The flat was a modern one. The furnishings of the room were modern, too. The armchairs were squarely built, the upright chairs were angular. A modern writing table was set squarely in front of the window, and at it sat a small, elderly man. His head was practically the only thing in the room that was not square. It was egg-shaped.
- Hercule Poirot was reading a letter:
Hamborough St. John.
Hamborough St. Mary
September 24th, 1936.
- Hercule Poirot.
Dear Sir,—A matter has arisen which requires handling with great delicacy and discretion. I have heard good accounts of you, and have decided to entrust the matter to you. I have reason to believe that I am the victim of fraud, but for family reasons I do not wish to call in the police. I am taking certain measures of my own to deal with the business, but you must be prepared to come down here immediately on receipt of a telegram. I should be obliged if you will not answer this letter.
The eyebrows of M. Hercule Poirot climbed slowly up his forehead until they nearly disappeared into his hair.
“And who, then,” he demanded of space, “is this Gervase Chevenix- Gore?”
He crossed to a bookcase and took out a large, fat book.
He found what he wanted easily enough.
Chevenix-Gore, Sir Gervase Francis Xavier, 10th Bt. cr. 1694; formerly Captain 17th Lancers; b. 18th May, 1878; e.s. of Sir Guy Chevenix-Gore, 9th Bt., and Lady Claudia Bretherton, 2nd. d. of 8th Earl of Wallingford. S. father, 1911; m. 1912, Vanda Elizabeth, e.d. of Colonel Frederick Arbuthnot, q.v.; educ. Eton. Served European War, 1914-18. Recreations: travelling, big game hunting. Address: Hamborough St. Mary, Westshire, and 218 Lowndes Square, S.W.1. Clubs: Cavalry. Travellers.
Poirot shook his head in a slightly dissatisfied manner. For a moment or two he remained lost in thought, then he went to the desk, pulled open a drawer and took out a little pile of invitation cards.
His face brightened.
“A la bonne heure! Exactly my affair! He will certainly be there.”
A duchess greeted M. Hercule Poirot in fulsome tones.
“So you could manage to come after all, M. Poirot! Why, that’s splendid.” “The pleasure is mine, madame,” murmured Poirot, bowing.
He escaped from several important and splendid beings—a famous diplomat, an equally famous actress and a well-known sporting peer—and found at last the person he had come to seek, that invariably “also present” guest, Mr. Satterthwaite.
Mr. Satterthwaite twittered amiably.
“The dear duchess—I always enjoy her parties … Such a personality, if you know what I mean. I saw a lot of her in Corsica some years ago. .”
Mr. Satterthwaite’s conversation was apt to be unduly burdened by mentions of his titled acquaintances. It is possible that he may sometimes have found pleasure in the company of Messrs. Jones, Brown or Robinson, but, if so, he did not mention the fact. And yet, to describe Mr. Satterthwaite as a mere snob and leave it at that would have been to do him an injustice. He was a keen observer of human nature, and if it is true that the looker-on knows most of the game, Mr. Satterthwaite knew a good deal.
“You know, my dear fellow, it is really ages since I saw you. I always feel myself privileged to have seen you work at close quarters in the Crow’s Nest business. I feel since then that I am in the know, so to speak. I saw Lady Mary only last week, by the way. A charming creature—pot pourri and lavender!”
After passing lightly on one or two scandals of the moment—the indiscretions of an earl’s daughter, and the lamentable conduct of a viscount —Poirot succeeded in introducing the name of Gervase Chevenix-Gore.
Mr. Satterthwaite responded immediately.
“Ah, now, there is a character, if you like! The Last of the Baronets— that’s his nickname.”
“Pardon, I do not quite comprehend.”
Mr. Satterthwaite unbent indulgently to the lower comprehension of a foreigner.
“It’s a joke, you know—a joke. Naturally, he’s not really the last baronet in England—but he does represent the end of an era. The Bold Bad Baronet— the mad harum-scarum baronet so popular in the novels of the last century— the kind of fellow who laid impossible wagers and won ’em.”
He went on to expound what he meant in more detail. In younger years, Gervase Chevenix-Gore had sailed round the world in a windjammer. He had been on an expedition to the Pole. He had challenged a racing peer to a duel. For a wager he had ridden his favourite mare up the staircase of a ducal house. He had once leapt from a box to the stage and carried off a well-known actress in the middle of her role.
The anecdotes of him were innumerable.
“It’s an old family,” went on Mr. Satterthwaite. “Sir Guy de Chevenix went on the first crusade. Now, alas, the line looks like it’s coming to an end. Old Gervase is the last Chevenix-Gore.”
“The estate, it is impoverished?”
“Not a bit of it. Gervase is fabulously wealthy. Owns valuable house property—coalfields—and in addition he staked out a claim to some mine in Peru or somewhere in South America, when he was a young man, which has yielded him a fortune. An amazing man. Always lucky in everything he’s undertaken.”
“He is now an elderly man, of course?”
“Yes, poor old Gervase.” Mr. Satterthwaite sighed, shook his head. “Most people would describe him to you as mad as a hatter. It’s true, in a way. He is mad—not in the sense of being certifiable or having delusions—but mad in the sense of being abnormal. He’s always been a man of great originality of character.”
“And originality becomes eccentricity as the years go by?” suggested Poirot.
“Very true. That’s exactly what’s happened to poor old Gervase.”
“He has perhaps, a swollen idea of his own importance?”
“Absolutely. I should imagine that, in Gervase’s mind, the world has always been divided into two parts—there are the Chevenix-Gores, and the other people!”
“An exaggerated sense of family!”
“Yes. The Chevenix-Gores are all arrogant as the devil—a law unto themselves. Gervase, being the last of them, has got it badly. He is—well, really, you know, to hear him talk, you might imagine him to be—er, the Almighty!”
Poirot nodded his head slowly and thoughtfully.
“Yes, I imagined that. I have had, you see, a letter from him. It was an unusual letter. It did not demand. It summoned!”
“A royal command,” said Mr. Satterthwaite, tittering a little.
“Precisely. It did not seem to occur to this Sir Gervase that I, Hercule Poirot, am a man of importance, a man of infinite affairs! That it was extremely unlikely that I should be able to fling everything aside and come hastening like an obedient dog—like a mere nobody, gratified to receive a
Mr. Satterthwaite bit his lip in an effort to suppress a smile. It may have occurred to him that where egoism was concerned, there was not much to choose between Hercule Poirot and Gervase Chevenix-Gore.
“Of course, if the cause of the summons was urgent—?”
“It was not!” Poirot’s hands rose in the air in an emphatic gesture. “I was to hold myself at his disposition, that was all, in case he should require me! Enfin, je vous demande!”
Again the hands rose eloquently, expressing better than words could do M. Hercule Poirot’s sense of utter outrage.
“I take it,” said Mr. Satterthwaite, “that you refused?”
“I have not yet had the opportunity,” said Poirot slowly.
“But you will refuse?”
A new expression passed over the little man’s face. His brow furrowed itself perplexedly.
“How can I express myself? To refuse—yes, that was my first instinct. But I do not know … One has, sometimes, a feeling. Faintly, I seem to smell the fish.
Mr. Satterthwaite received this last statement without any sign of amusement.
“Oh?” he said. “That is interesting. .”
“It seems to me,” went on Hercule Poirot, “that a man such as you have described might be very vulnerable—”
“Vulnerable?” queried Mr. Satterthwaite. For the moment he was surprised. The word was not one that he would naturally have associated with Gervase Chevenix-Gore. But he was a man of perception, quick in observation. He said slowly:
“I think I see what you mean.”
“Such a one is encased, is he not, in an armour—such an armour! The armour of the crusaders was nothing to it—an armour of arrogance, of pride, of complete self-esteem. This armour, it is in some ways a protection, the arrows, the everyday arrows of life glance off it. But there is this danger; Sometimes a man in armour might not even know he was being attacked. He will be slow to see, slow to hear—slower still to feel.”
He paused, then asked with a change of manner:
“Of what does the family of this Sir Gervase consist?”
“There’s Vanda—his wife. She was an Arbuthnot—very handsome girl. She’s still quite a handsome woman. Frightfully vague, though. Devoted to Gervase. She’s got a leaning towards the occult, I believe. Wears amulets and scarabs and gives out that she’s the reincarnation of an Egyptian Queen … Then there’s Ruth—she’s their adopted daughter. They’ve no children of their own. Very attractive girl in the modern style. That’s all the family. Except, of course, for Hugo Trent. He’s Gervase’s nephew. Pamela Chevenix-Gore married Reggie Trent and Hugo was their only child. He’s an orphan. He can’t inherit the title, of course, but I imagine he’ll come in for most of Gervase’s money in the end. Good-looking lad, he’s in the Blues.”
Poirot nodded his head thoughtfully. Then he asked:
“It is a grief to Sir Gervase, yes, that he has no son to inherit his name?”
“I should imagine that it cuts pretty deep.”
“The family name, it is a passion with him?”
Mr. Satterthwaite was silent a moment or two. He was very intrigued. Finally he ventured:
“You see a definite reason for going down to Hamborough Close?”
Slowly, Poirot shook his head.
“No,” he said. “As far as I can see, there is no reason at all. But, all the same, I fancy I shall go.”
Hercule Poirot sat in the corner of a first-class carriage speeding through the English countryside.
Meditatively he took from his pocket a neatly folded telegram, which he opened and reread:
Take four-thirty from St. Pancras instruct guard have express stopped at Whimperley.
He folded up the telegram again and put it back in his pocket.
The guard on the train had been obsequious. The gentleman was going to Hamborough Close? Oh, yes, Sir Gervase Chevenix-Gore’s guests always had the express stopped at Whimperley. “A special kind of prerogative, I think it is, sir.”
Since then the guard had paid two visits to the carriage—the first in order to assure the traveller that everything would be done to keep the carriage for himself, the second to announce that the express was running ten minutes late.
The train was due to arrive at 7:50, but it was exactly two minutes past eight when Hercule Poirot descended on to the platform of the little country station and pressed the expected half crown into the attentive guard’s hand.
There was a whistle from the engine, and the Northern Express began to move once more. A tall chauffeur in dark green uniform stepped up to Poirot.
“Mr. Poirot? For Hamborough Close?”
He picked up the detective’s neat valise and led the way out of the station. A big Rolls was waiting. The chauffeur held the door open for Poirot to get in, arranged a sumptuous fur rug over his knees, and they drove off.
After some ten minutes of cross-country driving, round sharp corners and down country lanes, the car turned in at a wide gateway flanked with huge
They drove through a park and up to the house. The door of it was opened as they drew up, and a butler of imposing proportions showed himself upon the front step.
“Mr. Poirot? This way, sir.”
He led the way along the hall and threw open a door halfway along it on the right.
“Mr. Hercule Poirot,” he announced.
The room contained a number of people in evening dress, and as Poirot walked in his quick eyes perceived at once that his appearance was not expected. The eyes of all present rested on him in unfeigned surprise.
Then a tall woman, whose dark hair was threaded with grey, made an uncertain advance towards him.
Poirot bowed over her hand.
“My apologies, madame,” he said. “I fear that my train was late.”
“Not at all,” said Lady Chevenix-Gore vaguely. Her eyes still stared at him in a puzzled fashion. “Not at all, Mr.—er—I didn’t quite hear—”
He said the name clearly and distinctly.
Somewhere behind him he heard a sudden sharp intake of breath.
At the same time he realized that clearly his host could not be in the room. He murmured gently:
“You knew I was coming, madame?”
“Oh—oh, yes ..Her manner was not convincing. “I think—I mean I suppose so, but I am so terribly impractical, M. Poirot. I forget everything.” Her tone held a melancholy pleasure in the fact. “I am told things. I appear to take them in—but they just pass through my brain and are gone! Vanished! As though they had never been.”
Then, with a slight air of performing a duty long overdue, she glanced round her vaguely and murmured:
“I expect you know everybody.”
Though this was patently not the case, the phrase was clearly a well-worn formula by means of which Lady Chevenix-Gore spared herself the trouble of introduction and the strain of remembering people’s right names.
Making a supreme effort to meet the difficulties of this particular case, she added:
The girl who stood before him was also tall and dark, but she was of a very different type. Instead of the flattish, indeterminate features of Lady Chevenix-Gore, she had a well-chiselled nose, slightly aquiline, and a clear, sharp line of jaw. Her black hair swept back from her face into a mass of little tight curls. Her colouring was of carnation clearness and brilliance, and owed little to makeup. She was, so Hercule Poirot thought, one of the loveliest girls he had seen.
He recognized, too, that she had brains as well as beauty, and guessed at certain qualities of pride and temper. Her voice, when she spoke, came with a slight drawl that struck him as deliberately put on.
“How exciting,” she said, “to entertain M. Hercule Poirot! The old man arranged a little surprise for us, I suppose.”
“So you did not know I was coming, mademoiselle?” he said quickly.
“I hadn’t an idea of it. As it is, I must postpone getting my autograph book until after dinner.”
The notes of a gong sounded from the hall, then the butler opened the door and announced:
“Dinner is served.”
And then, almost before the last word, “served,” had been uttered, something very curious happened. The pontificial domestic figure became, just for one moment, a highly astonished human being… .
The metamorphosis was so quick and the mask of the well-trained servant was back again so soon, that anyone who had not happened to be looking would not have noticed the change. Poirot, however, had happened to be looking. He wondered.
The butler hesitated in the doorway. Though his face was again correctly expressionless, an air of tension hung about his figure.
Lady Chevenix-Gore said uncertainly:
“Oh, dear—this is most extraordinary. Really, I—one hardly knows what to do.”
Ruth said to Poirot:
“This singular consternation, M. Poirot, is occasioned by the fact that my father, for the first time for at least twenty years, is late for dinner.”
“It is most extraordinary—” wailed Lady Chevenix-Gore. “Gervase never 55
An elderly man of upright soldierly carriage came to her side. He laughed genially.
“Good old Gervase! Late at last! Upon my word, we’ll rag him over this. Elusive collar stud, d’you think? Or is Gervase immune from our common weaknesses?”
Lady Chevenix-Gore said in a low, puzzled voice:
“But Gervase is never late.”
It was almost ludicrous, the consternation caused by this simple contretemps. And yet, to Hercule Poirot, it was not ludicrous … Behind the consternation he felt uneasiness—perhaps even apprehension. And he, too, found it strange that Gervase Chevenix-Gore should not appear to greet the guest he had summoned in such a mysterious manner.
In the meantime, it was clear that nobody knew quite what to do. An unprecedented situation had arisen with which nobody knew how to deal.
Lady Chevenix-Gore at last took the initiative, if initiative it can be called. Certainly her manner was vague in the extreme.
“Snell,” she said, “is your master—?”
She did not finish the sentence, merely looked at the butler expectantly.
Snell, who was clearly used to his mistress’s methods of seeking information, replied promptly to the unspecified question:
“Sir Gervase came downstairs at five minutes to eight, m’lady, and went straight to the study.”
“Oh, I see—” Her mouth remained open, her eyes seemed far away. “You don’t think—I mean—he heard the gong?”
“I think he must have done so, m’lady, the gong being immediately outside the study door. I did not, of course, know that Sir Gervase was still in the study, otherwise I should have announced to him that dinner was ready. Shall I do so now, m’lady?”
Lady Chevenix-Gore seized on the suggestion with manifest relief.
“Oh, thank you, Snell. Yes, please do. Yes, certainly.”
She said, as the butler left the room:
“Snell is such a treasure. I rely on him absolutely. I really don’t know what I should do without Snell.”
Somebody murmured a sympathetic assent, but nobody spoke. Hercule Poirot, watching that room full of people with suddenly sharpened attention, had an idea that one and all were in a state of tension. His eyes ran quickly over them, tabulating them roughly. Two elderly men, the soldierly one who had spoken just now, and a thin, spare, grey-haired man with closely pinched legal lips. Two youngish men—very different in type from each other. One with a moustache and an air of modest arrogance, he guessed to be possibly Sir Gervase’s nephew, the one in the Blues. The other, with sleek brushed- back hair and a rather obvious style of good looks, he put down as of a definitely inferior social class. There was a small middle-aged woman with pince-nez and intelligent eyes, and there was a girl with flaming red hair.
Snell appeared at the door. His manner was perfect, but once again the veneer of the impersonal butler showed signs of the perturbed human being beneath the surface.
“Excuse me, m’lady, the study door is locked.”
It was a man’s voice—young, alert, with a ring of excitement in it. It was the good-looking young man with the slicked-back hair who had spoken. He went on, hurrying forward:
“Shall I go and see—?”
But very quietly Hercule Poirot took command. He did it so naturally that no one thought it odd that this stranger, who had just arrived, should suddenly assume charge of the situation.
“Come,” he said. “Let us go to the study.”
He continued, speaking to Snell:
“Lead the way, if you please.”
Snell obeyed. Poirot followed close behind him, and, like a flock of sheep, everyone else followed.
Snell led the way through the big hall, past the great branching curve of the staircase, past an enormous grandfather clock and a recess in which stood a gong, along a narrow passage which ended in a door.
Here Poirot passed Snell and gently tried the handle. It turned, but the door did not open. Poirot rapped gently with his knuckles on the panel of the door. He rapped louder and louder. Then, suddenly desisting, he dropped to his knees and applied his eye to the keyhole.
Slowly he rose to his feet and looked round. His face was stern.
“Gentlemen!” he said. “This door must be broken open immediately!”
Under his direction the two young men, who were both tall and powerfully built, attacked the door. It was no easy matter. The doors of Hamborough Close were solidly built.
At last, however, the lock gave, and the door swung inwards with a noise of splintering, rending wood.
And then, for a moment, everyone stood still, huddled in the doorway looking at the scene inside. The lights were on. Along the left-hand wall was a big writing table, a massive affair of solid mahogany. Sitting, not at the table, but sideways to it, so that his back was directly towards them, was a big man slouched down in a chair. His head and the upper part of his body hung down over the right side of the chair, and his right hand and arm hung limply down. Just below it on the carpet was a small, gleaming pistol… .
There was no need of speculation. The picture was clear. Sir Gervase Chevenix-Gore had shot himself.[/sociallocker]
For a moment or two the group in the doorway stood motionless, staring at the scene. Then Poirot strode forward.
At the same moment Hugo Trent said crisply:
“My God, the Old Man’s shot himself!”
And there was a long, shuddering moan from Lady Chevenix-Gore.
Over his shoulder Poirot said sharply:
“Take Lady Chevenix-Gore away. She can do nothing here.”
The elderly soldierly man obeyed. He said:
“Come, Vanda. Come, my dear. You can do nothing. It’s all over. Ruth, come and look after your mother.”
But Ruth Chevenix-Gore had pressed into the room and stood close by Poirot’s side as he bent over the dreadful sprawled figure in the chair—the figure of a man of Herculean build with a Viking beard.
She said in a low, tense voice, curiously restrained and muffled:
“You’re quite sure he’s—dead?”
Poirot looked up.
The girl’s face was alive with some emotion—an emotion sternly checked and repressed—that he did not quite understand. It was not grief—it seemed more like a kind of half-fearful excitement.
The little woman in the pince-nez murmured:
“Your mother, my dear—don’t you think—?”
In a high, hysterical voice the girl with the red hair cried out:
“Then it wasn t a car or a champagne cork! It was a shot we heard…
Poirot turned and faced them all.
“Somebody must communicate with the police—”
Ruth Chevenix-Gore cried out violently:
The elderly man with the legal face said:
“Unavoidable, I am afraid. Will you see to that, Burrows? Hugo—”
“You are Mr. Hugo Trent?” to the tall young man with the moustache. “It would be well, I think, if everyone except you and I were to leave this room.”
Again his authority was not questioned. The lawyer shepherded the others away. Poirot and Hugo Trent were left alone.
The latter said, staring:
“Look here—who are you? I mean, I haven’t the foggiest idea. What are you doing here?”
Poirot took a card case from his pocket and selected a card.
Hugo Trent said, staring at it:
“Private detective—eh? Of course, I’ve heard of you . But I still don’t see what you are doing here.”
“You did not know that your uncle—he was your uncle, was he not—?”
Hugo’s eyes dropped for a fleeting moment to the dead man.
“The Old Man? Yes, he was my uncle all right.”
“You did not know that he had sent for me?”
Hugo shook his head. He said slowly:
“I’d no idea of it.”
There was an emotion in his voice that was rather hard to classify. His face looked wooden and stupid—the kind of expression, Poirot thought, that made a useful mask in times of stress.
Poirot said quietly:
“We are in Westshire, are we not? I know your Chief Constable, Major Riddle, very well.”
“Riddle lives about half a mile away. He’ll probably come over himself.”
“That,” said Poirot, “will be very convenient.”
He began prowling gently round the room. He twitched aside the window curtain and examined the french windows, trying them gently. They were closed.
On the wall behind the desk there hung a round mirror. The mirror was shivered. Poirot bent down and picked up a small object.
“What’s that?” asked Hugo Trent.
“It passed straight through his head and struck the mirror?”
“It seems so.”
Poirot replaced the bullet meticulously where he had found it. He came up to the desk. Some papers were arranged neatly stacked in heaps. On the blotting pad itself there was a loose sheet of paper with the word SORRY printed across it in large, shaky handwriting.
Hugo said: “He must have written that just before he—did it.”
Poirot nodded thoughtfully.
He looked again at the smashed mirror, then at the dead man. His brow creased itself a little as though in perplexity. He went over to the door, where it hung crookedly with its splintered lock. There was no key in the door, as he knew—otherwise he would not have been able to see through the keyhole. There was no sign of it on the floor. Poirot leaned over the dead man and ran his fingers over him.
“Yes,” he said. “The key is in his pocket.”
Hugo drew out a cigarette case and lighted a cigarette. He spoke rather hoarsely.
“It seems all quite clear,” he said. “My uncle shut himself up in here, scrawled that message on a piece of paper, and then shot himself.”
Poirot nodded meditatively. Hugo went on:
“But I don’t understand why he sent for you. What was it all about?”
“That is rather more difficult to explain. While we are waiting, Mr. Trent, for the authorities to take charge, perhaps you will tell me exactly who all the people are whom I saw tonight when I arrived?”
“Who they are?” Hugo spoke almost absently. “Oh, yes, of course. Sorry. Shall we sit down?” He indicated a settee in the farthest corner of the room from the body. He went on, speaking jerkily: “Well, there’s Vanda—my aunt, you know. And Ruth, my cousin. But you know them. Then the other girl is Susan Cardwell. She’s just staying here. And there’s Colonel Bury. He’s an old friend of the family. And Mr. Forbes. He’s an old friend, too, beside being the family lawyer and all that. Both the old boys had a passion for Vanda when she was young, and they still hang round in a faithful, devoted sort of way. Ridiculous, but rather touching. Then there’s Godfrey Burrows, the Old Man’s—I mean my uncle’s—secretary, and Miss Lingard, who’s here to help him write a history of the Chevenix-Gores. She mugs up historical stuff for writers. That’s the lot, I think.”
Poirot nodded. Then he said:
“And I understand you actually heard the shot that killed your uncle?”
“Yes, we did. Thought it was a champagne cork—at least, I did. Susan and Miss Lingard thought it was a car backfiring outside—the road runs quite near, you know.”
“When was this?”
“Oh, about ten past eight. Snell had just sounded the first gong.”
“And where were you when you heard it?”
“In the hall. We—we were laughing about it—arguing, you know, as to where the sound came from. I said it came from the dining room, and Susan said it came from the direction of the drawing room, and Miss Lingard said it sounded like upstairs, and Snell said it came from the road outside, only it came through the upstairs windows. And Susan said, “Any more theories?” And I laughed and said there was always murder! Seems pretty rotten to think of it now.”
His face twitched nervously.
“It did not occur to anyone that Sir Gervase might have shot himself?”
“No, of course not.”
“You have, in fact, no idea why he should have shot himself?”
Hugo said slowly:
“Oh, well, I shouldn’t say that—”
“You have an idea?”
“Yes—well—it’s difficult to explain. Naturally I didn’t expect him to commit suicide, but all the same I’m not frightfully surprised. The truth of it is that my uncle was as mad as a hatter, M. Poirot. Everyone knew that.”
“That strikes you as a sufficient explanation?”
“Well, people do shoot themselves when they’re a bit barmy.”
“An explanation of an admirable simplicity.”
Poirot got up again and wandered aimlessly round the room. It was comfortably furnished, mainly in a rather heavy Victorian style. There were massive bookcases, huge armchairs, and some upright chairs of genuine Chippendale. There were not many ornaments, but some bronzes on the mantelpiece attracted Poirot’s attention and apparently stirred his admiration. He picked them up one by one, carefully examining them before replacing them with care. From the one on the extreme left he detached something with a fingernail.
“What’s that?” asked Hugo without much interest.
“Nothing very much. A tiny sliver of looking glass.”
“Funny the way that mirror was smashed by the shot. A broken mirror means bad luck. Poor old Gervase … I suppose his luck had held a bit too long.”
“Your uncle was a lucky man?”
Hugo gave a short laugh.
“Why, his luck was proverbial! Everything he touched turned to gold! If he backed an outsider, it romped home! If he invested in a doubtful mine, they struck a vein of ore at once! He’s had the most amazing escapes from the tightest of tight places. His life’s been saved by a kind of miracle more than once. He was rather a fine old boy, in his way, you know. He’d certainly ‘been places and seen things’—more than most of his generation.”
Poirot murmured in a conversational tone:
“You were attached to your uncle, Mr. Trent?”
Hugo Trent seemed a little startled by the question.
“Oh—er—yes, of course,” he said rather vaguely. “You know, he was a bit difficult at times. Frightful strain to live with, and all that. Fortunately I didn’t have to see much of him.”
“He was fond of you?”
“Not so that you’d notice it! As a matter of fact, he rather resented my existence, so to speak.”
“How was that, Mr. Trent?”
“Well, you see, he had no son of his own—and he was pretty sore about it. He was mad about family and all that sort of thing. I believe it cut him to the quick to know that when he died the Chevenix-Gores would cease to exist. They’ve been going ever since the Norman Conquest, you know. The Old Man was the last of them. I suppose it was rather rotten from his point of view.”
“You yourself do not share that sentiment?”
Hugo shrugged his shoulders.
“All that sort of thing seems to me rather out of date.”
“What will happen to the estate?”
“Don’t really know. I might get it. Or he may have left it to Ruth. Probably Vanda has it for her lifetime.”
“Your uncle did not definitely declare his intentions?”
“Well, he had his pet idea.”
“And what was that?”
“His idea was that Ruth and I should make a match of it.”
“That would doubtless have been very suitable.”
“Eminently suitable. But Ruth—well, Ruth has very decided views of her own about life. Mind you, she’s an extremely attractive young woman, and she knows it. She’s in no hurry to marry and settle down.”
Poirot leaned forward.
“But you yourself would have been willing, M. Trent?”
Hugo said in a bored tone of voice:
“I really can’t see it makes a ha’p’orth of difference who you marry nowadays. Divorce is so easy. If you’re not hitting it off, nothing is easier than to cut the tangle and start again.”
The door opened and Forbes entered with a tall, spruce-looking man.
The latter nodded to Trent.
“Hallo, Hugo. I’m extremely sorry about this. Very rough on all of you.”
Hercule Poirot came forward.
“How do you do, Major Riddle? You remember me?”
“Yes, indeed.” The chief constable shook hands. “So you’re down here?”
There was a meditative note in his voice. He glanced curiously at Hercule Poirot.
Well?” said Major Riddle.
It was twenty minutes later. The chief constable’s interrogative “Well?” was addressed to the police surgeon, a lank elderly man with grizzled hair.
The latter shrugged his shoulders.
“He’s been dead over half an hour—but not more than an hour. You don’t want technicalities, I know, so I’ll spare you them. The man was shot through the head, the pistol being held a few inches from the right temple. Bullet passed right through the brain and out again.”
“Perfectly compatible with suicide?”
“Oh, perfectly. The body then slumped down in the chair, and the pistol dropped from his hand.”
“You’ve got the bullet?”
“Yes.” The doctor held it up.
“Good,” said Major Riddle. “We’ll keep it for comparison with the pistol. Glad it’s a clear case and no difficulties.”
Hercule Poirot asked gently:
“You are sure there are no difficulties, Doctor?”
The doctor replied slowly:
“Well, I suppose you might call one thing a little odd. When he shot himself he must have been leaning slightly over to the right. Otherwise the bullet would have hit the wall below the mirror, instead of plumb in the middle.”
“An uncomfortable position in which to commit suicide,” said Poirot.
The doctor shrugged his shoulders.
“Oh, well—comfort—if you’re going to end it all—” He left the sentence unfinished.
Major Riddle said:
“The body can be moved now?”
“Oh, yes. I’ve done with it until the P.-M.”
“What about you, Inspector?” Major Riddle spoke to a tall impassivefaced man in plain clothes.
“O.K., sir. We’ve got all we want. Only the deceased’s fingerprints on the pistol.”
“Then you can get on with it.”
The mortal remains of Gervase Chevenix-Gore were removed. The chief constable and Poirot were left together.
“Well,” said Riddle, “everything seems quite clear and aboveboard. Door locked, window fastened, key of door in dead man’s pocket. Everything according to Cocker—but for one circumstance.”
“And what is that, my friend?” inquired Poirot.
“You!” said Riddle bluntly. “What are you doing down here?”
By way of reply, Poirot handed to him the letter he had received from the dead man a week ago, and the telegram which had finally brought him there.
“Humph,” said the chief constable. “Interesting. We’ll have to get to the bottom of this. I should say it had a direct bearing upon his suicide.”
“We must check up on who is in the house.”
“I can tell you their names. I have just been making inquiries of
He repeated the list of names.
“Perhaps you, Major Riddle, know something about these people?”
“I know something of them, naturally. Lady Chevenix-Gore is quite as mad in her own way as old Sir Gervase. They were devoted to each other— and both quite mad. She’s the vaguest creature that ever lived, with an occasional uncanny shrewdness that strikes the nail on the head in the most surprising fashion. People laugh at her a good deal. I think she knows it, but she doesn’t care. She’s absolutely no sense of humour.”
“Miss Chevenix-Gore is only their adopted daughter, I understand?”
“A very handsome young lady.”
“She’s a devilishly attractive girl. Has played havoc with most of the young fellows round here. Leads them all on and then turns round and laughs at them. Good seat on a horse, and wonderful hands.”
“That, for the moment, does not concern us.”
“Er—no, perhaps not … Well, about the other people. I know old Bury, of course. He’s here most of the time. Almost a tame cat about the house. Kind of A.D.C. to Lady Chevenix-Gore. He’s a very old friend. They’ve known him all their lives. I think he and Sir Gervase were both interested in some company of which Bury was a director.”
“Oswald Forbes, do you know anything of him?”
“I rather believe I’ve met him once.”
“Never heard of her.”
“Miss Susan Cardwell?”
“Rather a good-looking girl with red hair? I’ve seen her about with Ruth Chevenix-Gore the last few days.”
“Yes, I know him. Chevenix-Gore’s secretary. Between you and me, I don’t take to him much. He’s good-looking, and knows it. Not quite out of the top drawer.”
“Had he been with Sir Gervase long?”
“About two years, I fancy.”
“And there is no one else—?”
Poirot broke off.
A tall, fair-haired man in a lounge suit came hurrying in. He was out of breath and looked disturbed.
“Good evening, Major Riddle. I heard a rumour that Sir Gervase had shot himself, and I hurried up here. Snell tells me it’s true. It’s incredible! I can’t believe it!”
“It’s true enough, Lake. Let me introduce you. This is Captain Lake, Sir Gervase’s agent for the estate. M. Hercule Poirot, of whom you may have heard.”
Lake’s face lit up with what seemed a kind of delighted incredulity.
“M. Hercule Poirot? I’m most awfully pleased to meet you. At least—” He broke off, the quick charming smile vanished—he looked disturbed and upset. “There isn’t anything—fishy—about this suicide, is there, sir?”
“Why should there be anything ‘fishy,’ as you call it?” asked the chief constable sharply.
“I mean, because M. Poirot is here. Oh, and because the whole business seems so incredible!”
“No, no,” said Poirot quickly. “I am not here on account of the death of Sir Gervase. I was already in the house—as a guest.”
“Oh, I see. Funny, he never told me you were coming when I was going over accounts with him this afternoon.”
Poirot said quietly:
“You have twice used the word ‘incredible,’ Captain Lake. Are you, then, so surprised to hear of Sir Gervase commiting suicide?”
“Indeed I am. Of course, he was mad as a hatter; everyone would agree about that. But all the same, I simply can’t imagine his thinking the world would be able to get on without him.”
“Yes,” said Poirot. “It is a point, that.” And he looked with appreciation at the frank, intelligent countenance of the young man.
Major Riddle cleared his throat.
“Since you are here, Captain Lake, perhaps you will sit down and answer a few questions.”
Lake took a chair opposite the other two.
“When did you last see Sir Gervase?”
“This afternoon, just before three o’clock. There were some accounts to be checked, and the question of a new tenant for one of the farms.”
“How long were you with him?”
“Perhaps half an hour.”
“Think carefully, and tell me whether you noticed anything unusual in his manner.”
The young man considered.
“No, I hardly think so. He was, perhaps, a trifle excited—but that wasn’t unusual with him.”
“He was not depressed in any way?”
“Oh, no, he seemed in good spirits. He was enjoying himself very much just now, writing up a history of the family.”
“How long had he been doing this?”
“He began it about six months ago.”
“Is that when Miss Lingard came here?”
“No. She arrived about two months ago when he had discovered that he could not manage the necessary research work by himself.”
“And you consider he was enjoying himself?”
“Oh, simply enormously! He really didn’t think that anything else mattered in the world except his family.”
There was a momentary bitterness in the young man’s tone.
“Then, as far as you know, Sir Gervase had no worries of any kind?”
There was a slight—a very slight—pause before Captain Lake answered.
Poirot suddenly interposed a question:
“Sir Gervase was not, you think, worried about his daughter in any way?”
“That is what I said.”
“Not as far as I know,” said the young man stiffly.
Poirot said nothing further. Major Riddle said:
“Well, thank you, Lake. Perhaps you’d stay around in case I might want to ask you anything.”
“Certainly, sir.” He rose. “Anything I can do?”
“Yes, you might send the butler here. And perhaps you’d find out for me how Lady Chevenix-Gore is, and if I could have a few words with her presently, or if she’s too upset.”
The young man nodded and left the room with a quick, decisive step.
“An attractive personality,” said Hercule Poirot.
“Yes, nice fellow, and good at his job. Everyone likes him.”[/sociallocker]
Sit down, Snell,” said Major Riddle in a friendly tone. “I’ve a good many questions to ask you, and I expect this has been a shock to you.”
“Oh, it has indeed, sir. Thank you, sir.” Snell sat down with such a discreet air that it was practically the same as though he had remained on his feet.
“Been here a good long time, haven’t you?”
“Sixteen years, sir, ever since Sir Gervase—er—settled down, so to speak.”
“Ah, yes, of course, your master was a great traveller in his day.”
“Yes, sir. He went on an expedition to the Pole and many other interesting places.”
“Now, Snell, can you tell me when you last saw your master this evening?”
“I was in the dining room, sir, seeing that the table arrangements were all complete. The door into the hall was open, and I saw Sir Gervase come down the stairs, cross the hall and go along the passage to the study.”
“That was at what time?”
“Just before eight o’clock. It might have been as much as five minutes before eight.”
“And that was the last you saw of him?”
“Did you hear a shot?”
“Oh, yes, indeed, sir; but of course I had no idea at the time—how should I have had?”
“What did you think it was?”
“I thought it was a car, sir. The road runs quite near the park wall. Or it might have been a shot in the woods—a poacher, perhaps. I never dreamed
Major Riddle cut him short.
“What time was that?”
“It was exactly eight minutes past eight, sir.”
The chief constable said sharply:
“How is it you can fix the time to a minute?”
“That’s easy, sir. I had just sounded the first going.”
“The first gong?”
“Yes, sir. By Sir Gervase’s orders, a gong was always to be sounded seven minutes before the actual dinner gong. Very particular he was, sir, that everyone should be assembled ready in the drawing room when the second gong went. As soon as I had sounded the second gong, I went to the drawing room and announced dinner, and everyone went in.”
“I begin to understand,” said Hercule Poirot, “why you looked so surprised when you announced dinner this evening. It was usual for Sir Gervase to be in the drawing room?”
“I’d never known him not be there before, sir. It was quite a shock. I little thought—”
Again Major Riddle interrupted adroitly:
“And were the others also usually there?”
“Anyone who was late for dinner, sir, was never asked to the house again.”
“H’m, very drastic.”
“Sir Gervase, sir, employed a chef who was formerly with the Emperor of Moravia. He used to say, sir, that dinner was as important as a religious ritual.”
“And what about his own family?”
“Lady Chevenix-Gore was always very particular not to upset him, sir, and even Miss Ruth dared not be late for dinner.”
“Interesting,” murmured Hercule Poirot.
“I see,” said Riddle. “So, dinner being at a quarter past eight, you sounded the first gong at eight minutes past as usual?”
“That is so, sir—but it wasn’t as usual. Dinner was usually at eight. Sir Gervase gave orders that dinner was to be a quarter of an hour later this evening, as he was expecting a gentleman by the late train.”
Snell made a little bow towards Poirot as he spoke.
“When your master went to the study, did he look upset or worried in any way?”
“I could not say, sir. It was too far for me to judge of his expression. I just noticed him, that was all.”
“Was he left alone when he went to the study?”
“Did anyone go to the study after that?”
“I could not say, sir. I went to the butler’s pantry after that, and was there until I sounded the first gong at eight minutes past eight.”
“That was when you heard the shot?”
Poirot gently interposed a question.
“There were others, I think, who also heard the shot?”
“Yes, sir. Mr. Hugo and Miss Cardwell. And Miss Lingard.”
“These people were also in the hall?”
“Miss Lingard came out from the drawing room, and Miss Cardwell and Mr. Hugo were just coming down the stairs.”
“Was there any conversation about the matter?”
“Well, sir, Mr. Hugo asked if there was champagne for dinner. I told him that sherry, hock and burgundy were being served.”
“He thought it was a champagne cork?”
“But nobody took it seriously?”
“Oh, no, sir. They all went into the drawing room talking and laughing.”
“Where were the other members of the household?”
“I could not say, sir.”
Major Riddle said:
“Do you know anything about this pistol?” He held it out as he spoke.
“Oh, yes, sir. That belonged to Sir Gervase. He always kept it in the drawer of his desk in here.”
“Was it usually loaded?”
“I couldn’t say, sir.”
Major Riddle laid down the pistol and cleared his throat.
“Now, Snell, I’m going to ask you a rather important question. I hope you will answer it as truthfully as you can. Do you know of any reason which might lead your master to commit suicide?”
“No, sir. I know of nothing.”
“Sir Gervase had not been odd in his manner of late? Not depressed? Or worried?”
Snell coughed apologetically.
“You’ll excuse my saying it, sir, but Sir Gervase was always what might have seemed to strangers a little odd in his manner. He was a highly original gentleman, sir.”
“Yes, yes, I am quite aware of that.”
“Outsiders, sir, did not always Understand Sir Gervase.”
Snell gave the phrase a definite value of capital letter.
“I know. I know. But there was nothing that you would have called unusual?”
The butler hesitated.
“I think, sir, that Sir Gervase was worried about something,” he said at last.
“Worried and depressed?”
“I shouldn’t say depressed, sir. But worried, yes.”
“Have you any idea of the cause of that worry?”
“Was it connected with any particular person, for instance?”
“I could not say at all, sir. In any case, it is only an impression of mine.”
Poirot spoke again.
“You were surprised at his suicide?”
“Very surprised, sir. It has been a terrible shock to me. I never dreamed of such a thing.”
Poirot nodded thoughtfully.
Riddle glanced at him, then he said:
“Well, Snell, I think that is all we want to ask you. You are quite sure that there is nothing else you can tell us—no unusual incident, for instance, that has happened in the last few days?”
The butler, rising to his feet, shook his head.
“There is nothing, sir, nothing whatever.”
“Then you can go.”
“Thank you, sir.”
Moving towards the doorway, Snell drew back and stood aside. Lady Chevenix-Gore floated into the room.
She was wearing an oriental-looking garment of purple and orange silk wound tightly round her body. Her face was serene and her manner collected and calm.
“Lady Chevenix-Gore.” Major Riddle sprang to his feet.
“They told me you would like to talk to me, so I came.”
“Shall we go into another room? This must be painful for you in the extreme.”
Lady Chevenix-Gore shook her head and sat down on one of the Chippendale chairs. She murmured:
“Oh, no, what does it matter?”
“It is very good of you, Lady Chevenix-Gore, to put your feelings aside. I know what a frightful shock this must have been and—”
She interrupted him.
“It was rather a shock at first,” she admitted. Her tone was easy and conversational. “But there is no such thing as Death, really, you know, only Change.” She added: “As a matter of fact, Gervase is standing just behind your left shoulder now. I can see him distinctly.”
Major Riddle’s left shoulder twitched slightly. He looked at Lady Chevenix-Gore rather doubtfully.
She smiled at him, a vague, happy smile.
“You don’t believe, of course! So few people will. To me, the spirit world is quite as real as this one. But please ask me anything you like, and don’t worry about distressing me. I’m not in the least distressed. Everything, you see, is Fate. One cannot escape one’s Karma. It all fits in—the mirror— everything.”
“The mirror, madame?” asked Poirot.
She nodded her head towards it vaguely.
“Yes. It’s splintered, you see. A symbol! You know Tennyson’s poem? I used to read it as a girl—though, of course, I didn’t realise then the esoteric side of it. ‘The mirror cracked from side to side. “The curse is come upon me!” cried the Lady of Shalott.’ That’s what happened to Gervase. The Curse came upon him suddenly. I think, you know, most very old families have a curse … the mirror cracked. He knew that he was doomed! The Curse had come!”
“But, madame, it was not a curse that cracked the mirror—it was a
Lady Chevenix-Gore said, still in the same sweet vague manner:
“It’s all the same thing, really … It was Fate.”
“But your husband shot himself.”
Lady Chevenix-Gore smiled indulgently.
“He shouldn’t have done that, of course. But Gervase was always impatient. He could never wait. His hour had come—he went forward to meet it. It’s all so simple, really.”
Major Riddle, clearing his throat in exasperation, said sharply:
“Then you weren’t surprised at your husband’s taking his own life? Had you been expecting such a thing to happen?”
“Oh, no.” Her eyes opened wide. “One can’t always foresee the future. Gervase, of course, was a very strange man, a very unusual man. He was quite unlike anyone else. He was one of the Great Ones born again. I’ve known that for some time. I think he knew it himself. He found it very hard to conform to the silly little standards of the everyday world.” She added, looking over Major Riddle’s shoulder, “He’s smiling now. He’s thinking how foolish we all are. So we are really. Just like children. Pretending that life is real and that it matters . Life is only one of the Great
Feeling that he was fighting a losing battle, Major Riddle asked desperately:
“You can’t help us at all as to why your husband should have taken his life?”
She shrugged her thin shoulders.
“Forces move us—they move us . You cannot understand. You move only on the material plane.”
“Talking of the material plane, have you any idea, madame, as to how your husband has left his money?”
“Money?” she stared at him. “I never think of money.”
Her tone was disdainful.
Poirot switched to another point.
“At what time did you come downstairs to dinner tonight?”
“Time? What is Time? Infinite, that is the answer. Time is infinite.”
“But your husband, madame, was rather particular about time— especially, so I have been told, as regards the dinner hour.”
“Dear Gervase,” she smiled indulgently. “He was very foolish about that. But it made him happy. So we were never late.”
“Were you in the drawing room, madame, when the first gong went?”
“No, I was in my room then.”
“Do you remember who was in the drawing room when you did come down?”
“Nearly everybody, I think,” said Lady Chevenix-Gore vaguely. “Does it matter?”
“Possibly not,” admitted Poirot. “Then there is something else. Did your husband ever tell you that he suspected he was being robbed?”
Lady Chevenix-Gore did not seem much interested in the question.
“Robbed? No, I don’t think so.”
“Robbed, swindled—victimized in some way—?”
“No—no—I don’t think so … Gervase would have been very angry if anybody had dared to do anything like that.”
“At any rate he said nothing about it to you?”
“No—no.” Lady Chevenix-Gore shook her head, still without much real interest. “I should have remembered. .”
“When did you last see your husband alive?”
“He looked in, as usual, on his way downstairs before dinner. My maid was there. He just said he was going down.”
“What has he talked about most in the last few weeks?”
“Oh, the family history. He was getting on so well with it. He found that funny old thing, Miss Lingard, quite invaluable. She looked up things for him in the British Museum—all that sort of thing. She worked with Lord Mulcaster on his book, you know. And she was tactful—I mean, she didn’t look up the wrong things. After all, there are ancestors one doesn’t want raked up. Gervase was very sensitive. She helped me, too. She got a lot of information for me about Hatshepsut. I am a reincarnation of Hatshepsut, you know.”
Lady Chevenix-Gore made this announcement in a calm voice.
“Before that,” she went on, “I was a Priestess in Atlantis.”
Major Riddle shifted a little in his chair.
“Er—er—very interesting,” he said. “Well, really, Lady Chevenix-Gore, I think that will be all. Very kind of you.”
Lady Chevenix-Gore rose, clasping her oriental robes about her.
“Goodnight,” she said. And then, her eyes shifting to a point behind Major Riddle. “Goodnight, Gervase dear. I wish you could come, but I know you have to stay here.” She added in an explanatory fashion, “You have to stay in the place where you’ve passed over for at least twenty-four hours. It’s some time before you can move about freely and communicate.”
She trailed out of the room.
Major Riddle wiped his brow.
“Phew,” he murmured. “She’s a great deal madder than I ever thought. Does she really believe all that nonsense?”
Poirot shook his head thoughtfully.
“It is possible that she finds it helpful,” he said. “She needs, at this moment, to create for herself a world of illusion so that she can escape the stark reality of her husband’s death.”
“She seems almost certifiable to me,” said Major Riddle. “A long farrago of nonsense without one word of sense in it.”
“No, no, my friend. The interesting thing is, as Mr. Hugo Trent casually remarked to me, that amidst all the vapouring there is an occasional shrewd thrust. She showed it by her remark about Miss Lingard’s tact in not stressing undesirable ancestors. Believe me, Lady Chevenix-Gore is no fool.”
He got up and paced up and down the room.
“There are things in this affair that I do not like. No, I do not like them at all.”
Riddle looked at him curiously.
“You mean the motive for his suicide?”
“Suicide—suicide! It is all wrong, I tell you. It is wrong psychologically. How did Chevenix-Gore think of himself? As a Colossus, as an immensely important person, as the centre of the universe! Does such a man destroy himself? Surely not. He is far more likely to destroy someone else—some miserable crawling ant of a human being who had dared to cause him annoyance … Such an act he might regard as necessary—as sanctified! But self-destruction? The destruction of such a Self?”
“It’s all very well, Poirot. But the evidence is clear enough. Door locked, key in his own pocket. Window closed and fastened. I know these things happen in books—but I’ve never come across them in real life. Anything else?”
“But yes, there is something else.” Poirot sat down in the chair. “Here I am. I am Chevenix-Gore. I am sitting at my desk. I am determined to kill myself—because, let us say, I have made a discovery concerning some terrific dishonour to the family name. It is not very convincing, that, but it must suffice.
“Eh bien, what do I do? I scrawl on a piece of paper the word SORRY. Yes, that is quite possible. Then I open a drawer of the desk, take out the pistol which I keep there, load it, if it is not loaded, and then—do I proceed to shoot myself? No, I first turn my chair round—so, and I lean over a little to the right—so—and then I put the pistol to my temple and fire!”
Poirot sprang up from his chair, and wheeling round, demanded:
“I ask you, does that make sense? Why turn the chair round? If, for instance, there had been a picture on the wall there, then, yes, there might be an explanation. Some portrait which a dying man might wish to be the last thing on earth his eyes would see, but a window curtain—ah non, that does
not make sense.”
“He might have wished to look out of the window. Last view out over the estate.”
“My dear friend, you do not suggest that with any conviction. In fact, you know it is nonsense. At eight minutes past eight it was dark, and in any case the curtains are drawn. No, there must be some other explanation…
“There’s only one as far as I can see. Gervase Chevenix-Gore was mad.”
Poirot shook his head in a dissatisfied manner.
Major Riddle rose.
“Come,” he said. “Let us go and interview the rest of the party. We may get at something that way.”
After the difficulties of getting a direct statement from Lady Chevenix- Gore, Major Riddle found considerable relief in dealing with a shrewd lawyer like Forbes.
Mr. Forbes was extremely guarded and cautious in his statements, but his replies were all directly to the point.
He admitted that Sir Gervase’s suicide had been a great shock to him. He should never have considered Sir Gervase the kind of man who would take his own life. He knew nothing of any cause for such an act.
“Sir Gervase was not only my client, but was a very old friend. I have known him since boyhood. I should say that he had always enjoyed life.”
“In the circumstances, Mr. Forbes, I must ask you to speak quite candidly. You did not know of any secret anxiety or sorrow in Sir Gervase’s life?”
“No. He had minor worries, like most men, but there was nothing of a serious nature.”
“No illness? No trouble between him and his wife?”
“No. Sir Gervase and Lady Chevenix-Gore were devoted to each other.” Major Riddle said cautiously:
“Lady Chevenix-Gore appears to hold somewhat curious views.” Mr. Forbes smiled—an indulgent, manly smile.
“Ladies,” he said, “must be allowed their fancies.”
The chief constable went on:
“You managed all Sir Gervase’s legal affairs?”
“Yes, my firm, Forbes, Ogilvie and Spence, have acted for the Chevenix- Gore family for well over a hundred years.”
“Were there any—scandals in the Chevenix-Gore family?”
Mr. Forbes’s eyebrows rose.
“Really, I fail to understand you?”
“M. Poirot, will you show Mr. Forbes the letter you showed me?”
In silence Poirot rose and handed the letter to Mr. Forbes with a little bow.
Mr. Forbes read it and his eyebrows rose still more.
“A most remarkable letter,” he said. “I appreciate your question now. No, so far as my knowledge went, there was nothing to justify the writing of such a letter.”
“Sir Gervase said nothing of this matter to you?”
“Nothing at all. I must say I find it very curious that he should not have done so.”
“He was accustomed to confide in you?”
“I think he relied on my judgment.”
“And you have no idea as to what this letter refers?”
“I should not like to make any rash speculations.”
Major Riddle appreciated the subtlety of this reply.
“Now, Mr. Forbes, perhaps you can tell us how Sir Gervase has left his property.”
“Certainly. I see no objection to such a course. To his wife, Sir Gervase left an annual income of six thousand pounds chargeable on the estate, and the choice of the Dower House or the town house in Lowndes Square, whichever she should prefer. There were, of course, several legacies and bequests, but nothing of an outstanding nature. The residue of his property was left to his adopted daughter, Ruth, on condition that, if she married, her husband should take the name of Chevenix-Gore.”
“Was nothing left to his nephew, Mr. Hugo Trent?”
“Yes. A legacy of five thousand pounds.”
“And I take it that Sir Gervase was a rich man?”
“He was extremely wealthy. He had a vast private fortune apart from the estate. Of course, he was not quite so well-off as in the past. Practically all invested incomes have felt the strain. Also, Sir Gervase had dropped a good deal of money over a certain company—the Paragon Synthetic Rubber Substitute in which Colonel Bury persuaded him to invest a good deal of money.”
“Not very wise advice?”
Mr. Forbes sighed.
“Retired soldiers are the worst sufferers when they engage in financial operations. I have found that their credulity far exceeds that of widows—and that is saying a good deal.”
“But these unfortunate investments did not seriously affect Sir Gervase’s income?”
“Oh, no, not seriously. He was still an extremely rich man.”
“When was this will made?”
“Two years ago.”
“This arrangement, was it not possibly a little unfair to Mr. Hugo Trent, Sir Gervase’s nephew? He is, after all, Sir Gervase’s nearest blood relation.”
Mr. Forbes shrugged his shoulders.
“One has to take a certain amount of family history into account.”
Mr. Forbes seemed slightly unwilling to proceed.
Major Riddle said:
“You mustn’t think we’re unduly concerned with raking up old scandals or anything of that sort. But this letter of Sir Gervase’s to M. Poirot has got to be explained.”
“There is certainly nothing scandalous in the explanation of Sir Gervase’s attitude to his nephew,” said Mr. Forbes quickly. “It was simply that Sir Gervase always took his position as head of the family very seriously. He had a younger brother and sister. The brother, Anthony Chevenix-Gore, was killed in the war. The sister, Pamela, married, and Sir Gervase disapproved of the marriage. That is to say, he considered that she ought to obtain his consent and approval before marrying. He thought that Captain Trent’s family was not of sufficient prominence to be allied with a Chevenix-Gore. His sister was merely amused by his attitude. As a result, Sir Gervase has always been inclined to dislike his nephew. I think that dislike may have influenced him in deciding to adopt a child.”
“There was no hope of his having children of his own?”
“No. There was a stillborn child about a year after his marriage. The doctors told Lady Chevenix-Gore that she would never be able to have another child. About two years later he adopted Ruth.”
“And who was Mademoiselle Ruth? How did they come to settle upon her?”
“She was, I believe, the child of a distant connection.”
“That I had guessed,” said Poirot. He looked up at the wall which was hung with family portraits. “One can see that she was of the same blood—the nose, the line of the chin. It repeats itself on these walls many times.”
“She inherits the temper too,” said Mr. Forbes dryly.
“So I should imagine. How did she and her adopted father get on?”
“Much as you might imagine. There was a fierce clash of wills more than once. But in spite of these quarrels I believe there was also an underlying harmony.”
“Nevertheless, she caused him a good deal of anxiety?”
“Incessant anxiety. But I can assure you not to the point of causing him to take his own life.”
“Ah, that, no,” agreed Poirot. “One does not blow one’s brains out because one has a headstrong daughter! And so mademoiselle inherits! Sir Gervase, he never thought of altering his will?”
“Ahem!” Mr. Forbes coughed to hide a little discomposure. “As a matter of fact, I took instructions from Sir Gervase on my arrival here (two days ago, that is to say) as to the drafting of a new will.”
“What’s this?” Major Riddle hitched his chair a little closer. “You didn’t tell us this.”
Mr. Forbes said quickly:
“You merely asked me what the terms of Sir Gervase’s will were. I gave you the information for which you asked. The new will was not even properly drawn up—much less signed.”
“What were its provisions? They may be some guide to Sir Gervase’s state of mind.”
“In the main, they were the same as before, but Miss Chevenix-Gore was only to inherit on condition that she married Mr. Hugo Trent.”
“Aha,” said Poirot. “But there is a very decided difference there.”
“I did not approve of the clause,” said Mr. Forbes. “And I felt bound to point out that it was quite possible it might be contested successfully. The Court does not look upon such conditional bequests with approval. Sir Gervase, however, was quite decided.”
“And if Miss Chevenix-Gore (or, incidentally, Mr. Trent) refused to comply?”
“If Mr. Trent was not willing to marry Miss Chevenix-Gore, then the money went to her unconditionally. But if he was willing and she refused, then the money went to him instead.”
“Odd business,” said Major Riddle.
Poirot leaned forward. He tapped the lawyer on the knee.
“But what is behind it? What was in the mind of Sir Gervase when he made that stipulation? There must have been something very definite … There must, I think, have been the image of another man … a man of whom he disapproved. I think, Mr. Forbes, that you must know who that man was?”
“Really, M. Poirot, I have no information.”
“But you could make a guess.”
“I never guess,” said Mr. Forbes, and his tone was scandalized.
Removing his pince-nez, he wiped them with a silk handkerchief and inquired:
“Is there anything else that you desire to know?”
“At the moment, no,” said Poirot. “Not, that is, as far as I am concerned.”
Mr. Forbes looked as though, in his opinion, that was not very far, and bent his attention on the chief constable.
“Thank you, Mr. Forbes. I think that’s all. I should like, if I may, to speak to Miss Chevenix-Gore.”
“Certainly. I think she is upstairs with Lady Chevenix-Gore.”
“Oh, well, perhaps I’ll have a word with—what’s his name?—Burrows, first, and the family history woman.”
“They’re both in the library. I will tell them.”[/sociallocker]
Hard work, that,” said Major Riddle, as the lawyer left the room. “Extracting information from these old-fashioned legal wallahs takes a bit of doing. The whole business seems to me to centre about the girl.”
“It would seem so—yes.”
“Ah, here comes Burrows.”
Godfrey Burrows came in with a pleasant eagerness to be of use. His smile was discreetly tempered with gloom and showed only a fraction too much teeth. It seemed more mechanical than spontaneous.
“Now, Mr. Burrows, we want to ask you a few questions.”
“Certainly, Major Riddle. Anything you like.”
“Well, first and foremost, to put it quite simply, have you any ideas of your own about Sir Gervase’s suicide?”
“Absolutely none. It was the greatest shock to me.”
“You heard the shot?”
“No; I must have been in the library at the time, as far as I can make out. I came down rather early and went to the library to look up a reference I wanted. The library’s right the other side of the house from the study, so I shouldn’t hear anything.”
“Was anyone with you in the library?” asked Poirot.
“No one at all.”
“You’ve no idea where the other members of the household were at that time?”
“Mostly upstairs dressing, I should imagine.”
“When did you come to the drawing room?”
“Just before M. Poirot arrived. Everybody was there then—except Sir Gervase, of course.”
“Did it strike you as strange that he wasn’t there?”
“Yes, it did, as a matter of fact. As a rule he was always in the drawing room before the first gong sounded.”
“Have you noticed any difference in Sir Gervase’s manner lately? Has he been worried? Or anxious? Depressed?”
Godfrey Burrows considered.
“No—I don’t think so. A little—well, preoccupied, perhaps.”
“But he did not appear to be worried about any one definite matter?”
“No—financial worries of any kind?”
“He was rather perturbed about the affairs of one particular company— the Paragon Synthetic Rubber Company to be exact.”
“What did he actually say about it?”
Again Godfrey Burrows’ mechanical smile flashed out, and again it seemed slightly unreal.
“Well—as a matter of fact—what he said was, ‘Old Bury’s either a fool or a knave. A fool, I suppose. I must go easy with him for Vanda’s sake.’ ”
“And why did he say that—-for Vanda’s sake?” inquired Poirot.
“Well, you see, Lady Chevenix-Gore was very fond of Colonel Bury, and he worshipped her. Followed her about like a dog.”
“Sir Gervase was not—jealous at all?”
“Jealous?” Burrows stared and then laughed. “Sir Gervase jealous? He wouldn’t know how to set about it. Why, it would never have entered his head that anyone could ever prefer another man to him. Such a thing couldn’t be, you understand.”
Poirot said gently:
“You did not, I think, like Sir Gervase Chevenix-Gore very much?”
“Oh, yes, I did. At least—well, all that sort of thing strikes one as rather ridiculous nowadays.”
“All what sort of thing?” asked Poirot.
“Well, the feudal motif, if you like. This worship of ancestry and personal arrogance. Sir Gervase was a very able man in many ways, and had led an interesting life, but he would have been more interesting if he hadn’t been so entirely wrapped up in himself and his own egoism.”
“Did his daughter agree with you there?”
Burrows flushed again—this time a deep purple.
“I should imagine Miss Chevenix-Gore is quite one of the moderns! Naturally, I shouldn’t discuss her father with her.”
“But the moderns do discuss their fathers a good deal!” said Poirot. “It is entirely in the modern spirit to criticize your parents!”
Burrows shrugged his shoulders.
Major Riddle asked:
“And there was nothing else—no other financial anxiety? Sir Gervase never spoke of having been victimized?”
“Victimized?” Burrows sounded very astonished. “Oh, no.”
“And you yourself were on quite good terms with him?”
“Certainly I was. Why not?”
“I am asking you, Mr. Burrows.”
The young man looked sulky.
“We were on the best of terms.”
“Did you know that Sir Gervase had written to M. Poirot asking him to come down here?”
“Did Sir Gervase usually write his own letters?”
“No, he nearly always dictated them to me.”
“But he did not do so in this case?”
“Why was that, do you think?”
“I can’t imagine.”
“You can suggest no reason why he should have written this particular letter himself?”
“No, I can’t.”
“Ah!” said Major Riddle, adding smoothly, “Rather curious. When did you last see Sir Gervase?”
“Just before I went to dress for dinner. I took him some letters to sign.”
“What was his manner then?”
“Quite normal. In fact I should say he was feeling rather pleased with himself about something.”
Poirot stirred a little in his chair.
“Ah?” he said. “So that was your impression, was it? That he was pleased about something. And yet, not so very long afterwards, he shoots himself. It is odd, that!”
Godfrey Burrows shrugged his shoulders.
“I’m only telling you my impressions.”
“Yes, yes, they are very valuable. After all, you are probably one of the last people who saw Sir Gervase alive.”
“Snell was the last person to see him.”
“To see him, yes, but not to speak to him.”
Burrows did not reply.
Major Riddle said:
“What time was it when you went up to dress for dinner?”
“About five minutes past seven.”
“What did Sir Gervase do?”
“I left him in the study.”
“How long did he usually take to change?”
“He usually gave himself a full three quarters of an hour.”
“Then, if dinner was at a quarter past eight, he would probably have gone up at half past seven at the latest?”
“You yourself went to change early?”
“Yes, I thought I would change and then go to the library and look up the references I wanted.”
Poirot nodded thoughtfully. Major Riddle said:
“Well, I think that’s all for the moment. Will you send Miss What’s-her- name along?”
Little Miss Lingard tripped in almost immediately. She was wearing several chains which tinkled a little as she sat down and looked inquiringly from one to the other of the
“This is all very—er—sad, Miss Lingard,” began Major Riddle.
“Very sad indeed,” said Miss Lingard decorously.
“You came to this house—when?”
“About two months ago. Sir Gervase wrote to a friend of his in the Museum—Colonel Fotheringay it was—and Colonel Fotheringary recommended me. I have done a good deal of historical research work.”
“Did you find Sir Gervase difficult to work for?”
“Oh, not really. One had to humour him a little, of course. But then I always find one has to do that with men.”
With an uneasy feeling that Miss Lingard was probably humouring him at this moment, Major Riddle went on:
“Your work here was to help Sir Gervase with the book he was writing?”
“What did it involve?”
For a moment, Miss Lingard looked quite human. Her eyes twinkled as she replied:
“Well, actually, you know, it involved writing the book! I looked up all the information and made notes, and arranged the material. And then, later, I revised what Sir Gervase had written.”
“You must have had to exercise a good deal of tact, mademoiselle,” said Poirot.
“Tact and firmness. One needs them both,” said Miss Lingard.
“Sir Gervase did not resent your—er—firmness?”
“Oh not at all. Of course I put it to him that he mustn’t be bothered with all the petty detail.”
“Oh, yes, I see.”
“It was quite simple, really,” said Miss Lingard. “Sir Gervase was perfectly easy to manage if one took him the right way.”
“Now, Miss Lingard, I wonder if you know anything that can throw light on this tragedy?”
Miss Lingard shook her head.
“I’m afraid I don’t. You see, naturally he wouldn’t confide in me at all. I was practically a stranger. In any case I think he was far too proud to speak to anyone of family troubles.”
“But you think it was family troubles that caused him to take his life?”
Miss Lingard looked rather surprised.
“But of course! Is there any other suggestion?”
“You feel sure that there were family troubles worrying him?”
“I know that he was in great distress of mind.”
“Oh, you know that?”
“Why, of course.”
“Tell me, mademoiselle, did he speak to you of the matter?”
“What did he say?”
“Let me see. I found that he didn’t seem to be taking in what I was saying
“One moment. Pardon. When was this?”
“This afternoon. We usually worked from three to five.”
“Pray go on.”
“As I say, Sir Gervase seemed to be finding it hard to concentrate—in fact, he said as much, adding that he had several grave matters preying on his mind. And he said—let me see—something like this—(of course, I can’t be sure of the exact words): ‘It’s a terrible thing, Miss Lingard, when a family has been one of the proudest in the land, that dishonour should be brought on it.‘ ”
“And what did you say to that?”
“Oh, just something soothing. I think I said that every generation had its weaklings—that that was one of the penalties of greatness—but that their failings were seldom remembered by posterity.”
“And did that have the soothing effect you hoped?”
“More or less. We got back to Sir Roger Chevenix-Gore. I had found a most interesting mention of him in a contemporary manuscript. But Sir Gervase’s attention wandered again. In the end he said he would not do any more work that afternoon. He said he had had a shock.”
“That is what he said. Of course, I didn’t ask any questions. I just said, ‘I am sorry to hear it, Sir Gervase.’ And then he asked me to tell Snell that M. Poirot would be arriving and to put off dinner until eight-fifteen, and send the car to meet the seven-fifty train.”
“Did he usually ask you to make these arrangements?”
“Well—no—that was really Mr. Burrows’s business. I did nothing but my own literary work. I wasn’t a secretary in any sense of the word.”
“Do you think Sir Gervase had a definite reason for asking you to make these arrangements, instead of asking Mr. Burrows to do so?”
Miss Lingard considered.
“Well, he may have had … I did not think of it at the time. I thought it was just a matter of convenience. Still, it’s true now I come to think of it, that he did ask me not to tell anyone that M. Poirot was coming. It was to be a surprise, he said.”
“Ah! he said that, did he? Very curious, very interesting. And did you tell anyone?”
“Certainly not, M. Poirot. I told Snell about dinner and to send the chauffeur to meet the seven-fifty as a gentleman was arriving by it.”
“Did Sir Gervase say anything else that may have had a bearing on the situation?”
Miss Lingard thought.
“No—I don’t think so—he was very much strung up—I do remember that just as I was leaving the room, he said, ‘Not that it’s any good his coming now. It’s too late.” ”
“And you have no idea at all what he meant by that?”
Just the faintest suspicion of indecision about the simple negative. Poirot repeated with a frown:
“ ‘Too late.’ That is what he said, is it? ‘Too late.’ ”
Major Riddle said:
“You can give us no idea, Miss Lingard, as to the nature of the circumstance that so distressed Sir Gervase?”
Miss Lingard said slowly:
“I have an idea that it was in some way connected with Mr. Hugo Trent.”
“With Hugo Trent? Why do you think that?”
“Well, it was nothing definite, but yesterday afternoon we were just touching on Sir Hugo de Chevenix (who, I’m afraid, didn’t bear too good a character in the Wars of the Roses), and Sir Gervase said, ‘My sister would choose the family name of Hugo for her son! It’s always been an unsatisfactory name in our family. She might have known no Hugo would turn out well.’ ”
“What you tell us there is suggestive,” said Poirot. “Yes, it suggests a new idea to me.”
“Sir Gervase said nothing more definite than that?” asked Major Riddle.
Miss Lingard shook her head.
“No, and of course it wouldn’t have done for me to say anything. Sir Gervase was really just talking to himself. He wasn’t really speaking to me.”
“Mademoiselle, you, a stranger, have been here for two months. It would be, I think, very valuable if you were to tell us quite frankly your impressions of the family and household.”
Miss Lingard took off her pince-nez and blinked reflectively.
“Well, at first, quite frankly, I felt as though I’d walked straight into a madhouse! What with Lady Chevenix-Gore continually seeing things that weren’t there, and Sir Gervase behaving like—like a king—and dramatizing himself in the most extraordinary way—well, I really did think they were the queerest people I had ever come across. Of course, Miss Chevenix-Gore was perfectly normal, and I soon found that Lady Chevenix-Gore was really an extremely kind, nice woman. Nobody could be kinder and nicer to me than she has been. Sir Gervase—well, I really think he was mad. His egomania— isn’t that what you call it?—was getting worse and worse every day.”
“And the others?”
“Mr. Burrows had rather a difficult time with Sir Gervase, I should imagine. I think he was glad that our work on the book gave him a little more breathing space. Colonel Bury was always charming. He was devoted to Lady Chevenix-Gore and he managed Sir Gervase quite well. Mr. Trent, Mr. Forbes and Miss Cardwell have only been here a few days, so of course I don’t know much about them.”
“Thank you, mademoiselle. And what about Captain Lake, the agent?”
“Oh, he’s very nice. Everybody liked him.”
“Including Sir Gervase?”
“Oh, yes. I’ve heard him say Lake was much the best agent he’d had. Of course, Captain Lake had his difficulties with Sir Gervase, too—but he managed pretty well on the whole. It wasn’t easy.”
Poirot nodded thoughtfully. He murmured, “There was something— something—that I had in mind to ask you—some little thing … What was it now?”
Miss Lingard turned a patient face towards him.
Poirot shook his head vexedly.
“Tchah! It is on the tip of my tongue.”
Major Riddle waited a minute or two, then as Poirot continued to frown perplexedly, he took up the interrogation once more.
“When was the last time you saw Sir Gervase?”
“At teatime, in this room.”
“What was his manner then? Normal?”
“As normal as it ever was.”
“Was there any sense of strain among the party?”
“No, I think everybody seemed quite ordinary.”
“Where did Sir Gervase go after tea?”
“He took Mr. Burrows with him into the study, as usual.”
“That was the last time you saw him?”
“Yes. I went to the small morning room where I worked, and typed a chapter of the book from the notes I had gone over with Sir Gervase, until seven o’clock, when I went upstairs to rest and dress for dinner.”
“You actually heard the shot, I understand?”
“Yes, I was in this room. I heard what sounded like a shot and I went out into the hall. Mr. Trent was there, and Miss Cardwell. Mr. Trent asked Snell if there was champagne for dinner, and made rather a joke of it. It never entered our heads to take the matter seriously, I’m afraid. We felt sure it must have been a car backfiring.”
“Did you hear Mr. Trent say, ‘There’s always murder?” ”
“I believe he did say something like that—joking, of course.”
“What happened next?”
“We all came in here.”
“Can you remember the order in which the others came down to dinner?”
“Miss Chevenix-Gore was the first, I think, and then Mr. Forbes. Then Colonel Bury and Lady Chevenix-Gore together, and Mr. Burrows immediately after them. I think that was the order, but I can’t be quite sure because they more or less came in all together.”
“Gathered by the sound of the first gong?”
“Yes. Everyone always hustled when they heard that gong. Sir Gervase was a terrible stickler for punctuality in the evening.”
“What time did he himself usually come down?”
“He was nearly always in the room before the first gong went.”
“Did it surprise you that he was not down on this occasion?”
“Ah, I have it!” cried Poirot.
As the other two looked inquiringly at him he went on:
“I have remembered what I wanted to ask. This evening, mademoiselle, as we all went along to the study on Snell’s reporting it to be locked, you stooped and picked something up.”
“I did?” Miss Lingard seemed very surprised.
“Yes, just as we turned into the straight passage to the study. Something small and bright.”
“How extraordinary—I don’t remember. Wait a minute—yes, I do. Only I wasn’t thinking. Let me see—it must be in here.”
Opening her black satin bag, she poured the contents on a table.
Poirot and Major Riddle surveyed the collection with interest. There were two handkerchiefs, a powder compact, a small bunch of keys, a spectacle case and one other object on which Poirot pounced eagerly.
“A bullet, by jove!” said Major Riddle.
The thing was indeed shaped like a bullet, but it proved to be a small pencil.
“That’s what I picked up,” said Miss Lingard. “I’d forgotten all about it.”
“Do you know who this belongs to, Miss Lingard?”
“Oh, yes, it’s Colonel Bury’s. He had it made out of a bullet that hit him —or rather, didn’t hit him, if you know what I mean—in the South African War.”
“Do you know when he had it last?”
“Well, he had it this afternoon when they were playing bridge, because I noticed him writing with it on the score when I came in to tea.”
“Who was playing bridge?”
“Colonel Bury, Lady Chevenix-Gore, Mr. Trent and Miss Cardwell.”
“I think,” said Poirot gently, “we will keep this and return it to the colonel ourselves.”
“Oh, please do. I am so forgetful, I might not remember to so.”
“Perhaps, mademoiselle, you would be so good as to ask Colonel Bury to come here now?”
“Certainly. I will go and find him at once.”
She hurried away. Poirot got up and began walking aimlessly round the room.
“We begin,” he said, “to reconstruct the afternoon. It is interesting. At half past two Sir Gervase goes over accounts with Captain Lake. He is slightly preoccupied. At three, he discusses the book he is writing with Miss Lingard. He is in great distress of mind. Miss Lingard associates that distress of mind with Hugo Trent on the strength of a chance remark. At teatime his behaviour is normal. After tea, Godfrey Burrows tells us he was in good spirits over something. At five minutes to eight he comes downstairs, goes to his study, scrawls ‘Sorry’ on a sheet of paper, and shoots himself!”
Riddle said slowly:
“I see what you mean. It isn’t consistent.”
“Strange alteration of moods in Sir Gervase Chevenix-Gore! He is preoccupied—he is seriously upset—he is normal—he is in high spirits! There is something very curious here! And then that phrase he used, ‘Too late.’ That I should get here ‘Too late.’ Well, it is true that. I did get here too late—to see him alive.”
“I see. You really think—?”
“I shall never know now why Sir Gervase sent for me! That is certain!”
Poirot was still wandering round the room. He straightened one or two objects on the mantelpiece; he examined a card table that stood against a wall, he opened the drawer of it and took out the bridge-markers. Then he wandered over to the writing table and peered into the wastepaper basket. There was nothing in it but a paper bag. Poirot took it out, smelt it, murmured “Oranges” and flattened it out, reading the name on it. “Carpenter and Sons, Fruiterers, Hamborough St. Mary.” He was just folding it neatly into squares when Colonel Bury entered the room.
The Colonel dropped into a chair, shook his head, sighed and said:
“Terrible business, this, Riddle. Lady Chevenix-Gore is being wonderful —wonderful. Grand woman! Full of courage!”
Coming softly back to his chair, Poirot said:
“You have known her very many years, I think?”
“Yes, indeed, I was at her coming out dance. Wore rosebuds in her hair, I remember. And a white, fluffy dress … Wasn’t anyone to touch her in the room!”
His voice was full of enthusiasm. Poirot held out the pencil to him.
“This is yours, I think?”
“Eh? What? Oh, thank you, had it this afternoon when we were playing bridge. Amazing, you know, I held a hundred honours in spades three times running. Never done such a thing before.”
“You were playing bridge before tea, I understand?” said Poirot. “What was Sir Gervase’s frame of mind when he came in to tea?”
“Usual—quite usual. Never dreamed he was thinking of making away with himself. Perhaps he was a little more excitable than usual, now I come to think of it.”
“When was the last time you saw him?”
“Why, then! Teatime. Never saw the poor chap alive again.”
“You didn’t go to the study at all after tea?”
“No, never saw him again.”
“What time did you come down to dinner?”
“After the first gong went.”
“You and Lady Chevenix-Gore came down together?”
“No, we—er—met in the hall. I think she’d been into the dining room to see to the flowers—something like that.”
Major Riddle said:
“I hope you won’t mind, Colonel Bury, if I ask you a somewhat personal question. Was there any trouble between you and Sir Gervase over the question of the Paragon Synthetic Rubber Company?”
Colonel Bury’s face became suddenly purple. He spluttered a little.
“Not at all. Not at all. Old Gervase was an unreasonable sort of fellow. You’ve got to remember that. He always expected everything he touched to turn out trumps! Didn’t seem to realize that the whole world was going through a period of crisis. All stocks and shares bound to be affected.”
“So there was a certain amount of trouble between you?”
“No trouble. Just damned unreasonable of Gervase!”
“He blamed you for certain losses he had sustained?”
“Gervase wasn’t normal! Vanda knew that. But she could always handle him. I was content to leave it all in her hands.”
Poirot coughed and Major Riddle, after glancing at him, changed the subject.
“You are a very old friend of the family, I know, Colonel Bury. Had you any knowledge as to how Sir Gervase had left his money?”
“Well, I should imagine the bulk of it would go to Ruth. That’s what I gathered from what Gervase let fall.”
“You don’t think that was at all unfair on Hugo Trent?”
“Gervase didn’t like Hugo. Never could stick him.”
“But he had a great sense of family. Miss Chevenix-Gore was, after all, only his adopted daughter.”
Colonel Bury hesitated, then after humming and hawing a moment, he said:
“Look here, I think I’d better tell you something. Strict confidence, and
“Of course—of course.”
“Ruth’s illegitimate, but she’s a Chevenix-Gore all right. Daughter of Gervase’s brother, Anthony, who was killed in the war. Seemed he’d had an affair with a typist. When he was killed, the girl wrote to Vanda. Vanda went to see her—girl was expecting a baby. Vanda took it up with Gervase, she’d just been told that she herself could never have another child. Result was they took over the child when it was born, adopted it legally. The mother renounced all rights in it. They’ve brought Ruth up as their own daughter and to all intents and purposes, she is their own daughter, and you’ve only got to look at her to realise she’s a Chevenix-Gore all right!”
“Aha,” said Poirot. “I see. That makes Sir Gervase’s attitude very much clearer. But if he did not like Mr. Hugo Trent, why was he so anxious to arrange a marriage between him and Mademoiselle Ruth?”
“To regularize the family position. It pleased his sense of fitness.”
“Even though he did not like or trust the young man?”
Colonel Bury snorted.
“You don’t understand old Gervase. He couldn’t regard people as human beings. He arranged alliances as though the parties were royal personages! He considered it fitting that Ruth and Hugo should marry, Hugo taking the name of Chevenix-Gore. What Hugo and Ruth thought about it didn’t matter.”
“And was Mademoiselle Ruth willing to fall in with this arrangement?”
Colonel Bury chuckled.
“Not she! She’s a tartar!”
“Did you know that shortly before his death Sir Gervase was drafting a new will by which Miss Chevenix-Gore would inherit only on condition that she should marry Mr. Trent?”
Colonel Bury whistled.
“Then he really had got the windup about her and Burrows—”
As soon as he had spoken, he bit the words off, but it was too late. Poirot had pounced upon the admission.
“There was something between Mademoiselle Ruth and young Monsieur Burrows?”
“Probably nothing in it—nothing in it at all.”
Major Riddle coughed and said:
“I think, Colonel Bury, that you must tell us all you know. It might have a direct bearing on Sir Gervase’s state of mind.”
“I suppose it might,” said Colonel Bury, doubtfully. “Well, the truth of it is, young Burrows is not a bad-looking chap—at least, women seem to think so. He and Ruth seem to have got as thick as thieves just lately, and Gervase didn’t like it—didn’t like it at all. Didn’t like to sack Burrows for fear of precipitating matters. He knows what Ruth’s like. She won’t be dictated to in any way. So I suppose he hit on this scheme. Ruth’s not the sort of girl to sacrifice everything for love. She’s fond of the fleshpots and she likes money.”
“Do you yourself approve of Mr. Burrows?”
The colonel delivered himself of the opinion that Godfrey Burrows was slightly hairy at the heel, a pronouncement which baffled Poirot completely, but made Major Riddle smile into his moustache.
A few more questions were asked and answered, and then Colonel Bury departed.
Riddle glanced over at Poirot who was sitting absorbed in thought.
“What do you make of it all, M. Poirot?”
The little man raised his hands.
“I seem to see a pattern—a purposeful design.”
Riddle said, “It’s difficult.”
“Yes, it is difficult. But more and more one phrase, lightly uttered, strikes me as significant.”
“What was that?”
“That laughing sentence spoken by Hugo Trent: ‘ There’s always murder
Riddle said sharply:
“Yes, I can see that you’ve been leaning that way all along.”
“Do you not agree, my friend, that the more we learn, the less and less motive we find for suicide? But for murder, we begin to have a surprising collection of motives!”
“Still, you’ve got to remember the facts—door locked, key in dead man’s pocket. Oh, I know there are ways and means. Bent pins, strings—all sorts of devices. It would, I suppose, be possible … But do those things really work? That’s what I very much
“At all events, let us examine the position from the point of view of murder, not of suicide.”
“Oh, all right. As you are on the scene, it probably would be murder!”
For a moment Poirot smiled.
“I hardly like that remark.”
Then he became grave once more.
“Yes, let us examine the case from the standpoint of murder. The shot is heard, four people are in the hall, Miss Lingard, Hugo Trent, Miss Cardwell and Snell. Where are all the others?”
“Burrows was in the library, according to his own story. No one to check that statement. The others were presumably in their rooms, but who is to know if they were really there? Everybody seems to have come down separately. Even Lady Chevenix-Gore and Bury only met in the hall. Lady Chevenix-Gore came from the dining room. Where did Bury come from? Isn’t it possible that he came, not from upstairs, but from the study? There’s that pencil.”
“Yes, the pencil is interesting. He showed no emotion when I produced it, but that might be because he did not know where I found it and was unaware himself of having dropped it. Let us see, who else was playing bridge when the pencil was in use? Hugo Trent and Miss Cardwell. They’re out of it. Miss Lingard and the butler can vouch for their alibis. The fourth was Lady Chevenix-Gore.”
“You can’t seriously suspect her.”
“Why not, my friend? I tell you, me, I can suspect everybody! Supposing that, in spite of her apparent devotion to her husband, it is the faithful Bury she really loves?”
“H’m,” said Riddle. “In a way it has been a kind of menage a trois for years.”
“And there is some trouble about this company between Sir Gervase and Colonel Bury.”
“It’s true that Sir Gervase might have been meaning to turn really nasty. We don’t know the ins-and-outs of it. It might fit in with that summons to you. Say Sir Gervase suspects that Bury has deliberately fleeced him, but he doesn’t want publicity because of a suspicion that his wife may be mixed up in it. Yes, that’s possible. That gives either of those two a possible motive. And it is a bit odd really that Lady Chevenix-Gore should take her husband’s death so calmly. All this spirit business may be acting!”
“Then there is the other complication,” said Poirot. “Miss Chevenix-Gore and Burrows. It is very much to their interest that Sir Gervase should not sign the new will. As it is, she gets everything on condition that her husband takes the family name—”
“Yes, and Burrows’s account of Sir Gervase’s attitude this evening is a bit fishy. High spirits, pleased about something! That doesn’t fit with anything else we’ve been told.”
“There is, too, Mr. Forbes. Most correct, most severe, of an old and well- established firm. But lawyers, even the most respectable, have been known to embezzle their client’s money when they themselves are in a hole.”
“You’re getting a bit too sensational, I think, Poirot.”
“You think what I suggest is too like the pictures? But life, Major Riddle, is often amazingly like the pictures.”
“It has been, so far, in Westshire,” said the chief constable. “We’d better finish interviewing the rest of them, don’t you think? It’s getting late. We haven’t seen Ruth Chevenix-Gore yet, and she’s probably the most important of the lot.”
“I agree. There is Miss Cardwell, too. Perhaps we might see her first, since that will not take long, and interview Miss Chevenix-Gore last.
“Quite a good idea.”[/sociallocker]
That evening Poirot had only given Susan Cardwell a fleeting glance. He examined her now more attentively. An intelligent face, he thought, not strictly good-looking, but possessing an attraction that a merely pretty girl might envy. Her hair was magnificent, her face skilfully made-up. Her eyes, he thought, were watchful.
After a few preliminary questions, Major Riddle said:
“I don’t know how close a friend you are of the family, Miss Cardwell?”
“I don’t know them at all. Hugo arranged that I should be asked down here.”
“You are, then, a friend of Hugo Trent’s?”
“Yes, that’s my position. Hugo’s girlfriend.” Susan Cardwell smiled as she drawled out the words.
“You have known him a long time?”
“Oh, no, just a month or so.”
She paused and then added:
“I’m by way of being engaged to him.”
“And he brought you down here to introduce you to his people?”
“Oh, dear no, nothing like that. We were keeping it very hush-hush. I just came down to spy out the land. Hugo told me the place was just like a madhouse. I thought I’d better come and see for myself. Hugo, poor sweet, is a perfect pet, but he’s got absolutely no brains. The position, you see, was rather critical. Neither Hugo nor I have any money, and old Sir Gervase, who was Hugo’s main hope, had set his heart on Hugo making a match of it with Ruth. Hugo’s a bit weak, you know. He might agree to this marriage and count on being able to get out of it later.”
“That idea did not commend itself to you, mademoiselle?” inquired Poirot gently.
“Definitely not. Ruth might have gone all peculiar and refused to divorce him or something. I put my foot down. No trotting off to St. Paul’s, Knightsbridge, until I could be there dithering with a sheaf of lilies.”
“So you came down to study the situation for yourself?”
“Eh bien!” said Poirot.
“Well, of course, Hugo was right! The whole family were bughouse! Except Ruth, who seems perfectly sensible. She’d got her own boyfriend and wasn’t any keener on the marriage idea than I was.”
“You refer to M. Burrows?”
“Burrows? Of course not. Ruth wouldn’t fall for a bogus person like that.”
“Then who was the object of her affection?”
Susan Cardwell paused, stretched for a cigarette, lit it, and remarked:
“You’d better ask her that. After all, it isn’t my business.”
Major Riddle asked:
“When was the last time you saw Sir Gervase?”
“Did his manner strike you as peculiar in any way?”
The girl shrugged her shoulders.
“Not more than usual.”
“What did you do after tea?”
“Played billiards with Hugo.”
“You didn’t see Sir Gervase again?”
“What about the shot?”
“That was rather odd. You see, I thought the first gong had gone, so I hurried up with my dressing, came dashing out of my room, heard, as I thought, the second gong and fairly raced down the stairs. I’d been one minute late for dinner the first night I was here and Hugo told me it had about wrecked our chances with the old man, so I fairly hared down. Hugo was just ahead of me and then there was a queer kind of pop-bang and Hugo said it was a champagne cork, but Snell said ‘No’ to that and, anyway, I didn’t think it had come from the dining room. Miss Lingard thought it came from upstairs, but anyway we agreed it was a backfire and we trooped into the drawing room and forgot about it.”
“It did not occur to you for one moment that Sir Gervase might have shot himself?” asked Poirot.
“I ask you, should I be likely to think of such a thing? The Old Man seemed to enjoy himself throwing his weight about. I never imagined he’d do such a thing. I can’t think why he did it. I suppose just because he was nuts.”
“An unfortunate occurrence.”
“Very—for Hugo and me. I gather he’s left Hugo nothing at all, or practically nothing.”
“Who told you that?”
“Hugo got it out of old Forbes.”
“Well, Miss Cardwell—” Major Riddle paused a moment, “I think that’s all. Do you think Miss Chevenix-Gore is feeling well enough to come down and talk to us?”
“Oh, I should think so. I’ll tell her.”
“A little moment, mademoiselle. Have you seen this before?”
He held out the bullet pencil.
“Oh, yes, we had it at bridge this afternoon. Belongs to old Colonel Bury, I think.”
“Did he take it when the rubber was over?”
“I haven’t the faintest idea.”
“Thank you, mademoiselle. That is all.”
“Right, I’ll tell Ruth.”
Ruth Chevenix-Gore came into the room like a queen. Her colour was vivid, her head held high. But her eyes, like the eyes of Susan Cardwell, were watchful. She wore the same frock she had had on when Poirot arrived. It was a pale shade of apricot. On her shoulder was pinned a deep, salmon-pink rose. It had been fresh and blooming an hour earlier, now it drooped.
“Well?” said Ruth.
“I’m extremely sorry to bother you,” began Major Riddle.
She interrupted him.
“Of course you have to bother me. You have to bother everyone. I can save you time, though. I haven’t the faintest idea why the Old Man killed himself. All I can tell you is that it wasn’t a bit like him.”
“Did you notice anything amiss in his manner today? Was he depressed, or unduly excited—was there anything at all abnormal?”
“I don’t think so. I wasn’t noticing—”
“When did you see him last?”
“You did not go to the study—later?”
“No. The last I saw of him was in this room. Sitting there.”
She indicated a chair.
“I see. Do you know this pencil, mademoiselle?”
“It’s Colonel Bury’s.”
“Have you seen it lately?”
“I don’t really remember.”
“Do you know anything of a—disagreement between Sir Gervase and Colonel Bury?”
“Over the Paragon Rubber Company, you mean?”
“I should think so. The Old Man was rabid about it!”
“He considered, perhaps, that he had been swindled?”
Ruth shrugged her shoulders.
“He didn’t understand the first thing about finance.”
“May I ask you a question, mademoiselle—a somewhat impertinent question?”
“Certainly, if you like.”
“It is this—are you sorry that your—father is dead?”
She stared at him.
“Of course I’m sorry. I don’t indulge in sob stuff. But I shall miss him … I was fond of the Old Man. That’s what we called him, Hugo and I, always. The ‘Old Man’—you know—something of the primitive—anthropoid-ape- original-Patriarch-of-the-tribe business. It sounds disrespectful, but there’s really a lot of affection behind it. Of course, he was really the most complete, muddleheaded old ass that ever lived!”
“You interest me, mademoiselle.”
“The Old Man had the brains of a louse! Sorry to have to say it, but it’s true. He was incapable of any kind of headwork. Mind you, he was a character. Fantastically brave and all that! Could go careering off to the Pole, or fighting duels. I always think that he blustered such a lot because he really knew that his brains weren’t up to much. Anyone could have got the better of him.”
Poirot took the letter from his pocket.
“Read this, mademoiselle.”
She read it through and handed it back to him.
“So that’s what brought you here!”
“Does it suggest anything to you, that letter?”
She shook her head.
“No. It’s probably quite true. Anyone could have robbed the poor old pet. John says the last agent before him swindled him right and left. You see, the Old Man was so grand and so pompous that he never really condescended to look into details! He was an invitation to crooks.”
“You paint a different picture of him, mademoiselle, from the accepted one.”
“Oh, well—he put up a pretty good camouflage. Vanda (my mother) backed him for all she was worth. He was so happy stalking round pretending he was God Almighty. That’s why, in a way, I’m glad he’s dead. It’s the best thing for him.”
“I do not quite follow you, mademoiselle.”
Ruth said broodingly:
“It was growing on him. One of these days he would have had to be locked up … People were beginning to talk as it was.”
“Did you know, mademoiselle, that he was contemplating a will whereby you could only inherit his money if you married Mr. Trent?”
“How absurd! Anyway, I’m sure that could be set aside by law . I’m sure you can’t dictate to people about whom they shall marry.”
“If he had actually signed such a will, would you have complied with its provisions, mademoiselle?”
She broke off. For two or three minutes she sat irresolute, looking down at her dangling slipper. A little piece of earth detached itself from the heel and fell on the carpet.
Suddenly Ruth Chevenix-Gore said:
She got up and ran out of the room. She returned almost immediately with Captain Lake by her side.
“It’s got to come out,” she said rather breathlessly. “You might as well know now. John and I were married in London three weeks ago.”
If the two of them, Captain Lake looked far the more embarrassed.
“This is a great surprise, Miss Chevenix-Gore—Mrs. Lake, I should say,” said Major Riddle. “Did no one know of this marriage of yours?”
“No, we kept it quite dark. John didn’t like that part of it much.”
Lake said, stammering a little:
“I—I know that it seems rather a rotten way to set about things. I ought to have gone straight to Sir Gervase—”
“And told him you wanted to marry his daughter, and have been kicked out on your head and he’d probably have disinherited me, raised hell generally in the house, and we could have told each other how beautifully we’d behaved! Believe me, my way was better! If a thing’s done, it’s done. There would still have been a row—but he’d have come round.”
Lake still looked unhappy. Poirot asked:
“When did you intend to break the news to Sir Gervase?”
“I was preparing the ground. He’d been rather suspicious about me and John, so I pretended to turn my attentions to Godfrey. Naturally, he was ready to go quite off the deep end about that. I figured it out that the news I was married to John would come almost as a relief!”
“Did anybody at all know of this marriage?”
“Yes, I told Vanda in the end. I wanted to get her on my side.”
“And you succeeded in doing so?”
“Yes. You see, she wasn’t very keen about my marrying Hugo—because he was a cousin, I think. She seemed to think the family was so batty already that we’d probably have completely batty children. That was probably rather absurd, because I’m only adopted, you know. I believe I’m some quite distant cousin’s child.”
“You are sure Sir Gervase had no suspicion of the truth?”
“Is that true, Captain Lake? In your interview with Sir
Gervase this afternoon, are you quite sure the matter was not mentioned?” “No, sir. It was not.”
“Because, you see, Captain Lake, there is certain evidence to show that Sir Gervase was in a highly-excitable condition after the time he spent with you, and that he spoke once or twice of family dishonour.”
“The matter was not mentioned,” Lake repeated. His face had gone very white.
“Was that the last time you saw Sir Gervase?”
“Yes, I have already told you so.”
“Where were you at eight minutes past eight this evening?”
“Where was I? In my house. At the end of the village, about half a mile away.”
“You did not come up to Hamborough Close round about that time?”
Poirot turned to the girl.
“Where were you, mademoiselle, when your father shot himself?”
“In the garden.”
“In the garden? You heard the shot?”
“Oh, yes. But I didn’t think about it particularly. I thought it was someone out shooting rabbits, although now I remember I did think it sounded quite close at hand.”
“You returned to the house—which way?”
“I came in through this window.”
Ruth indicated with a turn of her head the window behind her.
“Was anyone in here?”
“No. But Hugo and Susan and Miss Lingard came in from the hall almost immediately. They were talking about shooting and murders and things.”
“I see,” said Poirot. “Yes, I think I see now…
Major Riddle said rather doubtfully:
“Well—er—thank you. I think that’s all for the moment.”
Ruth and her husband turned and left the room.
“What the devil——” began Major Riddle, and ended rather hopelessly: “It gets more and more difficult to keep track of this business.”
Poirot nodded. He had picked up the little piece of earth that had fallen from Ruth’s shoe and was holding it thoughtfully in his hand.
“It is like the mirror smashed on the wall,” he said. “The dead man’s mirror. Every new fact we come across shows us some different angle of the dead man. He is reflected from every conceivable point of view. We shall have soon a complete picture. .”
He rose and put the little piece of earth tidily in the waste-paper basket.
“I will tell you one thing, my friend. The clue to the whole mystery is the mirror. Go into the study and look for yourself, if you do not believe me.”
Major Riddle, said decisively:
“If it’s murder, it’s up to you to prove it. If you ask me, I say it’s definitely suicide. Did you notice what the girl said about a former agent having swindled old Gervase? I bet Lake told that tale for his own purposes. He was probably helping himself a bit, Sir Gervase suspected it, and sent for you because he didn’t know how far things had gone between Lake and Ruth. Then this afternoon Lake told him they were married. That broke Gervase up. It was ‘too late’ now for anything to be done. He determined to get out of it all. In fact his brain, never very well-balanced at the best of times, gave way. In my opinion that’s what happened. What have you got to say against it?”
Poirot stood still in the middle of the room.
“What have I to say? This: I have nothing to say against your theory—but it does not go far enough. There are certain things it does not take into account.”
“The discrepancies in Sir Gervase’s moods today, the finding of Colonel Bury’s pencil, the evidence of Miss Cardwell (which is very important), the evidence of Miss Lingard as to the order in which people came down to dinner, the position of Sir Gervase’s chair when he was found, the paper bag which had held oranges and, finally, the all-important clue of the broken mirror.”
Major Riddle stared.
“Are you going to tell me that that rigmarole makes sense?” he asked.
Hercule Poirot replied softly:
“I hope to make it do so—by tomorrow.”[/sociallocker]
It was just after dawn when Hercule Poirot awoke on the following morning. He had been given a bedroom on the east side of the house.
Getting out of bed, he drew aside the window blind and satisfied himself that the sun had risen, and that it was a fine morning.
He began to dress with his usual meticulous care. Having finished his toilet, he wrapped himself up in a thick overcoat and wound a muffler round his neck.
Then he tiptoed out of his room and through the silent house down to the drawing room. He opened the french windows noiselessly and passed out into the garden.
The sun was just showing now. The air was misty, with the mist of a fine morning. Hercule Poirot followed the terraced walk round the side of the house till he came to the windows of Sir Gervase’s study. Here he stopped and surveyed the scene.
Immediately outside the windows was a strip of grass that ran parallel with the house. In front of that was a wide herbaceous border. The michaelmas daisies still made a fine show. In front of the border was the flagged walk where Poirot was standing. A strip of grass ran from the grass walk behind the border to the terrace. Poirot examined it carefully, then shook his head. He turned his attention to the border on either side of it.
Very slowly he nodded his head. In the right-hand bed, distinct in the soft mould, there were footprints.
As he stared down at them, frowning, a sound caught his ears and he lifted his head sharply.
Above him a window had been pushed up. He saw a red head of hair.
Framed in an aureole of golden red he saw the intelligent face of Susan Cardwell.
“What on earth are you doing at this hour, M. Poirot? A spot of sleuthing?”
Poirot bowed with the utmost correctitude.
“Good morning, mademoiselle. Yes, it is as you say. You now behold a detective—a great detective, I may say—in the act of detecting!”
The remark was a little flamboyant. Susan put her head on one side.
“I must remember this in my memoirs,” she remarked. “Shall I come down and help?”
“I should be enchanted.”
“I thought you were a burglar at first. Which way did you get out?”
“Through the drawing room window.”
“Just a minute and I’ll be with you.”
She was as good as her word. To all appearances Poirot was exactly in the same position as when she had first seen him.
“You are awake very early, mademoiselle?”
“I haven’t been to sleep really properly. I was just getting that desperate feeling that one does get at five in the morning.”
“It’s not quite so early as that!”
“It feels like it! Now then, my super sleuth, what are we looking at?”
“But observe, mademoiselle, footprints.”
“So they are.”
“Four of them,” continued Poirot. “See, I will point them out to you. Two going towards the window, two coming from it.”
“Whose are they? The gardener’s?”
“Mademoiselle, mademoiselle! Those footmarks are made by the small dainty high-heeled shoes of a woman. See, convince yourself. Step, I beg of you, in the earth here beside them.”
Susan hesitated a minute, then placed a foot gingerly on to the mould in the place indicated by Poirot. She was wearing small high-heeled slippers of dark brown leather.
“You see, yours are nearly the same size. Nearly, but not quite. These others are made by a rather longer foot than yours. Perhaps Miss Chevenix- Gore’s—or Miss Lingard’s—or even Lady Chevenix-Gore’s.”
“Not Lady Chevenix-Gore—she’s got tiny feet. People did in those days —manage to have small feet, I mean. And Miss Lingard wears queer flatheeled things.”
“Then they are the marks of Miss Chevenix-Gore. Ah, yes, I remember she mentioned having been out in the garden yesterday evening.”
He led the way back round the house.
“Are we still sleuthing?” asked Susan.
“But certainly. We will go now to Sir Gervase’s study.”
He led the way. Susan Cardwell followed him.
The door still hung in a melancholy fashion. Inside, the room was as it had been last night. Poirot pulled the curtains and admitted the daylight.
He stood looking out at the border a minute or two, then he said:
“You have not, I presume, mademoiselle, much acquaintance with burglars?”
Susan Cardwell shook her red head regretfully.
“I’m afraid not, M. Poirot.”
“The chief constable, he, too, has not had the advantages of a friendly relationship with them. His connection with the criminal clases has always been strictly official. With me that is not so. I had a very pleasant chat with a burglar once. He told me an interesting thing about french windows—a trick that could sometimes be employed if the fastening was sufficiently loose.”
He turned the handle of the left-hand window as he spoke, the middle shaft came up out of the hole in the ground, and Poirot was able to pull the two doors of the window towards him. Having opened them wide, he closed them again—closed them without turning the handle, so as not to send the shaft down into its socket. He let go of the handle, waited a moment, then struck a quick, jarring blow high up on the centre of the shaft. The jar of the blow sent the shaft down into the socket in the ground—the handle turned of its own accord.
“You see, mademoiselle?”
“I think I do.”
Susan had gone rather pale.
“The window is now closed. It is impossible to enter a room when the window is closed, but it is possible to leave a room, pull the doors to from outside, then hit it as I did, and the bolt goes down into the ground, turning the handle. The window then is firmly closed, and anyone looking at it would say it had been closed from the inside.”
“Is that”—Susan’s voice shook a little—“is that what happened last night?”
“I think so, yes, mademoiselle.”
Susan said violently:
“I don’t believe a word of it.”
Poirot did not answer. He walked over to the mantelpiece. He wheeled sharply round.
“Mademoiselle, I have need of you as a witness. I have already one witness, Mr. Trent. He saw me find this tiny sliver of looking glass last night. I spoke of it to him. I left it where it was for the police. I even told the chief constable that a valuable clue was the broken mirror. But he did not avail himself of my hint. Now you are a witness that I place this sliver of looking glass (to which, remember, I have already called Mr. Trent’s attention) into a little envelope—so.” He suited the action to the word. “And I write on it—so —and seal it up. You are a witness, mademoiselle?”
“Yes—but—but I don’t know what it means.”
Poirot walked over to the other side of the room. He stood in front of the desk and stared at the shattered mirror on the wall in front of him.
“I will tell you what it means, mademoiselle. If you had been standing here last night, looking into this mirror, you could have seen in it murder
being committed. … ”
F or once in her life Ruth Chevenix-Gore—now Ruth Lake—came down to breakfast in good time. Hercule Poirot was in the hall and drew her aside before she went into the dining room.
“I have a question to ask you, madame.”
“You were in the garden last night. Did you at any time step in the flower bed outside Sir Gervase’s study window?”
Ruth stared at him.
“Ah! Twice. How twice?”
“The first time I was picking michaelmas daisies. That was about seven o’clock.”
“Was it not rather an odd time of day to pick flowers?”
“Yes, it was, as a matter of fact. I’d done the flowers yesterday morning, but Vanda said after tea that the flowers on the dinner table weren’t good enough. I had thought they would be all right, so I hadn’t done them fresh.”
“But your mother requested you to do them? Is that right?”
“Yes. So I went out just before seven. I took them from that part of the border because hardly anyone goes round there, and so it didn’t matter spoiling the effect.”
“Yes, yes, but the second time. You went there a second time, you said?” “That was just before dinner. I had dropped a spot of brilliantine on my dress—just by the shoulder. I didn’t want to bother to change, and none of my artificial flowers went with the yellow of that dress. I remembered I’d seen a late rose when I was picking the michaelmas daisies, so I hurried out and got it and pinned it on my shoulder.”
Poirot nodded his head slowly.
“Yes, I remember that you wore a rose last night. What time was it, madame, when you picked that rose?”
“I don’t really know.”
“But it is essential, madame. Consider—reflect.”
Ruth frowned. She looked swiftly at Poirot and then away again.
“I can’t say exactly,” she said at last. “It must have been—oh, of course— it must have been about five minutes past eight. It was when I was on my way back round the house that I heard the gong go, and then that funny bang. I was hurrying because I thought it was the second gong and not the first.”
“Ah, so you thought that—and did you not try the study window when you stood there in the flowerbed?”
“As a matter of fact, I did. I thought it might be open, and it would be quicker to come in that way. But it was fastened.”
“So everything is explained. I congratulate you, madame.”
She stared at him.
“What do you mean?”
“That you have an explanation for everything, for the mould on your shoes, for your footprints in the flower bed, for your fingerprints on the outside of the window. It is very convenient that.”
Before Ruth could answer, Miss Lingard came hurrying down the stairs. There was a queer purple flush on her cheeks, and she looked a little startled at seeing Poirot and Ruth standing together.
“I beg your pardon,” she said. “Is anything the matter?”
Ruth said angrily:
“I think M. Poirot has gone mad!”
She swept by them and into the dining room. Miss Lingard turned an astonished face on Poirot.
He shook his head.
“After breakfast,” he said. “I will explain. I should like everyone to assemble in Sir Gervase’s study at ten o’clock.”
He repeated this request on entering the dining room.
Susan Cardwell gave him a quick glance, then transferred her gaze to Ruth. When Hugo said:
“Eh? What’s the idea?” she gave him a sharp nudge in the side, and he shut up obediently.
When he had finished his breakfast, Poirot rose and walked to the door. He turned and drew out a large old-fashioned watch.
“It is five minutes to ten. In five minutes—in the study.”
Poirot looked round him. A circle of interested faces stared back at him. Everyone was there, he noted, with one exception, and at that very moment the exception swept into the room. Lady Chevenix-Gore came in with a soft, gliding step. She looked haggard and ill.
Poirot drew forward a big chair for her, and she sat down.
She looked up at the broken mirror, shivered, and pulled her chair a little way round.
“Gervase is still here,” she remarked in a matter-of-fact tone. “Poor Gervase … He will soon be free now.”
Poirot cleared his throat and announced:
“I have asked you all to come here so that you may hear the true facts of Sir Gervase’s suicide.”
“It was Fate,” said Lady Chevenix-Gore. “Gervase was strong, but his Fate was stronger.”
Colonel Bury moved forward a little.
She smiled up at him, then put up her hand. He took it in his. She said softly: “You are such a comfort, Ned.”
Ruth said sharply:
“Are we to understand, M. Poirot, that you have definitely ascertained the cause of my father’s suicide?”
Poirot shook his head.
“Then what is all this rigmarole about?”
Poirot said quietly:
“I do not know the cause of Sir Gervase Chevenix-Gore’s suicide, because Sir Gervase Chevenix-Gore did not commit suicide. He did not kill himself. He was killed. …”
“Killed?” Several voices echoed the word. Startled faces were turned in Poirot’s direction. Lady Chevenix-Gore looked up, said, “Killed? Oh, no!” and gently shook her head.
“Killed, did you say?” It was Hugo who spoke now. “Impossible. There was no one in the room when we broke in. The window was fastened. The door was locked on the inside, and the key was in my uncle’s pocket. How could he have been killed?”
“Nevertheless, he was killed.”
“And the murderer escaped through the keyhole, I suppose?” said Colonel Bury sceptically. “Or flew up the chimney?”
“The murderer,” said Poirot, “went out through the window. I will show you how.”
He repeated his manoeuvres with the window.
“You see?” he said. “That was how it was done! From the first I could not consider it likely that Sir Gervase had committed suicide. He had pronounced egomania, and such a man does not kill himself.
“And there were other things! Apparently, just before his death, Sir Gervase had sat down at his desk, scrawled the word SORRY on a sheet of notepaper and had then shot himself. But before this last action he had, for some reason or other altered the position of his chair, turning it so that it was sideways to the desk. Why? There must be some reason. I began to see light when I found, sticking to the base of a heavy bronze statuette, a tiny sliver of looking glass… .
“I asked myself, how does a sliver of broken looking glass come to be there?—and an answer suggested itself to me. The mirror had been broken, not by a bullet, but by being struck with the heavy bronze figure. That mirror had been broken deliberately.
“But why? I returned to the desk and looked down at the chair. Yes, I saw now. It was all wrong. No suicide would turn his chair round, lean over the edge of it, and then shoot himself. The whole thing was arranged. The suicide was a fake!
“And now I come to something very important. The evidence of Miss Cardwell. Miss Cardwell said that she hurried downstairs last night because she thought that the second gong had sounded. That is to say, she thought that she had already heard the first gong.
“Now observe, if Sir Gervase was sitting at his desk in the normal fashion when he was shot, where would the bullet go? Travelling in a straight line, it would pass through the door, if the door were open, and finally hit the gong!
“You see now the importance of Miss Cardwell’s statement? No one else heard the first gong, but, then, her room is situated immediately above this one, and she was in the best position for hearing it. It would consist of only one single note, remember.
“There could be no question of Sir Gervase’s shooting himself. A dead man cannot get up, shut the door, lock it and arrange himself in a convenient position! Somebody else was concerned, and therefore it was not suicide, but murder. Someone whose presence was easily accepted by Sir Gervase, stood by his side talking to him. Sir Gervase was busy writing, perhaps. The murderer brings the pistol up to the right side of his head and fires. The deed is done! Then quick, to work! The murderer slips on gloves. The door is locked, the key put in Sir Gervase’s pocket. But supposing that one loud note of the gong has been heard? Then it will be realized that the door was open, not shut, when the shot was fired. So the chair is turned, the body rearranged, the dead man’s fingers pressed on the pistol, the mirror deliberately smashed. Then the murderer goes out through the window, jars it shut, steps, not on the grass, but in the flower bed where footprints can be smoothed out afterwards; then round the side of the house and into the drawing room.”
He paused and said:
“There was only one person who was out in the garden when the shot was fired. That same person left her footprints in the flower bed and her fingerprints on the outside of the window.”
He came towards Ruth.
“And there was a motive, wasn’t there? Your father had learnt of your secret marriage. He was preparing to disinherit you.”
“It’s a lie!” Ruth’s voice came scornful and clear. “There’s not a word of truth in your story. It’s a lie from start to finish!”
“The proofs against you are very strong, madame. A jury may believe you. It may not!”
“She won’t have to face a jury.”
The others turned—startled. Miss Lingard was on her feet. Her face altered. She was trembling all over.
“I shot him. I admit it! I had my reason. I—I’ve been waiting for some time. M. Poirot is quite right. I followed him in here. I had taken the pistol out of the drawer earlier. I stood beside him talking about the book—and I shot him. That was just after eight. The bullet struck the gong. I never dreamt it would pass right through his head like that. There wasn’t time to go out and look for it. I locked the door and put the key in his pocket. Then I swung the chair round, smashed the mirror, and, after scrawling “Sorry” on a piece of paper, I went out through the window and shut it the way M. Poirot showed you. I stepped in the flower bed, but I smoothed out the footprints with a little rake I had put there ready. Then I went round to the drawing room. I had left the window open. I didn’t know Ruth had gone out through it. She must have come round the front of the house while I went round the back. I had to put the rake away, you see, in a shed. I waited in the drawing room till I heard someone coming downstairs and Snell going to the gong, and then—”
She looked at Poirot.
“You don’t know what I did then?”
“Oh yes, I do. I found the bag in the wastepaper basket. It was very clever, that idea of yours. You did what children love to do. You blew up the bag and then hit it. It made a satisfactory big bang. You threw the bag into the wastepaper basket and rushed out into the hall. You had established the time of the suicide—and an alibi for yourself. But there was still one thing that worried you. You had not had time to pick up the bullet. It must be somewhere near the gong. It was essential that the bullet should be found in the study somewhere near the mirror. I didn’t know when you had the idea of taking Colonel Bury’s pencil—”
“It was just then,” said Miss Lingard. “When we all came in from the hall. I was surprised to see Ruth in the room. I realized she must have come from the garden through the window. Then I noticed Colonel Bury’s pencil lying on the bridge table. I slipped it into my bag. If, later, anyone saw me pick up the bullet, I could pretend it was the pencil. As a matter of fact, I didn’t think anyone saw me pick up the bullet. I dropped it by the mirror while you were looking at the body. When you tackled me on the subject, I was very glad I had thought of the pencil.”
“Yes, that was clever. It confused me completely.”
“I was afraid someone must hear the real shot, but I knew everyone was dressing for dinner, and would be shut away in their rooms. The servants were in their quarters. Miss Cardwell was the only one at all likely to hear it, and she would probably think it was a backfire. What she did hear was the gong. I thought—I thought everything had gone without a hitch.
Mr. Forbes said slowly in his precise tones:
“This is a most extraordinary story. There seems no motive—”
Miss Lingard said clearly: “There was a motive… .”
She added fiercely:
“Go on, ring up the police! What are you waiting for?”
Poirot said gently:
“Will you all please leave the room? Mr. Forbes, ring up Major Riddle. I will stay here till he comes.”
Slowly, one by one, the family filed out of the room. Puzzled, uncomprehending, shocked, they cast abashed glances at the trim, upright figure with its neatly-parted grey hair.
Ruth was the last to go. She stood, hesitating in the doorway.
“I don’t understand.” She spoke angrily, defiantly, accusing Poirot. “Just now, you thought I had done it.”
“No, no,” Poirot shook his head. “No, I never thought that.”
Ruth went out slowly.
Poirot was left with the little middle-aged prim woman who had just confessed to a cleverly-planned and cold-blooded murder.
“No,” said Miss Lingard. “You didn’t think she had done it. You accused her to make me speak. That’s right, isn’t it?”
Poirot bowed his head.
“While we’re waiting,” said Miss Lingard in a conversational tone, “you might tell me what made you suspect me.”
“Several things. To begin with, your account of Sir Gervase. A proud man like Sir Gervase would never speak disparagingly of his nephew to an outsider, especially someone in your position. You wanted to strengthen the theory of suicide. You also went out of your way to suggest that the cause of the suicide was some dishonourable trouble connected with Hugo Trent. That, again, was a thing Sir Gervase would never have admitted to a stranger. Then there was the object you picked up in the hall, and the very significant fact that you did not mention that Ruth, when she entered the drawing room, did so from the garden. And then I found the paper bag—a most unlikely object to find in the wastepaper basket in the drawing room of a house like Hamborough Close! You were the only person who had been in the drawing room when the ‘shot’ was heard. The paper bag trick was one that would suggest itself to a woman—an ingenious homemade device. So everything fitted in. The endeavour to throw suspicion on Hugo, and to keep it away from Ruth. The mechanism of crime—and its motive.”
The little grey-haired woman stirred.
“You know the motive?”
“I think so. Ruth’s happiness—that was the motive! I fancy that you had seen her with John Lake—you knew how it was with them. And then with your easy access to Sir Gervase’s papers, you came across the draft of his new will—Ruth disinherited unless she married Hugo Trent. That decided you to take the law into your own hands, using the fact that Sir Gervase had previously written to me. You probably saw a copy of that letter. What muddled feeling of suspicion and fear had caused him to write originally, I do not know. He must have suspected either Burrows or Lake of systematically robbing him. His uncertainty regarding Ruth’s feelings made him seek a private investigation. You used that fact and deliberately set the stage for suicide, backing it up by your account of his being very distressed over something connected with Hugo Trent. You sent a telegram to me and reported Sir Gervase as having said I should arrive ‘too late.’ ”
Miss Lingard said fiercely:
“Gervase Chevenix-Gore was a bully, a snob and a windbag! I wasn’t going to have him ruin Ruth’s happiness.”
Poirot said gently:
“Ruth is your daughter?”
“Yes—she is my daughter—I’ve often—thought about her. When I heard Sir Gervase Chevenix-Gore wanted someone to help him with a family history, I jumped at the chance. I was curious to see my—my girl. I knew Lady Chevenix-Gore wouldn’t recognize me. It was years ago—I was young and pretty then, and I changed my name after that time. Besides Lady Chevenix-Gore is too vague to know anything definitely. I liked her, but I hated the Chevenix-Gore family. They treated me like dirt. And here was Gervase going to ruin Ruth’s life with pride and snobbery. But I determined that she should be happy. And she will be happy—if she never knows about me!”
It was a plea—not a question.
Poirot bent his head gently.
“No one shall know from me.”
Miss Lingard said quietly:
Later, when the police had come and gone, Poirot found Ruth Lake with her husband in the garden.
She said challengingly:
“Did you really think that I had done it, M. Poirot?”
“I knew, madame, that you could not have done it—because of the michaelmas daisies.”
“The michaelmas daisies? I don’t understand.”
“Madame, there were four footprints and four footprints only in the border. But if you had been picking flowers there would have been many more. That meant that between your first visit and your second, someone had smoothed all those footsteps away. That could only have been done by the guilty person, and since your footprints had not been removed, you were not the guilty person. You were automatically cleared.”
Ruth’s face lightened.
“Oh, I see. You know—I suppose it’s dreadful, but I feel rather sorry for that poor woman. After all, she did confess rather than let me be arrested—or at any rate, that is what she thought. That was—rather noble in a way. I hate to think of her going through a trial for murder.”
Poirot said gently:
“Do not distress yourself. It will not come to that. The doctor, he tells me that she has serious heart trouble. She will not live many weeks.”
“I’m glad of that.” Ruth picked an autumn crocus and pressed it idly against her cheek.
“Poor woman. I wonder why she did it…[/sociallocker]