A Pocket Full of Rye
Author:Agatha Christie

Chapter 26
Inspector Neele stared at Miss Marple and slowly shook his head.

"Are you saying," he said incredulously, "that Gladys Martin deliberately murdered Rex Fortescue? I'm sorry, Miss Marple, but I simply don't believe it."

"No, of course she didn't mean to murder him," said Miss Marple, "but she did it all the same! You said yourself that she was nervous and upset when you questioned her. And that she looked guilty."

"Yes, but not guilty of murder."

"Oh, no, I agree. As I say, she didn't mean to murder anybody, but she put the taxine in the marmalade. She didn't think it was poison, of course."

"What did she think it was?" Inspector Neele's voice still sounded incredulous.

"I rather imagine she thought it was a truth drug," said Miss Marple. "It's very interesting, you know, and very instructive - the things these girls cut out of papers and keep. It's always been the same, you know, all through the ages. Recipes for beauty, for attracting the man you love. And witchcraft and charms and marvellous happenings. Nowadays they're mostly lumped together under the heading of Science. Nobody believes in magicians any more, nobody believes that anyone can come along and wave a wand and turn you into a frog. But if you read in the paper that by injecting certain glands scientists can alter your vital tissues and you'll develop froglike characteristics, well, everybody would believe that. And having read in the papers about truth drugs, of course Gladys would believe it absolutely when he told her that that's what it was."

"When who told her?" asked Inspector Neele.

"Albert Evans," said Miss Marple. "Not of course that that is really his name. But anyway he met her last summer at a holiday camp, and he flattered her up and made love to her, and I should imagine told her some story of injustice or persecution, or something like that. Anyway, the point was that Rex Fortescue had to be made to confess what he had done and make restitution. I don't know this, of course. Inspector Neele, but I'm pretty sure about it. He got her to take a post here, and it's really very easy nowadays with the shortage of domestic staff, to obtain a post where you want one. Staffs are changing the whole time. Then they arranged a date together. You remember on that last postcard he said, 'Remember our date.' That was to be the great day they were working for. Gladys would put the drug that he gave her into the top of the marmalade, so that Mr Fortescue would eat it at breakfast and she would also put the rye in his pocket. I don't know what story he told her to account for the rye, but as I told you from the beginning, Inspector Neele, Gladys Martin was a very credulous girl. In fact, there's hardly anything she wouldn't believe if a personable young man put it to her the right way."

"Go on," said Inspector Neele in a dazed voice.

"The idea probably was," continued Miss Marple, "that Albert was going to call upon him at the office that day, and that by that time the truth drug would have worked, and that Mr Fortescue would have confessed everything and so on and so on. You can imagine the poor girl's feelings when she hears that Mr Fortescue is dead."

"But, surely," Inspector Neele objected, "she would have told?"

Miss Marple asked sharply:

"What was the first thing she said to you when you questioned her?"

"She said 'I didn't do it,'" Inspector Neele said.

"Exactly," said Miss Marple, triumphantly. "Don't you see that's exactly what she would say? If she broke an ornament, you know, Gladys would always say, 'I didn't do it, Miss Marple. I can't think how it happened.' They can't help it, poor dears. They're very upset at what they've done and their great idea is to avoid blame. You don't think that a nervous young woman who had murdered someone when she didn't mean to murder him, is going to admit it, do you? That would have been quite out of character."

"Yes," Neele said, "I suppose it would."

He ran his mind back over his interview with Gladys. Nervous, upset, guilty, shifty-eyed, all those things. They might have had small significance, or a big one. He could not really blame himself for having failed to come to the right conclusion.

"Her first idea, as I say," went on Miss Marple, "would be to deny it all. Then in a confused way she would try to sort it all out in her mind. Perhaps Albert hadn't known how strong the stuff was, or he'd made a mistake and given her too much of it. She'd think of excuses for him and explanations. She'd hope he'd get in touch with her, which, of course, he did. By telephone."

"Do you know that?" asked Neele sharply. Miss Marple shook her head.

"No. I admit I'm assuming it. But there were unexplained calls that day. That is to say, people rang up and when Crump, or Mrs Crump answered, the phone was hung up. That's what he'd do, you know. Ring up and wait until Gladys answered the phone, and then he'd make an appointment with her to meet him."

"I see," said Neele. "You mean she had an appointment to meet him on the day she died."

Miss Marple nodded vigorously.

"Yes, that was indicated. Mrs Crump was right about one thing. The girl had on her best nylon stockings and her good shoes. She was going to meet someone. Only she wasn't going out to meet him. He was coming to Yewtree Lodge. That's why she was on the look out that day and flustered and late with tea. Then, as she brought the second tray into the hall, I think she looked along the passage to the side door, and saw him there, beckoning to her. She put the tray down and went out to meet him."

"And then he strangled her," said Neele.

Miss Marple pursed her lips together. "It would only take a minute," she said, "but he couldn't risk her talking. She had to die, poor, silly, credulous girl. And then - he put a clothes peg on her nose!" Stern anger vibrated the old lady's voice. "To make it fit in with the rhyme. The rye, the blackbirds, the counting-house, the bread and honey, and the clothes peg - the nearest he could get to a little dicky bird that nipped off her nose -"

"And I suppose at the end of it all he'll go to Broadmoor and we shan't be able to hang him because he's crazy!" said Neele slowly.

"I think you'll hang him all right," said Miss Marple. "And he's not crazy. Inspector, not for a moment!"

Inspector Neele looked hard at her.

"Now see here. Miss Marple, you've outlined a theory to me. Yes - yes - although you say you know, it's only a theory. You're saying that a man is responsible for these crimes, who called himself Albert Evans, who picked up the girl Gladys at a holiday camp and used her for his own purposes. This Albert Evans was someone who wanted revenge for the old Blackbird Mine business. You're suggesting, aren't you, that Mrs MacKenzie's son, Don MacKenzie, didn't die at Dunkirk. That he's still alive, that he's behind all this?"

But to Inspector Neele's surprise. Miss Marple was shaking her head violently.

"Oh no!" she said, "oh no! I'm not suggesting that at all. Don't you see, Inspector Neele, all this blackbird business is really a complete fake. It was used, that was all, used by somebody who heard about the blackbirds - the ones in the library and in the pie. The blackbirds were genuine enough. They were put there by someone who knew about the old business, who wanted revenge for it. But only the revenge of trying to frighten Mr Fortescue or to make him uncomfortable. I don't believe, you know, Inspector Neele, that children can really be brought up and taught to wait and brood and carry out revenge. Children, after all, have got a lot of sense. But anyone whose father had been swindled and perhaps left to die, might be willing to play a malicious trick on the person who was supposed to have done it. That's what happened, I think. And the killer used it."

"The killer," said Inspector Neele. "Come now, Miss Marple, let's have your ideas about the killer. Who was he?"

"You won't be surprised," said Miss Marple. "Not really. Because you'll see, as soon as I tell you who he is, or rather who I think he is, for one must be accurate must one not? - you'll see that he's just the type of person who would commit these murders. He's sane, brilliant and quite unscrupulous. And he did it, of course, for money, probably for a good deal of money."

"Percival Fortescue?" Inspector Neele spoke almost imploringly, but he knew as he spoke that he was wrong. The picture of the man that Miss Marple had built up for him had no resemblance to Percival Fortescue.

"Oh, no," said Miss Marple. "Not Percival. Lance."