‘Tell me, Mary, he threatened her, did he not?’
‘Oh, yes, sir, it was awful the things he used to say. That he’d cut her throat, and such like. Cursing and swearing too—both in German and in English. And yet auntie says he was a fine handsome figure of a man when she married him. It’s dreadful to think, sir, what people come to.’
‘Yes, indeed. And so, I suppose, Mary, having actually heard these threats, you were not so very surprised when you learnt what had happened?’
‘Oh, but I was, sir. You see, sir, I never thought for one moment that he meant it. I thought it was just nasty talk and nothing more to it. And it isn’t as though auntie was afraid of him. Why, I’ve seen him slink away like a dog with its tail between its legs when she turned on him. He was afraid of her if you like.’
‘And yet she gave him money?’
‘Well, he was her husband, you see, sir.’
‘Yes, so you said before.’ He paused for a minute or two. Then he said: ‘Suppose that, after all, he did not kill her.’
‘Didn’t kill her?’
‘That is what I said. Supposing someone else killed her…Have you any idea who that someone else could be?’
She stared at him with even more amazement.
‘I’ve no idea, sir. It doesn’t seem likely, though, does it?’
‘There was no one your aunt was afraid of?’
Mary shook her head.
‘Auntie wasn’t afraid of people. She’d a sharp tongue and she’d stand up to anybody.’
‘You never heard her mention anyone who had a grudge against her?’
‘No, indeed, sir.’
‘Did she ever get anonymous letters?’
‘What kind of letters did you say, sir?’
‘Letters that weren’t signed—or only signed by something like A B C.’ He watched her narrowly, but plainly she was at a loss. She shook her head wonderingly.
‘Has your aunt any relations except you?’
‘Not now, sir. One of ten she was, but only three lived to grow up. My Uncle Tom was killed in the war, and my Uncle Harry went to South America and no one’s heard of him since, and mother’s dead, of course, so there’s only me.’
‘Had your aunt any savings? Any money put by?’
‘She’d a little in the Savings Bank, sir—enough to bury her proper, that’s what she always said. Otherwise she didn’t more than just make ends meet—what with her old devil and all.’
Poirot nodded thoughtfully. He said—perhaps more to himself than to her:
‘At present one is in the dark—there is no direction—if things get clearer—’ He got up. ‘If I want you at any time, Mary, I will write to you here.’
‘As a matter of fact, sir, I’m giving in my notice. I don’t like the country. I stayed here because I fancied it was a comfort to auntie to have me near by. But now’—again the tears rose in her eyes—‘there’s no reason I should stay, and so I’ll go back to London. It’s gayer for a girl there.’
‘I wish that, when you do go, you would give me your address. Here is my card.’
He handed it to her. She looked at it with a puzzled frown.
‘Then you’re not—anything to do with the police, sir?’
‘I am a private detective.’
She stood there looking at him for some moments in silence.
She said at last:
‘Is there anything—queer going on, sir?’
‘Yes, my child. There is—something queer going on. Later you may be able to help me.’
‘I—I’ll do anything, sir. It—it wasn’t right, sir, auntie being killed.’
A strange way of putting it—but deeply moving.
A few seconds later we were driving back to Andover.
Chapter 6 (#ulink_77b43e4a-88ab-5328-874a-e3ecc857f849)
The Scene of the Crime (#ulink_77b43e4a-88ab-5328-874a-e3ecc857f849)
The street in which the tragedy had occurred was a turning off the main street. Mrs Ascher’s shop was situated about halfway down it on the right-hand side.
As we turned into the street Poirot glanced at his watch and I realized why he had delayed his visit to the scene of the crime until now. It was just on half-past five. He had wished to reproduce yesterday’s atmosphere as closely as possible.
But if that had been his purpose it was defeated. Certainly at this moment the road bore very little likeness to its appearance on the previous evening. There were a certain number of small shops interspersed between private houses of the poorer class. I judged that ordinarily there would be a fair number of people passing up and down—mostly people of the poorer classes, with a good sprinkling of children playing on the pavements and in the road.
At this moment there was a solid mass of people standing staring at one particular house or shop and it took little perspicuity to guess which that was. What we saw was a mass of average human beings looking with intense interest at the spot where another human being had been done to death.
As we drew nearer this proved to be indeed the case. In front of a small dingy-looking shop with its shutters now closed stood a harassed-looking young policeman who was stolidly adjuring the crowd to ‘pass along there.’ By the help of a colleague, displacements took place—a certain number of people grudgingly sighed and betook themselves to their ordinary vocations, and almost immediately other persons came along and took up their stand to gaze their fill on the spot where murder had been committed.
Poirot stopped a little distance from the main body of the crowd. From where we stood the legend painted over the door could be read plainly enough. Poirot repeated it under his breath.
‘A. Ascher. Oui, c’est peut-être là—’
He broke off.
‘Come, let us go inside, Hastings.’
I was only too ready.