فصل 14

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فصل 14

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CHAPTER FOURTEEN

Two days later, Hercule Poirot said to the Enderby Hall housemaid, ‘Thank you. You have been most kind.’

Janet left the room. These foreigners, she thought! The questions they asked. It was all very well for Mrs Helen Abernethie to say that Monsieur Pontarlier was a doctor who wanted to buy the house and was also interested in unsuspected heart conditions such as the one Mr Abernethie must have had. But what business was it of his to nose around asking questions about the medicines the Master had taken, and where they were kept! And asking if any of the medicines he took were still in the house. Of course they had all been thrown away.

Poirot went downstairs in search of Lanscombe. It was quite clear to him that anybody could have got into the house on the day before Richard Abernethie died, and put poison into one of his medicines. Or someone could have put poison pills into the bottle next to his bed where his sleeping pills were. This was more likely.

The front door was kept locked at all times, but there was a side door that led to the garden which was not locked until the evening. At about quarter-past one, when the gardeners had gone to lunch and when the household was in the dining room or kitchen, Poirot had entered the grounds through the main gate, walked through the garden to the side door, and gone up the stairs to Richard Abernethie’s bedroom without meeting anybody.

Yes, it could have been done. But the murder - if it was murder - of Richard Abernethie could never be proved. It was Cora Lansquenet’s murder for which evidence was needed. What Poirot now wanted was to study the people who had been at the funeral by watching and talking to them, and then make his own conclusions about them.

‘Yes, Sir?’ Lanscombe said politely.

‘Mrs Abernethie tells me that you had hoped to live in the cottage by the gates when you retired?’

‘That is so, Sir. Naturally all that is changed now. When…’ Poirot interrupted, ‘It might still be possible. The cottage is not needed for the U.N.A.R.C.O guests and the people who will look after them.’

‘Well, thank you, Sir. Most of the guests would be foreigners, wouldn’t they?’

‘Yes. Amongst those who came from Europe to this country before and during the war are several who are old and unwell. The organization I work for has raised money to buy country homes for them. This place is, I think, very suitable.’

Lanscombe sighed. ‘If Enderby Hall has to be sold, I’m pleased to think that it’s going to be the kind of place you’re talking about. We’ve always welcomed the unfortunate in this country, Sir; it has always been something to be proud of.’

‘Thank you, Lanscombe,’ said Poirot gently. ‘Your Master’s death must have been a great shock to you.’

‘It was, Sir. No one could have had a better Master.’

‘I have been talking with my friend and - er - colleague, Dr Larraby. We were wondering if your Master could have had an unpleasant interview on the day before he died? You do not remember if any visitors came to the house that day?’

‘Some nuns called, collecting money for sick children - and a young man came to the back door to sell some brushes. Nobody else.’

Poirot went to see Marjorie, the cook, and had no difficulty in finding out exactly what had been served at dinner the night before Richard Abernethie had died, but he learned nothing of value from her.

He went now to get his overcoat and a couple of scarves, and went out into the garden and joined Helen Abernethie, who was cutting some flowers.

‘Have you found out anything new?’ she asked.

‘Nothing. But I did not expect to do so. Now tell me, Madame, of those at Mr Richard Abernethie’s funeral, who knew Cora best?’

‘Lanscombe. He remembers her from when she was a child. The housemaid, Janet, came after Cora had married and gone away.’

‘And after Lanscombe?’

Helen said thoughtfully, ‘I suppose - I did.’

‘Then why, on the day of the funeral, do you think she asked that question about Richard Abernethie being murdered?’

Helen smiled. ‘It was very typical of Cora! But I never knew whether she was just innocently asking such questions - or whether she wanted to shock people.’

Poirot changed the subject. ‘Mrs Maude Abernethie stayed the night after the funeral. Did she talk to you at all about what Cora had said? Did she take it seriously?’

‘Oh no.’

‘And you, Madame, did you take it seriously?’

Helen Abernethie said thoughtfully, ‘Yes, Monsieur Poirot,

I think I did.’

‘Because of your feeling that something was wrong?’

‘Perhaps.’

He continued, ‘There had been a separation, lasting many years, between Mrs Lansquenet and her family, and then, suddenly, Richard Abernethie went to see her. Why?’

‘I really don’t know. He told me that he was going to see his brother Timothy, but he never mentioned Cora at all.’

As they went in by the side door, Poirot said, ‘You are sure that during your visit, Richard said nothing to you about any member of the family which might be relevant?’

Helen said, ‘You are speaking like a policeman.’

‘I was a policeman - once. And you want the truth, Mr Entwhistle tells me?’

Helen said with a sigh, ‘Richard was disappointed in the younger generation. But there was nothing - nothing - that could possibly suggest a motive for murder.’

‘Ah,’ said Poirot.

In the sitting room Helen began to arrange the flowers in a bowl.

‘You arrange these beautifully, Madame. I think that anything you do, you would manage to do with perfection.’

‘Thank you, Monsieur. I think this would look good on that green marble table.’

There was a bouquet of wax flowers under a glass shade on the table. As she lifted it off, Poirot said, ‘Did anyone tell Mr Abernethie that his niece Susan’s husband had almost poisoned a customer when making up a medicine? Ah!’

The shade had slipped from Helen’s fingers. It dropped on the floor and broke.

‘How careless of me. However, I can get a new glass shade. I’ll put the flowers and the broken shade in the cupboard behind the stairs.’

It was not until Poirot had helped her to carry the pieces to the cupboard that he said, ‘It was my fault. I should not have shocked you.’

‘What was it that you asked me? I have forgotten.’

‘Oh, there is no need to repeat my question. Indeed - I have forgotten what it was.’

Helen put her hand on his arm. ‘Monsieur Poirot, is there anyone who doesn’t have secrets that they would prefer stayed secret? Must these things be revealed when they have nothing to do with - with…’

‘With the death of Cora Lansquenet? Yes. Because one has to examine everything, and everyone has something to hide. I say to you, nothing can be ignored. I am not the police and what I learn does not interest me. But I have to know. I need, Madame, to meet everyone who was here on the day of the funeral. And it would be much easier if I could meet them here, and so I have a plan. The house, Mr Entwhistle will tell the family, is to be bought by U.N.A.R.C.O., and I will be here as that organization’s representative. I will call myself Monsieur Pontarlier and Mr Entwhistle will invite the family to come here and choose those things they would like before everything is sold. The young people will come easily. But the problem is that Mr Timothy Abernethie never leaves his home.’

Helen smiled. ‘I believe you may be lucky there, Monsieur Poirot. I spoke to Maude yesterday. They have workmen in, painting the house and Timothy says the smell of the paint is making him ill. I think that they would be pleased to come here for a week or two. Maude is still not able to move around very well because she broke her ankle.’

‘I had not heard. How unfortunate.’

‘Luckily they have got Cora’s companion, Miss Gilchrist, with them. She has turned out to be a huge help.’

‘Did they ask for Miss Gilchrist to go to them? Who suggested it?’

‘Susan fixed it up. Susan Banks.’

‘Aha,’ said Poirot. ‘Susan likes to make arrangements. Did you hear that Miss Gilchrist was poisoned and nearly died?’

‘No!’ Helen looked shocked. ‘Oh! Get them all here! Find out the truth! There mustn’t be any more murders.’

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