Conway Jefferson stirred in his sleep and stretched. His arms were flung out, long, powerful arms into which all the strength of his body seemed to be concentrated since his accident. Through the curtains the morning light glowed softly. Conway Jefferson smiled to himself. Always, after a night of rest, he woke like this, happy, refreshed, his deep vitality renewed. Another day! So, for a minute, he lay. Then he pressed the special bell by his hand. And suddenly a wave of remembrance swept over him. Even as Edwards, deft and quiet-footed,
entered the room a groan was wrung from his master. Edwards paused with his hand on the curtains. He said, "You're not in pain, sir?"
Conway Jefferson said harshly, "No. Go on, pull 'em." The clear light flooded the room. Edwards, understanding, did not glance at his master.
His face grim, Conway Jefferson lay remembering and thinking. Before his eyes he saw again the pretty, vapid face of Ruby. Only in his mind he did not use the adjective "vapid." Last night he would have said "innocent." A naive, innocent child! And now? A great weariness came over Conway Jefferson. He closed his eyes. He murmured below his breath, "Margaret." It was the name of his dead wife.
"I like your friend," said Adelaide Jefferson to Mrs Bantry. The two women were sitting on the terrace.
"Jane Marple's a very remarkable woman," said Mrs Bantry.
"She's nice too," said Addie, smiling.
"People call her a scandal monger," said Mrs Bantry, "but she isn't really."
"Just a low opinion of human nature?"
"You could call it that."
"It's rather refreshing," said Adelaide Jefferson, "after having had too much of the other thing." Mrs Bantry looked at her sharply. Addie explained herself. "So much high thinking idealization of an unworthy object!"
"You mean Ruby Keene?"
Addie nodded. "I don't want to be horrid about her. There wasn't any harm in her. Poor little rat, she had to fight for what she wanted. She wasn't bad. Common and rather silly and quite good-natured, but a decided little gold digger. I don't think she schemed or planned. It was just that she was quick to take advantage of a possibility. And she knew just how to appeal to an elderly man who was lonely."
"I suppose," said Mrs Bantry thoughtfully, "that Conway was lonely."
Addie moved restlessly. She said, "He was this summer." She paused and then burst out, "Mark will have it that it was all my fault! Perhaps it was; I don't know." She was silent for a minute, then, impelled by some need to talk, she went on speaking in a difficult, almost reluctant way. "I've had such an odd sort of life. Mike Carmody, my first husband, died so soon after we were married it -it knocked me out. Peter, as you know, was born after his death. Frank Jefferson was Mike's great friend. So I came to see a lot of him. He was Peter's godfather, Mike had wanted that. I got very fond of him and oh, sorry for him too."
"Sorry?" queried Mrs Bantry with interest.
"Yes, just that. It sounds odd. Frank had always had everything he wanted. His father and his mother couldn't have been nicer to him. And yet how can I say it, you see, old Mr Jefferson's
personality is so strong. If you live with it you can't somehow have a personality of your own. Frank felt that."
"When we were married he was very happy, wonderfully so. Mr Jefferson was very generous. He settled a large sum of money on Frank; said he wanted his children to be independent and not have to wait for his death. It was so nice of him so generous. But it was much too sudden. He ought really to have accustomed Frank to independence little by little.
"It went to Frank's head. He wanted to be as good a man as his father, as clever about
money and business, as farseeing and successful. And of course he wasn't. He didn't exactly speculate with the money, but he invested in the wrong things at the wrong time. It's frightening, you know, how soon money goes if you're not clever about it. The more Frank dropped, the more eager he was to get it back by some clever deal. So things went from bad to worse."
"But, my dear," said Mrs Bantry, "couldn't Conway have advised him?"
"He didn't want to be advised. The one thing he wanted was to do well on his own. That's why we never let Mr Jefferson know. When Frank died there was very little left; only a tiny income for me. And I didn't let his father know either. You see," she turned abruptly, "it would have seemed like betraying Frank to him. Frank would have hated it so. Mr Jefferson was ill for a long time. When he got well he assumed that I was a very-well-off widow. I've never undeceived him. It's been a point of honour. He knows I'm very careful about money, but he just approves of that, thinks I'm a thrifty sort of woman. And of course Peter and I have lived with him practically ever since, and he's paid for all our living expenses. So I've never had to worry." She said slowly, "We've been like a family all these years, only - only, you see or don't you see? I've never been Frank's widow to him; I've been Frank's wife."
Mrs Bantry grasped the implication. "You mean he's never accepted their deaths?"
"No. He's been wonderful. But he's conquered his own terrible tragedy by refusing to recognize death. Mark is Rosamund's husband and I'm Frank's wife, and though Frank, and Rosamund aren't exactly here with us they are still existent."
Mrs Bantry said softly, "It's a wonderful triumph of faith."
"I know. We've gone on, year after year. But suddenly, this summer, something went wrong in me. I felt - felt rebellious. It's an awful thing to say, but I didn't want to think of Frank any more! All that was over, my love and companionship with him, and my grief when he died. It was something that had been and wasn't any longer.
"It's awfully hard to describe. It's like wanting to wipe the slate clean and start again. I
wanted to be me, Addie, still reasonably young and strong and able to play games and swim and dance - just a person. Even Hugo, you know Hugo McLean? he's a dear and wants to marry me, but of course I've never really thought of it, but this summer I did begin to think of it, not seriously, only vaguely." She stopped and shook her head. "And so I suppose it's true. I neglected Jeff. I don't mean really neglected him, but my mind and thoughts weren't with him. When Ruby, as I saw, amused him, I was rather glad. It left me freer to go and do my own things. I never dreamed, of course, I never dreamed, that he would be so so infatuated with her!"
Mrs Bantry asked, "And when did you find out?"
"I was dumbfounded, absolutely dumbfounded! And, I'm afraid, angry too."
"I'd have been angry," said Mrs Bantry.
"There was Peter, you see. Peter's whole future depends on Jeff. Jeff practically looked on him as a grandson, or so I thought, but of course he wasn't a grandson. He was no relation at all. And to think that he was going to be disinherited!" Her firm, well-shaped hands shook a little where they lay in her lap. "For that's what it felt like. And for a vulgar gold-digging little simpleton! Oh, I could have killed her!"
She stopped, stricken. Her beautiful hazel eyes met Mrs Bantry's in a pleading horror. She said, "What an awful thing to say!"
Hugo McLean, coming quietly up behind them, asked, "What's an awful thing to say?"
"Sit down, Hugo. You know Mrs Bantry, don't you?"
McLean had already greeted the older lady. He said, now, in a slow, persevering way, "What was an awful thing to say?"
Addie Jefferson said, "That I'd like to have killed Ruby Keene."
Hugo McLean reflected a minute or two. Then he said, "No, I wouldn't say that if I were you. Might be misunderstood." His eyes, steady, reflective gray eyes, looked at her meaningly. He said, "You've got to watch your step, Addie." There was a warning in his voice.
When Miss Marple came out of the hotel and joined Mrs Bantry a few minutes later, Hugo McLean and Adelaide Jefferson were walking down the path to the sea together. Seating
herself Miss Marple remarked, "He seems very devoted."
"He's been devoted for years! One of those men."
"I know. Like Major Bury. He hung round an Anglo-Indian widow for quite ten years. A joke among her friends! In the end she gave in, but, unfortunately, ten days before they were to have been married she ran away with the chauffeur. Such a nice woman, too, and usually so well balanced."
"People do do very odd things," agreed Mrs Bantry. "I wish you'd been here just now, Jane. Addie Jefferson was telling me all about herself, how her husband went through all his money, but they never let Mr Jefferson know. And then, this summer, things felt different to her."
Miss Marple nodded. "Yes. She rebelled, I suppose, against being made to live in the past. After all, there's a time for everything. You can't sit in the house with the blinds down forever. I suppose Mrs Jefferson just pulled them up and took off her widow's weeds, and her father-in-law, of course, didn't like it. Felt left out in the cold, though I don't suppose for a minute he realized who put her up to it. Still, he certainly wouldn't like it. And so, of course, like old Mr Badger when his wife took up spiritualism, he was just ripe for what happened. Any fairly nice-looking young girl who listened prettily would have done."
"Do you think," said Mrs Bantry, "that that cousin, Josie, got her down deliberately that it was a family plot?"
Miss Marple shook her head. "No, I don't think so at all. I don't think Josie has the kind of mind that could foresee people's reactions. She's rather dense in that way. She's got one of those shrewd, limited, practical minds that never do foresee the future and are usually astonished by it."
"It seems to have taken everyone by surprise," said Mrs Bantry. "Addie and Mark Gaskell, too, apparently."
Miss Marple smiled. "I dare say he had his own fish to fry. A bold fellow with a roving eye! Not the man to go on being a sorrowing widower for years, no matter how fond he may have been of his wife. I should think they were both restless under old Mr Jefferson's yoke of
perpetual remembrance. Only," added Miss Marple cynically, "it's easier for gentlemen, of
At that very moment Mark was confirming this judgment on himself in a talk with Sir Henry Clithering. With characteristic candour Mark had gone straight to the heart of things. "It's just dawned on me," he said, "that I'm Favourite Suspect Number One to the police! They've been delving into my financial troubles. I'm broke, you know; or very nearly. If dear old Jeff dies according to schedule in a month or two, and Addie and I divide the dibs also according to schedule, all will be well. Matter of fact, I owe rather a lot. If the crash comes, it will be a big one! If I can stave it off, it will be the other way round; I shall come out on top and be very rich."
Sir Henry Clithering said, "You're a gambler, Mark."
"Always have been. Risk everything, that's my motto! Yes, it's a lucky thing for me that somebody strangled that poor kid. I didn't do it. I'm not a strangler. I don't really think I could ever murder anybody. I'm too easy-going. But I don't suppose I can ask the police to believe that! I must look to them like the answer to the criminal investigator's prayer! Motive, on the spot, not burdened with high moral scruples! I can't imagine why I'm not in the jug already. That superintendent's got a very nasty eye."
"You've got that useful thing, an alibi."
"An alibi is the fishiest thing on God's earth! No innocent person ever has an alibi! Besides, it all depends on the time of death, or something like that, and you may be sure if three doctors say the girl was killed at midnight, at least six will be found who will swear positively that she was killed at five in the morning and where's my alibi then?"
"Well, you are able to joke about it."
"Damned bad taste, isn't it?" said Mark cheerfully. "Actually, I'm rather scared. One is, with murder! And don't think I'm not sorry for old Jeff. I am. But it's better this way, bad as the shock was, than if he'd found her out."
"What do you mean, found her out?"
Mark winked. "Where did she go off to last night? I'll lay you any odds you like she went to meet a man. Jeff wouldn't have liked that. He wouldn't have liked it at all. If he'd found she
was deceiving him, that she wasn't the prattling little innocent she seemed, well, my father-in-law is an odd man. He's a man of great self-control, but that self-control can snap. And then, look out!"
Sir Henry glanced at him curiously. "Are you fond of him or not?"
"I'm very fond of him, and at the same time I resent him - I'll try and explain. Conway Jefferson is a man who likes to control his surroundings. He's a benevolent despot, kind, generous and affectionate, but his is the tune and the others dance to his piping."
Mark Gaskell paused.
"I loved my wife. I shall never feel the same for anyone else. Rosamund was sunshine and laughter and flowers, and when she was killed I felt just like a man in the ring who's had a knockout blow. But the referee's been counting a good long time now. I'm a man, after all. I like
women. I don't want to marry again, not in the least. Well, that's all right. I've had to be discreet, but I've had my good times all right. Poor Addie hasn't. Addie's a really nice woman. She's the kind of woman men want to marry. Give her half a chance and she would marry again, and be very happy and make the chap happy too.
"But old Jeff saw her always as Frank's wife and hypnotized her into seeing herself like that. He doesn't know it, but we've been in prison. I broke out, on the quiet, a long time ago. Addie broke out this summer, and it gave him a shock. It broke up his world. Result, Ruby Keene." Irrepressibly he sang:
"But she is in her grave, and oh!
The difference to me!
"Come and have a drink, Clithering."
It was hardly surprising, Sir Henry reflected, that Mark Gaskell should be an object of suspicion to the police.
Chapter 8 | I. Revise Assignment 3 and translate the sentences into English in writing. | IV. Correct the false statements. | VIII. Write a summary of what you have read on pages 10-57. | Chapter 10 | I. Revise Assignment 4 and translate the sentences into English in writing. | II. Find the phrases and words, write them out, translate them into Russian, recall the situations in which the author used them. | VI. Find the following word combinations, write them out, translate them into Russian. | Chapter 12 | Assignment 6 |