‘You’re quite a young man compared to me,’ said Miss Marple. ‘And I don’t really mind getting old—not that in itself. It’s the lesser indignities.’
‘I think I know what you mean.’
‘Never being alone! The difficulty of getting out for a few minutes by oneself. And even my knitting—such a comfort that has always been, and I really am a good knitter. Now I drop stitches all the time—and quite often I don’t even know I’ve dropped them.’
Haydock looked at her thoughtfully.
Then his eyes twinkled.
‘There’s always the opposite.’
‘Now what do you mean by that?’
‘If you can’t knit, what about unravelling for a change? Penelope did.’
‘I’m hardly in her position.’
‘But unravelling’s rather in your line, isn’t it?’
He rose to his feet.
‘I must be getting along. What I’d prescribe for you is a nice juicy murder.’
‘That’s an outrageous thing to say!’
‘Isn’t it? However, you can always make do with the depth the parsley sank into the butter on a summer’s day. I always wondered about that. Good old Holmes. A period piece, nowadays, I suppose. But he’ll never be forgotten.’
Miss Knight bustled in after the doctor had gone.
‘There,’ he said, ‘we look much more cheerful. Did the doctor recommend a tonic?’
‘He recommended me to take an interest in murder.’
‘A nice detective story?’
‘No,’ said Miss Marple. ‘Real life.’
‘Goodness,’ exclaimed Miss Knight. ‘But there’s not likely to be a murder in this quiet spot.’
‘Murders,’ said Miss Marple, ‘can happen anywhere. And do.’
‘At the Development, perhaps?’ mused Miss Knight. ‘A lot of those Teddy-looking boys carry knives.’
But the murder, when it came, was not at the Development.
CHAPTER 4 (#u5112c1bd-1ede-5ce1-8f9d-a9cc0bedcd85)
Mrs Bantry stepped back a foot or two, surveyed herself in the glass, made a slight adjustment to her hat (she was not used to wearing hats), drew on a pair of good quality leather gloves and left the lodge, closing the door carefully behind her. She had the most pleasurable anticipations of what lay in front of her. Some three weeks had passed since her talk with Miss Marple. Marina Gregg and her husband had arrived at Gossington Hall and were now more or less installed there.
There was to be a meeting there this afternoon of the main persons involved in the arrangements for the fête in aid of the St John Ambulance. Mrs Bantry was not among those on the committee, but she had received a note from Marina Gregg asking her to come and have tea beforehand. It had recalled their meeting in California and had been signed, ‘Cordially, Marina Gregg.’ It had been handwritten, not typewritten. There is no denying that Mrs Bantry was both pleased and flattered. After all, a celebrated film star is a celebrated film star and elderly ladies, though they may be of local importance, are aware of their complete unimportance in the world of celebrities. So Mrs Bantry had the pleased feeling of a child for whom a special treat had been arranged.
As she walked up the drive Mrs Bantry’s keen eyes went from side to side registering her impressions. The place had been smartened up since the days when it had passed from hand to hand. ‘No expense spared,’ said Mrs Bantry to herself, nodding in satisfaction. The drive afforded no view of the flower garden and for that Mrs Bantry was just as pleased. The flower garden and its special herbaceous border had been her own particular delight in the far-off days when she had lived at Gossington Hall. She permitted regretful and nostalgic memories of her irises. The best iris garden of any in the country, she told herself with a fierce pride.
Faced by a new front door in a blaze of new paint she pressed the bell. The door was opened with gratifying promptness by what was undeniably an Italian butler. She was ushered by him straight to the room which had been Colonel Bantry’s library. This, as she had already heard, had been thrown into one with the study. The result was impressive. The walls were panelled, the floor was parquet. At one end was a grand piano and halfway along the wall was a superb record player. At the other end of the room was a small island, as it were, which comprised Persian rugs, a tea-table and some chairs. By the tea-table sat Marina Gregg, and leaning against the mantelpiece was what Mrs Bantry at first thought to be the ugliest man she had ever seen.
Just a few moments previously when Mrs Bantry’s hand had been advanced to press the bell, Marina Gregg had been saying in a soft, enthusiastic voice, to her husband:
‘This place is right for me, Jinks, just right. It’s what I’ve always wanted. Quiet. English quiet and the English countryside. I can see myself living here, living here all my life if need be. And we’ll adopt the English way of life. We’ll have afternoon tea every afternoon with China tea and my lovely Georgian tea service. And we’ll look out of the window on those lawns and that English herbaceous border. I’ve come home at last, that’s what I feel. I feel that I can settle down here, that I can be quiet and happy. It’s going to be home, this place. That’s what I feel. Home.’
And Jason Rudd (known to his wife as Jinks) had smiled at her. It was an acquiescent smile, indulgent, but it held its reserve because, after all, he had heard it very often before. Perhaps this time it would be true. Perhaps this was the place that Marina Gregg might feel at home. But he knew her early enthusiasms so well. She was always so sure that at last she had found exactly what she wanted. He said in his deep voice:
‘That’s grand, honey. That’s just grand. I’m glad you like it.’
‘Like it? I adore it. Don’t you adore it too?’
‘Sure,’ said Jason Rudd. ‘Sure.’
It wasn’t too bad, he reflected to himself. Good, solidly built, rather ugly Victorian. It had, he admitted, a feeling of solidity and security. Now that the worst of its fantastic inconveniences had been ironed out, it would be quite reasonably comfortable to live in. Not a bad place to come back to from time to time. With luck, he thought, Marina wouldn’t start taking a dislike to it for perhaps two years to two years and a half. It all depended.
Marina said, sighing softly:
‘It’s so wonderful to feel well again. Well and strong. Able to cope with things.’
And he said again: ‘Sure, honey, sure.’
And it was at that moment that the door opened and the Italian butler had ushered in Mrs Bantry.
Marina Gregg’s welcome was all that was charming. She came forward, hands outstretched, saying how delightful it was to meet Mrs Bantry again. And what a coincidence that they should have met that time in San Francisco and that two years later she and Jinks should actually buy the house that had once belonged to Mrs Bantry. And she did hope, she really did hope that Mrs Bantry wouldn’t mind terribly the way they’d pulled the house about and done things to it and she hoped she wouldn’t feel that they were terrible intruders living here.
‘Your coming to live here is one of the most exciting things that has ever happened to this place,’ said Mrs Bantry cheerfully and she looked towards the mantelpiece. Whereupon, almost as an afterthought, Marina Gregg said:
‘You don’t know my husband, do you? Jason, this is Mrs Bantry.’
Mrs Bantry looked at Jason Rudd with some interest. Her first impression that this was one of the ugliest men she had ever seen became qualified. He had interesting eyes. They were, she thought, more deeply sunk in his head than any eyes she had seen. Deep quiet pools, said Mrs Bantry to herself, and felt like a romantic lady novelist. The rest of his face was distinctly craggy, almost ludicrously out of proportion. His nose jutted upwards and a little red paint would have transformed it into the nose of a clown very easily. He had, too, a clown’s big sad mouth. Whether he was at this moment in a furious temper or whether he always looked as though he were in a furious temper she did not quite know. His voice when he spoke was unexpectedly pleasant. Deep and slow.
‘A husband,’ he said, ‘is always an afterthought. But let me say with my wife that we’re very glad to welcome you here. I hope you don’t feel that it ought to be the other way about.’
‘You must get it out of your head,’ said Mrs Bantry, ‘that I’ve been driven forth from my old home. It never was my old home. I’ve been congratulating myself ever since I sold it. It was a most inconvenient house to run. I liked the garden but the house became more and more of a worry. I’ve had a perfectly splendid time ever since, travelling abroad and going and seeing my married daughters and my grandchildren and my friends in all different parts of the world.’
‘Daughters,’ said Marina Gregg, ‘you have daughters and sons?’
‘Two sons and two daughters,’ said Mrs Bantry, ‘and pretty widely spaced. One in Kenya, one in South Africa. One near Texas and the other, thank goodness, in London.’
‘Four,’ said Marina Gregg. ‘Four—and grandchildren?’
‘Nine up to date,’ said Mrs Bantry. ‘It’s great fun being a grandmother. You don’t have any of the worry of parental responsibility. You can spoil them in the most unbridled way—’
Jason Rudd interrupted her. ‘I’m afraid the sun catches your eyes,’ he said, and went to a window to adjust the blind. ‘You must tell us all about this delightful village,’ he said as he came back.