‘No, no, the Inspector asked me about that. You see, by the end of the evening nearly everyone was a bit dishevelled or damp or floury. There doesn’t seem to be any useful clues there at all. I mean, the police didn’t think so.’
‘No,’ said Poirot. ‘I suppose the only clue was the child herself. I hope you will tell me all you know about her.’
Mrs Drake looked slightly taken aback. It was as though Joyce in her mind had by now retreated so far out of things that she was quite surprised to be reminded of her.
‘The victim is always important,’ said Poirot. ‘The victim, you see, is so often the cause of the crime.’
‘Well, I suppose, yes, I see what you mean,’ said Mrs Drake, who quite plainly did not. ‘Shall we come back to the drawing-room?’
‘And then you will tell me about Joyce,’ said Poirot.
They settled themselves once more in the drawing-room.
Mrs Drake was looking uncomfortable.
‘I don’t know really what you expect me to say, Monsieur Poirot,’ she said. ‘Surely all information can be obtained quite easily from the police or from Joyce’s mother. Poor woman, it will be painful for her, no doubt, but—’
‘But what I want,’ said Poirot, ‘is not a mother’s estimate of a dead daughter. It is a clear, unbiased opinion from someone who has a good knowledge of human nature. I should say, Madame, that you yourself have been an active worker in many welfare and social fields here. Nobody, I am sure, could sum up more aptly the character and disposition of someone whom you know.’
‘Well—it is a little difficult. I mean, children of that age—she was thirteen, I think, twelve or thirteen—are very much alike at a certain age.’
‘Ah no, surely not,’ said Poirot. ‘There are very great differences in character, in disposition. Did you like her?’
Mrs Drake seemed to find the question embarrassing.
‘Well, of course I—I liked her. I mean, well, I like all children. Most people do.’
‘Ah, there I do not agree with you,’ said Poirot. ‘Some children I consider are most unattractive.’
‘Well, I agree, they’re not brought up very well nowadays. Everything seems left to the school, and of course they lead very permissive lives. Have their own choice of friends and—er—oh, really, Monsieur Poirot.’
‘Was she a nice child or not a nice child?’ said Poirot insistently.
Mrs Drake looked at him and registered censure.
‘You must realize, Monsieur Poirot, that the poor child is dead.’
‘Dead or alive, it matters. Perhaps if she was a nice child, nobody would have wanted to kill her, but if she was not a nice child, somebody might have wanted to kill her, and did so—’
‘Well, I suppose—Surely it isn’t a question of niceness, is it?’
‘It could be. I also understand that she claimed to have seen a murder committed.’
‘Oh that,’ said Mrs Drake contemptuously.
‘You did not take that statement seriously?’
‘Well, of course I didn’t. It was a very silly thing to say.’
‘How did she come to say it?’
‘Well, I think really they were all rather excited about Mrs Oliver being here. You are a very famous person, you must remember, dear,’ said Mrs Drake, addressing Mrs Oliver.
The word ‘dear’ seemed included in her speech without any accompanying enthusiasm.
‘I don’t suppose the subject would ever have arisen otherwise, but the children were excited by meeting a famous authoress—’
‘So Joyce said that she had seen a murder committed,’ said Poirot thoughtfully.
‘Yes, she said something of the kind. I wasn’t really listening.’
‘But you do remember that she said it?’
‘Oh yes, she said it. But I didn’t believe it,’ said Mrs Drake. ‘Her sister hushed her up at once, very properly.’
‘And she was annoyed about that, was she?’
‘Yes, she went on saying that it was true.’
‘In fact, she boasted about it.’
‘When you put it that way, yes.’
‘It might have been true, I suppose,’ said Poirot.
‘Nonsense! I don’t believe it for one minute,’ said Mrs Drake. ‘It’s the sort of stupid thing Joyce would say.’
‘She was a stupid girl?’
‘Well, she was the kind, I think, who liked to show off.’ said Mrs Drake. ‘You know, she always wanted to have seen more or done more than other girls.’
‘Not a very lovable character,’ said Poirot.
‘No indeed,’ said Mrs Drake. ‘Really the kind that you have to be shutting up all the time.’
‘What did the other children who were here have to say about it? Were they impressed?’
‘They laughed at her,’ said Mrs Drake. ‘So, of course, that made her worse.’
‘Well,’ said Poirot, as he rose, ‘I am glad to have your positive assurance on that point.’ He bowed politely over her hand. ‘Good-bye, Madame, thank you so much for allowing me to view the scene of this very unpleasant occurrence. I hope it has not recalled unpleasant memories too definitely to you.’
‘Of course,’ said Mrs Drake, ‘it is very painful to recall anything of this kind. I had so hoped our little party would go off well. Indeed, it was going off well and everyone seemed to be enjoying it so much till this terrible thing happened. However, the only thing one can do is to try and forget it all. Of course, it’s very unfortunate that Joyce should have made this silly remark about seeing a murder.’
‘Have you ever had a murder in Woodleigh Common?’
‘Not that I can remember,’ said Mrs Drake firmly.