Five Little Pigs
Агата Кристи

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‘But already, you know, I’d begun to ask questions. About my own mother and father. Who they were and what they did? I’d have been bound to find out in the end—

‘As it was, they told me the truth. When I was twenty-one. They had to then, because for one thing I came into my own money. And then, you see, there was the letter. The letter my mother left for me when she died.’

Her expression changed, dimmed. Her eyes were no longer two burning points, they were dark dim pools. She said:

‘That’s when I learnt the truth. That my mother had been convicted of murder. It was—rather horrible.’

She paused.

‘There’s something else I must tell you. I was engaged to be married. They said we must wait—that we couldn’t be married until I was twenty-one. When I knew, I understood why.’

Poirot stirred and spoke for the first time. He said:

‘And what was your fiancé’s reaction?’

‘John? John didn’t care. He said it made no difference—not to him. He and I were John and Carla—and the past didn’t matter.’

She leaned forward.

‘We’re still engaged. But all the same, you know, it does matter. It matters to me. And it matters to John too…It isn’t the past that matters to us—it’s the future.’ She clenched her hands. ‘We want children, you see. We both want children. And we don’t want to watch our children growing up and be afraid.’

Poirot said:

‘Do you not realize that amongst every one’s ancestors there has been violence and evil?’

‘You don’t understand. That’s so, of course. But then, one doesn’t usually know about it. We do. It’s very near to us. And sometimes—I’ve seen John just look at me. Such a quick glance—just a flash. Supposing we were married and we’d quarrelled—and I saw him look at me and—and wonder?’

Hercule Poirot said: ‘How was your father killed?’

Carla’s voice came clear and firm.

‘He was poisoned.’

Hercule Poirot said: ‘I see.’

There was a silence.

Then the girl said in a calm, matter-of-fact voice:

‘Thank goodness you’re sensible. You see that it does matter—and what it involves. You don’t try and patch it up and trot out consoling phrases.’

‘I understand very well,’ said Poirot. ‘What I do not understand is what you want of me?’

Carla Lemarchant said simply:

‘I want to marry John! And I mean to marry John! And I want to have at least two girls and two boys. And you’re going to make that possible!’

‘You mean—you want me to talk to your fiancé? Ah no, it is idiocy what I say there! It is something quite different that you are suggesting. Tell me what is in your mind.’

‘Listen, M. Poirot. Get this—and get it clearly. I’m hiring you to investigate a case of murder.’

‘Do you mean—?’

‘Yes, I do mean. A case of murder is a case of murder whether it happened yesterday or sixteen years ago.’

‘But my dear young lady—’

‘Wait, M. Poirot. You haven’t got it all yet. There’s a very important point.’

‘Yes?’

‘My mother was innocent,’ said Carla Lemarchant.

Hercule Poirot rubbed his nose. He murmured:

‘Well, naturally—I comprehend that—’

‘It isn’t sentiment. There’s her letter. She left it for me before she died. It was to be given to me when I was twenty-one. She left it for that one reason—that I should be quite sure. That’s all that was in it. That she hadn’t done it—that she was innocent—that I could be sure of that always.’

Hercule Poirot looked thoughtfully at the young vital face staring so earnestly at him. He said slowly:

‘Tout de même—’

Carla smiled.

‘No, mother wasn’t like that! You’re thinking that it might be a lie—a sentimental lie?’ She leaned forward earnestly. ‘Listen, M. Poirot, there are some things that children know quite well. I can remember my mother—a patchy remembrance, of course, but I remember quite well the sort of person she was. She didn’t tell lies—kind lies. If a thing was going to hurt she always told you so. Dentists, or thorns in your finger—all that sort of thing. Truth was a—a natural impulse to her. I wasn’t, I don’t think, especially fond of her—but I trusted her. I still trust her! If she says she didn’t kill my father then she didn’t kill him! She wasn’t the sort of person who would solemnly write down a lie when she knew she was dying.’

Slowly, almost reluctantly, Hercule Poirot bowed his head.

Carla went on.

‘That’s why it’s all right for me marrying John. I know it’s all right. But he doesn’t. He feels that naturally I would think my mother was innocent. It’s got to be cleared up, M. Poirot. And you’re going to do it!’

Hercule Poirot said slowly:

‘Granted that what you say is true, mademoiselle, sixteen years have gone by!’

Carla Lemarchant said: ‘Oh! of course it’s going to be difficult! Nobody but you could do it!’

Hercule Poirot’s eyes twinkled slightly. He said:

‘You give me the best butter—hein?’

Carla said:

‘I’ve heard about you. The things you’ve done. The way you have done them. It’s psychology that interests you, isn’t it? Well, that doesn’t change with time. The tangible things are gone—the cigarette-end and the footprints and the bent blades of grass. You can’t look for those any more. But you can go over all the facts of the case, and perhaps talk to the people who were there at the time—they’re all alive still—and then—and then, as you said just now, you can lie back in your chair and think. And you’ll know what really happened…’

Hercule Poirot rose to his feet. One hand caressed his moustache. He said:
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