‘But Arthur!—I couldn’t have turned them away. It wouldn’t have been kind.’
‘They were family spoons,’ said Mr Badcock sadly. ‘Georgian. Belonged to my mother’s grandmother.’
‘Oh, do forget those old spoons, Arthur. You do harp so.’
‘I’m not very good at forgetting, I’m afraid.’
Miss Marple looked at him thoughtfully.
‘What’s your friend doing now?’ asked Heather of Miss Marple with kindly interest.
Miss Marple paused a moment before answering.
‘Alison Wilde? Oh—she died.’
CHAPTER 3 (#u5112c1bd-1ede-5ce1-8f9d-a9cc0bedcd85)
‘I’m glad to be back,’ said Mrs Bantry. ‘Although, of course, I’ve had a wonderful time.’
Miss Marple nodded appreciatively, and accepted a cup of tea from her friend’s hand.
When her husband, Colonel Bantry, had died some years ago, Mrs Bantry had sold Gossington Hall and the considerable amount of land attached to it, retaining for herself what had been the East Lodge, a charming porticoed little building replete with inconvenience, where even a gardener had refused to live. Mrs Bantry had added to it the essentials of modern life, a built-on kitchen of the latest type, a new water supply from the main, electricity, and a bathroom. This had all cost her a great deal, but not nearly so much as an attempt to live at Gossington Hall would have done. She had also retained the essentials of privacy, about three quarters of an acre of garden nicely ringed with trees, so that, as she explained, ‘Whatever they do with Gossington I shan’t really see it or worry.’
For the last few years she had spent a good deal of the year travelling about, visiting children and grandchildren in various parts of the globe, and coming back from time to time to enjoy the privacies of her own home. Gossington Hall itself had changed hands once or twice. It had been run as a guest house, failed, and been bought by four people who had shared it as four roughly divided flats and subsequently quarrelled. Finally the Ministry of Health had bought it for some obscure purpose for which they eventually did not want it. The Ministry had now resold it—and it was this sale which the two friends were discussing.
‘I have heard rumours, of course,’ said Miss Marple.
‘Naturally,’ said Mrs Bantry. ‘It was even said that Charlie Chaplin and all his children were coming to live here. That would have been wonderful fun; unfortunately there isn’t a word of truth in it. No, it’s definitely Marina Gregg.’
‘How very lovely she was,’ said Miss Marple with a sigh. ‘I always remember those early films of hers. Bird of Passage with that handsome Joel Roberts. And the Mary, Queen of Scots film. And of course it was very sentimental, but I did enjoy Comin’ Thru the Rye. Oh dear, that was a long time ago.’
‘Yes,’ said Mrs Bantry. ‘She must be—what do you think? Forty-five? Fifty?’
Miss Marple thought nearer fifty.
‘Has she been in anything lately? Of course I don’t go very often to the cinema nowadays.’
‘Only small parts, I think,’ said Mrs Bantry. ‘She hasn’t been a star for quite a long time. She had that bad nervous breakdown. After one of her divorces.’
‘Such a lot of husbands they all have,’ said Miss Marple. ‘It must really be very tiring.’
‘It wouldn’t suit me,’ said Mrs Bantry. ‘After you’ve fallen in love with a man and married him and got used to his ways and settled down comfortably—to go and throw it all up and start again! It seems to me madness.’
‘I can’t presume to speak,’ said Miss Marple with a little spinsterish cough, ‘never having married. But it seems, you know, a pity.’
‘I suppose they can’t help it really,’ said Mrs Bantry vaguely. ‘With the kind of lives they have to live. So public, you know. I met her,’ she added. ‘Marina Gregg, I mean, when I was in California.’
‘What was she like?’ Miss Marple asked with interest.
‘Charming,’ said Mrs Bantry. ‘So natural and unspoiled.’ She added thoughtfully, ‘It’s like a kind of livery really.’
‘Being unspoiled and natural. You learn how to do it, and then you have to go on being it all the time. Just think of the hell of it—never to be able to chuck something, and say, “Oh, for the Lord’s sake stop bothering me.” I dare say that in sheer self-defence you have to have drunken parties or orgies.’
‘She’s had five husbands, hasn’t she?’ Miss Marple asked.
‘At least. An early one that didn’t count, and then a foreign Prince or Count, and then another film star, Robert Truscott, wasn’t it? That was built up as a great romance. But it only lasted four years. And then Isidore Wright, the playwright. That was rather serious and quiet, and she had a baby—apparently she’d always longed to have a child—she’s even half-adopted a few strays—anyway this was the real thing. Very much built up. Motherhood with a capital M. And then, I believe, it was an imbecile, or queer or something—and it was after that, that she had this breakdown and started to take drugs and all that, and threw up her parts.’
‘You seem to know a lot about her,’ said Miss Marple.
‘Well, naturally,’ said Mrs Bantry. ‘When she bought Gossington I was interested. She married the present man about two years ago, and they say she’s quite all right again now. He’s a producer—or do I mean a director? I always get mixed. He was in love with her when they were quite young, but he didn’t amount to very much in those days. But now, I believe, he’s got quite famous. What’s his name now? Jason—Jason something—Jason Hudd, no, Rudd, that’s it. They’ve bought Gossington because it’s handy for’—she hesitated—‘Elstree?’ she hazarded.
Miss Marple shook her head.
‘I don’t think so,’ she said. ‘Elstree’s in North London.’
‘It’s the fairly new studios. Hellingforth—that’s it. Sounds so Finnish, I always think. About six miles from Market Basing. She’s going to do a film on Elizabeth of Austria, I believe.’
‘What a lot you know,’ said Miss Marple. ‘About the private lives of film stars. Did you learn it all in California?’
‘Not really,’ said Mrs Bantry. ‘Actually I get it from the extraordinary magazines I read at my hairdresser’s. Most of the stars I don’t even know by name, but as I said because Marina Gregg and her husband have bought Gossington, I was interested. Really the things those magazines say! I don’t suppose half of it is true—probably not a quarter. I don’t believe Marina Gregg is a nymphomaniac, I don’t think she drinks, pobably she doesn’t even take drugs, and quite likely she just went away to have a nice rest and didn’t have a nervous breakdown at all!—but it’s true that she is coming here to live.’
‘Next week, I heard,’ said Miss Marple.
‘As soon as that? I know she’s lending Gossington for a big fête on the twenty-third in aid of the St John Ambulance Corps. I suppose they’ve done a lot to the house?’
‘Practically everything,’ said Miss Marple. ‘Really it would have been much simpler, and probably cheaper, to have pulled it down and built a new house.’
‘Bathrooms, I suppose?’
‘Six new ones, I hear. And a palm court. And a pool. And what I believe they call picture windows, and they’ve knocked your husband’s study and the library into one to make a music room.’
‘Arthur will turn in his grave. You know how he hated music. Tone deaf, poor dear. His face, when some kind friend took us to the opera! He’ll probably come back and haunt them.’ She stopped and then said abruptly, ‘Does anyone ever hint that Gossington might be haunted?’
Miss Marple shook her head.
‘It isn’t,’ she said with certainty.
‘That wouldn’t prevent people saying it was,’ Mrs Bantry pointed out.
‘Nobody ever has said so.’ Miss Marple paused and then said, ‘People aren’t really foolish, you know. Not in villages.’
Mrs Bantry shot her a quick look. ‘You’ve always stuck to that, Jane. And I won’t say that you’re not right.’
She suddenly smiled.
‘Marina Gregg asked me, very sweetly and delicately, if I wouldn’t find it very painful to see my old home occupied by strangers. I assured her that it wouldn’t hurt me at all. I don’t think she quite believed me. But after all, as you know, Jane, Gossington wasn’t our home. We weren’t brought up there as children—that’s what really counts. It was just a house with a nice bit of shooting and fishing attached, that we bought when Arthur retired. We thought of it, I remember, as a house that would be nice and easy to run! How we can ever have thought that, I can’t imagine! All those staircases and passages. Only four servants! Only! Those were the days, ha ha!’ She added suddenly: ‘What’s all this about your falling down? That Knight woman ought not to let you go out by yourself.’