the note and the clock and the idea came to him. He put 6.20 at the top of the letter and he altered the clock to 6.22. It was a clever idea. It gave him, or so he would think, a perfect alibi.’ ‘And what we want to find,’ said Griselda, ‘is someone who has a cast-iron alibi for 6.20, but no alibi at all for – well, that isn’t so easy. One can’t fix the time.’ ‘We can fix it within very narrow limits,’ I said. ‘Haydock places 6.30 as the outside limit of time. I suppose one could perhaps shift it to 6.35 from the reasoning we have just been following out, it seems clear that Protheroe would not have got impatient before 6.30. I think we can say we do know pretty well.’ ‘Then that shot I heard – yes, I suppose it is quite possible. And I thought nothing about it – nothing at all. Most vexing. And yet, now I try to recollect, it does seem to me that it was different from the usual sort of shot one hears. Yes, there was a difference.’ ‘Louder?’ I suggested. No, Miss Marple didn’t think it had been louder. In fact, she found it hard to say in what way it had been different, but she still insisted that it was. I thought she was probably persuading herself of the fact rather than actually remembering it, but she had just contributed such a valuable new outlook to the problem that I felt highly respectful towards her. She rose, murmuring that she must really get back – it had been so tempting just to run over and discuss the case with dear Griselda. I escorted her to the boundary wall and the back gate and returned to find Griselda wrapped in thought. ‘Still puzzling over that note?’ I asked. ‘No.’ She gave a sudden shiver and shook her shoulders impatiently. ‘Len, I’ve been thinking. How badly someone must have hated Anne Protheroe!’ ‘Hated her?’ ‘Yes. Don’t you see? There’s no real evidence against Lawrence – all the evidence against him is what you might call accidental. He just happens to take it into his head to come here. If he hadn’t – well, no one would have thought of connecting him with the crime. But Anne is different. Suppose someone knew that she was here at exactly 6.20 – the clock and the time on the letter – everything pointing to her. I don’t think it was only because of an alibi it was moved to that exact time – I think there was more in it than that – a direct attempt to fasten the business on her. If it hadn’t been for Miss Marple saying she hadn’t got the pistol with her and noticing that she was only a moment before going down to the studio – Yes, if it hadn’t been for that…’ She shivered again. ‘Len, I feel that someone hated Anne Protheroe very much. I – I don’t like it.’ Chapter 12 (#ulink_3ac5b0c2-84d4-54d2-9167-b034b0257556) I was summoned to the study when Lawrence Redding arrived. He looked haggard, and, I thought, suspicious. Colonel Melchett greeted him with something approaching cordiality. ‘We want to ask you a few questions – here, on the spot,’ he said. Lawrence sneered slightly. ‘Isn’t that a French idea? Reconstruction of the crime?’ ‘My dear boy,’ said Colonel Melchett, ‘don’t take that tone with us. Are you aware that someone else has also confessed to committing the crime which you pretend to have committed?’ The effect of these words on Lawrence was painful and immediate. ‘S-s-omeone else?’ he stammered. ‘Who – who?’ ‘Mrs Protheroe,’ said Colonel Melchett, watching him. ‘Absurd. She never did it. She couldn’t have. It’s impossible.’ Melchett interrupted him. ‘Strangely enough, we did not believe her story. Neither, I may say, do we believe yours. Dr Haydock says positively that the murder could not have been committed at the time you say it was.’ ‘Dr Haydock says that?’ ‘Yes, so, you see, you are cleared whether you like it or not. And now we want you to help us, to tell us exactly what occurred.’ Lawrence still hesitated. ‘You’re not deceiving me about – about Mrs Protheroe? You really don’t suspect her?’ ‘On my word of honour,’ said Colonel Melchett. Lawrence drew a deep breath. ‘I’ve been a fool,’ he said. ‘An absolute fool. How could I have thought for one minute that she did it –’ ‘Suppose you tell us all about it?’ suggested the Chief Constable. ‘There’s not much to tell. I – I met Mrs Protheroe that afternoon –’ He paused. ‘We know all about that,’ said Melchett. ‘You may think that your feeling for Mrs Protheroe and hers for you was a dead secret, but in reality it was known and commented upon. In any case, everything is bound to come out now.’ ‘Very well, then. I expect you are right. I had promised the Vicar here (he glanced at me) to – to go right away. I met Mrs Protheroe that evening in the studio at a quarter past six. I told her of what I had decided. She, too, agreed that it was the only thing to do. We – we said goodbye to each other. ‘We left the studio, and almost at once Dr Stone joined us. Anne managed to seem marvellously natural. I couldn’t do it. I went off with Stone to the Blue Boar and had a drink. Then I thought I’d go home, but when I got to the corner of this road, I changed my mind and decided to come along and see the Vicar. I felt I wanted someone to talk to about the matter. ‘At the door, the maid told me the Vicar was out, but would be in shortly, but that Colonel Protheroe was in the study waiting for him. Well, I didn’t like to go away again – looked as though I were shirking meeting him. So I said I’d wait too, and I went into the study.’ He stopped. ‘Well?’ said Colonel Melchett. ‘Protheroe was sitting at the writing table – just as you found him. I went up to him – touched him. He was dead. Then I looked down and saw the pistol lying on the floor beside him. I picked it up –and at once saw that it was my pistol. ‘That gave me a turn. My pistol! And then, straightaway I leaped to one conclusion. Anne must have bagged my pistol some time or other – meaning it for herself if she couldn’t bear things any longer. Perhaps she had had it with her today. After we parted in the village she must have come back here and – and – oh! I suppose I was mad to think of it. But that’s what I thought. I slipped the pistol in my pocket and came away. Just outside the Vicarage gate, I met the Vicar. He said something nice and normal about seeing Protheroe – suddenly I had a wild desire to laugh. His manner was so ordinary and everyday and there was I all strung up. I remember shouting out something absurd and seeing his face change. I was nearly off my head, I believe. I went walking – walking – at last I couldn’t bear it any longer. If Anne had done this ghastly thing, I was, at least, morally responsible. I went and gave myself up.’ There was a silence when he had finished. Then the Colonel said in a business-like voice: ‘I would like to ask just one or two questions. First, did you touch or move the body in any way?’ ‘No, I didn’t touch it at all. One could see he was dead without touching him.’ ‘Did you notice a note lying on the blotter half concealed by his body?’ ‘No.’ ‘Did you interfere in any way with the clock?’ ‘I never touched the clock. I seem to remember a clock lying overturned on the table, but I never touched it.’ ‘Now as to this pistol of yours, when did you last see it?’ Lawrence Redding reflected. ‘It’s hard to say exactly.’ ‘Where do you keep it?’ ‘Oh, in a litter of odds and ends in the sitting-room in my cottage. On one of the shelves of the bookcase.’ ‘You left it lying about carelessly?’ ‘Yes. I really didn’t think about it. It was just there.’ ‘So that anyone who came to your cottage could have seen it?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘And you don’t remember when you last saw it?’ Lawrence drew his brows together in a frown of recollection. ‘I’m almost sure it was there the day before yesterday. I remember pushing it aside to get an old pipe. I think it was the day before yesterday – but it may have been the day before that.’ ‘Who has been to your cottage lately?’ ‘Oh! Crowds of people. Someone is always drifting in and out. I had a sort of tea party the day before yesterday. Lettice Protheroe, Dennis, and all their crowd. And then one or other of the old Pussies comes in now and again.’ ‘Do you lock the cottage up when you go out?’ ‘No; why on earth should I? I’ve nothing to steal. And no one does lock their house up round here.’ ‘Who looks after your wants there?’ ‘An old Mrs Archer comes in every morning to “do for me” as it’s called.’ ‘Do you think she would remember when the pistol was there last?’ ‘I don’t know. She might. But I don’t fancy conscientious dusting is her strong point.’ ‘It comes to this – that almost anyone might have taken that pistol?’ ‘It seems so – yes.’ The door opened and Dr Haydock came in with Anne Protheroe. She started at seeing Lawrence. He, on his part, made a tentative step towards her. ‘Forgive me, Anne,’ he said. ‘It was abominable of me to think what I did.’ ‘I –’ She faltered, then looked appealingly at Colonel Melchett. ‘Is it true, what Dr Haydock told me?’ ‘That Mr Redding is cleared of suspicion? Yes. And now what about this story of yours, Mrs Protheroe? Eh, what about it?’ She smiled rather shamefacedly. ‘I suppose you think it dreadful of me?’ ‘Well, shall we say – very foolish? But that’s all over. What I want now, Mrs Protheroe, is the truth – the absolute truth.’ She nodded gravely. ‘I will tell you. I suppose you know about – about everything.’ ‘Yes.’ ‘I was to meet Lawrence – Mr Redding – that evening at the studio. At a quarter past six. My husband and I drove into the village together. I had some shopping to do. As we parted he mentioned casually that he was going to see the Vicar. I couldn’t get word to Lawrence, and I was rather uneasy. I – well, it was awkward meeting him in the Vicarage garden whilst my husband was at the Vicarage.’ Her cheeks burned as she said this. It was not a pleasant moment for her. ‘I reflected that perhaps my husband would not stay very long. To find this out, I came along the back lane and into the garden. I hoped no one would see me, but of course old Miss Marple had to be in her garden! She stopped me and we said a few words, and I explained I was going to call for my husband. I felt I had to say something. I don’t know whether she believed me or not. She looked rather – funny. ‘When I left her, I went straight across to the Vicarage and round the corner of the house to the study window. I crept up to it very softly, expecting to hear the sound of voices. But to my surprise there were none. I just glanced in, saw the room was empty, and hurried across the lawn and down to the studio where Lawrence joined me almost at once.’ ‘You say the room was empty, Mrs Protheroe?’ ‘Yes, my husband was not there.’ ‘Extraordinary.’ ‘You mean, ma’am, that you didn’t see him?’ said the Inspector. ‘No, I didn’t see him.’ Inspector Slack whispered to the Chief Constable, who nodded. ‘Do you mind, Mrs Protheroe, just showing us exactly what you did?’ ‘Not at all.’ She rose, Inspector Slack pushed open the window for her, and she stepped out on the terrace and round the house to the left. Inspector Slack beckoned me imperiously to go and sit at the writing table. Somehow I didn’t much like doing it. It gave me an uncomfortable feeling. But, of course, I complied. Presently I heard footsteps outside, they paused for a minute, then retreated. Inspector Slack indicated to me that I could return to the other side of the room. Mrs Protheroe re-entered through the window. ‘Is that exactly how it was?’ asked Colonel Melchett. ‘I think exactly.’ ‘Then can you tell us, Mrs Protheroe, just exactly where the Vicar was in the room when you looked in?’ asked Inspector Slack. ‘The Vicar? I – no, I’m afraid I can’t. I didn’t see him.’ Inspector Slack nodded. ‘That’s how you didn’t see your husband. He was round the corner at the writing-desk.’ ‘Oh!’ she paused. Suddenly her eyes grew round with horror. ‘It wasn’t there that – that –’ ‘Yes, Mrs Protheroe. It was while he was sitting there.’ ‘Oh!’ She quivered. He went on with his questions. ‘Did you know, Mrs Protheroe, that Mr Redding had a pistol?’ ‘Yes. He told me so once.’ ‘Did you ever have that pistol in your possession?’ She shook her head. ‘No.’ ‘Did you know where he kept it?’ ‘I’m not sure. I think – yes, I think I’ve seen it on a shelf in his cottage. Didn’t you keep it there, Lawrence?’ ‘When was the last time you were at the cottage, Mrs Protheroe?’ ‘Oh! About three weeks ago. My husband and I had tea there with him.’ ‘And you have not been there since?’ ‘No. I never went there. You see, it would probably cause a lot of talk in the village.’ ‘Doubtless,’ said Colonel Melchett dryly. ‘Where were you in the habit of seeing Mr Redding, if I may ask?’ ‘He used to come up to the Hall. He was painting Lettice. We – we often met in the woods afterwards.’ Colonel Melchett nodded. ‘Isn’t that enough?’ Her voice was suddenly broken. ‘It’s so awful – having to tell you all these things. And – and there wasn’t anything wrong about it. There wasn’t – indeed, there wasn’t. We were just friends. We – we couldn’t help caring for each other.’ She looked pleadingly at Dr Haydock, and that soft-hearted man stepped forward. ‘I really think, Melchett,’ he said, ‘that Mrs Protheroe has had enough. She’s had a great shock – in more ways than one.’ The Chief Constable nodded. ‘There is really nothing more I want to ask you, Mrs Protheroe,’ he said. ‘Thank you for answering my questions so frankly.’ ‘Then – then I may go?’ ‘Is your wife in?’ asked Haydock. ‘I think Mrs Protheroe would like to see her.’ ‘Yes,’ I said, ‘Griselda is in. You’ll find her in the drawing-room.’ She and Haydock left the room together and Lawrence Redding with them. Colonel Melchett had pursed up his lips and was playing with a paper knife. Slack was looking at the note. It was then that I mentioned Miss Marple’s theory. Slack looked closely at it. ‘My word,’ he said, ‘I believe the old lady’s right. Look here, sir, don’t you see? – these figures are written in different ink. That date was written with a fountain pen or I’ll eat my boots!’ We were all rather excited. ‘You’ve examined the note for fingerprints, of course,’ said the Chief Constable. ‘What do you think, Colonel? No fingerprints on the note at all. Fingerprints on the pistol those of Mr Lawrence Redding. May have been some others once, before he went fooling round with it and carrying it around in his pocket, but there’s nothing clear enough to get hold of now.’ ‘At first the case looked very black against Mrs Protheroe,’ said the Colonel thoughtfully. ‘Much blacker than against young Redding. There was that old woman Marple’s evidence that she didn’t have the pistol with her, but these elderly ladies are often mistaken.’ I was silent, but I did not agree with him. I was quite sure that Anne Protheroe had had no pistol with her since Miss Marple had said so. Miss Marple is not the type of elderly lady who makes mistakes. She has got an uncanny knack of being always right. ‘What did get me was that nobody heard the shot. If it was fired then – somebody must have heard it – wherever they thought it came from. Slack, you’d better have a word with the maid.’ Inspector Slack moved with alacrity towards the door. ‘I shouldn’t ask her if she heard a shot in the house,’ I said. ‘Because if you do, she’ll deny it. Call it a shot in the wood. That’s the only kind of shot she’ll admit to hearing.’ ‘I know how to manage them,’ said Inspector Slack, and disappeared. ‘Miss Marple says she heard a shot later,’ said Colonel Melchett thoughtfully. ‘We must see if she can fix the time at all precisely. Of course it may be a stray shot that had nothing to do with the case.’ ‘It may be, of course,’ I agreed. The Colonel took a turn or two up and down the room. ‘Do you know, Clement,’ he said suddenly, ‘I’ve a feeling that this is going to turn out a much more intricate and difficult business than any of us think. Dash it all, there’s something behind it.’ He snorted. ‘Something we don’t know about. We’re only beginning, Clement. Mark my words, we’re only beginning. All these things, the clock, the note, the pistol – they don’t make sense as they stand.’ I shook my head. They certainly didn’t. ‘But I’m going to get to the bottom of it. No calling in of Scotland Yard. Slack’s a smart man. He’s a very smart man. He’s a kind of ferret. He’ll nose his way through to the truth. He’s done several very good things already, and this case will be his chef d’oeuvre. Some men would call in Scotland Yard. I shan’t. We’ll get to the bottom of this here in Downshire.’ ‘I hope so, I’m sure,’ I said. I tried to make my voice enthusiastic, but I had already taken such a dislike to Inspector Slack that the prospect of his success failed to appeal to me. A successful Slack would, I thought, be even more odious than a baffled one. ‘Who has the house next door?’ asked the Colonel suddenly. ‘You mean at the end of the road? Mrs Price Ridley.’ ‘We’ll go along to her after Slack has finished with your maid. She might just possibly have heard something. She isn’t deaf or anything, is she?’ ‘I should say her hearing is remarkably keen. I’m going by the amount of scandal she has started by “just happening to overhear accidentally”.’ ‘That’s the kind of woman we want. Oh! here’s Slack.’ The Inspector had the air of one emerging from a severe tussle. ‘Phew!’ he said. ‘That’s a tartar you’ve got, sir.’ ‘Mary is essentially a girl of strong character,’ I replied. ‘Doesn’t like the police,’ he said. ‘I cautioned her – did what I could to put the fear of the law into her, but no good. She stood right up to me.’ ‘Spirited,’ I said, feeling more kindly towards Mary. ‘But I pinned her down all right. She heard one shot – and one shot only. And it was a good long time after Colonel Protheroe came. I couldn’t get her to name a time, but we fixed it at last by means of the fish. The fish was late, and she blew the boy up when he came, and he said it was barely half-past six anyway, and it was just after that she heard the shot. Of course, that’s not accurate, so to speak, but it gives us an idea.’ ‘H’m,’ said Melchett. ‘I don’t think Mrs Protheroe’s in this after all,’ said Slack, with a note of regret in his voice. ‘She wouldn’t have had time, to begin with, and then women never like fiddling about with firearms. Arsenic’s more in their line. No, I don’t think she did it. It’s a pity!’ He sighed. Melchett explained that he was going round to Mrs Price Ridley’s, and Slack approved. ‘May I come with you?’ I asked. ‘I’m getting interested.’ I was given permission, and we set forth. A loud ‘Hie’ greeted us as we emerged from the Vicarage gate, and my nephew, Dennis, came running up the road from the village to join us. ‘Look here,’ he said to the Inspector, ‘what about that footprint I told you about?’ ‘Gardener’s,’ said Inspector Slack laconically. ‘You don’t think it might be someone else wearing the gardener’s boots?’ ‘No, I don’t!’ said Inspector Slack in a discouraging way. It would take more than that to discourage Dennis, however. He held out a couple of burnt matches. ‘I found these by the Vicarage gate.’ ‘Thank you,’ said Slack, and put them in his pocket. Matters appeared now to have reached a deadlock. ‘You’re not arresting Uncle Len, are you?’ inquired Dennis facetiously. ‘Why should I?’ inquired Slack. ‘There’s a lot of evidence against him,’ declared Dennis. ‘You ask Mary. Only the day before the murder he was wishing Colonel Protheroe out of the world. Weren’t you, Uncle Len?’ ‘Er –’ I began. Inspector Slack turned a slow suspicious stare upon me, and I felt hot all over. Dennis is exceedingly tiresome. He ought to realize that a policeman seldom has a sense of humour. ‘Don’t be absurd, Dennis,’ I said irritably. The innocent child opened his eyes in a stare of surprise. ‘I say, it’s only a joke,’ he said. ‘Uncle Len just said that any one who murdered Colonel Protheroe would be doing the world a service.’ ‘Ah!’ said Inspector Slack, ‘that explains something the maid said.’ Servants very seldom have any sense of humour either. I cursed Dennis heartily in my mind for bringing the matter up. That and the clock together will make the Inspector suspicious of me for life. ‘Come on, Clement,’ said Colonel Melchett. ‘Where are you going? Can I come, too?’ asked Dennis. ‘No, you can’t,’ I snapped. We left him looking after us with a hurt expression. We went up to the neat front door of Mrs Price Ridley’s house and the Inspector knocked and rang in what I can only describe as an official manner. A pretty parlourmaid answered the bell. ‘Mrs Price Ridley in?’ inquired Melchett. ‘No, sir.’ The maid paused and added: ‘She’s just gone down to the police station.’ This was a totally unexpected development. As we retraced our steps Melchett caught me by the arm and murmured: ‘If she’s gone to confess to the crime, too, I really shall go off my head.’ Chapter 13 (#ulink_ecb6a412-39e9-56a0-bd51-bfb09189d3c5) I hardly thought it likely that Mrs Price Ridley had anything so dramatic in view, but I did wonder what had taken her to the police station. Had she really got evidence of importance, or that she thought of importance, to offer? At any rate, we should soon know. We found Mrs Price Ridley talking at a high rate of speed to a somewhat bewildered-looking police constable. That she was extremely indignant I knew from the way the bow in her hat was trembling. Mrs Price Ridley wears what, I believe, are known as ‘Hats for Matrons’ – they make a speciality of them in our adjacent town of Much Benham. They perch easily on a superstructure of hair and are somewhat overweighted with large bows of ribbon. Griselda is always threatening to get a matron’s hat. Mrs Price Ridley paused in her flow of words upon our entrance. ‘Mrs Price Ridley?’ inquired Colonel Melchett, lifting his hat. ‘Let me introduce Colonel Melchett to you, Mrs Price Ridley,’ I said. ‘Colonel Melchett is our Chief Constable.’ Mrs Price Ridley looked at me coldly, but produced the semblance of a gracious smile for the Colonel. ‘We’ve just been round to your house, Mrs Price Ridley,’ explained the Colonel, ‘and heard you had come down here.’ Mrs Price Ridley thawed altogether. ‘Ah!’she said,‘I’m glad some notice is being taken of the occurrence. Disgraceful, I call it. Simply disgraceful.’ There is no doubt that murder is disgraceful, but it is not the word I should use to describe it myself. It surprised Melchett too, I could see. ‘Have you any light to throw upon the matter?’ he asked. ‘That’s your business. It’s the business of the police. What do we pay rates and taxes for, I should like to know?’ One wonders how many times that query is uttered in a year! ‘We’re doing our best, Mrs Price Ridley,’ said the Chief Constable. ‘But the man here hadn’t even heard of it till I told him about it!’ cried the lady. We all looked at the constable. ‘Lady been rung up on the telephone,’ he said. ‘Annoyed. Matter of obscene language, I understand.’ ‘Oh! I see.’ The Colonel’s brow cleared. ‘We’ve been talking at cross purposes. You came down here to make a complaint, did you?’ Melchett is a wise man. He knows that when it is a question of an irate middle-aged lady, there is only one thing to be done – listen to her. When she had said all that she wants to say, there is a chance that she will listen to you. Mrs Price Ridley surged into speech. ‘Such disgraceful occurrences ought to be prevented. They ought not to occur. To be rung up in one’s own house and insulted – yes, insulted. I’m not accustomed to such things happening. Ever since the war there has been a loosening of moral fibre. Nobody minds what they say, and as to the clothes they wear –’ ‘Quite,’ said Colonel Melchett hastily. ‘What happened exactly?’ Mrs Price Ridley took breath and started again. ‘I was rung up –’ ‘When?’ ‘Yesterday afternoon – evening to be exact. About half-past six. I went to the telephone, suspecting nothing. Immediately I was foully attacked, threatened –’ ‘What actually was said?’ Mrs Price Ridley got slightly pink. ‘That I decline to state.’ ‘Obscene language,’ murmured the constable in a ruminative bass. ‘Was bad language used?’ asked Colonel Melchett. ‘It depends on what you call bad language.’ ‘Could you understand it?’ I asked. ‘Of course I could understand it.’ ‘Then it couldn’t have been bad language,’ I said. Mrs Price Ridley looked at me suspiciously. ‘A refined lady,’ I explained, ‘is naturally unacquainted with bad language.’ ‘It wasn’t that kind of thing,’ said Mrs Price Ridley. ‘At first, I must admit, I was quite taken in. I thought it was a genuine message. Then the – er – person became abusive.’ ‘Abusive?’ ‘Most abusive. I was quite alarmed.’ ‘Used threatening language, eh?’ ‘Yes. I am not accustomed to being threatened.’ ‘What did they threaten you with? Bodily damage?’ ‘Not exactly.’ ‘I’m afraid, Mrs Price Ridley, you must be more explicit. In what way were you threatened?’ This Mrs Price Ridley seemed singularly reluctant to answer. ‘I can’t remember exactly. It was all so upsetting. But right at the end – when I was really very upset, this – this –wretch laughed.’ ‘Was it a man’s voice or a woman’s?’ ‘It was a degenerate voice,’ said Mrs Price Ridley, with dignity. ‘I can only describe it as a kind of perverted voice. Now gruff, now squeaky. Really a very peculiar voice.’ ‘Probably a practical joke,’ said the Colonel soothingly. ‘A most wicked thing to do, if so. I might have had a heart attack.’ ‘We’ll look into it,’ said the Colonel; ‘eh, Inspector? Trace the telephone call. You can’t tell me more definitely exactly what was said, Mrs Price Ridley?’ A struggle began in Mrs Price Ridley’s ample black bosom. The desire for reticence fought against a desire for vengeance. Vengeance triumphed. ‘This, of course, will go no further,’ she began. ‘Of course not.’ ‘This creature began by saying – I can hardly bring myself to repeat it –’ ‘Yes, yes,’ said Melchett encouragingly. ‘“You are a wicked scandal-mongering old woman!” Me, Colonel Melchett – a scandal-mongering old woman. “But this time you’ve gone too far. Scotland Yard are after you for libel.”’ ‘Naturally, you were alarmed,’ said Melchett, biting his moustache to conceal a smile. ‘“Unless you hold your tongue in future, it will be the worse for you – in more ways than one.” I can’t describe to you the menacing way that was said. I gasped, “who are you?” faintly – like that, and the voice answered, “The Avenger”. I gave a little shriek. It sounded so awful, and then – the person laughed. Laughed! Distinctly. And that was all. I heard them hang up the receiver. Of course I asked the exchange what number had been ringing me up, but they said they didn’t know. You know what exchanges are. Thoroughly rude and unsympathetic.’ ‘Quite,’ I said. ‘I felt quite faint,’ continued Mrs Price Ridley. ‘All on edge and so nervous that when I heard a shot in the woods, I do declare I jumped almost out of my skin. That will show you.’ ‘A shot in the woods?’ said Inspector Slack alertly. ‘In my excited state, it simply sounded to me like a cannon going off. “Oh!” I said, and sank down on the sofa in a state of prostration. Clara had to bring me a glass of damson gin.’ ‘Shocking,’ said Melchett. ‘Shocking. All very trying for you. And the shot sounded very loud, you say? As though it were near at hand?’ ‘That was simply the state of my nerves.’ ‘Of course. Of course. And what time was all this? To help us in tracing the telephone call, you know.’ ‘About half-past six.’ ‘You can’t give it us more exactly than that?’ ‘Well, you see, the little clock on my mantelpiece had just chimed the half-hour, and I said, “Surely that clock is fast.” (It does gain, that clock.) And I compared it with the watch I was wearing and that only said ten minutes past, but then I put it to my ear and found it had stopped. So I thought: “Well, if that clock is fast, I shall hear the church tower in a moment or two.” And then, of course, the telephone bell rang, and I forgot all about it.’ She paused breathless. ‘Well, that’s near enough,’ said Colonel Melchett. ‘We’ll have it looked into for you, Mrs Price Ridley.’ ‘Just think of it as a silly joke, and don’t worry, Mrs Price Ridley,’ I said. She looked at me coldly. Evidently the incident of the pound note still rankled. ‘Very strange things have been happening in this village lately,’ she said, addressing herself to Melchett. ‘Very strange things indeed. Colonel Protheroe was going to look into them, and what happened to him, poor man? Perhaps I shall be the next?’ And on that she took her departure, shaking her head with a kind of ominous melancholy. Melchett muttered under his breath: ‘No such luck.’ Then his face grew grave, and he looked inquiringly at Inspector Slack. That worthy nodded his head slowly. ‘This about settles it, sir. That’s three people who heard the shot. We’ve got to find out now who fired it. This business of Mr Redding’s has delayed us. But we’ve got several starting points. Thinking Mr Redding was guilty, I didn’t bother to look into them. But that’s all changed now. And now one of the first things to do is look up that telephone call.’ ‘Mrs Price Ridley’s?’ The Inspector grinned. ‘No – though I suppose we’d better make a note of that or else we shall have the old girl bothering in here again. No, I meant that fake call that got the Vicar out of the way.’ ‘Yes,’ said Melchett, ‘that’s important.’ ‘And the next thing is to find out what everyone was doing that evening between six and seven. Everyone at Old Hall, I mean, and pretty well everyone in the village as well.’ I gave a sigh. ‘What wonderful energy you have, Inspector Slack.’ ‘I believe in hard work. We’ll begin by just noting down your own movements, Mr Clement.’ ‘Willingly. The telephone call came through about half-past five.’ ‘A man’s voice, or a woman’s?’ ‘A woman’s. At least it sounded like a woman’s. But of course I took it for granted it was Mrs Abbott speaking.’ ‘You didn’t recognize it as being Mrs Abbott’s?’ ‘No, I can’t say I did. I didn’t notice the voice particularly or think about it.’ ‘And you started right away? Walked? Haven’t you got a bicycle?’ ‘No.’ ‘I see. So it took you – how long?’ ‘It’s very nearly two miles, whichever way you go.’ ‘Through Old Hall woods is the shortest way, isn’t it?’ ‘Actually, yes. But it’s not particularly good going. I went and came back by the footpath across the fields.’ ‘The one that comes out opposite the Vicarage gate?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘And Mrs Clement?’ ‘My wife was in London. She arrived back by the 6.50 train.’ ‘Right. The maid I’ve seen. That finishes with the Vicarage. I’ll be off to Old Hall next. And then I want an interview with Mrs Lestrange. Queer, her going to see Protheroe the night before he was killed. A lot of queer things about this case.’ I agreed. Glancing at the clock, I realized that it was nearly lunch time. I invited Melchett to partake of pot luck with us, but he excused himself on the plea of having to go to the Blue Boar. The Blue Boar gives you a first-rate meal of the joint and two-vegetable type. I thought his choice was a wise one. After her interview with the police, Mary would probably be feeling more temperamental than usual. Chapter 14 (#ulink_0d09c2f2-c2f1-5f83-bfb5-81dbbc2cd755) On my way home, I ran into Miss Hartnell and she detained me at least ten minutes, declaiming in her deep bass voice against the improvidence and ungratefulness of the lower classes. The crux of the matter seemed to be that The Poor did not want Miss Hartnell in their houses. My sympathies were entirely on their side. I am debarred by my social standing from expressing my prejudices in the forceful manner they do. I soothed her as best I could and made my escape. Haydock overtook me in his car at the corner of the Vicarage road. ‘I’ve just taken Mrs Protheroe home,’ he called. He waited for me at the gate of his house. ‘Come in a minute,’ he said. I complied. ‘This is an extraordinary business,’ he said, as he threw his hat on a chair and opened the door into his surgery. He sank down on a shabby leather chair and stared across the room. He looked harried and perplexed. I told him that we had succeeded in fixing the time of the shot. He listened with an almost abstracted air. ‘That lets Anne Protheroe out,’ he said. ‘Well, well, I’m glad it’s neither of those two. I like ’em both.’ I believed him, and yet it occurred to me to wonder why, since, as he said, he liked them both, their freedom from complicity seemed to have had the result of plunging him in gloom. This morning he had looked like a man with a weight lifted from his mind, now he looked thoroughly rattled and upset. And yet I was convinced that he meant what he said. He was fond of both Anne Protheroe and Lawrence Redding. Why, then, this gloomy absorption? He roused himself with an effort. ‘I meant to tell you about Hawes. All this business has driven him out of my mind.’ ‘Is he really ill?’ ‘There’s nothing radically wrong with him. You know, of course, that he’s had Encephalitis Lethargica, sleepy sickness, as it’s commonly called?’ ‘No,’ I said, very much surprised, ‘I didn’t know anything of the kind. He never told me anything about it. When did he have it?’ ‘About a year ago. He recovered all right – as far as one ever recovers. It’s a strange disease – has a queer moral effect. The whole character may change after it.’ He was silent for a moment or two, and then said: ‘We think with horror now of the days when we burnt witches. I believe the day will come when we will shudder to think that we ever hanged criminals.’ ‘You don’t believe in capital punishment?’ ‘It’s not so much that.’ He paused. ‘You know,’ he said slowly, ‘I’d rather have my job than yours.’ ‘Why?’ ‘Because your job deals very largely with what we call right and wrong – and I’m not at all sure that there’s any such thing. Suppose it’s all a question of glandular secretion. Too much of one gland, too little of another – and you get your murderer, your thief, your habitual criminal. Clement, I believe the time will come when we’ll be horrified to think of the long centuries in which we’ve punished people for disease – which they can’t help, poor devils. You don’t hang a man for having tuberculosis.’ ‘He isn’t dangerous to the community.’ ‘In a sense he is. He infects other people. Or take a man who fancies he’s the Emperor of China. You don’t say how wicked of him. I take your point about the community. The community must be protected. Shut up these people where they can’t do any harm – even put them peacefully out of the way – yes, I’d go as far as that. But don’t call it punishment. Don’t bring shame on them and their innocent families.’ I looked at him curiously. ‘I’ve never heard you speak like this before.’ ‘I don’t usually air my theories abroad. Today I’m riding my hobby. You’re an intelligent man, Clement, which is more than some parsons are. You won’t admit, I dare say, that there’s no such thing as what is technically termed, “Sin,” but you’re broadminded enough to consider the possibility of such a thing.’ ‘It strikes at the root of all accepted ideas,’ he said. ‘Yes, we’re a narrow-minded, self-righteous lot, only too keen to judge matters we know nothing about. I honestly believe crime is a case for the doctor, not the policeman and not the parson. In the future, perhaps, there won’t be any such thing.’ ‘You’ll have cured it?’ ‘We’ll have cured it. Rather a wonderful thought. Have you ever studied the statistics of crime? No – very few people have. I have, though. You’d be amazed at the amount there is of adolescent crime, glands again, you see. Young Neil, the Oxfordshire murderer – killed five little girls before he was suspected. Nice lad – never given any trouble of any kind. Lily Rose, the little Cornish girl – killed her uncle because he docked her of sweets. Hit him when he was asleep with a coal hammer. Went home and a fortnight later killed her elder sister who had annoyed her about some trifling matter. Neither of them hanged, of course. Sent to a home. May be all right later – may not. Doubt if the girl will. The only thing she cares about is seeing the pigs killed. Do you know when suicide is commonest? Fifteen to sixteen years of age. From self-murder to murder of someone else isn’t a very long step. But it’s not a moral lack – it’s a physical one.’ ‘What you say is terrible!’ ‘No – it’s only new to you. New truths have to be faced. One’s ideas adjusted. But sometimes – it makes life difficult.’ He sat there, frowning, yet with a strange look of weariness. ‘Haydock,’ I said, ‘if you suspected – if you knew – that a certain person was a murderer, would you give that person up to the law, or would you be tempted to shield them?’ I was quite unprepared for the effect of my question. He turned on me angrily and suspiciously. ‘What makes you say that, Clement? What’s in your mind? Out with it, man.’ ‘Why, nothing particular,’ I said, rather taken aback. ‘Only – well, murder is in our minds just now. If by any chance you happened to discover the truth – I wondered how you would feel about it, that was all.’ His anger died down. He stared once more straight ahead of him like a man trying to read the answer to a riddle that perplexes him, yet which exists only in his own brain. ‘If I suspected – if I knew – I should do my duty, Clement. At least, I hope so.’ ‘The question is – which way would you consider your duty lay?’ He looked at me with inscrutable eyes. ‘That question comes to every man some time in his life, I suppose, Clement. And every man has to decide in his own way.’ ‘You don’t know?’ ‘No, I don’t know…’ I felt the best thing was to change the subject. ‘That nephew of mine is enjoying this case thoroughly,’ I said. ‘Spends his entire time looking for footprints and cigarette ash.’ Haydock smiled. ‘What age is he?’ ‘Just sixteen. You don’t take tragedies seriously at that age. It’s all Sherlock Holmes and Arsene Lupin to you.’ Haydock said thoughtfully: ‘He’s a fine-looking boy. What are you going to do with him?’ ‘I can’t afford a University education, I’m afraid. The boy himself wants to go into the Merchant Service. He failed for the Navy.’ ‘Well – it’s a hard life – but he might do worse. Yes, he might do worse.’ ‘I must be going,’ I exclaimed, catching sight of the clock. ‘I’m nearly half an hour late for lunch.’ My family were just sitting down when I arrived. They demanded a full account of the morning’s activities, which I gave them, feeling, as I did so, that most of it was in the nature of an anticlimax. Dennis, however, was highly entertained by the history of Mrs Price Ridley’s telephone call, and went into fits of laughter as I enlarged upon the nervous shock her system had sustained and the necessity for reviving her with damson gin. ‘Serve the old cat right,’ he exclaimed. ‘She’s got the worst tongue in the place. I wish I’d thought of ringing her up and giving her a fright. I say, Uncle Len, what about giving her a second dose?’ I hastily begged him to do nothing of the sort. Nothing is more dangerous than the well-meant efforts of the younger generation to assist you and show their sympathy. Dennis’s mood changed suddenly. He frowned and put on his man of the world air. ‘I’ve been with Lettice most of the morning,’ he said. ‘You know, Griselda, she’s really very worried. She doesn’t want to show it, but she is. Very worried indeed.’ ‘I should hope so,’ said Griselda, with a toss of her head. Griselda is not too fond of Lettice Protheroe. ‘I don’t think you’re ever quite fair to Lettice.’ ‘Don’t you?’ said Griselda. ‘Lots of people don’t wear mourning.’ Griselda was silent and so was I. Dennis continued: ‘She doesn’t talk to most people, but she does talk to me. She’s awfully worried about the whole thing, and she thinks something ought to be done about it.’ ‘She will find,’ I said, ‘that Inspector Slack shares her opinion. He is going up to Old Hall this afternoon, and will probably make the life of everybody there quite unbearable to them in his efforts to get at the truth.’ ‘What do you think is the truth, Len?’ asked my wife suddenly. ‘It’s hard to say, my dear. I can’t say that at the moment I’ve any idea at all.’ ‘Did you say that Inspector Slack was going to trace that telephone call – the one that took you to the Abbotts’?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘But can he do it? Isn’t it a very difficult thing to do?’ ‘I should not imagine so. The Exchange will have a record of the calls.’ ‘Oh!’ My wife relapsed into thought. ‘Uncle Len,’ said my nephew, ‘why were you so ratty with me this morning for joking about your wishing Colonel Protheroe to be murdered?’ ‘Because,’ I said, ‘there is a time for everything. Inspector Slack has no sense of humour. He took your words quite seriously, will probably cross-examine Mary, and will get out a warrant for my arrest.’ ‘Doesn’t he know when a fellow’s ragging?’ ‘No,’ I said, ‘he does not. He has attained his present position through hard work and zealous attention to duty. That has left him no time for the minor recreations of life.’ ‘Do you like him, Uncle Len?’ ‘No,’ I said, ‘I do not. From the first moment I saw him I disliked him intensely. But I have no doubt that he is a highly successful man in his profession.’ ‘You think he’ll find out who shot old Protheroe?’ ‘If he doesn’t,’ I said, ‘it will not be for the want of trying.’ Mary appeared and said: ‘Mr Hawes wants to see you. I’ve put him in the drawing-room, and here’s a note. Waiting for an answer. Verbal will do.’ I tore open the note and read it. ‘Dear Mr Clement, – I should be so very grateful if you could come and see me this afternoon as early as possible. I am in great trouble and would like your advice. ‘Sincerely yours, ‘Estelle Lestrange.’ ‘Say I will come round in about half an hour,’ I said to Mary. Then I went into the drawing-room to see Hawes. Chapter 15 (#ulink_69016294-2151-5fc7-85a2-5d2936ac4d2d) Hawes’s appearance distressed me very much. His hands were shaking and his face kept twitching nervously. In my opinion he should have been in bed, and I told him so. He insisted that he was perfectly well. ‘I assure you, sir, I never felt better. Never in my life.’ This was so obviously wide of the truth that I hardly knew how to answer. I have a certain admiration for a man who will not give in to illness, but Hawes was carrying the thing rather too far. ‘I called to tell you how sorry I was – that such a thing should happen in the Vicarage.’ ‘Yes,’ I said, ‘it’s not very pleasant.’ ‘It’s terrible – quite terrible. It seems they haven’t arrested Mr Redding after all?’ ‘No. That was a mistake. He made – er – rather a foolish statement.’ ‘And the police are now quite convinced that he is innocent?’ ‘Perfectly.’ ‘Why is that, may I ask? Is it – I mean, do they suspect anyone else?’ I should never have suspected that Hawes would take such a keen interest in the details of a murder case. Perhaps it is because it happened in the Vicarage. He appeared as eager as a reporter. ‘I don’t know that I am completely in Inspector Slack’s confidence. As far as I know, he does not suspect anyone in particular. He is at present engaged in making inquiries.’ ‘Yes. Yes – of course. But who can one imagine doing such a dreadful thing?’ I shook my head. ‘Colonel Protheroe was not a popular man, I know that. But murder! For murder – one would need a very strong motive.’ ‘So I should imagine,’ I said. ‘Who could have such a motive? Have the police any idea?’ ‘I couldn’t say.’ ‘He might have made enemies, you know. The more I think about it, the more I am convinced that he was the kind of man to have enemies. He had a reputation on the Bench for being very severe.’ ‘I suppose he had.’ ‘Why, don’t you remember, sir? He was telling you yesterday morning about having been threatened by that man Archer.’ ‘Now I come to think of it, so he did,’ I said. ‘Of course, I remember. You were quite near us at the time.’ ‘Yes, I overheard what he was saying. Almost impossible to help it with Colonel Protheroe. He had such a very loud voice, hadn’t he? I remember being impressed by your own words. That when his time came, he might have justice meted out to him instead of mercy.’ ‘Did I say that?’ I asked, frowning. My remembrance of my own words was slightly different. ‘You said it very impressively, sir. I was struck by your words. Justice is a terrible thing. And to think the poor man was struck down shortly afterwards. It’s almost as though you had a premonition.’ ‘I had nothing of the sort,’ I said shortly. I rather dislike Hawes’s tendency to mysticism. There is a touch of the visionary about him. ‘Have you told the police about this man Archer, sir?’ ‘I know nothing about him.’ ‘I mean, have you repeated to them what Colonel Protheroe said – about Archer having threatened him?’ ‘No,’ I said slowly. ‘I have not.’ ‘But you are going to do so?’ I was silent. I dislike hounding a man down who has already got the forces of law and order against him. I held no brief for Archer. He is an inveterate poacher – one of those cheerful ne’er-do-weels that are to be found in any parish. Whatever he may have said in the heat of anger when he was sentenced I had no definite knowledge that he felt the same when he came out of prison. ‘You heard the conversation,’ I said at last. ‘If you feel it your duty to go to the police with it, you must do so.’ ‘It would come better from you, sir.’ ‘Perhaps – but to tell the truth – well, I’ve no fancy for doing it. I might be helping to put the rope round the neck of an innocent man.’ ‘But if he shot Colonel Protheroe –’ ‘Oh, if! There’s no evidence of any kind that he did.’ ‘His threats.’ ‘Strictly speaking, the threats were not his, but Colonel Protheroe’s. Colonel Protheroe was threatening to show Archer what vengeance was worth next time he caught him.’ ‘I don’t understand your attitude, sir.’ ‘Don’t you,’ I said wearily. ‘You’re a young man. You’re zealous in the cause of right. When you get to my age, you’ll find that you like to give people the benefit of the doubt.’ ‘It’s not – I mean –’ He paused, and I looked at him in surprise. ‘You haven’t any – any idea of your own – as to the identity of the murderer, I mean?’ ‘Good heavens, no.’ Hawes persisted. ‘Or as to the – motive?’ ‘No. Have you?’ ‘I? No, indeed. I just wondered. If Colonel Protheroe had – had confided in you in any way – mentioned anything…’ ‘His confidences, such as they were, were heard by the whole village street yesterday morning,’ I said dryly. ‘Yes. Yes, of course. And you don’t think – about Archer?’ ‘The police will know all about Archer soon enough,’ I said. ‘If I’d heard him threaten Colonel Protheroe myself, that would be a different matter. But you may be sure that if he actually has threatened him, half the people in the village will have heard him, and the news will get to the police all right. You, of course, must do as you like about the matter.’ But Hawes seemed curiously unwilling to do anything himself. The man’s whole attitude was nervous and queer. I recalled what Haydock had said about his illness. There, I supposed, lay the explanation. He took his leave unwillingly, as though he had more to say, and didn’t know how to say it. Before he left, I arranged with him to take the service for the Mothers’ Union, followed by the meeting of District Visitors. I had several projects of my own for the afternoon. Dismissing Hawes and his troubles from my mind I started off for Mrs Lestrange. On the table in the hall lay the Guardian and the Church Times unopened. As I walked, I remembered that Mrs Lestrange had had an interview with Colonel Protheroe the night before his death. It was possible that something had transpired in that interview which would throw light upon the problem of his murder. I was shown straight into the little drawing-room, and Mrs Lestrange rose to meet me. I was struck anew by the marvellous atmosphere that this woman could create. She wore a dress of some dead black material that showed off the extraordinary fairness of her skin. There was something curiously dead about her face. Only the eyes were burningly alive. There was a watchful look in them today. Otherwise she showed no signs of animation. ‘It was very good of you to come, Mr Clement,’ she said, as she shook hands. ‘I wanted to speak to you the other day. Then I decided not to do so. I was wrong.’ ‘As I told you then, I shall be glad to do anything that can help you.’ ‘Yes, you said that. And you said it as though you meant it. Very few people, Mr Clement, in this world have ever sincerely wished to help me.’ ‘I can hardly believe that, Mrs Lestrange.’ ‘It is true. Most people – most men, at any rate, are out for their own hand.’ There was a bitterness in her voice. I did not answer, and she went on: ‘Sit down, won’t you?’ I obeyed, and she took a chair facing me. She hesitated a moment and then began to speak very slowly and thoughtfully, seeming to weigh each word as she uttered it. ‘I am in a very peculiar position, Mr Clement, and I want to ask your advice. That is, I want to ask your advice as to what I should do next. What is past is past and cannot be undone. You understand?’ Before I could reply, the maid who had admitted me opened the door and said with a scared face: ‘Oh! Please, ma’am, there is a police inspector here, and he says he must speak to you, please.’ There was a pause. Mrs Lestrange’s face did not change. Only her eyes very slowly closed and opened again. She seemed to swallow once or twice, then she said in exactly the same clear, calm voice: ‘Show him in, Hilda.’ I was about to rise, but she motioned me back again with an imperious hand. ‘If you do not mind – I should be much obliged if you would stay.’ I resumed my seat. ‘Certainly, if you wish it,’ I murmured, as Slack entered with a brisk regulation tread. ‘Good afternoon, madam,’ he began. ‘Good afternoon, Inspector.’ At this moment, he caught sight of me and scowled. There is no doubt about it, Slack does not like me. ‘You have no objection to the Vicar’s presence, I hope?’ I suppose that Slack could not very well say he had. ‘No-o,’ he said grudgingly. ‘Though, perhaps, it might be better –’ Mrs Lestrange paid no attention to the hint. ‘What can I do for you, Inspector?’ she asked. ‘It’s this way, madam. Murder of Colonel Protheroe. I’m in charge of the case and making inquiries.’ Mrs Lestrange nodded. ‘Just as a matter of form, I’m asking every one just where they were yesterday evening between the hours of 6 and 7 p.m. Just as a matter of form, you understand.’ ‘You want to know where I was yesterday evening between six and seven?’ ‘If you please, madam.’ ‘Let me see.’ She reflected a moment. ‘I was here. In this house.’ ‘Oh!’ I saw the Inspector’s eyes flash. ‘And your maid – you have only one maid, I think – can confirm that statement?’ ‘No, it was Hilda’s afternoon out.’ ‘I see.’ ‘So, unfortunately, you will have to take my word for it,’ said Mrs Lestrange pleasantly. ‘You seriously declare that you were at home all the afternoon?’ ‘You said between six and seven, Inspector. I was out for a walk early in the afternoon. I returned some time before five o’clock.’ ‘Then if a lady – Miss Hartnell, for instance – were to declare that she came here about six o’clock, rang the bell, but could make no one hear and was compelled to go away again – you’d say she was mistaken, eh?’ ‘Oh, no,’ Mrs Lestrange shook her head. ‘But –’ ‘If your maid is in, she can say not at home. If one is alone and does not happen to want to see callers – well, the only thing to do is to let them ring.’ Inspector Slack looked slightly baffled. ‘Elderly women bore me dreadfully,’ said Mrs Lestrange. ‘And Miss Hartnell is particularly boring. She must have rung at least half a dozen times before she went away.’ She smiled sweetly at Inspector Slack. The Inspector shifted his ground. ‘Then if anyone were to say they’d seen you out and about then –’ ‘Oh! but they didn’t, did they?’ She was quick to sense his weak point. ‘No one saw me out, because I was in, you see.’ ‘Quite so, madam.’ The Inspector hitched his chair a little nearer. ‘Now I understand, Mrs Lestrange, that you paid a visit to Colonel Protheroe at Old Hall the night before his death.’ Mrs Lestrange said calmly: ‘That is so.’ ‘Can you indicate to me the nature of that interview?’ ‘It concerned a private matter, Inspector.’ ‘I’m afraid I must ask you tell me the nature of that private matter.’ ‘I shall not tell you anything of the kind. I will only assure you that nothing which was said at that interview could possibly have any bearing upon the crime.’ ‘I don’t think you are the best judge of that.’ ‘At any rate, you will have to take my word for it, Inspector.’ ‘In fact, I have to take your word about everything.’ ‘It does seem rather like it,’ she agreed, still with the same smiling calm. Inspector Slack grew very red. ‘This is a serious matter, Mrs Lestrange. I want the truth –’ He banged his fist down on a table. ‘And I mean to get it.’ Mrs Lestrange said nothing at all. ‘Don’t you see, madam, that you’re putting yourself in a very fishy position?’ Still Mrs Lestrange said nothing. ‘You’ll be required to give evidence at the inquest.’ ‘Yes.’ Just the monosyllable. Unemphatic, uninterested. The Inspector altered his tactics. ‘You were acquainted with Colonel Protheroe?’ ‘Yes, I was acquainted with him.’ ‘Well acquainted?’ There was a pause before she said: ‘I had not seen him for several years.’ ‘You were acquainted with Mrs Protheroe?’ ‘No.’ ‘You’ll excuse me, but it was a very unusual time to make a call.’ ‘Not from my point of view.’ ‘What do you mean by that?’ ‘I wanted to see Colonel Protheroe alone. I did not want to see Mrs Protheroe or Miss Protheroe. I considered this the best way of accomplishing my object.’ ‘Why didn’t you want to see Mrs or Miss Protheroe?’ ‘That, Inspector, is my business.’ ‘Then you refuse to say more?’ ‘Absolutely.’ Inspector Slack rose. ‘You’ll be putting yourself in a nasty position, madam, if you’re not careful. All this looks bad – it looks very bad.’ She laughed. I could have told Inspector Slack that this was not the kind of woman who is easily frightened. ‘Well,’ he said, extricating himself with dignity, ‘don’t say I haven’t warned you, that’s all. Good afternoon, madam, and mind you we’re going to get at the truth.’ He departed. Mrs Lestrange rose and held out her hand. ‘I am going to send you away – yes, it is better so. You see, it is too late for advice now. I have chosen my part.’ She repeated in a rather forlorn voice: ‘I have chosen my part.’ Chapter 16 (#ulink_cd87e4db-3fd2-5f9d-899a-f66987cfd24c) As I went out I ran into Haydock on the doorstep. He glanced sharply after Slack, who was just passing through the gate, and demanded: ‘Has he been questioning her?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘He’s been civil, I hope?’ Civility, to my mind, is an art which Inspector Slack has never learnt, but I presumed that according to his own lights, civil he had been, and anyway, I didn’t want to upset Haydock any further. He was looking worried and upset as it was. So I said he had been quite civil. Haydock nodded and passed on into the house, and I went on down the village street, where I soon caught up the inspector. I fancy that he was walking slowly on purpose. Much as he dislikes me, he is not the man to let dislike stand in the way of acquiring any useful information. ‘Do you know anything about the lady?’ he asked me point blank. I said I knew nothing whatever. ‘She’s never said anything about why she came here to live?’ ‘No.’ ‘Yet you go and see her?’ ‘It is one of my duties to call on my parishioners,’ I replied, evading to remark that I had been sent for. ‘H’m, I suppose it is.’ He was silent for a minute or two and then, unable to resist discussing his recent failure, he went on: ‘Fishy business, it looks to me.’ ‘You think so?’ ‘If you ask me, I say “blackmail.” Seems funny, when you think of what Colonel Protheroe was always supposed to be. But there, you never can tell. He wouldn’t be the first churchwarden who’d led a double life.’ Faint remembrances of Miss Marple’s remarks on the same subject floated through my mind. ‘You really think that’s likely?’ ‘Well, it fits the facts, sir. Why did a smart, welldressed lady come down to this quiet little hole? Why did she go and see him at that funny time of day? Why did she avoid seeing Mrs and Miss Protheroe? Yes, it all hangs together. Awkward for her to admit– blackmail’s a punishable offence. But we’ll get the truth out of her. For all we know it may have a very important bearing on the case. If Colonel Protheroe had some guilty secret in his life – something disgraceful – well, you can see for yourself what a field it opens up.’ I suppose it did. ‘I’ve been trying to get the butler to talk. He might have overheard some of the conversation between Colonel Protheroe and Lestrange. Butlers do sometimes. But he swears he hasn’t the least idea of what the conversation was about. By the way, he got the sack through it. The Colonel went for him, being angry at his having let her in. The butler retorted by giving notice. Says he didn’t like the place anyway and had been thinking of leaving for some time.’ ‘Really.’ ‘So that gives us another person who had a grudge against the Colonel.’ ‘You don’t seriously suspect the man – what’s his name, by the way?’ ‘His name’s Reeves, and I don’t say I do suspect him. What I say is, you never know. I don’t like that soapy, oily manner of his.’ I wonder what Reeves would say of Inspector Slack’s manner. ‘I’m going to question the chauffeur now.’ ‘Perhaps, then,’ I said, ‘you’ll give me a lift in your car. I want a short interview with Mrs Protheroe.’ ‘What about?’ ‘The funeral arrangements.’ ‘Oh!’ Inspector Slack was slightly taken aback. ‘The inquest’s tomorrow, Saturday.’ ‘Just so. The funeral will probably be arranged for Tuesday.’ Inspector Slack seemed to be a little ashamed of himself for his brusqueness. He held out an olive branch in the shape of an invitation to be present at the interview with the chauffeur, Manning. Manning was a nice lad, not more than twenty-five or six years of age. He was inclined to be awed by the Inspector. ‘Now, then, my lad,’ said Slack, ‘I want a little information from you.’ ‘Yes, sir,’ stammered the chauffeur. ‘Certainly, sir.’ If he had committed the murder himself he could not have been more alarmed. ‘You took your master to the village yesterday?’ ‘Yes, sir.’ ‘What time was that?’ ‘Five-thirty.’ ‘Mrs Protheroe went too?’ ‘Yes, sir.’ ‘You went straight to the village?’ ‘Yes, sir.’ ‘You didn’t stop anywhere on the way?’ ‘No, sir.’ ‘What did you do when you got there?’ ‘The Colonel got out and told me he wouldn’t want the car again. He’d walk home. Mrs Protheroe had some shopping to do. The parcels were put in the car. Then she said that was all, and I drove home.’ ‘Leaving her in the village?’ ‘Yes, sir.’ ‘What time was that?’ ‘A quarter past six, sir. A quarter past exactly.’ ‘Where did you leave her?’ ‘By the church, sir.’ ‘Had the Colonel mentioned at all where he was going?’ ‘He said something about having to see the vet…something to do with one of the horses.’ ‘I see. And you drove straight back here?’ ‘Yes, sir.’ ‘There are two entrances to Old Hall, by the South Lodge and by the North Lodge. I take it that going to the village you would go by the South Lodge?’ ‘Yes, sir, always.’ ‘And you came back the same way?’ ‘Yes, sir.’ ‘H’m. I think that’s all. Ah! Here’s Miss Protheroe.’ Lettice drifted towards us. ‘I want the Fiat, Manning,’ she said. ‘Start her for me, will you?’ ‘Very good, miss.’ He went towards a two-seater and lifted the bonnet. ‘Just a minute, Miss Protheroe,’ said Slack. ‘It’s necessary that I should have a record of everybody’s movements yesterday afternoon. No offence meant.’ Lettice stared at him. ‘I never know the time of anything,’ she said. ‘I understand you went out soon after lunch yesterday?’ She nodded. ‘Where to, please?’ ‘To play tennis.’ ‘Who with?’ ‘The Hartley Napiers.’ ‘At Much Benham?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘And you returned?’ ‘I don’t know. I tell you I never know these things.’ ‘You returned,’ I said, ‘about seven-thirty.’ ‘That’s right,’ said Lettice. ‘In the middle of the shemozzle. Anne having fits and Griselda supporting her.’ ‘Thank you, miss,’ said the Inspector. ‘That’s all I want to know.’ ‘How queer,’ said Lettice. ‘It seems so uninteresting.’ She moved towards the Fiat. The Inspector touched his forehead in a surreptitious manner. ‘A bit wanting?’ he suggested. ‘Not in the least,’ I said. ‘But she likes to be thought so.’ ‘Well, I’m off to question the maids now.’ One cannot really like Slack, but one can admire his energy. We parted company and I inquired of Reeves if I could see Mrs Protheroe. ‘She is lying down, sir, at the moment.’ ‘Then I’d better not disturb her.’ ‘Perhaps if you would wait, sir, I know that Mrs Protheroe is anxious to see you. She was saying as much at luncheon.’ He showed me into the drawing-room, switching on the electric lights since the blinds were down. ‘A very sad business all this,’ I said. ‘Yes, sir.’ His voice was cold and respectful. I looked at him. What feelings were at work under that impassive demeanour. Were there things that he knew and could have told us? There is nothing so inhuman as the mask of the good servant. ‘Is there anything more, sir?’ Was there just a hint of anxiety to be gone behind that correct expression? ‘There’s nothing more,’ I said. I had a very short time to wait before Anne Protheroe came to me. We discussed and settled a few arrangements and then: ‘What a wonderfully kind man Dr Haydock is!’ she exclaimed. ‘Haydock is the best fellow I know.’ ‘He has been amazingly kind to me. But he looks very sad, doesn’t he?’ It had never occurred to me to think of Haydock as sad. I turned the idea over in my mind. ‘I don’t think I’ve ever noticed it,’ I said at last. ‘I never have, until today.’ ‘One’s own troubles sharpen one’s eyes sometimes,’ I said. ‘That’s very true.’ She paused and then said: ‘Mr Clement, there’s one thing I absolutely cannot make out. If my husband were shot immediately after I left him, how was it that I didn’t hear the shot?’ ‘They have reason to believe that the shot was fired later.’ ‘But the 6.20 on the note?’ ‘Was possibly added by a different hand – the murderer’s.’ Her cheek paled. ‘It didn’t strike you that the date was not in his handwriting?’ ‘How horrible!’ ‘None of it looked like his handwriting.’ There was some truth in this observation. It was a somewhat illegible scrawl, not so precise as Protheroe’s writing usually was. ‘You are sure they don’t still suspect Lawrence?’ ‘I think he is definitely cleared.’ ‘But, Mr Clement, who can it be? Lucius was not popular, I know, but I don’t think he had any real enemies. Not – not that kind of enemy.’ I shook my head. ‘It’s a mystery.’ I thought wonderingly of Miss Marple’s seven suspects. Who could they be? After I took leave of Anne, I proceeded to put a certain plan of mine into action. I returned from Old Hall by way of the private path. When I reached the stile, I retraced my steps, and choosing a place where I fancied the undergrowth showed signs of being disturbed, I turned aside from the path and forced my way through the bushes. The wood was a thick one, with a good deal of tangled undergrowth. My progress was not very fast, and I suddenly became aware that someone else was moving amongst the bushes not very far from me. As I paused irresolutely, Lawrence Redding came into sight. He was carrying a large stone. I suppose I must have looked surprised, for he suddenly burst out laughing. ‘No,’ he said, ‘it’s not a clue, it’s a peace offering.’ ‘A peace offering?’ ‘Well, a basis for negotiations, shall we say? I want an excuse for calling on your neighbour, Miss Marple, and I have been told there is nothing she likes so much as a nice bit of rock or stone for the Japanese gardens she makes.’ ‘Quite true,’ I said. ‘But what do you want with the old lady?’ ‘Just this. If there was anything to be seen yesterday evening Miss Marple saw it. I don’t mean anything necessarily connected with the crime – that she would think connected with the crime. I mean some outré or bizarre incident, some simple little happening that might give us a clue to the truth. Something that she wouldn’t think worth while mentioning to the police.’ ‘It’s possible, I suppose.’ ‘It’s worth trying anyhow. Clement, I’m going to get to the bottom of this business. For Anne’s sake, if nobody’s else. And I haven’t any too much confidence in Slack – he’s a zealous fellow, but zeal can’t really take the place of brains.’ ‘I see,’ I said, ‘that you are that favourite character of fiction, the amateur detective. I don’t know that they really hold their own with the professional in real life.’ He looked at me shrewdly and suddenly laughed. ‘What are you doing in the wood, padre?’ I had the grace to blush. ‘Just the same as I am doing, I dare swear. We’ve got the same idea, haven’t we?How did the murderer come to the study? First way, along the lane and through the gate, second way, by the front door, third way – is there a third way? My idea was to see if there was any sign of the bushes being disturbed or broken anywhere near the wall of the Vicarage garden.’ ‘That was just my idea,’ I admitted. ‘I hadn’t really got down to the job, though,’ continued Lawrence. ‘Because it occurred to me that I’d like to see Miss Marple first, to make quite sure that no one did pass along the lane yesterday evening whilst we were in the studio.’ I shook my head. ‘She was quite positive that nobody did.’ ‘Yes, nobody whom she would call anybody – sounds mad, but you see what I mean. But there might have been someone like a postman or a milkman or a butcher’s boy – someone whose presence would be so natural that you wouldn’t think of mentioning it.’ ‘You’ve been reading G.K. Chesterton,’ I said, and Lawrence did not deny it. ‘But don’t you think there’s just possibly something in the idea?’ ‘Well, I suppose there might be,’ I admitted. Without further ado, we made our way to Miss Marple’s. She was working in the garden, and called out to us as we climbed over the stile. ‘You see,’ murmured Lawrence, ‘she sees everybody.’ She received us very graciously and was much pleased with Lawrence’s immense rock, which he presented with all due solemnity. ‘It’s very thoughtful of you, Mr Redding. Very thoughtful indeed.’ Emboldened by this, Lawrence embarked on his questions. Miss Marple listened attentively. ‘Yes, I see what you mean, and I quite agree, it is the sort of thing no one mentions or bothers to mention. But I can assure you that there was nothing of the kind. Nothing whatever.’ ‘You are sure, Miss Marple?’ ‘Quite sure.’ ‘Did you see anyone go by the path into the wood that afternoon?’ I asked. ‘Or come from it?’ ‘Oh, yes, quite a number of people. Dr Stone and Miss Cram went that way – it’s the nearest way to the barrow for them. That was a little after two o’clock. And Dr Stone returned that way – as you know, Mr Redding, since he joined you and Mrs Protheroe.’ ‘By the way,’ I said. ‘That shot – the one you heard, Miss Marple. Mr Redding and Mrs Protheroe must have heard it too.’ I looked inquiringly at Lawrence. ‘Yes,’ he said, frowning. ‘I believe I did hear some shots. Weren’t there one or two shots?’ ‘I only heard one,’ said Miss Marple. ‘It’s only the vaguest impression in my mind,’ said Lawrence. ‘Curse it all, I wish I could remember. If only I’d known. You see, I was so completely taken up with – with –’ He paused, embarrassed. I gave a tactful cough. Miss Marple, with a touch of prudishness, changed the subject. ‘Inspector Slack has been trying to get me to say whether I heard the shot after Mr Redding and Mrs Protheroe had left the studio or before. I’ve had to confess that I really could not say definitely, but I have the impression – which is growing stronger the more I think about it – that it was after.’ ‘Then that lets the celebrated Dr Stone out anyway,’ said Lawrence, with a sigh. ‘Not that there has ever been the slightest reason why he should be suspected of shooting poor old Protheroe.’ ‘Ah!’ said Miss Marple. ‘But I always find it prudent to suspect everybody just a little. What I say is, you really never know, do you?’ This was typical of Miss Marple. I asked Lawrence if he agreed with her about the shot. ‘I really can’t say. You see, it was such an ordinary sound. I should be inclined to think it had been fired when we were in the studio. The sound would have been deadened and – one would have noticed it less there.’ For other reasons than the sound being deadened, I thought to myself. ‘I must ask Anne,’ said Lawrence. ‘She may remember. By the way, there seems to me to be one curious fact that needs explanation. Mrs Lestrange, the Mystery Lady of St Mary Mead, paid a visit to old Protheroe after dinner on Wednesday night. And nobody seems to have any idea what it was all about. Old Protheroe said nothing to either his wife or Lettice.’ ‘Perhaps the Vicar knows,’ said Miss Marple. Now how did the woman know that I had been to visit Mrs Lestrange that afternoon? The way she always knows things is uncanny. I shook my head and said I could throw no light upon the matter. ‘What does Inspector Slack think?’ asked Miss Marple. ‘He’s done his best to bully the butler – but apparently the butler wasn’t curious enough to listen at the door. So there it is – no one knows.’ ‘I expect someone overheard something, though, don’t you?’ said Miss Marple. ‘I mean, somebody always does. I think that is where Mr Redding may find out something.’ ‘But Mrs Protheroe knows nothing.’ ‘I didn’t mean Anne Protheroe,’ said Miss Marple. ‘I meant the women servants. They do so hate telling anything to the police. But a nice-looking young man – you’ll excuse me, Mr Redding – and one who has been unjustly suspected – oh! I’m sure they’d tell him at once.’ ‘I’ll go and have a try this evening,’ said Lawrence with vigour. ‘Thanks for the hint, Miss Marple. I’ll go after – well, after a little job the Vicar and I are going to do.’ It occurred to me that we had better be getting on with it. I said goodbye to Miss Marple and we entered the woods once more. First we went up the path till we came to a new spot where it certainly looked as though someone had left the path on the right-hand side. Lawrence explained that he had already followed this particular trail and found it led nowhere, but he added that we might as well try again. He might have been wrong. It was, however, as he had said. After about ten or twelve yards any sign of broken and trampled leaves petered out. It was from this spot that Lawrence had broken back towards the path to meet me earlier in the afternoon. We emerged on the path again and walked a little farther along it. Again we came to a place where the bushes seemed disturbed. The signs were very slight but, I thought, unmistakable. This time the trail was more promising. By a devious course, it wound steadily nearer to the Vicarage. Presently we arrived at where the bushes grew thickly up to the wall. The wall is a high one and ornamented with fragments of broken bottles on the top. If anyone had placed a ladder against it, we ought to find traces of their passage. We were working our way slowly along the wall when a sound came to our ears of a breaking twig. I pressed forward, forcing my way through a thick tangle of shrubs – and came face to face with Inspector Slack. ‘So it’s you,’ he said. ‘And Mr Redding. Now what do you think you two gentlemen are doing?’ Slightly crestfallen, we explained. ‘Quite so,’ said the Inspector. ‘Not being the fools we’re usually thought to be, I had the same idea myself. I’ve been here over an hour. Would you like to know something?’ ‘Yes,’ I said meekly. ‘Whoever murdered Colonel Protheroe didn’t come this way to do it! There’s not a sign either on this side of the wall, nor the other. Whoever murdered Colonel Protheroe came through the front door. There’s no other way he could have come.’ ‘Impossible,’ I cried. ‘Why impossible? Your door stands open. Anyone’s only got to walk in. They can’t be seen from the kitchen. They know you’re safely out of the way, they know Mrs Clement is in London, they know Mr Dennis is at a tennis party. Simple as A B C. And they don’t need to go or come through the village. Just opposite the Vicarage gate is a public footpath, and from it you can turn into these same woods and come out whichever way you choose. Unless Mrs Price Ridley were to come out of her front gate at that particular minute, it’s all clear sailing. A great deal more so than climbing over walls. The side windows of the upper story of Mrs Price Ridley’s house do overlook most of that wall. No, depend upon it, that’s the way he came.’ It really seemed as though he must be right. Chapter 17 (#ulink_ab693630-0e20-5835-9dc4-fd21bfc6b3e8) Inspector Slack came round to see me the following morning. He is, I think, thawing towards me. In time, he may forget the incident of the clock. ‘Well, sir,’ he greeted me. ‘I’ve traced that telephone call that you received.’ ‘Indeed?’ I said eagerly. ‘It’s rather odd. It was put through from the North Lodge of Old Hall. Now that lodge is empty, the lodgekeepers have been pensioned off and the new lodgekeepers aren’t in yet. The place was empty and convenient – a window at the back was open. No fingerprints on the instrument itself – it had been wiped clear. That’s suggestive.’ ‘How do you mean?’ ‘I mean that it shows that call was put through deliberately to get you out of the way. Therefore the murder was carefully planned in advance. If it had been just a harmless practical joke, the fingerprints wouldn’t have been wiped off so carefully.’ ‘No. I see that.’ ‘It also shows that the murderer was well acquainted with Old Hall and its surroundings. It wasn’t Mrs Protheroe who put that call through. I’ve accounted for every moment of her time that afternoon. There are half a dozen other servants who can swear that she was at home till five-thirty. Then the car came round and drove Colonel Protheroe and her to the village. The Colonel went to see Quinton, the vet, about one of the horses. Mrs Protheroe did some ordering at the grocers and at the fish shop, and from there came straight down the back lane where Miss Marple saw her. All the shops agree she carried no handbag with her. The old lady was right.’ ‘She usually is,’ I said mildly. ‘And Miss Protheroe was over at Much Benham at 5.30.’ ‘Quite so,’ I said. ‘My nephew was there too.’ ‘That disposes of her. The maid seems all right – a bit hysterical and upset, but what can you expect? Of course, I’ve got my eye on the butler – what with giving notice and all. But I don’t think he knows anything about it.’ ‘Your inquiries seem to have had rather a negative result, Inspector.’ ‘They do and they do not, sir. There’s one very queer thing has turned up – quite unexpectedly, I may say.’ ‘Yes?’ ‘You remember the fuss that Mrs Price Ridley, who lives next door to you, was kicking up yesterday morning? About being rung up on the telephone?’ ‘Yes?’ I said. ‘Well, we traced the call just to calm her – and where on this earth do you think it was put through from?’ ‘A call office?’ I hazarded. ‘No, Mr Clement. That call was put through from Mr Lawrence Redding’s cottage.’ ‘What?’ I exclaimed, surprised. ‘Yes. A bit odd, isn’t it? Mr Redding had nothing to do with it. At that time, 6.30, he was on his way to the Blue Boar with Dr Stone in full view of the village. But there it is. Suggestive, eh? Someone walked into that empty cottage and used the telephone, who was it? That’s two queer telephone calls in one day. Makes you think there’s some connection between them. I’ll eat my hat if they weren’t both put through by the same person.’ ‘But with what object?’ ‘Well, that’s what we’ve got to find out. There seems no particular point in the second one, but there must be a point somewhere. And you see the significance? Mr Redding’s house used to telephone from. Mr Redding’s pistol. All throwing suspicion on Mr Redding.’ ‘It would be more to the point to have put through the first call from his house,’ I objected. ‘Ah, but I’ve been thinking that out. What did Mr Redding do most afternoons? He went up to Old Hall and painted Miss Protheroe. And from his cottage he’d go on his motor bicycle, passing through the North Gate. Now you see the point of the call being put through from there. The murderer is someone who didn’t know about the quarrel and that Mr Redding wasn’t going up to Old Hall any more.’ I reflected a moment to let the Inspector’s points sink into my brain. They seemed to me logical and unavoidable. ‘Were there any fingerprints on the receiver in Mr Redding’s cottage?’ I asked. ‘There were not,’ said the Inspector bitterly. ‘That dratted old woman who goes and does for him had been and dusted them off yesterday morning.’ He reflected wrathfully for a few minutes. ‘She’s a stupid old fool, anyway. Can’t remember when she saw the pistol last. It might have been there on the morning of the crime, or it might not. “She couldn’t say, she’s sure.” They’re all alike! ‘Just as a matter of form, I went round and saw Dr Stone,’ he went on. ‘I must say he was pleasant as could be about it. He and Miss Cram went up to that mound – or barrow – or whatever you call it, about half-past two yesterday, and stayed there all the afternoon. Dr Stone came back alone, and she came later. He says he didn’t hear any shot, but admits he’s absent-minded. But it all bears out what we think.’ ‘Only,’ I said, ‘you haven’t caught the murderer.’ ‘H’m,’ said the Inspector. ‘It was a woman’s voice you heard through the telephone. It was in all probability a woman’s voice Mrs Price Ridley heard. If only that shot hadn’t come hard on the close of the telephone call – well, I’d know where to look.’ ‘Where?’ ‘Ah! That’s just what it’s best not to say, sir.’ Unblushingly, I suggested a glass of old port. I have some very fine old vintage port. Eleven o’clock in the morning is not the usual time for drinking port, but I did not think that mattered with Inspector Slack. It was, of course, cruel abuse of the vintage port, but one must not be squeamish about such things. When Inspector Slack had polished off the second glass, he began to unbend and become genial. Such is the effect of that particular port. ‘I don’t suppose it matters with you, sir,’ he said. ‘You’ll keep it to yourself ? No letting it get round the parish.’ I reassured him. ‘Seeing as the whole thing happened in your house, it almost seems as though you have a right to know.’ ‘Just what I feel myself,’ I said. ‘Well, then, sir, what about the lady who called on Colonel Protheroe the night before the murder?’ ‘Mrs Lestrange,’ I cried, speaking rather loud in my astonishment. The Inspector threw me a reproachful glance. ‘Not so loud, sir. Mrs Lestrange is the lady I’ve got my eye on. You remember what I told you – blackmail.’ ‘Hardly a reason for murder. Wouldn’t it be a case of killing the goose that laid the golden eggs? That is, assuming that your hypothesis is true, which I don’t for a minute admit.’ The Inspector winked at me in a common manner. ‘Ah! She’s the kind the gentlemen will always stand up for. Now look here, sir. Suppose she’s successfully blackmailed the old gentleman in the past. After a lapse of years, she gets wind of him, comes down here and tries it on again. But, in the meantime, things have changed. The law has taken up a very different stand. Every facility is given nowadays to people prosecuting for blackmail – names are not allowed to be reported in the press. Suppose Colonel Protheroe turns round and says he’ll have the law on her. She’s in a nasty position. They give a very severe sentence for blackmail. The boot’s on the other leg. The only thing to do to save herself is to put him out good and quick.’ I was silent. I had to admit that the case the Inspector had built up was plausible. Only one thing to my mind made it inadmissible – the personality of Mrs Lestrange. ‘I don’t agree with you, Inspector,’ I said. ‘Mrs Lestrange doesn’t seem to me to be a potential blackmailer. She’s – well, it’s an old-fashioned word, but she’s a – lady.’ He threw me a pitying glance. ‘Ah! well, sir,’ he said tolerantly, ‘you’re a clergyman. You don’t know half of what goes on. Lady indeed! You’d be surprised if you knew some of the things I know.’ ‘I’m not referring to mere social position. Anyway, I should imagine Mrs Lestrange to be a déclassée. What I mean is a question of – personal refinement.’ ‘You don’t see her with the same eyes as I do, sir. I may be a man – but I’m a police officer, too. They can’t get over me with their personal refinement. Why, that woman is the kind who could stick a knife into you without turning a hair.’ Curiously enough, I could believe Mrs Lestrange guilty of murder much more easily than I could believe her capable of blackmail. ‘But, of course, she can’t have been telephoning to the old lady next door and shooting Colonel Protheroe at one and the same time,’ continued the Inspector. The words were hardly out of his mouth when he slapped his leg ferociously. ‘Got it,’ he exclaimed. ‘That’s the point of the telephone call. Kind of alibi. Knew we’d connect it with the first one. I’m going to look into this. She may have bribed some village lad to do the phoning for her. He’d never think of connecting it with the murder.’ The Inspector hurried off. ‘Miss Marple wants to see you,’ said Griselda, putting her head in. ‘She sent over a very incoherent note – all spidery and underlined. I couldn’t read most of it. Apparently she can’t leave home herself. Hurry up and go across and see her and find out what it is. I’ve got my old women coming in two minutes or I’d come myself. I do hate old women – they tell you about their bad legs and sometimes insist on showing them to you. What luck that the inquest is this afternoon! You won’t have to go and watch the Boys’ Club Cricket Match.’ I hurried off, considerably exercised in my mind as to the reason for this summons. I found Miss Marple in what, I believe, is described as a fluster. She was very pink and slightly incoherent. ‘My nephew,’ she explained. ‘My nephew, Raymond West, the author. He is coming down today. Such a to-do. I have to see to everything myself. You cannot trust a maid to air a bed properly, and we must, of course, have a meat meal tonight. Gentlemen require such a lot of meat, do they not? And drink. There certainly should be some drink in the house – and a siphon.’ ‘If I can do anything –’ I began. ‘Oh! How very kind. But I did not mean that. There is plenty of time really. He brings his own pipe and tobacco, I am glad to say. Glad because it saves me from knowing which kind of cigarettes are right to buy. But rather sorry, too, because it takes so long for the smell to get out of the curtains. Of course, I open the window and shake them well very early every morning. Raymond gets up very late – I think writers often do. He writes very clever books, I believe, though people are not really nearly so unpleasant as he makes out. Clever young men know so little of life, don’t you think?’ ‘Would you like to bring him to dinner at the Vicarage?’ I asked, still unable to gather why I had been summoned. ‘Oh! No, thank you,’ said Miss Marple. ‘It’s very kind of you,’ she added. ‘There was – er – something you wanted to see me about, I think,’ I suggested desperately. ‘Oh! Of course. In all the excitement it had gone right out of my head.’ She broke off and called to her maid. ‘Emily – Emily. Not those sheets. The frilled ones with the monogram, and don’t put them too near the fire.’ She closed the door and returned to me on tiptoe. ‘It’s just rather a curious thing that happened last night,’ she explained. ‘I thought you would like to hear about it, though at the moment it doesn’t seem to make sense. I felt very wakeful last night – wondering about all this sad business. And I got up and looked out of my window. And what do you think I saw?’ I looked, inquiring. ‘Gladys Cram,’ said Miss Marple, with great emphasis. ‘As I live, going into the wood with a suitcase.’ ‘A suitcase?’ ‘Isn’t it extraordinary? What should she want with a suitcase in the wood at twelve o’clock at night? ‘You see,’ said Miss Marple, ‘I dare say it has nothing to do with the murder. But it is a Peculiar Thing. And just at present we all feel we must take notice of Peculiar Things.’ ‘Perfectly amazing,’ I said. ‘Was she going to – er – sleep in the barrow by any chance?’ ‘She didn’t, at any rate,’ said Miss Marple. ‘Because quite a short time afterwards she came back, and she hadn’t got the suitcase with her.’ Chapter 18 (#ulink_782c7d88-a148-517c-839f-733741a42f0b) The inquest was held that afternoon (Saturday) at two o’clock at the Blue Boar. The local excitement was, I need hardly say, tremendous. There had been no murder in St Mary Mead for at least fifteen years. And to have someone like Colonel Protheroe murdered actually in the Vicarage study is such a feast of sensation as rarely falls to the lot of a village population. Various comments floated to my ears which I was probably not meant to hear. ‘There’s Vicar. Looks pale, don’t he? I wonder if he had a hand in it. ’Twas done at Vicarage, after all.’ ‘How can you, Mary Adams? And him visiting Henry Abbott at the time.’ ‘Oh! But they do say him and the Colonel had words. There’s Mary Hill. Giving herself airs, she is, on account of being in service there. Hush, here’s coroner.’ The coroner was Dr Roberts of our adjoining town of Much Benham. He cleared his throat, adjusted his eyeglasses, and looked important. To recapitulate all the evidence would be merely tiresome. Lawrence Redding gave evidence of finding the body, and identified the pistol as belonging to him. To the best of his belief he had seen it on the Tuesday, two days previously. It was kept on a shelf in his cottage, and the door of the cottage was habitually unlocked. Mrs Protheroe gave evidence that she had last seen her husband at about a quarter to six when they separated in the village street. She agreed to call for him at the Vicarage later. She had gone to the Vicarage about a quarter past six, by way of the back lane and the garden gate. She had heard no voices in the study and had imagined that the room was empty, but her husband might have been sitting at the writing-table, in which case she would not have seen him. As far as she knew, he had been in his usual health and spirits. She knew of no enemy who might have had a grudge against him. I gave evidence next, told of my appointment with Protheroe and my summons to the Abbotts’. I described how I had found the body and my summoning of Dr Haydock. ‘How many people, Mr Clement, were aware that Colonel Protheroe was coming to see you that evening?’ ‘A good many, I should imagine. My wife knew, and my nephew, and Colonel Protheroe himself alluded to the fact that morning when I met him in the village. I should think several people might have overheard him, as, being slightly deaf, he spoke in a loud voice.’ ‘It was, then, a matter of common knowledge? Anyone might know?’ I agreed. Haydock followed. He was an important witness. He described carefully and technically the appearance of the body and the exact injuries. It was his opinion that the deceased had been shot at approximately 6.20 to 6.30 – certainly not later than 6.35. That was the outside limit. He was positive and emphatic on that point. There was no question of suicide, the wound could not have been self-inflicted. Inspector Slack’s evidence was discreet and abridged. He described his summons and the circumstances under which he had found the body. The unfinished letter was produced and the time on it – 6.20 – noted. Also the clock. It was tacitly assumed that the time of death was 6.22. The police were giving nothing away. Anne Protheroe told me afterwards that she had been told to suggest a slightly earlier period of time than 6.20 for her visit. Our maid, Mary, was the next witness, and proved a somewhat truculent one. She hadn’t heard anything, and didn’t want to hear anything. It wasn’t as though gentlemen who came to see the Vicar usually got shot. They didn’t. She’d got her own jobs to look after. Colonel Protheroe had arrived at a quarter past six exactly. No, she didn’t look at the clock. She heard the church chime after she had shown him into the study. She didn’t hear any shot. If there had been a shot she’d have heard it. Well, of course, she knew there must have been a shot, since the gentleman was found shot – but there it was. She hadn’t heard it. The coroner did not press the point. I realized that he and Colonel Melchett were working in agreement. Mrs Lestrange had been subpoenaed to give evidence, but a medical certificate, signed by Dr Haydock, was produced saying she was too ill to attend. There was only one other witness, a somewhat doddering old woman. The one who, in Slack’s phrase, ‘did for’ Lawrence Redding. Mrs Archer was shown the pistol and recognized it as the one she had seen in Mr Redding’s sitting-room ‘over against the bookcase, he kept it, lying about.’ She had last seen it on the day of the murder. Yes – in answer to a further question – she was quite sure it was there at lunch time on Thursday – quarter to one when she left. I remembered what the Inspector had told me, and I was mildly surprised. However vague she might have been when he questioned her, she was quite positive about it now. The coroner summed up in a negative manner, but with a good deal of firmness. The verdict was given almost immediately: Murder by Person or Persons unknown. As I left the room I was aware of a small army of young men with bright, alert faces and a kind of superficial resemblance to each other. Several of them were already known to me by sight as having haunted the Vicarage the last few days. Seeking to escape, I plunged back into the Blue Boar and was lucky enough to run straight into the archaeologist, Dr Stone. I clutched at him without ceremony. ‘Journalists,’ I said briefly and expressively. ‘If you could deliver me from their clutches?’ ‘Why, certainly, Mr Clement. Come upstairs with me.’ He led the way up the narrow staircase and into his sitting-room, where Miss Cram was sitting rattling the keys of a typewriter with a practised touch. She greeted me with a broad smile of welcome and seized the opportunity to stop work. ‘Awful, isn’t it?’ she said. ‘Not knowing who did it, I mean. Not but that I’m disappointed in an inquest. Tame, that’s what I call it. Nothing what you might call spicy from beginning to end.’ ‘You were there, then, Miss Cram?’ ‘I was there all right. Fancy your not seeing me. Didn’t you see me? I feel a bit hurt about that. Yes, I do. A gentleman, even if he is a clergyman, ought to have eyes in his head.’ ‘Were you present also?’ I asked Dr Stone, in an effort to escape from this playful badinage. Young women like Miss Cram always make me feel awkward. ‘No, I’m afraid I feel very little interest in such things. I am a man very wrapped up in his own hobby.’ ‘It must be a very interesting hobby,’ I said. ‘You know something of it, perhaps?’ I was obliged to confess that I knew next to nothing. Dr Stone was not the kind of man whom a confession of ignorance daunts. The result was exactly the same as though I had said that the excavation of barrows was my only relaxation. He surged and eddied into speech. Long barrows, round barrows, stone age, bronze age, paleolithic, neolithic kistvaens and cromlechs, it burst forth in a torrent. I had little to do save nod my head and look intelligent – and that last is perhaps over optimistic. Dr Stone boomed on. He was a little man. His head was round and bald, his face was round and rosy, and he beamed at you through very strong glasses. I have never known a man so enthusiastic on so little encouragement. He went into every argument for and against his own pet theory – which, by the way, I quite failed to grasp! He detailed at great length his difference of opinion with Colonel Protheroe. ‘An opinionated boor,’ he said with heat. ‘Yes, yes, I know he is dead, and one should speak no ill of the dead. But death does not alter facts. An opinionated boor describes him exactly. Because he had read a few books, he set himself up as an authority – against a man who has made a lifelong study of the subject. My whole life, Mr Clement, has been given up to this work. My whole life –’ He was spluttering with excitement. Gladys Cram brought him back to earth with a terse sentence. ‘You’ll miss your train if you don’t look out,’ she observed. ‘Oh!’ The little man stopped in mid speech and dragged a watch from his pocket. ‘Bless my soul. Quarter to? Impossible.’ ‘Once you start talking you never remember the time. What you’d do without me to look after you, I really don’t know.’ ‘Quite right, my dear, quite right.’ He patted her affectionately on the shoulder. ‘This is a wonderful girl, Mr Clement. Never forgets anything. I consider myself extremely lucky to have found her.’ ‘Oh! Go on, Dr Stone,’ said the lady. ‘You spoil me, you do.’ I could not help feeling that I should be in a material position to add my support to the second school of thought – that which foresees lawful matrimony as the future of Dr Stone and Miss Cram. I imagined that in her own way Miss Cram was rather a clever young woman. ‘You’d better be getting along,’ said Miss Cram. ‘Yes, yes, so I must.’ He vanished into the room next door and returned carrying a suitcase. ‘You are leaving?’ I asked in some surprise. ‘Just running up to town for a couple of days,’ he explained. ‘My old mother to see tomorrow, some business with my lawyers on Monday. On Tuesday I shall return. By the way, I suppose that Colonel Protheroe’s death will make no difference to our arrangements. As regards the barrow, I mean. Mrs Protheroe will have no objection to our continuing the work?’ ‘I should not think so.’ As he spoke, I wondered who actually would be in authority at Old Hall. It was just possible that Protheroe might have left it to Lettice. I felt that it would be interesting to know the contents of Protheroe’s will. ‘Causes a lot of trouble in a family, a death does,’ remarked Miss Cram, with a kind of gloomy relish. ‘You wouldn’t believe what a nasty spirit there sometimes is.’ ‘Well, I must really be going.’ Dr Stone made ineffectual attempts to control the suitcase, a large rug and an unwieldy umbrella. I came to his rescue. He protested. ‘Don’t trouble – don’t trouble. I can manage perfectly. Doubtless there will be somebody downstairs.’ But down below there was no trace of a boots or anyone else. I suspect that they were being regaled at the expense of the Press. Time was getting on, so we set out together to the station, Dr Stone carrying the suitcase, and I holding the rug and umbrella. Dr Stone ejaculated remarks in between panting breaths as we hurried along. ‘Really too good of you – didn’t mean – to trouble you…Hope we shan’t miss – the train – Gladys is a good girl – really a wonderful girl – a very sweet nature – not too happy at home, I’m afraid – absolutely – the heart of a child – heart of a child. I do assure you, in spite of – difference in our ages – find a lot in common…’ We saw Lawrence Redding’s cottage just as we turned off to the station. It stands in an isolated position with no other houses near it. I observed two young men of smart appearance standing on the doorstep and a couple more peering in at the windows. It was a busy day for the Press. ‘Nice fellow, young Redding,’ I remarked, to see what my companion would say. He was so out of breath by this time that he found it difficult to say anything, but he puffed out a word which I did not at first quite catch. ‘Dangerous,’ he gasped, when I asked him to repeat his remark. ‘Dangerous?’ ‘Most dangerous. Innocent girls – know no better – taken in by a fellow like that – always hanging round women…No good.’ From which I deduced that the only young man in the village had not passed unnoticed by the fair Gladys. ‘Goodness,’ ejaculated Dr Stone. ‘The train!’ We were close to the station by this time and we broke into a fast sprint. A down train was standing in the station and the up London train was just coming in. At the door of the booking office we collided with a rather exquisite young man, and I recognized Miss Marple’s nephew just arriving. He is, I think, a young man who does not like to be collided with. He prides himself on his poise and general air of detachment, and there is no doubt that vulgar contact is detrimental to poise of any kind. He staggered back. I apologized hastily and we passed in. Dr Stone climbed on the train and I handed up his baggage just as the train gave an unwilling jerk and started. I waved to him and then turned away. Raymond West had departed, but our local chemist, who rejoices in the name of Cherubim, was just setting out for the village. I walked beside him. ‘Close shave that,’ he observed. ‘Well, how did the inquest go, Mr Clement?’ I gave him the verdict. ‘Oh! So that’s what happened. I rather thought that would be the verdict. Where’s Dr Stone off to?’ I repeated what he had told me. ‘Lucky not to miss the train. Not that you ever know on this line. I tell you, Mr Clement, it’s a crying shame. Disgraceful, that’s what I call it. Train I came down by was ten minutes late. And that on a Saturday with no traffic to speak of. And on Wednesday – no, Thursday – yes, Thursday it was – I remember it was the day of the murder because I meant to write a strongly-worded complaint to the company – and the murder put it out of my head – yes, last Thursday. I had been to a meeting of the Pharmaceutical Society. How late do you think the 6.50 was? Half an hour. Half an hour exactly! What do you think of that? Ten minutes I don’t mind. But if the train doesn’t get in till twenty past seven, well, you can’t get home before half-past. What I say is, why call it the 6.50?’ Конец ознакомительного фрагмента. Текст предоставлен ООО «ЛитРес». Прочитайте эту книгу целиком, купив полную легальную версию (https://www.litres.ru/agata-kristi/miss-marple-3-book-collection-1-the-murder-at-the-vicarage-th/?lfrom=334617187) на ЛитРес. 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