“…I’m so grateful to the judges for thinking of me. The money will be so helpful in giving me time to work on my next book without having to think of earning my living. I already have a plan for it. It’s going to be a historical novel following a poor family through three generations, up to the war. I have a great a deal of material to get inspiration from, thanks to the local historical society — I’ll be going through old land deeds, letters, news clippings, all kinds of odds and ends to add as much texture to the book as I can. I do think…”
The young woman paused for a moment and caught her breath. Her speech had been very smooth when she had been graciously accepting the award, but she’d become increasingly flushed and excited as she’d talked about her work. It was a good look on her; she had that healthful, robust style of beauty. She looked around the dining room, catching the audience’s eyes engagingly before looking down.
“I do think,” she said with a hint of timidity, “that it’s the small details that make a work feel true, even if everything around it is made up. I mean,” she added more definitely, “we are writing fictions, not histories.” More calmly, as though realizing she had wandered outside of what her audience wanted to hear, she finished, “There’s such a great wealth of material for me to explore, full of secrets that have been lying out of sight for years gathering dust in the corners that I can bring out into the light and use. Now that I have this opportunity, I’m going to make everything I can of it, starting tomorrow. Thank you.”
She bowed towards the table where the judges were seated, then stepped away from the lectern to retake her own empty seat at that table.
Her name was Annie Rose, and she was the Distinguished Young Writer being honored at this year’s Distinguished Young Writers’ Awards Ceremony, which Mrs. Ariadne Oliver had been forced to attend by her publisher; they had made a contribution, bought a seat, and therefore one of their best-known authors would have to go. Mrs. Oliver did not feel the compliment at all. Mostly what she felt was hunger; the speeches had gone on forever, and she was rather grateful to Annie Rose for taking so little time with hers, even if she had gotten distracted. Now the food could be served.
Mrs. Oliver tried not to lay into it too ravenously and only partly succeeded. At least the cooking at these events was always better when they took place in private houses.
She looked at the owner of the house, who was seated at the judges' table: Mr. Lewis Eastman, entrepreneur. He had once been attractive, perhaps, but was now sloppy around the jowls and balding, and dressed himself as though he wanted to be taken for an American. His speech and been the longest and most trying. Mrs. Oliver had exchanged only a few words with him, but she was determined to despise him, however good a kitchen he kept; that was probably the doing of his wife, anyway: she was a thin, dark, slightly haggard-looking woman of around forty, sitting quietly to one side him.
On Mr. Eastman’s other side was the Duchess who had been forced to sell this house to him but had somehow managed to twist his arm into keeping the Awards Ceremony here. Next to her was a little old man who had mincingly delivered a rather good (and brief!) speech about Miss Rose’s work, accurately pointing out its genuine points of value and deftly avoiding its youthful flaws. Now, however, he was fawning on the Duchess, more like a lapdog than the spaniel actually occupying the Duchess’s black crepe covered lap.
The last person at the table, seated between Mrs. Eastman and Miss Rose, was Arthur Mason, a slick-looking screenwriter particularly disliked by Mrs. Oliver after a failed attempt to adapt one of her books for the screen. He was being very charming to Mrs. Eastman.
Mrs. Oliver had a bad habit of casting people in detective stories. Mr. Mason would be an excellent victim — perhaps she was being biased there — and Annie Rose would be a perfect unlikely murderess — though Mrs. Oliver thought that if she cast Annie Rose as a murderess, she would find it hard to let her be caught. Hard to stomach the thought of that round, lively face standing trial. Suicide to escape punishment, she decided, tucking back another mouthful of excellent roast quail.
When she was no longer likely to start eating the tableware, she returned her attention to her own table. There were four male novelists, all of whom she had met glancingly before and had no wish to speak to again, and one elderly woman who was a complete stranger. She was a very proper old lady, about a hundred at a glance, dressed in lace, also watching the next table with a certain look of interest. Did she write gardening books, perhaps? Or was she one of those prim Victorian types whose minds were secretly oozing with sex? Mrs. Oliver entertained herself by thinking of the pen names responsible for the most lurid works of the day and wondering which the old lady might be behind.
Mrs. Oliver came to a rapid decision. She heaved herself up and dumped herself onto the empty seat between herself and the old lady and opened her mouth.
“Hullo, I haven’t seen you at one of these things before, are you dreadfully bored? It’s so rotten not knowing anyone, and we women writers are still a besieged breed. We must stick together. I’m Ariadne Oliver.”
The old lady gave a small start, looked at Ariadne Oliver, then answered in a dithering way: “I’m so sorry, I’m afraid I’m not a writer myself. My name is Jane Marple. My nephew is the novelist Raymond West — I suppose you’ve heard of him?”
Mrs. Oliver agreed that she had and said something pleasantly neutral about his books.
“Thank you,” said Miss Marple absently. “Dear Raymond takes such good care of me. He bought a seat because he likes the work the organization does for young writers, but he and his wife are going away just now, so he insisted I go in his place and have some fun. He worries so much that I don’t have enough interest in my life. I beg your pardon, did you say that you were Ariadne Oliver? Ariadne Oliver the mystery writer?”
Mrs. Oliver sadly agreed that she was herself. She was already regretting the conversation.
“But how wonderful,” said Miss Marple. “I read a story of yours recently, and there’s something I’d like to ask you about.”
Mrs. Oliver’s regrets deepened.
“It’s the necklace,” Miss Marple said positively.
It had not been what Mrs. Oliver had expected.
“I’m going to tell it all backwards. It was the one with the international crime ring.”
“Terrible dreck,” murmured Mrs. Oliver automatically.
“Oh, I couldn’t say,” said Miss Marple neutrally, then continued: “There was a scene where the young woman who’s about to be kidnapped is sitting in a hotel lobby and notices a necklace around the neck of a statue. A big diamond surrounded by six emeralds, arranged like a daisy. I wondered if you had seen that necklace somewhere. Of course you may only have made it up out of your head, and there may be more than one necklace in the world like that…”
Miss Marple’s voice faced away.
“Oh, I see!” said Mrs. Oliver. She was beginning to be just a little intrigued. “I saw it at Chatham’s Hotel in Brighton while I was working on the book, in fact. It was so peculiar-looking I knew it would be perfect to dress up an otherwise boring fill-in scene. Really the girl wasn't the type to notice that sort of thing — pretty dim, the way I wrote her — but I couldn’t resist. A writer’s bad habit. Taking bits of the real world to make a thing feel true. Like that nice Rose girl was saying.”
“Now that’s very interesting. Very interesting indeed. There was an actress, Hilda Avery, who had a necklace like that four or five years ago. I saw her wearing it once in a play — I had a very good seat, thanks to Raymond, again. A nephew of hers, I believe, went to jail for it, but it was never found. I wonder what it was doing in Brighton… when? A year ago? I’m afraid I’m not very clear on how publishing works.”
“It would have been about a year ago,” said Mrs. Oliver, very much amused. “I wonder if it would be worth going back there and seeing about it. Perhaps there was a miscarriage of justice. The police are so incompetent.”
“I suppose,” said Miss Marple evenly, in the sort of tone that meant she disagreed but was too polite to say so.
Mrs. Oliver laughed. “You’ll see. If we have a murder here, no doubt the police will botch it.”
“I hope we won’t,” said Miss Marple quietly but firmly, then changed the subject. “What do you think of Miss Rose’s writing?”
“It’s not in my line — a lot of serious drama and solemn reflections about the state of the world — but it’s solid, and it isn’t the usual sensational tripe. I mean,” said Mrs. Oliver quickly, reflecting that her interlocutor’s dear nephew wrote exactly the sort of thing she referred to as sensational tripe, “that it’s always good to see a young person with her own point of view.”
“I perfectly understand you,” said Miss Marple with a slight smile. “She isn’t such a very young writer, is she?”
The two of them surreptitiously considered Annie Rose, now speaking to Lewis Eastman, who had come up to stand behind her. There was a bit of sullenness not very well hidden in her expression.
“Near thirty, I should say,” said Mrs. Oliver.
“Very well dressed,” said Miss Marple, and then she paused, very notably.
Mrs. Oliver looked at the old lady scrutinizingly.
“Well,” she continued diffidently after a moment, “she doesn’t seem like the type to know how to be well-dressed. So many of these young women don’t mean to be sloppy, they’ve just had no one to teach them.”
There was no opportunity for Mrs. Oliver to say she really didn’t know what Miss Marple meant; yelling broke out at the next table. It was Mr. Eastman doing the yelling.
“Why can’t I talk to a girl without being suspected of some kind of perversion? What kind of a world are we living in? Am I supposed to let her talk about me like that? No, I won’t, don’t you start with me, Ruth, I’m perfectly — I am not drunk, I — take your hands off me, Mason, ten of you writer types couldn’t take me in a fair fight, I’d snap you like a twig — what the Devil — "
“None of that, now, sir.”
The voice was level and deep, almost melodious. It belonged to the big, pleasant-looking police inspector who had been invited as a local dignitary and had been relegated to a table by the door. He had crossed the room slowly but accurately to the center of the dispute and had put a friendly but probably rather heavy hand on Mr. Eastman’s shoulder.
Lewis Eastman met his eyes belligerently, grumbled, “I’m not the one making trouble,” and glared around his whole table, ending on Annie Rose, who looked down at her plate. Her face was flushed. The fork in her hand was shaking, though the hand did not seem to be.
“Lewis,” said Ruth Eastman. She had a quiet voice. She didn’t look at her husband when she spoke. Her somewhat dark face had gone ashen.
Lewis Eastman sniffed disdainfully and sat down. The inspector hovered over the table for a moment longer, looking from one diner to another with calm scrutiny, then went back to his seat.
It wasn’t long before Arthur Mason broke the dead silence with an inane story about the time he had worked in Hollywood — Ariadne Oliver was for once grateful for his wealth of pompous stories — but the atmosphere did not really recover, and everyone was grateful for the scheduled end of the evening.
Some of the guests, including Miss Marple, had taken rooms at the local inns, and some were leaving that very night. Mrs. Oliver’s publisher’s contribution had merited a room in the big house. The two women parted on good terms and agreed to meet in the house’s grounds the next day. The writer’s retreat portion of the gathering was of course useless for getting any writing done, but if one were on vacation already, one might as well enjoy it.
Mrs. Oliver was awoken by a maid banging her way in through the door. It was unusual; the maids at these places were always extremely well-trained. She wasn’t at all surprised when her murmured “Is anything the matter?” brought forth an out-pouring.
“Oh, it’s Mr. Eastman! He’s been killed! Gassed in the greenhouse with those nasty bug chemicals! The police came an hour ago and it’s meant to be Miss Rose who’s done it!”
Mrs. Oliver sat up at her bedside and rubbed her eyes. She felt her brain had perhaps not entirely woken up. It was just starting to get light outside. She stared rather stupidly at the maid.
“Mr. Eastman — killed? What about Annie Rose? Greenhouse?”
Annie Rose, the perfect unlikely murderess — Mrs. Oliver cursed her own imagination. Why couldn’t she keep it in check? She didn’t even know what had happened yet, but she felt responsible.
“Miss Rose does the gardening,” the maid explained. “He was in there this morning, with the door stopped up from the outside, in the little sealed room inside, and the gas for the pests had been turned on. Miss Rose was supposed to be up early today to see to the greenhouse…”
This was a little clearer. Mrs. Oliver drank the coffee the maid brought her a little later and thought, A man is dead. She didn’t feel very sorry for it — she wanted to, and was a little horrified that she couldn’t, but there was not much she could see to regret about Lewis Eastman — but she did feel simply awful about Annie Rose.
And even if she did it, Mrs. Oliver thought defiantly, so what?
“I see what you mean,” said Miss Marple a little later in the morning when Mrs. Oliver had expressed the same idea to her, “but I’m afraid that when there is a murder, the murderer must be caught. I do hope it wasn’t Miss Rose.”
They were walking out in the grounds, earlier than they had agreed. Miss Marple had come over looking rather rushed and flustered, saying she had slept badly and decided to get an early start. Mrs. Oliver had politely not mentioned that she could see right through that. Naturally she had heard about the murder.
“Then let’s see who else it could have been. I’m sure two intelligent women like ourselves will have it ten times easier figuring it out than the police — that Inspector What’s-his-name didn’t look very bright.”
“Inspector Hudson,” Miss Marple put in. “His sister runs the inn I’m staying at. She was telling me how lucky it is that he was posted here after his promotion.”
“Hudson,” Mrs. Oliver agreed absently, her thoughts already running ahead. “Let’s see who else could have done it. There’s the wife, of course.”
“Her motive?” asked Miss Marple. Her voice was a little interesting, and so was the look she gave Ariadne Oliver.
“I expect he beats her,” Mrs. Oliver said at random.
Miss Marple answered gravely: “You may be right.”
Mrs. Oliver stared at her, train of thought immediately disrupted.
“Oh, I don’t know anything, of course,” said Miss Maple, embarrassed, “but it does happen, one can’t pretend that it doesn’t, and I thought when I saw Mr. Eastman that he reminded me of someone… Now I’m sure it was William Hart, the banker. There were people who never liked him, but he did have a kind of charm, and it worked on Molly Sampson… and three years later he pushed her down the stairs, and she was lucky to live, and old Mr. Sampson, her father, who was such a gentle man, nearly came to blows with him before he agreed to leave… not a nice man, it turned out.”
“What happened to Molly Sampson?”
“She took a secretarial course and moved to the city when her poor father passed on. I believe she’s remarried. One hopes the second match is happier.”
There was not very much optimism in Miss Marple’s voice. Mrs. Oliver was beginning to realize that the old lady did not think very well of people in general. Well, all these Victorian relics did have nasty, suspicious minds. That would make her a useful ally in investigating a murder.
“Who else?” said Mrs. Oliver. “There’s Mason, of course. I think he likes Mrs. Eastman. But I don’t know if any of his sort have it in them to commit a murder. Perhaps it was the Duchess. Enraged at her failing family fortunes, lashing out at the symbol of crude modernity who’s taken over her inheritance, that kind of thing.”
“I don’t think it’s very likely,” said Miss Marple. “At least, I should think it was more likely if the Duchess hadn’t left for the Riviera last night. I had a chat with her friend at the judge’s table,” she admitted primly.
“Ah, there you are. But the poison gas thingy was on a timer, I asked the handyman about it. It could have been set to go off just then to give her an alibi… No, he was locked in, wasn’t he? Someone would have heard him trying to bang his way out in the middle of the night… That’s supposing he died this morning. He may have been lying there all night. The fact is,” announced Mrs. Oliver, “that we’ll have to talk to the police to find out some details.”
“The police will want to question you, as you were in the house,” said Miss Marple. “See what they’ll tell you. I think I’d like to speak to Mrs. Eastman.”
Mrs. Oliver was forced to wait three quarters of an hour while the police questioned other occupants of the house, but then at last they came naturally to her. She went and sat down in the study across from the inspector. His sergeant, a red-faced young man, was taking notes off to one side.
She answered the usual questions about her name and position and business, explained that she hadn’t known anything of the victim before meeting him yesterday afternoon on arrival, narrated how she had found out about the murder from the maid this morning —
“What time, Mrs. Oliver?”
“Oh, I don’t know. I was practically still asleep. It was seven-thirty by the time I was dressed. I expect it was… a quarter to seven when the made came in? You’ll have a better idea if you look back at when you got here and saw the body and all that… Had he been dead very long when you got here?”
Inspector Hudson blinked slowly at her.
“I’m very interested in how the police work,” she explained. “People always think I know a lot about crime solving, but really I just make things up and hope not too many people complain about the blunders. I try to pick things up here and there when I have the chance.”
“Mr. Eastman had been dead less than an hour when we got here after Annie Rose found him and told the housekeeper to call us in,” said Inspector Hudson.
Mrs. Oliver stared at him. “Annie Rose found him? But then why do you think that she’s done it?”
“Now who told you that?” asked Inspector Hudson suspiciously. “Miss Rose hasn’t been arrested.”
“One hears things… But don’t you think she did it, then? Because she couldn’t have done,” Mrs. Oliver asserted positively. “She’s simply not that kind of girl. Why would she want to?”
“He made a pass at her at dinner last night,” said the inspector evenly. “You witnessed it, along with me and everyone else in the room.” Before Mrs. Oliver could object that that was hardly sufficient, he continued: “And the servants have told us that that wasn’t his first attempt to try it on with her. She works in the house and has a room here. Mr. Eastman wasn’t very in control of his urges.”
“Men!” said Ariadne Oliver feelingly.
“Indeed, Mrs. Oliver.” He didn’t elaborate, and he didn’t need to.
“But wouldn’t his wife have motive, then, if he was often running after other women? And what about angry husbands? And what about his business — businessmen often have enemies, don’t they? Anyone might have killed him. And if Annie Rose reported finding the body…”
“Ah, well. Women novelists and murderers can both be clever sometimes,” said Inspector Hudson. “I think you’d pull off a clever murder if you tried, ma’am.”
“I would not,” said Mrs. Oliver with dignity. Inspector Hudson was clearly a buffoon; as she’d expected, there was no hope for Annie Rose from that quarter.
Ruth Eastman had been standing by an open door looking slightly dazed. She turned at Miss Marple's voice and uttered a faint greeting.
"I have no basis for speaking to you but an old woman's presumption, but I did wonder if you needed someone to talk to." Miss Marple was at her softest and fluffiest, looking at Mrs. Eastman with the tender expression she would have turned upon a favorite niece.
"Yes..." Mrs. Eastman gave herself a very slight shake. After a moment, she said, "You were at the dinner, I know... Let's sit down."
They sat down a few minute later with tea; Mrs. Eastman seemed to want someone to talk to very much, or else she was simply too distraught to think of a way to fob off a nosy old woman. Miss Marple was a little abashed at how surprised she was by her distress. Perhaps her husband had been no good, but that didn’t mean she couldn’t still be upset at his rather nasty and unexpected demise — one had to make allowances in these cases.
Ruth Eastman had been crying, and her attempts to cover it up had not been entirely successful. The makeup was rather thick on the end of her nose, and the rims of her eyes were very pink. She had her hands twisted together in her lap, and she sat very, very still, not looking directly at Miss Marple.
Miss Marple poured a cup of tea and pushed it towards her. “I’m so sorry, Mrs. Eastman. This must be a dreadful time for you.”
“If only…” said Mrs. Eastman, as if in a daze. Then she sat up, gave herself a shake, and picked up the teacup. Her hands weren’t shaking, but her knuckles went pale from the force of her grip. “Excuse me. I haven’t really wrapped my head around it yet.”
“Have you been married a long time?” asked Miss Marple.
There was a moment where Mrs. Eastman didn’t seem to understand the question. Then she said, “Thirteen years.”
“We couldn’t seem to have any,” said Ruth Eastman. She drank a mouthful of tea. “I think it’s better that way.”
"Your marriage — was an unhappy one?"
Mrs. Eastman was about to say something. Then she looked down and wrapped her hands around her elbows. "It was what it was."
"Is someone coming to keep you company?"
“I’ll be all right with the servants,” said Mrs. Eastman. “I only hope… I…”
“Do you think it’s likely Miss Rose killed your husband?” asked Miss Marple. It was rarely effective to ask so directly, but Mrs. Eastman seemed so distracted that polite circling and dodging would likely get her nowhere.
“I don’t know why she would,” said Mrs. Eastman, rather absently.
“Do you know anyone who would have? Did you husband have enemies in business?”
“Not that kind of enemy,” Mrs. Eastman said with surprising positivity. “They might take the shirt off his back, but they wouldn’t stab him.” She paused, then, tentatively, said, “I suppose if he’s been involved in something… disreputable that I didn’t know about… Perhaps his deal with Mr. Mason…”
“Mr. Mason the writer?” asked Miss Marple.
“My husband was going to finance one of his films, along with an American. You know Americans. Something may have…” Mrs. Eastman shrugged.
“But what I don’t understand,” said Miss Marple, changing tack, “is what he was doing out so early at the greenhouse. You didn’t notice him getting up?”
“That’s a very police question. They asked already. No, I didn’t, we sleep in separate rooms, and he doesn’t have to go past my door on his way out.” All at once Ruth Eastman drained the rest of her tea and fixed sharp, dark eyes on Miss Marple. It was the first time Miss Marple had seen those eyes clearly; it was as though Mrs. Eastman were hiding a whole other woman inside of herself, and she was only now looking out through those eyes. She was a clever woman, Miss Marple decided. It wasn’t praise; it was an observation that at the moment was being weighed against the woman. Being clever made it more likely that she would have killed her husband. Then there was nothing unusual about her distraction; she was putting it on, and perhaps overdoing it a touch. “Why are you asking?”
“I think that if someone doesn’t do something, Miss Rose is going to be accused of murdering your husband,” said Miss Marple quietly. “I would like it if she hadn’t.”
“Hadn’t murdered him?”
Mrs. Eastman stared at her. She seemed to want to say something very important. But in the end, all she said was, “I’d like that, too.” After beat, she added, "What a pity for her, right after winning the prize."
Miss Marple waited for her to say something else, but she didn’t. She got up. “Excuse me. It was sweet of you to listen to me. I need to see the housekeeper. If the police ask the guests to stay an extra night, we’ll need to be ready.”
Miss Marple and Ariadne Oliver met over lunch and exchanged information. They seemed to have very little to go on. Miss Marple mentioned Arthur Mason’s film and Lewis Eastman’s financing, but Mrs. Oliver could tell her nothing she hadn’t already heard from Mrs. Eastman.
“I try to have as little to do with that as I can,” she said. “And I still refuse to think it was Mason. It’s more likely to have been over money than over a woman, but… No, I still can’t see it. We should talk to Annie Rose. They haven’t arrested her yet, you know.” She was thoughtful. “Maybe Mrs. Eastman knows she did kill her husband and she’d like her to get away with it because she grateful he’s dead.”
On the way to find Annie Rose, they met Inspector Hudson’s sergeant. His name was Youngblood and he looked a little nervous of it, and also of Miss Marple. Sergeant Youngblood was looking at her as though she reminded him of a severe aunt. Mrs. Oliver thought it would be helpful for her to step back.
“I understand, of course,” said Miss Marple, “that you can’t tell us anything. Only I’m very worried about that nice Miss Rose. She made such a pretty speech last night. She reminds me very much of a favorite niece of mine, a very sweet girl. I can’t believe she could have hurt anybody. Can you tell, at least, do you mind — does Inspector Hudson really think she did it? Or is it only — what he’s pretending to think to make the real murderer think he’s safe? I know police do that, sometimes,” Miss Marple twittered, with a disarming flush.
“No, he’s pretty sure it’s her,” said Sergeant Youngblood. “But what I wonder is — " He broke off, frowning.
“What is it?” asked Miss Marple.
“How does everybody know? We haven’t said. He told me particularly not to mention it to anyone, so I haven’t. But everyone seems to know anyway.”
Not only did everyone know, they had known right away — the maid had told Mrs. Oliver so first thing in the morning, when the body hadn’t been cold yet. Miss Marple and Mrs. Oliver looked at each other, both having the same thought — what had made everyone so sure that Annie Rose was the chief suspect?
“Do you — pardon me if it’s a bad question,” Miss Marple fluttered, “but do you really have any evidence against Miss Rose? Besides her, well, motive?”
“Well… She won’t say why she was late to the greenhouse, except that she slept in, but all the servants say she never sleeps in. All right, maybe she was so happy about getting that prize that she drank a little too much, but no one saw her drinking. And the housekeeper says Miss Rose was always picking away at Mr. Eastman — never big things, but remarks about his business and his politics and his personal habits…”
“That sounds more like a motive for Mr. Eastman to try to kill her,” remarked Miss Marple. Or fire her — except from her speech the night before it sounded as though she intended to leave her job and devote herself to writing on the strength of the award money. So that was one motive she couldn’t have had.
“Maybe he was trying to kill her!” said Mrs. Oliver with enough excitement to spook Sergeant Youngblood. “Listen, maybe she really did sleep in, but he’d thought she would be there, so he set a trap and ended up in it himself… Oh, except…”
“Except he was locked in from the outside,” said Sergeant Youngblood, a little diffidently.
“He may have rigged that somehow. How exactly was the door blocked?”
“The lock had been tampered with…”
“So the first person who came in would have been locked in!”
“…and someone had jammed a rake against the knob.”
Mrs. Oliver considered it. “Could it have been set up to fall that way when the door closed?”
“Well, yes,” said Sergeant Youngblood, a little helplessly, “I thought of that when I saw, and the inspector and I tried it out, and you could just manage it, but it would take some time to work out. And I really can’t talk to you anymore, I’m sorry…”
“That’s quite all right, young man,” said Mrs. Oliver. “We were looking for Miss Rose, anyway.”
When they had left the sergeant behind, Miss Marple said, “I think I know why everyone was so certain Miss Rose was the suspect.”
“So do I,” said Mrs. Oliver, after a moment. “But then why…”
“Excuse me, Miss Marple?”
Miss Marple and Mrs. Oliver turned. Mrs. Eastman had come up to them. She was gray-faced and wide-eyed, her nostrils trembling faintly. She held out a typewritten letter.
“Miss Marple, I can’t find Inspector Hudson, will you help? If there’s anything you can think of… This was in her room…”
Miss Marple took it and read it. It was brief and to the point:
I lured Lewis Eastman into the greenhouse this morning by promising to meet him for a tryst. I locked him inside and turned on the pesticide spray. Afterwards I pretended to find the body. I know the police suspect me and I see no way out. I won’t go to jail. Death is better.
“How cruel,” said Miss Marple. There was an odd note in her voice, which Mrs. Oliver noticed but which passed Mrs. Eastman by.
“But she didn’t,” she said, her voice quiet and restrained. “It’s wrong. That isn’t…” She took a deep breath and tried to collect herself. “If Annie were going to kill herself, she wouldn’t write a note like that.”
“And she wouldn’t type it, I’d wager,” said Mrs. Oliver. “Few people would.”
“Has her room been tampered with at all?” Miss Marple asked in a distant voice, not looking directly at either woman. Before Mrs. Eastman could answer, she said, “No, it wouldn’t have been, of course.”
“No…” Mrs. Eastman hesitated. “The police searched it, though I don’t know what they were looking for.”
Miss Marple blinked her eyes, and then very urgently, she said, “Oh, what to do? We need… Oh, Sergeant Youngblood, come here at once!”
The young sergeant trotted over and nodded respectfully. “Excuse me, ma’am, Inspector Hudson left me a note sending me back to the station — "
“Never mind, you must come with me to prevent a great tragedy! There’s going to be another murder!”
The thought crossed Sergeant Youngblood’s mind that the old lady was batty, but he could feel his Aunt Ethel’s scathing gaze on the back of his neck as he thought it, so he meekly said, “Where are we going?”
“To the greenhouse,” said Miss Marple definitely.
The four of them set out together, but Sergeant Youngblood and Mrs. Oliver quickly pulled ahead — the latter was puffing and purple-faced but still keeping up very well. She still didn’t understand why it had happened, but she had come to the same conclusion as Miss Marple, and she felt the same urgency. In fact, more than urgency, she felt defeat — surely the letter had been found too late; surely they could not get there in time.
Behind her, Mrs. Eastman was giving her arm to Miss Marple. The elderly lady was doing her best to press on, but her will couldn’t overcome her frail body. The two of them slowed further.
“I don’t understand this,” said Mrs. Eastman. “Will Annie…”
She couldn’t finish the question. She seemed to be having trouble breathing.
“We can only hope,” said Miss Marple. “This morning when she should have been at the greenhouse… Miss Rose was with you?”
She asked this question in the delicate yet oddly direct way belonging to someone with a thorough knowledge of human variety, who had nonetheless been brought up in an age when many things were simply not spoken of in polite company. There was no mistaking what she meant.
Mrs. Eastman hesitated a moment, then nodded. “She’s so careful, normally, to leave on time, but since she doesn’t need the job anymore, we…”
“How long has it been going on?” Miss Marple asked.
“Almost as long as she’s worked here… Lewis — knew, I think, but he didn’t care as long as no one else knew. Annie wanted us to go away together, but…”
“You were afraid,” Miss Marple said gently.
“Of course I was afraid.” Ruth Eastman’s voice was a little defensive.
There were things Miss Marple might have said but didn’t, because they had arrived at the greenhouse in time to see Sergeant Youngblood putting handcuffs onto a stupefied-looking Inspector Hudson’s wrists. There were bloody tracks on the inspector’s cheek left by fingernails. The sergeant’s nose was bleeding. To one side, Mrs. Oliver, still panting but now very pale, was propping up Annie Rose. Miss Rose, still very much alive, was gasping and coughing, holding her throat with one hand.
Mrs. Eastman ran the rest of the way to her side, Miss Rose collapsed against her. Mrs. Eastman murmured something the rest of the company couldn’t hear, then promptly burst into tears.
Miss Marple politely averted her gaze from both the clinging couple and the baffled sergeant arresting his own superior. She and Mrs. Oliver exchanged a long look full of relief.
“The first part I understand,” said Ariadne Oliver. “I may be only a mystery writer, not a detective myself, but it’s clear enough what first put you onto him. If he wanted everyone to think he suspected Annie Rose, all he needed to do was ask a lot of very meaningful questions about her.”
“Yes,” said Miss Marple. “It must have seemed entirely normal to Sergeant Youngblood — or perhaps he wasn’t entirely awake yet so early in the morning — but I suppose Inspector Hudson must have asked a great many pointed questions about Miss Rose as soon as he arrived. Certainly they had a lot of information about her treatment of Mr. Eastman very early on.”
They were in the dining room in Miss Marple’s inn — the landlady, Inspector Hudson’s sister, had been replaced at the bar by an employee, which was just as well. After seeing that there was nothing Mrs. Eastman and Miss Rose wanted, Miss Marple and Mrs. Oliver had left the house. They had gone to the village police station to give statements to the police superintendent who had come over from the next town in an embarrassed rush to take over the case. He had been a little belligerent towards Miss Marple until he’d realized who she was — Sir Henry Clithering was good enough to occasionally say a few words about her to his colleagues, always greatly exaggerating her powers — and then had become absolutely stiff with apology.
“I see that,” said Mrs. Oliver. “But the rest of it…”
“It’s quite simple, or it will be quite simple once it has been investigated a little. Here is my guess.” Miss Marple had been combing through her thoughts carefully to get them in order. “It must have been the historical society materials. I can’t imagine what was in them, but I expect it will be something pointing to misconduct by Inspector Hudson early in his career — he’s local, of course. When Miss Rose mentioned the wealth of information contained in them, with that very pointed expression about being brought out into the light, he must have thought she had already looked through them and happened upon something — something he very much didn’t want seen. He was expecting to be unmasked.”
“That’s absurd,” said Mrs. Oliver. “You couldn’t get that from just her speech.”
“A man with a guilty conscience might. And then there was that look she gave the whole audience, very direct, very personal. It was enthusiasm, I think, but you can see how it would have looked more sinister to someone with a secret…”
“So he tried to frame her for murder?”
“No,” said Miss Marple, “naturally he tried to murder her. Your instinct that Miss Rose was the target was right. It’s a question why it was so urgent for him — perhaps if he had thought she would stop at blackmailing him, he wouldn’t have been in such a frenzy, but since she had just taken the prize money, that was unlikely. I mean,”said Miss Marple, realizing she had been unclear, “that if she weren’t going to blackmail him, she could only be going to expose him right away. And then there was the perfect person to frame for her murder.”
“Oh!” said Mrs. Oliver after a pause. “Does that explain how Lewis Eastman came to be at the greenhouse?”
“We can’t know for sure. I understand Inspector Hudson hasn’t said anything since his arrest. It’s possible he lured Mr. Eastman there, but it’s also possible he just came… well, to harass Miss Rose as usual.”
“Once more for the road,” said Mrs. Oliver grimly. “And he walked into the trap meant for her instead. That’s very fitting.”
Miss Marple didn’t comment on that. “But since she arrived at the greenhouse late, the inspector saw he would have to frame her for Mr. Eastman’s murder instead. So of course he had to cast suspicion on her as quickly as possible.”
“So that if she accused him of anything, it would seem as though she were making it up to muddy the waters.”
Miss Marple nodded. “But that would only last so long. It was always possible it would turn out she did have an alibi — or that she would say something and be believed — so he had to get rid of her and fix her guilt as quickly as possible. I’m afraid he didn’t do it very cleverly.”
“How could you be sure he would take her to the greenhouse?” Mrs. Oliver asked.
“It was only a guess.”
Mrs. Oliver shuddered. It had all ended well, but it could so easily have gone wrong, if Miss Marple’s guess at that crucial moment had been wrong, if they hadn’t got there in time. Unlike Miss Marple, Ariadne Oliver had reached the greenhouse in time to see Inspector Hudson give up trying to string a rope around Annie Rose’s neck as she fought him and simply attempt to strangle her with his bare hands. She couldn’t shake herself free of the image.
“It’s lucky we were here,” she said firmly. She thought back to her remark at the awards dinner that if they had a murder, the police would be unable to solve it — she wasn’t sure whether she should feel more satisfied or appalled at having been proven right in such a dramatic fashion.
Then someone came up to their table. It was Annie Rose. There were bruises around her neck, partly hidden by a high collar, but otherwise she looked as blooming as the night before — though her expression was very solemn.
“I came to thank the two of you,” she said quietly.
“Do sit down,” said Mrs. Oliver, looking around for an empty chair.
“No, thank you, I’ll just be staying a moment. I need to get back to Ruth. She told me what happened. I didn’t notice very much of it myself at the time. It was so fast, and so unexpected. He told me to come with him to answer some more questions, and then — well, then he was trying to kill me. I didn’t even think then it could have had anything to do with Mr. Eastman. I thought the inspector had just gone mad.”
“Not mad,” said Miss Marple. “Only desperate.”
“They found a letter on him that he’d taken from the pile the historical society gave me. It was left behind by the Duchess’s father, explaining how Inspector Hudson had blackmailed him into recommending him for a promotion. The papers went to the historical society when the Duchess sold up last year, along with a whole mess of others things no one was likely to look at for years, and he must have known it existed but couldn’t get his hands on it. It was fine while it was lying there, but he must have been thinking about it all the time, worrying it would get out…”
And that answered that.
“So, thank you. You didn’t need to help.”
“Of course we did,” said Mrs. Oliver breezily. “At least I did. We women writers are an undervalued and besieged breed, though historically speaking the novel as an art form belongs to us entirely. Naturally I had to protect one of my fellows against a false accusation and — and the rest of it. Do come to me if you run into trouble again. With publishers, I mean, and irritating fans.”
Annie Rose beamed at her.
“I also view it as my duty to help,” said Miss Marple. “To meddle, perhaps I should say. It's the privilege of the old, and we are rewarded by seeing the young succeed.” She smiled.
After another pleased murmur, Miss Rose left.
“I wonder if I should read her book,” said Miss Marple thoughtfully.
The rest of the conversation revolved around Annie Rose’s book, which Miss Marple ultimately decided would be worth a try, and her future career. After dinner, the two of them parted, each to prepare for the journey home.
About a week later, having put down Miss Rose’s book for the third time that day — young people did so love unrelieved tragedy, and it was so tiring — Miss Marple turned her attention to the Times. One piece of news caught her eye: the actress Hilda Avery’s necklace had been found, her nephew was going to be released from prison, and Mrs. Avery’s manager had quit. Only on reading this did Miss Marple remember her first conversation with Ariadne Oliver — the murder and the rest of it had driven it entirely out of her head. Had Mrs. Oliver gone looking into the problem? Or had it been resolved right now by some miraculous coincidence?
Well, she might ask. They had mentioned keeping in touch.