‘Mrs Crale opened the beer, poured it out and put the glass into her husband’s hand as he was standing before the easel. He tossed it off in one draught—a habit of his, I learned. Then he made a grimace, set down the glass on the table, and said: “Everything tastes foul to me today!” Miss Greer upon that laughed and said, “Liver!” Mr Crale said: “Well, at any rate it was cold.” ’
Hale paused. Poirot said:
‘At what time did this take place?’
‘At about a quarter-past eleven. Mr Crale continued to paint. According to Miss Greer, he later complained of stiffness in the limbs and grumbled that he must have got a touch of rheumatism. But he was the type of man who hates to admit to illness of any kind, and he undoubtedly tried not to admit that he was feeling ill. His irritable demand that he should be left alone and the others go up to lunch was quite characteristic of the man, I should say.’
‘So Crale was left alone in the Battery garden. No doubt he dropped down on the seat and relaxed as soon as he was alone. Muscular paralysis would then set in. No help was at hand, and death supervened.’
Again Poirot nodded.
‘Well, I proceeded according to routine. There wasn’t much difficulty in getting down to the facts. On the preceding day there had been a set-to between Mrs Crale and Miss Greer. The latter had pretty insolently described some change in the arrangement of the furniture “when I am living here.” Mrs Crale took her up, and said, “What do you mean? When you are living here.” Miss Greer replied: “Don’t pretend you don’t know what I mean, Caroline. You’re just like an ostrich that buries its head in the sand. You know perfectly well that Amyas and I care for each other and are going to be married.” Mrs Crale said: “I know nothing of the kind.” Miss Greer then said: “Well, you know it now.” Whereupon, it seems, Mrs Crale turned to her husband who had just come into the room and said: “Is it true, Amyas, that you are going to marry Elsa?” ’
Poirot said with interest:
‘And what did Mr Crale say to that?’
‘Apparently he turned on Miss Greer and shouted at her: “What the devil do you mean by blurting that out? Haven’t you got the sense to hold your tongue?”
‘Miss Greer said: “I think Caroline ought to recognize the truth.”
‘Mrs Crale said to her husband: “Is it true, Amyas?”
‘He wouldn’t look at her, it seems, turned his face away and mumbled something.
‘She said: “Speak out. I’ve got to know.” Whereupon he said:
‘ “Oh, it’s true enough—but I don’t want to discuss it now.”
‘Then he flounced out of the room again and Miss Greer said:
‘ “You see!” and went on—with something about its being no good for Mrs Crale to adopt a dog-in-the-
manger attitude about it. They must all behave like rational people. She herself hoped that Caroline and Amyas would always remain good friends.’
‘And what did Mrs Crale say to that?’ asked Poirot curiously.
‘According to the witnesses she laughed. She said: “Over my dead body, Elsa.” She went to the door and Miss Greer called after her: “What do you mean?” Mrs Crale looked back and said: “I’ll kill Amyas before I give him up to you.” ’
‘Yes.’ Poirot seemed thoughtful. ‘Who overheard this scene?’
‘Miss Williams was in the room and Philip Blake. Very awkward for them.’
‘Their accounts of the scene agree?’
‘Near enough—you never got two witnesses to remember a thing exactly alike. You know that just as well as I do, M. Poirot.’
Poirot nodded. He said thoughtfully:
‘Yes, it will be interesting to see—’ He stopped with the sentence unfinished.
Hale went on: ‘I instituted a search of the house. In Mrs Crale’s bedroom I found in a bottom drawer, tucked away underneath some winter stockings, a small bottle labelled jasmine scent. It was empty. I finger-printed it. The only prints on it were those of Mrs Crale. On analysis it was found to contain faint traces of oil of jasmine, and a strong solution of coniine hydrobromide.
‘I cautioned Mrs Crale and showed her the bottle. She replied readily. She had, she said, been in a very unhappy state of mind. After listening to Mr Meredith Blake’s description of the drug she had slipped back to the laboratory, had emptied out a bottle of jasmine scent which was in her bag and had filled the bottle up with coniine solution. I asked her why she had done this and she said: “I don’t want to speak of certain things more than I can help, but I had received a bad shock. My husband was proposing to leave me for another woman. If that was so, I didn’t want to live. That is why I took it.” ’
Poirot said: ‘After all—it is likely enough.’
‘Perhaps, M. Poirot. But it doesn’t square with what she was overheard to say. And then there was a further scene on the following morning. Mr Philip Blake overheard a portion of it. Miss Greer overheard a different portion of it. It took place in the library between Mr and Mrs Crale. Mr Blake was in the hall and caught a fragment or two. Miss Greer was sitting outside near the open library window and heard a good deal more.’
‘And what did they hear?’
‘Mr Blake heard Mrs Crale say: “You and your women. I’d like to kill you. Some day I will kill you.” ’
‘No mention of suicide?’
‘Exactly. None at all. No words like “If you do this thing, I’ll kill myself.” Miss Greer’s evidence was much the same. According to her, Mr Crale said: “Do try and be reasonable about this, Caroline. I’m fond of you and will always wish you well—you and the child. But I’m going to marry Elsa. We’ve always agreed to leave each other free.” Mrs Crale answered to that: “Very well, don’t say I haven’t warned you.” He said: “What do you mean?” And she said: “I mean that I love you and I’m not going to lose you. I’d rather kill you than let you go to that girl.” ’
Poirot made a slight gesture.
‘It occurs to me,’ he murmured, ‘that Miss Greer was singularly unwise to raise this issue? Mrs Crale could easily have refused her husband a divorce.’
‘We had some evidence bearing on that point,’ said Hale. ‘Mrs Crale, it seems, confided partly in Mr Meredith Blake. He was an old and trusted friend. He was very distressed and managed to get a word with Mr Crale about it. This, I may say, was on the preceding afternoon. Mr Blake remonstrated delicately with his friend, said how distressed he would be if the marriage between Mr and Mrs Crale was to break up so disastrously. He also stressed the point that Miss Greer was a very young girl and that it was a very serious thing to drag a young girl through the divorce court. To this Mr Crale replied, with a chuckle (callous sort of brute he must have been): “That isn’t Elsa’s idea at all. She isn’t going to appear. We shall fix it up in the usual way.” ’
Poirot said: ‘Therefore even more imprudent of Miss Greer to have broken out the way she did.’
Superintendent Hale said:
‘Oh, you know what women are! Have to get at each other’s throats. It must have been a difficult situation anyhow. I can’t understand Mr Crale allowing it to happen. According to Mr Meredith Blake he wanted to finish his picture. Does that make sense to you?’
‘Yes, my friend, I think it does.’
‘It doesn’t to me. The man was asking for trouble!’
‘He was probaby seriously annoyed with his young woman for breaking out the way she did.’
‘Oh, he was. Meredith Blake said so. If he had to finish the picture I don’t see why he couldn’t have taken some photographs and worked from them. I know a chap—does watercolours of places—he does that.’