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The Broken Hearts Case

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“Jane, you’ve simply got to help,” Mrs. Bantry cried down the telephone line, without preamble.

“Goodness, Dolly,” Miss Marple scolded. “What on Earth are you talking about?”

“Eurydice Jones, the daughter of Mary Edmonds, from school you know, has been down visiting Arthur and I at Gossington,” said Mrs. Bantry. “Her mother said something rather vague about the quiet and the clean country air being a balm and I thought perhaps Eurydice had been ill—the influenza has been going around terribly in London—but now I have the right of it.

“The poor child quite broke down during church sermon. All that nonsense about purgatory and ‘by the will of God’ can be hard to take for even the ordinary woman and for someone still reeling from a recent loss... well! I’m sure I’d never have brought her on Sunday if I’d known. She’s only just recovered and told me the bones of the thing and from what she’s said, I’m quite certain, yes, I’m quite certain it was murder!”

“Come to tea,” Miss Marple said, firmly.

-

Mrs. Bantry and Eurydice Jones arrived for tea promptly at four o’clock, just as Agnes was laying out the butter and scones. Miss Marple shepherded them to the sitting room and took up her customary place in the high-backed chair by the fire. So nice to have a well-laid fire by one’s side as the autumn chill set in!

Miss Marple took stock of Eurydice Jones as she settled on the sofa. A rather cynical name to start a child off with, Miss Marple thought privately. A solid, traditional name like Gladys or Martha certainly made one feel less like the sword of Damocles was hanging overhead.

Eurydice, however, seemed to have taken it in stride. Her pale blue eyes were only slightly red. Her dark hair was tucked up neatly and she sat delicately, back pin straight and legs crossed primly. Very correct. And, Miss Marple thought, eyeing her black lace gloves, grieving.

“Agnes will be right out with the tea, dear. How do you take it?”

“One sugar, please," Eurydice said, looking at Miss Marple doubtfully.

"No need to be shy, child," Mrs. Bantry said, reaching for a scone. "Jane has a first-class mind for murder. Tell her just what you told me."

Miss Marple coughed delicately. "Dolly exaggerates my slight skills. I merely apply my understanding of human nature. People are really very much the same everywhere."

“Well, it’s my friend Judith,” Eurydice began slowly. “I suppose I ought to state quite bluntly that she's dead.” Her voice quavered and Miss Marple nodded her head encouragingly. “There was an inquiry. Everyone else was satisfied with the results. Likely an undetected heart abnormality, the doctor said. Not terribly uncommon.”

Miss Marple nodded again. “We had a similar loss in the village not a few years ago. Dear Nathaniel Bettam, the baker’s son and only twenty four. But you weren’t satisfied with such an explanation for Judith?”

“Never,” Eurydice said. “A more fit and healthy girl you’d never seen. We used to climb quite high up Mount Ellis to pick blackberries every week in the summer and she would laugh as I begged for a respite, huffing like a steam engine while she ran ahead without a care in the world.” Her eyes went steely. “It was someone in that horrible Market Holbrooke, I’m sure of it.”

“Market Holbrooke was the town Judith was visiting,” Mrs. Bantry clarified. “She went down to see an aunt and... oh go ahead, Eurydice, you’ll tell it much better.”

Eurydice picked the narrative back up. “As you said, she was visiting an aunt. Her mother’s sister. Judith had only met her a few times, back when she was young. There had been some kind of family falling out when her Aunt Clara married a poor young man who was considered below her station. But Judith’s mother passed years ago and her Aunt Clara sent a letter asking to see her.

“Judith thought it would be a short visit but it lengthened into several months. She became quite close with her aunt and uncle and when she found out that Clara was ill, she insisted on staying to help.” Eurydice gave a choked laugh. “I’m not sure how much help she truly was on the domestic side, she could barely boil water and considered making up the bed linens the most pointless exercise in existence, but she was lovely and there was something effervescent about her that drew people in and buoyed their spirits. And there was only a maid to look after a twelve room house. Clara had money, of course, but her husband was very frugal.

“I suppose the other main character in Judith’s letters was Harry Winthrop, a young man from the town. She described him as dapper and somewhat over-polished—slick, rather—and he befriended her very quickly after she arrived. He used to take her out for tea on Fridays and she was grateful for the companionship but even more so because tea at the house was apparently something of an uncertainty. They used to wait luncheon til half past one because her Uncle Roderick was so perpetually late to tea they would have perished of hunger waiting on him if they’d last eaten at noon.

“Of course Harry didn’t just want her company,” Eurydice scoffed. “Judith was quite shocked when he proposed to her one day although I’d told her it was very obvious what direction his thoughts were taking. She turned him down flat, and not very diplomatically I’m afraid. Rather served him right, I thought. She found out later that he’d broken off an engagement to the chemist’s daughter, Margaret, to pursue her.”

“Bad blood all around,” Mrs. Bantry put in.

“Quite distressing,” Miss Marple agreed. “Was there anything else that Judith mentioned, dear? So often there is something curious or unaccountable that at first seems quite unrelated...”

“Oh, yes, the silver,” Eurydice said, remembering. “Some of the silver disappeared. Her Uncle Roderick made a terrible fuss about it. Sentiment as well as the cost, I suppose. It was their wedding set. They fired the little maid, Annie, over it and it all sounded terribly fraught. Annie was apparently devoted to Aunt Clara and a very kind girl. Judith was sure she hadn’t done it, but the only other person who’d been in the house that day was Dr. Tallridge, the solicitor. But then you never really know, do you? These country houses where they leave the doors unlocked and it’s not as if Annie could always be in the kitchen with it, cooking and washing and polishing, when she was expected to dust and clean and turn the mattresses to boot!

“I don’t know what more to tell you,” Eurydice said despondently, twisting her hands together. “I wasn’t there myself. All I have is conjecture from her letters and the momentary impressions of those who attended the inquiry. Harry Winthrop seemed really quite distraught and her Aunt Clara was so beside herself she couldn’t even attend. She passed on herself only last week, I saw it in the paper. But I feel so sure, so certain, that someone killed Judith for all that there seems no motive.”

“No motive!” Mrs. Bantry cried. “The story practically abounds with motives! That young blackguard she rebuffed may have had a violent streak. Who’s to say his distress at the inquiry wasn’t guilt? Or the chemist’s daughter, jilted so close to the altar over a pretty new face in town. She would certainly have had access to a vast array of pills and potions from her father’s dispensary.” She looked to Miss Marple triumphantly. “Well, Jane, tell us. Am I right this time?”

“Oh, I don’t know, Dolly. I think it may have gone rather differently...The way you describe Judith reminds me quite vividly of one of my own companions in girlhood,” Miss Marple told Eurydice reminiscently. “Lovely and spirited. Very different from me with my quiet habit of observation. Cold, I was often called and I won’t tell you it didn’t sting. But we were very drawn to each other. Always running off to the next village for adventures. And then one day she was gone. Took a trip to the seashore and the bus lost control and went right over the edge of a ravine. A terrible accident.”

“Is that what you think this was then? An accident of nature?” Eurydice said in the sharp voice of someone who had been told so, kindly, one too many times.

“Oh no, my dear,” Miss Marple said. “I only meant they seemed the same type of girl. Bright and easily loved. But there can be a danger in that, you know. The scenario you’ve put to me... well, if you’ll forgive my parlance, it quite simply smacks of murder.” She shook her head sadly and said, calmly, “The uncle, I’d expect.”

“Roderick! But he adored her!” Eurydice exclaimed.

“Adored her until it became clear that this wasn’t a short visit and she was taking a prominent place in his wife’s affections. A place that might well mean an inheritance. The lawyer had been by, you remember,” Miss Marple pointed out. “She wasn’t his blood and that too makes a difference to a certain kind of man. And the disappearing silver, I found very telling.”

“The silver?” Eurydice said, faintly.

“He needed money,” Miss Marple explained. “Gambling debts, I imagine. The poor maid, she was unjustly used. Men hardly ever have such sentiment over wedding gifts but that he seemed most upset would have helped deflect suspicion away from him. And pointing the finger at Annie robbed that poor girl of a legacy too. Very neat and very shameful.”

“Arthur certainly wouldn’t know our wedding silver from the rest,” Mrs. Bantry agreed. “But why do you think he had gambling debts, Jane?”

“Oh, I saw that right away,” Miss Marple said. “So like Mr. Whitaker across the lane. Thoroughly to be relied upon to appear promptly at noon for luncheon and eight for supper but as with Judith’s Uncle Roderick, perpetually late for tea. Of course everyone knew that was because the horse races began at half two and the train back from London doesn’t set out until a quarter past five. I expect that’s where he obtained the poison as well. I’ve heard there’s a drug they give the horses sometimes, to fix the races, and a high enough dose would be fatal and yet quite unlooked for in a human.”

Miss Marple clicked her tongue in disgust. “Wickedness. It may be cold comfort now, but I have a godson in Scotland Yard and we shall set him on the trail at once, that justice may be served.”

Agnes set down the tea tray and Miss Marple poured a cup, still shaking her head. “Now do forgive me, my dear, I’ve quite forgotten...Do you take one lump or two?”