فصل 04

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فصل 04

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CHAPTER FOUR

At a quarter to six the next evening Mr Entwhistle’s telephone rang. The caller informed him that Mrs Cora Lansquenet had been murdered in her cottage in the village of Lytchett St Mary.

The next day a police Inspector named Morton came to see him and said, ‘It’s not a very easy case. Mr Entwhistle. Let’s imagine someone was watching Cora Lansquenet’s house and saw her companion. Miss Gilchrist, come out of the house at about two o’clock. This someone then deliberately takes the hatchet that was lying by the woodshed, smashes the kitchen window, gets into the house, goes upstairs, and attacks Mrs Lansquenet. She was hit six or eight times - it was a very violent crime. Then he opens a few cupboards, picks up a few pieces of cheap jewellery, and makes his escape.’

‘She was in bed?’

‘Yes. She returned late from the North the night before and woke with a terrible headache. She took some painkillers but felt no better by lunchtime. She decided to take two sleeping pills and sent Miss Gilchrist into town to change some library books. When this man broke in he could have taken what he wanted just by threatening her. Why did he need to kill her? It looks like she was sleeping peacefully when she was attacked.’

‘We do hear of pointless murders,’ Mr Entwhistle said.

Oh yes, that’s why we’re looking for any suspicious stranger who was seen in the neighbourhood: the local people all have alibis. Of course, her cottage is up a little road outside the village. Anyone could get there without being seen. There has been no rain for some days, so there aren’t any car tracks to go by - in case anyone came by car.

‘There are strange things about the case, Mr Entwhistle. These, for instance.’ Inspector Morton pushed across his desk a collection of cheap jewellery. ‘Those are the things that were taken. They were found just outside the house, hidden in a bush.

‘Of course the companion, Miss Gilchrist, may have killed Miss Lansquenet, but I doubt it. Everyone says they were very friendly.’ He paused before continuing, ‘According to you, nobody gains from Mrs Lansquenet’s death.’

‘I didn’t say that,’ replied Mr Entwhistle. ‘Mrs Lansquenet’s income was an allowance made to her by her brother, her house is rented, and the furniture and jewellery would not be worth much to whoever she’s left it to. However, her legacy from her brother will be divided amongst the five other beneficiaries of Richard Abernethie’s will, so all of them will benefit from her death.’

The Inspector looked disappointed. ‘Well, there doesn’t seem to be a strong motive there for anyone to kill her - and especially not with a hatchet. You’ll be going to see Miss Gilchrist, I suppose? She’s told us, I think, everything that she can, but you never know. Sometimes, in conversation, people remember things. She’s a sensible woman - and she’s really been most helpful.’

Strange, thought Mr Entwhistle, that Cora had been thinking about murder the very day before she herself was murdered.

‘He was murdered, wasn’t he?’

It was too ridiculous to mention to Inspector Morton. But what if Miss Gilchrist could tell him what Richard had said to Cora? I must see Miss Gilchrist immediately, said Mr Entwhistle to himself.

Miss Gilchrist was a thin woman with short, grey hair. ‘I’m so pleased you have come, Mr Entwhistle,’ she said. ‘I’ve never, ever had any involvement with a murder. You read about them, of course, but I don’t even really like doing that.’

Following her into the sitting room, Mr Entwhistle looked around him. There was a strong smell of oil paint and the cottage walls were covered with mostly very dark and dirty oil paintings. But there were watercolour paintings as well, and smaller pictures were in a pile on the window seat.

‘Mrs Lansquenet used to buy paintings at sales,’ Miss Gilchrist explained. ‘She never paid more than a pound for any of them, and there was a wonderful chance, she always said, of finding something valuable.’

Entwhistle doubted if any of these were worth even the pound she had paid for them!

Of course, said Miss Gilchrist, noticing his expression, ‘I don t know much myself, though my father was a painter - not a very successful one. But I used to do watercolours myself as a girl and it was nice for Mrs Lansquenet to have someone she could talk to about painting and who would understand.’

‘You were fond of her?’

Oh yes, said Miss Gilchrist. ‘In some ways, Mrs Lansquenet was just like a child. She said anything that came into her head - but it surprised me sometimes how accurate she could be about things other than art.’

‘You were with Mrs Lansquenet for some years?’

Three and a half. I didmost of the cooking- I enjoy cooking - and some light housework. None of the rough housework, of course. Mrs Panter came in for that. I could not possibly have been a servant. I used to have a little tearoom: The Willow Tree - it was a lovely place. All the cups and plates were blue and the cakes were really good. I was doing well and then the war came and food supplies were cut and I had to close the tearoom and had no money to pay the rent. And so I had to look round for something to do, but, I had never been trained for anything. I went to work for one lady as her companion, but she was so rude - and then I came to Mrs Lansquenet and we were friends from the start.’ Miss Gilchrist added sadly, ‘How I loved my dear, dear little tearoom. Such nice people used to come to it!

‘But I must not talk about myself. The police have been very kind. Inspector Morton even arranged for me to spend the night with someone in the village, but I felt it was my duty to stay here with all Mrs Lansquenet’s nice things in the house. The Inspector told me there would be a policeman on duty in the kitchen all night - because of the broken window - it was fixed this morning - though to be honest, I did pull the dressing table across the door…’

Mr Entwhistle said quickly, ‘I know the main facts, but if it would not upset you too much to give me your own story of what happened…?’

‘Of course.’

‘Mrs Lansquenet got back from the funeral the night before last,’ Mr Entwhistle said. ‘Did she talk about the funeral at all?’

‘Just a little. I gave her a cup of hot milk and she told me that the church had been full and that she was sorry she hadn’t seen her other brother - Timothy. Well, then she said she would go to bed.’

‘She said nothing else that you can remember specially?’

‘She asked me if I would like to go to Italy. Italy! Of course I said it would be wonderful - and she said, “We’ll go!” She told me that her brother had left her a very good income. Poor dear. Well, I’m glad she had the pleasure of planning.’ Miss Gilchrist sighed, ‘I don’t suppose I shall ever go to Italy now…’

‘And the next morning? ‘ Mr Entwhistle asked.

‘The next morning Mrs Lansquenet wasn’t at all well. She’d had almost no sleep at all, she told me, because of bad dreams. She had her breakfast in bed, and at lunchtime she told me that she still hadn’t been able to sleep. “I keep thinking of things and wondering,” she said. And then she said that she would take some sleeping tablets and try and get a good sleep in the afternoon. She wanted me to go into town and change her library books. So I left just after two and that - and that - was the last time…’ Miss Gilchrist began to cry. ‘She must have been asleep, you know, and the Inspector says that she didn’t feel anything… And do tell her relations that apart from having such a bad night, she was really very happy and looking forward to the future.’

‘She did not speak at all about her brother’s death? The - er - cause of it?’

‘No. He had been ill for some time,’ said Miss Gilchrist, ‘though I was surprised to hear it. He looked so very full of life.’ Mr Entwhistle said quickly, ‘You saw him? When?’

About three weeks ago. It was a surprise. Mrs Lansquenet hadn’t expected him. It upset her. She said something like “Poor Richard. He sounds senile. All these silly ideas that someone is poisoning him. Old people get like that.” And of course, that is only too true. When my aunt got old, she thought the servants were trying to poison her!’

Mr Entwhistle was very worried. Richard Abernethie had not been senile. He asked whether Miss Gilchrist knew if Cora Lansquenet had left a will. She replied that Mrs Lansquenet’s will was at the bank.

With that he left. He insisted on Miss Gilchrist accepting some money for her expenses and told her he would contact her again. In the meantime he would be grateful if she would stay on at the cottage while she looked for a new job.

Mr Entwhistle then left to talk to the bank manager and to have a further conversation with Inspector Morton.

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