The elderly lady sat quietly surveying the scene from the luxurious comfort of her overstuffed armchair. She had not stayed in this hotel before, but delighted in its location, nestled as it was, in the beautiful Cotswold Hills.
It was furnished in a Country House style; deep-piled carpets, plump sofas, four-poster beds and an air of elegant comfort. The service was impeccable; the cuisine innovative and devinely delicious. The grounds were spectacular, including an eighteen hole, tournament standard, golf course; tennis courts and picturesque woodland walks.
It was certainly the swankiest Jane had ever seen. But, above all, it was perfect in the most important detail: its clientele!
“ It is like the United Nations ” Jane thought, to herself, as she lifted her knitting from her capacious brown leather handbag.
There was the obligatory, smart suited, English businessman, complete with well-used briefcase. He sat by the window, his laptop,tabbed files and papers spread out before him, a gin and tonic by his side. From time to time he furtively glanced at his mobile phone, as though expecting some message to appear. Then suddenly grabbed his phone and rushed out into the foyer.
“Probably in some Government quango ! And up to his neck in scandal” she thought, nodding sagely to herself.
And then there was the overbearing Russian, acting like some feudal lord. Ordering the staff to bring him more lemon for his tea, while admiring his profile in the mirror, which hung over the mantlepiece.
“Such vanity” Jane thought, ” I fancy he has a few skeletons in his cupboard “ and she smiled to herself and glanced at the doorway.
Ah,here were the tardier ones, only just drifting in from the Dining Room !
A brash Australian guest and his harpy of a wife. Jane had noticed them at dinner …. couldn’t miss them really. He had been hunched over his plate like some ravenous dog, stuffing food into his mouth without pausing for breath, while his wife had picked idly at her salad, toyed with her bejewelled wrists and whined, continually, about the weather,
” Aaawww, Bruce, it wasn’t so cold in France ! I wanna go back to the South of France NOW ! This pommie country is the pits !”
Bruce had grunted, piled in more forks-full of food, taken a huge swill of lager and burped, loudly. Jane had been appalled. To be frank, she often found antipodean folk to be a little rough, but Bruce and his wife were beyond the pale. She peered at them over her wire-rimmed spectacles and mentally made a little note.
The two, middle-aged women by the French windows, sneezed and blew their noses,
” Ach, zis pollen !” said one, by way of apology and she gestured towards the large arrangement of lilies on the nearby grand piano. Jane nodded and smiled and watched as they resumed their card game.
” German, from Hamburg, I believe they said. Hmmm, interesting !” she thought and then turned her attention to the other people in the room.
There was a doctor from Dundee, on a golfing holiday with his wife and teenage daughter. The wife was a rather pretty little brunette with a bubbly personality. All through dinner she had flirted shamelessly with a Swedish school-teacher, who, apparently, was on a sabbatical due to ill health. The sulky-faced teenager had played with one of those new-fangled things, “ A tablet”, Jane thought they were called. Anyway, she had fiddled with the darn thing through all five courses, barely touching any food and glaring at her parents whenever she managed to raise her head from her device. Jane had heard the parents arguing fiercely before dinner. Their room was next to hers and the windows were open. She could not make out what was being said but the words “money”, had been repeated many times.
And, finally, a mysterious and beautiful Italian Countess, Donna Sophia. She had dazzled all the men, even though she sat, hardly uttering a word, completely alone at her table. Her clothes looked couture but Jane, who had an eye for such things, had secretly thought they were either very old or rather cheap copies.
Yes, her fellow guests were ideal, the perfect protagonists.
Jane’s nephew could not have found a more perfect place for her convalescence.
The evening drifted on and guests floated in and out of the sitting room, casual chatter, laughter and the ‘clink’ of glasses filled the air as the huge log fire crackled and glowed.
She was drowsy in the warmth and her eyelids were drooping; her knitting lay in her lap, untouched for the last half hour when a scream shattered the genteel atmosphere.
Jane Marple opened her eyes and smiled to herself ….. it had begun.
Apologies to Agatha Christie………