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Advice from Aunt Jane

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“It’s rather thrilling to be involved in a murder case,” Jane Helier remarked to Miss Marple. They were seated in the drawing room at Gossington Hall after dinner, waiting on the men to join them. “I mean, as long as you aren’t the murder victim, of course.”

Miss Marple examined the knitting she held in her lap. “I am sure I would have been far too nervous to be of any use at the inquest.”

“I only had to answer a few questions,” Jane said modestly.

“They mentioned you in the paper,” Dolly Bantry said, taking a seat next to Miss Marple and opening her latest seed catalogue.

“It was a rather good paragraph, I thought.” Jane Helier was one of the beauties of the London stage, a fact the paragraph had not omitted. “My milliner was quite pleased that they mentioned her shop by name when they were describing my appearance.”

Then she bit her lip. There was a long moment before she turned to Miss Marple. “It’s just that…”

“What is wrong, my dear?” Miss Marple laid down her knitting needles, studying the younger woman.

“I don’t think they quite believed me,” Jane said after a long moment. “About Mr. Fisher’s alibi, that is.”

Miss Marple and Dolly Bantry exchanged glances. Even here in St. Mary Mead, they had read about the Little Jumbles murder. Gladys Stacey’s dead body had been discovered by her daily maid in her isolated bungalow in the small village near London. Although Gladys Stacey had told people that her husband, Mr. Stacey, was a travelling salesman, no trace of the man had come to light. To complicate matters, the dead woman had been receiving visits from a jeweler named Arthur Fisher whose personal life was hardly above reproach.

“Why don’t you tell us about it?” Dolly Bantry suggested after a moment.

“I hoped you would say that,” Jane said in a rush. “I haven’t forgotten what Miss Marple once told me, that we women must stick together, when I was thinking of being very foolish…”

Miss Marple and Dolly Bantry exchanged looks. Jane Helier was a beautiful woman and a talented actress, but she was not intellectual. She was the type of woman who thought the Judgment of Paris had more to do with fashion than with Greek mythology.

At the same time, Miss Marple remembered that Jane was smart enough to realize just how often people failed to really look at a parlourmaid. In fact, Jane Helier had planned to use that knowledge to punish someone.

“I do hope,” Dolly Bantry said gently, “that you haven’t been thinking of doing anything foolish in this case.”

“Oh no!” The expression of dismay on Jane’s face was quite genuine, Miss Marple thought. She was pleased that the young woman had heeded the warning Miss Marple had given her. She was sure the actress could have managed the initial part of her scheme without trouble, but she would have eventually given herself away. It would really be a shame for the stage to lose Jane Helier.

“I am afraid that Mr. Fisher might have done something foolish,” Jane continued. “You see, Gladys Stacey’s body wasn’t discovered until late on the Sunday morning, although the police have said that she was killed on Saturday night. The maid was supposed to be gone all weekend, but something made her decide to look in on her employer.”

“It’s quite likely that she wanted see just who her employer was meeting,” Dolly Bantry said sharply.

“Yes. It reminds me of Mrs. Nelson’s maid Annie. Mrs. Nelson finally let her go because she kept coming back to the house early on her days out, when no one was supposed to be home,” Miss Marple commented. “But do continue, Jane. I’m sure you aren’t interested in our little happenings.”

“As I was saying, the maid came back early. In her evidence at the inquest, she said a man had definitely been there. She tried to imply that it must have been Mr. Fisher. But I don’t see how he could have been in Little Jumbles when he was at my play.”

“Are you sure he was there?” Miss Marple inquired.

“I didn’t see him in the seats,” Jane Helier admitted. “The lights are so bright, you know. But he came to my dressing room directly after the play, around eleven. A mutual friend of ours, Alexander Blackwood, was there as well. I told the police that he came to my dressing room after the play, but they didn’t ask any more questions.”

“Men seldom do ask enough questions,” Dolly Bantry said, tapping her foot impatiently. “Did the gentlemen come in together?”

“No, Alexander was there first. He brought me the loveliest roses, Dolly, those full ones that are white, just barely pink – you grow them here at Gossington Hall–“

“Blush Noisette,” Dolly Bantry said with a smile. “They are lovely, aren’t they?”

Miss Marple made a soft sound. Once Dolly Bantry got started on gardening, it took some work to pull her away again. “Can you fix the time at which he came in, Jane?”

The fair actress shook her head. “No. But it can’t have been late enough for him to have travelled there and back. And anyway, surely someone would have seen his car.”

Miss Marple shook her head. “You would be surprised, my dear, at how much most people do miss.” She paused thoughtfully. “You aren’t…fond…of Mr. Fisher, are you?”

“He does give me the most divine little gifts,” Jane replied. “He gave me a perfectly lovely sapphire necklace, and a cunning little jade hairpin just the other day.” She patted her gleaming hair. “I had thought to wear it here, but it doesn’t quite match any of my dresses.”

Miss Marple looked away with a blush, and Jane laughed. “Oh, I wouldn’t want to marry him, Miss Marple,” she said hastily. “He is a very sociable gentleman, however.”

“All the same, my dear,” Miss Marple said gently, “I do hope you weren’t too certain about the times when you spoke to the police.”

Jane Helier looked surprised. “I told them I thought it was around eleven, or quarter past. I’m just frightfully bad about noticing what time it is. Why, I’m sure if you didn’t have a gong here, I should be late all the time. I do tend to lose track of time when it comes to choosing my clothes.”

“Jane Marple is right,” Dolly Bantry said bluntly. “I wouldn’t change your statement about the times, if someone should ask.”

The actress nodded slowly. “I still don’t believe he could have murdered anyone.”

“All the same,” Miss Marple stated, “I would be careful. You might be surprised how easy it is for someone to do murder.”

The gentlemen came in then. Dolly Bantry and Jane went to meet them, but Miss Marple picked up her knitting again. The needles clicked together in a soothing rhythm as she worked on the lacy shawl and thought about Jane’s story. She must write Sir Henry Clithering in the morning, and see if he knew who was assigned to this case – they might find this conversation rather enlightening.

She did hope Jane Helier kept her distance from this Mr. Fisher…