Strange Jest: A Miss Marple Short Story
Strange Jest: A Miss Marple Short Story
A classic Agatha Christie short story, available individually for the first time as an ebook.Miss Marple is accosted at a party by a pair of lovebirds who think that their lately deceased uncle has buried their inheritance. The naïve pair expects to impart the details of the tale to Miss Marple and for her to summon forth where the buried treasure must be instantaneously. But, the careful observer of human nature, the consequence of living in a small English village, knows that a little examination is needed. Invited to Ansteys, the ransacked family seat, Miss Marple ensconces herself amongst house that has perhaps been too thoroughly investigated. Uncle Mathew reminds Miss Marple of her old Uncle Henry and she regales the two with what appear to be meaningless, infuriating anecdotes, little do they know their importance and worth.
A Short Story
by Agatha Christie
Published by HarperCollinsPublishers Ltd 1 London Bridge Street London SE1 9GF
Copyright © 2011 Agatha Christie Ltd.
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EPub Edition © 2011 ISBN: 9780007452033
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‘Strange Jest’ was first published in the USA in This Week, 2 November 1941, and then as ‘A Case of Buried Treasure’ in Strand Magazine, July 1944 (sic).
‘And this,’ said Jane Helier, completing her introductions, ‘is Miss Marple!’
Being an actress, she was able to make her point. It was clearly the climax, the triumphant finale! Her tone was equally compounded of reverent awe and triumph.
The odd part of it was that the object thus proudly proclaimed was merely a gentle, fussy-looking, elderly spinster. In the eyes of the two young people who had just, by Jane’s good offices, made her acquaintance, there showed incredulity and a tinge of dismay. They were nice-looking people; the girl, Charmian Stroud, slim and dark – the man, Edward Rossiter, a fair-haired, amiable young giant.
Charmian said a little breathlessly. ‘Oh! We’re awfully pleased to meet you.’ But there was doubt in her eyes. She flung a quick, questioning glance at Jane Helier.
‘Darling,’ said Jane, answering the glance, ‘she’s absolutely marvellous. Leave it all to her. I told you I’d get her here and I have.’ She added to Miss Marple, ‘You’ll fix it for them, I know. It will be easy for you.’
Miss Marple turned her placid, china-blue eyes towards Mr Rossiter. ‘Won’t you tell me,’ she said, ‘what all this is about?’
‘Jane’s a friend of ours,’ Charmian broke in impatiently. ‘Edward and I are in rather a fix. Jane said if we would come to her party, she’d introduce us to someone who was – who would – who could –’
Edward came to the rescue. ‘Jane tells us you’re the last word in sleuths, Miss Marple!’
The old lady’s eyes twinkled, but she protested modestly. ‘Oh, no, no! Nothing of the kind. It’s just that living in a village as I do, one gets to know so much about human nature. But really you have made me quite curious. Do tell me your problem.’
‘I’m afraid it’s terribly hackneyed – just buried treasure,’ said Edward.
‘Indeed? But that sounds most exciting!’
‘I know. Like Treasure Island. But our problem lacks the usual romantic touches. No point on a chart indicated by a skull and crossbones, no directions like “four paces to the left, west by north”. It’s horribly prosaic – just where we ought to dig.’
‘Have you tried at all?’
‘I should say we’d dug about two solid square acres! The whole place is ready to be turned into a market garden. We’re just discussing whether to grow vegetable marrows or potatoes.’
Charmian said rather abruptly, ‘May we really tell you all about it?’
‘But, of course, my dear.’
‘Then let’s find a peaceful spot. Come on, Edward.’ She led the way out of the overcrowded and smoke-laden room, and they went up the stairs, to a small sitting-room on the second floor.
When they were seated, Charmian began abruptly. ‘Well, here goes! The story starts with Uncle Mathew, uncle – or rather, great-great-uncle – to both of us. He was incredibly ancient. Edward and I were his only relations. He was fond of us and always declared that when he died he would leave his money between us. Well, he died last March and left everything he had to be divided equally between Edward and myself. What I’ve just said sounds rather callous – I don’t mean that it was right that he died – actually we were very fond of him. But he’d been ill for some time.
‘The point is that the “everything” he left turned out to be practically nothing at all. And that, frankly, was a bit of a blow to us both, wasn’t it, Edward?’
The amiable Edward agreed. ‘You see,’ he said, ‘we’d counted on it a bit. I mean, when you know a good bit of money is coming to you, you don’t – well – buckle down and try to make it yourself. I’m in the army – not got anything to speak of outside my pay – and Charmian herself hasn’t got a bean. She works as a stage manager in a repertory theatre – quite interesting, and she enjoys it – but no money in it. We’d counted on getting married, but weren’t worried about the money side of it because we both knew we’d be jolly well off some day.’
‘And now, you see, we’re not!’ said Charmian. ‘What’s more, Ansteys – that’s the family place, and Edward and I both love it – will probably have to be sold. And Edward and I feel we just can’t bear that! But if we don’t find Uncle Mathew’s money, we shall have to sell.’
Edward said, ‘You know, Charmian, we still haven’t come to the vital point.’
‘Well, you talk, then.’
Edward turned to Miss Marple. ‘It’s like this, you see. As Uncle Mathew grew older, he got more and more suspicious. He didn’t trust anybody.’