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The Anodyne Necklace(2)

By:Martha Grimes



Click went the telephone at Scotland Yard.

Jury got out his address book and put through a trunk call to Ardry End. While he waited he sat with his head in his hand. A finger.

IV

Ardry End was a manor house of rose-hued stone, seat of the Earls of Caverness (when there were Earls of Caverness), hidden in its own wood of September gold and russet like a figure in an old tapestry.

The tapestry was even more faded, though, on this particular September morning, gray with mists and rain floating like gauze over the Northamptonshire fields. It was dark enough that the lamps glowed dully behind the mullioned panes of a downstairs room.

Thus a passer in the rain might have looked with longing through the windows of this room in the east wing-a room at once elegant and comfortable, a combination of Queen Anne couches and plumped-up pillows, of crystal chandeliers and cozy corners, of oriental carpets and warm hearths.

One might have taken its two occupants-a nearly handsome man in his early forties; a stout, dumpy woman in her late sixties-for mother and son, or old friend and young, or happy host and merry guest. Or, indeed, for any of those sentimental couplings we attribute to those sitting in the warmth of light and fire, while the poor, drenched passerby looks through the starry pane, envious of the comfort within.

One might have felt that there by the blazing fire, with the lumbering old dog at their feet, these two surely presented the most amiable picture in the world.

One might have supposed that here was friendship, here was intimacy, here was conversation at its best.

One would have been wrong.



"You're becoming an alcoholic, Melrose. That's your second shooting sherry," said Lady Agatha Ardry.

"If mere numbers count, you're becoming a fairy cake. That's your third," said Melrose Plant, the last in the line of the Earls of Caverness. He returned to perusal of a road map.

She threw him a dark glance while she peeled the fluted paper from the little cake. "What are you doing?"

"Reading a road map."

"Why?"

"Because it's got roads on it." Melrose stoppered up the decanter and sipped from his morsel of Waterford crystal.

"You're being funny, Plant."

"I'm being literal, dear Aunt." Melrose had found Hertfield; but where was this Littlebourne village?

"You know perfectly well what I mean. You're not thinking of going anywhere, are you? If you're going up to London, I shouldn't. You ought to stay here and tend to your affairs. But if you must go to London, I should certainly like to go too. I've a lot of shopping to do and I want to stop in at Fortnum's and get some of their cakes."

Plant did not bother contradicting her, since she would have him up to London and back again faster than a flying carpet, and he could resume his map-study. He yawned. "Fortnum's don't do fairy cakes, Agatha."

"Certainly they do."

"Well, I expect we shall never know."

Lady Ardry regarded her nephew with suspicion, as if his remark held some nugget of meaning she must pry loose, like a gold filling from a tooth.

Gold was not the least of Agatha's concerns, either. She had just finished appraising Plant's latest acquisition, a small gold statue. She picked it up again, turned it every which way, and said, "This must have been dear, Melrose."

"I can show you the sales slip." He resettled his spectacles on his nose and looked at her over the rim of his sherry glass.

"Don't be vulgar. I've no interest in what you give for things."

He saw she now had her enormous purse open and was rooting through it, taking out and putting on the table all sorts of nondescript objects. Was she making room for the gold statue? Melrose occasionally visited her cottage in Plague Alley, partly as a gentlemanly gesture, partly to see some of his belongings. How she managed to get whole clumps of furniture out of Ardry End without his knowing was a mystery he had never solved. One day he would cycle up the drive to find a removal van in front of the door. Well, Ardry End was enormous, and he didn't really care, so long as she left the portraits in the gallery and the ducks in the pond. Then he spied something she had just transferred from purse to table.

"Isn't this mine?" he asked.

She colored slightly. "Yours? Yours? My dear Plant, whatever would I be doing with your calling-card case?"

"I don't know. That's why I asked."

"I'm not sure I care for what you're implying."

"I'm not implying anything. I'm saying you took my visiting-card case."

She thought for a moment. "You don't remember."

"Remember what?"

"Your dear mother, Lady Marjorie-"

"I remember my mother, yes. That was her visiting-card case." Melrose opened his own gold cigarette case and lit a cigarette. "Are you going to tell me Mother gave it to you?"

Rather than answer this directly, she began to reminisce. "Your dear mother, the Countess of Caverness-"

"You have a way of reminding me of particulars of my family history that suggests you believe I cannot sort them out. I remember that my mother was the Countess of Caverness. My father was the seventh Earl of Caverness. And your late husband, the Honorable Robert Ardry-"
 
 

 

"Stop trying to be funny again, my dear Plant."

"Allow me to continue. Robert Ardry was my uncle. And I, to everyone's consternation, am no longer the eighth Earl. There, now. All ship-shape and Bristol fashion."

"Kindly do not use such sordid, lower-class expressions. Your dear mother-"

"My mother was indeed dear and she swore like a scullery maid."

"No respect for the family. Never had."

"You're here, dear Aunt."

She played for time by rearranging the falls of bright-leaved chiffon, totally inappropriate for the day, and calling for Ruthven, Melrose's butler.

"Why are you dressed for an afternoon on the lawn, Agatha?" Melrose looked at her more closely. "And where'd you get that amethyst brooch? That looks like Mother's, too."

Ruthven entered and she requested some more cakes. She would stagger her ‘elevenses' right into luncheon if he weren't careful, Melrose knew.

Ruthven shot her a glance like a poisoned arrow and swanned out of the room.

With that interruption she could now deftly turn the subject away from amethyst brooches. "I noticed Lady Jane Hay-Hurt paying special attention to you last Sunday."

Since Lady Jane was a fifty-eight-year-old maiden lady with prominent teeth and receding chin, Agatha no doubt thought it safe to imply a possible liaison between the lady and Melrose.

"I've no interest in Lady Jane. But I shall find someone one day, never fear. The Ardry-Plants have always married late."

That made her gasp, as he knew it would. "Marriage! Whoever said anything of marriage? You're a confirmed bachelor, Melrose. At forty-three-"

"Forty-two." He had found Littlebourne on the map and was ascertaining the best route.

"Anyway, you're rooted in your behavior and I really don't think it would be likely that any sort of woman would put up with your odd little ways. And there's no one round here for you to marry!" Triumphantly, she outreached her arms, making a sweep of the drawing room, as if once, indeed, marriageable females had crowded its couches and settees and wing chairs, but, alas, no more.

Certainly, certainly, he thought. She had convinced herself Melrose was just waiting to die so that he could turn over Ardry End, its grounds and gardens, its crystal and calling-card cases, its armoires and amethysts to her, his only living relative. And not even a blood relative. And not even English. Agatha was a transplanted American, not, however, of Jamesian sensibility.

Beneath his dressing gown, Melrose was wearing his traveling clothes. He had meant to get off around nine, but he had to spend a bit of time stalling her, putting her, indeed, off the scent. If she knew he was going to meet Superintendent Jury, she would be hiding out in the trunk of the Rolls. It had been sitting garaged for an age; Melrose had decided to take it as part of a cover he had not made up yet. You never knew when a Rolls would come in handy. He smiled.

"What's that smirk for?"

"Nothing." He folded his map. She thought she was such a dab hand at murder. Ever since jury-Chief Inspector it had been then-had come to Long Piddleton, Agatha had been talking about their "next case." Keeping her out of his hair required a cunning befitting Crippen or Neil Cream. . . .

"Why are you looking at me that way, Plant?" As she took another fairy cake, he saw her ring wink in the firelight.

Where had she got that moonstone?





TWO


I

LITTLE Burntenham was an ordinary village about forty miles from London, to which no one, until recently, had paid much attention. In the last year or so, Londoners had "discovered" little Burntenham and its accessibility to the city-it was now a stop on the main line. This soon resulted in a burst of activity in the estate market and the plucking up of some of its falling-down properties that the villagers wouldn't have had on a bet. Great wads of money had exchanged hands, passing from those of the fools who would be parted from it to the estate agents always ready to grab it. The other change, which the older residents of the village greatly resented, was the respelling of the name so that tourists could find it more easily. It had been decided finally, that since Little Burntenham was actually pronounced Littlebourne, it might as well be spelled that way. It took a lot of the fun out of listening to strangers ask for directions.

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