فصل 07

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فصل 07

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CHAPTER SEVEN

‘I can’t tell you how pleased I am that you were able to see me so soon,’ Mr Entwhistle said as Hercule Poirot led him to a chair by the fire. On one side of the room a table was laid for two.

Poirot said, ‘You are welcome, mon ami. I returned from the country this morning. And you have something you wish to discuss with me?’

‘Yes. It’s a long story, I’m afraid.’

‘Then we will not have it until after we have eaten. Georges?’

Poirot’s manservant, Georges, came in immediately with some pate de foie gras and hot toast.

‘We will have our pate by the fire,’ said Poirot. ‘Afterwards we will move to the table…’

It was an hour and a half later that Mr Entwhistle sighed happily. ‘You certainly know how to eat well, Poirot.’

‘At my age, the main pleasure, almost the only pleasure that still remains, is the pleasure of the table,’ the Belgian detective said.

A very good port was now by Mr Entwhistle’s side. Poirot had a sweet liqueur.

‘I don’t know,’ said Mr Entwhistle, ‘whether I’m making a fool of myself. But I’m going to put the facts before you, and then I’d like to know what you think.’

He paused for a moment or two, then he started speaking again. He told the story clearly, which was appreciated by the little man with the egg-shaped head who sat listening to him.

When Entwhistle had finished there was a pause. Then Hercule Poirot said at last, ‘It seems very clear. You have in your mind the suspicion that your friend, Richard Abernethie may have been murdered? A suspicion that you made on the basis of one thing only - the words spoken by Cora Lansquenet at Richard Abernethie’s funeral. The fact that she herself was murdered the day afterwards may be a coincidence. It is true that Richard Abernethie died suddenly, but he was being seen by a doctor who had no suspicions. Was Richard buried or cremated?’

‘Cremated - at his own request.’

‘So we come back to the essential point: what Cora Lansquenet said. And the real point is - that you believe she was speaking the truth.’

‘Yes, I do,’ replied Mr Entwhistle

‘Why? Is it because already you had an uneasiness about the way Richard’s death happened?’

The lawyer shook his head. ‘No, no, it isn’t that.’

‘Then it is because of her - of Cora herself. You knew her well?’

‘I had not seen her for - oh - over thirty years.’

‘Would you have known her if you had met her in the street? ‘ Mr Entwhistle thought hard. ‘I might have passed her by in the street without recognising her. But the moment I spoke to her face to face I would have recognised her. She wore her hair in the same way, and had a trick of looking up at you through her fringe, and she had a way of putting her head on one side and then suddenly saying something shocking. She had character, you see and character is always highly individual.’

‘She was, in fact, the same Cora you had known years ago. And she still said shocking things!’ said Poirot. ‘The shocking things she had said in the past - were they usually correct?’

‘That was always the awkward thing about Cora. She spoke the truth when it would have been better not to.’

‘And Cora was quite sure Richard had been murdered. So she must have had some reason for the belief. Now tell me - when she said what she did, everyone protested immediately - that is right? And she then became confused and said something like “But I thought - from what he told me…”’

The lawyer nodded. ‘I wish I could remember more clearly. But I’m fairly sure she used the words “he told me” or “he said…”’

‘And then everyone spoke of something else. You can remember, looking back, no special expression on anyone’s face?’ Poirot continued his questioning.

‘No.’

‘And the very next day, Cora is killed - and you ask yourself, “Was she killed because what she had said was true?” Me, I think, mon cher. exactly as you thought - that there is a case for investigation. You have spoken of these matters to the police?’

‘No. I represent the family, Poirot. And if Richard Abernethie was murdered, there seems only one way it could have been done.’

‘By poison?’

‘Exactly. And the body has been cremated. There is now no evidence available. But I, myself, must be sure about it. That is why, Poirot, I have come to you.’

‘Who was in the house at the time of his death?’

‘Lanscombe - an old butler who has been with him for years, a cook and a housemaid. If he was murdered, one of them must be the killer.’

‘Ah no! This Cora, she knows Richard Abernethie was killed, yet she agrees to keeping it quiet. Therefore it must be one of the family who is responsible. But we shall never be able to prove anything in the case of Richard Abernethie. However, the murder of Cora Lansquenet is different. Once we know “who” then it should be possible to get the evidence we need. You have already done something?’ Poirot asked.

‘I hoped that by a few casual questions I could clear certain members of the family from suspicion, perhaps all of them. In which case, Cora would have been wrong and her own death must have been done by a criminal who broke in. After all, it is simple. What were the members of the Abernethie family doing on the afternoon that Cora Lansquenet was killed?’

‘Eh bien.’ said Poirot, ‘what were they doing?’

‘George Crossfield was at Hurst Park horse-races. Rosamund Shane was shopping in London. Her husband was at lunch discussing a play. Susan and Gregory Banks were at home all day. Timothy Abernethie was at his home in Yorkshire, and his wife was driving herself home from Enderby.’

Hercule Poirot nodded. ‘Yes, that is what they say. And is it all true?’

‘I don’t know, Poirot. George may have been at Hurst Park races, but I do not think he was. He said that he had bet on a couple of winners. I asked him the names and both horses he named had, I found, been expected to win - but only one had.’

‘Interesting. Had this George any urgent need for money at the time of his uncle’s death?’

‘I have no evidence, but I suspect that he has been gambling with his clients’ money.’ He sighed. ‘As for Rosamund, she is lovely, but not very intelligent. Her husband, Michael Shane, is a man with ambition. But I have no reason to suspect him of a violent crime. However, until I know that he really was doing what he says he was doing, I cannot take him off my list of suspects.’

‘You have no doubts about Rosamund, the wife?’

‘No - no - she is a delicate-looking creature.’

‘And beautiful!’ said Poirot with a smile. ‘And the other niece?’

‘Susan? She is a girl of huge ability, I think. She and her husband were at home together that day. I said that I had tried to telephone them on the afternoon in question - I hadn’t, of course. Greg said very quickly that the telephone had not been working all day.’

‘So again there is no evidence… What is the husband like?’

‘He does not have a pleasing personality, though I cannot say exactly why. Susan has the mental strength and intelligence of Richard Abernethie. But I feel that she lacks the kindness and warmth of my old friend.’

‘Women are never kind,’ remarked Poirot. ‘Though they can sometimes be gentle. Does she love her husband?’

‘She loves him almost too much, I would say.’

‘Me, I am not so sentimental about beautiful young ladies! Now tell me about your visit to the older members of the Abernethie family.’

Mr Entwhistle described his visit to Timothy and Maude and Poirot nodded.

‘So Mrs Maude Abernethie is a good car mechanic. And Mr Timothy Abernethie is not the sick man he likes to think himself. He also resented his brother’s success. What about the sixth beneficiary?’

‘Helen? I do not suspect her for a moment. Anyway, she was at Enderby. With three servants in the house.’

‘Eh bien, my friend,’ said Poirot. ‘What do you want me to do?’

‘I want to know the truth, Poirot. I know you don’t take cases any more, but I ask you to take this one. And I will be responsible for your fees. Come now, money is always useful.’

Poirot smiled. ‘Not if it all goes in the taxes! But I will admit, your problem interests me! Because it is not easy… But I think it will be best if you yourself talk to the doctor who was looking after Mr Richard Abernethie. He will speak more freely to you than to me. Ask him about Mr Abernethie’s illness. Find out what medicines Mr Abernethie was taking at the time of his death and even before. Find out if he ever said anything to his doctor about being poisoned. By the way, this Miss Gilchrist is sure that he used the term poisoned in talking to his sister?’

Mr Entwhistle thought for a moment. ‘It was the word she used - but she is the sort of witness who might change the actual words used, thinking that complete accuracy isn’t important. I can talk to her again.’

‘Yes. Or I will do so.’ Poirot now said in a different voice, ‘Has it occurred to you that your Miss Gilchrist may be in some danger herself? Cora spoke her suspicions on the day of the funeral. The question in the murderer’s mind will be, did Cora tell them to anybody when she first heard of Richard’s death? And the most likely person for her to have spoken to about them would be Miss Gilchrist. I think, mon cher, that she should not be alone in that cottage!’

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