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A Caribbean Mystery

A Caribbean Mystery

A Caribbean Mystery 88


  ‘But who – why?’

  ‘As to who – well, if they are playing A Kiss for Cinderella, a policeman is the principal character. Nat Fletcher would only have to help himself to the costume he wears on the stage. He’d ask his way at a garage being careful to call attention to the time – twelve twenty-five, then drive on quickly, leave his car round a corner, slip on his police uniform and do his “act”.’

  ‘But why? – why?’

  ‘Someone had to lock the housekeeper’s door on the outside, and someone had to drive the arrow through Miss Greenshaw’s throat. You can stab anyone with an arrow just as well as by shooting it – but it needs force.’

  ‘You mean they were both in it?’

  ‘Oh yes, I think so. Mother and son as likely as not.’

  ‘But Miss Greenshaw’s sister died long ago.’

  ‘Yes, but I’ve no doubt Mr Fletcher married again. He sounds the sort of man who would, and I think it possible that the child died too, and that this so-called nephew was the second wife’s child, and not really a relation at all. The woman got a post as housekeeper and spied out the land. Then he wrote as her nephew and proposed to call upon her – he may have made some joking reference to coming in his policeman’s uniform – or asked her over to see the play. But I think she suspected the truth and refused to see him. He would have been her heir if she had died without making a will – but of course once she had made a will in the housekeeper’s favour (as they thought) then it was clear sailing.’

  ‘But why use an arrow?’ objected Joan. ‘So very far fetched.’

  ‘Not far fetched at all, dear. Alfred belonged to an archery club – Alfred was meant to take the blame. The fact that he was in the pub as early as twelve twenty was most unfortunate from their point of view. He always left a little before his proper time and that would have been just right –’ she shook her head. ‘It really seems all wrong – morally, I mean, that Alfred’s laziness should have saved his life.’

  The inspector cleared his throat.

  ‘Well, madam, these suggestions of yours are very interesting. I shall have, of course, to investigate –’

  Miss Marple and Raymond West stood by the rockery and looked down at that gardening basket full of dying vegetation.

  Miss Marple murmured: ‘Alyssum, saxifrage, cytisus, thimble campanula . . . Yes, that’s all the proof I need. Whoever was weeding here yesterday morning was no gardener – she pulled up plants as well as weeds. So now I know I’m right. Thank you, dear Raymond, for bringing me here. I wanted to see the place for myself.’

  She and Raymond both looked up at the outrageous pile of Green-shaw’s Folly.

  A cough made them turn. A handsome young man was also looking at the house.

  ‘Plaguey big place,’ he said. ‘Too big for nowadays – or so they say. I dunno about that. If I won a football pool and made a lot of money, that’s the kind of house I’d like to build.’

  He smiled bashfully at them. ‘Reckon I can say so now – that there house was built by my great-grandfather,’ said Alfred Pollock. ‘And a fine house it is, for all they call it Greenshaw’s Folly!’

  Chapter 55

  The Dressmaker’s Doll

  ‘The Dressmaker’s Doll’ was first published in Woman’s Journal, December 1958.

  The doll lay in the big velvet-covered chair. There was not much light in the room; the London skies were dark. In the gentle, greyish-green gloom, the sage-green coverings and the curtains and the rugs all blended with each other. The doll blended, too. She lay long and limp and sprawled in her green-velvet clothes and her velvet cap and the painted mask of her face. She was the Puppet Doll, the whim of Rich Women, the doll who lolls beside the telephone, or among the cushions of the divan. She sprawled there, eternally limp and yet strangely alive. She looked a decadent product of the twentieth century.

  Sybil Fox, hurrying in with some patterns and a sketch, looked at the doll with a faint feeling of surprise and bewilderment. She wondered – but whatever she wondered did not get to the front of her mind. Instead, she thought to herself, ‘Now, what’s happened to the pattern of the blue velvet? Wherever have I put it? I’m sure I had it here just now.’ She went out on the landing and called up to the workroom.

  ‘Elspeth, Elspeth, have you the blue pattern up there? Mrs Fellows-Brown will be here any minute now.’

  She went in again, switching on the lights. Again she glanced at the doll. ‘Now where on earth – ah, there it is.’ She picked the pattern up from where it had fallen from her hand. There was the usual creak outside on the landing as the elevator came to a halt and in a minute or two Mrs Fellows-Brown, accompanied by her Pekinese, came puffing into the room rather like a fussy local train arriving at a wayside station.

  ‘It’s going to pour,’ she said, ‘simply pour!’

  She threw off her gloves and a fur. Alicia Coombe came in. She didn’t always come in nowadays, only when special customers arrived, and Mrs Fellows-Brown was such a customer.

  Elspeth, the forewoman of the workroom, came down with the frock and Sybil pulled it over Mrs Fellows-Brown’s head.

  ‘There,’ she said, ‘I think it’s good. Yes, it’s definitely a success.’

  Mrs Fellows-Brown turned sideways and looked in the mirror. ‘I must say,’ she said, ‘your clothes do do something to my behind.’

  ‘You’re much thinner than you were three months ago,’ Sybil assured her.

  ‘I’m really not,’ said Mrs Fellows-Brown, ‘though I must say I look it in this. There’s something about the way you cut, it really does minimize my behind. I almost look as though I hadn’t got one – I mean only the usual kind that most people have.’ She sighed and gingerly smoothed the troublesome portion of her anatomy. ‘It’s always been a bit of a trial to me,’ she said. ‘Of course, for years I could pull it in, you know, by sticking out my front. Well, I can’t do that any longer because I’ve got a stomach now as well as a behind. And I mean – well, you can’t pull it in both ways, can you?’

  Alicia Coombe said, ‘You should see some of my customers!’

  Mrs Fellows-Brown experimented to and fro. ‘A stomach is worse than a behind,’ she said. ‘It shows more. Or perhaps you think it does, because, I mean, when you’re talking to people you’re facing them and that’s the moment they can’t see your behind but they can notice your stomach. Anyway, I’ve made it a rule to pull in my stomach and let my behind look after itself.’ She craned her neck round still farther, then said suddenly, ‘Oh, that doll of yours! She gives me the creeps. How long have you had her?’

  Sybil glanced uncertainly at Alicia Coombe, who looked puzzled but vaguely distressed.

  ‘I don’t know exactly . . . some time I think – I never can remember things. It’s awful nowadays – I simply cannot remember. Sybil, how long have we had her?’

  Sybil said shortly, ‘I don’t know.’

  ‘Well,’ said Mrs Fellows-Brown, ‘she gives me the creeps. Uncanny! She looks, you know, as though she was watching us all, and perhaps laughing in that velvet sleeve of hers. I’d get rid of her if I were you.’ She gave a little shiver, then she plunged once more into dressmaking details. Should she or should she not have the sleeves an inch shorter? And what about the length? When all these important points were settled satisfactorily, Mrs Fellows-Brown resumed her own garments and prepared to leave. As she passed the doll, she turned her head again.

  ‘No,’ she said, ‘I don’t like that doll. She looks too much as though she belonged here. It isn’t healthy.’

  ‘Now what did she mean by that?’ demanded Sybil, as Mrs Fellows-Brown departed down the stairs.

  Before Alicia Coombe could answer, Mrs Fellows-Brown returned, poking her head round the door.

  ‘Good gracious, I forgot all about Fou-Ling. Where are you, ducksie? Well, I never!’

  She stared and the other two women stared, too. The Pekinese was sitting by the green-velvet chair, staring up at the limp doll sprawled on it. Th
ere was no expression, either of pleasure or resentment, on his small, pop-eyed face. He was merely looking.

  ‘Come along, mum’s darling,’ said Mrs Fellows-Brown.

  Mum’s darling paid no attention whatever. ‘He gets more disobedient every day,’ said Mrs Fellows-Brown, with the air of one cataloguing a virtue. ‘Come on, Fou-Ling. Dindins. Luffly liver.’

  Fou-Ling turned his head about an inch and a half towards his mistress, then with disdain resumed his appraisal of the doll.

  ‘She’s certainly made an impression on him,’ said Mrs Fellows-Brown. ‘I don’t think he’s ever noticed her before. I haven’t either. Was she here last time I came?’

  The other two women looked at each other. Sybil now had a frown on her face, and Alicia Coombe said, wrinkling up her forehead, ‘I told you – I simply can’t remember anything nowadays. How long have we had her, Sybil?’

  ‘Where did she come from?’ demanded Mrs Fellows-Brown. ‘Did you buy her?’

  ‘Oh no.’ Somehow Alicia Coombe was shocked at the idea. ‘Oh no. I suppose – I suppose someone gave her to me.’ She shook her head. ‘Maddening!’ she exclaimed. ‘Absolutely maddening, when everything goes out of your head the very moment after it’s happened.’

  ‘Now don’t be stupid, Fou-Ling,’ said Mrs Fellows-Brown sharply. ‘Come on. I’ll have to pick you up.’

  She picked him up. Fou-Ling uttered a short bark of agonized protest. They went out of the room with Fou-Ling’s pop-eyed face turned over his fluffy shoulder, still staring with enormous attention at the doll on the chair . . .

  ‘That there doll,’ said Mrs Groves, ‘fair gives me the creeps, it does.’ Mrs Groves was the cleaner. She had just finished a crablike progress backwards along the floor. Now she was standing up and working slowly round the room with a duster.

  ‘Funny thing,’ said Mrs Groves, ‘never noticed it really until yesterday. And then it hit me all of a sudden, as you might say.’

  ‘You don’t like it?’ asked Sybil. ‘I tell you, Mrs Fox, it gives me the creeps,’ said the cleaning woman.

  ‘It ain’t natural, if you know what I mean. All those long hanging legs and the way she’s slouched down there and the cunning look she has in her eye. It doesn’t look healthy, that’s what I say.’

  ‘You’ve never said anything about her before,’ said Sybil. ‘I tell you, I never noticed her – not till this morning . . . Of course I know she’s been here some time but –’ She stopped and a puzzled expression flitted across her face. ‘Sort of thing you might dream of at night,’ she said, and gathering up various cleaning implements she departed from the fitting-room and walked across the landing to the room on the other side.

  Sybil stared at the relaxed doll. An expression of bewilderment was growing on her face. Alicia Coombe entered and Sybil turned sharply.

  ‘Miss Coombe, how long have you had this creature?’

  ‘What, the doll? My dear, you know I can’t remember things. Yesterday – why, it’s too silly! – I was going out to that lecture and I hadn’t gone halfway down the street when I suddenly found I couldn’t remember where I was going. I thought and I thought. Finally I told myself it must be Fortnums. I knew there was something I wanted to get at Fort-nums. Well, you won’t believe me, it wasn’t till I actually got home and was having some tea that I remembered about the lecture. Of course, I’ve always heard that people go gaga as they get on in life, but it’s happening to me much too fast. I’ve forgotten now where I’ve put my handbag – and my spectacles, too. Where did I put those spectacles? I had them just now – I was reading something in The Times.’

  ‘The spectacles are on the mantelpiece here,’ said Sybil, handing them to her. ‘How did you get the doll? Who gave her to you?’

  ‘That’s a blank, too,’ said Alicia Coombe. ‘Somebody gave her to me or sent her to me, I suppose . . . However, she does seem to match the room very well, doesn’t she?’

  ‘Rather too well, I think,’ said Sybil. ‘Funny thing is, I can’t remember when I first noticed her here.’

  ‘Now don’t you get the same way as I am,’ Alicia Coombe admonished her. ‘After all, you’re young still.’

  ‘But really, Miss Coombe, I don’t remember. I mean, I looked at her yesterday and thought there was something – well, Mrs Groves is quite right – something creepy about her. And then I thought I’d already thought so, and then I tried to remember when I first thought so, and – well, I just couldn’t remember anything! In a way, it was as if I’d never seen her before – only it didn’t feel like that. It felt as though she’d been here a long time but I’d only just noticed her.’

  ‘Perhaps she flew in through the window one day on a broomstick,’ said Alicia Coombe. ‘Anyway, she belongs here now all right.’ She looked round. ‘You could hardly imagine the room without her, could you?’

  ‘No,’ said Sybil, with a slight shiver, ‘but I rather wish I could.’

  ‘Could what?’

  ‘Imagine the room without her.’

  ‘Are we all going barmy about this doll?’ demanded Alicia Coombe impatiently. ‘What’s wrong with the poor thing? Looks like a decayed cabbage to me, but perhaps,’ she added, ‘that’s because I haven’t got spectacles on.’ She put them on her nose and looked firmly at the doll. ‘Yes,’ she said, ‘I see what you mean. She is a little creepy . . . Sad-looking but – well, sly and rather determined, too.’

  ‘Funny,’ said Sybil, ‘Mrs Fellows-Brown taking such a violent dislike to her.’

  ‘She’s one who never minds speaking her mind,’ said Alicia Coombe. ‘But it’s odd,’ persisted Sybil, ‘that this doll should make such an impression on her.’

  ‘Well, people do take dislikes very suddenly sometimes.’

  ‘Perhaps,’ said Sybil with a little laugh, ‘that doll never was here until yesterday . . . Perhaps she just – flew in through the window, as you say, and settled herself here.’

  ‘No,’ said Alicia Coombe, ‘I’m sure she’s been here some time. Perhaps she only became visible yesterday.’

  ‘That’s what I feel, too,’ said Sybil, ‘that she’s been here some time . . . but all the same I don’t remember really seeing her till yesterday.’

  ‘Now, dear,’ said Alicia Coombe briskly, ‘do stop it. You’re making me feel quite peculiar with shivers running up and down my spine. You’re not going to work up a great deal of supernatural hoo-hah about that creature, are you?’ She picked up the doll, shook it out, rearranged its shoulders, and sat it down again on another chair. Immediately the doll flopped slightly and relaxed.

  ‘It’s not a bit lifelike,’ said Alicia Coombe, staring at the doll. ‘And yet, in a funny way, she does seem alive, doesn’t she?’

  ‘Oo, it did give me a turn,’ said Mrs Groves, as she went round the showroom, dusting. ‘Such a turn as I hardly like to go into the fitting-room any more.’

  ‘What’s given you a turn?’ demanded Miss Coombe who was sitting at a writing-table in the corner, busy with various accounts. ‘This woman,’ she added more for her own benefit than that of Mrs Groves, ‘thinks she can have two evening dresses, three cocktail dresses, and a suit every year without ever paying me a penny for them! Really, some people!’

  ‘It’s that doll,’ said Mrs Groves. ‘What, our doll again?’

  ‘Yes, sitting up there at the desk, like a human. Oo, it didn’t half give me a turn!’

  ‘What are you talking about?’

  Alicia Coombe got up, strode across the room, across the landing outside, and into the room opposite – the fitting-room. There was a small Sheraton desk in one corner of it, and there, sitting in a chair drawn up to it, her long floppy arms on the desk, sat the doll.

  ‘Sombody seems to have been having fun,’ said Alicia Coombe. ‘Fancy sitting her up like that. Really, she looks quite natural.’

  Sybil Fox came down the stairs at this moment, carrying a dress that was to be tried on that morning.

  ‘Come here, Sybil. Look a
t our doll sitting at my private desk and writing letters now.’

  The two women looked. ‘Really,’ said Alicia Coombe, ‘it’s too ridiculous! I wonder who propped her up there. Did you?’

  ‘No, I didn’t,’ said Sybil. ‘It must have been one of the girls from upstairs.’

  ‘A silly sort of joke, really,’ said Alicia Coombe. She picked up the doll from the desk and threw her back on the sofa.

  Sybil laid the dress over a chair carefully, then she went out and up the stairs to the workroom.

  ‘You know the doll,’ she said, ‘the velvet doll in Miss Coombe’s room downstairs – in the fitting room?’

  The forewoman and three girls looked up. ‘Yes, miss, of course we know.’

  ‘Who sat her up at the desk this morning for a joke?’

  The three girls looked at her, then Elspeth, the forewoman, said, ‘Sat her up at the desk? I didn’t.’

  ‘Nor did I,’ said one of the girls. ‘Did you, Marlene?’ Marlene shook her head.

  ‘This your bit of fun, Elspeth?’

  ‘No, indeed,’ said Elspeth, a stern woman who looked as though her mouth should always be filled with pins. ‘I’ve more to do than going about playing with dolls and sitting them up at desks.’

  ‘Look here,’ said Sybil, and to her surprise her voice shook slightly. ‘It was – it was quite a good joke, only I’d just like to know who did it.’

  The three girls bristled. ‘We’ve told you, Mrs Fox. None of us did it, did we, Marlene?’

  ‘I didn’t,’ said Marlene, ‘and if Nellie and Margaret say they didn’t, well then, none of us did.’

  ‘You’ve heard what I had to say,’ said Elspeth. ‘What’s this all about anyway, Mrs Fox?’

  ‘Perhaps it was Mrs Groves?’ said Marlene.

  Sybil shook her head. ‘It wouldn’t be Mrs Groves. It gave her quite a turn.’

  ‘I’ll come down and see for myself,’ said Elspeth. ‘She’s not there now,’ said Sybil. ‘Miss Coombe took her away from the desk and threw her back on the sofa. Well –’ she paused – ‘what I mean is, someone must have stuck her up there in the chair at the writing-desk – thinking it was funny. I suppose. And – and I don’t see why they won’t say so.’