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Chapter twenty four

Poirot Explains

‘You did it very well, Monsieur Poirot,’ said Inspector Kelsey. ‘You made Ann Shapland think that we were going to arrest Miss Rich, and Mrs Upjohn’s sudden appearance completely surprised her. If the bullet in that gun matches the one that killed Miss Springer…’

‘It will, my friend, it will,’ said Poirot.

‘Then we’ll have definite evidence that Ann Shapland murdered Miss Springer. And of course she shot Miss Chadwick. But I still don’t understand how she killed Miss Vansittart. It’s impossible - she has a perfect alibi.’

‘It is true,’ Poirot said, ‘that Ann Shapland killed Miss Springer and Mademoiselle Blanche. But Miss Vansittart -‘ He hesitated for a moment, and looked at Miss Bulstrode. ‘Miss Vansittart was killed by Miss Chadwick.’

‘Miss Chadwick?’ exclaimed Miss Bulstrode and Kelsey together.

Poirot nodded. ‘I am sure of it.’

‘But - but why?’ said Miss Bulstrode.

‘I think,’ explained Poirot, ‘that Miss Chadwick loved Meadowbank too much. When you retired she wanted to be the next head teacher.’

‘But she’s much too old,’ said Miss Bulstrode.

‘Yes,’ said Poirot, ‘but she didn’t think so. Then she found out that you were thinking of making Eleanor Vansittart head teacher. Miss Chadwick loved Meadowbank, and she did not like Eleanor Vansittart. I think in the end she hated her. She was jealous.’

‘I see…’ said Miss Bulstrode slowly. ‘Yes, yes, I see… I should have known.’

‘And when you went away for the weekend you chose Eleanor Vansittart to be in charge… said Poirot gently. ‘This is what I think happened. Just as she said, Miss Chadwick saw the light in the Sports Pavilion and went out to investigate. But it was Miss Vansittart who took a golf club with her - not Miss Chadwick. Miss Chadwick took a sandbag, and when she saw Eleanor Vansittart kneeling down she lifted the sandbag and hit her.

Miss Chadwick was horrified by what she had done - she had killed Miss Vansittart because of jealousy. But now she was sure she would be the next head teacher, so she told the police that she had taken the golf club, not the sandbag - which she put back.’

‘But why did Ann Shapland kill Mademoiselle Blanche with a sandbag?’ asked Miss Bulstrode.

‘Because she could not use her gun, as the shot would be heard,’ explained Poirot. And she cleverly wanted to connect the third murder with the second one - because for the second murder she had an alibi.’

And why did you ask Eileen Rich to draw various members of my staff?’

‘I wanted to see if Jennifer Sutcliffe would recognize a face. But she did not recognize Mademoiselle Blanche with a different hairstyle, so it is doubtful that she would have recognized Ann Shapland.’

‘So was Ann Shapland the woman with the racquet?’ asked Miss Bulstrode.

‘Yes,’ said Poirot. All this time she has been working alone - to get the jewels for herself. That day you rang your buzzer to ask for Mademoiselle Julia, Ann Shapland did not answer. She put on a blonde wig and a blue dress, and was away from her desk for only twenty minutes.’

‘And Miss Rich?’ Miss Bulstrode looked thoughtful.

Hercule Poirot and Inspector Kelsey looked at each other. ‘Talk to her,’ said Poirot, as the two men left the room. ‘That is the best thing to do.’

When Eileen Rich appeared, her face was white. ‘So you want to know what I was doing in Ramat?’

‘I think I know,’ said Miss Bulstrode. ‘Jennifer said you were fat. She didn’t realize you were pregnant.’

‘Yes,’ said Eileen Rich. ‘I was going to have a baby. I didn’t want to lose my job here, so when I couldn’t hide it any longer I said I was ill and went abroad to Ramat. But my baby - my baby was born dead. I came back this term and hoped that no one would ever know. That’s why I had to say no when you asked me to be the next head teacher.’

She paused and said calmly, ‘Would you like me to leave now? Or wait until the end of term?’

‘I want you to stay - and come back next term,’ said Miss Bulstrode, ‘if there is one.’

‘Come back?’ said Eileen Rich. ‘Do you mean you still want me?’

‘Of course I do,’ said Miss Bulstrode. ‘You haven’t murdered anyone, have you? You had a love affair and a baby. But I think the real passion of your life is teaching.’

‘Oh yes,’ agreed Eileen Rich. ‘I love teaching more than anything else!’

‘You’re a fine teacher,’ said Miss Bulstrode. ‘Together we’ll work hard to make Meadowbank successful again - and we’ll do it.’

‘It’ll be the best school in England,’ said Eileen Rich with excitement. ‘Yes, I’ll stay.’

‘Good,’ said Miss Bulstrode, ‘And Eileen, please go and get your hair cut properly. But now,’ she said, her voice changing, ‘I must go to Chaddy.’

Miss Chadwick was lying in bed, very white and still. Miss Johnson and a policeman with a notebook sat nearby.

‘Hallo, Chaddy,’ said Miss Bulstrode, taking her hand. Miss Chadwick’s eyes opened.

‘I want to tell you,’ she said. ‘Eleanor - it was - it was me.’

‘Yes, dear, I know,’ said Miss Bulstrode.

Tears fell slowly down Miss Chadwick’s cheeks. ‘It’s so awful… I didn’t mean to do it. I was jealous. I’ll never forgive myself.’

‘But you saved my life,’ said Miss Bulstrode, ‘and you saved Mrs Upjohn. That matters too, doesn’t it?’

‘I only wish,’ said Miss Chadwick, ‘I could give my life for you both. Then it would be all right…’

Miss Bulstrode looked at her with great pity. Miss Chadwick took a deep breath and smiled. Her head moved slightly to one side, and she died…

‘You did give your life, my dear,’ said Miss Bulstrode softly. ‘I hope you realize that now.’

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