‘So you see it couldn’t have been Ursula, officer. Look, the evidence is here in my notebook. I wrote it down just as Mrs McManus told it to me:

One for sorrow,

Two for mirth,

Three for a wedding,

And four for death.

Three magpie-coloured beads for a wedding, officer. In the bride’s room. Four magpie-coloured beads for a death, in my room. It’s like a confession.’

‘I see that, young man. Yes, I do see. But why would the McManus woman choose to confess to you, in particular?’ Charlie thought carefully about that and the best he could come up with was this.

Mrs McManus possessed a dark sense of humour. It had amused her, in a strange way to make boy-detective Charles a gift of a real piece of evidence. She knew she wasn’t coming back. Patrick and weird Jorge had run away together – to Brazil, probably, since apparently Jorge was related to one of Rio’s biggest gangster families – and Mrs McManus had run away as well, probably in the same general direction. Charles couldn’t imagine Mrs McManus letting her beloved Patrick out of her sight. She would find somewhere to live within spying-on distance of her son, even if Patrick didn’t realise it. She would be keeping a beady eye on him and his pal Jorge. Charles didn’t much fancy Jorge’s chances of remaining un-digitalis’d or belladonna’d in the long run, whether he decided to carry on being best mates with Patrick or decided to branch out and make new amigos. To be honest, Charles’s interest in the whole McManus/Jorge triad was rapidly being overtaken by anxiety that the police or somebody, anyway, should hurry up and find poor old Ursula; tell her the coast was clear.

Surprisingly, the police had been able to tell that it was only red ink on the dress. Besides, Christina hadn’t been stabbed. According to the coroner she had been poisoned with digitalis (which came from foxgloves according to Wikipedia). There were a great many foxgloves growing the hotel grounds, but the police told Charles that Mrs McManus had probably brought the poison with her, in tablet or in liquid form, rather than going to all the bother of brewing up witchy potions in her room. This was a disappointment.

Ursula would have assumed that her sister was asleep when she crept in to attack the dress with her nail-scissors, but in fact Christina was already deceased! It occurred to Charles that, passport or no passport, Ursula might have chickened out of going abroad at the last minute. Ursula was a timid sort of person inside, for all that she was enor…quite biggish on the outside. His guess was confirmed a few days later when a postcard arrived from the Helford River, Cornwall, addressed to him. There was no message and it wasn’t signed, but it had a picture of a quiet, wooded creek and a sailing boat.

Ursie was safe, though probably without French pirate.

And either way Jorge was toast, in Charles’s professional opinion.


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