So far, not one of the people he had seen had doubted that whatever else she was, Caroline Crale was also a murderess.
Chapter 5 (#ulink_54db6627-03cb-5497-99d3-7320d946ecad)
The Police Superintendent (#ulink_54db6627-03cb-5497-99d3-7320d946ecad)
Ex-Superintendent Hale pulled thoughtfully at his pipe.
‘This is a funny fancy of yours, M. Poirot.’
‘It is, perhaps, a little unusual,’ Poirot agreed cautiously.
‘You see,’ said Hale, ‘it’s all such a long time ago.’
Hercule Poirot foresaw that he was going to get a little tired of that particular phrase. He said mildly:
‘That adds to the difficulty, of course.’
‘Raking up the past,’ mused the other. ‘If there were an object in it, now…’
‘There is an object.’
‘What is it?’
‘One can enjoy the pursuit of truth for its own sake. I do. And you must not forget the young lady.’
‘Yes, I see her side of it. But—you’ll excuse me, M. Poirot—you’re an ingenious man. You could cook her up a tale.’
‘You do not know the young lady.’
‘Oh, come now—a man of your experience!’
Poirot drew himself up.
‘I may be, mon cher, an artistic and competent liar—you seem to think so. But it is not my idea of ethical conduct. I have my standards.’
‘Sorry, M. Poirot. I didn’t mean to hurt your feelings. But it would be all in a good cause, so to speak.’
‘Oh I wonder, would it really?’
Hale said slowly:
‘It’s tough luck on a happy innocent girl who’s just going to get married to find that her mother was a murderess. If I were you I’d go to her and say that, after all, suicide was what it was. Say the case was mishandled by Depleach. Say that there’s no doubt in your mind that Crale poisoned himself!’
‘But there is every doubt in my mind! I do not believe for one minute that Crale poisoned himself. Do you consider it even reasonably possible yourself?’
Slowly Hale shook his head.
‘You see? No, it is the truth I must have—not a plausible—or not very plausible—lie.’
Hale turned and looked at Poirot. His square rather red face grew a little redder and even appeared to get a little squarer. He said:
‘You talk about the truth. I’d like to make it plain to you that we think we got the truth in the Crale case.’
Poirot said quickly:
‘That pronouncement from you means a great deal. I know you for what you are, an honest and capable man. Now tell me this, was there no doubt at any time in your mind as to the guilt of Mrs Crale?’
The Superintendent’s answer came promptly.
‘No doubt at all, M. Poirot. The circumstances pointed to her straight away, and every single fact that we uncovered supported that view.’
‘You can give me an outline of the evidence against her?’
‘I can. When I received your letter I looked up the case.’ He picked up a small notebook. ‘I’ve jotted down all the salient facts here.’
‘Thank you, my friend. I am all eagerness to hear.’
Hale cleared his throat. A slight official intonation made itself heard in his voice.
‘At two forty-five on the afternoon of September 18th, Inspector Conway was rung up by Dr Andrew Faussett. Dr Faussett stated that Mr Amyas Crale of Alderbury had died suddenly and that in consequence of the circumstances of that death and also of a statement made to him by a Mr Blake, a guest staying in the house, he considered that it was a case for the police.
‘Inspector Conway, in company with a sergeant and the police surgeon, came over to Alderbury straight away. Dr Faussett was there and took him to where the body of Mr Crale had not been disturbed.
‘Mr Crale had been painting in a small enclosed garden, known as the Battery garden, from the fact that it overlooked the sea, and had some miniature cannon placed in embattlements. It was situated at about four minutes’ walk from the house. Mr Crale had not come up to the house for lunch as he wanted to get certain effects of light on the stone—and the sun would have been wrong for this later. He had, therefore, remained alone in the Battery garden, painting. This was stated not to be an unusual occurrence. Mr Crale took very little notice of meal times. Sometimes a sandwich would be sent down to him, but more often he preferred to remain undisturbed. The last people to see him alive were Miss Elsa Greer (staying in the house) and Mr Meredith Blake (a near neighbour). These two went up together to the house and went with the rest of the household in to lunch. After lunch, coffee was served on the terrace. Mrs Crale finished drinking her coffee and then observed that she would “go down and see how Amyas was getting on.” Miss Cecilia Williams, governess, got up and accompanied her. She was looking for a pullover belonging to her pupil, Miss Angela Warren, sister of Mrs Crale, which the latter had mislaid and she thought it possible it might have been left down on the beach.
‘These two started off together. The path led downwards, through some woods, until it emerged at the door leading into the Battery garden. You could either go into the Battery garden or you could continue on the same path, which led down to the seashore.
‘Miss Williams continued on down and Mrs Crale went into the Battery garden. Almost at once, however, Mrs Crale screamed and Miss Williams hurried back. Mr Crale was reclining on a seat and he was dead.
‘At Mrs Crale’s urgent request Miss Williams left the Battery garden and hurried up to the house to telephone for a doctor. On her way, however, she met Mr Meredith Blake and entrusted her errand to him, herself returning to Mrs Crale whom she felt might be in need of someone. Dr Faussett arrived on the scene a quarter of an hour later. He saw at once that Mr Crale had been dead for some time—he placed the probable time of death at between one and two o’clock. There was nothing to show what had caused death. There was no sign of any wound and Mr Crale’s attitude was a perfectly natural one. Nevertheless Dr Faussett, who was well acquainted with Mr Crale’s state of health, and who knew positively that there was no disease or weakness of any kind, was inclined to take a grave view of the situation. It was at this point that Mr Philip Blake made a certain statement to Dr Faussett.’
Superintendent Hale paused, drew a deep breath and passed, as it were, to Chapter Two.
‘Subsequently Mr Blake repeated this statement to Inspector Conway. It was to this effect. He had that morning received a telephone message from his brother, Mr Meredith Blake (who lived at Handcross Manor, a mile and a half away). Mr Meredith Blake was an amateur chemist—or perhaps herbalist would describe it best. On entering his laboratory that morning, Mr Meredith Blake had been startled to note that a bottle containing a preparation of hemlock, which had been quite full the day before, was now nearly empty. Worried and alarmed by this fact he had rung up his brother to ask his advice as to what he should do about it. Mr Philip Blake had urged his brother to come over to Alderbury at once and they would talk the matter over. He himself walked part way to meet his brother and they had come up to the house together. They had come to no decision as to what course to adopt and had left the matter in order to consult again after lunch.
‘As a result of further inquiries, Inspector Conway ascertained the following facts: On the preceding afternoon five people had walked over from Alderbury to tea at Handcross Manor. There were Mr and Mrs Crale, Miss Angela Warren, Miss Elsa Greer and Mr Philip Blake. During the time spent there, Mr Meredith Blake had given quite a dissertation on his hobby and had taken the party into his little laboratory and “shown them round”. In the course of this tour, he had mentioned certain specific drugs—one of which was coniine, the active principle of the spotted hemlock. He had explained its properties, had lamented the fact that it had now disappeared from the Pharmacopœia and boasted that he had known small doses of it to be very efficacious in whooping cough and asthma. Later he had mentioned its lethal properties and had actually read to his guests some passage from a Greek author describing its effects.’
Superintendent Hale paused, refilled his pipe and passed on to Chapter Three.
‘Colonel Frere, the Chief Constable, put the case into my hands. The result of the autopsy put the matter beyond any doubt. Coniine, I understand, leaves no definite post-mortem appearances, but the doctors knew what to look for, and an ample amount of the drug was recovered. The doctor was of the opinion that it had been administered two or three hours before death. In front of Mr Crale, on the table, there had been an empty glass and an empty beer bottle. The dregs of both were analysed. There was no coniine in the bottle, but there was in the glass. I made inquiries and learned that although a case of beer and glasses were kept in a small summerhouse in the Battery garden in case Mr Crale should feel thirsty when painting, on this particular morning Mrs Crale had brought down from the house a bottle of freshly iced beer. Mr Crale was busy painting when she arrived and Miss Greer was posing for him, sitting on one of the battlements.