The Herb of Death: A Miss Marple Short Story
Everyone gasped. Though warned beforehand, they had not expected quite such brevity as this.
‘But, my dear lady,’ remonstrated Sir Henry, ‘it can’t be all. What you have related is a tragic occurrence, but not in any sense of the word a problem.’
‘Well, of course there’s some more,’ said Mrs Bantry. ‘But if I were to tell you it, you’d know what it was.’
She looked defiantly round the assembly and said plaintively:
‘I told you I couldn’t dress things up and make it sound properly like a story ought to do.’
‘Ah ha!’ said Sir Henry. He sat up in his chair and adjusted an eyeglass. ‘Really, you know, Scheherazade, this is most refreshing. Our ingenuity is challenged. I’m not so sure you haven’t done it on purpose – to stimulate our curiosity. A few brisk rounds of “Twenty Questions” is indicated, I think. Miss Marple, will you begin?’
‘I’d like to know something about the cook,’ said Miss Marple. ‘She must have been a very stupid woman, or else very inexperienced.’
‘She was just very stupid,’ said Mrs Bantry. ‘She cried a great deal afterwards and said the leaves had been picked and brought in to her as sage, and how was she to know?’
‘Not one who thought for herself,’ said Miss Marple.
‘Probably an elderly woman and, I dare say, a very good cook?’
‘Oh! excellent,’ said Mrs Bantry.
‘Your turn, Miss Helier,’ said Sir Henry.
‘Oh! You mean – to ask a question?’ There was a pause while Jane pondered. Finally she said helplessly, ‘Really – I don’t know what to ask.’
Her beautiful eyes looked appealingly at Sir Henry.
‘Why not dramatis personae, Miss Helier?’ he suggested smiling.
Jane still looked puzzled.
‘Characters in order of their appearance,’ said Sir Henry gently.
‘Oh, yes,’ said Jane. ‘That’s a good idea.’
Mrs Bantry began briskly to tick people off on her fingers.
‘Sir Ambrose – Sylvia Keene (that’s the girl who died) – a friend of hers who was staying there, Maud Wye, one of those dark ugly girls who manage to make an effort somehow – I never know how they do it. Then there was a Mr Curle who had come down to discuss books with Sir Ambrose – you know, rare books – queer old things in Latin – all musty parchment. There was Jerry Lorimer – he was a kind of next door neighbour. His place, Fairlies, joined Sir Ambrose’s estate. And there was Mrs Carpenter, one of those middle-aged pussies who always seem to manage to dig themselves in comfortably somewhere. She was by way of being dame de compagnie