The Moving Finger - Agatha Christie
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When at last my broken bones had mended, and the nurses had helped me to walk again, and I was tired of being treated like a child, my doctor, Marcus Kent told me I must go and live in the country. 'Good air, quiet life, nothing to do — that's what you need. Your sister will look after you.'
I didn't ask him if I would ever be able to fly an aeroplane again. There are questions that you don't ask because you are afraid you won't like the answers. But Marcus Kent answered anyway. 'You're going to recover completely,' he said. 'But it's going to take a long time. You've got to live slowly and easily. That's why I am telling you to go to the country, rent a house, get interested in local people, local scandal, and local gossip. And go to a village where you haven't got any friends living nearby.' I agreed. 'I had already thought of that.' I did not want friends calling to give me sympathy, and then talking about themselves for hours.
So it happened that Joanna and I eventually decided to look at a house called Little Furze, in Lymstock, mainly because we had never been to Lymstock. And when Joanna saw Little Furze she decided at once that it was the house we wanted.
It was a low white house, with a Victorian veranda. It was about half a mile out of the town and had a pleasant view over the countryside with the Lymstock church tower down below.
It had belonged to a family of unmarried ladies, but now there was only one still alive, the youngest, Miss Emily Barton. She told Joanna that she had never rented her house before, 'but you see, my dear, I do not have enough money to live in such a big house any more. And, now I have met you, I shall be very happy to know that you are here. I really did hate the idea of having Men in the house!'
At this point Joanna had to tell her about me.
And Miss Emily said, 'Oh, how sad! A flying accident? But your brother will be unable to move very much -' The thought seemed to cheer her. And she told Joanna that she was going to live with a woman who had once been her servant, 'Dear Florence' who had married a builder. 'They now have a nice house in the High Street and two beautiful rooms on the top floor where I shall be very comfortable.'
So Joanna and I agreed to rent Little Furze for six months, and we moved in. Miss Barton's servant, Partridge, a thin, humourless woman, who cooked very well, stayed to look after us. And she was helped by a girl who came in every morning.
When we had been at Little Furze for a week Mrs Symmington, the lawyer's wife; Miss Griffith, the doctor's sister; Mrs Dane-Calthrop, the vicar's wife, and Mr Pye of Prior's End all came to visit us and leave us their address cards.
Joanna was very excited. 'I didn't know that people really called — with cards.'
'That is because you know nothing about the country,' I said.
'Nonsense. I've stayed for lots of weekends with people in the country.'
'That is not at all the same thing,' I said.
Then I suddenly knew how selfish my accident had made me. For my younger sister is very pretty, and she likes dancing, and driving around in fast cars. 'This is going to be awful for you,' I said to her. 'You are going to miss London so much.'
Joanna laughed and said she didn't mind at all. 'In fact, I'm glad to get away from it all. I was really very upset about Paul and it will take me a long time to get over him.'
I didn't believe this. Joanna's love affairs are always the same. She falls madly in love with some weak young man who is really very clever, but no one understands him. She listens to all his complaints and works hard to get him respect. Then, when he is ungrateful, she says her heart is broken — until the next weak young man comes along!
So I did not take Joanna's pain very seriously. But I did understand that living in the country was like a new game to my beautiful sister.
'This is a nice place, Jerry!' she said. 'So sweet and funny and old-fashioned. You just can't think of anything awful happening here, can you?'
And I agreed with her. In a place like Lymstock nothing awful could happen. It is strange to think that it was just a week later that we got the first letter.
The letter arrived while we were having breakfast. It was a local letter with a typewritten address. I opened it. Inside, words had been cut out from a book and stuck to a sheet of paper. For a minute or two I looked at the words without understanding them. Then I gasped.
Joanna looked up. 'What is it?'
The letter, using very unpleasant language, expressed the writer's opinion that Joanna and I were not brother and sister.
'It's a disgusting anonymous letter,' I said, very shocked.
Joanna was immediately interested. 'What does it say?'
I handed the letter to her.
'What a piece of dirt!' She began to laugh. 'You were obviously right about my wearing too much make-up, Jerry. I suppose they think I'm an evil woman!'
'Perhaps,' I said. 'But, of course, our father was tall and darkhaired and our mother was fair-haired with blue eyes. And since I look like him and you look like her...'
Joanna nodded. 'Nobody would think we were brother and sister. So what shall we do with the letter?'
'The correct thing, I believe, is to throw it into the fire.' I did so, and Joanna watched.
Then she got up and went to the window. 'I wonder who wrote it?'
'We will probably never know.'
Joanna was silent for a moment. 'When I think about it, I'm not sure that it's so funny after all. I thought they… liked us down here.'
'They do,' I said. 'This is just some half-mad stupid person.'
'I suppose so. But it's cruel!'
As she went out into the sunshine, I thought that she was quite right. It was cruel. Someone hated us living here — someone hated Joanna's stylish beauty — somebody wanted to hurt us. To laugh was perhaps the best thing to do. But it still wasn't funny...
Dr Griffith came to the house that morning. I had arranged for him to examine me once a week. I liked Owen Griffith. He was awkward in the way he moved, but he had very gentle hands.
His report on my progress was encouraging. Then he said, 'Are you feeling all right? I sense that something has upset you today?'
'Not really,' I said. 'But a rather unpleasant anonymous letter arrived this morning.'
He dropped his bag on the floor. 'Are you telling me that you've also had one of them?'
I was interested. 'There have been other such letters, then?'
'I see,' I said. 'I thought that someone didn't like strangers living here.'
'No, no, it's nothing to do with that. It's just… What did it say?' Suddenly his face went red. 'Sorry, perhaps I should not ask?'
'I am happy to tell you,' I said. 'It just suggested that the very lively girl I had brought here to live with me was not my sister! And that is a polite translation.'
'How disgusting! I do hope your sister is not too upset.'
'Joanna', I said, 'found it very funny. And that is the best way to treat something so totally stupid.'
'Yes,' said Owen Griffith. 'But the trouble is, that once this sort of thing starts, it just gets bigger. It is a type of madness, of course.'
I nodded. 'Have you any idea who is doing it?'
'No, I wish I had. You see, there are usually two reasons for sending anonymous letters. Either it is particular and the letters are sent to one person or group of people, by someone who is angry with them for something that has happened. It is unkind and disgusting, but it's not always mad, and it's usually fairly easy to find out who the writer is. But if it is general and not particular, then it is more serious. The letters are sent to lots of people who are not connected by any bad treatment of the writer. This is because the main purpose of such letters is to express some deep problem in the writer's mind. And that is definitely a form of madness. Also, when you eventually find out who the writer is, it is often a real shock, and rather frightening. I remember some anonymous letters being sent when I was working in the north of England, and although they were simply about personal hatred, the situation still frightened me.'
'Have people in Lymstock been receiving these letters for a long time?' I asked.
'I don't think so. But, of course, people who get these letters don't usually tell anyone.' He paused. 'I've had one myself. Symmington, the lawyer, he's had one. And one or two of my patients have told me about them.'
'Are they all about the same sort of thing?'
'Oh yes. Sex is always the main subject.' He smiled. 'Symmington was accused of being involved with his secretary, Miss Ginch, who wears big glasses and has a nose like a bird's beak. Symmington took it straight to the police. My letters said that I had been involved with several of my lady patients. They're all quite childish, but they can still be dangerous.'
'I suppose they can.'
'You see,' he said, 'one day, one of these letters will, by chance, be accurate. And then, goodness knows what may happen! Also, some people see something written down and immediately believe that it's true. Then things can become very unpleasant.'
Our anonymous letter did worry me a little but I soon stopped thinking about it. Then, about a week later, our servant, Partridge, told me that Beatrice, the girl who helped her, would not be coming today.
'She has been upset,' Partridge said.
I said I was sorry and hoped that Beatrice would soon be better.
'She is perfectly well,' said Partridge. 'It is her feelings that are upset. Because of a letter she has received, suggesting, well, that she is too friendly with you, Mr Burton.'
Since I hardly knew what Beatrice looked like I said, 'What nonsense!'
'That is just what I said to the girl's mother,' said Partridge. 'But Beatrice's boyfriend got one of those letters too, and he doesn't think it is nonsense at all. So I think it is a good thing Beatrice has left. Because she would not be so upset unless there was something she didn't want found out. There is no smoke without fire. Mr Burton.'
I did not know then how very tired I was going to get of that particular phrase.
That morning I had decided to walk down to Lymstock on my own for the first time. We had arranged that Joanna would meet me with the car and drive me back up the hill in time for lunch. The sun was shining, and there was the sweetness of spring in
the air. I picked up my walking sticks and started off. It felt like an adventure.
But I did not, after all, walk down to the town alone. I had not gone far, when I heard the sound of a bell behind me, and then Megan Hunter almost fell off her bicycle at my feet.
'Hello,' she said as she got up.
I rather liked Megan and always felt rather sorry for her. She was the lawyer Symmington's step-daughter — Mrs Symmington's daughter by a first marriage. Nobody talked much about Mr (or Captain) Hunter. I had heard that he had treated Mrs Symmington very badly. She had divorced him then came to Lymstock with Megan 'to forget', and had eventually married the only suitable unmarried man in the place, Richard Symmington. They had two little boys together whom they obviously loved very much, and I thought that Megan must sometimes feel a bit left out.
She wasn't at all like her mother, who was a small pretty woman. Megan was tall and awkward, and although she was actually twenty, she looked more like a schoolgirl. She had untidy brown hair, green eyes, a thin face, and a delightful smile. Her clothes were unattractive and she usually wore thick stockings with holes in them.
She looked, I thought this morning, much more like a horse than a human being. In fact she would have been a very nice horse if someone had brushed her.
'I've been up to the farm,' she said, 'to see if they had got any duck's eggs. They've got some sweet little pigs. Do you like pigs? I even like the smell.'
'Well-kept pigs shouldn't smell,' I said.
'Shouldn't they? Are you walking down to the town? I saw you were alone, so I thought I would stop and walk with you. But I stopped rather suddenly.'
'You've torn your stocking,' I said.
Megan looked at her right leg. 'Oh, yes. But there are two holes in it already, so it doesn't really matter, does it?'
'Don't you ever mend your stockings, Megan?'
'When Mummy tells me to. But she doesn't often notice what I do, so it's lucky in a way.'
'You don't seem to understand that you're grown up,' I said. 'You mean I ought to be more like your sister? All dressed up?'
I didn't much like this description of Joanna. 'She looks clean and tidy and good to look at,' I said.
'She's very pretty,' said Megan. 'She isn't a bit like you, is she? Why not?'
'Brothers and sisters aren't always alike.'
'No. My half-brothers Brian and Colin aren't like each other.' We walked on in silence for a moment or two, then Megan said, 'You fly aeroplanes, don't you?'
'That's how you got hurt?'
'Yes, I crashed.'
She paused, and then asked with the honesty of a child, Will you get better and be able to fly again, or will you always need sticks?'
'My doctor says I will get better.'
'I'm glad you're going to get better,' Megan said. 'I thought that you might look angry because you were never going to be well again.'
'I'm angry,' I said, 'because I'm in a hurry to get fit again — and these things can't be hurried.'
'Then why worry?'
I began to laugh. 'Megan, aren't you ever in a hurry for things to happen?'
'No. Why should I be? Nothing ever happens.'
I was struck by something sad in the words. 'Haven't you got any friends here?'
'There aren't many girls who live here, and they all think I'm awful.'
Megan shook her head.
'Did you enjoy school?'
'It wasn't bad. But the teachers could never answer questions properly.'
'Very few teachers can,' I said.
'Of course, I am rather stupid,' said Megan. 'And such a lot of things seem to me such nonsense. All that stuff those poets Shelley and Keats wrote about birds, and Wordsworth going all silly over some daffodils. And Shakespeare.'
'What's wrong with Shakespeare?'
'He says things in such a difficult way that you can't understand what he means. But I like some Shakespeare. I like Goneril and Regan.'
'Why these two?'
'Because, well something must have made them behave so badly.'
For the first time I really thought about them. I had always accepted that King Lear's elder daughters were two very unpleasant women and that was all. But Megan's demand for a reason interested me.
'I'll think about it,' I said. 'Wasn't there any subject you enjoyed at school, Megan?'
'Only Maths.' Her face suddenly looked happy. 'I loved Maths. I think numbers are beautiful.'
We were now entering the High Street and Dr Griffiths's sister, Aimee, called out to us, 'Hello, you two. Beautiful morning, isn't it?' She had all the confidence that her brother did not have and she was good-looking in a strong outdoor way. 'Megan, I'm so glad to see you,' she said in her deep voice. 'I want some help addressing envelopes for the Red Cross.'
Megan said something I could not hear, leant her bicycle against a wall, and went straight into a shop.
'She's a strange child,' said Miss Griffith. 'Very lazy. She needs an interest in life.'
I thought that was probably true. But I also felt that if I were Megan, I would have said no to any of Aimee Griffith's suggestions.
'Laziness is so wrong,' continued Miss Griffith, 'particularly in young people. Megan isn't even pretty. And she is very stupid. Of course it would be boring if we were all the same, but I don't like to see anyone not enjoying their life. I enjoy my life and I want everyone else to. I'm always busy, always happy!'
Suddenly Miss Griffith saw a friend on the other side of the street, and with a shout, she ran across the road, leaving me free to continue on my way to Messrs Galbraith, Galbraith and Symmington.
I was shown into Richard Symmington's inner office. Watching the lawyer as he bent over the documents I had brought, I thought that if Mrs Symmington had experienced a very difficult first marriage, she had certainly chosen safety for her second. Richard Symmington was an example of calm respectability. He had a long neck, a long expressionless face and a long thin nose. A kind man, no doubt, a good husband and father, but not a man to make a heart beat faster.
We quickly settled the matter I had come to ask him about and as I got up I said, 'I walked down the hill with your stepdaughter.'
For a moment Mr Symmington looked as though he did not know who his step-daughter was, then he smiled. 'Oh, yes, of course, Megan. We're trying to find something for her to do — yes. But of course she's still very young. And some people think that she's not very clever.'
I left through the outer office where a middle-aged woman with a big nose and large glasses was working at a typewriter. If this was Miss Ginch, I agreed with Owen Griffith that any sexual relations between her and her employer were very unlikely.
I went into the street and looked around, hoping to see Joanna with the car. The walk had made me very tired. But she had not arrived yet.
Then suddenly my eyes widened with surprise and delight. Along the pavement there came floating towards me a goddess. There is really no other word for it. Her perfect face, the curling golden hair, the tall beautifully shaped body! And she walked like a goddess, without effort, coming nearer and nearer.
I was so excited that I dropped one of my sticks on the pavement, and I nearly fell down myself. It was the strong arm of the goddess that caught and held me.
'Thanks so much,' I said. 'I'm very sorry.'
Then she handed me the stick, smiled kindly and said, 'That's all right. It was no trouble, I promise you.' And the magic died completely with the sound of her very ordinary voice. She was a nice healthy-looking girl, nothing more.
Joanna had now driven up and stopped in the road beside me. She asked if there was anything the matter.
'Nothing,' I said. 'I've had a shock, that's all. Do you know who that is?' I pointed to the girl's back as she floated away.
'That's the Symmingtons' governess.' Joanna opened the door of the car and I got in. 'It's funny, isn't it? Some people have the most perfect looks and absolutely no sex appeal.'
I said that if she was a governess, having no sex appeal was probably a good thing.
That afternoon we went to tea with Mr Pye.
He was a small fat man who lived at Prior's Lodge, a very beautiful house and made even more beautiful by Mr Pye. Every piece of furniture was polished and set in the perfect place. The curtains, too, were all made in perfectly chosen colours and of the most expensive silks. I thought that living there would be rather like living in a museum. Mr Pye's greatest pleasure was taking people round his house. His small hands shook as he described his treasures. Luckily, Joanna and I are both interested in beautiful old furniture.
'It is so fortunate', Mr Pye said, 'to have you here in Lymstock. The good people of the town are so, well — they don't know anything about style. The insides of their houses would make you cry, dear lady. Perhaps they have already done so?'
Joanna said that she hadn't gone quite as far as that.
'But I'm sure you agree,' he said, 'that beauty is the only thing worth living for. So why do people surround themselves with ugliness?'
Joanna said it was very strange.
'Strange? It's criminal! And they give such stupid excuses. They even say that something is comfortable! Now, the house you are renting, Miss Emily Barton's house, has some quite nice pieces in it. But sometimes, I think, it looks uncared for because she likes to keep things looking the same as when her mother was alive.'
He turned to me and his voice changed from that of a sensitive artist to that of a gossip.
'You didn't know the family at all? No, well, the old mother was an extraordinary person — quite extraordinary! A monster! «The girls»! That's what she always called her five daughters. And the eldest was well over sixty then. Every night they had to go to bed at ten o'clock. And they were never allowed to invite friends home. She had no respect for them because they were not married. But she arranged their lives so that it was impossible for them to meet anybody!'
'It sounds like a book,' said Joanna.
'Oh, it was. And then the awful old woman died, but of course it was far too late then. And soon they just died one after the other. All except Emily. It is so sad that she now has money problems.'
'We feel rather awful being in her house,' said Joanna.
'No, no, my dear. You mustn't feel like that. She told me herself how happy she was to have got such nice tenants.'
It was time to leave and we all went out into the hall. As we reached the front door a letter came through the letterbox and fell on the floor.
Mr Pye picked it up. 'My dear young people, such a pleasure to meet some lively minds for a change. Lymstock is beautiful, but nothing ever happens.' He helped me into the car. Then Joanna drove off and I turned to wave goodbye to Mr Pye.
But he did not see me, for he had just opened his letter. And his face was twisted with anger and shock. At that moment I knew that there had been something familiar about that envelope.
'Goodness,' said Joanna, looking in the car mirror. 'What's upset the poor old boy?'
'I think,' I said, 'that it's the letter.'
'You mean a letter like the one you got? But who writes these things, Jerry? And why?'
'You must read Freud and Jung to find that out,' I said. 'Or ask Dr Griffith.'
Joanna shook her head. 'Dr Griffith doesn't like me.'
'He's hardly seen you.'
'He's seen quite enough, it seems, to make him cross over the road if he sees me coming. But seriously, Jerry, why do people write anonymous letters?'
'I suppose that if others have been unkind to you, or just not noticed you, and your life is dull and empty, you might get a sense of power from hurting people who are happy.'
As we drove through the town, I looked at the few men and women in the High Street. Was one of those healthy country people really filled with hate behind their calm expression, planning perhaps even now another evil letter?
But I still did not take it seriously.
Two days later, on Saturday afternoon, we went to a card party at the Symmingtons'. There were two tables. The players were the Symmingtons, ourselves, Miss Griffith, Mr Pye, Miss Barton and a Colonel Appleton who lived in a nearby village.
When we arrived, Elsie Holland, the children's governess, was searching for some extra notebooks in the desk. She floated across the floor with them in the same way as when I had first seen her, but the magic was gone. I now noticed how large her teeth were, and the way she opened her mouth very wide when she laughed. Which she did a lot.
'Are these notebooks all right, Mrs Symmington? Oh, they are a bit yellow round the edges. Anyway, I'm taking the boys to Long Barrow so there won't be any noise.'
We sat down and began to play a game of bridge. Everyone was very friendly and the afternoon passed quickly and enjoyably. We then had tea in the dining-room. Suddenly, two excited little boys ran in. Mrs Symmington smiled with pride as she introduced her sons to us.
Then, just as we were finishing our tea, I heard a sound and turned my head to see Megan standing between the open French windows.
'Oh,' said her mother, sounding surprised. 'Here's Megan. I'm sorry but I forgot about your tea, dear. Miss Holland and the boys took theirs out with them.'
'That's all right. I'll go to the kitchen.' Megan moved silently across the room.
Mrs Symmington said with a little laugh, 'Poor Megan. Girls are so awkward when they've just left school.'
Joanna looked up. 'But Megan's twenty, isn't she?'
'Oh, yes, yes. She is. But she's very young for her age. Which is so nice. I expect all mothers want their children to remain babies.'
'I can't think why,' said Joanna. 'It would be a bit difficult to have a child who had a six year old brain in a grown-up body.'
'Oh, you mustn't take things so seriously,' said Mrs Symmington.
As we drove home, Joanna said, 'I feel very sorry for Megan. Her mother doesn't like her.'
'Oh, Joanna, it's not as bad as that.'
'Yes, it is. Megan does not fit into the Symmington family. It's complete without her. And that's a very unhappy feeling for a sensitive girl to have — and she is sensitive.'
'Yes,' I said, 'I think she is.'
Joanna suddenly laughed. 'Bad luck for you about the governess.'
'I don't know what you mean.'
'Nonsense. And I agree with you. It is a waste. She is so beautiful, until she opens her mouth, to talk or laugh! But I'm glad you noticed her. It is a sign that you are coming alive again. I was quite worried about you at the hospital. You never even looked at that very pretty nurse you had.'
I smiled. 'But what about you?'
'Yes. You'll need someone to give you some excitement down here. So what about Owen Griffith? He's the only unmarried man in the place.'
Joanna drove in silence through the gate and round to the garage. Then she said, 'I don't understand why any man would cross the street to avoid me. It's rude, apart from anything else.'
I got carefully out of the car, then stood leaning on my sticks. 'I'll tell you this. Owen Griffith is not one of those weak, artistic young men you've always liked. So be careful. He could be dangerous.'
'Oh, do you think so?' Joanna said with obvious pleasure at the thought. 'But how dare he cross the street when he saw me coming?'
'We have come down here,' I said, 'for peace and quiet, and I am determined that we will get it.'
But peace and quiet were the last things we were to have.
It was about a week later that Partridge told me that Mrs Baker, the mother of the servant girl Beatrice, would like to speak to me. I hoped that I was not going to be accused of being too friendly with her daughter, as the anonymous letter had said.
But when I had offered her a chair, Mrs Baker said, 'It is very good of you to see me, Mr Burton. When Beatrice was on her bed, crying, I told her that you would know what to do.'
'I'm sorry,' I said. 'But what has happened?'
'It is the letters. The evil letters.'
'Has your daughter received more letters?'
'Not her, Mr Burton. But now George, Beatrice's boyfriend, he's got one of them, saying how Beatrice is seeing Tom Ledbetter. George is mad with anger, and he came round and told Beatrice he didn't want to see her any more.'
'But why come to me?' I asked.
'I heard that you'd had one of these letters yourself, and I thought that, being a London gentleman, you'd know what to do about them.'
'If I were you,' I said, 'I would go to the police.'
Mrs Baker looked shocked. 'Me, go into a police station? I've never been near the police.'
'Well, they are the only people who can do something about these letters. It's their job.'
Mrs Baker said, 'These letters ought to be stopped. Young fellows like George get very violent — and so do the older ones.' I leaned forward. 'Mrs Baker, have you any idea who is writing these letters?'
I was very surprised when she said, 'Yes, we've all got a good idea. Mrs Cleat — that's what we all think.'
'And who is Mrs Cleat?'
She was, Mrs Baker said, the wife of an old gardener. But when I asked her why Mrs Cleat would write these letters, Mrs Baker would only say that 'It would be like her.'
In the end she left, and I then decided to go and talk to Dr Griffith. He would almost certainly know this Cleat woman.
But when I arrived and told him about my conversation with Mrs Baker, Griffith shook his head. 'It's most unlikely.'
'Then why do they all think it is her?'
He smiled. 'Oh, because Mrs Cleat is the local witch.'
'Goodness!' I said.
'Yes, it does sound rather strange in this modern world. But Mrs Cleat is an unusual woman with a bitter sense of humour. If a child cuts its finger, she nods and says, «Yes, he stole my apples last week,» or «He pulled my cat's tail.» So mothers give her honey and cakes to make sure she won't make something bad happen to them. It's very silly, but now of course they think she must be writing the letters.'
'But she isn't?'
'Oh, no. She's not that sort of person.'
When I got back to the house, I found Megan sitting on the veranda steps.
'Hello,' she said. 'Could I come to lunch?'
'Of course. If you like Irish stew.'
'A bit. I mean, it's like a dogs' dinner isn't it, mostly potato and flavour?'
'Exactly,' I said.
Megan stretched out a long dusty leg. 'Look, I've mended my stockings,' she said proudly. 'Is your sister good at mending?'
'I don't know,' I said.
'Well, what does she do when she gets a hole in her stocking?' Rather embarrassed, I said, 'I think that she throws them away and buys another pair.'
'Very sensible,' said Megan. 'But I can't do that. I only get a very small allowance.' She paused. 'I suppose you think I'm awful, like everyone else?'
'Don't be stupid,' I said.
Megan shook her head. 'That's just it. I'm not stupid. People think I am. They don't understand that inside I know just what they're like, and that all the time I hate them.'
'You hate them?'
'Yes.' Her sad, eyes, looked straight into mine. 'You would hate people if you were like me, if you weren't wanted.'
'Don't you think you're being rather negative?' I asked.
'Yes,' said Megan. 'That's what people always say when you speak the truth. And I understand why I'm not wanted. Mummy doesn't like me because I remind her of my father. What Mummy would really like is to be just herself with my stepfather and the boys.'
I said slowly, 'If some of what you say is true, why don't you go away and have a life of your own?'
'You mean earn my living? What at? I am stupid when I try to do things. And also...'
There were tears in her eyes. 'Why should I go away? They don't want me, so I'll stay and make everyone sorry. I hate everyone in Lymstock. They all think I'm stupid and ugly. But I'll show them. I'll...'
I heard a step on the path round the side of the house. 'Get up,' I said roughly. 'Go up to the bathroom and wash your face. Quick.'
She jumped up and disappeared through the French windows just as Joanna came round the corner.
The Reverend Caleb Dane-Calthrop and his wife Maud Dane-Calthrop were both unusual personalities. Dane-Calthrop lived for his books and in his study. Mrs Dane-Calthrop was quite the opposite. She was frighteningly aware of everything around her. She had a long thin face, and always spoke in a very sincere way. I soon learned that almost everyone in the village was slightly afraid of her.
The day after Megan had come to lunch, Mrs Dane-Calthrop stopped me in the High Street. 'Oh, Mr Burton! Now what did I want to see you about? Something rather unpleasant, I think.'
'I'm sorry about that,' I said.
'Ah. Anonymous letters! That's it. Why have you brought anonymous letters to Lymstock?'
'I didn't bring them,' I said. 'They were here already.'
'Nobody got any until you came, though!'
'Yes they did. Several people got them.'
'Oh dear,' she said. 'That's all wrong. We're not like that here. And it upsets me because I ought to know about it.'
'How could you know?' I asked.
'Because I usually do. And they are such silly letters, too.'
'Have you had any yourself?'
Her eyes opened wider. 'Oh yes, two — no, three. I forget exactly what they said. It was something about Caleb and the schoolteacher. Very silly.' She paused. And there are so many things the letters might say, but don't. That's what is so strange. They don't seem to know any of the real things.'
'What do you mean exactly?'
'Well, of course. There is plenty of adultery here, and more — so why doesn't the writer use those secrets? What did they say in your letter?'
'They suggested that my sister wasn't my sister.'
'And is she?'
'Joanna is certainly my sister.'
She nodded. 'That just shows you what I mean. I expect there are other things -' She looked at me thoughtfully, and I suddenly understood why Lymstock was afraid of Mrs Dane-Calthrop.
For once, I was delighted when Aimee Griffith's loud voice called, 'Hello, Maud, I'm glad I've seen you. I want to change the date for the Red Cross sale. I must just go into the grocer's, then we'll talk, if that suits you? Good morning, Mr Burton.'
'Yes, that will do quite well,' said Mrs Dane-Calthrop. But Aimee Griffith had already gone, and she shook her head. 'Poor thing.'
I was confused. Surely she could not feel sorry for Aimee?
But she went on, 'You know, Mr Burton, I'm rather afraid...'
About this letter business?'
'Yes, you see it must mean -' She paused, then she said slowly as though she was solving a problem, 'It must mean that it was caused by blind hatred… yes, blind hatred. But even a blind man might put a knife in the heart purely by chance — and what would happen then, Mr Burton?'
We were to know that before another day had passed.
It was Partridge who brought the news of the tragedy.
She came into Joanna's bedroom in the morning. 'There's awful news, Miss Burton,' she said as she pulled back the curtains. 'Shocking! I couldn't believe it when I heard.'
'What's awful?' said Joanna, trying to wake up.
'Poor Mrs Symmington.' She paused. 'Dead.'
'Dead?' Joanna sat up in bed, now wide awake.
'Yes, and what's worse, she committed suicide.'
'Oh no, Partridge!' Joanna was really shocked.
'Yes, it's the truth. But she was driven to it. poor thing.'
'Not...?' Joanna's eyes questioned Partridge and Partridge nodded.
'That's right. One of those evil letters!'
'What did it say?'
But unfortunately Partridge had not been able to find out. 'They're unpleasant things,' said Joanna. 'But I don't see why they would make someone want to commit suicide.'
'Not unless they were true, Miss Burton.' And Partridge left the room.
When Joanna came in to tell me the news, I thought of what Dr Griffith had said, that sooner or later the letter writer would hit the mark. Now they had with Mrs Symmington. She, the woman you would least suspect, had had a secret...
'How awful for her husband,' Joanna said. 'And for Megan. Do you think...' She paused. 'I wonder if she'd like to come and stay with us for a day or two?'
'We'll go and ask her,' I said.
We went down to the Symmingtons' house after breakfast. We were a little nervous because we did not want to seem too interested in what had happened. Luckily we met Owen Griffith just coming out through the gate.
'Oh, hello, Burton. I'm glad to see you. What an awful business!'
'Good morning, Dr Griffith,' said Joanna loudly.
Griffith's face went red. 'Oh, good morning, Miss Burton.'
'I thought perhaps,' said Joanna, 'that you didn't see me.' Owen Griffith got redder still. 'I'm — I'm so sorry — I was thinking.'
Joanna went on, 'After all, I am standing right in front of you.'
I interrupted quickly, 'My sister and I wondered whether it would be a good thing if Megan came and stayed with us for a day or two? What do you think?'
'I think it would be an excellent thing,' he said. 'It would be good for her to get away. Miss Holland is doing very well, but she really has quite enough to do with the two boys and Symmington himself. He's quite heart-broken -'
'It was -' I paused — 'suicide?'
Griffith nodded. 'Oh yes. She wrote, «I can't go on» on a torn bit of paper, and the anonymous letter was found in the fireplace.'
'What did -' I stopped. 'Sorry,' I said.
Griffith gave a quick unhappy smile. 'It will have to be read at the inquest. But the suggestion was that the second boy, Colin, was not Symmington's child.'
'Do you think that was true?' I asked.
'I've only been here five years. But I thought the Symmingtons were a happy couple who loved each other and their boys. It's true that Colin doesn't look very much like his parents — he's got red hair, for one thing — but that's not unusual.'
'His red hair may have been the reason for the suggestion.'
'It probably was.'
'But it just happened to be correct,' said Joanna, 'or she wouldn't have killed herself, would she?'
Griffith said, 'I'm not sure. I've been treating her for a nervous condition, so she may have thought that her husband would not believe her when she said the story wasn't true.' And Owen walked away slowly down the street.
Joanna and I went on into the house. The front door was open and it seemed easier than ringing the bell, especially when we heard Elsie Holland's voice from inside the sitting room.
'But, Mr Symmington, you must eat something. You haven't had anything since lunchtime yesterday, and you will be ill if you don't eat or drink.'
Symmington said, 'You're very kind, Miss Holland, but -''
'A nice cup of hot tea,' said Elsie Holland.
Personally I would have given the poor fellow something stronger. He was sitting in a chair, looking very confused. But he took the tea, and said, 'Thank you so much, Miss Holland. You are being so good to me.'
'It's nice of you to say that, Mr Symmington. And don't worry about the children — I'll look after them. Also, if I can help in any other ways, like letter writing or telephoning, please do ask me.'
Then, as Elsie Holland turned to go, she saw us and hurried out into the hall.
'Isn't it terrible?' she whispered.
'Can we speak to you for a moment?' asked Joanna.
Elsie Holland led the way into the dining room. 'It's been awful for Mr Symmington. It's been such a shock. But, of course, Mrs Symington had been behaving strangely for some time. She had been very nervous, and often crying.'
'What we really came for,' said Joanna, 'was to ask if Megan could stay with us for a few days — that is if she'd like to come?'
Elsie Holland looked surprised. 'Megan? I don't know. I mean, one never knows what she is going to feel about anything.' Joanna said, 'We thought it might be a help.'
'Oh well, of course it would. I mean, I haven't really had time to pay much attention to Megan. I think she's upstairs somewhere. I don't know if -'
Joanna looked at me and I went quickly out into the hall.
I found Megan in a room at the top of the house. The curtains were drawn across the windows and she was curled up on a bed in the dark like a frightened animal.
'Megan,' I said gently.
She looked at me, but she did not move.
'Megan,' I said again. 'Joanna and I have come to ask you if you would like to come and stay with us for a few days.'
'Stay with you? In your house?' Her expression did not change.
'You mean, you'll take me away from here?'
Suddenly she began to shake all over. 'Oh, do take me away! Please. It's so awful, being here, and feeling so evil. Can we go now?'
'Well, when you've packed a few things that you'll need. I'll be downstairs.'
I returned to the dining room. 'Megan's coming,' I said.
'Oh, that is good,' Elsie Holland replied. 'It will stop her thinking about herself all the time. And it will be so good for me not to have to think about her as well as everything else. I hope she won't be too difficult. Oh dear, there's the telephone. I must go and answer it.' She hurried out of the room.
Joanna said, 'What an angel!'
'You said that rather unkindly,' I told her. 'And Miss Holland is obviously very dependable.'
'Very. And she knows it.'
Before I could reply there was the sound of a suitcase bumping down the stairs. It annoyed me that Joanna had to lift it into the car. I could manage with one stick now, but I couldn't do anything that needed real strength. Anyway, we all got in and she drove off.
But, as soon as we reached Little Furze and went into the sitting room, Megan sat down and burst into tears. She cried loudly, like a small child so I quickly left the room and went to find something that might cheer her up.
When I came back I handed Megan a glass.
'What is it?'
'A cocktail,' I said.
Her tears immediately stopped. 'I've never drunk a cocktail.' She tasted the drink carefully, then a big smile spread over her face, and she swallowed the rest all at once. 'It's lovely. Can I have another?'
'In about ten minutes you'll probably understand.'
'Oh!' Megan turned to Joanna. 'It is so kind of you to have me here. I am really very grateful.'
'Please don't be grateful,' said Joanna. 'We are glad to have you here. Jerry and I are so bored because we can't think of any more things to say to each other.'
'But now,' I said, 'we shall be able to have lots of interesting discussions about Shakespeare's characters — Goneril and Regan perhaps.'
Megan suddenly smiled. 'I've been thinking about that. They behaved badly because that awful old father of theirs always forced them to be so grateful. When you have to keep saying «thank you» and «how very kind», it would make you want to be very unpleasant for a change.'
'I'm afraid I always find Shakespeare very boring,' said Joanna. 'All those long scenes where everybody is drunk and it's supposed to be funny.'
'Talking of drink,' I said. 'How are you feeling, Megan?'
'Very well, thank you.'
'Not at all confused? You can't see two Joannas or anything like that?'
'No. I just feel as though I'd like to talk rather a lot.'
'Perfect,' I said. 'Keeping a clear mind while enjoying alcohol is a great advantage to any human being.'
The inquest was held three days later.
The time of Mrs Symmington's death was put at between three and four o'clock. She was alone in the house, Symmington was at his office, the maids were having their day off, Elsie Holland and the children were out walking and Megan had gone for a bicycle ride.
The letter must have come by the afternoon post. Mrs Symmington must have read it and been very upset, so she had gone to the garden shed, found some of the cyanide kept there for killing wasps, mixed it with water and drunk it after writing those last words, 'I can't go on...'
The coroner said that whoever had written that evil anonymous letter was morally guilty of murder. The verdict was: Suicide while temporarily insane.
The coroner had done his best. Dr Griffith also had done his best when he spoke about Mrs Symmington's nervous condition. But afterwards, walking through the High Street, I heard the same hateful whisper I had begun to know so well, 'No smoke without fire!'
'There must have been something that was true in the letter. She wouldn't have done it otherwise...'
And just for a moment I hated Lymstock.
It is difficult to remember exactly what happened next. But I do know that several people called on us. Aimee Griffith came on the morning after the inquest and managed, as usual, to annoy me immediately. Joanna and Megan were out, so I saw her alone.
'Good morning,' she said. 'I hear you've got Megan Hunter here?'
'It's very good of you. But it must be so difficult for you, so I came up to say she can come to us if you like. I can easily make her useful in the house.'
'How kind of you,' I replied. 'But we like having her. And she wanders about quite happily.'
'I'm sure that's true. Wandering is all she ever does. But, being so stupid, I suppose she can't help it.'
'Oh, I think she's rather an intelligent girl.'
Aimee Griffith gave me a long look. 'That's the first time I've ever heard anyone say that. When you talk to her, she looks through you as though she doesn't understand what you are saying!'
'She probably just isn't interested,' I said.
'If so, she's extremely rude.'
'That may be. But not stupid.'
Miss Griffith replied, What Megan needs is good hard work, something to give her an interest in life. She's much too old to spend her time doing nothing.'
'It's been rather difficult for her to do anything much so far,' I said. 'Mrs Symmington always seemed to think that Megan was about twelve years old.'
'I know,' Miss Griffith agreed. 'Of course she's dead now, poor woman, but I'm afraid I had little respect for Mrs Symmington, although of course I never suspected the truth.'
'The truth?' I said sharply.
Miss Griffith's face went red. 'I was very sorry for Dick Symmington when everyone heard about it at the inquest. It was awful for him.'
'But you must have heard him say that there was not a word of truth in that letter?'
'Of course he said so. A man's got to protect his wife. And Dick would.' She paused. 'You see, I've known Dick Symmington a long time.'
'Really? But your brother told me that you only came to Lymstock a few years ago.'
'Oh yes, but when we lived in the north of England, Dick Symmington used to come and stay near us. I've known him for years.' Her voice had softened. 'I know Dick very well… He's a proud man, and very private. But he's the sort of man who could be very jealous.'
'That would explain,' I said, 'why Mrs Symmington was afraid to show him the letter. She was afraid that he might not believe it wasn't true.'
Miss Griffith looked at me angrily. 'Do you really think that any woman would swallow cyanide because of something that wasn't true? If an innocent woman gets some unpleasant anonymous letter, she laughs and throws it away. That's what I -' she paused suddenly, and then finished, 'would do.'
But I had noticed that pause. 'I see,' I said. 'So you've had one, too?'
Aimee Griffith looked straight into my eyes. 'Well, yes. But I didn't let it worry me! I read a few words of it, then threw it straight into the wastepaper bin.'
I wanted to reply, 'No smoke without fire!' but I stopped myself and went back to talking about Megan.
'Do you know anything about Megan's financial position? Will it be necessary for her to earn her living?'
'I don't think it's necessary. Her father's mother left her a small income. I believe. And Dick Symmington would always give her a home. No, it's the principle that matters.'
'Work, Mr Burton. Work is good for men and for women. The one unforgivable sin is idleness.'
'Have you never thought, Miss Griffith,' I replied, 'that you would probably not be able to take a fast train to London if little George Stephenson, who invented the steam engine, had been out working instead of standing about, bored, in his mother's kitchen. For it was then that he suddenly became interested in the strange behaviour of the kettle lid?'
But Aimee Griffith was not persuaded. 'You are like most men, Mr Burton, you dislike the idea of women working. And you are just like my parents. I wanted to study to be a doctor. But they refused to pay for me to do that, although they paid happily for Owen to become a doctor.'
'I'm sorry about that,' I said. 'It was hard on you -'
She went on quickly, 'Oh, I'm not upset about it now. My life is busy and active. But I do still speak out against that stupid idea that a woman's place is always in the home.'
'I'm sorry if I offended you,' I said. 'And I don't think Megan's place is being in the home at all.'
'No, poor child. She doesn't fit in anywhere, I'm afraid. Her father, you know- '
She paused and I said, 'I don't know. Everyone says «her father» very quietly, and that is all. What did the man do? Is he alive still?'
'I really don't know. But he went to prison, I believe. And he was very strange. That's why Megan is rather difficult to be with.'
'Joanna is very fond of Megan,' I said.
Aimee said, 'Your sister must find it so boring down here.' And as she said it, I learnt that Aimee Griffith disliked my sister. It was there in the smooth sound of her voice. 'We all wonder why you have both chosen to bury yourselves in such an out-of- the-way place.'
It was a question and I answered it. 'It was because of my doctor's orders. He told me to come somewhere very quiet where nothing ever happened.' I paused. 'Not quite true of Lymstock now.'
'No, no.' She sounded worried and got up to go, then stopped. 'You know, we must try to stop it, all this unpleasantness!'
'Aren't the police doing anything?'
'I suppose so. But we ought to take control of it ourselves.' She said goodbye quickly and went away.
Emily Barton, the owner of our house, also called on us just after we had finished tea to talk about the garden. As we walked back towards the house she said, 'I do hope that Megan hasn't been too upset by this awful business?'
'Her mother's death, you mean?'
'That, of course. But I really meant, the unpleasantness behind it.'
I was interested. 'What do you think about that letter? Was it true?'
'Oh, no, no. I'm quite sure that Mrs Symmington never — but why would anyone want to write such a thing? '
'A twisted mind.'
'That seems very sad.'
'It doesn't seem sad to me. It just seems evil.'
'But why, Mr Burton, why? What pleasure can anyone get out of it?' She lowered her voice. 'They say that Mrs Cleat — but I really cannot believe it. Nothing like this has ever happened before in Lymstock.'
I said, 'You've not — er — received any letters yourself?'
Her face went very red. 'Oh, no — oh, no. Oh! That would be dreadful.'
I quickly apologized, but she went away looking upset and I went into the house.
Joanna was standing by the sitting room fire. She had a letter in her hand. 'Jerry! I found this in the letterbox. It begins, «You are an evil painted woman...»'
'What else does it say?'
'Same but worse.' She dropped it onto the flames.
With a quick move that hurt my back I picked it up just before it caught fire. 'Don't,' I said. 'We may need it.'
'For the police.'
Superintendent Nash came to see me the next morning. From the first moment I saw him I liked him. He was tall, and had thoughtful eyes and a quiet manner.
'Good morning, Mr Burton,' he said. 'I expect you can guess what I've come to see you about.'
'Yes, I think so. This letter business.'
He nodded. 'I understand you had one of them?'
'Yes, soon after we arrived here.'
'What did it say exactly?'
I thought for a minute, then repeated the words of the letter as accurately as possible.
When I had finished, he said, 'I see. You didn't keep the letter, Mr Burton?'
'I'm sorry. I didn't. However, my sister got one yesterday. I just stopped her putting it in the fire.' I went across to my desk, took it out and gave it to Nash.
He read it. Then he looked up and asked me, 'Does this look the same as the last one?'
'I think so.' I said. 'The envelope was typed. The letter had printed words stuck onto a piece of paper.'
Nash nodded and put it in his pocket. Then he said, 'Mr Burton, would you be able to come down to the police station with me? We could have a discussion there and it would save a lot of time.'
'Certainly,' I said.
There was a car waiting outside and we drove down in it. At the police station I found Symmington and Dr Griffith were already there. I was also introduced to another tall man who did not wear a uniform.
'Inspector Graves,' explained Nash, 'has come down from London to help us. He's an expert on anonymous letters.'
'They're all the same, these cases,' Graves said in a deep, sad voice. 'You'd be surprised. The words they use and the things they say.' Some of the letters were spread out on the table and he had obviously been examining them.
'The difficulty is,' said Nash, 'to get to see the letters. Either people put them in the fire, or they won't admit to having received any.' He took the letter I had given him from his pocket and gave it to Graves who read it then put it on the table with the others.
'We've got enough, I think, to go on with,' said Inspector Graves, 'and if you gentlemen get any more, would you please bring them to me at once. Also, if you hear of someone else getting one, please do your best to get them to come here with them. I've already got one sent to Mr Symmington, which he received two months ago, one to Dr Griffith, one to Mr Symmington's secretary Miss Ginch, one to Mrs Mudge, the butcher's wife, one to Jennifer Clark, who works at the Three Crowns, the one received by Mrs Symmington, and this one now to Miss Burton — oh yes, and one sent to the bank manager.'
Symmington asked, 'Have you learned anything about the writer?'
Graves coughed and then gave us a small lecture. 'There are certain things that are the same in all these letters. The words are made from separate letters cut out of a book. It's an old book, printed in about the year 1830. There are no fingerprints on the letters, but the envelopes which have been handled by the post office, have some fingerprints, but none that match. The envelopes are typewritten by an old Windsor 7 machine. Most of them have been posted locally, or put in the box of a house by hand. It is therefore obvious that they have been sent by someone from the local area. They were written by a woman, and in my opinion a woman of middle age or over, and probably, though not certainly, unmarried.'
We were silent for a minute or two. Then I said, 'The typewriter won't be difficult to find in a little place like this.'
But Inspector Graves shook his head. 'I am sorry to say that you are wrong, Mr Burton.'
'The typewriter,' said Superintendent Nash, 'came from Mr Symmington's office, and was given by him to the Women's Institute where anyone can use it. But what we do know is that these letters were written by an educated woman, who can spell, and use words well enough to say exactly what she wants to.'
I was shocked. I had imagined the writer as someone like Mrs Cleat, someone determined, but not clever.
Symmington put my thoughts into words. 'But there are only about twelve people like that in the whole town!'
'I can't believe it.' Then he continued, 'You heard what I said at the inquest. I should like to repeat now that I am certain the words in the letter my wife received were absolutely untrue.'
Graves answered immediately. 'That's probably right, Mr Symmington. None of these letters show any signs of real knowledge. They are just about sex and cruelty! And that's going to help us find the writer.'
Symmington got up. 'Well I hope you find her soon. She murdered my wife as surely as if she had put a knife into her.' He paused. 'How does she feel now, I wonder?'
He went out, leaving that question unanswered.
'How does she feel, Griffith?' I asked.
'I don't know. She may feel sorry, perhaps. Or she may be enjoying her power. Mrs Symmington's death may have fed her madness.'
'I hope not,' I said. 'Because if so, she'll -'
'She'll go on,' said Graves. 'They always do.' He paused. 'I wonder if perhaps you know of anyone who, definitely, hasn't had a letter?'
What an extraordinary question! But, yes, I do, in a way.' And I told him about my conversation with Emily Barton and what she had said.
Graves said, Well, that may be useful.'
I went out into the afternoon sunshine and walked along to the house agents as I needed to pay our rent in advance. A woman, who was typing, got up and came towards me. She had a long nose and large glasses and I recognized her as Miss Ginch, who had recently worked for Mr Symmington.
When I asked her about it she said, 'Yes, I did work there, but I thought it was better to leave. This is not quite so well paid, but there are things that are more valuable than money, don't you think?'
'Certainly,' I said.
'Those letters,' Miss Ginch whispered. 'I got one. Saying the most awful things about me and Mr Symmington! And I felt that if people were talking — and they must have been, or where did the writer get the idea from? — then I must avoid even the appearance of immorality, though there has never been anything wrong between me and Mr Symmington.'
I felt rather embarrassed. 'No, no, of course not.'
'But people have such evil minds!'
I had been trying to avoid looking into her eyes, but when I did I made a most unpleasant discovery. Miss Ginch was enjoying herself.
And suddenly an idea came into my mind. Had Miss Ginch written these letters herself?
When I got home I found Mrs Dane-Calthrop sitting talking to Joanna. She looked ill.
'This has been such a shock, Mr Burton,' she said. 'Poor thing, poor thing.'
'Yes,' I said. 'It's awful to think of someone being so unhappy that they take their own life.'
'Oh, you mean Mrs Symmington?' she asked.
Mrs Dane-Calthrop shook her head. 'Of course I am sorry for her, but it was going to happen some time, wasn't it?'
'Was it?' said Joanna.
Mrs Dane-Calthrop turned to her. 'Oh, I think so. If you think suicide is the best way to escape from trouble, then it doesn't much matter what the trouble is. She would have killed herself one day, because she was that kind of woman. Although she always seemed rather selfish to me, as though her life was more important than other people's. But I'm beginning to understand how little I really know anyone.'
'So who were you talking about when you said «Poor thing»?' I asked.
'The woman who wrote the letters, of course. Think how unhappy someone must be to do that. How lonely. That's why I feel so upset. Somebody in this town has been filled with that terrible unhappiness, and I did not know about it. I should have known. Poor thing!' She got up to go.
I felt unable to agree with her, so I asked, 'Have you any idea who this woman is?'
'Well, I can guess, but then I might be wrong, mightn't I?' She went quickly to the door, then turned. 'Why have you never married, Mr Burton?'
From anyone else this would have been rude, but with Mrs Dane-Calthrop I felt that she really wanted to know.
'Shall we say,' I said, 'Because I have never met the right woman?'
'We can say so,' said Mrs Dane-Calthrop, 'but it wouldn't be a very good answer, because so many men have obviously married the wrong woman.' And then she left.
Joanna said, 'I really do think she's mad, but I like her. The people in the village are afraid of her.'
'So am I, a little.'
'Do you really think whoever wrote these letters is very unhappy?' Joanna asked.
'I don't know what she's thinking or feeling! And I don't care. It's her victims I feel sorry for.'
It seems strange to me now that in our discussions about Poison Pen's state of mind, we missed the most obvious one. Griffith had thought she would be pleased with what she had done. I had thought she must be sorry. Mrs Dane-Calthrop had been certain that she was suffering.
Yet the obvious reaction we did not consider was Fear.
Because with the death of Mrs Symmington, the position of the writer of the letters was much more serious. The police were now involved, so it was even more important for the anonymous writer to remain anonymous.
And if Fear was the main reaction of the writer, other things would naturally happen. Things that I did not think about either, yet they should have been obvious.
Joanna and I came down rather late to breakfast the next morning. That is to say, late for Lymstock. And I was annoyed to see Aimee Griffith standing on the doorstep talking to Megan. Nine-thirty is not the time for a morning call.
'Hello, there, you lazy pair!' she called. 'I just wanted to ask Miss Burton if she had any vegetables she could give to our Red Cross sale. If so, I'll get Owen to call for them in the car.'
Megan came back into the house and went into the dining room. At that moment the telephone rang and I went into the hall to answer it. 'Yes?' I said.
The noise of deep breathing came from the other end and a female voice said 'Oh!'
'Yes?' I said again.
'Oh,' said the voice again. 'Is that — is it Little Furze?'
'This is Little Furze.'
'Oh!' the voice said once more, then asked, 'Could I speak to Miss Partridge for a minute?'
'Certainly,' I said. 'Who shall I say?'
'Oh. Tell her it's Agnes, would you? Agnes Woddell.'
I put down the telephone and called up the stairs, 'Partridge. Agnes Woddell wants to speak to you.'
Partridge appeared with a brush in her hand. 'Agnes Woddell — whatever can she want now?' She put down her brush and came down the stairs looking very angry.
I escaped into the dining room where Megan was eating bacon and eggs alone. So I opened the morning newspaper and a little later Joanna entered.
'Whew!' she said. 'Is it true that there are no green beans at this time of year?'
'August,' said Megan and got up and went out of the French doors on to the veranda.
'Well, one has them any time in London,' said Joanna.
When I had finished my breakfast, I followed Megan outside. Standing on the veranda, I heard Partridge enter the dining room.
'Can I speak to you a minute, Miss Burton?' she said. 'I am very sorry that someone called me on your telephone. The young person who did it should have known better be