‘We’ve planned to take you to a show or two,’ said Raymond whilst Gwenda was drinking gin and rather wishing she could have had a cup of tea after her journey.
Gwenda brightened up immediately.
‘The Ballet tonight at Sadler’s Wells, and tomorrow we’ve got a birthday party on for my quite incredible Aunt Jane—the Duchess of Malfi with Gielgud, and on Friday you simply must see They Walked without Feet. Translated from the Russian—absolutely the most significent piece of drama for the last twenty years. It’s at the little Witmore Theatre.’
Gwenda expressed herself grateful for these plans for her entertainment. After all, when Giles came home, they would go together to the musical shows and all that. She flinched slightly at the prospect of They Walked without Feet, but supposed she might enjoy it—only the point about ‘significant’ plays was that you usually didn’t.
‘You’ll adore my Aunt Jane,’ said Raymond. ‘She’s what I should describe as a perfect Period Piece. Victorian to the core. All her dressing-tables have their legs swathed in chintz. She lives in a village, the kind of village where nothing ever happens, exactly like a stagnant pond.’
‘Something did happen there once,’ his wife said drily.
‘A mere drama of passion—crude—no subtlety to it.’
‘You enjoyed it frightfully at the time,’ Joan reminded him with a slight twinkle.
‘I sometimes enjoy playing village cricket,’ said Raymond, with dignity.
‘Anyway, Aunt Jane distinguished herself over that murder.’
‘Oh, she’s no fool. She adores problems.’
‘Problems?’ said Gwenda, her mind flying to arithmetic.
Raymond waved a hand.
‘Any kind of problem. Why the grocer’s wife took her umbrella to the church social on a fine evening. Why a gill of pickled shrimps was found where it was. What happened to the Vicar’s surplice. All grist to my Aunt Jane’s mill. So if you’ve any problem in your life, put it to her, Gwenda. She’ll tell you the answer.’
He laughed and Gwenda laughed too, but not very heartily. She was introduced to Aunt Jane, otherwise Miss Marple, on the following day. Miss Marple was an attractive old lady, tall and thin, with pink cheeks and blue eyes, and a gentle, rather fussy manner. Her blue eyes often had a little twinkle in them.
After an early dinner at which they drank Aunt Jane’s health, they all went off to His Majesty’s Theatre. Two extra men, an elderly artist and a young barrister were in the party. The elderly artist devoted himself to Gwenda and the young barrister divided his attentions between Joan and Miss Marple whose remarks he seemed to enjoy very much. At the theatre, however, this arrangement was reversed. Gwenda sat in the middle of the row between Raymond and the barrister.
The lights went down and the play began.
It was superbly acted and Gwenda enjoyed it very much. She had not seen very many first-rate theatrical productions.
The play drew to a close, came to that supreme moment of horror. The actor’s voice came over the footlights filled with the tragedy of a warped and perverted mentality.
‘Cover her face. Mine eyes dazzle, she died young …’
She sprang up from her seat, pushed blindly past the others out into the aisle, through the exit and up the stairs and so to the street. She did not stop, even then, but half walked, half ran, in a blind panic up the Haymarket.
It was not until she had reached Piccadilly that she noticed a free taxi cruising along, hailed it and, getting in, gave the address of the Chelsea house. With fumbling fingers she got out money, paid the taxi and went up the steps. The servant who let her in glanced at her in surprise.
‘You’ve come back early, miss. Didn’t you feel well?’
‘I—no, yes—I—I felt faint.’
‘Would you like anything, miss? Some brandy?’
‘No, nothing. I’ll go straight up to bed.’
She ran up the stairs to avoid further questions.
She pulled off her clothes, left them on the floor in a heap and got into bed. She lay there shivering, her heart pounding, her eyes staring at the ceiling.
She did not hear the sound of fresh arrivals downstairs, but after about five minutes the door opened and Miss Marple came in. She had two hot-water bottles tucked under her arm and a cup in her hand.
Gwenda sat up in bed, trying to stop her shivering.
‘Oh, Miss Marple, I’m frightfully sorry. I don’t know what—it was awful of me. Are they very annoyed with me?’
‘Now don’t worry, my dear child,’ said Miss Marple. ‘Just tuck yourself up warmly with these hot-water bottles.’
‘I don’t really need a hot-water bottle.’
‘Oh yes, you do. That’s right. And now drink this cup of tea …’
It was hot and strong and far too full of sugar, but Gwenda drank it obediently. The shivering was less acute now.
‘Just lie down now and go to sleep,’ said Miss Marple. ‘You’ve had a shock, you know. We’ll talk about it in the morning. Don’t worry about anything. Just go to sleep.’
She drew the covers up, smiled, patted Gwenda and went out.
Downstairs Raymond was saying irritably to Joan: ‘What on earth was the matter with the girl? Did she feel ill, or what?’
‘My dear Raymond, I don’t know, she just screamed! I suppose the play was a bit too macabre for her.’
‘Well, of course Webster is a bit grisly. But I shouldn’t have thought—’ He broke off as Miss Marple came into the room. ‘Is she all right?’
‘Yes, I think so. She’d had a bad shock, you know.’
‘Shock? Just seeing a Jacobean drama?’
‘I think there must be a little more to it than that,’ said Miss Marple thoughtfully.
Gwenda’s breakfast was sent up to her. She drank some coffee and nibbled a little piece of toast. When she got up and came downstairs, Joan had gone to her studio, Raymond was shut up in his workroom and only Miss Marple was sitting by the window, which had a view over the river; she was busily engaged in knitting.
She looked up with a placid smile as Gwenda entered.
‘Good morning, my dear. You’re feeling better, I hope.’
‘Oh yes, I’m quite all right. How I could make such an utter idiot of myself last night, I don’t know. Are they—are they very mad with me?’
‘Oh no, my dear. They quite understand.’