SANCTUARY
by Agatha Christie

 

‘I’m coming now,’ said Bunch, ‘to the most important thing of all. The reason why I’ve really come here today. You see, the Eccleses made a great fuss about having his coat. We took it off when the doctor was seeing him. It was an old, shabby sort of coat—there was no reason they should have wanted it. They pretended it was sentimental, but that was nonsense.

‘Anyway, I went up to find it, and as I was just going up the stairs I remembered how he’d made a kind of picking gesture with his hand, as though he was fumbling with the coat. So when I got hold of the coat I looked at it very carefully and I saw that in one place the lining had been sewn up again with a different thread. So I unpicked it and I found a little piece of paper inside. I took it out and I sewed it up again properly with thread that matched. I was careful and I don’t really think that the Eccleses would know I’ve done it. I don’t think so, but I can’t be sure. And I took the coat down to them and made some excuse for the delay.’

‘The piece of paper?’ asked Miss Marple.

Bunch opened her handbag. ‘I didn’t show it to Julian,’ she said, ‘because he would have said that I ought to have given it to the Eccleses. But I thought I’d rather bring it to you instead.’

‘A cloakroom ticket,’ said Miss Marple, looking at it. ‘Paddington Station.’

‘He had a return ticket to Paddington in his pocket,’ said Bunch.

The eyes of the two women met.

‘This calls for action,’ said Miss Marple briskly. ‘But it would be advisable, I think, to be careful. Would you have noticed at all, Bunch dear, whether you were followed when you came to London today?’

‘Followed!’ exclaimed Bunch. ‘You don’t think—’

‘Well, I think it’s possible,’ said Miss Marple. ‘When anything is possible, I think we ought to take precautions.’ She rose with a brisk movement. ‘You came up here ostensibly, my dear, to go to the sales. I think the right thing to do, therefore, would be for us to go to the sales. But before we set out, we might put one or two little arrangements in hand. I don’t suppose,’ Miss Marple added obscurely, ‘that I shall need the old speckled tweed with the beaver collar just at present.’

It was about an hour and a half later that the two ladies, rather the worse for wear and battered in appearance, and both clasping parcels of hardly-won household linen, sat down at a small and sequestered hostelry called the Apple Bough to restore their forces with steak and kidney pudding followed by apple tart and custard.

‘Really a prewar quality face towel,’ gasped Miss Marple, slightly out of breath. ‘With a J on it, too. So fortunate that Raymond’s wife’s name is Joan. I shall put them aside until I really need them and then they will do for her if I pass on sooner than I expect.’

‘I really did need the glass-cloths,’ said Bunch. ‘And they were very cheap, though not as cheap as the ones that woman with the ginger hair managed to snatch from me.’

A smart young woman with a lavish application of rouge and lipstick entered the Apple Bough at that moment. After looking around vaguely for a moment or two, she hurried to their table. She laid down an envelope by Miss Marple’s elbow.

‘There you are, miss,’ she said briskly.

‘Oh, thank you, Gladys,’ said Miss Marple. ‘Thank you very much. So kind of you.’

‘Always pleased to oblige, I’m sure,’ said Gladys. ‘Ernie always says to me, “Everything what’s good you learned from that Miss Marple of yours that you were in service with,” and I’m sure I’m always glad to oblige you, miss.’

‘Such a dear girl,’ said Miss Marple as Gladys departed again. ‘Always so willing and so kind.’

She looked inside the envelope and then passed it on to Bunch. ‘Now be very careful, dear,’ she said. ‘By the way, is there still that nice young inspector at Melchester that I remember?’

‘I don’t know,’ said Bunch. ‘I expect so.’

‘Well, if not,’ said Miss Marple thoughtfully. ‘I can always ring up the Chief Constable. I think he would remember me.’

‘Of course he’d remember you,’ said Bunch. ‘Everybody would remember you. You’re quite unique.’ She rose.

Arrived at Paddington, Bunch went to the luggage office and produced the cloakroom ticket. A moment or two later a rather shabby old suitcase was passed across to her, and carrying this she made her way to the platform.

The journey home was uneventful. Bunch rose as the train approached Chipping Cleghorn and picked up the old suitcase. She had just left her carriage when a man, sprinting along the platform, suddenly seized the suitcase from her hand and rushed off with it.

‘Stop!’ Bunch yelled. ‘Stop him, stop him. He’s taken my suitcase.’

The ticket collector who, at this rural station, was a man of somewhat slow processes, had just begun to say, ‘Now, look here, you can’t do that—’ when a smart blow on the chest pushed him aside, and the man with the suitcase rushed out from the station. He made his way towards a waiting car. Tossing the suitcase in, he was about to climb after it, but before he could move a hand fell on his shoulder, and the voice of Police Constable Abel said, ‘Now then, what’s all this?’

Bunch arrived, panting, from the station. ‘He snatched my suitcase. I just got out of the train with it.’

‘Nonsense,’ said the man. ‘I don’t know what this lady means. It’s my suitcase. I just got out of the train with it.’

He looked at Bunch with a bovine and impartial stare. Nobody would have guessed that Police Constable Abel and Mrs Harmon spent long half-hours in Police Constable Abel’s off-time discussing the respective merits of manure and bone meal for rose bushes.

‘You say, madam, that this is your suitcase?’ said Police Constable Abel.

‘Yes,’ said Bunch. ‘Definitely.’

‘And you, sir?’

‘I say this suitcase is mine.’

The man was tall, dark and well dressed, with a drawling voice and a superior manner. A feminine voice from inside the car said, ‘Of course it’s your suitcase, Edwin. I don’t know what this woman means.’

‘We’ll have to get this clear,’ said Police Constable Abel. ‘If it’s your suitcase, madam, what do you say is inside it?’

‘Clothes,’ said Bunch. ‘A long speckled coat with a beaver collar, two wool jumpers and a pair of shoes.’

‘Well, that’s clear enough,’ said Police Constable Abel. He turned to the other.

‘I am a theatrical costumer,’ said the dark man importantly. ‘This suitcase contains theatrical properties which I brought down here for an amateur performance.’

‘Right, sir,’ said Police Constable Abel. ‘Well, we’ll just look inside, shall we, and see? We can go along to the police station, or if you’re in a hurry we’ll take the suitcase back to the station and open it there.’

‘It’ll suit me,’ said the dark man. ‘My name is Moss, by the way, Edwin Moss.’

The police constable, holding the suitcase, went back into the station. ‘Just taking this into the parcels office, George,’ he said to the ticket collector.

Police Constable Abel laid the suitcase on the counter of the parcels office and pushed back the clasp. The case was not locked. Bunch and Mr Edwin Moss stood on either side of him, their eyes regarding each other vengefully.

‘Ah!’ said Police Constable Abel, as he pushed up the lid.

Inside, neatly folded, was a long rather shabby tweed coat with a beaver fur collar. There were also two wool jumpers and a pair of country shoes.

‘Exactly as you say, madam,’ said Police Constable Abel, turning to Bunch.

Nobody could have said that Mr Edwin Moss under-did things. His dismay and compunction were magnificent.

‘I do apologize,’ he said. ‘I really do apologize. Please believe me, dear lady, when I tell you how very, very sorry I am. Unpardonable—quite unpardonable—my behaviour has been.’ He looked at his watch. ‘I must rush now. Probably my suitcase has gone on the train.’ Raising his hat once more, he said meltingly to Bunch, ‘Do, do forgive me,’ and rushed hurriedly out of the parcels office.

‘Are you going to let him get away?’ asked Bunch in a conspiratorial whisper to Police Constable Abel.

The latter slowly closed a bovine eye in a wink.

‘He won’t get too far, ma’am,’ he said. ‘That’s to say he won’t get far unobserved, if you take my meaning.’

‘Oh,’ said Bunch, relieved.

‘That old lady’s been on the phone,’ said Police Constable Abel, ‘the one as was down here a few years ago. Bright she is, isn’t she? But there’s been a lot cooking up all today. Shouldn’t wonder if the inspector or sergeant was out to see you about it tomorrow morning.’

 

III

It was the inspector who came, the Inspector Craddock whom Miss Marple remembered. He greeted Bunch with a smile as an old friend.

‘Crime in Chipping Cleghorn again,’ he said cheerfully. ‘You don’t lack for sensation here, do you, Mrs Harmon?’

‘I could do with rather less,’ said Bunch. ‘Have you come to ask me questions or are you going to tell me things for a change?’

‘I’ll tell you some things first,’ said the inspector. ‘To begin with, Mr and Mrs Eccles have been having an eye kept on them for some time. There’s reason to believe they’ve been connected with several robberies in this part of the world. For another thing, although Mrs Eccles has a brother called Sandbourne who has recently come back from abroad, the man you found dying in the church yesterday was definitely not Sandbourne.’

‘I knew that he wasn’t,’ said Bunch. ‘His name was Walter, to begin with, not William.’

The inspector nodded. ‘His name was Walter St John, and he escaped forty-eight hours ago from Charrington Prison.’

‘Of course,’ said Bunch softly to herself, ‘he was being hunted down by the law, and he took sanctuary.’ Then she asked, ‘What had he done?’

‘I’ll have to go back rather a long way. It’s a complicated story. Several years ago there was a certain dancer doing turns at the music halls. I don’t expect you’ll have ever heard of her, but she specialized in an Arabian Night turn, “Aladdin in the Cave of Jewels” it was called. She wore bits of rhinestone and not much else.

‘She wasn’t much of a dancer, I believe, but she was—well—attractive. Anyway, a certain Asiatic royalty fell for her in a big way. Amongst other things he gave her a very magnificent emerald necklace.’

‘The historic jewels of a Rajah?’ murmured Bunch ecstatically.

Inspector Craddock coughed. ‘Well, a rather more modern version, Mrs Harmon. The affair didn’t last very long, broke up when our potentate’s attention was captured by a certain film star whose demands were not quite so modest.

‘Zobeida, to give the dancer her stage name, hung on to the necklace, and in due course it was stolen. It disappeared from her dressing-room at the theatre, and there was a lingering suspicion in the minds of the authorities that she herself might have engineered its disappearance. Such things have been known as a publicity stunt, or indeed from more dishonest motives.

‘The necklace was never recovered, but during the course of the investigation the attention of the police was drawn to this man, Walter St John. He was a man of education and breeding who had come down in the world, and who was employed as a working jeweller with a rather obscure firm which was suspected of acting as a fence for jewel robberies.

‘There was evidence that this necklace had passed through his hands. It was, however, in connection with the theft of some other jewellery that he was finally brought to trial and convicted and sent to prison. He had not very much longer to serve, so his escape was rather a surprise.’

‘But why did he come here?’ asked Bunch.

‘We’d like to know that very much, Mrs Harmon. Following up his trial, it seems that he went first to London. He didn’t visit any of his old associates but he visited an elderly woman, a Mrs Jacobs who had formerly been a theatrical dresser. She won’t say a word of what he came for, but according to other lodgers in the house he left carrying a suitcase.’

‘I see,’ said Bunch. ‘He left it in the cloakroom at Paddington and then he came down here.’

‘By that time,’ said Inspector Craddock, ‘Eccles and the man who calls himself Edwin Moss were on his trail. They wanted that suitcase. They saw him get on the bus. They must have driven out in a car ahead of him and been waiting for him when he left the bus.’

‘And he was murdered?’ said Bunch.

‘Yes,’ said Craddock. ‘He was shot. It was Eccles’s revolver, but I rather fancy it was Moss who did the shooting. Now, Mrs Harmon, what we want to know is, where is the suitcase that Walter St John actually deposited at Paddington Station?’

Bunch grinned. ‘I expect Aunt Jane’s got it by now,’ she said. ‘Miss Marple, I mean. That was her plan. She sent a former maid of hers with a suitcase packed with her things to the cloakroom at Paddington and we exchanged tickets. I collected her suitcase and brought it down by train. She seemed to expect that an attempt would be made to get it from me.’

It was Inspector Craddock’s turn to grin. ‘So she said when she rang up. I’m driving up to London to see her. Do you want to come, too, Mrs Harmon?’

‘Wel-l,’ said Bunch, considering. ‘Wel-l, as a matter of fact, it’s very fortunate. I had a toothache last night so I really ought to go to London to see the dentist, oughtn’t I?’

‘Definitely,’ said Inspector Craddock…

Miss Marple looked from Inspector Craddock’s face to the eager face of Bunch Harmon. The suitcase lay on the table. ‘Of course, I haven’t opened it,’ the old lady said. ‘I wouldn’t dream of doing such a thing till somebody official arrived. Besides,’ she added, with a demurely mischievous Victorian smile, ‘it’s locked.’

‘Like to make a guess at what’s inside, Miss Marple?’ asked the inspector.

‘I should imagine, you know,’ said Miss Marple, ‘that it would be Zobeida’s theatrical costumes. Would you like a chisel, Inspector?’

The chisel soon did its work. Both women gave a slight gasp as the lid flew up. The sunlight coming through the window lit up what seemed like an inexhaustible treasure of sparkling jewels, red, blue, green, orange.

‘Aladdin’s Cave,’ said Miss Marple. ‘The flashing jewels the girl wore to dance.’

‘Ah,’ said Inspector Craddock. ‘Now, what’s so precious about it, do you think, that a man was murdered to get hold of it?’

‘She was a shrewd girl, I expect,’ said Miss Marple thoughtfully. ‘She’s dead, isn’t she, Inspector?’

‘Yes, died three years ago.’

‘She had this valuable emerald necklace,’ said Miss Marple, musingly. ‘Had the stones taken out of their setting and fastened here and there on her theatrical costume, where everyone would take them for merely coloured rhinestones. Then she had a replica made of the real necklace, and that, of course, was what was stolen. No wonder it never came on the market. The thief soon discovered the stones were false.’

‘Here is an envelope,’ said Bunch, pulling aside some of the glittering stones.

Inspector Craddock took it from her and extracted two official-looking papers from it. He read aloud, ‘ “Marriage Certificate between Walter Edmund St John and Mary Moss.” That was Zobeida’s real name.’

‘So they were married,’ said Miss Marple. ‘I see.’

‘What’s the other?’ asked Bunch.

‘A birth certificate of a daughter, Jewel.’

‘Jewel?’ cried Bunch. ‘Why, of course. Jewel! Jill! That’s it. I see now why he came to Chipping Cleghorn. That’s what he was trying to say to me. Jewel. The Mundys, you know. Laburnum Cottage. They look after a little girl for someone. They’re devoted to her. She’s been like their own granddaughter. Yes, I remember now, her name was Jewel, only, of course, they call her Jill.

‘Mrs Mundy had a stroke about a week ago, and the old man’s been very ill with pneumonia. They were both going to go to the infirmary. I’ve been trying hard to find a good home for Jill somewhere. I didn’t want her taken away to an institution.

‘I suppose her father heard about it in prison and he managed to break away and get hold of this suitcase from the old dresser he or his wife left it with. I suppose if the jewels really belonged to her mother, they can be used for the child now.’

‘I should imagine so, Mrs Harmon. If they’re here.’

‘Oh, they’ll be here all right,’ said Miss Marple cheerfully…

 

IV

‘Thank goodness you’re back, dear,’ said the Reverend Julian Harmon, greeting his wife with affection and a sigh of content. ‘Mrs Burt always tries to do her best when you’re away, but she really gave me some very peculiar fish-cakes for lunch. I didn’t want to hurt her feelings so I gave them to Tiglath Pileser, but even he wouldn’t eat them so I had to throw them out of the window.’

‘Tiglath Pileser,’ said Bunch, stroking the vicarage cat, who was purring against her knee, ‘is very particular about what fish he eats. I often tell him he’s got a proud stomach!’

‘And your tooth, dear? Did you have it seen to?’

‘Yes,’ said Bunch. ‘It didn’t hurt much, and I went to see Aunt Jane again, too…’

‘Dear old thing,’ said Julian. ‘I hope she’s not failing at all.’

‘Not in the least,’ said Bunch, with a grin.

The following morning Bunch took a fresh supply of chrysanthemums to the church. The sun was once more pouring through the east window, and Bunch stood in the jewelled light on the chancel steps. She said very softly under her breath, ‘Your little girl will be all right. I’ll see that she is. I promise.’

Then she tidied up the church, slipped into a pew and knelt for a few moments to say her prayers before returning to the vicarage to attack the piled-up chores of two neglected days.

 

 

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