A Caribbean Mystery

A Caribbean Mystery

A Caribbean Mystery 67

  Sir Henry sat up and straightened his hat. The name surprised him. He remembered Miss Marple very well – her gentle quiet old-maidish ways, her amazing penetration. He remembered a dozen unsolved and hypothetical cases – and how in each case this typical ‘old maid of the village’ had leaped unerringly to the right solution of the mystery. Sir Henry had a very deep respect for Miss Marple. He wondered what had brought her to see him.

  Miss Marple was sitting in the drawing-room – very upright as always, a gaily coloured marketing basket of foreign extraction beside her. Her cheeks were rather pink and she seemed flustered.

  ‘Sir Henry – I am so glad. So fortunate to find you. I just happened to hear that you were staying down here . . . I do hope you will forgive me . . .’

  ‘This is a great pleasure,’ said Sir Henry, taking her hand. ‘I’m afraid Mrs Bantry’s out.’

  ‘Yes,’ said Miss Marple. ‘I saw her talking to Footit, the butcher, as I passed. Henry Footit was run over yesterday – that was his dog. One of those smooth-haired fox terriers, rather stout and quarrelsome, that butchers always seem to have.’

  ‘Yes,’ said Sir Henry helpfully. ‘I was glad to get here when she wasn’t at home,’ continued Miss Marple. ‘Because it was you I wanted to see. About this sad affair.’

  ‘Henry Footit?’ asked Sir Henry, slightly bewildered.

  Miss Marple threw him a reproachful glance. ‘No, no. Rose Emmott, of course. You’ve heard?’

  Sir Henry nodded.

  ‘Bantry was telling me. Very sad.’

  He was a little puzzled. He could not conceive why Miss Marple should want to see him about Rose Emmott.

  Miss Marple sat down again. Sir Henry also sat. When the old lady spoke her manner had changed. It was grave, and had a certain dignity.

  ‘You may remember, Sir Henry, that on one or two occasions we played what was really a pleasant kind of game. Propounding mysteries and giving solutions. You were kind enough to say that I – that I did not do too badly.’

  ‘You beat us all,’ said Sir Henry warmly. ‘You displayed an absolute genius for getting to the truth. And you always instanced, I remember, some village parallel which had supplied you with the clue.’

  He smiled as he spoke, but Miss Marple did not smile. She remained very grave.

  ‘What you said has emboldened me to come to you now. I feel that if I say something to you – at least you will not laugh at me.’

  He realized suddenly that she was in deadly earnest. ‘Certainly, I will not laugh,’ he said gently. ‘Sir Henry – this girl – Rose Emmott. She did not drown herself – she was murdered . . . And I know who murdered her.’

  Sir Henry was silent with sheer astonishment for quite three seconds. Miss Marple’s voice had been perfectly quiet and unexcited. She might have been making the most ordinary statement in the world for all the emotion she showed.

  ‘This is a very serious statement to make, Miss Marple,’ said Sir Henry when he had recovered his breath.

  She nodded her head gently several times.

  ‘I know – I know – that is why I have come to you.’

  ‘But, my dear lady, I am not the person to come to. I am merely a private individual nowadays. If you have knowledge of the kind you claim, you must go to the police.’

  ‘I don’t think I can do that,’ said Miss Marple. ‘But why not?’

  ‘Because, you see, I haven’t got any – what you call knowledge.’

  ‘You mean it’s only a guess on your part?’

  ‘You can call it that, if you like, but it’s not really that at all. I know. I’m in a position to know; but if I gave my reasons for knowing to Inspector Drewitt – well, he’d simply laugh. And really, I don’t know that I’d blame him. It’s very difficult to understand what you might call specialized knowledge.’

  ‘Such as?’ suggested Sir Henry.

  Miss Marple smiled a little. ‘If I were to tell you that I know because of a man called Peasegood leaving turnips instead of carrots when he came round with a cart and sold vegetables to my niece several years ago –’

  She stopped eloquently.

  ‘A very appropriate name for the trade,’ murmured Sir Henry. ‘You mean that you are simply judging from the facts in a parallel case.’

  ‘I know human nature,’ said Miss Marple. ‘It’s impossible not to know human nature living in a village all these years. The question is, do you believe me, or don’t you?’

  She looked at him very straight. The pink flush had heightened on her cheeks. Her eyes met his steadily without wavering.

  Sir Henry was a man with a very vast experience of life. He made his decisions quickly without beating about the bush. Unlikely and fantastic as Miss Marple’s statement might seem, he was instantly aware that he accepted it.

  ‘I do believe you, Miss Marple. But I do not see what you want me to do in the matter, or why you have come to me.’

  ‘I have thought and thought about it,’ said Miss Marple. ‘As I said, it would be useless going to the police without any facts. I have no facts. What I would ask you to do is to interest yourself in the matter – Inspector Drewitt would be most flattered, I am sure. And, of course, if the matter went farther, Colonel Melchett, the Chief Constable, I am sure, would be wax in your hands.’

  She looked at him appealingly. ‘And what data are you going to give me to work upon?’

  ‘I thought,’ said Miss Marple, ‘of writing a name – the name – on a piece of paper and giving it to you. Then if, on investigation, you decided that the – the person – is not involved in any way – well, I shall have been quite wrong.’

  She paused and then added with a slight shiver. ‘It would be so dreadful – so very dreadful – if an innocent person were to be hanged.’

  ‘What on earth –’ cried Sir Henry, startled.

  She turned a distressed face upon him. ‘I may be wrong about that – though I don’t think so. Inspector Drewitt, you see, is really an intelligent man. But a mediocre amount of intelligence is sometimes most dangerous. It does not take one far enough.’

  Sir Henry looked at her curiously.

  Fumbling a little, Miss Marple opened a small reticule, took out a little notebook, tore out a leaf, carefully wrote a name on it and folding it in two, handed it to Sir Henry.

  He opened it and read the name. It conveyed nothing to him, but his eyebrows lifted a little. He looked across at Miss Marple and tucked the piece of paper in his pocket.

  ‘Well, well,’ he said. ‘Rather an extraordinary business, this. I’ve never done anything like it before. But I’m going to back my judgment – of you, Miss Marple.’

  Sir Henry was sitting in a room with Colonel Melchett, the Chief Constable of the county, and Inspector Drewitt.

  The Chief Constable was a little man of aggressively military demeanour. The Inspector was big and broad and eminently sensible.

  ‘I really do feel I’m butting in,’ said Sir Henry with his pleasant smile. ‘I can’t really tell you why I’m doing it.’ (Strict truth this!)

  ‘My dear fellow, we’re charmed. It’s a great compliment.’

  ‘Honoured, Sir Henry,’ said the Inspector.

  The Chief Constable was thinking: ‘Bored to death, poor fellow, at the Bantrys. The old man abusing the government and the old woman babbling on about bulbs.’

  The Inspector was thinking: ‘Pity we’re not up against a real teaser. One of the best brains in England, I’ve heard it said. Pity it’s all such plain sailing.’

  Aloud, the Chief Constable said: ‘I’m afraid it’s all very sordid and straightforward. First idea was that the girl had pitched herself in. She was in the family way, you understand. However, our doctor, Haydock, is a careful fellow. He noticed the bruises on each arm – upper arm. Caused before death. Just where a fellow would have taken her by the arms and flung her in.’

  ‘Would that require much strength?’

  ‘I think not. There would be no struggle – the girl
would be taken unawares. It’s a footbridge of slippery wood. Easiest thing in the world to pitch her over – there’s no handrail that side.’

  ‘You know for a fact that the tragedy occurred there?’

  ‘Yes. We’ve got a boy – Jimmy Brown – aged twelve. He was in the woods on the other side. He heard a kind of scream from the bridge and a splash. It was dusk you know – difficult to see anything. Presently he saw something white floating down in the water and he ran and got help. They got her out, but it was too late to revive her.’

  Sir Henry nodded.

  ‘The boy saw no one on the bridge?’

  ‘No. But, as I tell you, it was dusk, and there’s mist always hanging about there. I’m going to question him as to whether he saw anyone about just afterwards or just before. You see he naturally assumed that the girl had thrown herself over. Everybody did to start with.’

  ‘Still, we’ve got the note,’ said Inspector Drewitt. He turned to Sir Henry.

  ‘Note in the dead girl’s pocket, sir. Written with a kind of artist’s pencil it was, and all of a sop though the paper was we managed to read it.’

  ‘And what did it say?’

  ‘It was from young Sandford. “All right,” that’s how it ran. “I’ll meet you at the bridge at eight-thirty. – R.S.” Well, it was near as might be to eight-thirty – a few minutes after – when Jimmy Brown heard the cry and the splash.’

  ‘I don’t know whether you’ve met Sandford at all?’ went on Colonel Melchett. ‘He’s been down here about a month. One of these modern day young architects who build peculiar houses. He’s doing a house for Allington. God knows what it’s going to be like – full of new-fangled stuff, I suppose. Glass dinner table and surgical chairs made of steel and webbing. Well, that’s neither here nor there, but it shows the kind of chap Sandford is. Bolshie, you know – no morals.’

  ‘Seduction,’ said Sir Henry mildly, ‘is quite an old-established crime though it does not, of course, date back so far as murder.’

  Colonel Melchett stared.

  ‘Oh! yes,’ he said. ‘Quite. Quite.’

  ‘Well, Sir Henry,’ said Drewitt, ‘there it is – an ugly business, but plain. This young Sandford gets the girl into trouble. Then he’s all for clearing off back to London. He’s got a girl there – nice young lady – he’s engaged to be married to her. Well, naturally this business, if she gets to hear of it, may cook his goose good and proper. He meets Rose at the bridge – it’s a misty evening, no one about – he catches her by the shoulders and pitches her in. A proper young swine – and deserves what’s coming to him. That’s my opinion.’

  Sir Henry was silent for a minute or two. He perceived a strong under-current of local prejudice. A new-fangled architect was not likely to be popular in the conservative village of St Mary Mead.

  ‘There is no doubt, I suppose, that this man, Sandford, was actually the father of the coming child?’ he asked.

  ‘He’s the father all right,’ said Drewitt. ‘Rose Emmott let out as much to her father. She thought he’d marry her. Marry her! Not he!’

  ‘Dear me,’ thought Sir Henry. ‘I seem to be back in mid-Victorian melodrama. Unsuspecting girl, the villain from London, the stern father, the betrayal – we only need the faithful village lover. Yes, I think it’s time I asked about him.’

  And aloud he said: ‘Hadn’t the girl a young man of her own down here?’

  ‘You mean Joe Ellis?’ said the Inspector. ‘Good fellow Joe. Carpentering’s his trade. Ah! If she’d stuck to Joe –’

  Colonel Melchett nodded approval. ‘Stick to your own class,’ he snapped. ‘How did Joe Ellis take this affair?’ asked Sir Henry. ‘Nobody knew how he was taking it,’ said the Inspector. ‘He’s a quiet fellow, is Joe. Close. Anything Rose did was right in his eyes. She had him on a string all right. Just hoped she’d come back to him some day – that was his attitude, I reckon.’

  ‘I’d like to see him,’ said Sir Henry. ‘Oh! We’re going to look him up,’ said Colonel Melchett. ‘We’re not neglecting any line. I thought myself we’d see Emmott first, then Sand-ford, and then we can go on and see Ellis. That suits you, Clithering?’

  Sir Henry said it would suit him admirably.

  They found Tom Emmott at the Blue Boar. He was a big burly man of middle age with a shifty eye and a truculent jaw.

  ‘Glad to see you, gentlemen – good morning, Colonel. Come in here and we can be private. Can I offer you anything, gentlemen? No? It’s as you please. You’ve come about this business of my poor girl. Ah! She was a good girl, Rose was. Always was a good girl – till this bloody swine – beg pardon, but that’s what he is – till he came along. Promised her marriage, he did. But I’ll have the law on him. Drove her to it, he did. Murdering swine. Bringing disgrace on all of us. My poor girl.’

  ‘Your daughter distinctly told you that Mr Sandford was responsible for her condition?’ asked Melchett crisply.

  ‘She did. In this very room she did.’

  ‘And what did you say to her?’ asked Sir Henry. ‘Say to her?’ The man seemed momentarily taken aback. ‘Yes. You didn’t, for example, threaten to turn her out of the house.’

  ‘I was a bit upset – that’s only natural. I’m sure you’ll agree that’s only natural. But, of course, I didn’t turn her out of the house. I wouldn’t do such a thing.’ He assumed virtuous indignation. ‘No. What’s the law for – that’s what I say. What’s the law for? He’d got to do the right by her. And if he didn’t, by God, he’d got to pay.’

  He brought down his fist on the table. ‘What time did you last see your daughter?’ asked Melchett. ‘Yesterday – tea time.’

  ‘What was her manner then?’

  ‘Well, much as usual. I didn’t notice anything. If I’d known –’

  ‘But you didn’t know,’ said the Inspector drily.

  They took their leave. ‘Emmott hardly creates a favourable impression,’ said Sir Henry thoughtfully.

  ‘Bit of a blackguard,’ said Melchett. ‘He’d have bled Sandford all right if he’d had the chance.’

  Their next call was on the architect. Rex Sandford was very unlike the picture Sir Henry had unconsciously formed of him. He was a tall young man, very fair and very thin. His eyes were blue and dreamy, his hair was untidy and rather too long. His speech was a little too ladylike.

  Colonel Melchett introduced himself and his companions. Then passing straight to the object of his visit, he invited the architect to make a statement as to his movements on the previous evening.

  ‘You understand,’ he said warningly. ‘I have no power to compel a statement from you and any statement you make may be used in evidence against you. I want the position to be quite clear to you.’

  ‘I – I don’t understand,’ said Sandford. ‘You understand that the girl Rose Emmott was drowned last night?’

  ‘I know. Oh! it’s too, too distressing. Really, I haven’t slept a wink. I’ve been incapable of any work today. I feel responsible – terribly responsible.’

  He ran his hands through his hair, making it untidier still. ‘I never meant any harm,’ he said piteously. ‘I never thought. I never dreamt she’d take it that way.’

  He sat down at a table and buried his face in his hands. ‘Do I understand you to say, Mr Sandford, that you refuse to make a statement as to where you were last night at eight-thirty?’

  ‘No, no – certainly not. I was out. I went for a walk.’

  ‘You went to meet Miss Emmott?’

  ‘No. I went by myself. Through the woods. A long way.’

  ‘Then how do you account for this note, sir, which was found in the dead girl’s pocket?’

  And Inspector Drewitt read it unemotionally aloud. ‘Now, sir,’ he finished. ‘Do you deny that you wrote that?’

  ‘No – no. You’re right. I did write it. Rose asked me to meet her. She insisted. I didn’t know what to do. So I wrote that note.’

  ‘Ah, that’s better,’ said the Inspector. ‘But
I didn’t go!’ Sandford’s voice rose high and excited. ‘I didn’t go! I felt it would be much better not. I was returning to town tomorrow. I felt it would be better not – not to meet. I intended to write from London and – and make – some arrangement.’

  ‘You are aware, sir, that this girl was going to have a child, and that she had named you as its father?’

  Sandford groaned, but did not answer. ‘Was that statement true, sir?’

  Sandford buried his face deeper. ‘I suppose so,’ he said in a muffled voice. ‘Ah!’ Inspector Drewitt could not disguise the satisfaction. ‘Now about this “walk” of yours. Is there anyone who saw you last night?’

  ‘I don’t know. I don’t think so. As far as I can remember, I didn’t meet anybody.’

  ‘That’s a pity.’

  ‘What do you mean?’ Sandford stared wildly at him. ‘What does it matter whether I was out for a walk or not? What difference does that make to Rose drowning herself?’

  ‘Ah!’ said the Inspector. ‘But you see, she didn’t. She was thrown in deliberately, Mr Sandford.’

  ‘She was –’ It took him a minute or two to take in all the horror of it. ‘My God! Then –’

  He dropped into a chair.

  Colonel Melchett made a move to depart. ‘You understand, Sandford,’ he said. ‘You are on no account to leave this house.’

  The three men left together. The Inspector and the Chief Constable exchanged glances.

  ‘That’s enough, I think, sir,’ said the Inspector. ‘Yes. Get a warrant made out and arrest him.’

  ‘Excuse me,’ said Sir Henry, ‘I’ve forgotten my gloves.’

  He re-entered the house rapidly. Sandford was sitting just as they had left him, staring dazedly in front of him.

  ‘I have come back,’ said Sir Henry, ‘to tell you that I personally, am anxious to do all I can to assist you. The motive of my interest in you I am not at liberty to reveal. But I am going to ask you, if you will, to tell me as briefly as possible exactly what passed between you and this girl Rose.’

  ‘She was very pretty,’ said Sandford. ‘Very pretty and very alluring. And – and she made a dead seat at me. Before God, that’s true. She wouldn’t let me alone. And it was lonely down here, and nobody liked me much, and – and, as I say she was amazingly pretty and she seemed to know her way about and all that –’ His voice died away. He looked up. ‘And then this happened. She wanted me to marry her. I didn’t know what to do. I’m engaged to a girl in London. If she ever gets to hear of this – and she will, of course – well, it’s all up. She won’t understand. How could she? And I’m a rotter, of course. As I say, I didn’t know what to do. I avoided seeing Rose again. I thought I’d get back to town – see my lawyer – make arrangements about money and so forth, for her. God, what a fool I’ve been! And it’s all so clear – the case against me. But they’ve made a mistake. She must have done it herself.’