Five Little Pigs
Агата Кристи

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Poirot shook his head.

‘No—I can understand Crale the artist. You must realize, my friend, that at that moment, probably, his picture was all that mattered to Crale. However much he wanted to marry the girl, the picture came first. That’s why he hoped to get through her visit without its coming to an open issue. The girl, of course, didn’t see it that way. With women, love always comes first.’

‘Don’t I know it?’ said Superintendent Hale with feeling.

‘Men,’ continued Poirot, ‘and especially artists—are different.’

‘Art!’ said the Superintendent with scorn. ‘All this talk about Art! I never have understood it and I never shall! You should have seen that picture Crale was painting. All lopsided. He’d made the girl look as though she’d got toothache, and the battlements were all cock-eyed. Unpleasant looking, the whole thing. I couldn’t get it out of my mind for a long time afterwards. I even dreamt about it. And what’s more it affected my eyesight—I began to see battlements and walls and things all out of drawing. Yes, and women too!’

Poirot smiled. He said:

‘Although you do not know it, you are paying a tribute to the greatness of Amyas Crale’s art.’

‘Nonsense. Why can’t a painter paint something nice and cheerful to look at? Why go out of your way to look for ugliness?’

‘Some of us, mon cher, see beauty in curious places.’

‘The girl was a good looker, all right,’ said Hale. ‘Lots of make-up and next to no clothes on. It isn’t decent the way these girls go about. And that was sixteen years ago, mind you. Nowadays one wouldn’t think anything of it. But then—well, it shocked me. Trousers and one of those canvas shirts, open at the neck—and not another thing, I should say!’

‘You seem to remember these points very well,’ murmured Poirot slyly.

Superintendent Hale blushed. ‘I’m just passing on the impression I got,’ he said austerely.

‘Quite—quite,’ said Poirot soothingly. He went on:

‘So it would seem that the principal witnesses against Mrs Crale were Philip Blake and Elsa Greer?’

‘Yes. Vehement, they were, both of them. But the governess was called by the prosecution too, and what she said carried more weight than the other two. She was on Mrs Crale’s side entirely, you see. Up in arms for her. But she was an honest woman and gave her evidence truthfully without trying to minimize it in any way.’

‘And Meredith Blake?’

‘He was very distressed by the whole thing, poor gentleman. As well he might be! Blamed himself for his drug brewing—and the coroner blamed him for it too. Coniine and AE Salts comes under Schedule I of the Poisons Acts. He came in for some pretty sharp censure. He was a friend of both parties, and it hit him very hard—besides being the kind of county gentleman who shrinks from notoriety and being in the public eye.’

‘Did not Mrs Crale’s young sister give evidence?’

‘No. It wasn’t necessary. She wasn’t there when Mrs Crale threatened her husband, and there was nothing she could tell us that we couldn’t get from someone else equally well. She saw Mrs Crale go to the refrigerator and get the iced beer out and, of course, the Defence could have subpœnaed her to say that Mrs Crale took it straight down without tampering with it in any way. But that point wasn’t relevant because we never claimed that the coniine was in the beer bottle.’

‘How did she manage to put it in the glass with those two looking on?’

‘Well, first of all, they weren’t looking on. That is to say, Mr Crale was painting—looking at his canvas and at the sitter. And Miss Greer was posed, sitting with her back almost to where Mrs Crale was standing, and her eyes looking over Mr Crale’s shoulder.’

Poirot nodded.

‘As I say neither of the two was looking at Mrs Crale. She had the stuff in one of those pipette things—one used to fill fountain pens with them. We found it crushed to splinters on the path up to the house.’

Poirot murmured:

‘You have an answer to everything.’

‘Well, come now, M. Poirot! Without prejudice. She threatens to kill him. She takes the stuff from the laboratory. The empty bottle is found in her room and nobody has handled it but her. She deliberately takes down iced beer to him—a funny thing, anyway, when you realize that they weren’t on speaking terms—’

‘A very curious thing. I had already remarked on it.’

‘Yes. Bit of a give away. Why was she so amiable all of a sudden? He complains of the taste of the stuff—and coniine has a nasty taste. She arranges to find the body and she sends the other woman off to telephone. Why? So that she can wipe that bottle and glass and then press his fingers on it. After that she can pipe up and say that it was remorse and that he committed suicide. A likely story.’

‘It was certainly not very well imagined.’

‘No. If you ask me she didn’t take the trouble to think. She was so eaten up with hate and jealousy. All she thought of was doing him in. And then, when it’s over, when she sees him there dead—well, then, I should say, she suddenly comes to herself and realizes that what she’s done is murder—and that you get hanged for murder. And desperately she goes bald-headed for the only thing she can think of—which is suicide.’

Poirot said:

‘It is very sound what you say there—yes. Her mind might work that way.’

‘In a way it was a premeditated crime and in a way it wasn’t,’ said Hale. ‘I don’t believe she really thought it out, you know. Just went on with it blindly.’

Poirot murmured:

‘I wonder…’

Hale looked at him curiously. He said:

‘Have I convinced you, M. Poirot, that it was a straightforward case?’

‘Almost. Not quite. There are one or two peculiar points…!’

‘Can you suggest an alternative solution—that will hold water?’

Poirot said:

‘What were the movements of the other people on that morning?’

‘We went into them, I can assure you. We checked up on everybody. Nobody had what you could call an alibi—you can’t have with poisoning. Why, there’s nothing to prevent a would-be murderer from handing his victim some poison in a capsule the day before, telling him it’s a specific cure for indigestion and he must take it before lunch—and then going away to the other end of England.’

‘But you don’t think that happened in this case?’

‘Mr Crale didn’t suffer from indigestion. And in any case I can’t see that kind of thing happening. It’s true that Mr Meredith Blake was given to recommending quack nostrums of his own concocting, but I don’t see Mr Crale trying any of them. And if he did he’d probably talk and joke about it. Besides, why should Mr Meredith Blake want to kill Mr Crale? Everything goes to show that he was on very good terms with him. They all were. Mr Philip Blake was his best friend. Miss Greer was in love with him. Miss Williams disapproved of him, I imagine, very strongly—but moral disapprobation doesn’t lead to poisoning. Little Miss Warren scrapped with him a lot, she was at a tiresome age—just off to school, I believe, but he was quite fond of her and she of him. She was treated, you know, with particular tenderness and consideration in that house. You may have heard why. She was badly injured when she was a child—injured by Mrs Crale in a kind of maniacal fit of rage. That rather shows, doesn’t it, that she was a pretty uncontrolled sort of person? To go for a child—and maim her for life!’

‘It might show,’ said Poirot thoughtfully, ‘that Angela Warren had good reason to bear a grudge against Caroline Crale.’

‘Perhaps—but not against Amyas Crale. And anyway Mrs Crale was devoted to her young sister—gave her a home when her parents died, and, as I say, treated her with special affection—spoiled her badly, so they say. The girl was obviously fond of Mrs Crale. She was kept away from the trial and sheltered from it all as far as possible—Mrs Crale was very insistent about that, I believe. But the girl was terribly upset and longed to be taken to see her sister in prison. Caroline Crale wouldn’t agree. She said that sort of thing might injure a girl’s mentality for life. She arranged for her to go to school abroad.’

He added:

‘Miss Warren’s turned out a very distinguished woman. Traveller to weird places. Lectures at the Royal Geographical—all that sort of thing.’

‘And no one remembers the trial?’

‘Well, it’s a different name for one thing. They hadn’t even the same maiden name. They had the same mother but different fathers. Mrs Crale’s name was Spalding.’
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