فصل 22

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فصل 22

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CHAPTER TWENTY TWO

The telegram came about six o’clock that evening, and then Hercule Poirot gathered his audience and began speaking. ‘The puzzle is solved. Let me first, go over the various points which were brought to my attention by the excellent Mr Entwhistle.

‘First, Mr Richard Abernethie dies suddenly. Secondly, after his funeral, his sister Cora Lansquenet says, “He was murdered, wasn’t he?” Thirdly Mrs Lansquenet is killed. Then Miss Gilchrist becomes ill after eating a piece of wedding cake, which was poisoned with arsenic. That is the next step in the sequence.

‘I have found nothing to prove that Mr Abernethie was poisoned. Equally, I have found nothing to prove that he was not. But Cora Lansquenet undoubtedly asked that shocking question. And undoubtedly Mrs Lansquenet was murdered. Now, the post van driver strongly believes that he did not deliver that wedding cake. If that is so, then the parcel was left by hand and though we cannot exclude a “person unknown” - we must consider those people who were able to put the parcel where it was found. Those were: Miss Gilchrist herself, of course; Susan Banks; Mr Entwhistle and Mr Guthrie, an art critic; and a nun or nuns who called to collect money.

‘Miss Gilchrist did not benefit by Richard Abernethie’s death and in only a very small way by the death of Mrs Lansquenet - and Miss Gilchrist was taken to hospital with arsenic poisoning.

‘Susan Banks did benefit from Richard Abernethie’s death, and in a small way from Mrs Lansquenet’s. She might have believed that Miss Gilchrist had overheard a conversation between Cora Lansquenet and Richard Abernethie which referred to her. Because of that she might have decided that Miss Gilchrist must be killed. She did, after all, refuse to eat the wedding cake.

‘Mr Entwhistle did not benefit by either of the deaths - but he did have considerable control over Mr Abernethie’s affairs, and there could easily be some reason why Richard Abernethie should not live too long. But - you will say - if it is Mr Entwhistle who was worried, why should he come to me?

And that I will answer - it is not the first time that a murderer has been too sure of himself.

‘We now come to Mr Guthrie. If Mr Guthrie is really Mr Guthrie, the art critic, then that clears him. The same is true for the nun, if she is really a nun. The question is: are these people themselves, or are they somebody else?

‘And there seems to be a strange - pattern - one might call it - of a nun all through this business. A nun comes to the door of Mr Timothy Abernethie’s house and Miss Gilchrist believes it is the same nun she has seen at Cora’s house. Also a nun, or nuns, called here the day before Mr Abernethie died.

‘Other features of the case caught my attention: the visit of an art critic, a smell of oil paint, a picture postcard of Polflexan harbour, and finally a bouquet of wax flowers.

‘It was thinking about these things that led me to the truth. Richard Abernethie died suddenly - but there would have been no reason to suspect murder if it had not been for the words said by his sister Cora at his funeral. You all believed them because Cora Lansquenet had always been famous for speaking the truth at difficult moments.

‘And now I come to the question that I suddenly asked myself: How well did you all know Cora Lansquenet? And Not well at all is the answer! There were actually only three people present that day who really knew Cora. Lanscombe, the butler, who is old and almost blind; Mrs Maude Abernethie who had only seen her a few times round about the date of her own wedding; and Mrs Helen Abernethie who had not seen her for over thirty years.

‘So I said to myself: “Supposing it was not Cora Lansquenet who came to the funeral that day?’”

‘Do you mean that it wasn’t Aunt Cora who was murdered, but someone else?’ Susan demanded.

‘No, no, it was Cora Lansquenet who was murdered. But it was not Cora Lansquenet who came to the funeral. The woman who came that day came for one purpose only - to create in the minds of his relations the idea that Richard Abernethie had been murdered!’

‘Why? What was the point of it?’ Maude asked.

‘To draw attention away from the murder of Cora Lansquenet herself For if Cora says that Richard has been murdered, and the next day she herself is killed, then her death will be believed to be the result of what she said. But if Cora had simply been murdered without making her comment about Richard’s death, and if the “robbery” did not convince the police, then suspicion would be likely to fall on the woman who shared the house with her.’

Miss Gilchrist protested, ‘Oh really, you don’t suggest I’d commit a murder for a piece of jewellery and a few worthless watercolours?’

‘No,’ said Poirot. ‘But one of those watercolours represented Polflexan harbour which, as Mrs Banks realized, had been copied from a picture postcard which showed the old pier still in position. Yet Mrs Lansquenet painted always from life. Mr Entwhistle had mentioned there being a smell of oil paint in the cottage. You can paint, can’t you, Miss Gilchrist? And you had been painting over another picture. You know a lot about painting. Supposing that one of the pictures that Cora bought at a sale was a really valuable one. Supposing that she did not recognize it, but that you did. You knew she was expecting a visit from a well-known art critic. Then her brother died suddenly - and a plan comes into your head. It was easy to put a sleeping drug in her morning tea that would keep her unconscious for the whole of the day of the funeral whilst you played her part at Enderby. She talked a lot about her childhood days so it was easy for you to “remember” incidents and objects. You were wearing Cora’s clothes, with padding to make you look larger, and a false fringe. And Cora had certain mannerisms, all of which you had practised carefully before a mirror.

‘But you forgot that a mirror image is reversed. When you saw in the glass the perfect reproduction of Cora’s sideways movement of the head, you didn’t realize that it was actually the wrong way round. You saw Cora tilting her head to the right - but your own head was tilted to the left to produce that effect in the mirror.

‘That was what puzzled Helen Abernethie at the moment when you asked your famous question. Something seemed to her “wrong”. I realized myself the other night when Rosamund Shane made an unexpected comment about what happens on such an occasion. Everybody looks at the speaker. After the talk about mirror images, I think Helen Abernethie experimented before her mirror. She probably thought of Cora, remembered how Cora used to tilt her head to the right, did so, and looked in the mirror - when, of course, she realized just what had been wrong on the day of the funeral. She was determined to tell Mr Entwhistle of her discovery as soon as she woke next morning. But someone who was used to getting up early followed her downstairs and hit her on the head.

‘I may as well tell you now that Mrs Abernethie is not seriously ill. She will soon be able to tell us her own story. That aside, at any moment you were prepared to admit that you had listened to a conversation between Richard and his sister. What he actually told her, no doubt, was the fact that he had not long to live, and that explains a phrase in the letter he wrote to her after getting home. The “nun” was another of your suggestions. The nuns who called at the cottage on the day of the inquest suggested to you a mention of a nun who was “following you round”, and you used that when you were anxious to hear what Maude Abernethie was saying to her sister-in-law at Enderby. And also because you wished to go with her there and find out for yourself just what suspicions there were. To poison yourself, badly but not fatally, with arsenic, is a very old trick- and made Inspector Morton suspicious of you.’

‘But the picture?’ said Rosamund. ‘What was it?’

Poirot slowly unfolded a telegram. ‘This morning Mr Entwhistle went to Mr Timothy Abernethie’s house to look among the pictures in Miss Gilchrist’s room. He was to take the one of Polflexan Harbour to London and go to Mr Guthrie whom I had contacted by telegram. The hastily painted sketch of Polflexan was removed from the surface and the original picture was exposed.’

He held up the telegram and read:

‘Definitely a Vermeer. Guthrie.’

Suddenly, Miss Gilchrist spoke. ‘I knew it was a Vermeer. She didn’t know! She was always talking about Enderby, and what they did there as children. You don’t know how boring it is, listening to somebody saying the same things, hour after hour and day after day. Boring - boring - boring. And nothing to look forward to. And then - a Vermeer! Another Vermeer sold recently for over five thousand pounds!’

‘You killed her for five thousand pounds?’ Susan’s voice was shocked.

‘Five thousand pounds,’ said Poirot, ‘would have paid for a tearoom…’

‘At least,’ Miss Gilchrist said, ‘you understand. I was going to call it the Palm Tree. And have wooden tables - and little chairs with striped red and white cushions…’

For a few moments, the tearoom that would never be, seemed more real than the sitting room at Enderby.

It was Inspector Morton who broke the silence by asking Miss Gilchrist to go with him.

‘Oh, certainly,’ she said. ‘I don’t want to give any trouble. After all, if I can’t have the Palm Tree, nothing really seems to matter very much…’

She went out of the room with him and Susan said, her voice still shaken, ‘I’ve never imagined a ladylike murderer. It’s horrible…’

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