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

 

Inspector Welch drew his chair a little nearer to the table and let his gaze wander from one to the other of the four people in the room. It was the evening of the same day. He had called at the Wests’ house to take Lou Oxley once more over her statement.

“You are sure of the exact words? Shot—he shot me—with an arrow—get help?”

Lou nodded.

“And the time?”

“I looked at my watch a minute or two later—it was then twelve twenty-five.”

“Your watch keeps good time?”

“I looked at the clock as well.”

The inspector turned to Raymond West.

“It appears, sir, that about a week ago you and a Mr. Horace Bindler were witnesses to Miss Greenshaw’s will?”

Briefly, Raymond recounted the events of the afternoon visit that he and Horace Bindler had paid to Greenshaw’s Folly.

“This testimony of yours may be important,” said Welch. “Miss Greenshaw distinctly told you, did she, that her will was being made in favour of Mrs. Cresswell, the housekeeper, that she was not paying Mrs. Cresswell any wages in view of the expectations Mrs. Cresswell had of profiting by her death?”

“That is what she told me—yes.”

“Would you say that Mrs. Cresswell was definitely aware of these facts?”

“I should say undoubtedly. Miss Greenshaw made a reference in my presence to beneficiaries not being able to witness a will and Mrs. Cresswell clearly understood what she meant by it. Moreover, Miss Greenshaw herself told me that she had come to this arrangement with Mrs. Cresswell.”

“So Mrs. Cresswell had reason to believe she was an interested party. Motive’s clear enough in her case, and I daresay she’d be our chief suspect now if it wasn’t for the fact that she was securely locked in her room like Mrs. Oxley here, and also that Miss Greenshaw definitely said a man shot her—”

“She definitely was locked in her room?”

“Oh yes. Sergeant Cayley let her out. It’s a big old-fashioned lock with a big old-fashioned key. The key was in the lock and there’s not a chance that it could have been turned from inside or any hanky-panky of that kind. No, you can take it definitely that Mrs. Cresswell was locked inside that room and couldn’t get out. And there were no bows and arrows in the room and Miss Greenshaw couldn’t in any case have been shot from a window—the angle forbids it—no, Mrs. Cresswell’s out of it.”

He paused and went on:

“Would you say that Miss Greenshaw, in your opinion, was a practical joker?”

Miss Marple looked up sharply from her corner.

“So the will wasn’t in Mrs. Cresswell’s favour after all?” she said.

Inspector Welch looked over at her in a rather surprised fashion.

“That’s a very clever guess of yours, madam,” he said. “No. Mrs. Cresswell isn’t named as beneficiary.”

“Just like Mr. Naysmith,” said Miss Marple, nodding her head. “Miss Greenshaw told Mrs. Cresswell she was going to leave her everything and so got out of paying her wages; and then she left her money to somebody else. No doubt she was vastly pleased with herself. No wonder she chortled when she put the will away in Lady Audley’s Secret.”

“It was lucky Mrs. Oxley was able to tell us about the will and where it was put,” said the inspector. “We might have had a long hunt for it otherwise.”

“A Victorian sense of humour,” murmured Raymond West. “So she left her money to her nephew after all,” said Lou.

The inspector shook his head.

“No,” he said, “she didn’t leave it to Nat Fletcher. The story goes around here—of course I’m new to the place and I only get the gossip that’s secondhand—but it seems that in the old days both Miss Greenshaw and her sister were set on the handsome young ridding master, and the sister got him. No, she didn’t leave the money to her nephew—” He paused, rubbing his chin, “She left it to Alfred,” he said.

“Alfred—the gardener?” Joan spoke in a surprised voice.

“Yes, Mrs. West. Alfred Pollock.”

“But why?” cried Lou.

Miss Marple coughed and murmured:

“I should imagine, though perhaps I am wrong, that there may have been—what we might call family reasons.”

“You could call them that in a way,” agreed the inspector. “It’s quite well-known in the village, it seems, that Thomas Pollock, Alfred’s grandfather, was one of old Mr. Greenshaw’s by-blows.”

“Of course,” cried Lou, “the resemblance! I saw it this morning.”

She remembered how after passing Alfred she had come into the house and looked up at old Greenshaw’s portrait.

“I daresay,” said Miss Marple, “that she thought Alfred Pollock might have a pride in the house, might even want to live in it, whereas her nephew would almost certainly have no use for it whatever and would sell it as soon as he could possibly do so. He’s an actor, isn’t he? What play exactly is he acting in at present?”

Trust an old lady to wander from the point, thought Inspector Welch, but he replied civilly:

“I believe, madam, they are doing a season of James Barrie’s plays.”

“Barrie,” said Miss Marple thoughtfully.

“What Every Woman Knows,” said Inspector Welch, and then blushed. “Name of a play,” he said quickly. “I’m not much of a theatregoer myself,” he added, “but the wife went along and saw it last week. Quite well done, she said it was.”

“Barrie wrote some very charming plays,” said Miss Marple, “though I must say that when I went with an old friend of mine, General Easterly, to see Barrie’s Little Mary—” she shook her head sadly, “—neither of us knew where to look.”

The inspector, unacquainted with the play Little Mary looked completely fogged. Miss Marple explained:

“When I was a girl, Inspector, nobody ever mentioned the word stomach.”

The inspector looked even more at sea. Miss Marple was murmuring titles under her breath.

“The Admirable Crichton. Very clever. Mary Rose—a charming play. I cried, I remember. Quality Street I didn’t care for so much. Then there was A Kiss for Cinderella. Oh, of course.”

Inspector Welch had no time to waste on theatrical discussion. He returned to the matter in hand.

“The question is,” he said, “did Alfred Pollock know that the old lady had made a will in his favour? Did she tell him?” He added: “You see—there’s an archery club over at Boreham Lovell and Alfred Pollock’s a member. He’s a very good shot indeed with a bow and arrow.”

“Then isn’t your case quite clear?” asked Raymond West. “It would fit in with the doors being locked on the two women—he’d know just where they were in the house.”

The inspector looked at him. He spoke with deep melancholy.

“He’s got an alibi,” said the inspector.

“I always think alibis are definitely suspicious.”

“Maybe, sir,” said Inspector Welch. “You’re talking as a writer.”

“I don’t write detective stories,” said Raymond West, horrified at the mere idea.

“Easy enough to say that alibis are suspicious,” went on Inspector Welch, “but unfortunately we’ve got to deal with facts.”

He sighed.

“We’ve got three good suspects,” he said. “Three people who, as it happened, were very close upon the scene at the time. Yet the odd thing is that it looks as though none of the three could have done it. The housekeeper I’ve already dealt with—the nephew, Nat Fletcher, at the moment Miss Greenshaw was shot, was a couple of miles away filling up his car at a garage and asking his way—as for Alfred Pollock six people will swear that he entered the Dog and Duck at twenty past twelve and was there for an hour having his usual bread and cheese and beer.”

“Deliberately establishing an alibi,” said Raymond West hopefully.

“Maybe,” said Inspector Welch, “but if so, he did establish it.”

There was a long silence. Then Raymond turned his head to where Miss Marple sat upright and thoughtful.

“It’s up to you, Aunt Jane,” he said. “The inspector’s baffled, the sergeant’s baffled, I’m baffled, Joan’s baffled, Lou is baffled. But to you, Aunt Jane, it is crystal clear. Am I right?”

“I wouldn’t say that, dear,” said Miss Marple, “not crystal clear, and murder, dear Raymond, isn’t a game. I don’t suppose poor Miss Greenshaw wanted to die, and it was a particularly brutal murder. Very well-planned and quite cold-blooded. It’s not a thing to make jokes about!”

“I’m sorry,” said Raymond, abashed. “I’m not really as callous as I sound. One treats a thing lightly to take away from the—well, the horror of it.”

“That is, I believe, the modern tendency,” said Miss Marple, “All these wars, and having to joke about funerals. Yes, perhaps I was thoughtless when I said you were callous.”

“It isn’t,” said Joan, “as though we’d known her at all well.”

“That is very true,” said Miss Marple. “You, dear Joan, did not know her at all. I did not know her at all. Raymond gathered an impression of her from one afternoon’s conversation. Lou knew her for two days.”

“Come now, Aunt Jane,” said Raymond, “tell us your views. You don’t mind, Inspector?”

“Not at all,” said the inspector politely.

“Well, my dear, it would seem that we have three people who had, or might have thought they had, a motive to kill the old lady. And three quite simple reasons why none of the three could have done so. The housekeeper could not have done so because she was locked in her room and because Miss Greenshaw definitely stated that a man shot her. The gardener could not have done it because he was inside the Dog and Duck at the time the murder was committed, the nephew could not have done it because he was still some distance away in his car at the time of the murder.”

“Very clearly put, madam,” said the inspector.

“And since it seems most unlikely that any outsider should have done it, where, then, are we?”

“That’s what the inspector wants to know,” said Raymond West.

“One so often looks at a thing the wrong way round,” said Miss Marple apologetically. “If we can’t alter the movements or the position of those three people, then couldn’t we perhaps alter the time of the murder?”

“You mean that both my watch and the clock were wrong?” asked Lou.

“No dear,” said Miss Marple, “I didn’t mean that at all. I mean that the murder didn’t occur when you thought it occurred.”

“But I saw it,” cried Lou.

“Well, what I have been wondering, my dear, was whether you weren’t meant to see it. I’ve been asking myself, you know, whether that wasn’t the real reason why you were engaged for this job.”

“What do you mean, Aunt Jane?”

“Well, dear, it seems odd. Miss Greenshaw did not like spending money, and yet she engaged you and agreed quite willingly to the terms you asked. It seems to me that perhaps you were meant to be there in that library on the first floor, looking out of the window so that you could be the key witness—someone from outside of irreproachable good faith—to fix a definite time and place for the murder.”

“But you can’t mean,” said Lou, incredulously, “that Miss Greenshaw intended to be murdered.”

“What I mean, dear,” said Miss Marple, “is that you didn’t really know Miss Greenshaw. There’s no real reason, is there, why the Miss Greenshaw you saw when you went up to the house should be the same Miss Greenshaw that Raymond saw a few days earlier? Oh, yes, I know,” she went on, to prevent Lou’s reply, “she was wearing the peculiar old-fashioned print dress and the strange straw hat, and had unkempt hair. She corresponded exactly to the description Raymond gave us last weekend. But those two women, you know, were much of an age and height and size. The housekeeper, I mean, and Miss Greenshaw.”

“But the housekeeper is fat!” Lou exclaimed. “She’s got an enormous bosom.”

Miss Marple coughed.

“But my dear, surely, nowadays I have seen—er—them myself in shops most indelicately displayed. It is very easy for anyone to have a—a bust—of any size and dimension.”

“What are you trying to say?” demanded Raymond.

“I was just thinking, dear, that during the two or three days Lou was working there, one woman could have played the two parts. You said yourself, Lou, that you hardly saw the housekeeper, except for the one moment in the morning when she brought you in the tray with coffee. One sees those clever artists on the stage coming in as different characters with only a minute or two to spare, and I am sure the change could have been effected quite easily. That marquise head-dress could be just a wig slipped on and off.”

“Aunt Jane! Do you mean that Miss Greenshaw was dead before I started work there?”

“Not dead. Kept under drugs, I should say. A very easy job for an unscrupulous woman like the housekeeper to do. Then she made the arrangements with you and got you to telephone to the nephew to ask him to lunch at a definite time. The only person who would have known that this Miss Greenshaw was not Miss Greenshaw would have been Alfred. And if you remember, the first two days you were working there it was wet, and Miss Greenshaw stayed in the house. Alfred never came into the house because of his feud with the housekeeper. And on the last morning Alfred was in the drive, while Miss Greenshaw was working on the rockery—I’d like to have a look at that rockery.”

“Do you mean it was Mrs. Cresswell who killed Miss Greenshaw?”

“I think that after bringing you your coffee, the woman locked the door on you as she went out, carried the unconscious Miss Greenshaw down to the drawing room, then assumed her ‘Miss Greenshaw’ disguise and went out to work on the rockery where you could see her from the window. In due course she screamed and came staggering to the house clutching an arrow as though it had penetrated her throat. She called for help and was careful to say “he shot me” so as to remove suspicion from the housekeeper. She also called up to the housekeeper’s window as though she saw her there. Then, once inside the drawing room, she threw over a table with porcelain on it—and ran quickly upstairs, put on her marquise wig and was able a few moments later to lean her head out of the window and tell you that she, too, was locked in.”

“But she was locked in,” said Lou.

“I know. That is where the policeman comes in.”

“What policeman?”

“Exactly—what policeman? I wonder, Inspector, if you would mind telling me how and when you arrived on the scene?”

The inspector looked a little puzzled.

“At twelve twenty-nine we received a telephone call from Mrs. Cresswell, housekeeper to Miss Greenshaw, stating that her mistress had been shot. Sergeant Cayley and myself went out there at once in a car and arrived at the house at twelve thirty-five. We found Miss Greenshaw dead and the two ladies locked in their rooms.”

“So, you see, my dear,” said Miss Marple to Lou. “The police constable you saw wasn’t a real police constable. You never thought of him again—one doesn’t—one just accepts one more uniform as part of the law.”

“But who—why?”

“As to who—well, if they are playing A Kiss for Cinderella, a policeman is the principal character. Nat Fletcher would only have to help himself to the costume he wears on the stage. He’d ask his way at a garage being careful to call attention to the time—twelve twenty-five, then drive on quickly, leave his car round a corner, slip on his police uniform and do his ‘act.’ ”

“But why?—why?”

“Someone had to lock the housekeeper’s door on the outside, and someone had to drive the arrow through Miss Greenshaw’s throat. You can stab anyone with an arrow just as well as by shooting it—but it needs force.”

“You mean they were both in it?”

“Oh yes, I think so. Mother and son as likely as not.”

“But Miss Greenshaw’s sister died long ago.”

“Yes, but I’ve no doubt Mr. Fletcher married again. He sounds the sort of man who would, and I think it possible that the child died too, and that this so called nephew was the second wife’s child, and not really a relation at all. The woman got a post as housekeeper and spied out the land. Then he wrote as her nephew and proposed to call upon her—he may have made some joking reference to coming in his policeman’s uniform—or asked her over to see the play. But I think she suspected the truth and refused to see him. He would have been her heir if she had died without making a will—but of course once she had made a will in the housekeeper’s favour (as they thought) then it was clear sailing.”

“But why use an arrow?” objected Joan. “So very far-fetched.”

“Not far-fetched at all, dear. Alfred belonged to an archery club—Alfred was meant to take the blame. The fact that he was in the pub as early as twelve twenty was most unfortunate from their point of view. He always left a little before his proper time and that would have been just right—” she shook her head. “It really seems all wrong—morally, I mean, that Alfred’s laziness should have saved his life.”

The inspector cleared his throat.

“Well, madam, these suggestions of yours are very interesting. I shall have, of course, to investigate—”

Miss Marple and Raymond West stood by the rockery and looked down at that gardening basket full of dying vegetation.

Miss Marple murmured:

“Alyssum, saxifrage, cytisus, thimble campanula . . . Yes, that’s all the proof I need. Whoever was weeding here yesterday morning was no gardener—she pulled up plants as well as weeds. So now I know I’m right. Thank you, dear Raymond, for bringing me here. I wanted to see the place for myself.”

She and Raymond both looked up at the outrageous pile of Greenshaw’s Folly.

A cough made them turn. A handsome young man was also looking at the house.

“Plaguey big place,” he said. “Too big for nowadays—or so they say. I dunno about that. If I won a football pool and made a lot of money, that’s the kind of house I’d like to build.”

He smiled bashfully at them.

“Reckon I can say so now—that there house was built by my great-grandfather,” said Alfred Pollock. “And a fine house it is, for all they call it Greenshaw’s Folly!”

 

 

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