A Caribbean Mystery

A Caribbean Mystery

A Caribbean Mystery 58

  ‘Excellent,’ said Sir Henry. ‘Only we don’t know that Miss Barton ever had a young brother.’

  ‘We deduce that,’ said Mrs Bantry. ‘Unless she had a young brother there’s no motive. So she must have had a young brother. Do you see, Watson?’

  ‘That’s all very fine, Dolly,’ said her husband. ‘But it’s only a guess.’

  ‘Of course it is,’ said Mrs Bantry. ‘That’s all we can do – guess. We haven’t got any clues. Go on, dear, have a guess yourself.’

  ‘Upon my word, I don’t know what to say. But I think there’s something in Miss Helier’s suggestion that they fell out about a man. Look here, Dolly, it was probably some high church parson. They both embroidered him a cope or something, and he wore the Durrant woman’s first. Depend upon it, it was something like that. Look how she went off to a parson at the end. These women all lose their heads over a good-looking clergyman. You hear of it over and over again.’

  ‘I think I must try to make my explanation a little more subtle,’ said Sir Henry, ‘though I admit it’s only a guess. I suggest that Miss Barton was always mentally unhinged. There are more cases like that than you would imagine. Her mania grew stronger and she began to believe it her duty to rid the world of certain persons – possibly what is termed unfortunate females. Nothing much is known about Miss Durrant’s past. So very possibly she had a past – an “unfortunate” one. Miss Barton learns of this and decides on extermination. Later, the righteousness of her act begins to trouble her and she is overcome by remorse. Her end shows her to be completely unhinged. Now, do say you agree with me, Miss Marple.’

  ‘I’m afraid I don’t, Sir Henry,’ said Miss Marple, smiling apologetically. ‘I think her end shows her to have been a very clever and resourceful woman.’

  Jane Helier interrupted with a little scream.

  ‘Oh! I’ve been so stupid. May I guess again? Of course it must have been that. Blackmail! The companion woman was blackmailing her. Only I don’t see why Miss Marple says it was clever of her to kill herself. I can’t see that at all.’

  ‘Ah!’ said Sir Henry. ‘You see, Miss Marple knew a case just like it in St Mary Mead.’

  ‘You always laugh at me, Sir Henry,’ said Miss Marple reproachfully. ‘I must confess it does remind me, just a little, of old Mrs Trout. She drew the old age pension, you know, for three old women who were dead, in different parishes.’

  ‘It sounds a most complicated and resourceful crime,’ said Sir Henry. ‘But it doesn’t seem to me to throw any light upon our present problem.’

  ‘Of course not,’ said Miss Marple. ‘It wouldn’t – to you. But some of the families were very poor, and the old age pension was a great boon to the children. I know it’s difficult for anyone outside to understand. But what I really meant was that the whole thing hinged upon one old woman being so like any other old woman.’

  ‘Eh?’ said Sir Henry, mystified. ‘I always explain things so badly. What I mean is that when Dr Lloyd described the two ladies first, he didn’t know which was which, and I don’t suppose anyone else in the hotel did. They would have, of course, after a day or so, but the very next day one of the two was drowned, and if the one who was left said she was Miss Barton, I don’t suppose it would ever occur to anyone that she mightn’t be.’

  ‘You think – Oh! I see,’ said Sir Henry slowly. ‘It’s the only natural way of thinking of it. Dear Mrs Bantry began that way just now. Why should the rich employer kill the humble companion? It’s so much more likely to be the other way about. I mean – that’s the way things happen.’

  ‘Is it?’ said Sir Henry. ‘You shock me.’

  ‘But of course,’ went on Miss Marple, ‘she would have to wear Miss Barton’s clothes, and they would probably be a little tight on her, so that her general appearance would look as though she had got a little fatter. That’s why I asked that question. A gentleman would be sure to think it was the lady who had got fatter, and not the clothes that had got smaller – though that isn’t quite the right way of putting it.’

  ‘But if Amy Durrant killed Miss Barton, what did she gain by it?’ asked Mrs Bantry. ‘She couldn’t keep up the deception for ever.’

  ‘She only kept it up for another month or so,’ pointed out Miss Marple. ‘And during that time I expect she travelled, keeping away from anyone who might know her. That’s what I meant by saying that one lady of a certain age looks so like another. I don’t suppose the different photograph on her passport was ever noticed – you know what passports are. And then in March, she went down to this Cornish place and began to act queerly and draw attention to herself so that when people found her clothes on the beach and read her last letter they shouldn’t think of the commonsense conclusion.’

  ‘Which was?’ asked Sir Henry. ‘No body,’ said Miss Marple firmly. ‘That’s the thing that would stare you in the face, if there weren’t such a lot of red herrings to draw you off the trail – including the suggestion of foul play and remorse. No body. That was the real significant fact.’

  ‘Do you mean –’ said Mrs Bantry – ‘do you mean that there wasn’t any remorse? That there wasn’t – that she didn’t drown herself?’

  ‘Not she!’ said Miss Marple. ‘It’s just Mrs Trout over again. Mrs Trout was very good at red herrings, but she met her match in me. And I can see through your remorse-driven Miss Barton. Drown herself? Went off to Australia, if I’m any good at guessing.’

  ‘You are, Miss Marple,’ said Dr Lloyd. ‘Undoubtedly you are. Now it again took me quite by surprise. Why, you could have knocked me down with a feather that day in Melbourne.’

  ‘Was that what you spoke of as a final coincidence?’

  Dr Lloyd nodded.

  ‘Yes, it was rather rough luck on Miss Barton – or Miss Amy Durrant – whatever you like to call her. I became a ship’s doctor for a while, and landing in Melbourne, the first person I saw as I walked down the street was the lady I thought had been drowned in Cornwall. She saw the game was up as far as I was concerned, and she did the bold thing – took me into her confidence. A curious woman, completely lacking, I suppose, in some moral sense. She was the eldest of a family of nine, all wretchedly poor. They had applied once for help to their rich cousin in England and been repulsed, Miss Barton having quarrelled with their father. Money was wanted desperately, for the three youngest children were delicate and wanted expensive medical treatment. Amy Barton then and there seems to have decided on her plan of cold-blooded murder. She set out for England, working her passage over as a children’s nurse. She obtained the situation of companion to Miss Barton, calling herself Amy Durrant. She engaged a room and put some furniture into it so as to create more of a personality for herself. The drowning plan was a sudden inspiration. She had been waiting for some opportunity to present itself. Then she staged the final scene of the drama and returned to Australia, and in due time she and her brothers and sisters inherited Miss Barton’s money as next of kin.’

  ‘A very bold and perfect crime,’ said Sir Henry. ‘Almost the perfect crime. If it had been Miss Barton who had died in the Canaries, suspicion might attach to Amy Durrant and her connection with the Barton family might have been discovered; but the change of identity and the double crime, as you may call it, effectually did away with that. Yes, almost the perfect crime.’

  ‘What happened to her?’ asked Mrs Bantry. ‘What did you do in the matter, Dr Lloyd?’

  ‘I was in a very curious position, Mrs Bantry. Of evidence as the law understands it, I still have very little. Also, there were certain signs, plain to me as a medical man, that though strong and vigorous in appearance, the lady was not long for this world. I went home with her and saw the rest of the family – a charming family, devoted to their eldest sister and without an idea in their heads that she might prove to have committed a crime. Why bring sorrow on them when I could prove nothing? The lady’s admission to me was unheard by anyone else. I let Nature take its course. Miss Amy Barton died six months after my meet
ing with her. I have often wondered if she was cheerful and unrepentant up to the last.’

  ‘Surely not,’ said Mrs Bantry.

  ‘I expect so,’ said Miss Marple. ‘Mrs Trout was.’

  Jane Helier gave herself a little shake. ‘Well,’ she said. ‘It’s very, very thrilling. I don’t quite understand now who drowned which. And how does this Mrs Trout come into it?’

  ‘She doesn’t, my dear,’ said Miss Marple. ‘She was only a person – not a very nice person – in the village.’

  ‘Oh!’ said Jane. ‘In the village. But nothing ever happens in a village, does it?’ She sighed. ‘I’m sure I shouldn’t have any brains at all if I lived in a village.’

  Chapter 36

  The Four Suspects

  ‘The Four Suspects’ was first published in the USA as ‘Four Suspects’ in Pictorial Review, January 1930, and then in Storyteller, April 1930.

  The conversation hovered round undiscovered and unpunished crimes. Everyone in turn vouchsafed their opinion: Colonel Bantry, his plump amiable wife, Jane Helier, Dr Lloyd, and even old Miss Marple. The one person who did not speak was the one best fitted in most people’s opinion to do so. Sir Henry Clithering, ex-Commissioner of Scotland Yard, sat silent, twisting his moustache – or rather stroking it – and half smiling, as though at some inward thought that amused him.

  ‘Sir Henry,’ said Mrs Bantry at last. ‘If you don’t say something I shall scream. Are there a lot of crimes that go unpunished, or are there not?’

  ‘You’re thinking of newspaper headlines, Mrs Bantry. Scotland Yard at fault again. And a list of unsolved mysteries to follow.’

  ‘Which really, I suppose, form a very small percentage of the whole?’ said Dr Lloyd.

  ‘Yes; that is so. The hundreds of crimes that are solved and the perpetrators punished are seldom heralded and sung. But that isn’t quite the point at issue, is it? When you talk of undiscovered crimes and unsolved crimes, you are talking of two different things. In the first category come all the crimes that Scotland Yard never hears about, the crimes that no one even knows have been committed.’

  ‘But I suppose there aren’t very many of those?’ said Mrs Bantry. ‘Aren’t there?’

  ‘Sir Henry! You don’t mean there are?’

  ‘I should think,’ said Miss Marple thoughtfully, ‘that there must be a very large number.’

  The charming old lady, with her old-world unruffled air, made her statement in a tone of the utmost placidity.

  ‘My dear Miss Marple,’ said Colonel Bantry.

  ‘Of course,’ said Miss Marple, ‘a lot of people are stupid. And stupid people get found out, whatever they do. But there are quite a number of people who aren’t stupid, and one shudders to think of what they might accomplish unless they had very strongly rooted principles.’

  ‘Yes,’ said Sir Henry, ‘there are a lot of people who aren’t stupid. How often does some crime come to light simply by reason of a bit of unmitigated bungling, and each time one asks oneself the question: If this hadn’t been bungled, would anyone ever have known?’

  ‘But that’s very serious, Clithering,’ said Colonel Bantry. ‘Very serious, indeed.’

  ‘Is it?’

  ‘What do you mean! It is! Of course it’s serious.’

  ‘You say crime goes unpunished; but does it? Unpunished by the law perhaps; but cause and effect works outside the law. To say that every crime brings its own punishment is by way of being a platitude, and yet in my opinion nothing can be truer.’

  ‘Perhaps, perhaps,’ said Colonel Bantry. ‘But that doesn’t alter the seriousness – the – er – seriousness –’ He paused, rather at a loss.

  Sir Henry Clithering smiled.

  ‘Ninety-nine people out of a hundred are doubtless of your way of thinking,’ he said. ‘But you know, it isn’t really guilt that is important – it’s innocence. That’s the thing that nobody will realize.’

  ‘I don’t understand,’ said Jane Helier. ‘I do,’ said Miss Marple. ‘When Mrs Trent found half a crown missing from her bag, the person it affected most was the daily woman, Mrs Arthur. Of course the Trents thought it was her, but being kindly people and knowing she had a large family and a husband who drinks, well – they naturally didn’t want to go to extremes. But they felt differently towards her, and they didn’t leave her in charge of the house when they went away, which made a great difference to her; and other people began to get a feeling about her too. And then it suddenly came out that it was the governess. Mrs Trent saw her through a door reflected in a mirror. The purest chance – though I prefer to call it Providence. And that, I think, is what Sir Henry means. Most people would be only interested in who took the money, and it turned out to be the most unlikely person – just like in detective stories! But the real person it was life and death to was poor Mrs Arthur, who had done nothing. That’s what you mean, isn’t it, Sir Henry?’

  ‘Yes, Miss Marple, you’ve hit off my meaning exactly. Your charwoman person was lucky in the instance you relate. Her innocence was shown. But some people may go through a lifetime crushed by the weight of a suspicion that is really unjustified.’

  ‘Are you thinking of some particular instance, Sir Henry?’ asked Mrs Bantry shrewdly.

  ‘As a matter of fact, Mrs Bantry, I am. A very curious case. A case where we believe murder to have been committed, but with no possible chance of ever proving it.’

  ‘Poison, I suppose,’ breathed Jane. ‘Something untraceable.’

  Dr Lloyd moved restlessly and Sir Henry shook his head. ‘No, dear lady. Not the secret arrow poison of the South American Indians! I wish it were something of that kind. We have to deal with something much more prosaic – so prosaic, in fact, that there is no hope of bringing the deed home to its perpetrator. An old gentleman who fell downstairs and broke his neck; one of those regrettable accidents which happen every day.’

  ‘But what happened really?’

  ‘Who can say?’ Sir Henry shrugged his shoulders. ‘A push from behind? A piece of cotton or string tied across the top of the stairs and carefully removed afterwards? That we shall never know.’

  ‘But you do think that it – well, wasn’t an accident? Now why?’ asked the doctor.

  ‘That’s rather a long story, but – well, yes, we’re pretty sure. As I said there’s no chance of being able to bring the deed home to anyone – the evidence would be too flimsy. But there’s the other aspect of the case – the one I was speaking about. You see, there were four people who might have done the trick. One’s guilty; but the other three are innocent. And unless the truth is found out, those three are going to remain under the terrible shadow of doubt.’

  ‘I think,’ said Mrs Bantry, ‘that you’d better tell us your long story.’

  ‘I needn’t make it so very long after all,’ said Sir Henry. ‘I can at any rate condense the beginning. That deals with a German secret society – the Schwartze Hand – something after the lines of the Camorra or what is most people’s idea of the Camorra. A scheme of blackmail and terrorization. The thing started quite suddenly after the War, and spread to an amazing extent. Numberless people were victimized by it. The authorities were not successful in coping with it, for its secrets were jealously guarded, and it was almost impossible to find anyone who could be induced to betray them.

  ‘Nothing much was ever known about it in England, but in Germany it was having a most paralysing effect. It was finally broken up and dispersed through the efforts of one man, a Dr Rosen, who had at one time been very prominent in Secret Service work. He became a member, penetrated its inmost circle, and was, as I say, instrumental in bringing about its downfall.

  ‘But he was, in consequence, a marked man, and it was deemed wise that he should leave Germany – at any rate for a time. He came to England, and we had letters about him from the police in Berlin. He came and had a personal interview with me. His point of view was both dispassionate and resigned. He had no doubts of what the future held for him.
  ‘“They will get me, Sir Henry,” he said. “Not a doubt of it.” He was a big man with a fine head, and a very deep voice, with only a slight guttural intonation to tell of his nationality. “That is a foregone conclusion. It does not matter, I am prepared. I faced the risk when I undertook this business. I have done what I set out to do. The organization can never be got together again. But there are many members of it at liberty, and they will take the only revenge they can – my life. It is simply a question of time; but I am anxious that that time should be as long as possible. You see, I am collecting and editing some very interesting material – the result of my life’s work. I should like, if possible, to be able to complete my task.”

  ‘He spoke very simply, with a certain grandeur which I could not but admire. I told him we would take all precautions, but he waved my words aside.

  ‘“Some day, sooner or later, they will get me,” he repeated. “When that day comes, do not distress yourself. You will, I have no doubt, have done all that is possible.”

  ‘He then proceeded to outline his plans which were simple enough. He proposed to take a small cottage in the country where he could live quietly and go on with his work. In the end he selected a village in Somerset – King’s Gnaton, which was seven miles from a railway station, and singularly untouched by civilization. He bought a very charming cottage, had various improvements and alterations made, and settled down there most contentedly. His household consisted of his niece, Greta, a secretary, an old German servant who had served him faithfully for nearly forty years, and an outside handyman and gardener who was a native of King’s Gnaton.’