Chapter 10 - Lilies at the Funeral by A.J. Hall
Despite three baths in quick succession, and copious applications of Lisa’s generously offered Jean Patou, Hilary still had the prison’s disinfectant and slop bucket stench in her nostrils. Her overstretched nerves made her want to scream at everyone and anyone within range, especially this fluffy old maid, who insisted on talking to her and to whom she must, on no account, be rude, because according to Sam’s somewhat incoherent explanation this Miss Marple was apparently the reason that she was here, wrapped in an eiderdown in her own sitting room, and not in the women’s wing of Gloucester Gaol awaiting trial for murder.
But if only the old dear would stop prattling.
“Now, my dear, I know this is not something you want to hear, but that’s because you’ve had a very bad shock and you’re still getting over it. But if you are going to get over it properly, it is very important that you face up to the truth as soon as possible, and don’t allow things to fester and do a great deal more harm. I’m sure as a doctor you must see the wisdom in that.”
A doctor? Hilary supposed she had been, once. No-one would engage her now. The acknowledgement of the police that they’d been wrong to arrest her could only go so far. Even though she had never stood trial she would be forever guilty at the bar of public opinion in this gossipy country district. She would most certainly have to sell the practice, and what would become of her then? And why, oh God, did Miss Marple carry on talking, when any person with an ounce of sensitivity would have realised long ago that Hilary was wishing her gone?
“In any event, I think you need to appreciate one very important fact, my dear. Whatever he may have thought and whatever he may have assured you, that really very foolish and wicked young man was not in love with you. No — ”
She raised a black-gloved hand in a silencing gesture, though Hilary had made no move to interrupt.
“I know what you want to say, but look at his actions. However much he may have told himself that killing his mother was the only way you could both be free of her influence, look how he set about doing it. No-one with an ounce of real respect for you would have stolen the hyoscine from your surgery; it was bound to be traced and then, of course, the police would be sure to suspect you.”
“He probably didn’t think of that at all.” In her own ears, Hilary’s voice sounded hopeless. “Julian is — was — very like a child in some ways.”
Miss Marple gave a reproving “tsk”. “But children, my dear, have to grow up. It does no good to a child to let him think the world is going to make a special exception just for him. I don’t know if you care for the Pre-Raphaelites — very old-fashioned now, of course, and sometimes almost lurid in their use of colour, dear me, yes, but the moment I saw Julian Fleming, he brought to mind a painting I saw once on a visit to Liverpool. Mr Waterhouse’s Echo and Narcissus. The beautiful young man so in love with his own reflection he didn’t even notice the girl wasting away to a shadow, and all for love of him. Very like Jerome Mortimer — oh, you don’t know him, my dear, but he was a locum doctor we had in St Mary Mead, years ago.”
Hot tears pricked behind Hilary’s eyes. She blinked them away and looked up.
“I suppose I’ve made a complete fool of myself.”
“No, my dear, not at all — or at least, no more than any young person in love. I daresay you were busy studying and didn’t have time for all this kind of thing when you were seventeen or so, so it hit you all the harder when it came along later.”
Despite herself, Hilary laughed out loud. “You make it sound like chickenpox.”
Miss Marple’s eyes twinkled. “And a very sensible way of thinking of it, if I may say so. A bad bout and now you’re on the mend. And you’re quite right in thinking of selling up — the proceeds from the practice and the estate combined should leave you with a very comfortable bank balance to support you while you look around for something better suited to those clever hands and brain of yours.”
“The estate? I’m sorry, I don’t know what —”
“Oh, my dear, did no-one tell you? Mr Fleming left his entire fortune to you. His mother only had a life interest in her late husband’s estate, and though of course as her murderer he couldn’t inherit any of her own fortune — her sisters will get that — that doesn’t stop the house and the land passing to whomever he chose. But I must be going. You’ve had a terrible time, and by far the best thing for you now is rest.”