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Tempus Fugit

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Despite the horrors of travel, and particularly of the London train, Miss Marple was thoroughly enjoying her day out. It had been very kind of Raymond to ask her, but then he had always been a man prone to incidental kindnesses, and since his books had brought him such success he seemed to have made it his mission to take his elderly Aunt out of her village and show her a bit of the world. Miss Marple was privately of the opinion that she saw quite enough of the world in St Mary Mead, and that which she did not see she would almost certainly not care for. But in recent years Raymond had limited his impulses to day trips to London, for exhibitions or the theatre. This arrangement, Miss Marple thought, was very satisfactory indeed.

True to his recent form Raymond had taken her to a very nice exhibition that afternoon. Now they sat in a café near the British Museum, enjoying a most superior tea. 'If only', Miss Marple thought to herself as she sipped the last of her tea, 'Raymond would tell me what all this is really about'. She had noticed almost as soon as she had arrived, that there was something that Raymond wanted to ask her. Even as a child he had been poor at hiding things, a stain on the carpet or a broken plate given away by a deepening of the perpetually guilty expression he wore, his lies rendered obvious by the squinting of his eyes and the twisting of his fingers. Age had not improved his skills, at the present moment he was hiding his most obvious symptoms behind the last quarter of a cream scone, but Miss Marple had been observing them all afternoon.

"After tea I thought we might visit a friend of mine." Raymond's tone was light, deliberately so. "His name is Charles Taylor, and he is the curator of the exhibition we have just seen."

"That sounds very nice dear, it would be lovely to meet your friend." Miss Marple waited patiently for the rest of the story; she did not have to wait long.

"The thing is Aunt Jane, that Charles has had a little difficulty at the museum. I thought he might benefit from your..." Raymond paused, searching for the right words "your expertise."

"I don't think I have any expertise." Miss Marple said placidly. Raymond grew even more uncomfortable, and she relented "but I would be happy to listen to your friend's story, if you think that it would help."

"I think you'll find his story is much more in your line than you think." Raymond said, signalling to the waitress for the bill. "He said he would be in his office this evening, if you don't mind a return to the exhibition."


Charles Taylor's office was a small oak-panelled room at the far end of the exhibition hall. The hall was situated high in the building, requiring Miss Marple to climb a great number of stairs and rendering her quite out of breath by the time they had reached it. The office was only just large enough to fit three comfortably, Raymond indicated that Miss Marple should take the high backed chair that occupied an entire corner, and perched himself on a stool-like contraption that seemed to at once embody all the vilest excesses of modern design. Mr Taylor sat in his own chair behind a large oak desk that took up almost half of the room, and he blinked out at them with the same sort of expression of mild confusion that can be seen in moles whose burrows have been unexpectedly uncovered. He was a small spare man with a very round face, exacerbated somewhat by the thinning of his hair and a great deal more by his insistence on wearing glasses with large circular frames. He was most likely a man who spent a great deal of his time around books, Miss Marple thought, and very little of it around people.

"May I introduce my Aunt to you Charles?" Raymond asked. "Charles Taylor, this is Miss Jane Marple." He smiled broadly "she is my unraveller of impossible mysteries."

"Raymond." Said Miss Marple sharply, and the perpetually guilty expression deepened just as it had when he was a boy.

"Sorry Aunt Jane." He said contritely, turning back to his friend. "But really Charles, tell her your troubles and she will end them." A second sharp look was sent in his direction. "Or at least, she always has for me." The curator gave Miss Marple a brief, doubtful glance, but was too polite to say anything. Raymond however caught the gesture and chuckled. "I know what you're thinking Charles. But my Aunt Jane really is the last word in this sort of thing. Ask Scotland Yard if you don't believe me." He gave Miss Marple a smile and she flushed slightly in embarrassment. Mr Taylor did not seem convinced, but with a last dubious glance at Raymond he began his story.

"It's like this Miss Marple,” he said, clenching and unclenching his hands nervously. Strain showed very hard around his eyes, Miss Marple thought. "The Fitzroy-Hulme necklace has been stolen. But I suppose you must already know that from the papers." The pause seemed to invite Miss Marple to confirm this and she smiled slightly, smoothing a crease in her skirt before speaking.

"I'm afraid I very rarely read the London papers Mr Taylor. Frightfully ignorant of me I know, but in St Mary Mead we usually find there is quite enough scandal and intrigue in our own little piece of the world, without inviting it in from all four corners of the earth." Mr Taylor looked at her with the polite disbelief that any London dweller feels when they discover that their affairs are not endlessly fascinating to those outside the city.

"Very well." He said after a moment. "The necklace was the property of Lord Hulme Miss Marple, and he loaned it and another item to the museum for the exhibition of eighteenth century silverware that you have just passed through. It was a beautiful object, a real masterpiece of German craftsmanship." He sighed deeply. "But last Thursday Lord Hulme came to the museum and discovered it was missing."

"When was it stolen?" Raymond asked, eyes bright with interest.

"We cannot quite be sure." Raymond opened his mouth to ask the obvious question, but Mr Taylor forestalled him with a wave of his hand. "An excellent replica was left in its place." He explained, folding his hands in his lap as if he had just noticed their twitching. "It was really a remarkable piece of work in itself. It would not have fooled our experts up close of course, but at a distance through a glass case..." Taylor paused. "It did not fool Lord Hulme however, he saw it for what it was as soon as he came to see to the clock."

"The clock?" Raymond asked.

"The Hamilton clock. It is the other item loaned to the collection by Lord Hulme, and another astounding piece of work. It may well also be the architect of this disaster." Mr Taylor, clearly distressed, rose from his desk and moved to the drinks arranged on a small side table underneath the office's tiny window. He poured himself a whiskey and soda, offering one to Raymond and, belatedly, one to Miss Marple, who turned quite pink as she refused.

"Look here" Raymond said, once Mr Taylor had taken a few sips of his drink and looked marginally recovered. "Perhaps you had better tell us the whole thing through from the beginning. Give us the 'facts of the case' as it were."

"Fundamentally, it is all very simple." he replied, sighing. "But completely impossible, as you will see. Lord Hulme loaned these two objects to the collection, the Fitzroy-Hulme necklace and the Hamilton clock. The necklace I have already described. The Hamilton clock is a truly exceptional piece of eighteenth century art and engineering." A far away look came into Mr Taylor's eyes. "The clock was manufactured in the latter part of the eighteenth century for Lord Hamilton by a firm of clockmakers in Zurich. It was designed with a single purpose in mind, to run, as long as it was properly wound, continuously and with good timekeeping for hundreds of years."

"Surely all clocks are designed to do that." Raymond scoffed.

"But the Hamilton clock was built specifically to maintain accurate timekeeping despite the conditions." The curator replied. "Its bearings and pivots were milled so accurately that there is minimal wear upon them, even now. And the clock itself is designed to keep going even if it is tipped or knocked, or exposed to hot or cold. More to the point, not only is the clock designed to run for hundreds of years, it has run without interruption for the last one hundred and fifty."

"How do you know that?"

"Fairly early in its history the clock passed into the Hulme family, where it has remained ever since. The great grandfather of the current Lord Hulme purchased the clock, knowing the details of it's purpose and history, and being a keen amateur horologist himself he kept detailed notes on the clock and its behaviour. The tradition of keeping these records has passed from father to son, so we know that from that day to this, or at least until last Thursday, the clock had never stopped.”

"What happened last Thursday?"

"The clock stopped. That is why Lord Hulme was in the museum. It was found stopped that morning by our assistant curator, Mr Sanders. He called for me, and I in turn telephoned Lord Hulme.”

"Did you examine the clock yourself?" It was the first Miss Marple had spoken for some time, and Mr Taylor seemed startled by the interruption.

"Lord Hulme was very particular that only he should handle the clock, unless he gave us express permission." He explained. "He came by to wind it every Sunday. The Hulmes have always been very possessive of that clock. One of my predecessors, Mr Herbert, tried to convince the previous Lord Hulme to loan the clock to our collection but got nothing but short shrift for his efforts. I must admit I was extremely surprised that the present Lord Hulme agreed to the loan, but he was still extraordinarily protective of the clock."

"Did he find anything amiss with the clock when he came?" Raymond asked.

"Other than the lack of a tick? He said it appeared sound and was half wound. He was just in the process of setting it going again when he glanced up and noticed the necklace."

"They were in the same case?" Raymond's eyes were sharp. Mr Taylor nodded.

"And the case was locked and guarded except for when the clock was being wound. He had seen the necklace the previous Sunday and noticed nothing amiss with it then. It must have been some time between then and when the clock stopped that the substitution was made." Mr Taylor made a small, frustrated sound. "I've wondered if perhaps the clock was damaged by whoever removed the necklace, but it is all so impossible!"

"Was the case damaged?" Raymond asked.

"No, and the lock was in perfect order when Mr Sanders opened it for Lord Hulme."

"Lord Hulme did not have his own keys to the case?" Mr Taylor shook his head.

"He did not ask for them, and either Mr Sanders or I were always here to open up for him." He sighed. "Not only was the case locked, it was glass on all four sides and stands in the centre of the room. There is simply no way to open it without being noticed. And it would have taken more than an ordinary knock or jar to stop the Hamilton clock. Short of something being dropped into the workings I cannot see how it would happen.

"Something like wood shavings perhaps?" Raymond asked. Mr Taylor gave a short, humourless laugh.

"We thought of that. But the case has not been altered and all the glass panes are as secure in their frames as they were the day it was made, I assure you." Raymond sighed. "Besides which, Lord Hulme did not clean the workings before he restarted the clock, and since then it has been running as smoothly as ever."

"Was the necklace examined before it was placed in the case?"

"Yes, both items were verified by our experts as genuine as a matter of course. Lord Hulme made no objections to that. We were all there when they were placed in the case. That is part of the second problem."

"The second problem?"

"The insurers of the necklace are refusing to honour the policy." Mr Taylor gave another of his long, heartfelt sighs. "They have some concerns about the theft, and they refuse to recompense Lord Hulme until the manner of the crime has been established. As you can imagine, Lord Hulme is most upset by the situation."

"Is Lord Hulme married?" Miss Marple blinked at them both as if her mind had been far away.

"Yes, he has been married twice. The first Lady Hulme died nearly twenty years ago I believe. The second Lady Hulme is..." Mr Taylor paused and coughed delicately, Miss Marple watched him carefully.

"Is she considerably younger than him?" She asked. Mr Taylor nodded gratefully.

"She was an actress before they were married I understand." His voice held a note of carefully hidden disdain. "If I am quite honest, I did for a moment wonder..." he paused again. "If she had anything to do with the crime." he finished. "The Hulme estate is entailed on Lord Hulme's son from his first marriage. And the majority of the residual is settled on the other children. Lord Hulme has not changed his will since his second marriage."

"However do you know that?" Raymond asked, laughing. Mr Taylor turned decidedly pink.

"While the police were here I may have heard Inspector Jackson speaking to his Superintendent." Mr Taylor fidgeted, clearly uncomfortable.

"Is Lord Hulme a well man?" Miss Marple asked.

"No, he suffers from high blood pressure and a weak heart. He told me about it quite openly when we were negotiating the loan of the objects. His son, apparently, does not have the same interest in horology as his ancestors, and I think perhaps Lord Hulme was trying to ensure the clock would be maintained."

"And yet he has not changed his will." Miss Marple remarked thoughtfully. Mr Taylor nodded.

"It seems strange." He agreed. "Lady Hulme was here when the exhibits were placed in the case but to my knowledge she has never returned with Lord Hulme since then. It's all impossible anyway, the necklace must have been substituted between Sunday and Thursday, and no one has opened the case in that time."

"Who has keys to the case?" Raymond asked.

"Myself and Mr Sanders." He responded promptly. "There is a master key kept with the senior guard, Mr Webly, but he has worked here for nearly forty years and is as trustworthy a man as you could ever hope to find."

"And Mr Sanders, is he trustworthy?" Mr Taylor made a helpless gesture.

"Until this business I'd have said yes in a heartbeat" he said. "But someone must have opened that case, and I've no-one else to suspect. Mr Sanders' wife has just given birth to their first child, and she had not been well for several months before that. He has had a great deal on his mind."

"And a great strain on his pocket" Raymond observed, "a new baby and an ailing wife is a not inconsiderable expense."

"His wife at least is much improved." Mr Taylor added hastily. "But even if he had taken the necklace, what was he intending to do with it? It cannot be sold in Europe, it is far too recognisable. And where would he have come across such an excellent forgery to replace it with?"

"He is an expert in antiques." Raymond argued. "He must have come across people capable of making such a thing in his time. As you yourself must have." He added thoughtfully, earning himself an affronted look. "No no Charles, I'm not suggesting for a second..." He paused and gathered himself. "I simply meant that such persons exist and Mr Sanders is in a position to know them."

"So is Lady Hulme." Miss Marple added. "She was an actress remember, she may well have known several people acquainted with making such things, costumiers and the like." Raymond looked momentarily put out, but rallied.

"She had no opportunity to make the exchange,” he argued. "Mr Sanders had both the means and the opportunity."

"But very little motive dear." Miss Marple replied, shaking her head. "Mr Taylor is quite right, he could not have sold the necklace easily. He is in a position to know that too."

"The way I see it, all of our suspects lack either the motive for the crime, or the opportunity." Raymond mused, tapping his fingers on his empty glass. "Unless" he looked at Mr Taylor hopefully "I don't suppose Lord Hulme was in a worse financial position than was generally known? Perhaps he needed the insurance payment." Mr Taylor shook his head.

"The police went into that angle. Lord Hulme is an extremely wealthy man, and he has a healthy investment portfolio to boot. Besides, he must have known that such a complicated plan would lead to problems with the insurance company. He's have done better paying someone to smash the case and grab the necklace."

"Do the police have any theories?"

"No more than what we have discussed here." Mr Taylor placed his hands back on his desk in a deliberate gesture. "They are as baffled as we are, and the papers are being as hard on them as they are on the museum." He grimaced. "The publicity has been very bad for us. Even if the museum compensates Lord Hulme for the loss I doubt we will recover our reputation. It is the clock as much as the necklace you see, it makes us look careless.”

"How did the papers get hold of it?"

"The police I assume. There have been a great number of pictures found of Lady Hulme wearing the necklace. She is a very beautiful woman, even now. It has been as much discussed in the society pages as in the news."

"And the papers have concentrated on Lady Hulme?" Miss Marple asked.

"For the most part. But then, Lady Hulme is already well known to them. She was in the papers a great deal before her marriage."

"Surely Lord Hulme objects?" Raymond said. Mr Taylor shrugged.

"Perhaps, or perhaps he sees it as further pressure on the museum to compensate him for the his loss. Do not mistake me Raymond, for all his pottering with his clocks Lord Hulme is a very shrewd man."

"Does he have any grandchildren?" Mr Taylor gave Miss Marple a confused look.

"I believe so. Both his son and one of his daughters have families of their own." Miss Marple smiled and shook her head.

"He is fond of them I expect. Brought them here to have a look at his clock no doubt." The curator looked startled.

"He did in fact, two Sundays ago." Miss Marple sighed in consternation.

"Just the sort not to think of the consequences." She murmured.

"What consequences?" Raymond asked. He looked at his Aunt sharply. "Aunt Jane, we agreed Lord Hulme had no motive."

"You agreed he had no financial motive." His aunt corrected him primly. "I would say his other motives were quite strong."

"What other motives?" Asked Mr Taylor, thoroughly lost.

"His wife of course." A look of comprehension came over Raymond's face.

"You mean he took the necklace to keep it from his wife?" He asked. "Or... or to frame her for the theft?" An excited light had come into his eyes and his Aunt gave him a look of fond exasperation.

"Of course not dear, he's not that type of man at all."

"Then what type of man is he?" Raymond asked, a little sullenly.

"The type of man who loves his family, and thinks very little of the consequences of his actions on people who don't matter to him." Miss Marple replied. "I dare say that has made him an excellent businessman."

"So if not to frame his wife, then why?" Mr Taylor prompted.

"To make her famous of course." Miss Marple replied, as if it were the most obvious thing in the world. "You said that before her marriage she had been in the papers a great deal, that she was an actress and a beauty. I assume she has not had nearly the same attention since?" Mr Taylor shook his head. "It is the sort of thing a woman may miss, that attention" Miss Marple continued, "more importantly, it is the sort of thing that an elderly husband may well imagine his young wife would miss, that she may begin to resent him for taking away from her."

"He arranged the theft of his own property just to make his wife well known?" Raymond asked incredulously.

"To prevent her becoming resentful of him dear." Miss Marple gave him one of her curious, searching looks, as if judging if he was ready for the truth she was about to impart to him. "Being in love with someone much younger than you is a hard thing, particularly for men. They live in constant fear that their young wife will leave them, or that they are only waiting for them to die. She had obviously given him no cause to worry about the latter, but by doing so may have inadvertently convinced that the former was likely to happen."

"Whatever do you mean?" Mr Taylor still looked thoroughly confused. Miss Marple turned her gentle smile on him.

"He has not changed his will. Which means, I imagine, that his wife has not asked him to. It could be that she is not concerned about his money, just because she was an actress it does not necessarily follow that she does not have means of her own. Or she could be a shrewd woman who has calculated, quite sensibly, that she is likely to do far better out of any will arrangement that he comes to himself. His health cannot be that bad, if he made the trip here to wind the clocks every Sunday, climbing all those stairs." Mr Taylor was looking at her in astonishment.

"But how did he do it?" Raymond asked. "He hasn't a key to the cabinet."

"I would imagine he switched the necklaces when they were put into the case." They were both staring at her now. "I assume there was a formal ceremony when the exhibits were presented to the museum?"

"There were some press photographers there." Mr Taylor admitted. "Our experts handed the necklace to Lord Hulme, he gave it to me and I placed it in the case."

"A little sleight of hand." Miss Marple nodded. "I expect he learnt it to impress his grandchildren. Children love that sort of thing you know, my Uncle Henry was forever making coins appear from all sorts of places." She turned to Raymond who was giving her a dubious look. "He was that sort of man. And of course he knew the sort of person one could go to to have such a thing copied, because he had been introduced to them through his wife. He had possession of the necklace before it was loaned to the museum, so he could easily have an accurate copy made."

"I suppose that would explain the mystery." Mr Taylor said slowly. "Apart from one thing. Why did the clock stop?" To his surprise, Miss Marple laughed.

"That was his sense of the dramatic I suppose. It's no wonder he married an actress. He could have 'discovered' the fake necklace any time he liked of course, but I suspect he felt stopping the clock would give the whole thing a more mysterious air. And of course a discovery of the theft on a Thursday would mean the story would be in the late Thursday and Friday editions, rather than having to wait for the Monday." She thought for a moment. "I don't believe he was as committed to the clock as his father was, or he would never have been willing to loan it to the museum."

"But why did it stop?" Asked Mr Taylor again.

"It was half wound the previous Sunday." Miss Marple replied simply. "So it stopped on the Thursday. I suppose he wound the chimes fully, so it wouldn't give itself away by chiming slowly, but only half-wound the movement. He would have half wound it again whilst he was here examining the stopped clock. That way, when he raised the alarm about the necklace, anyone who examined the clock would find it wound as much as it should have been." Raymond was smiling at her.

"What a marvel you are." He said fondly. Mr Taylor looked between them, still with a great air of consternation.

"But what should I do?" He asked with a plaintive note in his voice. "Even if you are right I cannot accuse Lord Hulme of the theft of his own necklace. And the insurance! If you are correct he is committing fraud just by appealing to them."

"Oh, he hasn't spoken to the insurance company." Said Miss Marple confidently. "He is far too clever to do a thing like that. I dare say they will contact him soon enough, and soon after that the necklace will be conveniently 'found.' All his talk of the insurance company was so much nonsense, I am surprised the police did not look into it."

"Lord Hulme is an old Oxford friend of the Chief Commissioner” said Mr Taylor, looking darkly furious. "I suspect that may have discouraged them from delving to deeply into his affairs." Miss Marple nodded.

"I expect so." She gave Mr Taylor's dark countenance a quick look and continued briskly "I would suggest appealing to his wife."

"His wife?"

"A letter perhaps. Or no, not a letter, I would suggest you talk to her in person. Give her the facts of the matter, she sounds like an eminently sensible woman." Mr Taylor looked dubious.

"It's worth a try Charles." Raymond said encouragingly.

"It is not in her interest to have such a story come out." Miss Marple said. "No matter who is responsible, it would reflect very badly on her, you must see that." She gathered up her bag. "People will say that she put him up to it, or that she neglected him and that is why he did it." She looked at them both very severely and sighed. It was one of those moments that suddenly made her feel terribly old. "Lady Macbeth," she said "has set a very poor precedent for the wives of powerful men."


Three days later a copy of the London Evening News arrived at Raymond's London flat. He was surprised, it was not a paper he usually took, but when he saw the headline and found a note addressed to his Aunt Jane slipped between the pages he smiled and took both in to her with great ceremony.

'Fitzroy-Hulme necklace found' the front page bellowed in obnoxious type, above an article explaining that the necklace had been anonymously returned to the museum the previous night, with no clue as to its previous whereabouts. Having perused the article Miss Marple turned to the note, which was written in a flowing hand. She smiled as she read it, and then handed it across the table to Raymond. It simply said:

I have never cared much for the Scottish Play. LM

"An actress of course." Said Miss Marple, retrieving the note and folding it into her wool bag. "And a very sensible woman."