The Listerdale Mystery – Agatha Christie
The Listerdale Mystery
Mrs. St. Vincent was adding up figures. Once or twice she sighed, and her hand stole to her aching forehead. She had always disliked arithmetic. It was unfortunate that nowadays her life should seem to be composed entirely of one particular kind of sum, the ceaseless adding together of small necessary items of expenditure making a total that never failed to surprise and alarm her. Surely it couldn’t come to that! She went back over the figures. She had made a trifling error in the pence, but otherwise the figures were correct.
Mrs. St. Vincent sighed again. Her headache by now was very bad indeed. She looked up as the door opened and her daughter Barbara came into the room. Barbara St. Vincent was a very pretty girl, she had her mother’s delicate features, and the same proud turn of the head, but her eyes were dark instead of blue, and she had a different mouth, a sulky red mouth not without attraction.
“Oh, Mother!” she cried. “Still juggling with those horrid old accounts? Throw them all into the fire.”
“We must know where we are,” said Mrs. St. Vincent uncertainly. The girl shrugged her shoulders.
“We’re always in the same boat,” she said dryly. “Damned hard up. Down to the last penny as usual.” Mrs. St. Vincent sighed.
“I wish – ” she began, and then stopped.
“I must find something to do,” said Barbara in hard tones. “And find it quickly. After all, I have taken that shorthand and typing course. So have about one million other girls from all I can see! ‘What experience?’
‘None, but – ‘ ‘Oh! Thank you, good morning. We’ll let you know.’ But they never do! I must find some other kind of a job – any job.”
“Not yet, dear,” pleaded her mother. “Wait a little longer.” Barbara went to the window and stood looking out with unseeing eyes that took no note of the dingy line of houses opposite.
“Sometimes,” she said slowly, “I’m sorry Cousin Amy took me with her to Egypt last winter. Oh! I know I had fun – about the only fun I’ve ever had or am likely to have in my life. I did enjoy myself – enjoyed myself thoroughly. But it was very unsettling. I mean – coming back to this.” She swept a hand round the room. Mrs. St. Vincent followed it with her eyes and winced. The room was typical of cheap furnished lodgings. A dusty aspidistra, showily ornamental furniture, a gaudy wallpaper faded in patches. There were signs that the personality of the tenants had struggled with that of the landlady; one or two pieces of good china, much cracked and mended, so that their saleable value was nil, a piece of embroidery thrown over the back of the sofa, a water colour sketch of a young girl in the fashion of twenty years ago, near enough still to Mrs. St. Vincent not to be mistaken.
“It wouldn’t matter,” continued Barbara, “if we’d never known anything else. But to think of Ansteys – ” She broke off, not trusting herself to speak of that dearly loved home which had belonged to the St. Vincent family for centuries and which was now in the hands of strangers.
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