Five Little Pigs
Агата Кристи

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‘Mademoiselle, I am honoured! I will justify your faith in me. I will investigate your case of murder. I will search back into the events of sixteen years ago and I will find out the truth.’

Carla got up. Her eyes were shining. But she only said:

‘Good.’

Hercule Poirot shook an eloquent forefinger.

‘One little moment. I have said I will find out the truth. I do not, you understand, have the bias. I do not accept your assurance of your mother’s innocence. If she was guilty—eh bien, what then?’

Carla’s proud head went back. She said:

‘I’m her daughter. I want the truth!’

Hercule Poirot said:

‘En avant, then. Though it is not that, that I should say. On the contrary. En arrière…’

Book I (#ulink_1cd90ae7-85f6-56a7-b90d-962a60436d5a)

Chapter 1 (#ulink_71e65f92-d562-54e0-9590-c04446f2dba8)

Counsel for the Defence (#ulink_71e65f92-d562-54e0-9590-c04446f2dba8)

‘Do I remember the Crale case?’ asked Sir Montague Depleach. ‘Certainly I do. Remember it very well. Most attractive woman. But unbalanced, of course. No self-control.’

He glanced sideways at Poirot.

‘What makes you ask me about it?’

‘I am interested.’

‘Not really tactful of you, my dear man,’ said Depleach, showing his teeth in his sudden famous ‘wolf’s smile’, which had been reputed to have such a terrifying effect upon witnesses. ‘Not one of my successes, you know. I didn’t get her off.’

‘I know that.’

Sir Montague shrugged his shoulders. He said:

‘Of course I hadn’t quite as much experience then as I have now. All the same I think I did all that could humanly be done. One can’t do much without co-operation. We did get it commuted to penal servitude. Provocation, you know. Lots of respectable wives and mothers got up a petition. There was a lot of sympathy for her.’

He leaned back stretching out his long legs. His face took on a judicial, appraising look.

‘If she’d shot him, you know, or even knifed him—I’d have gone all out for manslaughter. But poison—no, you can’t play tricks with that. It’s tricky—very tricky.’

‘What was the defence?’ asked Hercule Poirot.

He knew because he had already read the newspaper files, but he saw no harm in playing the complete ignorant to Sir Montague.

‘Oh, suicide. Only thing you could go for. But it didn’t go down well. Crale simply wasn’t that kind of man! You never met him, I suppose? No? Well, he was a great blustering, vivid sort of chap. Great womanizer, beer drinker—all the rest of it. Went in for the lusts of the flesh and enjoyed them. You can’t persuade a jury that a man like that is going to sit down and quietly do away with himself. It just doesn’t fit. No, I was afraid I was up against a losing proposition from the first. And she wouldn’t play up! I knew we’d lost as soon as she went into the box. No fight in her at all. But there it is—if you don’t put your client into the box, the jury draw their own conclusions.’

Poirot said:

‘Is that what you meant when you said just now that one cannot do much without co-operation?’

‘Absolutely, my dear fellow. We’re not magicians, you know. Half the battle is the impression the accused makes on the jury. I’ve known juries time and again bring in verdicts dead against the judge’s summing up. “ ’E did it, all right”—that’s the point of view. Or “He never did a thing like that—don’t tell me!” Caroline Crale didn’t even try to put up a fight.’

‘Why was that?’

Sir Montague shrugged his shoulders.

‘Don’t ask me. Of course, she was fond of the fellow. Broke her all up when she came to and realized what she’d done. Don’t believe she ever rallied from the shock.’

‘So in your opinion she was guilty?’

Depleach looked rather startled. He said:

‘Er—well, I thought we were taking that for granted.’

‘Did she ever admit to you that she was guilty?’

Depleach looked shocked.

‘Of course not—of course not. We have our code, you know. Innocence is always—er—assumed. If you’re so interested it’s a pity you can’t get hold of old Mayhew. Mayhews were the solicitors who briefed me. Old Mayhew could have told you more than I can. But there—he’s joined the great majority. There’s young George Mayhew, of course, but he was only a boy at the time. It’s a long time ago, you know.’

‘Yes, I know. It is fortunate for me that you remember so much. You have a remarkable memory.’

Depleach looked pleased. He murmured:

‘Oh well, one remembers the main headings, you know. Especially when it’s a capital charge. And, of course, the Crale case got a lot of publicity from the press. Lot of sex interest and all that. The girl in the case was pretty striking. Hard-boiled piece of goods, I thought.’

‘You will forgive me if I seem too insistent,’ said Poirot, ‘but I repeat once more, you had no doubt of Caroline Crale’s guilt?’

Depleach shrugged his shoulders. He said:

‘Frankly—as man to man—I don’t think there’s much doubt about it. Oh yes, she did it all right.’

‘What was the evidence against her?’

‘Very damning indeed. First of all there was motive. She and Crale had led a kind of cat and dog life for years—interminable rows. He was always getting mixed up with some woman or other. Couldn’t help it. He was that kind of man. She stood it pretty well on the whole. Made allowances for him on the score of temperament—and the man really was a first-class painter, you know. His stuff’s gone up enormously in price—enormously. Don’t care for that style of painting myself—ugly forceful stuff, but it’s good—no doubt of that.

‘Well, as I say, there had been trouble about women from time to time. Mrs Crale wasn’t the meek kind who suffers in silence. There were rows all right. But he always came back to her in the end. These affairs of his blew over. But this final affair was rather different. It was a girl, you see—and quite a young girl. She was only twenty.

‘Elsa Greer, that was her name. She was the only daughter of some Yorkshire manufacturer. She’d got money and determination, and she knew what she wanted. What she wanted was Amyas Crale. She got him to paint her—he didn’t paint regular Society portraits, “Mrs Blinkety Blank in satin and pearls”, but he painted figures. I don’t know that most women would have cared to be painted by him—he didn’t spare them! But he painted the Greer girl, and he ended by falling for her good and proper. He was getting on for forty, you know, and he’d been married a good many years. He was just ripe for making a fool of himself over some chit of a girl. Elsa Greer was the girl. He was crazy about her, and his idea was to get a divorce from his wife and marry Elsa.

‘Caroline Crale wasn’t standing for that. She threatened him. She was overheard by two people to say that if he didn’t give the girl up she’d kill him. And she meant it all right! The day before it happened, they’d been having tea with a neighbour. He was by way of dabbling in herbs and home-brewed medicines. Amongst his patent brews was one of coniine—spotted hemlock. There was some talk about it and its deadly properties.

‘The next day he noticed that half the contents of the bottle had gone. Got the wind up about it. They found an almost empty bottle of it in Mrs Crale’s room, hidden away at the bottom of a drawer.’

Hercule Poirot moved uncomfortably. He said:
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