A Caribbean Mystery

A Caribbean Mystery

A Caribbean Mystery 77

  Or are the past and the future all one?

  I’m a simple fellow – and I can’t pretend to understand these things – but I saw what I saw – and because of what I saw, Sylvia and I are together in the old-fashioned words – till death do us part. And perhaps beyond . . .’

  Chapter 48

  Miss Marple Tells a Story

  ‘Miss Marple Tells a Story’ was first published as ‘Behind Closed Doors’ in Home Journal, 25 May 1935.

  I don’t think I’ve ever told you, my dears – you, Raymond, and you, Joan, about the rather curious little business that happened some years ago now. I don’t want to seem vain in any way – of course I know that in comparison with you young people I’m not clever at all – Raymond writes those very modern books all about rather unpleasant young men and women – and Joan paints those very remarkable pictures of square people with curious bulges on them – very clever of you, my dear, but as Raymond always says (only quite kindly, because he is the kindest of nephews) I am hopelessly Victorian. I admire Mr Alma-Tadema and Mr Frederic Leighton and I suppose to you they seem hopelessly vieux jeu. Now let me see, what was I saying? Oh, yes – that I didn’t want to appear vain – but I couldn’t help being just a teeny weeny bit pleased with myself, because, just by applying a little common sense, I believe I really did solve a problem that had baffled cleverer heads than mine. Though really I should have thought the whole thing was obvious from the beginning . . .

  Well, I’ll tell you my little story, and if you think I’m inclined to be conceited about it, you must remember that I did at least help a fellow creature who was in very grave distress.

  The first I knew of this business was one evening about nine o’clock when Gwen – (you remember Gwen? My little maid with red hair) well – Gwen came in and told me that Mr Petherick and a gentleman had called to see me. Gwen had shown them into the drawing-room – quite rightly. I was sitting in the dining-room because in early spring I think it is so wasteful to have two fires going.

  I directed Gwen to bring in the cherry brandy and some glasses and I hurried into the drawing-room. I don’t know whether you remember Mr Petherick? He died two years ago, but he had been a friend of mine for many years as well as attending to all my legal business. A very shrewd man and a really clever solicitor. His son does my business for me now – a very nice lad and very up to date – but somehow I don’t feel quite the confidence I had with Mr Petherick.

  I explained to Mr Petherick about the fires and he said at once that he and his friend would come into the dining-room – and then he introduced his friend – a Mr Rhodes. He was a youngish man – not much over forty – and I saw at once there was something very wrong. His manner was most peculiar. One might have called it rude if one hadn’t realized that the poor fellow was suffering from strain.

  When we were settled in the dining-room and Gwen had brought the cherry brandy, Mr Petherick explained the reason for his visit.

  ‘Miss Marple,’ he said, ‘you must forgive an old friend for taking a liberty. What I have come here for is a consultation.’

  I couldn’t understand at all what he meant, and he went on: ‘In a case of illness one likes two points of view – that of the specialist and that of the family physician. It is the fashion to regard the former as of more value, but I am not sure that I agree. The specialist has experience only in his own subject – the family doctor has, perhaps, less knowledge – but a wider experience.’

  I knew just what he meant, because a young niece of mine not long before had hurried her child off to a very well-known specialist in skin diseases without consulting her own doctor whom she considered an old dodderer, and the specialist had ordered some very expensive treatment, and later found that all the child was suffering from was a rather unusual form of measles.

  I just mention this – though I have a horror of digressing – to show that I appreciate Mr Petherick’s point – but I still hadn’t any idea what he was driving at.

  ‘If Mr Rhodes is ill –’ I said, and stopped – because the poor man gave a most dreadful laugh.

  He said: ‘I expect to die of a broken neck in a few months’ time.’ And then it all came out. There had been a case of murder lately in Barnchester – a town about twenty miles away. I’m afraid I hadn’t paid much attention to it at the time, because we had been having a lot of excitement in the village about our district nurse, and outside occurrences like an earthquake in India and a murder in Barnchester, although of course far more important really – had given way to our own little local excitements. I’m afraid villages are like that. Still, I did remember having read about a woman having been stabbed in a hotel, though I hadn’t remembered her name. But now it seemed that this woman had been Mr Rhodes’s wife – and as if that wasn’t bad enough – he was actually under suspicion of having murdered her himself.

  All this Mr Petherick explained to me very clearly, saying that, although the Coronor’s jury had brought in a verdict of murder by a person or persons unknown, Mr Rhodes had reason to believe that he would probably be arrested within a day or two, and that he had come to Mr Petherick and placed himself in his hands. Mr Petherick went on to say that they had that afternoon consulted Sir Malcolm Olde, K.C., and that in the event of the case coming to trial Sir Malcolm had been briefed to defend Mr Rhodes.

  Sir Malcolm was a young man, Mr Petherick said, very up to date in his methods, and he had indicated a certain line of defence. But with that line of defence Mr Petherick was not entirely satisfied.

  ‘You see, my dear lady,’ he said, ‘it is tainted with what I call the specialist’s point of view. Give Sir Malcolm a case and he sees only one point – the most likely line of defence. But even the best line of defence may ignore completely what is, to my mind, the vital point. It takes no account of what actually happened.’

  Then he went on to say some very kind and flattering things about my acumen and judgement and my knowledge of human nature, and asked permission to tell me the story of the case in the hopes that I might be able to suggest some explanation.

  I could see that Mr Rhodes was highly sceptical of my being of any use and he was annoyed at being brought here. But Mr Petherick took no notice and proceeded to give me the facts of what occurred on the night of March 8th.

  Mr and Mrs Rhodes had been staying at the Crown Hotel in Barn-chester. Mrs Rhodes who (so I gathered from Mr Petherick’s careful language) was perhaps just a shade of a hypochondriac, had retired to bed immediately after dinner. She and her husband occupied adjoining rooms with a connecting door. Mr Rhodes, who is writing a book on prehistoric flints, settled down to work in the adjoining room. At eleven o’clock he tidied up his papers and prepared to go to bed. Before doing so, he just glanced into his wife’s room to make sure that there was nothing she wanted. He discovered the electric light on and his wife lying in bed stabbed through the heart. She had been dead at least an hour – probably longer. The following were the points made. There was another door in Mrs Rhodes’s room leading into the corridor. This door was locked and bolted on the inside. The only window in the room was closed and latched. According to Mr Rhodes nobody had passed through the room in which he was sitting except a chambermaid bringing hot-water bottles. The weapon found in the wound was a stiletto dagger which had been lying on Mrs Rhodes’s dressing-table. She was in the habit of using it as a paper knife. There were no fingerprints on it.

  The situation boiled down to this – no one but Mr Rhodes and the chambermaid had entered the victim’s room.

  I enquired about the chambermaid. ‘That was our first line of enquiry,’ said Mr Petherick. ‘Mary Hill is a local woman. She had been chambermaid at the Crown for ten years. There seems absolutely no reason why she should commit a sudden assault on a guest. She is, in any case, extraordinarily stupid, almost half-witted. Her story has never varied. She brought Mrs Rhodes her hot-water bottle and says the lady was drowsy – just dropping off to sleep. Frankly, I cannot believe, and I am sure no jury w
ould believe, that she committed the crime.’

  Mr Petherick went on to mention a few additional details. At the head of the staircase in the Crown Hotel is a kind of miniature lounge where people sometimes sit and have coffee. A passage goes off to the right and the last door in it is the door into the room occupied by Mr Rhodes. The passage then turns sharply to the right again and the first door round the corner is the door into Mrs Rhodes’s room. As it happened, both these doors could be seen by witnesses. The first door – that into Mr Rhodes’s room, which I will call A, could be seen by four people, two commercial travellers and an elderly married couple who were having coffee. According to them nobody went in or out of door A except Mr Rhodes and the chambermaid. As to the other door in the passage B, there was an electrician at work there and he also swears that nobody entered or left door B except the chambermaid.

  It was certainly a very curious and interesting case. On the face of it, it looked as though Mr Rhodes must have murdered his wife. But I could see that Mr Petherick was quite convinced of his client’s innocence and Mr Petherick was a very shrewd man.

  At the inquest Mr Rhodes had told a hesitating and rambling story about some woman who had written threatening letters to his wife. His story, I gathered, had been unconvincing in the extreme. Appealed to by Mr Petherick, he explained himself.

  ‘Frankly,’ he said, ‘I never believed it. I thought Amy had made most of it up.’

  Mrs Rhodes, I gathered, was one of those romantic liars who go through life embroidering everything that happens to them. The amount of adventures that, according to her own account, happened to her in a year was simply incredible. If she slipped on a bit of banana peel it was a case of near escape from death. If a lampshade caught fire she was rescued from a burning building at the hazard of her life. Her husband got into the habit of discounting her statements. Her tale as to some woman whose child she had injured in a motor accident and who had vowed vengeance on her – well – Mr Rhodes had simply not taken any notice of it. The incident had happened before he married his wife and although she had read him letters couched in crazy language, he had suspected her of composing them herself. She had actually done such a thing once or twice before. She was a woman of hysterical tendencies who craved ceaselessly for excitement.

  Now, all that seemed to me very natural – indeed, we have a young woman in the village who does much the same thing. The danger with such people is that when anything at all extraordinary really does happen to them, nobody believes they are speaking the truth. It seemed to me that that was what had happened in this case. The police, I gathered, merely believed that Mr Rhodes was making up this unconvincing tale in order to avert suspicion from himself.

  I asked if there had been any women staying by themselves in the hotel. It seemed there were two – a Mrs Granby, an Anglo-Indian widow, and a Miss Carruthers, rather a horsey spinster who dropped her g’s. Mr Petherick added that the most minute enquiries had failed to elicit anyone who had seen either of them near the scene of the crime and there was nothing to connect either of them with it in any way. I asked him to describe their personal appearance. He said that Mrs Granby had reddish hair rather untidily done, was sallow-faced and about fifty years of age. Her clothes were rather picturesque, being made mostly of native silk, etc. Miss Carruthers was about forty, wore pince-nez, had close-cropped hair like a man and wore mannish coats and skirts.

  ‘Dear me,’ I said, ‘that makes it very difficult.’

  Mr Petherick looked enquiringly at me, but I didn’t want to say any more just then, so I asked what Sir Malcolm Olde had said.

  Sir Malcolm was confident of being able to call conflicting medical testimony and to suggest some way of getting over the fingerprint difficulty. I asked Mr Rhodes what he thought and he said all doctors were fools but he himself couldn’t really believe that his wife had killed herself. ‘She wasn’t that kind of woman,’ he said simply – and I believed him. Hysterical people don’t usually commit suicide.

  I thought a minute and then I asked if the door from Mrs Rhodes’s room led straight into the corridor. Mr Rhodes said no – there was a little hallway with a bathroom and lavatory. It was the door from the bedroom to the hallway that was locked and bolted on the inside.

  ‘In that case,’ I said, ‘the whole thing seems remarkably simple.’ And really, you know, it did . . . the simplest thing in the world. And yet no one seemed to have seen it that way.

  Both Mr Petherick and Mr Rhodes were staring at me so that I felt quite embarrassed.

  ‘Perhaps,’ said Mr Rhodes, ‘Miss Marple hasn’t quite appreciated the difficulties.’

  ‘Yes,’ I said, ‘I think I have. There are four possibilities. Either Mrs Rhodes was killed by her husband, or by the chambermaid, or she committed suicide, or she was killed by an outsider whom nobody saw enter or leave.’

  ‘And that’s impossible,’ Mr Rhodes broke in. ‘Nobody could come in or go out through my room without my seeing them, and even if anyone did manage to come in through my wife’s room without the electrician seeing them, how the devil could they get out again leaving the door locked and bolted on the inside?’

  Mr Petherick looked at me and said: ‘Well, Miss Marple?’ in an encouraging manner.

  ‘I should like,’ I said, ‘to ask a question. Mr Rhodes, what did the chambermaid look like?’

  He said he wasn’t sure – she was tallish, he thought – he didn’t remember if she was fair or dark. I turned to Mr Petherick and asked the same question.

  He said she was of medium height, had fairish hair and blue eyes and rather a high colour.

  Mr Rhodes said: ‘You are a better observer than I am, Petherick.’

  I ventured to disagree. I then asked Mr Rhodes if he could describe the maid in my house. Neither he nor Mr Petherick could do so.

  ‘Don’t you see what that means?’ I said. ‘You both came here full of your own affairs and the person who let you in was only a parlourmaid. The same applies to Mr Rhodes at the hotel. He saw her uniform and her apron. He was engrossed by his work. But Mr Petherick has interviewed the same woman in a different capacity. He has looked at her as a person.

  ‘That’s what the woman who did the murder counted upon.’

  As they still didn’t see, I had to explain. ‘I think,’ I said, ‘that this is how it went. The chambermaid came in by door A, passed through Mr Rhodes’s room into Mrs Rhodes’s room with the hot-water bottle and went out through the hallway into passage B. X – as I will call our murderess – came in by door B into the little hallway, concealed herself in – well, in a certain apartment, ahem – and waited until the chambermaid had passed out. Then she entered Mrs Rhodes’s room, took the stiletto from the dressing table (she had doubtless explored the room earlier in the day), went up to the bed, stabbed the dozing woman, wiped the handle of the stiletto, locked and bolted the door by which she had entered, and then passed out through the room where Mr Rhodes was working.’

  Mr Rhodes cried out: ‘But I should have seen her. The electrician would have seen her go in.’

  ‘No,’ I said. ‘That’s where you’re wrong. You wouldn’t see her – not if she were dressed as a chambermaid.’ I let it sink in, then I went on, ‘You were engrossed in your work – out of the tail of your eye you saw a chambermaid come in, go into your wife’s room, come back and go out. It was the same dress – but not the same woman. That’s what the people having coffee saw – a chambermaid go in and a chambermaid come out. The electrician did the same. I dare say if a chambermaid were very pretty a gentleman might notice her face – human nature being what it is – but if she were just an ordinary middle-aged woman – well – it would be the chambermaid’s dress you would see – not the woman herself.’

  Mr Rhodes cried: ‘Who was she?’

  ‘Well,’ I said, ‘that is going to be a little difficult. It must be either Mrs Granby or Miss Carruthers. Mrs Granby sounds as though she might wear a wig normally – so she could wear her own hair as
a chambermaid. On the other hand, Miss Carruthers with her close-cropped mannish head might easily put on a wig to play her part. I dare say you will find out easily enough which of them it is. Personally, I incline myself to think it will be Miss Carruthers.’

  And really, my dears, that is the end of the story. Carruthers was a false name, but she was the woman all right. There was insanity in her family. Mrs Rhodes, who was a most reckless and dangerous driver, had run over her little girl, and it had driven the poor woman off her head. She concealed her madness very cunningly except for writing distinctly insane latters to her intended victim. She had been following her about for some time, and she laid her plans very cleverly. The false hair and maid’s dress she posted in a parcel first thing the next morning. When taxed with the truth she broke down and confessed at once. The poor thing is in Broadmoor now. Completely unbalanced of course, but a very cleverly planned crime.

  Mr Petherick came to me afterwards and brought me a very nice letter from Mr Rhodes – really, it made me blush. Then my old friend said to me: ‘Just one thing – why did you think it was more likely to be Carruthers than Granby? You’d never seen either of them.’

  ‘Well,’ I said. ‘It was the g’s. You said she dropped her g’s. Now, that’s done by a lot of hunting people in books, but I don’t know many people who do it in reality – and certainly no one under sixty. You said this woman was forty. Those dropped g’s sounded to me like a woman who was playing a part and over-doing it.’

  I shan’t tell you what Mr Petherick said to that – but he was very complimentary – and I really couldn’t help feeling just a teeny weeny bit pleased with myself.

  And it’s extraordinary how things turn out for the best in this world. Mr Rhodes has married again – such a nice, sensible girl – and they’ve got a dear little baby and – what do you think? – they asked me to be godmother. Wasn’t it nice of them?