Greenshaw's Folly
written Agatha Christie and read by Isla Blair

 

The two men rounded the corner of the shrubbery.

“Well, there you are,” said Raymond West. “That’s it.”

Horace Bindler took a deep, appreciative breath.

“But my dear,” he cried, “how wonderful.” His voice rose in a high screech of ’sthetic delight, then deepened in reverent awe. “It’s unbelievable. Out of this world! A period piece of the best.”

“I thought you’d like it,” said Raymond West, complacently.

“Like it? My dear—” Words failed Horace. He unbuckled the strap of his camera and got busy. “This will be one of the gems of my collection,” he said happily. “I do think, don’t you, that it’s rather amusing to have a collection of monstrosities? The idea came to me one night seven years ago in my bath. My last real gem was in the Campo Santo at Genoa, but I really think this beats it. What’s it called?”

“I haven’t the least idea,” said Raymond.

“I suppose it’s got a name?”

“It must have. But the fact is that it’s never referred to round here as anything but Greenshaw’s Folly.”

“Greenshaw being the man who built it?”

“Yes. In eighteen-sixty or seventy or thereabouts. The local success story of the time. Barefoot boy who had risen to immense prosperity. Local opinion is divided as to why he built this house, whether it was sheer exuberance of wealth or whether it was done to impress his creditors. If the latter, it didn’t impress them. He either went bankrupt or the next thing to it. Hence the name, Greenshaw’s Folly.”

Horace’s camera clicked. “There,” he said in a satisfied voice. “Remind me to show you No. 310 in my collection. A really incredible marble mantelpiece in the Italian manner.” He added, looking at the house, “I can’t conceive of how Mr. Greenshaw thought of it all.”

“Rather obvious in some ways,” said Raymond. “He had visited the châteaux of the Loire, don’t you think? Those turrets. And then, rather unfortunately, he seems to have travelled in the Orient. The influence of the Taj Mahal is unmistakable. I rather like the Moorish wing,” he added, “and the traces of a Venetian palace.”

“One wonders how he ever got hold of an architect to carry out these ideas.”

Raymond shrugged his shoulders.

“No difficulty about that, I expect,” he said. “Probably the architect retired with a good income for life while poor old Greenshaw went bankrupt.”

“Could we look at it from the other side?” asked Horace, “or are we trespassing!”

“We’re trespassing all right,” said Raymond, “but I don’t think it will matter.”

He turned towards the corner of the house and Horace skipped after him.

“But who lives here, my dear? Orphans or holiday visitors? It can’t be a school. No playing fields or brisk efficiency.”

“Oh, a Greenshaw lives here still,” said Raymond over his shoulder. “The house itself didn’t go in the crash. Old Greenshaw’s son inherited it. He was a bit of a miser and lived here in a corner of it. Never spent a penny. Probably never had a penny to spend. His daughter lives here now. Old lady—very eccentric.”

As he spoke Raymond was congratulating himself on having thought of Greenshaw’s Folly as a means of entertaining his guest. These literary critics always professed themselves as longing for a weekend in the country, and were wont to find the country extremely boring when they got there. Tomorrow there would be the Sunday papers, and for today Raymond West congratulated himself on suggesting a visit to Greenshaw’s Folly to enrich Horace Bindler’s well-known collection of monstrosities.

They turned the corner of the house and came out on a neglected lawn. In one corner of it was a large artificial rockery, and bending over it was a figure at sight of which Horace clutched Raymond delightedly by the arm.

“My dear,” he exclaimed, “do you see what she’s got on? A sprigged print dress. Just like a housemaid—when there were housemaids. One of my most cherished memories is staying at a house in the country when I was quite a boy where a real housemaid called you in the morning, all crackling in a print dress and a cap. Yes, my boy, really—a cap. Muslin with streamers. No, perhaps it was the parlourmaid who had the streamers. But anyway she was a real housemaid and she brought in an enormous brass can of hot water. What an exciting day we’re having.”

The figure in the print dress had straightened up and had turned towards them, trowel in hand. She was a sufficiently startling figure. Unkempt locks of iron-grey fell wispily on her shoulders, a straw hat rather like the hats that horses wear in Italy was crammed down on her head. The coloured print dress she wore fell nearly to her ankles. Out of a weather-beaten, not-too-clean face, shrewd eyes surveyed them appraisingly.

“I must apologize for trespassing, Miss Greenshaw,” said Raymond West, as he advanced towards her, “but Mr. Horace Bindler who is staying with me—”

Horace bowed and removed his hat.

“—is most interested in—er—ancient history and—er—fine buildings.”

Raymond West spoke with the ease of a well-known author who knows that he is a celebrity, that he can venture where other people may not.

Miss Greenshaw looked up at the sprawling exuberance behind her.

“It is a fine house,” she said appreciatively. “My grandfather built it—before my time, of course. He is reported as having said that he wished to astonish the natives.”

“I’ll say he did that, ma’am,” said Horace Bindler.

“Mr. Bindler is the well-known literary critic,” said Raymond West.

Miss Greenshaw had clearly no reverence for literary critics. She remained unimpressed.

“I consider it,” said Miss Greenshaw, referring to the house, “as a monument to my grandfather’s genius. Silly fools come here, and ask me why I don’t sell it and go and live in a flat. What would I do in a flat? It’s my home and I live in it,” said Miss Greenshaw. “Always have lived here.” She considered, brooding over the past. “There were three of us. Laura married the curate. Papa wouldn’t give her any money, said clergymen ought to be unworldly. She died, having a baby. Baby died too. Nettie ran away with the riding master. Papa cut her out of his will, of course. Handsome fellow, Harry Fletcher, but no good. Don’t think Nettie was happy with him. Anyway, she didn’t live long. They had a son. He writes to me sometimes, but of course he isn’t a Greenshaw. I’m the last of the Greenshaws.” She drew up her bent shoulders with a certain pride, and readjusted the rakish angle of the straw hat. Then, turning, she said sharply,

“Yes, Mrs. Cresswell, what is it?”

Approaching them from the house was a figure that, seen side by side with Miss Greenshaw, seemed ludicrously dissimilar. Mrs. Cresswell had a marvellously dressed head of well-blued hair towering upwards in meticulously arranged curls and rolls. It was as though she had dressed her head to go as a French marquise to a fancy-dress party. The rest of her middle-aged person was dressed in what ought to have been rustling black silk but was actually one of the shinier varieties of black rayon. Although she was not a large woman, she had a well-developed and sumptuous bust. Her voice when she spoke, was unexpectedly deep. She spoke with exquisite diction, only a slight hesitation over words beginning with “h” and the final pronunciation of them with an exaggerated aspirate gave rise to a suspicion that at some remote period in her youth she might have had trouble over dropping her h’s.

“The fish, madam,” said Mrs. Cresswell, “the slice of cod. It has not arrived. I have asked Alfred to go down for it and he refuses to do so.”

Rather unexpectedly, Miss Greenshaw gave a cackle of laughter.

“Refuses, does he?”

“Alfred, madam, has been most disobliging.”

Miss Greenshaw raised two earth-stained fingers to her lips, suddenly produced an earsplitting whistle and at the same time yelled:

“Alfred. Alfred, come here.”

Round the corner of the house a young man appeared in answer to the summons, carrying a spade in his hand. He had a bold, handsome face and as he drew near he cast an unmistakably malevolent glance towards Mrs. Cresswell.

“You wanted me, miss?” he said.

“Yes, Alfred. I hear you’ve refused to go down for the fish. What about it, eh?”

Alfred spoke in a surly voice.

“I’ll go down for it if you wants it, miss. You’ve only got to say.”

“I do want it. I want it for my supper.”

“Right you are, miss. I’ll go right away.”

He threw an insolent glance at Mrs. Cresswell, who flushed and murmured below her breath:

“Really! It’s unsupportable.”

“Now that I think of it,” said Miss Greenshaw, “a couple of strange visitors are just what we need aren’t they, Mrs. Cresswell?”

Mrs. Cresswell looked puzzled.

“I’m sorry, madam—”

“For you-know-what,” said Miss Greenshaw, nodding her head. “Beneficiary to a will mustn’t witness it. That’s right, isn’t it?” She appealed to Raymond West.

“Quite correct,” said Raymond.

“I know enough law to know that,” said Miss Greenshaw. “And you two are men of standing.”

She flung down her trowel on her weeding basket.

“Would you mind coming up to the library with me?”

“Delighted,” said Horace eagerly.

She led the way through french windows and through a vast yellow and gold drawing room with faded brocade on the walls and dust covers arranged over the furniture, then through a large dim hall, up a staircase and into a room on the first floor.

“My grandfather’s library,” she announced.

Horace looked round the room with acute pleasure. It was a room, from his point of view, quite full of monstrosities. The heads of sphinxes appeared on the most unlikely pieces of furniture, there was a colossal bronze representing, he thought, Paul and Virginia, and a vast bronze clock with classical motifs of which he longed to take a photograph.

“A fine lot of books,” said Miss Greenshaw.

Raymond was already looking at the books. From what he could see from a cursory glance there was no book here of any real interest or, indeed, any book which appeared to have been read. They were all superbly bound sets of the classics as supplied ninety years ago for furnishing a gentleman’s library. Some novels of a bygone period were included. But they too showed little signs of having been read.

Miss Greenshaw was fumbling in the drawers of a vast desk. Finally she pulled out a parchment document.

“My will,” she explained. “Got to leave your money to someone—or so they say. If I died without a will I suppose that son of a horse-coper would get it. Handsome fellow, Harry Fletcher, but a rogue if there ever was one. Don’t see why his son should inherit this place. No,” she went on, as though answering some unspoken objection, “I’ve made up my mind. I’m leaving it to Cresswell.”

“Your housekeeper?”

“Yes. I’ve explained it to her. I make a will leaving her all I’ve got and then I don’t need to pay her any wages. Saves me a lot in current expenses, and it keeps her up to the mark. No giving me notice and walking off at any minute. Very la-di-dah and all that, isn’t she? But her father was a working plumber in a very small way. She’s nothing to give herself airs about.”

She had by now unfolded the parchment. Picking up a pen she dipped it in the inkstand and wrote her signature, Katherine Dorothy Greenshaw.

“That’s right,” she said. “You’ve seen me sign it, and then you two sign it, and that makes it legal.”

She handed the pen to Raymond West. He hesitated a moment, feeling an unexpected repulsion to what he was asked to do. Then he quickly scrawled the well-known signature, for which his morning’s mail usually brought at least six demands a day.

Horace took the pen from him and added his own minute signature.

“That’s done,” said Miss Greenshaw.

She moved across to the bookcase and stood looking at them uncertainly, then she opened a glass door, took out a book and slipped the folded parchment inside.

“I’ve my own places for keeping things,” she said.

“Lady Audley’s Secret,” Raymond West remarked, catching sight of the title as she replaced the book.

Miss Greenshaw gave another cackle of laughter.

“Best seller in its day,” she remarked. “Not like your books, eh?”

She gave Raymond a sudden friendly nudge in the ribs. Raymond was rather surprised that she even knew he wrote books. Although Raymond West was quite a name in literature, he could hardly be described as a best seller. Though softening a little with the advent of middle age, his books dealt bleakly with the sordid side of life.

“I wonder,” Horace demanded breathlessly, “if I might just take a photograph of the clock?”

“By all means,” said Miss Greenshaw. “It came, I believe, from the Paris exhibition.”

“Very probably,” said Horace. He took his picture.

“This room’s not been used much since my grandfather’s time,” said Miss Greenshaw. “This desk’s full of old diaries of his. Interesting, I should think. I haven’t the eyesight to read them myself. I’d like to get them published, but I suppose one would have to work on them a good deal.”

“You could engage someone to do that,” said Raymond West.

“Could I really? It’s an idea, you know. I’ll think about it.”

Raymond West glanced at his watch.

“We mustn’t trespass on your kindness any longer,” he said.

“Pleased to have seen you,” said Miss Greenshaw graciously. “Thought you were the policeman when I heard you coming round the corner of the house.”

“Why a policeman?” demanded Horace, who never minded asking questions.

Miss Greenshaw responded unexpectedly.

“If you want to know the time, ask a policeman,” she carolled, and with this example of Victorian wit, nudged Horace in the ribs and roared with laughter.

“It’s been a wonderful afternoon,” sighed Horace as they walked home. “Really, that place has everything. The only thing the library needs is a body. Those old-fashioned detective stories about murder in the library—that’s just the kind of library I’m sure the authors had in mind.”

“If you want to discuss murder,” said Raymond, “you must talk to my Aunt Jane.”

“Your Aunt Jane? Do you mean Miss Marple?” He felt a little at a loss.

The charming old-world lady to whom he had been introduced the night before seemed the last person to be mentioned in connection with murder.

“Oh, yes,” said Raymond. “Murder is a specialty of hers.”

“But my dear, how intriguing. What do you really mean?”

“I mean just that,” said Raymond. He paraphrased: “Some commit murder, some get mixed-up in murders, others have murder thrust upon them. My Aunt Jane comes into the third category.”

“You are joking.”

“Not in the least. I can refer you to the former Commissioner of Scotland Yard, several Chief Constables and one or two hard-working inspectors of the CID.”

Horace said happily that wonders would never cease. Over the tea table they gave Joan West, Raymond’s wife, Lou Oxley her niece, and old Miss Marple, a résumé of the afternoon’s happenings, recounting in detail everything that Miss Greenshaw had said to them.

“But I do think,” said Horace, “that there is something a little sinister about the whole setup. That duchesslike creature, the housekeeper—arsenic, perhaps, in the teapot, now that she knows her mistress has made the will in her favour?”

“Tell us, Aunt Jane,” said Raymond. “Will there be murder or won’t there? What do you think?”

“I think,” said Miss Marple, winding up her wool with a rather severe air, “that you shouldn’t joke about these things as much as you do, Raymond. Arsenic is, of course, quite a possibility. So easy to obtain. Probably present in the toolshed already in the form of weed killer.”

“Oh, really, darling,” said Joan West, affectionately. “Wouldn’t that be rather too obvious?”

“It’s all very well to make a will,” said Raymond, “I don’t suppose really the poor old thing has anything to leave except that awful white elephant of a house, and who would want that?”

“A film company possibly,” said Horace, “or a hotel or an institution?”

“They’d expect to buy it for a song,” said Raymond, but Miss Marple was shaking her head.

“You know, dear Raymond, I cannot agree with you there. About the money, I mean. The grandfather was evidently one of those lavish spenders who make money easily, but can’t keep it. He may have gone broke, as you say, but hardly bankrupt or else his son would not have had the house. Now the son, as is so often the case, was an entirely different character to his father. A miser. A man who saved every penny. I should say that in the course of his lifetime he probably put by a very good sum. This Miss Greenshaw appears to have taken after him, to dislike spending money, that is. Yes, I should think it quite likely that she had quite a good sum tucked away.”

“In that case,” said Joan West, “I wonder now—what about Lou?”

They looked at Lou as she sat, silent, by the fire.

Lou was Joan West’s niece. Her marriage had recently, as she herself put it, come unstuck, leaving her with two young children and a bare sufficiency of money to keep them on.

“I mean,” said Joan, “if this Miss Greenshaw really wants someone to go through diaries and get a book ready for publication. . . .”

“It’s an idea,” said Raymond.

Lou said in a low voice:

“It’s work I could do—and I’d enjoy it.”

“I’ll write to her,” said Raymond.

“I wonder,” said Miss Marple thoughtfully, “what the old lady meant by that remark about a policeman?”

“Oh, it was just a joke.”

“It reminded me,” said Miss Marple, nodding her head vigorously, “yes, it reminded me very much of Mr. Naysmith.”

“Who was Mr. Naysmith?” asked Raymond, curiously.

“He kept bees,” said Miss Marple, “and was very good at doing the acrostics in the Sunday papers. And he liked giving people false impressions just for fun. But sometimes it led to trouble.”

Everybody was silent for a moment, considering Mr. Naysmith, but as there did not seem to be any points of resemblance between him and Miss Greenshaw, they decided that dear Aunt Jane was perhaps getting a little bit disconnected in her old age.

Horace Bindler went back to London without having collected any more monstrosities and Raymond West wrote a letter to Miss Greenshaw telling her that he knew of a Mrs. Louisa Oxley who would be competent to undertake work on the diaries. After a lapse of some days, a letter arrived, written in spidery old-fashioned handwriting, in which Miss Greenshaw declared herself anxious to avail herself of the services of Mrs. Oxley, and making an appointment for Mrs. Oxley to come and see her.

Lou duly kept the appointment, generous terms were arranged and she started work on the following day.

“I’m awfully grateful to you,” she said to Raymond. “It will fit in beautifully. I can take the children to school, go on to Greenshaw’s Folly and pick them up on my way back. How fantastic the whole setup is! That old woman has to be seen to be believed.”

On the evening of her first day at work she returned and described her day.

“I’ve hardly seen the housekeeper,” she said. “She came in with coffee and biscuits at half past eleven with her mouth pursed up very prunes and prisms, and would hardly speak to me. I think she disapproves deeply of my having been engaged.” She went on, “It seems there’s quite a feud between her and the gardener, Alfred. He’s a local boy and fairly lazy, I should imagine, and he and the housekeeper won’t speak to each other. Miss Greenshaw said in her rather grand way, ‘There have always been feuds as far as I can remember between the garden and the house staff. It was so in my grandfather’s time. There were three men and a boy in the garden then, and eight maids in the house, but there was always friction.’ ”

On the following day Lou returned with another piece of news.

“Just fancy,” she said, “I was asked to ring up the nephew this morning.”

“Miss Greenshaw’s nephew?”

“Yes. It seems he’s an actor playing in the company that’s doing a summer season at Boreham on Sea. I rang up the theatre and left a message asking him to lunch tomorrow. Rather fun, really. The old girl didn’t want the housekeeper to know. I think Mrs. Cresswell has done something that’s annoyed her.”

“Tomorrow another instalment of this thrilling serial,” murmured Raymond.

“It’s exactly like a serial, isn’t it? Reconciliation with the nephew, blood is thicker than water—another will to be made and the old will destroyed.”

“Aunt Jane, you’re looking very serious.”

“Was I, my dear? Have you heard anymore about the policeman?”

Lou looked bewildered. “I don’t know anything about a policeman.”

“That remark of hers, my dear,” said Miss Marple, “must have meant something.”

Lou arrived at her work the next day in a cheerful mood. She passed through the open front door—the doors and windows of the house were always open. Miss Greenshaw appeared to have no fear of burglars, and was probably justified, as most things in the house weighed several tons and were of no marketable value.

Lou had passed Alfred in the drive. When she first caught sight of him he had been leaning against a tree smoking a cigarette, but as soon as he had caught sight of her he had seized a broom and begun diligently to sweep leaves. An idle young man, she thought, but good-looking. His features reminded her of someone. As she passed through the hall on her way upstairs to the library she glanced at the large picture of Nathaniel Greenshaw which presided over the mantelpiece, showing him in the acme of Victorian prosperity, leaning back in a large armchair, his hands resting on the gold albert across his capacious stomach. As her glance swept up from the stomach to the face with its heavy jowls, its bushy eyebrows and its flourishing black moustache, the thought occurred to her that Nathaniel Greenshaw must have been handsome as a young man. He had looked, perhaps, a little like Alfred. . . .

She went into the library, shut the door behind her, opened her typewriter and got out the diaries from the drawer at the side of the desk. Through the open window she caught a glimpse of Miss Greenshaw in a puce-coloured sprigged print, bending over the rockery, weeding assiduously. They had had two wet days, of which the weeds had taken full advantage.

Lou, a town-bred girl, decided that if she ever had a garden it would never contain a rockery which needed hand weeding. Then she settled down to her work.

When Mrs. Cresswell entered the library with the coffee tray at half past eleven, she was clearly in a very bad temper. She banged the tray down on the table, and observed to the universe.

“Company for lunch—and nothing in the house! What am I supposed to do, I should like to know? And no sign of Alfred.”

“He was sweeping in the drive when I got here,” Lou offered.

“I daresay. A nice soft job.”

Mrs. Cresswell swept out of the room and banged the door behind her. Lou grinned to herself. She wondered what “the nephew” would be like.

She finished her coffee and settled down to her work again. It was so absorbing that time passed quickly. Nathaniel Greenshaw, when he started to keep a diary, had succumbed to the pleasure of frankness. Trying out a passage relating to the personal charm of a barmaid in the neighbouring town, Lou reflected that a good deal of editing would be necessary.

As she was thinking this, she was startled by a scream from the garden. Jumping up, she ran to the open window. Miss Greenshaw was staggering away from the rockery towards the house. Her hands were clasped to her breast and between them there protruded a feathered shaft that Lou recognized with stupefaction to be the shaft of an arrow.

Miss Greenshaw’s head, in its battered straw hat, fell forward on her breast. She called up to Lou in a failing voice: “. . . shot . . . he shot me . . . with an arrow . . . get help. . . .”

Lou rushed to the door. She turned the handle, but the door would not open. It took her a moment or two of futile endeavour to realize that she was locked in. She rushed back to the window.

“I’m locked in.”

Miss Greenshaw, her back towards Lou, and swaying a little on her feet was calling up to the housekeeper at a window farther along.

“Ring police . . . telephone. . . .”

Then, lurching from side to side like a drunkard she disappeared from Lou’s view through the window below into the drawing room. A moment later Lou heard a crash of broken china, a heavy fall, and then silence. Her imagination reconstructed the scene. Miss Greenshaw must have staggered blindly into a small table with a Sèvres tea set on it.

Desperately Lou pounded on the door, calling and shouting. There was no creeper or drainpipe outside the window that could help her to get out that way.

Tired at last of beating on the door, she returned to the window. From the window of her sitting room farther along, the housekeeper’s head appeared.

“Come and let me out, Mrs. Oxley. I’m locked in.”

“So am I.”

“Oh dear, isn’t it awful? I’ve telephoned the police. There’s an extension in this room, but what I can’t understand, Mrs. Oxley, is our being locked in. I never heard a key turn, did you?”

“No. I didn’t hear anything at all. Oh dear, what shall we do? Perhaps Alfred might hear us.” Lou shouted at the top of her voice, “Alfred, Alfred.”

“Gone to his dinner as likely as not. What time is it?”

Lou glanced at her watch.

“Twenty-five past twelve.”

“He’s not supposed to go until half past, but he sneaks off earlier whenever he can.”

“Do you think—do you think—”

Lou meant to ask “Do you think she’s dead?” but the words stuck in her throat.

There was nothing to do but wait. She sat down on the windowsill. It seemed an eternity before the stolid helmeted figure of a police constable came round the corner of the house. She leant out of the window and he looked up at her, shading his eyes with his hand. When he spoke his voice held reproof.

“What’s going on here?” he asked disapprovingly.

From their respective windows, Lou and Mrs. Cresswell poured a flood of excited information down on him.

The constable produced a notebook and pencil. “You ladies ran upstairs and locked yourselves in? Can I have your names, please?”

“No. Somebody else locked us in. Come and let us out.”

The constable said reprovingly, “All in good time,” and disappeared through the window below.

Once again time seemed infinite. Lou heard the sound of a car arriving, and, after what seemed an hour, but was actually three minutes, first Mrs. Cresswell and then Lou, were released by a police sergeant more alert than the original constable.

“Miss Greenshaw?” Lou’s voice faltered. “What—what’s happened?”

The sergeant cleared his throat.

“I’m sorry to have to tell you, madam,” he said, “what I’ve already told Mrs. Cresswell here. Miss Greenshaw is dead.”

“Murdered,” said Mrs. Cresswell. “That’s what it is—murder.”

The sergeant said dubiously:

“Could have been an accident—some country lads shooting with bows and arrows.”

Again there was the sound of a car arriving. The sergeant said:

“That’ll be the MO,” and started downstairs.

But it was not the MO. As Lou and Mrs. Cresswell came down the stairs a young man stepped hesitatingly through the front door and paused, looking round him with a somewhat bewildered air.

Then, speaking in a pleasant voice that in some way seemed familiar to Lou—perhaps it had a family resemblance to Miss Greenshaw’s—he asked:

“Excuse me, does—er—does Miss Greenshaw live here?”

“May I have your name if you please,” said the sergeant advancing upon him.

“Fletcher,” said the young man. “Nat Fletcher. I’m Miss Greenshaw’s nephew, as a matter of fact.”

“Indeed, sir, well—I’m sorry—I’m sure—”

“Has anything happened?” asked Nat Fletcher.

“There’s been an—accident—your aunt was shot with an arrow—penetrated the jugular vein—”

Mrs. Cresswell spoke hysterically and without her usual refinement:

“Your aunt’s been murdered, that’s what’s happened. Your aunt’s been murdered.”

 

 

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