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Agatha Christie (1890-1976) is know n throughout the world as

the Q ueen of Crim e. H er books have sold over a billion copies
in English w ith another billion in over 100 foreign languages.
She is the most widely published and translated author of all time
and in any language; only the Bible and Shakespeare have sold
more copies. She is the author o f 80 crim e novels and short story
collections, 19 plays, and six other novels. The Mousetrap, her
most famous play, was first staged in 1952 in London and is still
perform ed there it is the longest-running play in history.
Agatha C hristies first novel was published in 1920. It featured
Hercule Poirot, the Belgian detective w ho has becom e the
most popular detective in crim e fiction since Sherlock Holmes.
Collins has published Agatha Christie since 1926.
This series has been especially created for readers
worldw ide whose first language is not English. Each story has
been shortened, and the vocabulary and gram m ar sim plified
to m ake it accessible to readers w ith a good interm ediate
know ledge o f the language.
The follow ing features are included after the story:
A List o f characters to help the reader identify w ho is who, and
how they are connected to each other. Cultural notes to explain
historical and other references. A Glossary o f words that some
readers may not be fam iliar w ith are explained. There is also a
Recording o f the story.

Agatha Christie
The Moving Finger


HarperCollins Publishers
77-85 Fulham Palace Road
Hammersmith, London W6 8JB
Collins is a registered trademark of HarperCollins Publishers Limited.
This Collins English Readers Edition published 2012
R eprint 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2
Original text first published in Great Britain by Collins 1943
Copyright 1943 Agatha Christie Limited. All rights reserved.
Copyright 2012 The Moving Finger abridged edition
Agatha Christie Limited. All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-00-745163-0
A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library.
Educational Consultant: Fitch O Connell
Cover by HarperCollins/Agatha Christie Ltd 2008
Typeset by Aptara in India
Printed and bound in Great Britain by Clays Ltd, St Ives pic
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Chapter 1

W h e n at last m y broken bones had m ended, and the nurses had

helped m e to w alk again, and I was tired o f being treated like a
child, m y doctor, M arcus K ent told me I m ust go and live in the
country. G ood air, quiet life, noth in g to do th ats w hat you
need. Y our sister w ill look after you.
I d id n t ask h im if I w ould ever be able to fly an aeroplane
again. T here are questions that you dont ask because you are
afraid you w o n t like the answers. B ut M arcus K ent answered
anyway. Youre going to recover completely, he said. B ut its
going to take a long tim e. Youve got to live slowly and easily.
T h a ts w hy I am telling you to go to the country, rent a house,
get interested in local people, local scandal, and local gossip. A nd
go to a village w here you havent got any friends living nearby.
I agreed. I had already tho u g h t o f that. I did no t w ant friends
calling to give m e sympathy, and then talking about themselves
for hours.
So it happened that Joanna and I eventually decided to look at
a house called Little Furze, in Lym stock, m ainly because we had
never been to Lym stock. A nd w hen Joanna saw Little Furze she
decided at once th at it was the house we w anted.
It was a low w hite house, w ith a V ictorian veranda. It was
about h a lf a m ile out o f the to w n and had a pleasant view over
the countryside w ith the Lym stock church tow er dow n below.
It had belonged to a fam ily o f u n m arried ladies, but now
there was only one still alive, the youngest, Miss E m ily B arton.
She told Jo anna th at she had never rented h er house before, but
you see, m y dear, I do n o t have enough m oney to live in such a

A g ath a C h ristie

big house any m ore. A nd, now I have m et you, I shall be very
happy to k now that you are here. I really did hate the idea o f
having M en in the house!
At this p o in t Joanna had to tell her about me.
A nd Miss Em ily said, O h, how sad! A flying accident? B ut
you r bro th er w ill be unable to m ove very m uch T h e thought
seem ed to cheer her. A nd she told Joanna that she was going
to live w ith a w om an w ho had once been her servant, D ear
Florence w ho had m arried a builder. T hey now have a nice
house in the H ig h Street and tw o beautiful room s on the top
floor w here I shall be very com fortable.
So Jo an n a and I agreed to rent Little Furze for six m onths,
and w e m oved in. Miss B arto n s servant, Partridge, a thin,
hum ourless w om an, w ho cooked very well, stayed to look after
us. A nd she was helped by a girl w ho came in every m orning.
W h e n w e had been at Little Furze for a w eek M rs Sym m ington,
the law yers wife; Miss G riffith, the doctors sister; M rs D aneC althrop, the vicars wife, and M r Pye o f P rio rs E nd all cam e to
visit us and leave us their address cards.
Jo an n a was very excited. I did n t know that people really
called w ith cards.
T h at is because you k now n o th in g about the country, I said.
N onsense. Ive stayed for lots o f w eekends w ith people in the
T h at is n o t at all the same th in g , I said.
T h en I suddenly k new how selfish m y accident had m ade me.
For m y younger sister is very pretty, and she likes dancing, and
driv in g around in fast cars. This is going to be aw ful for you, I
said to her. You are going to miss L ondon so m uch.
Jo an n a laughed and said she did n t m ind at all. In fact, Im
glad to get away from it all. I was really very upset about Paul
and it w ill take m e a long tim e to get over him .

The M oving Finger

I didnt believe this. Joannas love affairs are always the same.
She falls madly in love w ith some weak young m an w ho is really
very clever, but no one understands him . She listens to all his
complaints and works hard to get him respect. Then, w hen he
is ungrateful, she says her heart is broken until the next weak
young m an comes along!
So I did not take Joannas pain very seriously. But I did
understand that living in the country was like a new game to my
beautiful sister.
This is a nice place, Jerry! she said. So sweet and funny and
old-fashioned. You just cant think o f anything awful happening
here, can you?
A nd I agreed w ith her. In a place like Lymstock nothing
awful could happen. It is strange to think that it was just a week
later that we got the first letter.

T he letter arrived while we were having breakfast. It was a local

letter w ith a typew ritten address. I opened it. Inside, words had
been cut out from a book and stuck to a sheet o f paper. For
a m inute or tw o I looked at the words w ithout understanding
them . T hen I gasped.
Joanna looked up. W hat is it?
The letter, using very unpleasant language, expressed the
w riters opinion that Joanna and I were not brother and sister.
Its a disgusting anonym ous letter, I said, very shocked.
Joanna was im m ediately interested. W hat does it say?
I handed the letter to her.
W hat a piece o f dirt! She began to laugh. You were
obviously right about my w earing too m uch m ake-up, Jerry. I
suppose they think Im an evil w om an!

A g ath a C h ristie

Perhaps, I said. But, o f course, o u r father was tall and dark

haired and o ur m other was fair-haired w ith blue eyes. A nd since
I look like h im and you look like her . . .
Jo anna nodded. N o b ody w ould th in k w e w ere b ro th er and
sister. So w hat shall w e do w ith the letter?
T h e correct thing, I believe, is to th ro w it into the fire. I did
so, and Jo anna watched.
T h en she got up and w ent to the w indow . I w onder w ho
w ro te it?
W e w ill probably never know .
Joanna was silent for a m om ent. W h e n I th in k about it, Im
not sure that its so funny after all. I thought they . . . liked us
dow n here.
T h ey do, I said. T his is ju st some half-m ad stupid person.
I suppose so. B ut its cruel!
As she w ent out into the sunshine, I thought that she was quite
right. It was cruel. Som eone hated us living here som eone
hated Jo an n as stylish beauty som ebody w anted to h u rt us.
To laugh was perhaps the best th in g to do. B ut it still w asnt
funn y . . .
D r G riffith came to the house that m orning. I had arranged
for h im to exam ine m e once a w eek. I liked O w e n Griffith.
H e was aw kw ard in the way he m oved, bu t he had very gentle
H is rep o rt on m y progress was encouraging. T h en he said,
A re you feeling all right? I sense that som ething has upset you
N o t really, I said. B ut a rather unpleasant anonym ous letter
arrived this m o rning.
H e dropped his bag on the floor. A re you telling m e that
youve also had one o f th em ?

The M oving Finger

I was interested. There have been other such letters, then?

O h, yes.
I see, I said. I thought that someone didnt like strangers
living here.
N o, no, its nothing to do w ith that. Its just . . . W hat did it
say? Suddenly his face w ent red. Sorry, perhaps I should not ask?
I am happy to tell you, I said. It just suggested that the very
lively girl I had brought here to live w ith me was not my sister!
A nd that is a polite translation.
H ow disgusting! I do hope your sister is not too upset.
J oanna, I said, found it very funny. A nd that is the best way
to treat som ething so totally stupid.
Yes, said O w en Griffith. But the trouble is, that once this
sort o f thing starts, it just gets bigger. It is a type of madness,
o f course.
I nodded. Have you any idea who is doing it?
N o, I wish I had. You see, there are usually tw o reasons for
sending anonym ous letters. Either it is particular and the letters are
sent to one person or group of people, by someone w ho is angry
w ith them for som ething that has happened. It is unkind and
disgusting, but its not always mad, and its usually fairly easy to
find out w ho the w riter is. But if it is general and not particular,
then it is m ore serious. T he letters are sent to lots o f people who
are not connected by any bad treatm ent o f the writer. This is
because the m ain purpose of such letters is to express some deep
problem in the w riters m ind. And that is definitely a form of
madness. Also, w hen you eventually find out w ho the w riter is,
it is often a real shock, and rather frightening. I rem em ber some
anonym ous letters being sent w hen I was w orking in the north
o f England, and although they were simply about personal
hatred, the situation still frightened me.

A g ath a C h ristie

Have people in Lym stock been receiving these letters for a

long tim e ? I asked.
I do n t th in k so. But, o f course, people w ho get these letters
don t usually tell anyone. H e paused. Ive had one myself.
Sym m ington, the lawyer, h e s had one. A nd one or tw o o f my
patients have told m e about them .
A re they all about the same sort o f th in g ?
O h yes. Sex is always the m ain subject. H e smiled.
S ym m ington was accused o f being involved w ith his secretary,
Miss G inch, w ho wears big glasses and has a nose like a b ird s
beak. S ym m ington took it straight to the police. M y letters said
that I had been involved w ith several o f m y lady patients. T h ey re
all quite childish, but they can still be dangerous.
I suppose they can.
You see, he said, one day, one o f these letters w ill, by chance,
be accurate. A nd then, goodness know s w hat m ay happen! Also,
some people see som ething w ritten dow n and im m ediately
believe that its true. T h en things can becom e very unpleasant.

Chapter 2
O u r anonymous letter did w orry me a little but I soon stopped
thinking about it. Then, about a week later, our servant,
Partridge, told me that Beatrice, the girl who helped her, would
not be com ing today.
She has been upset, Partridge said.
I said I was sorry and hoped that Beatrice w ould soon be
She is perfectly well, said Partridge. It is her feelings that are
upset. Because o f a letter she has received, suggesting, well, that
she is too friendly w ith you, M r B urton.
Since I hardly knew w hat Beatrice looked like I said, W hat
T hat is just w hat I said to the girls m other, said Partridge.
But Beatrices boyfriend got one o f those letters too, and he
doesnt think it is nonsense at all. So I think it is a good thing
Beatrice has left. Because she would not be so upset unless there
was something she didnt w ant found out. There is no smoke
w ithout fire. M r B urton.
I did not know then how very tired I was going to get o f that
particular phrase.

T hat m orning I had decided to walk dow n to Lymstock on my

ow n for the first tim e. W e had arranged that Joanna would meet
me w ith the car and drive me back up the hill in tim e for lunch.
T he sun was shining, and there was the sweetness o f spring in

A g ath a C h ristie

the air. I picked up m y w alking sticks and started off. It felt like
an adventure.
B ut I did not, after all, w alk dow n to the to w n alone. I had
no t gone far, w hen I heard the sound o f a bell behind m e, and
then M egan H u n ter alm ost fell o ff her bicycle at m y feet.
H ello, she said as she got up.
I rather liked M egan and always felt rather sorry for her.
She was the lawyer S ym m ingtons step-daughter M rs
S y m m in g to n s daughter by a first m arriage. N o b o d y talked
m uch about M r (or C aptain) H unter. I had heard that he had
treated M rs S ym m ington very badly. She had divorced him then
cam e to Lym stock w ith M egan to forget, and had eventually
m arried the only suitable u n m arried m an in the place, R ich ard
S ym m ington. T h ey had tw o little boys together w h o m they
obviously loved very m uch, and I tho u g h t that M egan m ust
som etim es feel a bit left out.
She w asnt at all like her m other, w ho was a small pretty
w om an. M egan was tall and aw kw ard, and although she was
actually tw enty, she looked m ore like a schoolgirl. She had untidy
bro w n hair, green eyes, a th in face, and a delightful smile. H er
clothes w ere unattractive and she usually w ore thick stockings
w ith holes in them .
She looked, I thought this m orning, m uch m ore like a horse
than a h u m an being. In fact she w ould have been a very nice
horse i f som eone had brushed her.
Ive been up to the farm , she said, to see if they had got any
du ck s eggs. T h ey ve got some sweet little pigs. D o you like pigs?
I even like the smell.
W ell-kept pigs shouldnt smell, I said.
S houldnt they? A re you w alking dow n to the tow n? I saw
you w ere alone, so I th ought I w ould stop and w alk w ith you.
B ut I stopped rather suddenly.

The M oving Finger

Youve torn your stocking, I said.

M egan looked at her right leg. O h, yes. But there are tw o
holes in it already, so it doesnt really matter, does it?
D ont you ever m end your stockings, Megan?
W hen M um m y tells me to. But she doesnt often notice what
I do, so its lucky in a way.
You dont seem to understand that youre grow n up, I said.
You m ean I ought to be m ore like your sister? All dressed
I didnt m uch like this description o f Joanna. She looks clean
and tidy and good to look at, I said.
Shes very pretty, said M egan. She isnt a bit like you, is she?
W hy not?
Brothers and sisters arent always alike.
N o. M y half-brothers Brian and Colin arent like each other.
W e walked on in silence for a m om ent or two, then M egan
said, You fly aeroplanes, dont you?
T hats how you got hurt?
Yes, I crashed.
She paused, and then asked w ith the honesty o f a child, W ill
you get better and be able to fly again, or w ill you always need
M y doctor says I w ill get better.
Im glad youre going to get better, M egan said. I thought
that you m ight look angry because you were never going to be
well again.
Im angry, I said, because Im in a hurry to get fit again
and these things cant be hurried.
T hen why w orry?
I began to laugh. M egan, arent you ever in a hurry for things
to happen?

A g ath a C h ristie

N o. W h y should I be? N o th in g ever happens.

I was struck by som ething sad in the words. H avent you got
any friends h ere?
T here arent m any girls w ho live here, and they all th in k Im
aw ful.
W h y ?
M egan shook her head.
D id you enjoy school?
It w asnt bad. B ut the teachers could never answ er questions
Very few teachers can, I said.
O f course, I am rather stupid, said M egan. A nd such a lot
o f things seem to m e such nonsense. A ll that stuff those poets
Shelley and Keats w ro te about birds, and W ordsw orth going all
silly over some daffodils. A nd Shakespeare.
W h a ts w ro n g w ith Shakespeare?
H e says things in such a difficult way that you cant understand
w hat he means. B ut I like some Shakespeare. I like G oneril and
R eg an .
W h y these tw o ?
Because, w ell something m ust have m ade them behave so
For the first tim e I really tho u g h t about them . I had always
accepted that K ing Lears elder daughters w ere tw o very
unpleasant w om en and that was all. B ut M egans dem and for a
reason interested me.
Ill th in k about it, I said. W asnt there any subject you
enjoyed at school, M egan?
O n ly M aths. H er face suddenly looked happy. I loved
M aths. I th in k num bers are beautiful.


The M oving Finger

W e were now entering the H igh Street and D r Griffithss

sister, Aimee, called out to us, Hello, you two. Beautiful
m orning, isnt it? She had all the confidence that her brother
did not have and she was good-looking in a strong outdoor way.
M egan, Im so glad to see you, she said in her deep voice. I
want some help addressing envelopes for the R ed Cross.
M egan said som ething I could not hear, leant her bicycle
against a wall, and w ent straight into a shop.
Shes a strange child, said Miss Griffith. Very lazy. She needs
an interest in life.
I thought that was probably true. But I also felt that if I
were M egan, I w ould have said no to any o f A im ee G riffiths
Laziness is so w rong, continued Miss Griffith, particularly
in young people. M egan isnt even pretty. A nd she is very stupid.
O f course it would be boring if we were all the same, but I dont
like to see anyone not enjoying their life. I enjoy my life and I
w ant everyone else to. Im always busy, always happy!
Suddenly Miss Griffith saw a friend on the other side of the
street, and w ith a shout, she ran across the road, leaving me
free to continue on my way to Messrs Galbraith, Galbraith and
Sym m ington.
I was shown into R ichard Sym m ingtons inner office.
W atching the lawyer as he bent over the docum ents I had
brought, I thought that if Mrs Sym m ington had experienced
a very difficult first m arriage, she had certainly chosen safety
for her second. R ichard Sym m ington was an example o f calm
respectability. H e had a long neck, a long expressionless face and
a long thin nose. A kind m an, no doubt, a good husband and
father, but not a m an to m ake a heart beat faster.


A g ath a C h ristie

W e quickly settled the m atter I had com e to ask h im about

and as I got up I said, I w alked dow n the hill w ith your step
For a m om ent M r S ym m ington looked as th o u g h he did
n o t k now w ho his step-daughter was, then he smiled. O h , yes,
o f course, M egan. W ere try in g to find som ething for her to do
yes. B ut o f course shes still very young. A nd some people th in k
that shes n o t very clever.
I left th ro u g h the o uter office w here a m iddle-aged w om an
w ith a big nose and large glasses was w orking at a typew riter. If
this was Miss Ginch, I agreed w ith O w en G riffith that any sexual
relations betw een her and her em ployer w ere very unlikely.
I w ent into the street and looked around, hoping to see Joanna
w ith the car. T h e w alk had m ade m e very tired. B ut she had not
arrived yet.
T h en suddenly m y eyes w idened w ith surprise and delight.
A long the pavem ent there came floating towards m e a goddess.
T h ere is really no other w ord for it. H er perfect face, the curling
golden hair, the tall beautifully shaped body! A nd she w alked
like a goddess, w ith o u t effort, com ing nearer and nearer.
I was so excited that I dropped one o f m y sticks on the
pavem ent, and I nearly fell dow n myself. It was the strong arm o f
the goddess th at caught and held me.
T h anks so m uch, I said. Im very sorry.
T h en she handed m e the stick, sm iled kindly and said, T h a ts
all right. It was no trouble, I prom ise you. A nd the m agic died
com pletely w ith the sound o f her very ordinary voice. She was a
nice healthy-looking girl, n o th in g m ore.
Jo an n a had now driven up and stopped in the road beside me.
She asked if there was anything the m atter.


The M oving Finger

N othing, I said. Ive had a shock, thats all. D o you know

who that is? I pointed to the girls back as she floated away.
T hats the Sym m ingtons governess. Joanna opened the door
o f the car and I got in. Its funny, isnt it? Some people have the
m ost perfect looks and absolutely no sex appeal.
I said that if she was a governess, having no sex appeal was
probably a good thing.


C hapter 3

T h at afternoon we w ent to tea w ith M r Pye.

H e was a small fat m an w ho lived at P rio rs Lodge, a very
beautiful house and m ade even m ore beautiful by M r Pye. Every
piece o f fu rn itu re was polished and set in the perfect place. T he
curtains, too, w ere all m ade in perfectly chosen colours and o f
the m ost expensive silks. I th o u g h t that living there w ould be
rather like living in a m useum . M r P yes greatest pleasure was
tak in g people round his house. His small hands shook as he
described his treasures. Luckily, Joanna and I are b o th interested
in beautiful old furniture.
It is so fortunate, M r Pye said, to have you here in Lymstock.
T he good people o f the to w n are so, well they dont know
any th in g about style. T h e insides o f their houses w ould m ake
you cry, dear lady. Perhaps they have already done so?
Jo an n a said that she h ad n t gone quite as far as that.
B ut Im sure you agree, he said, that beauty is the only th in g
w o rth living for. So w hy do people surround themselves w ith
Jo an n a said it was very strange.
Strange? Its criminal! A nd they give such stupid excuses. T hey
even say that som ething is comfortable! N ow , the house you are
renting, Miss E m ily B artons house, has some quite nice pieces in
it. B ut som etim es, I th in k, it looks uncared for because she likes
to keep things looking the same as w hen her m other was alive.
H e tu rn ed to m e and his voice changed from that o f a sensitive
artist to that o f a gossip.


The M oving Finger

You didnt know the family at all? No, well, the old m other
was an extraordinary person quite extraordinary! A monsterl
The girls ! T hats w hat she always called her five daughters.
And the eldest was well over sixty then. Every night they had to
go to bed at ten oclock. A nd they were never allowed to invite
friends home. She had no respect for them because they were not
m arried. But she arranged their lives so that it was impossible for
them to m eet anybody!
It sounds like a book, said Joanna.
O h, it was. A nd then the awful old w om an died, but of
course it was far too late then. A nd soon they just died one
after the other. All except Emily. It is so sad that she now has
m oney problem s.
W e feel rather awful being in her house, said Joanna.
N o, no, my dear. You m ustnt feel like that. She told me
herself how happy she was to have got such nice tenants.
It was tim e to leave and we all went out into the hall. As we
reached the front door a letter came through the letterbox and
fell on the floor.
M r Pye picked it up. M y dear young people, such a pleasure
to m eet some lively m inds for a change. Lymstock is beautiful,
but nothing ever happens. H e helped me into the car. Then
Joanna drove off and I turned to wave goodbye to M r Pye.
B ut he did not see me, for he hadjust opened his letter. And his
face was tw isted w ith anger and shock. At that m om ent I knew
that there had been som ething familiar about that envelope.
Goodness, said Joanna, looking in the car m irror. W hats
upset the poor old boy?
I think, I said, that its the letter.
You m ean a letter like the one you got? But who writes these
things, Jerry? A nd w hy?


A g ath a C h ristie

You m ust read Freud and Ju n g to find that out, I said. O r

ask D r G riffith.
Jo an n a shook her head. D r G riffith doesnt like m e.
H e s hardly seen you.
H e s seen quite enough, it seems, to m ake h im cross over the
road i f he sees m e com ing. B ut seriously, Jerry, w hy do people
w rite anonym ous letters?
I suppose that if others have been u n k in d to you, or ju st not
noticed you, and your life is dull and empty, you m ig h t get a
sense o f pow er from h u rtin g people w ho are happy.
As w e drove th ro u gh the tow n, I looked at the few m en and
w om en in the H ig h Street. Was one o f those healthy country
people really filled w ith hate beh in d their calm expression,
plan n in g perhaps even now another evil letter?
B ut I still did n o t take it seriously.
Two days later, on Saturday afternoon, w e w ent to a card party
at the S ym m ingtons. T here w ere tw o tables. T he players w ere
the Sym m ingtons, ourselves, Miss G riffith, M r Pye, Miss B arton
and a C olonel A ppleton w ho lived in a nearby village.
W h e n w e arrived, Elsie H olland, the childrens governess,
was searching for some extra notebooks in the desk. She floated
across the floor w ith them in the same way as w hen I had first
seen her, b u t the m agic was gone. I now noticed how large her
teeth were, and the way she opened her m outh very w ide w hen
she laughed. W h ich she did a lot.
A re these notebooks all right, M rs Sym m ington? O h , they
are a bit yellow round the edges. Anyway, Im taking the boys to
L ong B arrow so there w o n t be any noise.


The M oving Finger

W e sat down and began to play a game o f bridge. Everyone

was very friendly and the afternoon passed quickly and enjoyably.
W e then had tea in the dining-room . Suddenly, tw o excited
little boys ran in. M rs Sym m ington smiled w ith pride as she
introduced her sons to us.
Then, just as we were finishing our tea, I heard a sound and
turned my head to see M egan standing betw een the open French
O h, said her m other, sounding surprised. H eres M egan.
Im sorry but I forgot about your tea, dear. Miss H olland and the
boys took theirs out w ith them .
T hats all right. Ill go to the kitchen. M egan moved silently
across the room.
Mrs Sym m ington said w ith a little laugh, Poor M egan. Girls
are so awkward w hen theyve just left school.
Joanna looked up. B ut M egans twenty, isnt she?
O h, yes, yes. She is. B ut shes very young for her age. W hich
is so nice. I expect all m others w ant their children to rem ain
I cant think why, said Joanna. It would be a bit difficult to
have a child who had a six year old brain in a grow n-up body.
O h, you m ustnt take things so seriously, said Mrs
Sym m ington.
As we drove hom e, Joanna said, I feel very sorry for Megan.
H er m other doesnt like her.
O h, Joanna, its not as bad as that.
Yes, it is. M egan does not fit into the Sym m ington family.
Its complete w ithout her. A nd thats a very unhappy feeling for
a sensitive girl to have and she is sensitive.
Yes, I said, I think she is.


A g ath a C h ristie

Jo an n a suddenly laughed. B ad luck for you about the

I d ont k now w hat you m ean.
N onsense. A nd I agree w ith you. It is a waste. She is so
beautiful, u n til she opens her m outh, to talk or laugh! B ut Im
glad you noticed her. It is a sign that you are com ing alive again.
I was quite w o rried about you at the hospital. You never even
looked at th at very p retty nurse you had.
I smiled. B ut w hat about y o u ?
M e?
Yes. Y oull need som eone to give you some excitem ent dow n
here. So w hat about O w en Griffith? H e s the only u n m arried
m an in the place.
Jo an n a drove in silence th ro u g h the gate and ro u n d to the
garage. T h en she said, I dont understand w hy any m an w ould
cross the street to avoid m e. Its ru d e , apart from anything else.
I got carefully out o f the car, then stood leaning on m y sticks.
Ill tell you this. O w en G riffith is no t one o f those w eak, artistic
y oung m en youve always liked. So be careful. H e could be
O h , do you th in k so? Joanna said w ith obvious pleasure at
the thought. B ut how dare he cross the street w hen he saw m e
co m in g ?
W e have com e dow n here, I said, for peace and quiet, and I
am determ in ed that we w ill get it.
B ut peace and quiet w ere the last things w e w ere to have.


Chapter 4

It was about a week later that Partridge told me that M rs Baker,

the m other of the servant girl Beatrice, w ould like to speak to
me. I hoped that I was not going to be accused o f being too
friendly w ith her daughter, as the anonymous letter had said.
But when I had offered her a chair, Mrs Baker said, It is very
good of you to see me, M r B urton. W hen Beatrice was on her
bed, crying, I told her that you w ould know w hat to do.
Im sorry, I said. But w hat has happened?
It is the letters. T he evil letters.
Has your daughter received m ore letters?
N ot her, M r Burton. But now George, Beatrices boyfriend,
hes got one of them , saying how Beatrice is seeing Tom
Ledbetter. George is m ad w ith anger, and he came round and
told Beatrice he didnt w ant to see her any m ore.
But w hy come to m e? I asked.
I heard that youd had one o f these letters yourself, and I
thought that, being a London gentleman, youd know w hat to
do about them .
If I were you, I said, I would go to the police.
Mrs Baker looked shocked. Me, go into a police station? Ive
never been near the police.
W ell, they are the only people who can do som ething about
these letters. Its their job.
Mrs Baker said, These letters ought to be stopped. Young
fellows like George get very violent and so do the older ones.
I leaned forward. M rs Baker, have you any idea who is
w riting these letters?

A g ath a C h ristie

I was very surprised w hen she said, Yes, w eve all got a good
idea. M rs Cleat th ats w hat w e all th in k .
A nd w ho is M rs Cleat?
She was, M rs B aker said, the w ife o f an old gardener. B ut
w hen I asked her w hy M rs Cleat w ould w rite these letters, M rs
B aker w ould only say that It w ould be like her.
In the end she left, and I then decided to go and talk to
D r G riffith. H e w ould alm ost certainly know this C leat w om an.
B ut w hen I arrived and told h im about m y conversation w ith
M rs Baker, G riffith shook his head. Its m ost unlikely.
T h en w hy do they all th in k it is her?
H e smiled. O h, because M rs Cleat is the local w itch .
G oodness! I said.
Yes, it does sound rather strange in this m o d ern w orld. B ut
M rs C leat is an unusual w om an w ith a b itter sense o f hum our.
I f a child cuts its finger, she nods and says, Yes, he stole m y
apples last w eek, or H e pulled m y cats tail. So m others give
h er h o n ey and cakes to m ake sure she w o n t m ake som ething
bad happen to them . Its very silly, bu t now o f course they th in k
she m ust be w ritin g the letters.
B ut she isnt?
O h , no. Shes n o t that sort o f person.
W h e n I got back to the house, I found M egan sitting on the
veranda steps.
H ello, she said. C ould I com e to lunch?
O f course. I f you like Irish stew.
A bit. I m ean, its like a dogs d in n er isnt it, m ostly potato
and flavour?
Exactly, I said.


The M oving Finger

M egan stretched out a long dusty leg. Look, Ive m ended

my stockings, she said proudly. Is your sister good at m ending?
I dont know, I said.
Well, what does she do when she gets a hole in her stocking?
R ather embarrassed, I said, I think that she throws them
away and buys another pair.
Very sensible, said M egan. But I cant do that. I only get
a very small allowance. She paused. I suppose you think Im
awful, like everyone else?
D ont be stupid, I said.
M egan shook her head. T hats just it. Im not stupid. People
think I am. They dont understand that inside I know just what
theyre like, and that all the tim e I hate them .
You hate them?
Yes. H er sad, eyes, looked straight into m ine. You would
hate people if you were like me, if you w erent wanted.
D ont you think youre being rather negative? I asked.
Yes, said M egan. T hats w hat people always say w hen you
speak the truth. A nd I understand why Im not wanted. M um m y
doesnt like me because I rem ind her o f my father. W hat M um m y
would really like is to be just herself w ith my stepfather and the
I said slowly, If some of w hat you say is true, why dont you
go away and have a life o f your ow n?
You mean earn m y living? W hat at? I am stupid w hen I try
to do things. And also . . .
W ell?
There were tears in her eyes. W h y should I go away? They
dont w ant me, so Ill stay and make everyone sorry. I hate
everyone in Lymstock. They all think Im stupid and ugly. But
Ill show them. Ill . . .


A g ath a C h ristie

I heard a step on the path ro u n d the side o f the house. G et

up, I said roughly. Go up to the b ath ro o m and w ash y o u r face.
Q u ick .
She ju m p ed up and disappeared th ro u g h the French w indow s
just as Jo anna came ro u n d the corner.


Chapter 5
The R everend Caleb D ane-C althrop and his wife M aud D aneCalthrop were both unusual personalities. D ane-C althrop lived
for his books and in his study. M rs D ane-C althrop was quite the
opposite. She was frighteningly aware of everything around her.
She had a long thin face, and always spoke in a very sincere way.
I soon learned that almost everyone in the village was slightly
afraid of her.
T he day after M egan had come to lunch, M rs D ane-C althrop
stopped me in the H igh Street. O h, M r Burton! N ow what did
I want to see you about? Som ething rather unpleasant, I think.
Im sorry about that, I said.
A h. Anonym ous letters! T hats it. W hy have you brought
anonymous letters to Lymstock?
I didnt bring them , I said. T hey were here already.
N obody got any until you came, though!
Yes they did. Several people got them .
O h dear, she said. T hats all wrong. W ere not like that here.
A nd it upsets me because I ought to know about it.
H ow could you know ? I asked.
Because I usually do. A nd they are such silly letters, too.
Have you had any yourself?
H er eyes opened wider. O h yes, tw o no, three. I forget
exactly what they said. It was som ething about Caleb and the
schoolteacher. Very silly. She paused. A nd there are so many
things the letters m ight say, but dont. T hats w hat is so strange.
They dont seem to know any of the real things.


A g ath a C h ristie

W h a t do you m ean exactly?

W ell, o f course. T here is plenty o f adultery here, and m ore so w hy doesnt the w riter use those secrets? W h a t did they say
in y o u r letter?
T h ey suggested that m y sister w asnt m y sister.
A nd is she?
Jo an n a is certainly m y sister.
She nodded. T h at ju st shows you w h at I m ean. I expect
there are o th er things She looked at m e thoughtfully,
and I suddenly u n d ersto o d w hy Lym stock was afraid o f M rs
D a n e-C alth ro p .
F o r once, I was d elig h ted w h e n A im ee G riffith s loud
voice called, H ello, M aud, Im glad Ive seen you. I w a n t to
ch an g e th e date for the R e d Cross sale. I m ust ju s t go in to
th e g ro c e rs, th e n w e ll talk , i f th at suits you? G o o d m o rn in g ,
M r B u rto n .
Yes, that w ill do quite w ell, said M rs D ane-C althrop. B ut
A im ee G riffith had already gone, and she shook her head. Poor
th in g .
I was confused. Surely she could not feel sorry for A im ee?
B ut she w ent on, You know , M r B urton, Im rather afraid . . .
A bout this letter business?
Yes, you see it m ust m ean She paused, then she said slowly
as th o u g h she was solving a problem , It m ust m ean that it was
caused by blind hatred . . . yes, blind hatred. B ut even a blind
m an m ig h t p u t a knife in the heart purely by chance - and w hat
w ould happen then, M r B u rto n ?
W e w ere to k now that before another day had passed.
It was P artridge w ho b rought the news o f the tragedy.


The M oving Finger

She came into Joannas bedroom in the m orning. T heres

awful news, Miss B urton, she said as she pulled back the curtains.
Shocking! I couldnt believe it when I heard.
W hats awful? said Joanna, trying to wake up.
Poor Mrs Sym m ington. She paused. Dead.
D ead?Joanna sat up in bed, now wide awake.
Yes, and w hats worse, she com m itted suicide.
O h no, Partridge!Joanna was really shocked.
Yes, its the truth. But she was driven to it. poor thing.
N ot . . .? Joannas eyes questioned Partridge and Partridge
T hats right. O ne o f those evil letters!
W hat did it say?
But unfortunately Partridge had not been able to find out.
T heyre unpleasant things, said Joanna. But I dont see why
they would make som eone w ant to com m it suicide.
N ot unless they were true, Miss B urton. A nd Partridge left
the room.
W hen Joanna came in to tell me the news, I thought of what
D r Griffith had said, that sooner or later the letter w riter would
hit the mark. N ow they had w ith Mrs Sym m ington. She, the
wom an you would least suspect, had had a secret . . .
H ow awful for her husband, Joanna said. A nd for M egan.
D o you think . . . She paused. I wonder if shed like to come
and stay w ith us for a day or tw o?
W ell go and ask her, I said.
W e w ent dow n to the Sym m ingtons house after breakfast.
W e were a little nervous because we did not w ant to seem too
interested in what had happened. Luckily we m et O w en Griffith
just com ing out through the gate.
O h, hello, Burton. Im glad to see you. W hat an awful business!


A g ath a C h ristie

G ood m orning, D r G riffith, said Joanna loudly.

G riffith s face w ent red. O h , good m orning, Miss B u rto n .
I th o u g h t perhaps, said Joanna, that you didnt see m e.
O w en G riffith got redder still. Im - Im so sorry - I was
th in k in g .
Jo an n a w ent on, A fter all, I am standing rig h t in fro n t o f
I in terru p ted quickly, M y sister and I w ondered w hether it
w ould be a good th in g i f M egan came and stayed w ith us for a
day or tw o? W h a t do you th in k ?
I th in k it w ould be an excellent thing, he said. It w ould
be good for her to get away. Miss H olland is doing very well,
b u t she really has quite enough to do w ith the tw o boys and
S ym m ington himself. H e s quite heart-broken
It was I paused suicide?
G riffith n o d ded. O h yes. She w ro te , I cant go o n on a
to rn b it o f paper, and the anonym ous letter was fo u n d in the
W h a t did I stopped. Sorry, I said.
G riffith gave a quick unhappy smile. It w ill have to be read
at the inquest. B ut the suggestion was that the second boy, C olin,
was n o t S ym m ingtons child.
D o you th in k that was tru e ? I asked.
Ive only been here five years. B ut I thought the Sym m ingtons
w ere a happy couple w ho loved each other and their boys. Its
tru e th at C o lin doesnt look very m uch like his parents - h e s got
red hair, for one th in g bu t th a ts no t unusual.
H is red hair m ay have been the reason for the suggestion.
It probably was.
B ut it ju st happened to be correct, said Joanna, o r she
w o u ld n t have killed herself, w ould she?


The M oving Finger

Griffith said, Im not sure. Ive been treating her for a nervous
condition, so she may have thought that her husband w ould not
believe her w hen she said the story wasnt true. And O w en
walked away slowly dow n the street.
Joanna and I w ent on into the house. T he front door was
open and it seemed easier than ringing the bell, especially when
we heard Elsie H ollands voice from inside the sitting room.
But, M r Sym m ington, you must eat som ething. You havent
had anything since lunchtim e yesterday, and you w ill be ill if you
dont eat or drink.
Sym m ington said, Youre very kind, Miss Holland, but
A nice cup o f hot tea, said Elsie Holland.
Personally I w ould have given the poor fellow som ething
stronger. He was sitting in a chair, looking very confused. But
he took the tea, and said, T hank you so m uch, Miss Holland.
You are being so good to me.
Its nice o f you to say that, M r Sym m ington. And dont
w orry about the children Ill look after them . Also, if I can
help in any other ways, like letter w riting or telephoning, please
do ask m e.
Then, as Elsie H olland turned to go, she saw us and hurried
out into the hall.
Isnt it terrible? she whispered.
Can we speak to you for a m om ent? asked Joanna.
Elsie Holland led the way into the dining room . Its been
awful for M r Sym m ington. Its been such a shock. But, o f course,
M rs Sym ington had been behaving strangely for some time. She
had been very nervous, and often crying.
W h at we really cam e for, said Joanna, was to ask if
M egan could stay w ith us for a few days that is if shed like
to com e?


A g ath a C h ristie

Elsie H olland looked surprised. M egan? I dont know . I

m ean, one never know s w hat she is going to feel about anything.
Jo anna said, W e th o u g h t it m ight be a help.
O h well, o f course it w ould. I m ean, I havent really had
tim e to pay m uch attention to M egan. I th in k shes upstairs
som ewhere. I do n t k now i f
Jo an n a looked at m e and I w ent quickly out into the hall.
I found M egan in a room at the top o f the house. T h e curtains
w ere draw n across the w indow s and she was curled up on a bed
in the dark like a frightened anim al.
M egan, I said gently.
She looked at me, b u t she did no t move.
M egan, I said again. J o an n a and I have com e to ask you if
you w ould like to com e and stay w ith us for a few days.
Stay w ith you? In y o u r house? H er expression did not
You m ean, youll take m e away from here?
Yes, M egan.
Suddenly she began to shake all over. O h, do take m e away!
Please. Its so awful, being here, and feeling so evil. C an w e go now ?
W ell, w hen youve packed a few things that youll need. Ill
be dow nstairs.
I re tu rn ed to the d in in g room . M egans com ing, I said.
O h , th at is good, Elsie H olland replied. It w ill stop her
th in k in g about herself all the tim e. A nd it w ill be so good for m e
n o t to have to th in k about her as w ell as everything else. I hope
she w o n t be too difficult. O h dear, theres the telephone. I m ust
go and answer it. She hu rried out o f the room .
Jo an n a said, W h at an angel!


The M oving Finger

You said that rather unkindly, I told her. A nd Miss Holland

is obviously very dependable.
Very. And she knows it.
Before I could reply there was the sound o f a suitcase bum ping
dow n the stairs. It annoyed me that Joanna had to lift it into
the car. I could m anage w ith one stick now, but I couldnt do
anything that needed real strength. Anyway, we all got in and
she drove off.
But, as soon as we reached Little Furze and w ent into the
sitting room , M egan sat dow n and burst into tears. She cried
loudly, like a small child so I quickly left the room and w ent to
find som ething that m ight cheer her up.
W hen I came back I handed M egan a glass.
W hat is it?
A cocktail, I said.
H er tears im m ediately stopped. Ive never drunk a cocktail.
She tasted the drink carefully, then a big smile spread over her
face, and she swallowed the rest all at once. Its lovely. Can I
have another?
N o.
W hy not?
In about ten m inutes youll probably understand.
O h ! M egan turned to Joanna. It is so kind o f you to have
me here. I am really very grateful.
Please dont be grateful, said Joanna. W e are glad to have
you here. Jerry and I are so bored because we cant think o f any
m ore things to say to each other.
But now, I said, we shall be able to have lots o f interesting
discussions about Shakespeares characters G oneril and R egan


A g ath a C h ristie

M egan suddenly smiled. Ive been th in k in g about that. T hey

behaved badly because that aw ful old father o f theirs always
forced them to be so grateful. W h e n you have to keep saying
th an k you and how very k in d , it w ould m ake you w ant to
be very unpleasant for a change.
Im afraid I always find Shakespeare very boring, said
Joanna. All those long scenes w here everybody is d ru n k and its
supposed to be funny.
T alking o f d rin k , I said. H o w are you feeling, M egan?
Very well, th an k you.
N o t at all confused? You cant see tw o Joannas or anything
like th at?
N o. I ju st feel as though Id like to talk rather a lot.
Perfect, I said. K eeping a clear m in d w hile enjoying alcohol
is a great advantage to any h u m an being.

Chapter 6
T he inquest was held three days later.
T he tim e of M rs Sym m ingtons death was put at betw een
three and four oclock. She was alone in the house, Sym m ington
was at his office, the maids were having their day off, Elsie
H olland and the children were out w alking and M egan had gone
for a bicycle ride.
T he letter must have come by the afternoon post. M rs
Sym m ington must have read it and been very upset, so she had
gone to the garden shed, found some of the cyanide kept there
for killing wasps, m ixed it w ith water and drunk it after w riting
those last words, I cant go on . . .
T he coroner said that whoever had w ritten that evil
anonym ous letter was m orally guilty of murder. The verdict
was: Suicide while tem porarily insane.
T he coroner had done his best. D r Griffith also had done his
best w hen he spoke about M rs Sym m ingtons nervous condition.
But afterwards, w alking through the H igh Street, I heard the
same hateful whisper I had begun to know so well, N o smoke
w ithout fire! There mu^t have been som ething that was true in
the letter. She w ouldnt have done it otherwise . . .
A nd just for a m om ent I hated Lymstock.

It is difficult to rem em ber exactly what happened next. But I do

know that several people called on us. Aim ee Griffith came on


A g ath a C h ristie

the m o rn in g after the inquest and m anaged, as usual, to annoy

m e im m ediately. Jo anna and M egan w ere out, so I saw h er alone.
G ood m o rn in g , she said. I hear youve got M egan H u n ter
h ere?
W e have.
Its very good o f you. B ut it m ust be so difficult for you, so I
cam e up to say she can com e to us if you like. I can easily m ake
her useful in the house.
H o w kin d o f you, I replied. B ut w e like having her. A nd
she w anders about quite happily.
Im sure th ats true. W andering is all she ever does. But,
being so stupid, I suppose she cant help it.
O h , I th in k shes rather an intelligent girl.
A im ee G riffith gave m e a long look. T h a ts the first tim e
Ive ever heard anyone say that. W h e n you talk to her, she looks
th ro u g h you as th o ugh she doesnt understand w hat you are
She probably ju st isnt interested, I said.
I f so, shes extrem ely rude.
T h at m ay be. B ut n o t stupid.
Miss G riffith replied, W h a t M egan needs is good hard w ork,
som ething to give her an interest in life. Shes m uch too old to
spend her tim e doing n o thing.
Its been rather difficult for her to do anything m uch so far, I
said. M rs S ym m ington always seemed to th in k that M egan was
about twelve years old.
I know , Miss G riffith agreed. O f course shes dead now, p oor
w om an, but Im afraid I had little respect for M rs Sym m ington,
although o f course I never suspected the tru th .
T h e tru th ? I said sharply.


T h e M o v in g F in g er

Miss G riffiths face w ent red. I was very sorry for D ick
S ym m ington w hen everyone heard about it at the inquest. It was
aw ful for him .
B ut you m ust have heard h im say that there was no t a w ord
o f tru th in that letter?
O f course he said so. A m an s got to protect his wife. A nd D ick
w ould. She paused. You see, Ive kn o w n D ick S ym m ington a
long tim e.
Really? B ut your brother told m e that you only came to
Lym stock a few years ago.
O h yes, b u t w hen w e lived in the n o rth o f E ngland, D ick
S ym m ington used to com e and stay near us. Ive k n o w n h im for
years. H er voice had softened. I kn o w D ick very well. . . . H e s a
p roud m an, and very private. B ut h es the sort o f m an w ho could
be very jealous.
T h at w ould explain, I said, w hy M rs S ym m ington was
afraid to show h im the letter. She was afraid that he m ight not
believe it wasnt tru e.
Miss G riffith looked at m e angrily. D o you really th in k
that any w om an w ould sw allow cyanide because o f som ething
that w asnt true? I f an in n o cen t w om an gets some unpleasant
anonym ous letter, she laughs and throw s it away. T h a ts w hat I
she paused suddenly, and then finished, w ould do.
B ut I had noticed that pause. I see, I said. So youve had
one, to o ?
A im ee G riffith looked straight into m y eyes. W ell, yes. B ut
I d id n t let it w o rry me! I read a few words o f it, then threw it
straight into the w astepaper bin.
I w anted to reply, N o smoke w ith o u t fire! bu t I stopped
m yself and w ent back to talking about M egan.


A g ath a C h ristie

D o you k now anything about M egans financial position?

W ill it be necessary for h er to earn her living?
I do n t th in k its necessary. H e r fathers m other left her a
small incom e. I believe. A nd D ick S ym m ington w ould always
give her a hom e. N o, its the principle that m atters.
W h a t principle?
W ork, M r B urton. W ork is good for m en and for w om en.
T h e one unforgivable sin is idleness.
H ave you never thought, Miss G riffith, I replied, th at you
w ould probably n o t be able to take a fast train to L ondon i f little
G eorge Stephenson, w ho invented the steam engine, had been
out w o rk in g instead o f standing about, bored, in his m o th ers
kitchen. For it was then that he suddenly becam e interested in
the strange behaviour o f the kettle lid?
B ut A im ee G riffith was no t persuaded. You are like m ost
m en, M r B urton, you dislike the idea o f w om en w orking. A nd
you are ju st like my parents. I w anted to study to be a doctor. B ut
they refused to pay for m e to do that, although they paid happily
for O w en to becom e a doctor.
Im sorry about that, I said. It was hard on you '
She w ent on quickly, O h, Im not upset about it now. M y life
is busy and active. B ut I do still speak out against that stupid idea
th at a w om ans place is always in the hom e.
Im sorry if I offended you, I said. A nd I dont th in k M egans
place is being in the hom e at all.
N o , p o o r child. She doesnt fit in anyw here, Im afraid. H er
father, you k now
She paused and I said, I dont know. Everyone says her
father very quietly, and that is all. W h at did the m an do ? Is he
alive still?


The M oving Finger

I really dont know. But he went to prison, I believe. And he

was very strange. T hats why M egan is rather difficult to be w ith.
J oanna is very fond o f M egan, I said.
Aim ee said, Your sister must find it so boring dow n here.
And as she said it, I learnt that Aim ee Griffith disliked my sister.
It was there in the sm ooth sound o f her voice. W e all wonder
why you have both chosen to bury yourselves in such an out-ofthe-w ay place.
It was a question and I answered it. It was because o f my
doctors orders. H e told m e to come somewhere very quiet where
nothing ever happened. I paused. N ot quite true o f Lymstock
N o, no. She sounded w orried and got up to go, then stopped.
You know, we must try to stop it, all this unpleasantness!
A rent the police doing anything?
I suppose so. But we ought to take control o f it ourselves. She
said goodbye quickly and w ent away.

Em ily Barton, the ow ner o f our house, also called on us just after
we had finished tea to talk about the garden. As we walked back
towards the house she said, I do hope that M egan hasnt been
too upset by this awful business?
H er m others death, you m ean?
That, o f course. But I really m eant, the unpleasantness behind
I was interested. W hat do you think about that letter? Was
it true?
O h, no, no. Im quite sure that M rs Sym m ington never but
why w ould anyone w ant to w rite such a thing?


A g ath a C h ristie

A tw isted m ind.
T h at seems very sad.
It doesnt seem sad to me. It ju st seems evil.
B ut why, M r B u rton, why? W h a t pleasure can anyone get
out o f it? She low ered her voice. T hey say that Mrs Cleat - but
I really cannot believe it. N o th in g like this has ever happened
before in Lym stock.
I said, Youve n o t er received any letters yourself?
H e r face w ent very red. O h , no oh, no. O h! T h at w ould
be dreadful.
I quickly apologized, but she w ent away looking upset and I
w ent into the house.
Jo anna was standing by the sitting room fire. She had a letter
in her hand. J erry! I found this in the letterbox. It begins, You
are an evil painted w om an . . .
W h a t else does it say?
Same b u t worse. She dropped it onto the flames.
W ith a quick move that h u rt m y back I picked it up ju st before
it caught fire. D o n t, I said. W e m ay need it.
N eed it?
For the police.
Superintendent N ash cam e to see m e the next m orning. From
the first m om ent I saw h im I liked him . H e was tall, and had
th o u g h tfu l eyes and a quiet m anner.
G ood m orning, M r B u rto n , he said. I expect you can guess
w hat Ive com e to see you about.
Yes, I th in k so. This letter business.
H e nodded. I understand you had one o f th em ?
Yes, soon after we arrived here.


The M oving Finger

W hat did it say exactly?

I thought for a m inute, then repeated the words o f the letter
as accurately as possible.
W hen I had finished, he said, I see. You didnt keep the
letter, M r B urton?
Im sorry. I didnt. However, my sister got one yesterday. I
just stopped her putting it in the fire. I w ent across to my desk,
took it out and gave it to Nash.
H e read it. T hen he looked up and asked me, Does this look
the same as the last one?
I think so. I said. T he envelope was typed. T he letter had
printed words stuck onto a piece o f paper.
Nash nodded and put it in his pocket. T hen he said, M r
B urton, would you be able to come dow n to the police station
w ith me? W e could have a discussion there and it w ould save a
lot o f tim e.
Certainly, I said.
There was a car w aiting outside and we drove dow n in it.
At the police station I found Sym m ington and D r Griffith were
already there. I was also introduced to another tall m an w ho did
not wear a uniform .
Inspector Graves, explained Nash, has come dow n from
London to help us. H es an expert on anonymous letters.
T heyre all the same, these cases, Graves said in a deep, sad
voice. Youd be surprised. T he words they use and the things
they say. Some of the letters were spread out on the table and he
had obviously been exam ining them.
The difficulty is, said Nash, to get to see the letters. Either
people put them in the fire, or they w ont adm it to having received
any. H e took the letter I had given him from his pocket and gave
it to Graves who read it then put it on the table w ith the others.


A g ath a C h ristie

W eve got enough, I th in k , to go on w ith , said Inspector

Graves, and i f you gentlem en get any m ore, w ould you please
b rin g th em to m e at once. Also, ify o u hear o f som eone else getting
one, please do your best to get them to com e here w ith them .
Ive already got one sent to M r S ym m ington, w hich he received
tw o m onths ago, one to D r G riffith, one to M r S ym m ingtons
secretary Miss Ginch, one to M rs M udge, the butchers wife,
one to Jennifer C lark, w ho w orks at the T h ree C row ns, the
one received by M rs S ym m ington, and this one now to Miss
B u rto n oh yes, and one sent to the bank m anager.
S ym m ington asked, Have you learned anything about the
w riter?
Graves coughed and then gave us a small lecture. T here are
certain things that are the same in all these letters. T h e words
are m ade from separate letters cut out o f a book. Its an old book,
p rin ted in about the year 1830. T here are no fingerprints on
the letters, b u t the envelopes w hich have been handled by the
post office, have some fingerprints, but none that m atch. T he
envelopes are ty p ew ritten by an old W indsor 7 m achine. M ost
o f th em have been posted locally, or p u t in the box o f a house by
hand. It is therefore obvious that they have been sent by som eone
from the local area. T hey w ere w ritten by a w om an, and in m y
opinion a w om an o f m iddle age or over, and probably, though
n o t certainly, u n m arried.
W e w ere silent for a m inute or tw o. T h en I said, T he
ty p ew riter w o n t be difficult to find in a little place like this.
B ut Inspector Graves shook his head. I am sorry to say that
you are w rong, M r B u rto n .
T h e typew riter, said S uperintendent Nash, came from M r
S ym m ingtons office, and was given by h im to the W om ens
Institute w here anyone can use it. B ut w hat w e do k n o w is that


T h e M o v in g F in g er

these letters were w ritten by an educated w om an, w ho can spell,

and use w ords well enough to say exactly w hat she w ants to.
I was shocked. I had im agined the w riter as som eone like M rs
Cleat, som eone determ ined, but not clever.
S ym m ington p u t m y thoughts into words. B ut there are only
about twelve people like that in the w hole to w n !
T h a ts right.
I cant believe it. T h e n he co n tin u ed , You heard w h at I
said at th e inquest. I should like to repeat n ow th at I am certain
th e w ords in the le tte r m y w ife received w ere absolutely
u n tru e .
Graves answ ered im m ediately T h ats probably right, M r
Sym m ington. N o n e o f these letters show any signs o f real
know ledge. T h ey are ju st about sex and cruelty! A nd th ats
going to help us find the w riter.
S ym m ington got up. W ell I hope you find her soon. She
m urdered m y wife as surely as i f she had put a knife into her. H e
paused. H o w does she feel now, I wonder?
H e w ent out, leaving th at question unansw ered.
H o w does she feel, Griffith? I asked.
I d ont know. She m ay feel sorry, perhaps. O r she m ay be
enjoying her power. M rs S ym m ingtons death m ay have fed her
m adness.
I hope n o t, I said. Because if so, shell
Shell go on, said Graves. T h ey always do. H e paused. I
w o n d er i f perhaps you k n o w o f anyone w ho, definitely, hasnt
had a letter?
W h a t an extraordinary question! But, yes, I do, in a way.
A n d I told h im about m y conversation w ith E m ily B arton and
w hat she had said.
Graves said, W ell, th at m ay be useful.


A g ath a C h ristie

I w ent out into the afternoon sunshine and w alked along

to the house agents as I needed to pay o u r rent in advance. A
w om an, w ho was typing, got up and cam e towards m e. She had
a long nose and large glasses and I recognized her as Miss Ginch,
w ho had recently w orked for M r Sym m ington.
W h e n I asked her about it she said, Yes, I did w ork there, but
I th o u g h t it was better to leave. This is not quite so w ell paid,
bu t there are things that are m ore valuable than m oney, dont
you th in k ?
C ertainly, I said.
T hose letters, Miss G inch w hispered. I got one. Saying the
m ost awful things about m e and M r Sym m ington! A nd I felt
th at i f people w ere talking and they must have been, o r w here
did the w riter get the idea from? then I m ust avoid even the
appearance o f im m orality, th o u g h there has never been anything
wrong betw een m e and M r S ym m ington.
I felt rather embarrassed. N o, no, o f course not.
B ut people have such evil m in d s!
I had been try in g to avoid looking into her eyes, bu t w hen I
did I m ade a m ost unpleasant discovery. Miss G inch was enjoying
A nd suddenly an idea came into m y m ind. H ad Miss G inch
w ritten these letters herself?


Chapter 7
W hen I got hom e I found Mrs D ane-C althrop sitting talking to
Joanna. She looked ill.
This has been such a shock, M r B urton, she said. Poor
thing, poor thing.
Yes, I said. Its awful to think o f someone being so unhappy
that they take their ow n life.
O h, you m ean M rs Sym m ington? she asked.
D idnt you?
Mrs D ane-C althrop shook her head. O f course I am sorry
for her, but it was going to happen some tim e, wasnt it?
Was it? said Joanna.
M rs D ane-C althrop turned to her. O h, I think so. If you
think suicide is the best way to escape from trouble, then it doesnt
m uch m atter what the trouble is. She would have killed herself
one day, because she was that kind of wom an. A lthough she
always seemed rather selfish to me, as though her life was more
im portant than other peoples. But Im beginning to understand
how little I really know anyone.
So w ho were you talking about when you said Poor thing ?
I asked.
T he w om an w ho w rote the letters, o f course. T hink how
unhappy someone must be to do that. H ow lonely. T hats why
I feel so upset. Somebody in this tow n has been filled w ith that
terrible unhappiness, and I did not know about it. I should have
know n. Poor thing! She got up to go.
I felt unable to agree w ith her, so I asked, Have you any idea
w ho this w om an is?

A g ath a C h ristie

W ell, I can guess, b u t th en I m ight be w rong, m ig h tn t I?

She w ent quickly to the door, then tu rn ed . W h y have you never
m arried, M r B u rto n ?
F rom anyone else this w ould have been rude, bu t w ith
M rs D an e-C alth ro p I felt that she really w anted to know.
Shall w e say, I said, Because I have never m et the right
w o m an ?
W e can say so, said M rs D ane-C althrop, b u t it w ouldnt
be a very good answer, because so m any m en have obviously
m arried the w ro n g w om an. A nd then she left.
Jo anna said, I really do th in k shes m ad, but I like her. T h e
people in the village are afraid o f her.
So am I, a little.
D o you really th in k w hoever w rote these letters is very
u nhappy? Jo anna asked.
I do n t k n o w w hat shes th in k in g or feeling! A nd I d o n t care.
Its her victim s I feel sorry for.
It seems strange to m e now that in our discussions about
Poison Pens state o f m ind, w e missed the m ost obvious one.
G riffith had th o u g h t she w ould be pleased w ith w hat she had
done. I had th o u g h t she m ust be sorry. M rs D an e-C alth ro p had
b een certain that she was suffering.
Yet the obvious reaction w e did no t consider was Fear.
Because w ith the death o f M rs Sym m ington, the position o f
the w riter o f the letters was m uch m ore serious. T he police w ere
n o w involved, so it was even m ore im portant for the anonym ous
w riter to rem ain anonym ous.
A nd i f Fear was the m ain reaction o f the w riter, o ther things
w ould naturally happen. T hings that I did no t th in k about either,
yet they should have been obvious.


The M oving Finger


Joanna and I came dow n rather late to breakfast the next

m orning. T hat is to say, late for Lymstock. A nd I was annoyed to
see Aim ee Griffith standing on the doorstep talking to M egan.
N ine-thirty is not the tim e for a m orning call.
Hello, there, you lazy pair! she called. I just w anted to ask
Miss B urton if she had any vegetables she could give to our R ed
Cross sale. If so, Ill get O w en to call for them in the car.
M egan came back into the house and w ent into the dining
room . At that m om ent the telephone rang and I w ent into the
hall to answer it. Yes? I said.
T he noise o f deep breathing came from the other end and a
female voice said O h !
Yes? I said again.
O h, said the voice again. Is that is it Little Furze?
This is Little Furze.
O h ! the voice said once more, then asked, C ould I speak to
Miss Partridge for a m inute?
Certainly, I said. W ho shall I say?
Oh. Tell her its Agnes, would you? Agnes W oddell.
I put dow n the telephone and called up the stairs, Partridge.
Agnes W oddell wants to speak to you.
Partridge appeared w ith a brush in her hand. Agnes W oddell
w hatever can she w ant now ? She put down her brush and came
dow n the stairs looking very angry.
I escaped into the dining room where M egan was eating
bacon and eggs alone. So I opened the m orning newspaper and
a little later Joanna entered.
W hew ! she said. Is it true that there are no green beans at
this tim e o f year?


A g ath a C h ristie

A ugust, said M egan and got up and w ent out o f the French
doors on to the veranda.
W ell, one has th em any tim e in L ondon, said Joanna.
W h e n I had finished m y breakfast, I followed M egan outside.
Standing on the veranda, I heard P artridge enter the dining
room .
C an I speak to you a m inute, Miss B urton? she said. I am very
sorry that someone called m e on your telephone. T he young person
w ho did it should have know n better because Agnes used to work
here. She was only sixteen then, but she hasnt got a m other or any
family. A nd thats w hy Im asking if you w ould allow her to come
here to tea w ith m e this afternoon. Its her day off, you see, and shes
w orried about som ething and wants to talk to me about it.
Jo an n a said, B ut w hy shouldnt she com e to tea w ith yo u ?
P artridge stood up very straight, as she replied, It has never
b een allow ed in this house, M iss.
Its no good, Joanna, I said w hen P artridge had gone and my
sister had com e outside. Y our sym pathy is no t welcom e. You are
n o t respected for it.
Jo anna said, Im a com plete failure today - w ith A im ee for
k n o w in g n o th in g about vegetables, and w ith P artridge for being
a h u m an .
T h en M egan, w ho was n ow standing in the m iddle o f the
law n , came back towards us and said, I m ust go hom e now .
W h a t? I said.
She w ent on, Its been very good o f you to have m e and I
have enjoyed it, but I m ust go back because, well, its m y hom e
and I cant stay away for ever, so I th in k Ill go this m orn in g .
B o th Jo anna and I tried to m ake her stay, b u t she was
determ ined, so finally Joanna got out the car and drove her back
to M r S ym m ingtons house.


The M oving Finger


O w en Griffith arrived just before lunch tim e, and while the

gardener was loading the vegetables into his car, I brought O w en
indoors for a drink. H e said he w ouldnt stay to lunch.
W hen I came into the sitting room w ith the glasses I found
Joanna on the sofa asking O w en questions about his work.
She said she thought that being a doctor was one o f the most
interesting jobs in the world.
T hen she said, D o change your m ind and stay to lunch w ith
us, D r Griffith, and Griffith said that his sister was expecting
him . . .
W ell ring her up and explain, said Joanna and w ent out into
the hall. She came back sm iling and said that it was all right.
And O w en Griffith stayed to lunch and seemed to enjoy
himself. W e talked about books and about music and painting.
W e didnt talk about Lymstock at all, or about anonymous letters,
or M rs Sym m ingtons suicide.
W hen he had gone I said to Joanna, T hat fellows too good
for your usual female tricks.
Joanna said, T hats w hat you always say! W hat are you men
so frightened of?

T hat afternoon we were going to tea w ith Miss Em ily Barton

at her room s in the village. W e must have got there early, for
the door was opened to us by a tall fierce-looking w om an who
told us that Miss B arton wasnt in yet. But shes expecting you,
I know, so if youll come up and wait, please.
This obviously was Miss B artons form er servant, faithful
Florence. We followed her up the stairs and she showed us into


Agatha Christie

a pleasant sitting room . I make her as comfortable as I can, she

said, but she ought to be in her ow n house.
Joanna, said, W ell, Miss B arton w anted to rent out the house.
She went to the house agents.
Forced into it, said Florence. A nd looking hard at us for
some m oments she left the room .
W e dont seem to be very popular, I said. M egan gets tired
of us, Partridge disapproves o f you, Florence disapproves of both
of us.
Joanna said, I w onder w hy M egan did leave?
She got bored.
I dont think she did. D o you think, Jerry, it could have been
som ething that Aimee Griffith said?
I was about to reply that she m ight easily have upset M egan
w hen the door opened and Miss Em ily came in. H er face was
pink and she seemed excited. H er eyes were very blue and
O h dear, Im so sorry Im late. I was just doing a little shopping
in the tow n, and the cakes at the Blue Rose didnt seem to me
quite fresh, so I w ent on to Mrs Lygons . . .
Joanna said quickly, N o, Miss Barton, you are not late. W e
were early. Jerry is w alking so fast now that we arrive everywhere
too soon.
You could never be too soon, dear. O ne cannot have too
m uch o f a good thing, you know.
Joanna brightened up. At last, it seemed, she was being a
A nd then the door opened and Florence came in w ith a tray
o f tea and some little cakes.
Joanna and I ate far more than we wanted to and of course we
talked about the people who lived in Lymstock. Miss Barton said


T h e M o v in g F inger

how k in d and clever D r G riffith was. M r S ym m ington, too, was

a very clever lawyer, and had helped Miss B arto n to get some
m oney back from the incom e tax. H e was so nice to his children,
too, and to his wife.
She was less sure about M r Pye. A ll she said was that he
was very kind, and very rich, too. H e had very strange visitors
som etimes, but then, o f course, he had travelled a lot.
I have often th o u g h t I w ould like to go on a holiday, said
E m ily B arton.
W h y dont you go? asked Joanna.
O h, no, no, travelling alone w ould no t be suitable for a lady,
d o n t you agree?
Im not sure, said Joanna, and then quickly tried to calm her
by asking a question about the R e d Cross sale in the village. This
led us to talk about M rs D ane-C althrop.
You know , dear, Miss B arton said, she does say some very
strange things som etim es.
I asked w hat things.
O h , very unexpected things. A nd the way she looks at you,
as th o u g h you w erent there b u t som ebody else was. A nd then
she w o n t well, do anything. T here are so m any cases w here
a vicars w ife could tell people w hat is right, and m ake them
behave better. B ut she refuses, and she also has a habit o f feeling
sorry for the m ost unpleasant people.
T h a ts interesting, I said, looking quickly at Joanna.
B ut she is very loyal to her husband w ho is such a clever
m an and such a good m an, too.
At d in n er that night, Jo an n a said to P artridge that she hoped her
tea p arty had been a success.


Agatha Christie

Partridges face w ent red. T hank you, but Agnes didnt come
after all.
O h, Im sorry.
It didnt m atter to me, said Partridge. It wasnt me who
asked her!
Perhaps she was ill, Joanna said. D id you phone her to find
No, I did not, Partridge replied. If Agnes likes to behave
rudely, thats her problem, but I shall tell her exactly what I think
when we meet. And she went out o f the room, stiff w ith hurt pride.
Joanna and I laughed, then began talking o f the anonymous
letters and wondered how Superintendent Nash and Inspector
Graves were getting on.
Its a week today exactly, said Joanna, since Mrs
Sym m ingtons suicide. They must have got on to som ething by
now. Fingerprints, or w riting or something.
But I was thinking about som ething else and a strange sense
o f uneasiness was grow ing in my m ind. It was connected w ith
the phrase that Joanna had used, a week exactly.
A nd Joanna noticed suddenly that I wasnt listening to her.
W hats the matter, Jerry?
I did not answer because my m ind was busy putting things
together. Mrs Sym m ingtons suicide . . . She was alone in the
house that afternoon . . . Alone in the house because the maids were
having their day o ff. . . A week ago exactly . . .
J oanna, servants have days off once a week, dont they?
I crossed the room and rang the bell. Partridge came in. Tell
me, I said, this Agnes W oddell. Is she a servant in som eones
Yes, Sir. At M r Sym m ingtons.

The M oving Finger

I looked at the clock. It was half-past ten. W ould she be back

there now, do you think?
Yes, Sir. The servants have to be in by ten.
I w ent out into the hall and picked up the telephone. Joanna
and Partridge followed me.
Sorry to ring you up, I said when Elsie H olland answered.
This is Jerry B urton speaking. Has your servant Agnes come in?
Miss H olland sounded very surprised. Agnes? O f course
shell be in by now.
I felt like a fool, but I w ent on. Do you m ind just checking
that she has come in?
Luckily a governess is used to doing things w hen told. Elsie
H olland put dow n the receiver and went away.
Two m inutes later I heard her voice. A re you there, M r
B urton?
A gnes isnt in yet.
I knew then that I had been right. I heard a noise of voices
from the other end o f the line, then Sym m ington him self spoke.
Hello, B urton, w hats the m atter?
Your servant Agnes isnt back yet?
N o. T heres not been an accident, has there?
N ot an accident, I said.
D o you m ean you think som ething has happened to the girl?
I shouldnt be surprised, I told him .


Chapter 8

I slept badly that night. I m ust k now w ho w ro te those evil

letters. N o smoke w ith o u t fire. T here was a p attern , i f only I
could find it . . .
A t last I fell asleep.
It was the telephone that w oke me.
I sat up and looked at m y watch. It was half-past seven. I
ju m p ed out o f bed, ran dow n to the hall and picked up the
H ello ?
O h , th an k goodness, its you! It was M egans voice, upset
and frightened. O h, please do com e - do come! W ill yo u ?
Im com ing at once, I said.
I ran back upstairs and into Jo an n as room .
Im going to the S ym m ingtons.
She rubbed her eyes like a small child. W h y w h ats
I do n t k now - it was som ething to do w ith the girl Agnes,
Im sure.
I washed, shaved, dressed, got the car out and drove to the
S ym m ingtons in h a lf an hour. M egan came ru n n in g out o f the
house. O h , youve cornel
She was shaking. I put m y arm round her. Yes. N o w w hat
is it?
I I found her.
You found Agnes? W h e re?


The M oving Finger

U nder the stairs. T heres a cupboard, and she was in there

am ong the fishing rods and things. W hen I touched her she was
cold she was deadV
W hat made you look there? I asked.
A fter you telephoned last night, we waited for a while, but
she didnt come in, and at last we went to bed. I didnt sleep well
and got up early. I had some bread and butter, and then suddenly
Rose came in and said that Agness outdoor clothes were still in
her room . And I began to w onder if shed ever left the house,
and I started looking round, and . . . The police are here. My
stepfather rang them up straight away. T hen I felt I couldnt bear
it, and I rang you up. You dont m ind?
N o, I said. Com e on, lets go to the kitchen.
W e w ent round to the back door. Rose, a plump m iddle-aged
w om an, was drinking tea by the fire. W hen she saw us she put
her hand on her heart.
J ust think, it m ight have been me, it m ight have been any of
us, m urdered in our beds . . .
I interrupted her. M ake a good strong cup o f that tea for Miss
M egan. Shes had a shock; remember, it was she w ho found the
The w ord body m ade Rose open her m outh to talk again,
but I stopped her w ith a fierce look and she poured out a cup of
strong tea.
There you are, I said to M egan. D rink that. Then I told her
to stay w ith Rose and w ent through into the house.
I m et Elsie H olland in the hall. O h, M r B urton, isnt it awful ?
W hoever can have done such a dreadful thing? A nd why? Poor
Agnes, Im sure she never did anyone any harm .
N o, I said. Somebody made sure o f that.


A g ath a C h ristie

She looked surprised, th en said, I m ust go up to the boys.

M r S ym m ington is so anxious that they shouldnt be upset. She
hu rried upstairs.
T h en a door opened and Superintendent N ash stepped out
in to the hall. O h, M r B u rto n , Id like to speak to you. You got
here very quickly? H o w did you know ?
I said that M egan had ru n g m e up; and follow ed h im into a
little m o rn in g room .
I hear that you telephoned last n ight and asked about this
girl? W h y was th at?
I told him about A gness telephone call to P artridge and how
she had n o t com e to tea as arranged.
H e said, Yes, I see. W ell, its m urder now. T h e question is,
w hat did the girl know? D id she say anything to P artrid g e?
I do n t th in k so.
W ell, Ill com e up and ask her w hen Ive finished here.
W h a t happened? I asked.
W ell, it was the servants day off. R ose comes from N eth er
M ickford, and in order to get there she has to catch the half
past tw o bus. So yesterday R ose w ent o ff at tw o tw enty-five.
S ym m ington left for his office at tw enty-five to three. Elsie
H olland and the children w ent out at a quarter to three. M egan
H u n ter w ent out on her bicycle about five m inutes later. Agnes
was th en alone in the house. She norm ally left betw een three
o clock and half-past three, bu t yesterday it is clear that she didnt,
because she was still in her uniform w hen w e found her body.
H o w was she killed?
She was first h it on the back o f the head. A fterw ards a small
kitchen knife was pushed in the base o f the skull, im m ediately
killin g her.
Very cold-blooded. I said. W h o did it? A nd why?


T he M oving Finger

I dont suppose, said Nash slowly, that we shall ever know

exactly why. But we can guess.
D id she know something?
She knew something. Rose said shed been upset ever since
M rs Sym m ingtons death, and shed been getting m ore and more
w orried, and kept saying she didnt know w hat to do. He shook
his head. If only she had come and told us w hat was w orrying
her, she w ould be alive today.
Its awful, I said, not know ing.
A ctually, I think I know w hat may have been w orrying her.
You see, on the afternoon that Mrs Sym m ington killed herself,
both servants were supposed to be out. But actually Agnes came
back to the house.
You know that?
Yes. Agnes had a boyfriend young R endell w ho works in
the fish shop. O n Wednesdays it closes early and he used to come
here to m eet Agnes. T hat W ednesday they had a quarrel almost
as soon as they met. R endell had received an anonymous letter
saying that Agnes was seeing another man. H e was very angry
w ith her so Agnes ran back to the house.
Now, that letter to M rs Sym m ington didnt come by post. But
it had a used stamp on it so that it would look as though it had.
You understand w hat that m eans?
I said slowly, It means that it was pushed through the
letterbox some tim e before the afternoon post was delivered, so
that it w ould be amongst the other letters.
Exactly. So my theory is this. The girl was looking through
the window, hoping that her young m an w ould come and
A n d she saw whoever it was deliver that letter?

A g ath a C h ristie

T h a ts m y guess, M r B urton. I m ay be w rong, o f course.

I dont th in k you are . . . and it m eans that Agnes knew who
the anonymous letter writer was.

B ut then w hy d idnt she . . .?
Because the girl didnt understand what she had seen. N o t at
first. B u t th e m ore she th o u g h t about it, the m ore w o rried she
becam e. So she decided to ask P artrid g e w h eth er she should
tell som eone.
Yes, I said. A nd som ehow, Poison Pen found out. H o w did
she find o u t?
Y oure n o t used to liv in g in the country, M r B u rto n . First
o f all th e re s th e telephone call. W h o overheard it in y o u r
h o u se?
I thought. I answered the telephone. T hen I called up the
stairs to Partridge.
M en tio n in g the girls n am e?
Yes - yes, I did.
D id anyone overhear y o u ?
M y sister or Miss G riffith possibly.
A h, Miss G riffith was visiting. Was she going back to the
village straight afterw ards?
She was going to M r Pye first.
S uperintendent N ash shook his head. T h ats tw o people w ho
could have spread it all over the village. A nd then, o f course,
there is this house. Miss H olland, R ose - they could have heard
w hat Agnes said. A nd R endell m ay have told people that Agnes
cam e back here that afternoon.
I felt cold. I was looking out o f the w indow . In front o f me
was a path and a small gate. Som eone had opened the gate,
had w alked up to the house, and pushed a letter th ro u g h the


The M oving Finger

letterbox. I saw, in m y m ind, the w om ans shape. T he face was

blank but it must be a face that I knew . . .
But what do you think happened yesterday?
I think a certain lady walked up to the front door and rang
the bell. Maybe she asked for Miss Holland, or perhaps she had
brought a parcel. Anyway, Agnes turned round to put her visiting
card or the parcel on the table, and our caller hit her on the back
of the head.
A nd then stabbed her in the neck and hid her in the
cupboard? I thought for a m om ent. But if Agnes suspected this
person . . .
Nash interrupted me. She didnt. She just thought it was
strange. She didnt suspect that she was dealing w ith a w om an
w ho w ould com m it murder. You see, M r B urton, w ere dealing
w ith someone who is highly respected!

W e left the m orning room and w ent to find Elsie Holland, who
was organizing the boys lessons. She led us into another room.
Miss Holland, Nash said. W ill you tell me exactly what
happened yesterday afternoon?
Well, we had lunch as usual at one oclock. T hen M r
Sym m ington w ent back to the office, and I took the boys out.
W here did you go?
Towards Combeacre, by the field path the boys wanted to
fish. I forgot the bait and had to go back for it.
W hat tim e was that?
A bout ten m inutes to three, perhaps.
Did you go into the house?
No. Id left the bait in the shed.
D id you see M egan or Agnes? Nash asked.

A g ath a C h ristie

N o , I d idnt see anyone.

You m ake the tea on W ednesdays, Miss H olland?
Yes. T h e food is all ready in the sitting ro o m for M r
Sym m ington. I ju st m ake the tea w hen he comes in. T he children
and I have ours in the schoolroom .
W h a t tim e did you get in ?
At ten m inutes to five. T h en w hen M r S ym m ington came in
at five I w ent dow n to m ake his tea, but he said he w ould have it
w ith us. T he boys w ere so pleased. W e even played a card game.
It seems aw ful to th in k o f it now - w ith that p o o r girl in the
cupboard all the tim e.
So you noticed n o th in g unusual w hen you came back
yesterday afternoon?
H er blue eyes opened very w ide. O h no, S uperintendent,
n o th in g at all.
A nd w hat about the w eek before?
You m ean the day M rs S ym m ington . . .
Yes. W ere you out all that afternoon also?
I always take the boys out in the afternoon as w e do lessons
in the m orning. W e w ent up on the hill - quite a long way.
You d id n t go up to see M rs S ym m ington w hen you got
O h no.
N ash said lightly, So no one w ould take the post up to her?
N o. M rs S ym m ington used to com e dow n and get it herself.
She was usually awake by four.
You d idnt th in k anything was w ro n g because you had n t
seen her that afternoon?
N o. M r S ym m ington was hanging up his coat and I said,
Teas n o t quite ready, bu t the kettles nearly boiling, and he
called out, M ona, M o n a! - and then as M rs S ym m ington


The M oving Finger

didnt answer he w ent upstairs to her bedroom . . . then he called

m e and said, Keep the children away, and . .
Nash said, T hat letter she received, Miss Holland, do you
think it was true that one of her sons wasnt her husbands?
Elsie Holland said firmly, N o, I dont. But M rs Sym m ington
was very sensitive and anything so unpleasant w ould have given
her a great shock.
Nash was silent for a m om ent, then he asked, Have you had
any o f these letters?
N o, I havent had any.
A re you sure? W e know that the statements in them are all
lies, so you dont have to feel embarrassed.
But, Superintendent, really I havent. She was almost tearful.
W hen she w ent back to the children, Nash said, W ell, she
says she hasnt received any o f these letters. A nd she sounds as
though shes speaking the truth. So w hat I w ant to know is,
w hy hasnt she received one? I mean, shes a pretty girl, isnt
Shes rather m ore than pretty.
Exactly. So why has she been left out?
I shook my head. B ut shes not the only person. T heres
Em ily Barton, remem ber.
Nash gave a small laugh. You m ustnt believe everything
youre told. Miss B arton had one all right m ore than one.
H ow do you know?
Because her form er servant, the faithful Florence was very
angry about it and told us.
W h y did Miss Em ily say she hadnt received any?
Because the language isnt nice.
W hat did her letters say?
That she poisoned her m other and most of her sisters!


A g ath a C h ristie

I said, H o w can this m ad and dangerous person be free to

w rite all these things and w e cant see w ho it is?
W e w ill, said Nash. Shell w rite ju st one letter too m any.
B ut she w o n t, w ill she - n o t after the m urder.
H e looked at me. O h yes she w ill. You see, she cant stop now.
She needs to w rite them .


Chapter 9

Nash and I w ent up to our house together so that he could speak

to Partridge. Afterwards he joined Joanna and me.
She wasnt m uch help. She just said that the girl was w orried
about som ething and that she wanted Partridges advice.
T heres som ething I w ant to ask, I said. W hy were my sister
and I sent anonymous letters w hen we had only just arrived
The superintendent said, I dont know if either o f you looked
closely at the envelope o f the letter Miss B urton got. If so, you
may have noticed that it was actually addressed to Miss Barton,
and the a altered to a u afterwards.
T hat remark ought to have given us a new idea about the
whole business. But none o f us noticed it then. W hen Nash had
gone, Joanna said, You dont think that letter was really meant
for Miss Emily, do you?
No. Because it w ould not have begun, You are an evil
painted w om an, I replied.
T hen Joanna suggested that I should go dow n to the town.
You ought to hear w hat everyone is saying this m orning!

Joanna was quite right. The H igh Street was full of people
talking. I m et Griffith first.
Youve no idea w ho com m itted this m urder? I asked.


A g ath a C h ristie

N o. I w ish I knew . H e asked h ow Joanna was, and said that

he had some photographs she w anted to see. I offered to take
th em to her.
O h , it doesnt m atter. I shall be passing that way later in the
m o rn in g .
I let h im go as I saw his sister com ing and this tim e I w anted
to talk to her.
Absolutely aw ful! A im ee G riffith called. Its the first m urder
w eve ever had in Lymstock. I hear M egan found the body? It
m ust have given her a bit o f a shock.
It did, I said shortly. T h en I m ade a sudden decision. Tell
m e, Miss G riffith, was it you w ho persuaded her to re tu rn hom e
W ell, I w o u ld n t say persuaded.
B ut you did say som ething to her?
A im ee G riffith looked straight into m y eyes, T h at young
w om an doesnt k now how people talk.
Talk, w hat talk?
A im ee G riffith continued, O h, I dont th in k any o f its true!
B ut its rather hard on the girl w hen shes got to earn a living.
Has she got to earn a living? I asked, confused.
Its a difficult position for her. I m ean, she cant go im m ediately
and leave the boys w ith no one to look after them . But, o f course
people w ill gossip!
W h o are you talking about? I asked.
Elsie H olland, o f course.
A n d w hat are people saying?
A im ee G riffith laughed. It was, I thought, rather an unpleasant
laugh. T h at she is plan n in g to becom e M rs S ym m ington
N o. 2. O f course, its mad! A nd p o o r D ick S ym m ington hasnt


The M oving Finger

any idea of all this! But if the girl is always there, m aking him
comfortable, and looking after the boys well, he w ill begin
to depend on her. A nd thats why I told M egan that she ought
to go home. It looks better than having D ick Sym m ington and
Miss H olland alone in the house, dont you agree? she said, and
walked away.

I m et M r Pye by the church. H e was talking to Em ily Barton

and turned to me w ith obvious pleasure. So, a real Sunday
newspaper m urder here in Lymstock! O nly a little servant. But
still it is news.
Miss Barton said, It is shocking. She was such a nice girl. She
came to me from the childrens hom e where she had lived for
most o f her life and Partridge was very pleased w ith her. Then
she w ent to work for the Sym m ingtons.
O f course, said M r Pye. But Lymstock, I am afraid, is not
what it was! Anonym ous letters, murders, w hat next?
Em ily Barton said, They dont think that the tw o are
connected, I hope.
A n interesting idea, said M r Pye. The girl knew something,
therefore she was m urdered. Yes, yes, o f course. H ow clever of
you to think o f it.
I cant bear to think o f it. A nd Em ily B arton turned away,
w alking very fast.
W hat do you really think about all this business? I asked
M r Pye.
Such unlikely people can surprise you by doing such
strange things, he replied. So I w ould advise the police to
forget fingerprints and handw riting and to study character.


A g ath a C h ristie

N o tice instead w hat people do w ith th e ir hands, and the way

they eat th eir food, and i f they laugh som etim es for no obvious
M ad ? I said.
C om pletely m ad, said M r Pye, bu t youd never kn o w it!
A nd he w alked happily o ff dow n the street.
I arrived back at Little Furze ju st a few m inutes before lunch
tim e and w ent out to jo in Jo an n a on the veranda. T h ere w ere
tw o chairs by the iron table and tw o em pty glasses on it. O n
ano th er chair was a strange object. W h a t on earth is this?
I asked.
O h . Its a photograph o f a diseased lung w hich D r G riffith
th o u g h t Id be interested in.
I looked at the photograph. Every m an has his ow n ways o f
con n ectin g w ith w om en. B ut I w ould not, myself, choose to do
it w ith photographs o f lungs, diseased or otherw ise.
It looks m ost unpleasant, I said. H o w was G riffith?
H e looked tired and very unhappy. I th in k h es got som ething
on his m in d .
I should say hes got you on his m ind. I w ish youd leave the
m an alone, Joanna.
O h , do be quiet. I havent done anything. She tu rn e d and
w alked away across the lawn.
T h e diseased lung was beg in n in g to curl up in the sun. I
picked it up by one corner and took it into the sitting-room .
T h en I pulled out a heavy book from the bookcase in order
to press the photograph flat again betw een its pages. It was a
bo o k o f som ebodys sermons and it came open in m y hand in


The M oving Finger

a surprising way. In m om ent I saw why. From the middle o f it a

number o f pages had been neatly cut out.

I was looking at the book which Poison Pen m ust have used
to cut out words to use in the anonymous letters. But w ho had
cut the pages out?
Well, it could have been anyone who had been alone in this
room , any visitor w ho had sat here waiting for Em ily Barton. So,
almost anyone in Lymstock.
After lunch I took the book down to the police station.
They were excited. They tested it for fingerprints, but they
didnt find any o f interest. There were m ine, and Partridges
because she cleaned very carefully, but nobody elses.
I asked Nash how he was getting on. W ere narrow ing it
dow n. W e know the people it couldnt be.
A h, I said. A nd w ho rem ains?
Miss Ginch. She had arranged to meet someone yesterday
afternoon at a house they were selling not far along the road from
the Symmingtons. And the day of Mrs Symm ingtons suicide,
which was Miss Ginchs last day at Symmingtons office, she could
also have walked past the house when she went out to get some
W ho else remains as a suspect?
Nash looked very straight ahead of him . Youll understand
that we cant decide to leave out anybody.
N o, I said. I see that.
He said, Miss Griffith w ent to Brenton for a m eeting o f the
R ed Cross yesterday. She arrived rather late.
You dont think . . .


Agatha Christie

N o, but I dont know. Miss Griffith seems a very healthym inded w om an but . . .
W hat about last week? Could she have put the letter in the
Its possible. She was shopping in the tow n that afternoon.
T he same is true o f Miss Em ily Barton. She was out shopping
yesterday afternoon and she w ent to see some friends on the road
past the Sym m ingtons house the week before.
I shook my head. I rem em bered Miss Em ily com ing in
yesterday so bright and happy and excited. . . Yes, excited . . .
surely not because . . .
And theres M r Pye, Nash said. A strange character not,
I think, a very nice character. And he says he was alone in his
garden on both occasions.
So youre not only suspecting w om en?
I dont think a m an w rote the letters, but w eve got to
include everybody. Because this is a m urder case. Youre all right,
he smiled, and so is your sister. And M r Sym m ington didnt
leave his office, and D r Griffith was visiting patients.
I said, So your suspects are dow n to those four Miss Ginch,
M r Pye, Miss Griffith and Miss B arton?
O h, no, no, w eve got a couple more as well as the vicars
Youve thought o f her?
W eve thought o f everybody, and M rs D ane-C althrop could
have done it. She was in the woods bird-w atching yesterday
afternoon and the birds cant speak for her.
H e turned sharply as O w en Griffith came into the police
station. Hello, Nash. I heard you wanted to speak to m e.
Nash said, M rs Sym m ington was taking some pills that you
gave her. W ould too many o f those have killed her?

The M oving Finger

N ot unless shed taken about tw enty-five of them!

Anyway, theres no doubt about the cause o f death. It was
O h, I know that I only thought that w hen com m itting
suicide, youd prefer to take a lot o f pills that w ould m ake you go
to sleep, rather than to take cyanide.
O h, right. But cyanide is almost certain to kill you. W ith
the pills it m ight have been possible to save her if she was found
I see, thank you, D r Griffith.
Griffith left, and I walked slowly up the hill to Little Furze.
Joanna was out, and there was a note w ritten on the telephone
I f D r Griffith rings up, I cant go on Tuesday, but could manage
Wednesday or Thursday.

I went into the sitting room , sat dow n and tried to think
the whole thing over. O w ens arrival had interrupted my
conversation w ith the superintendent, w ho had just m entioned
tw o other people as being possible suspects. I wondered who
they were.
Partridge, perhaps? After all, the book w ith the pages cut out
had been found in this house. But w ho was the other? Somebody
that I didnt know?
I closed my eyes and considered four people in turn. Gentle
little Em ily Barton? W hat points were there actually against
her? Controlled from early childhood? H er dislike o f discussing
anything not very nice? Was that actually a sign o f an inner
interest in such things?
Aim ee Griffith? Surely nobody could control her. Cheerful
and successful. Yet there was som ething . . . Ah, yes! O w en
G riffith saying, W e had some anonymous letters sent to people


A g ath a C h ristie

in the n o rth o f E ngland w hen I was w orking there. H ad that

been A im ee Griffith?
N o , because theyd found the w riter o f those. G riffith had
said it was a schoolgirl.
W h y did I suddenly feel so cold and upset?
Perhaps it was A im ee G riffith, not the schoolgirl? A nd A im ee
had started her tricks again. A nd that was w hy O w e n G riffith
was lo o k in g so unhappy. H e suspected his sister.
M r Pye? N o t a very nice little m an. I could im agine h im
arranging the w hole business . . . laughing . . .
T h en that message on the telephone pad in the hall . . . w hy
did I keep th in k in g o f it? G riffith and Joanna he was falling in
love w ith her. N o, that w asnt w hy the message w orried me. It
was som ething else . . .
M y thoughts w ere going ro u n d and round and I kept repeating
to myself, N o smoke w ith o u t fire. N o smoke w ith o u t fire. . .
T h a ts it . . . it all fits together . . .
T h en I was suddenly in the church and Elsie H olland was
gettin g m arried to D r G riffith and the R everend D an e-C alth ro p
was reading the service in Latin. A nd in the m iddle o f it M rs
D an e-C alth ro p ju m p ed up and cried, Its got to be stopped!
T h en I w oke up, and I was in the sitting room o f Little Furze
and M rs D an e-C alth rop had just com e through the French
w indow s and was standing in front o f m e saying, It has got to
be stopped, I tell you.
I ju m p e d up. Sorry, w hat did you say?
M rs D an e-C alth ro p banged a small table w ith her hand. Its
got to be stopped. These letters! M urder! W e cant go on having
p o o r children like Agnes W oddell killed !
Youre quite right, I said. B ut w hat do you suggest w e d o ?


The M oving Finger

I said this wasnt an evil place. I was wrong. It is.

Yes, but w hat are you going to do?
Im going to call in an expert. Someone w ho knows all about


Before I could say anything, Mrs D ane-C althrop w ent out

into the garden again.


Chapter 10

T h e next w eek felt like a dream .
T h e inquest on Agnes W oddell was held and the only possible
verdict was returned, M urder by person or persons u n k n o w n .
So p o o r little Agnes, having had her h o u r o f fame, was then
buried in the old churchyard and life in Lym stock w ent on as
N o , that last statem ent is untrue. N o t as before . . .
T here was a half-scared, half-excited light in alm ost
everybodys eye. N eig h bour looked at neighbour. Som ew here in
Lym stock was a person w ho had cracked a girls skull and pushed
a knife into her brain.
B ut no one k new w ho that person was.
A nd in the evenings, w ith the curtain draw n, Joanna and I sat
talking and arguing, over all the various possibilities.
M r Pye?
Miss Ginch?
M rs D ane-C althrop?
A im ee Griffith?
E m ily Barton?
A nd all the tim e, nervously, w e w aited for som ething to
B ut n o th in g did happen. E m ily B arton came to tea. M egan
came to lunch. W e w ent for drinks w ith M r Pye. A nd w e w ent
to tea at the vicarage.
O u r afternoon there, in the big com fortable sitting room , was
one o f the m ost peaceful w e had spent. T he D ane-C althrops had


T h e M o v in g F inger

a guest staying w ith them , a gentle old lady w ho was k n ittin g

som ething w ith w hite wool. It was very pleasant.
I do n t m ean that w e did no t m ention the m urder, because
w e did.
Miss M arple, the guest, was very excited by the subject.
Tell me, dear, she said to M rs D ane-C althrop, w hat do the
tow nspeople say? W h a t do they th in k ?
M rs Cleat still, I suppose, said Joanna.
O h no, said M rs D ane-C althrop. N o t now.
Miss M arple asked w ho M rs Cleat was. Joanna said she was
the village witch.
Shes a very silly w om an, said M rs D ane-C althrop. She
goes out to gather plants w hen there is a full m oon and makes
sure th at everybody know s about it.
I asked, B ut w hy shouldnt people suspect her o f the m urder?
T hey th o u g h t she had w ritten the letters.
M iss M arple said, O h! B ut the girl was killed w ith a knife,
v ery unpleasant! So th at m eans it cant be this M rs Cleat.
B ecause she could ju st use h er pow ers to m ake th e girl die
fro m n atu ra l causes. She tu rn e d to m e. M r B u rto n , n ow you
are a stranger here. Perhaps you can find a solution to this
p ro b lem .
I smiled. T h e best solution I have had was a dream . In my
dream it all fitted together. U nfortunately w hen I w oke up the
w hole th in g was nonsense!
H o w interesting. D o please tell me about the nonsense!
O h , it all started w ith the silly phrase N o sm oke w ith o u t
fire. A nd then I got it m ixed up w ith o ther phrases: smoke
screens, to rn bits o f paper, telephone messages N o, that was
an o th er dream .
A nd w hat was th at dream ?


A g ath a C h ristie

W ell, Elsie H olland, the S ym m ingtons governess, was

getting m arried to D r G riffith and the vicar here was reading
the service in Latin, and then M rs D an e-C alth ro p got up and
said it had got to be stopped! B ut that part, I smiled, was true. I
w oke up and found you standing over m e saying it.
A nd I was quite right, said M rs D ane-C althrop.
B ut w here did a telephone message com e in ? asked Miss
M arple.
O h , Id forgotten, that w asnt in the dream . I cam e th ro u g h
the hall and noticed Joanna had w ritten dow n a message to be
given to som eone if they rang up.
Miss M arple looked at Joanna. W ill you th in k m e very rude
if I ask ju st w hat that message w as?
I do n t m ind, Joanna said. I cant rem em ber anything about
it myself.
I repeated the message as best I could, w orried that it was
going to disappoint Miss M arple, bu t she smiled.
I th o u g h t it m ight be som ething like that.
M rs D an e-C alth ro p said sharply, Like w hat, Jan e ?
S om ething quite ordinary. Miss M arple had begun k n ittin g
again. You know, to com m it a successful m urder m ust be very
m uch like doing a m agic trick. Youve got to m ake people look
at the w ro n g th in g and in the w ro n g place.
W ell, I replied. So far everybody seems to have looked in
the w ro n g place for o ur m ad person.
I myself, said Miss M arple, w ould probably look for
som ebody very sane.
T h a ts w hat N ash said, I told her. H e also said they w ould
be very respectable.
Yes, agreed Miss M arple. T h a ts im portant. She looked at
Joanna. Have you had a letter, Miss B u rto n ?


The M oving Finger

Joanna laughed, O h, yes! It said the most awful things.

Im afraid, said Miss M arple, that people w ho are young and
pretty are likely to be chosen by the writer.
T hats why I think its odd that Elsie H olland hasnt had any,
I said.
Is that the Sym m ingtons governess the one you dream t
about, M r B urton? Miss M arple asked.
Shes probably had one and w ont say so, said Joanna.
N o, I said, I believe her. So does Nash.
Dear me, said Miss M arple. N ow thats very interesting.
T hats the most interesting thing Ive heard yet.

It was tw o nights later that I was driving back from having

dinner w ith an old friend, and it was already dark before I got
into Lymstock. Som ething was w rong w ith the car lights, so I
got out and m anaged to fix them.
T he road was empty. T he first few houses were just ahead, and
amongst them was the W om ens Institute building. Som ething
made me want to go and have a look at it. A short path led up
to the door. I stood for a m om ent w ondering w hat I was doing
there. T hen suddenly I heard a slight sound, like the movement
of a w om ans skirt, so I turned and w ent round the corner o f the
building towards where the sound had come from.
I couldnt see anybody, so I w ent on and round the back of
the house where there was an open window. I moved nearer to
it and listened. I could hear nothing, but I felt sure that there was
someone there.
M y back still wasnt very good, but I m anaged to climb up
and drop dow n inside. T hen I moved forward, until I heard a

A g ath a C h ristie

faint sound ahead o f me. I had a torch in m y pocket and sw itched

it on.
At once a low, sharp voice said, Switch that off.
A nd I obeyed, for I had im m ediately recognized the voice. I
felt S uperintendent N ash take m y arm and guide m e th ro u g h a
door and into a passage. H ere, w here there was no w indow , he
sw itched on a lamp and looked at m e m ore in sadness than in
You would have to in terru p t just at that m inute, M r B u rto n .
Sorry, I said. B ut I had a feeling that som ething was
A nd it probably was. Som ebody came round the house before
you. T h ey stopped by the w indow , then m oved on quickly
because they heard you, probably.
I apologized again. B ut w hy are you here?
N ash said, I believe that the w riter o f the letters w ill w ant
to keep them looking the same. Shes got the cu t-o u t pages o f
that book, and can go on using them . B ut shell w ant to type the
envelopes on the same m achine. So, I w orked out that she w ould
com e to the Institute after dark to get at the typew riter.
For the th ird tim e I apologized for m y unw anted presence
and w ent out into the night. Som eone was standing beside
m y car.
H ello ! M egan said. W h a t have you been doing?
W h a t are you doing is m uch m ore to the p o in t? I said.
Im out for a walk. I like w alking at night. N obody stops you
and says silly things, and I like the stars.
A ll o f that is true, I said. B ut only cats and w itches w alk in
the dark. A nd your fam ily w ill w orry about you.
N o , they w o n t. T hey never w orry w here I am or w hat Im


The M oving Finger

Well, get in the car and Ill drive you hom e.

It was not quite true w hat M egan had said. Sym m ington
was standing on the doorstep as we drove up. Hello, is M egan
there? he called.
Yes, Ive brought her hom e.
Sym m ington said sharply, You m ustnt go off like this
w ithout telling us, M egan. Miss Holland has been very w orried
about you.
M egan said som ething I couldnt hear and w ent past him into
the house.


Chapter 11

T he next day I went mad. Looking back on it, that is really the
only explanation I can find.
It was tim e for my m onthly visit to my London doctor,
M arcus Kent. To my surprise Joanna decided to stay behind.
Usually she was keen to come and we w ould stay there for tw o
days. This time, however, I intended to return the same day.
T he station of Lymstock is half a m ile outside Lymstock itself,
and as I was driving there I saw M egan w andering along the
road. So I stopped. Hello, w hat are you doing?
J ust out for a walk.
N ot your usual sort o f healthy walk.
W ell, I wasnt going anywhere particular.
T hen youd better come and wave goodbye to me at the
station. I opened the door o f the car and M egan jum ped in.
W hen we arrived, I parked the car and w ent in to buy my
ticket. W ould you lend me some m oney so that I can get some
chocolate out of the m achine? M egan asked.
Here you are, I said, handing her a coin.
She w ent off to the chocolate machine, and I looked after her
w ith a feeling of annoyance. She was wearing m uddy shoes, and
thick stockings and a shapeless woollen top. I said as she came
back, W hy do you wear those awful stockings?
W hats the m atter w ith them ?
Everything. And why do you . . .
At this m inute the train arrived, so I got in and leaned out of
the w indow to continue the conversation. M egan asked me why
I was so cross.

The M oving Finger

Im not cross. I lied. I just hate you not caring about how
you look.
I cant look nice, anyway, so what does it m atter?
M y goodness, I said. Id like to take you to London and buy
you a completely new set o f clothes.
I wish you could, said M egan.
The train began to move. I looked dow n into her sad face.
A nd then, as I have said, madness came upon me. I opened the
door, took M egans arm and pulled her into the train.
W hat on earth did you do that for? she asked.
Because I said, Im going to show you w hat you can look
like if you try.
O h ! said M egan in an excited whisper.
T he ticket collector came along and I bought her a return
ticket. W e arrived in London w ith half an hour to spare before
m y appointm ent at m y doctors. So we took a taxi straight
to Joannas dressmaker, M ary Grey, w ho is a clever and very
pleasant wom an.
I said to M egan. Ill say you are a relation o f m ine.
W hy?
D ont argue, I said.
I took M ary Grey aside. Ive brought a young relation along.
Joanna was going to accompany her but was prevented at the last
m inute. She said I could leave it all to you. You see what the girl
looks like now ?
I certainly do, said M ary Grey.
W ell, I w ant her dressed perfectly from head to foot.
Stockings, shoes, underw ear, everything! By the way, the man
w ho does Joannas hair is near here, isnt he?
Antoine? R o un d the corner. Ill arrange that too. I shall
enjoy it. M ary looked at M egan. Shes got a lovely figure.


Agatha Christie

You are a true professional, I said. She looks completely

shapeless to me. R ight, Ill come back and collect her at about six.

M arcus Kent was pleased w ith m y progress. Its w onderful what

country air, no late nights, and no excitem ent w ill do for a m an.
T he first tw o are true, I said. But dont think that the
country is free from excitement. W eve had a lot.
W hat sort o f excitement?
M urder, I said.
Marcus Kent whistled. Some country love story? Farm boy
kills his girl?
N ot at all. A clever, determ ined killer.
I havent read anything about it. W hen did they arrest him?
They havent, and its a she!
W hew! Im not sure that Lymstocks the right place for you,
B urton.
I said firmly, Yes, it is. And youre not going to get me out
o f it.
O h, all right. It certainly hasnt done you any harm . W hat
about having dinner w ith me this evening? You can tell me all
about this m urder.
Sorry. Im already doing som ething.
W ith a lady, eh? Youre definitely getting better.
I suppose you could call her that, I said, rather amused at the
idea o f M egan described in that way.
I was at the dressmakers at six oclock and M ary Grey came
to m eet me. Youre going to have a shock! Ive done some good
w ork.
I w ent into the m ain room . M egan was standing looking at
herself in a long m irror. I hardly recognized her! Tall and stylish

The M oving Finger

w ith lovely legs in fine silk stockings. H er hair had been cut and
it shone, also like silk. She did not wear m ake-up, or if she did it
was so light that it did not show.
And there was som ething about her that I had never seen
before, a new innocent pride in the way she looked at me w ith a
small shy smile. I do look rather nice, dont I?
Nice? I said. N ice isnt the word! Com e on out to dinner and
if every m an doesnt tu rn round to look at you Ill be surprised.
M egan was not beautiful, but she was unusual and she had
personality. She walked into the restaurant ahead o f me and,
as the waiter hurried towards us, I felt a strange pride. W e had
cocktails first. T hen we ate. A nd later we danced. For some
reason I hadnt thought M egan w ould dance well. But she did.
H er body and feet followed the rhythm perfectly.
G osh! I said. You can dance!
W ell, o f course I can. W e had dancing class every week at
It takes m ore than dancing class to make a dancer, I said.
It was a perfect evening and I was still behaving in a rather
m ad way. M egan brought me back to reality w hen she said,
Shouldnt we be going hom e?
Goodness! I said, and knew that the last train had gone. So
I ordered a taxi to come round as soon as possible.
It was very late w hen we arrived at Lymstock. Sym m ingtons
house was dark and silent. O n M egans advice, we w ent round to
the back and threw stones at R oses window.
Eventually she came dow n to let us in. W ell now, Miss
M egan, I thought youd gone to bed.
I said that bed was w here M egan should go now.
G ood night, she said, and thank you. Its been the loveliest
day Ive ever had.


Agatha Christie

So I was also driven hom e and as the car left, the front door
opened and Joanna said, Its you at last, is it?
W ere you w orried about m e? I asked, going inside.
W o rried about you? N o, o f course not. I thought you had
decided to stay in London and have fun.
I have had fun o f a kind. I smiled and then began to laugh.
Joanna asked w hat I was laughing at and I told her all about
the fun Id had w ith M egan.
But Jerry, you cant do things like that not in Lymstock. It
w ill be all round the tow n tom orrow .
I suppose it will. But M egans only a child.
She isnt. Shes twenty. You cant take a girl o f tw enty to
London and buy her clothes w ithout a most awful scandal.
Goodness, Jerry, youll probably have to m arry the girl. Joanna
was half-serious, half-laughing.
It was at that m om ent that I made a very im portant discovery.
I dont m ind if I do, I said. In fact Id like it.
A strange expression appeared on Joannas face. As she w ent
towards the stairs she said, Yes, Ive know n that for some tim e . . .


Chapter 12
I w ent along to the Sym m ingtons house at eleven oclock the
next m orning, rang the bell, and asked to see M egan.
Rose put me in the little m orning room and w hen the door
opened M egan was in her old clothes again but she had m anaged
to m ake them look completely different.
She grinned. H ello!
Its wonderful w hat the knowledge of her ow n attractiveness
can do for a girl. M egan, I knew suddenly, had grow n up. I said,
You didnt get into trouble about yesterday, I hope?
O h, n o she said. W ell, yes, I think I did. I m ean, they said a
lot of things but you know how excited people can get about
I came round this m orning, I said, because I like you a lot,
and I think you like me . . .
Very m uch! said M egan.
A nd we get on very well together, so I think it w ould be a
good idea if we got m arried.
O h, said M egan. You mean, youre in love w ith m e?
Im in love w ith you.
H er eyes were serious. She said, I think youre the nicest
person in the world but Im not in love w ith you.
Ill make you love m e.
T hat w ouldnt work. Im not the right wife for you. Im
better at hating than loving.
I said, Hate doesnt last. Love does.
Is that true?


Agatha Christie

Its w hat I believe. I paused. So its N o, is it?

Yes, its no.

I walked away from the house feeling confused. I had felt so

certain that M egan was right for me that I had expected her to
feel the same.
But I was not giving up. O h no! M egan was my w om an and
I was going to have her.
W hen I got hom e Joanna was out and she did not return for
lunch. It was half-past three w hen she walked into the sitting
room . I had heard a car stop outside, but Joanna came in alone.
She seemed upset.
W hats the m atter? I asked.
She sat down. Ive had the most awful day. Ive done the most
unbelievable thing.
But w hat
I w ent out for a walk. I walked for miles, then in a small
valley I saw a farmhouse. I was thirsty, so I wandered into the
yard to ask for some water, but then the door opened and O w en
came out.
H e thought I m ight be the nurse. There was a w om an in
there having a baby and things were going wrong. So he said to
me. Com e on, you can help me better than nobody. I said I
couldnt, that Id never done anything like that
H e said what did that matter? He said, Youre a wom an,
arent you? D ont you want to help another w om an? And
he rem inded me that Id m entioned I m ight be interested in
becom ing a doctor. Just silly talk, I suppose! You didnt m ean


The M oving Finger

anything real by it, but this is real and youre going to behave like
a decent hum an being and not like a useless half-brain! N ow
Ive done the most unbelievable things, Jerry Held instrum ents
and boiled them and handed things to him . Im so tired I can
hardly stand up. But he saved her and the baby. It was born
alive. O h dear! Joanna covered her face w ith her hands.
I said, T heres a letter for you in the hall. From your ex
boyfriend Paul, I think. I w ent out into the hall and brought
Joanna her letter.
She opened it, looked at it then dropped it on the floor.
O w en was really rather wonderful. The way he fought to save
the baby, the way he w ouldnt be beaten! He was rude and awful
to me but he was w onderful.


Chapter 13

Things never come w hen they are expected.

M y m ind was full o f Joannas and my personal affairs and I
was shocked the next m orning w hen N ashs voice said over the
telephone, W evegot her, M r Burton! Can you come dow n to the
police station?
I left im m ediately and w hen I got there I was taken to a room
where Nash and Sergeant Parkins were waiting.
Its been a long chase, Nash said, smiling. But w ere there
at last.
H e passed a letter across the table. This tim e it was all
typew ritten and com pared to the others, almost gentle.
Its no use thinking youre going to step into a dead womans shoes.
The whole town is laughing at you. Get out now. Soon it will be too
late. This is a warning. Remember what happened to that other girl.
Get out now and stay out.

Miss Holland received that this m orning, said Nash.

W ho w rote it? I asked.
Some o f the pleasure left N ashs face. A im ee Griffith.

Nash and Parkins w ent to the Griffiths house that afternoon,

and I w ent w ith them.
The doctor hasnt many friends here, Nash said. Perhaps
you could help him deal w ith the shock.


The M oving Finger

We rang the bell, asked for Miss Griffith, and were shown
into the sitting room . Elsie Holland, M egan and Sym m ington
were there having tea. Nash asked Aimee if he could speak to her
privately for a mom ent.
N ot in trouble over m y car lights again, I hope? She led us
across the hall into a small study.
As I closed the drawing room door, I saw Sym m ington raise
his head sharply. I supposed that because of his legal training he
had recognized som ething in N ashs manner.
Nash told Aim ee that she must come w ith him to the police
station. And he read out the charge. It was about the letters, not
m urder yet.
Aim ee Griffith laughed loudly. W hat nonsense! As though
Id w rite disgusting things like that. You must be m ad.
Nash showed the letter to Elsie Holland. D o you swear you
did not w rite this, Miss G riffith?
O f course I do. Ive never seen it before.
Nash said, I must tell you, Miss Griffith, that you were
seen typing that letter on the m achine at the W om ens Institute
betw een eleven and eleven-thirty p.m. on the night before last.
Yesterday you entered the post office w ith several letters in your
hand . . .
I never posted this.
N o, you did not. W hile w aiting for stamps, you dropped it
on the floor, so that somebody else would pick it up and post it.
T he door opened and Sym m ington came in. W hats going
on? Aimee, if there is anything wrong, you ought to be legally
represented. If you wish me . . .
She lost control then. She covered her face w ith her hands
and said, Go away, Dick. I dont w ant you to know about this.
N ot you!

A g ath a C h ristie

T h en Ill ask m y p artn er M ildm ay to do it. S ym m ington

w ent out o f the room . In the doorw ay he bum ped into O w en
G riffith.
W h a ts this? said O w en. M y sister - you th in k she was
responsible for those letters?
Im afraid there is no doubt o f it, said Nash. H e tu rn ed to
A im ee, You m ust com e w ith us now, please.
She w alked past O w en w ith o u t looking at him . D o n t say
anything. A nd please dont look at m e!
T h ey w ent out and O w e n ju st stood there unable to move. I
w aited a bit, then said. If theres anything I can do . . .
H e said, Aim ee? I dont believe it.
It m ay be a m istake, I suggested weakly.
She w ou ld n t behave like that i f it was a m istake. H e sat
dow n on a chair. I m ade m yself useful by p o u rin g a strong d rin k
and b rin g in g it to him . It seem ed to do him good. H e said, Im
all rig h t now. T hanks, B urton, bu t theres n o th in g you can do.
N o th in g anyone can do.
T h e door opened and Joanna came in, w en t over to O w en
and looked at me. G et out, Jerry. T his is m y business.
As I w ent out o f the door, I saw her sit dow n on the floor by
his feet.

I cant rem em ber exactly w hat happened over the n ext tw entyfour hours. B ut I do k now that Joanna came hom e looking very
tired and saying, H e says he w ont have m e, Jerry. H e s very,
very p ro u d !
A nd I said, M y girl w ont have me, either . . .
To w hich she replied, T h e B u rto n fam ily isnt exactly in
dem and at the m o m ent!

The M oving Finger

So I said, Never m ind, we still have each other, and Joanna

said, Somehow, Jerry, that doesnt com fort me m uch just now.
But O w en called the next day and w ent on and on about how
w onderful Joanna was, that she was w illing to m arry him at
once if he liked. But he wasnt going to let her do that. No,
she was too good to be associated w ith the kind o f scandal that
would soon be in the papers.
I then w ent dow n to Lymstock, first to the police station
where Nash told me they had completed the case against Aimee.
W hen they had searched her house they had found the cut pages
of Em ily B artons book in the cupboard under the stairs.
The lady seems to have liked that particular hiding-place,
I said.
The vicarage had been one of the last places to hear the news,
and Miss M arple was very upset by it. It isnt true, M r B urton.
It is, Im afraid. The police actually saw her type that letter.
Yes, yes perhaps they did. Yes, I can understand that.
A nd the printed pages from which the letters were cut were
found in her house.
Miss M arple looked at me. But that is really evil. W h a t
can one do ? There must be something. But I am so old and so
I felt rather embarrassed and was glad w hen Mrs D aneCalthrop took her friend away for a cup o f tea. But I saw Miss
M arple again that afternoon, m uch later w hen I was on my way
home. She was standing near the little bridge at the end of the
village, talking to M egan.
I walked quickly towards them , but as I came close, M egan
turned away and w ent off in the other direction. It made
me angry and I w ould have followed her, but Miss M arple
stopped me.


Agatha Christie

N o, dont go after M egan now. It w ouldnt be wise. I was

just going to give her a sharp reply w hen she continued, That
girl has great courage very great courage. D ont try and see her
now. She needs to keep her courage strong.
There was som ething in her words that frightened me. It was
as though she knew som ething that I didnt. I was afraid and
didnt know why.
I w ent back into the H igh Street and w andered around. I
dont know what I was w aiting for, nor what I was thinking
about . . . but then I saw Miss M arple for the third time. She was
com ing out o f the police station.

W here do ones fears come from? W here do they shape

themselves? W here do they hide before com ing out into the
N ow in my m ind there was one short phrase that I had heard
and had never forgotten, Take me away its so awful being
here feeling so e v il. . .
W hy had M egan said that? There could be nothing in Mrs
Sym m ingtons death to m ake M egan feel evil. But did she feel
responsible in some way?
Megan? Impossible! M egan couldnt have had anything to do
w ith those letters

Owen Griffith had known a case in the north o f England a

schoolgirl. . .
N o, no, not Megan.

Im not the wife for you. Im better at hating than loving.

This is w hat M egan had told me.
O h, my M egan, not that] But Miss M arple suspects you. She
says you have courage. Courage to do what ?

The M oving Finger

I w anted to see M egan I w anted to see her very m uch.

A t half-past nine that night I left the house and w ent dow n
to the tow n and along to the Sym m ingtons. It was then that
a new idea came into m y m ind. T he idea o f a w om an w hom
nobody had considered for a m om ent. W ildly unlikely, but
not impossible.
I walked faster. It was now even m ore im portant to see
M egan soon. I passed through the Sym m ingtons gate and up to
the house. It was a dark, cloudy night. I saw a line o f light from
one o f the windows. The little m orning room?
I paused for a m om ent, then instead o f going up to the front
door, I turned and w ent very quietly up to the w indow beside
a large bush. The light came from betw een the curtains which
were not quite closed. It was easy to look through and see the
strangely peaceful scene. Sym m ington in a big armchair, and
Elsie Holland, her head bent, sewing.
I could hear as well as see for the w indow was open at the
top. Elsie H olland was speaking. But I do think, really, M r
Sym m ington, that the boys are old enough to go away to school.
I shall hate leaving them , o f course, because Im very fond of
them both.
Sym m ington said, I think perhaps youre right about Brian.
Ive decided that he shall start next term at W inhays where I
w ent as a boy. But C olin is a little young. Id prefer him to wait
another year.
W ell, C olin is perhaps a little young for his age . . .
It was quiet hom ely talk a quiet homely scene
T hen the door opened and M egan cam e in. She stood
very straight in the doorw ay, and I was aware at once of
som ething different about her. H er eyes w ere bright and
determ ined.


A g ath a C h ristie

She said to S y m m ington, I w o u ld like to speak to you,

please. A lone. S y m m ington looked surprised and n o t very
pleased. B ut M egan tu rn e d to Elsie H olland and said, D o you
m in d , E lsie?
O h , o f course n o t, Elsie H olland ju m p ed up, and w en t to
the door. T hen, just for a m om ent stood there looking over her
shoulder, one hand stretched out, the other holding her sewing.
I co u ld n t breath, so strong was the pow er o f her beauty. T h en
she was gone.
S ym m ington said rather crossly, W ell, M egan, w hat do you
M egan had com e right up to the table. She stood there
lo o k in g dow n at him . I w ant some m oney.
S ym m ington said sharply, D o n t you th in k your allowance
is big enough?
M egan said, I w ant a lot o f m oney.
S ym m ington sat up straight. You w ill be tw en ty -o n e in a
few m onths tim e. T h en you w ill receive the m oney left you by
yo u r grandm other.
M egan said, You d o n t understand. I w ant m oney from
you. N o b o d y s ever told m e m uch about m y father, b u t I
do k n o w th at he w ent to prison and I kn o w why. It was for
b lack m ail! She paused. W ell, Im his daughter, and perhaps Im
like h im . Anyway, Im asking you to give m e m oney because
i f you d o n t . . . she stopped and then w ent on very slowly, i f
you dont, I shall say what I saw you doing to the pills that day in my
mothers room.

T h ere was a silence. T h en S ym m ington said, I dont know

w hat you m ean.
M egan said, I th in k you do. A nd she smiled. It was n o t a
nice smile.

The M oving Finger

Sym m ington got up and w ent over to the desk. H e took a

cheque book from his pocket, w rote out a cheque and held it out
to M egan.
Youre grow n up now, he said. I can understand that you
may w ant to buy some nice clothes. I dont know w hat you were
talking about. But heres a cheque.
M egan looked at it. T hank you. T hat w ill be enough for the
present. She turned and w ent out o f the room.
Sym m ington stood looking at the closed door, then he turned
round and as I saw his face I made a quick m ovem ent forward.
But suddenly the large bush by the w indow stopped being
a bush and Superintendent N ashs arms w ent round me and
Superintendent N ashs voice breathed in my ear, Q uiet, Burton.
Q uiet! Then, very carefully he m ade his way back to the path,
taking me w ith him .
T hat girl isnt safe, I said. You saw his face? W eve got to get
her out of here.
Nash held my arm firmly. Now, M r B urton, youve got to

W ell, I listened. I didnt like it but I said Id do as he wanted.
So I w ent w ith N ash and Parkins into the house by the
back door. A nd I w aited w ith N ash upstairs behind a curtain
u n til w e could hear the clocks striking tw o, and Sym m ingtons
door opened and he w ent along the passage and into M egans
room .
And I did not move because I knew that Sergeant Parkins was
there behind her door, and I knew that Parkins was good at his
job, and I knew that I couldnt have trusted myself to keep quiet
and not go mad.

A g ath a C h ristie

A nd I saw S ym m ington com e out o f the room w ith M egan

in his arms and carry her dow nstairs, as N ash and I follow ed at a
careful distance beh in d him .
H e carried her th ro ugh to the kitchen and he had just arranged
her w ith her head in the oven and had tu rn ed on the gas w hen
N ash sw itched on the light.
A nd that was the end o f R ich ard Sym m ington. Even w hile I
was pu llin g M egan out o f the oven and tu rn in g o ff the gas, I saw
th at he was finished. H e did n t even try to fight.
Upstairs I sat by M egans bed w aiting for her to w ake up.
H o w do you k now shes going to be all rig h t? I said to Nash.
It was too big a risk.
N ash was very calm. H e just put a gentle sleeping pow der in
the w ater by her bed. H e tho u g h t the w hole th in g was finished
w ith Miss G riffiths arrest. H e couldnt risk another m ysterious
death. B ut if a rather unhappy girl put her head in the gas oven
and co m m itted suicide well, people w ill just say that the shock
o f h er m o th ers death had been too m uch for her.
I said, w atching M egan, Shes taking a long tim e to wake
You heard w hat D r G riffith said? H er heart is perfectly all
rig h t shell ju st sleep and w ake naturally.
T h en M egan m oved and said som ething. So Superintendent
N ash left the room .
She opened her eyes. J erry.
H ello, m y dear.
D id I do it well?
You m ight have been blackm ailing ever since you w ere
b o rn !


The M oving Finger

M egan closed her eyes again. Last night I was w riting to

you in case anything w ent w ent w rong. B ut I was too sleepy
to finish. Its over there.
I w ent across to the desk. M y dear Jerry, the letter began,
I was reading m y school Shakespeare and the sonnet that
So are you to my thoughts as food to life
O r as sweet-seasoned showers are to the ground.

and I know that I am in love w ith you after all, because that is
w hat I fe e l. .


C hapter 14
So you see, said M rs D an e-C alth ro p , I was quite right to call
in an expert.
I looked at her, surprised. B ut did you? W h o was it? W h at
did he d o ?
W e w ere all at the vicarage. T h e rain was p o u rin g dow n
outside and there was a pleasant w ood fire.
It w asnt a he, said M rs D an e-C alth ro p and tu rn ed to w here
Miss M arple sat k n itting. T h a ts m y expert. Jane M arple. She
know s m ore about h u m an evil than anyone Ive ever k n o w n .
I dont th in k you should put it quite like that, dear, said Miss
M arple.
B ut you do.
So Miss M arple put dow n her k n ittin g and explained to
us w hat she had learned about m urder. M ost crim es are very
simple. This one was. T h e tru th was really so obvious. You saw
it, M r B u rto n .
I did not.
B ut you did. To begin w ith, that phrase N o smoke w ith o u t
fire. It annoyed you, because you understood w hat it was
a smoke screen. E verybody looking at the w ro n g th in g the
anonym ous letters. B ut the w hole point was that there werent
any anonym ous letters!
B ut Miss M arple, there were. I had one.
O h yes, but they w erent real. Even in Lym stock there are
plenty o f scandals, and any w om an living in the place w ould
have k n o w n about th em and used them . B ut a m an isnt usually
interested in gossip especially a m an like M r Sym m ington. So
i f you look th ro u g h the smoke and com e to the fire you see that
ju st one th in g happened M rs S ym m ington died.


The M oving Finger

So then, naturally, one thinks of w ho m ight have wanted

Mrs Sym m ington dead, and o f course the first person one thinks
of is, I am afraid, the husband. And one asks is there any reason? for example, another woman?
A nd the very first thing I hear is that there is a very attractive
young governess in the house. So clear, isnt it? Im afraid that
w hen older gentlemen fall in love, they get the disease very badly.
Its a madness. A nd for M r Sym m ington, only his w ifes death
would solve his problem , because he w anted to m arry Elsie. He
w anted everything, his hom e, his children, his respectability.
A nd the price he w ould have to pay for that was murder.
But he knew that if a wife dies unexpectedly, the first suspect
is the husband. So he created a death w hich seemed to be the
result o f som ething else. He created an anonymous letter writer.
A nd the clever thing was that the police were certain to suspect
a woman and they were quite right in a way. All the letters were
a w om ans letters; he copied them from the letters in the case in
the north o f England that D r Griffith had told him about. He
took words and phrases from them and m ixed them up, and the
result was that the letters definitely represented a w om ans mind.
H e knew all the tricks that the police use, handw riting and
typew riting tests. So he typed all the envelopes before he gave
away the typew riter to the W om ens Institute, and he cut the
pages from the book at Little Furze w hen he was waiting in the
sitting room one day. People dont open books of sermons much!
A n d finally, w hen he had got his false Poison Pen established,
he organized the real thing. A sunny afternoon when the
governess and the boys and his stepdaughter would be out, and
the servants were having their regular day off. H e couldnt know
that Agnes would quarrel w ith her boyfriend and come back to
the house.


A g ath a C h ristie

Jo an n a asked, B ut w hat did Agnes see?

I do n t know. B ut I w ould guess that she saw n o th in g .
So she im agined it all?
N o, no, m y dear, I m ean that she stood at the w in d o w all the
afternoon w aiting for her boyfriend to com e and say sorry and
th at surprisingly she saw nothing. T h at is, no one came to the
house at all, n o t the postm an, n o r anybody else. A nd afterwards
she understood that this was very strange because M rs
S ym m ington had received an anonym ous letter that afternoon.
D id n t M rs S ym m ington receive o n e? I asked, confused.
B ut o f course not! H e r husband just m ixed the cyanide w ith
the pills she took every day after lunch. All S ym m ington had to
do was to get hom e as usual, call his wife, get no answer, go up
to her room , drop a little cyanide in the glass o f w ater she had
used to swallow the pills, th ro w the anonym ous letter into the
fireplace, and put by her hand the to rn bit o f paper w ith I cant
go on w ritten on it. Miss M arple tu rn ed to me. You w ere quite
rig h t about that, too, M r B urton. A to rn bit o f paper was all
w rong. People dont leave suicide notes on to rn bits o f paper.
T h ey use a sheet o f paper. Yes, the to rn paper was w ro n g and you
k n ew it.
You are rating m e too hig h , I said. I knew n o th in g .
B ut you did, M r B urton. O therw ise w hy w ere you
im m ediately interested in the message your sister left on the
telephone pad?
I repeated slowly, Say that I cant go on Friday I see! I
cant go on ?
Miss M arple sm iled at me. Exactly. M r S ym m ington saw a
sim ilar message that his w ife had w ritten and understood how
he m ig h t use it. So he tore o ff the words he w anted for w hen the
tim e came a message in his w ifes handw riting.


The M oving Finger

Was there anything else clever that I did? I asked.

Again Miss M arple smiled at me. You told me the most
im portant thing o f all that Elsie Holland had never received
any anonymous letters.
D o you know, I said, last night I thought that was why she
must be the letter w riter.
O h dear, me, no. . . The person w ho writes anonymous
letters almost always sends them to herself as well. N o, no, the fact
interested me for another reason. Because it was M r Sym m ingtons
one weakness. He couldnt bear to w rite an unpleasant letter to
the girl he loved. And that is how I knew he had killed his wife.
Joanna said, A nd he killed Agnes. W hy?
H e probably heard her telephoning Partridge, saying that she
was w orried about M rs Sym m ingtons death. He couldnt risk
the idea that she m ight know som ething.
But he was at his office all that afternoon?
I think he killed her before he went. Miss H olland was in the
kitchen. H e just opened and shut the front door as though he had
gone out, then slipped into the little cloakroom and waited there
until Agnes was alone in the house.
Joanna said, But what about Aimee Griffith? The police
actually saw her w rite that letter.
Yes, o f course, said Miss M arple. She did w rite that letter.
But why?
O h, m y dear, Miss G riffith had been in love w ith Sym m ington
all her life. She probably thought, after Mrs Sym m ingtons death,
that perhaps well Miss M arple coughed delicately. And
then the gossip began spreading about Elsie H olland and I expect
that upset her badly. So she thought, why not add one more
anonymous letter, and frighten the girl away?
W ell, said Joanna. W hat happened next?


A g ath a C h ristie

I th in k , said Miss M arple, that w hen Miss H olland showed

that letter to S ym m ington he k n ew at once w ho had w ritten it,
and he saw a chance to m ake h im self safe. So he to o k the fam ily
to tea at the G riffithss house and easily m anaged to hide the
to rn -o u t b o o k pages under the stairs. W h ich was also a very
clever detail as it rem inded everyone o f w here Agness body had
been found.
R ig h t, I said. B ut theres one th in g I cant forgive you for,
Miss M arple - using M egan.
Miss M arple looked at m e over her glasses. M r B urton,
something had to be done. T here was no p ro o f against this very
unpleasant m an. I needed som eone to help me, som eone clever
and w ith great courage.
It was very dangerous for her.
Yes, it was dangerous, but w e are n o t put into this world,
M r B u rto n , to avoid danger w hen an innocent persons life is at
risk. You understand m e?
I understood.

Chapter 15
It was m orning in the H igh Street. Miss Em ily B arton came out
of a shop. H er face was pink and her eyes were excited.
O h dear, M r B urton, I am going on a holiday at last!
I hope youll enjoy it.
O h, Im sure I shall. For a long tim e Ive felt unable to sell
Little Furze as I couldnt bear the idea o f strangers there. But now
that you have bought it and are going to live there w ith M egan
it is quite different. A nd although I would never have dared to go
by myself, dear Aim ee, after her terrible experience, has agreed
to come w ith me! It w ill do her so m uch good. Because she has
also just heard that her brother is getting m arried. But how nice
to think you are both going to stay in Lymstock!
I w ent along to the Sym m ingtons house and M egan came
out to m eet me.
It was not a rom antic m eeting because a very big dog came
out w ith M egan and nearly knocked me over.
Isnt he sweet? she said.
A little energetic. Is he ours?
Yes, hes a w edding present from Joanna. W e have had nice
w edding presents, havent we? T hat knitted w oollen thing that
we dont know w hat its for from Miss M arple, and the lovely
china bowl from M r Pye, and Elsie has sent me a cake-stand
H ow typical, I said.
Shes got a job w ith an accountant and is very happy. And w hat was I talking about?
W edding presents. D ont forget if you change your m ind,
youll have to send them all back.


A g ath a C h ristie

I w o n t change m y m ind. W h a t else have w e got? O h , yes,

th eres one th in g I dont understand. As well as the dogs ow n
collar and lead. Joanna has sent an extra collar and lead. W h a t do
you th in k th ats for?
T h at, I said, is Jo an n as little jo k e.

C h a r a c t e r l is t

Jerry Burton: a young man injured in flying accident - now renting

Little Furze in Lymstock while he recovers

Marcus Kent: Jerry Burtons London doctor
Joanna Burton: Jerry Burtons sister
Miss Emily Barton: elderly owner of Little Furze
Miss Partridge: a middle-aged servant at Little Furze
Beatrice: a servant girl at Little Furze
D r Owen Griffith: a young doctor who lives in Lymstock
Miss Megan Hunter: Mrs Symmingtons twenty-year old daughter from

her first marriage

Miss Aim ee G riffith: Dr Griffith's older sister
Richard Sym m ington: a lawyer who lives in Lymstock
Miss Ginch: Mr Symmingtons middle-aged secretary
Miss Elsie Holland: the governess who looks after the two Symmington

Mr Pye: the owner of Priors End, a large house in Lymstock
Mrs Sym m ington: Mr Symmingtons wife
Colonel Appleton: a friend of the Symmingtons who lives in a village

Brian and Colin Sym m ington: Mr and Mrs Symmingtons two

young sons


C h a ra c te r list

Mrs Baker: Beatrices mother

George: Beatrices boyfriend
Mrs Cleat: a woman known as the village witch
Th e Reverend Caleb D ane-Calthrop: vicar of Lymstock
Mrs Maud Dane-Calthrop: the vicars wife
Superintendent Nash: the policeman inquiring into the deaths
Inspector Craves: an expert on anonymous letters
Agnes W oddell: a young servant at the Symmingtons house
Florence: a former servant of Emily Barton, who has now given her

rooms in her house

Rose: an older servant at the Symmingtons house
Miss Jane Marple: elderly friend of Mrs Dane-Calthrop


C u ltu r a l n o t es

O rigin o f the b oo ks title The Moving Finger

The books title comes from a book of Persian Poetry written in the
11th or 12th century.
The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ,
Moves on: nor all thy Piety nor Wit
Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,
Nor all thy Tears wash out a Word of it.
The meaning of the phrase The Moving Finger is that whatever you do
in your life, it is your own responsibility and cannot be changed.
The structure o f the police in England

The different levels of police officer in Britain, starting at the lowest, are:
Police Constable, Sergeant, Inspector, Chief Inspector, Superintendent,
Chief Superintendent. In the story, Superintendent Nash takes control
of the investigation. Normally something like the issueofanonymous
letters would
be handled by a lower ranking officer,butthedeath of
Mrs Symmington makes the case more serious. Inspector Craves is a
middle ranking officer.
In the story, some people in the village are not happy about talking to
the police. They dont want to get involved and they think that if they
talk to the police, they will end up in trouble themselves.

In cases of sudden, violent or suspicious death, it is common to hold a

public inquiry called an inquest to find out why the person died. The
coroner is the person in charge of the inquest, and the official cause of


C ultural notes

death is decided by a selected group of twelve people known as the

At the inquest the coroner and the jury hear medical evidence, as well as
evidence from any other people that may be relevant. The family of the
person who died, and members of the public can also attend the inquest.
Once all the evidence has been heard, the jury gives its verdict - for
example, natural death, accidental death', suicide while temporarily
insane, or murder by person or persons unknown.
Poison fo r killing wasps

At the time Agatha Christie was writing, it was common for people in the
country to keep cyanide in the garden shed to put on wasps nests to
kill them all quickly. Now, it is against the law to possess these kinds of

In a typical large house at the time of the story, the family often
employed several servants. Some lived in the house, some lived nearby.
Servants included a cook, and a housemaid who did the cleaning. There
could also be a gardener, and for larger, richer families, a driver or
chauffeur. In the story, Faithful Florence is often mentioned as the former
servant of Emily Barton who now offers Miss Barton a room in her house.

Wealthy people sometimes employed a governess, a teacher to live with

the family and educate the children at home, rather than going to
school. In the story, the governess Elsie Holland has more responsibilities,
including taking the children out and organising their meals.
N o smoke without fire

This is a British proverb meaning that there may be something true

behind a rumour. In other words, if you see evidence of something
(i.e. the smoke), you assume that there is the cause (i.e. the fire)


C u ltu ra l notes

somewhere, even if you cannot see it. In the story, this theme runs
throughout. People in the village assume that there is something true in
the accusations in the anonymous letters.

If someone marries someone who already has children from a previous

marriage, the children are called stepchildren, and the new parent is
called stepfather or stepmother.
Shelley, Keats, Wordsworth

In Chapter 2, Megan refers to three of Englands greatest poets of the

18th and early 19th centuries, whose poems are often studied at school.
These poets often wrote about their feelings for nature and the English
countryside. In particular she refers to the famous poem by William
Wordsworth entitled I wandered lonely as a cloud (1804) in which he
writes about a field full of daffodils, the tall yellow flower.
Shakespeare - K in g Lear - Co n eril and Regan

King Lear is one of Shakespeares most famous plays. In the story, Megan
refers to Goneril and Regan, the two elder daughters of King Lear.
Shakespeares sonnets

In chapter 13, Megan quotes a couple of lines from one of Shakespeares

sonnets - these were 154 poems written towards the end of the
16 th century. She makes a romantic connection between her love for
Jerry and how rain (sweet-seasoned showers) is vital to the ground it
falls on.
Freud and Jung

At the time that the story was written, the psychoanalytical theories of
Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung were becoming more widely known. Agatha
Christie was probably interested in these ideas about the mind. In the
story, people wonder how someone could write such horrible anonymous
letters and what the person is hiding and thinking.


C u ltu ra l notes


In the story, Mrs Cleat is referred to as a witch. Witches were persecuted

and often killed during the medieval period in Britain, because it was
believed they were involved in devil worship. At the time that the story
was written, people were still suspicious of people who they believed
might be witches.

These strong alcoholic drinks became popular in the 1920s amongst

the upper classes. They were different mixtures of spirits with other
drinks, and given special names.
George Stephenson

George Stephenson (17 8 1-18 4 8 ) is regarded as the inventor of the

railway train. In the story he is referred to by Jerry Burton, incorrectly,
as the person that invented the steam engine - using the power of
steam from boiling water. This is in fact credited to James Watt, an
1 8thcentury Scottish engineer. It is said that he had the idea by watching
the lid of a kettle moving as the water boiled inside. What Jerry Burton
is trying to say is that great ideas sometimes come from someone who
is not working at the time.
Th e Womens Institute

This is a British, community-based organization for women. It was formed

in 1915 with two main aims: to develop country communities and to
encourage women to become more involved in producing food during
the First World War. Since then the organizations aims have broadened
and it is now the largest womens voluntary organization in the UK. The
organization celebrated its 95th anniversary in 2 0 10 and currently has
approximately 2 0 5 ,0 0 0 members in 6 ,500 individual locations.
The Red Cross

This is an international organization formed in the 19 th century in order

to provide medical help to soldiers wounded in battles. It takes its name


C u ltu ra l notes

from its flag - a red cross on a white background. It now has a much
wider international role and is involved in humanitarian aid throughout
the world. In the story, the local Red Cross Society was raising money
through local events and activities.
Village life

An English village is a small group of houses in the countryside, usually

with a church at its centre. Sometimes there is a very large house in a
village where rich people live who may own the local farm land and the
houses of farm workers. A village often has a post office, an inn (or pub),
and a shop. It may also have a local doctor.
Historically, village life was quieter and slower than life in a town and
everyone knew who everyone else was, even if they did not meet socially.
They also knew quite a lot about each other's lives. In this story there is
much discussion amongst the characters about the personal lives of
certain individuals. This often negative and critical gossip means that
rumours can circulate quickly round a small village.
At the time that this story was written, village life was very traditional
and conservative. Few people had cars, so ordinary village people led
quite isolated lives, especially if they were far from large towns or cities.
The train was the only means of long distance transport for most
The Church o f England

Many English villages have a church belonging to the Church of England.

The administrative area of the church and the surrounding villages is
called a parish. Each parish is looked after by a vicar, which is the name
for a priest in the Church of England.
The vicar leads church services, during which he gives a sermon - a talk
about spiritual and religious matters. The vicar is responsible for taking
care of the spiritual needs of the people of the village, so he often visits


C u ltu r a l notes

those who are ill or have other worries. The vicar will carry out baptisms,
marriage ceremonies and funerals. People will often ask the vicar for
advice regarding personal matters. In the story, the reverend DaneCalthorp and his wife were considered important and respectable
leaders of the local community.


G lo ssa r y


n = noun
v = verb
phr v = phrasal verb
adj = adjective
adv = adverb
excl = exclamation
exp = expression
adultery (n)

to be married and have sex with someone that you are not married to
allowance (n)

money that is given regularly to someone

anonymous (adj)

anxious (adj)
to very much want something
awful (adj)

awkward (adj)
embarrassed and shy
bait (n)
food which you put on a hook or in a trap in order to catch fish or


G lossary

blackm ail (v)

to threaten do something unpleasant to someone unless they do what
you want them to do
bridge (n)
a card game for four players
brighten up (v)

to suddenly look happier

bump into (phr v)
to meet someone by chance
bum ping (v)

to hit something while moving

call (v)
to make a short visit
case (n)

a crime or mystery that the police are investigating

cheque (n)

a printed form on which you write an amount of money and say who it
is to be paid to
cold-blooded (adj)
without showing pity or emotion
collar (n)

a leather band which is put round the neck of a dog or cat

Co lo n el (n)

a senior military officer


G lossary

coroner (n)

the person who is responsible for investigating sudden or unusual deaths

crack (v)

to hit and break

curled up (phr v)
to bring your arms, legs and head in towards your stomach
daffodil (n)

a yellow flower that blooms in the spring (see Cultural notes: Shelley,
Keats, Wordsworth)
dare (v)

to have enough courage

d ogs dinner (n)
a mess or muddle
drawing room (n)

a room, especially a large room in a large house, where people sit and
dreadful (adj)

very unpleasant
drive som eone to do som ething (exp)

to force someone to do something

fellow (n)

a man or boy
feel a fool (exp)

feel silly



fierce (adj)

aggressive or angry
fingerprint (n)

a mark made by a persons finger which shows the lines on the skin and
can be used to identify criminals
fishing rod (n)

a long thin pole which has a line and hook attached to it and which is
used for catching fish
to repair
floating (v)

to move slowly and smoothly

gasp (v)

to take a short, quick breath through your mouth

Cosh! (exp)

used to show surprise or shock

gossip (n)

informal conversation, often about other peoples private affairs

governess (n)

a woman employed to teach children in a private household (see Cultural

grin (v)

to smile widely



guilty (adj)

to have committed a crime or offence

hatred (n)

an extremely strong feeling of dislike for someone or something

how dare he (exp)

an expression you use when you are shocked and angry about something
that someone has done
idleness (n)

having no job or work and doing nothing

im m orality (n)

behaviour which is morally wrong

income (n)
the money that a person or organization earns or receives
inquest (n)
a meeting where evidence is heard about someones death to find out
why they died
insane (adj)

having a mind that does not work in a normal way

instrument (n)
a tool or device that is used to do a particular task
Irish stew (n)

a traditional dish made from lamb, or mutton, as well as potatoes,

carrots, onions, and parsley
knitting (n)
something, such as a piece of clothing, that is being knitted


G lossary

lawn (n)
an area of grass that is kept cut short and is usually part of a garden or
lead (n)

a long chain or piece of leather attached to the dogs collar so that you
can control the dog
lid (n)
the top of a container which you open to reach inside
load (v)
to put a large quantity of things or heavy things into something
lung (n)
one of two organs inside your chest which you use for breathing
mend (v)

something that is damaged or broken is repaired so that it works

properly or can be used
Messrs (n)

is used as the plural of Mr in front of the names of two or more men

narrow som ething down (phr v)
to reduce the number of things included
N o smoke without fire (exp)

if people are saying that someone has done something bad but no one
knows whether it is true, it probably is true (see Cultural notes)
nonsense (n)

something that you think is untrue or silly



pattern (n)
a particular way in which something is usually or repeatedly done
plump (adj)

a person who is rather fat

Poison Pen (n)
a person who writes unpleasant, unsigned letters to upset someone or

to cause trouble
pride (n)
a feeling of satisfaction which you have because you or people close to
you have done something good or possess something good
quarrel (n)

have an angry argument with someone

receiver (n)

the part of a telephone that you hold near to your ear and speak into
recover (v)
to become well again
rem ark (n)

what someone has said about something

respectability (n)

liked or admired by other people and considered to be morally correct

roughly (adv)

using too much force

rude (adj)

not polite


G lossary

scandal (n)

a situation, event, or someones behaviour that shocks a lot of people

because they think it is immoral
selfish (adj)

caring only about yourself, and not about other people

sensitive (adj)

easily worried and offended

sermon (n)

a talk on a religious or moral subject given during a church service

sew (v)

to use a needle and thread to make or mend something such as clothes

shave (n)

to cut hair from your face or body using a razor or shaver

shed (n)

a small building used for storing things such as garden tools

silk (n)

a very smooth, fine cloth made from a substance produced by a kind of

skull (n)
the bony part of your head which holds your brain
stab (v)

to push a knife or sharp object into something

stiff (adj)

not moving as easily as normal



stockings (n)

item of womens clothing which fit closely over their feet and legs.
Stockings are usually made of nylon or silk and are held in place by
stylish (adj)

smart, elegant, and fashionable

suicide (n)

the act of deliberately killing yourself

superintendent (n)

a senior police officer of the rank above an inspector (see Cultural notes)
suspect (v)

to believe that something is true but you want to make it sound less
strong or direct
swear (v)
to promise
switch o ff (phr v)
to make something stop working by operating a switch (opposite of
switch on)
switch on (phr v)
to make something start working by operating a switch
tearful (adj)

used to describe someone when their face or voice shows signs that
they have been crying or that they want to cry
tenant (n)

someone who pays rent for the place they live in, or for land or buildings
that they use


G lossary

torch (n)

a small, battery-powered electric light which you carry in your hand

torn (v)

past participle of tear - to cut something roughly or by accident

treasures (n)

valuable objects, especially works of art and items of historical value

typewritten (adj)

written using a typewriter or word processor

typewriter (n)

a machine with keys which are pressed in order to print letters, numbers,
or other characters onto paper
unbelievable (adj)
extreme, impressive, or shocking
uneasiness (adj)

feeling that something is wrong

valuable (adj)

veranda (n)

a platform with a roof along the outside wall of a house

verdict (n)

the decision that is given by the jury or judge at the end of a trial
vicar (n)

an Anglican priest who is in charge of a church and the area it is in



vicarage (n)
a house in which a vicar lives
victim (n)

someone who has been hurt or killed

violent (adj)

someone who uses physical force or weapons to hurt or kill other people
wander (v)

to walk around in no special direction

wasp (n)

a small insect with a painful sting. It has yellow and black stripes across
its body.
whistle (v)
to make sounds by forcing your breath out between your lips or teeth
witch (n)

a woman who has magic powers (see Cultural notes)

woods (n)

a large area of trees growing near each other


English Readers

The Mysterious Affair at Styles

Recently, there have been some strange things happening at Styles,
a large country house in Essex. Evelyn Howard, a loyal friend to the
family for years, leaves the house after an argument with Mrs
Inglethorp. Mrs Inglethorp then suddenly falls ill and dies. Has she
been poisoned? It is up to the famous Belgian detective, Hercule
Poirot, to find out what happened.

The Man in the Brown Suit

Pretty, young Anne Beddingfeld comes to London looking for
adventure. But adventure finds her when she sees a man fall off an
Underground platform and die on the rails. The police think the
death was an accident. But who was the man in the brown suit who
examined the body before running away? Anne has only one clue, but
she is determined to find the mysterious killer. Annes adventure takes
her on a cruise ship all the way to Cape Town and on into Africa . . .

The Murder of Roger Ackroyd

Roger Ackroyd was a man who knew too much. He knew the woman
he loved had poisoned her first husband. He knew someone was
blackmailing her - and now she has killed herself. When Roger
Ackroyd is found murdered Hercule Poirot is called in to find out who
the killer is.



The Murder at the Vicarage

When Colonel Protheroe is found murdered in the vicars study, it seems
that almost everyone in the village of St Mary Mead had a reason to kill
him. This is the first case for Agatha Christies famous female detective,
Miss Marple. She needs to use all her powers of observation and
deduction to solve the mystery.

Peril at End House

Hercule Poirot is on holiday in the south of England when he meets a
young woman called Nick Buckley. Nick has had a lot of mysterious
accidents. First, her car brakes failed. Then, a large rock just missed her
when she was walking, and later, a painting almost fell on her while she
was asleep. Finally, Poirot finds a bullet hole in her hat! Nick is in danger
and needs Poirots help. Can he find the guilty person before Nick is

Why Didnt They Ask Evans?

Bobby Jones is playing g o lf... terribly. As his ball disappears over the
edge of a cliff, he hears a cry. The ball is lost, but on the rocks below
he finds a dying man. With his final breath the man opens his eyes
and says, Why didnt they ask Evans? Bobby and his adventureseeking friend Lady Frances, set out to solve the mystery of the
dying mans last words, but put their own lives in terrible danger. . .



Death in the Clouds

Hercule Poirot is travelling from France to England by plane. During
the journey a passenger is murdered. Someone on the flight is guilty
of the crime - but who could have a reason to kill an elderly lady?
And how is it possible that no one saw it happen?

Appointment with Death

Mrs Boynton, cruel and hated by her family, is found dead while on
holiday in the ancient city of Petra in Jordan. Was it just a weak heart
and too much sun that killed her, or was she murdered? By chance,
the great detective Hercule Poirot is visiting the country. He has 24
hours to solve the case.

N or M?
it is World War II and a British secret agent has been murdered. The
murderers are Nazi agents living somewhere in England. They are
known only as N and M, and could be anyone. The only clue as to
where they are hiding points to the seaside village of Leahampton
and its busy guesthouse, Sans Souci. Tommy and Tuppence
Beresford, Britains most unlikely spies, accept the mission to find N
and M. No one can be trusted . . .


T h e A g a t h a C h r is t ie S e r ie s
The Mysterious Affair at Styles
The Man in the Brown Suit
The Murder of Roger Ackroyd
The Murder at the Vicarage
Peril at End House
Why Didnt They Ask Evans?
Death in the Clouds
Appointment with Death
N o rM?
The Moving Finger
Sparkling Cyanide
Crooked House
They Came to Baghdad
They Do It With Mirrors
A Pocket Full of Rye
After the Funeral
Destination Unknown
Hickory Dickory Dock
4.50 From Paddington
Cat Among the Pigeons

Visit for language

activities and teachers notes based on this story.


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BN 978-0-00-745163-0


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