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Chapter twenty two

The End of the Story

‘You want me to explain?’ Poirot looked round with a pleased smile. We had moved into the living room and there were fewer of us than before. Ellen and her husband and child had gone back to their part of the house, and the Crofts had, of course, been asked to go with the police. Frederica, Lazarus, Challenger, Vyse and I remained.

‘Well, I confess - I was fooled completely. The little Nick, she had convinced me. Ah! Madame, when you said that your friend was a clever little liar - how right you were!’

‘Nick always told lies,’ said Frederica ‘That’s why I didn’t really believe in these escapes of hers.’

‘And I - idiot that I was - did!’

‘Didn’t Miss Buckley’s accidents really happen?’ I asked, hopelessly confused.

‘They were invented to give the idea that Mademoiselle Nick’s life was in danger. But I will tell you the story as I have worked it out. At the beginning of the story, then, we have Nick Buckley, young and beautiful, passionately devoted to her home. But the house has to be mortgaged. She wants money - she wants it badly. She meets young Seton at Le Touquet, she knows that his uncle is worth millions of pounds. She thinks that all her problems will be solved. They meet at Scarborough, he takes her up in his seaplane and then - disaster - he meets her cousin Maggie and falls in love with her at first sight. They become secretly engaged. Only one person knows - Mademoiselle Nick. And that is how Mademoiselle hears of the will.’

‘Then comes the unexpected death of Sir Matthew Seton, and soon after, Michael Seton’s plane is reported missing. Immediately a dangerous plan comes into our young lady’s head. Michael Seton had not known that Nick’s real name was Magdala, the same as the woman he was planning to marry. His will is clearly quite informal - but in the eyes of the world, for they had been seen together at Le Touquet and Scarborough, it is with her, Nick, that his name is linked. If she says that she is engaged to him, no one will be surprised. But to do that successfully, Maggie must be removed from the scene.

‘She arranges for Maggie to come and stay in a few days’ time. Then she has her escapes from death. And then - she sees my name in the paper and she decides to make me an accomplice! The bullet through the hat that falls at my feet. Oh, the pretty comedy! And I am taken in! Deceived! Good! She has got a valuable witness on her side. I make the mistake of asking her to send for a friend. She sends for Maggie to come a day earlier.

‘She leaves us at the dinner table and, hearing on the radio that Seton’s death is a fact, puts her plan into action. She has plenty of time to steal Seton’s letters to Maggie and look through them and select the few that will make it seem as if she, Nick, were Seton’s fiancee. She places the letters in her own room. Then, later, she and Maggie leave the fireworks and go back to the house. She tells her cousin to put on her shawl while she goes to get coats for herself and Madame Rice. Then, following Maggie quietly, she shoots her. She then goes quickly into the house again and hides the pistol in the secret panel (which she thinks nobody knows about). Then she waits till the body is discovered, runs down and goes out through the window.’

‘But those poisoned chocolates…’ said Frederica.

‘All part of the same plan. If Nick was attacked after Maggie was dead, that made it clear that Maggie’s death had been a mistake. When she thinks the time is right, she rings Madame Rice and asks her to get a box of chocolates. She makes her voice sound a little different so that you might have doubts when you are questioned. Then, when the box arrives, she fills some of the chocolates with cocaine (she had cocaine with her, cleverly hidden), she eats one of them and becomes ill - but not too ill.

‘And the card - my card! Ah! She is so clever! It was the one I sent with the flowers. Simple, was it not? Yes, but it had to be thought of…’

There was a pause, then Frederica asked, ‘Why did she put the pistol in my coat?’

‘Tell me, Monsieur Lazarus,’ Poirot said, ‘did you and Nick ever have a relationship?’

Lazarus shook his head. ‘No, I was attracted to her at one time. And then - I don’t know why - I stopped being attracted to her.’

‘Ah!’ said Poirot, nodding his head. ‘That was her tragedy. She attracted people - and then they stopped caring for her. Instead of liking her better and better, you fell in love with her friend. She began to hate Madame. And she remembered the will she had written - she did not know that Croft had destroyed it and his wife had written another one. Madame (or so the world would say) had a motive for wanting her death. So it was Madame she telephoned asking for chocolates. Tonight, the will would have been read, naming Madame as her heiress - then the pistol would have been found in her coat - the pistol used to kill Maggie.’

‘I may be a bit stupid,’ said Challenger, ‘but I don’t understand the part about the will yet.’

‘That’s a different business altogether. The Crofts are hiding from the police down here. Mademoiselle Nick needed an operation. She had made no will. The Crofts persuaded her to make one and said they would post it. Then, if anything happened to her - if she had died - they would produce a cleverly forged will - leaving the money to Mrs Croft with a reference to Australia and Phillip Buckley.’

‘But Mademoiselle Nick had her appendix removed quite satisfactorily so the forged will was no good but they held on to it, just in case Nick was killed in an accident. Then the attacks on her life began. The Crofts were hopeful once more. Finally, I announced her death. The forged will was immediately posted to Monsieur Vyse. Of course, when they first knew her, the Crofts thought Nick was much richer than she is. They knew nothing about the mortgage.’

‘What I really want to know, Monsieur Poirot,’ said Lazarus, ‘is how you actually found out about to all this.’

‘Ah! There I am ashamed. I was so slow - so slow. There were things that worried me - yes. Things that seemed not quite right. Differences between what Mademoiselle Nick told me and what other people told me. Unfortunately, I always believed Nick.’

‘And then when I told her to send for a friend she promised to do so - and did not say that she had already sent for Mademoiselle Maggie. It seemed less suspicious to her - but it was a mistake. Because Maggie Buckley wrote a letter home and in it she used a phrase that puzzled me: “I cannot see why she should have sent a telegram for me to come immediately. Tuesday would have been perfectly all right.” That mention of Tuesday could only mean one thing. Maggie had been coming to stay on Tuesday anyway.

‘For the first time I looked at Mademoiselle Nick in a different way. I said, “Perhaps she is the one who is lying and not the other people?”

‘I said to myself, “Let us be simple: What has really happened?” And I saw that what had really happened was that Maggie Buckley had been killed. Just that! But who could want Maggie Buckley dead? And then I thought of something else - a few foolish words that Hastings had said five minutes earlier. He had said that there were plenty of short names for Margaret - and it occurred to me to ask myself what Mademoiselle Maggie’s real name was? Then it came to me! Supposing her name was Magdala! It was a Buckley name. Supposing…’

‘In my mind I re-read the letters of Michael Seton. Yes, there was a mention of Scarborough - but Maggie had been in Scarborough with Nick - her mother had told me so. And it explained why there were so few letters. If a girl keeps her love letters at all, she keeps them all. Why only these few?’

‘And I remembered that there was no name mentioned in them. They all began with something affectionate like “Darling”. Nowhere in them was there the name - Nick. And Mademoiselle Nick had had an operation for appendicitis on February 27th last. There is a letter from Michael Seton dated March 2nd, and there is no mention of anxiety, of illness or anything unusual.’

‘Then I went through a list of questions that I had made. And I answered them based on my new idea. In all but a few, the result was simple and convincing. And I answered, too, another question which I had asked myself earlier. Why did Mademoiselle Nick buy a black dress? - Because she and her cousin had to be dressed alike and she knew that her cousin, who had few clothes, would wear a black evening dress. That was the true answer. A girl would not buy black before she knew her lover was dead.’

‘And so I, in turn, put on my little drama. And the thing I hoped for happened! Nick had been extremely firm about the question of a secret panel. She had declared there was no such thing. But if there were, she would know of it. Was it possible that she had hidden the pistol there? With the intention of using it to make someone else look suspicious later?’

‘I let her see that things looked very bad for Madame and, as I had guessed, she was unable to resist giving us the final proof that Madame was guilty. We were all safely in here. She was waiting outside for the right moment to make her entrance. It was absolutely safe, she thought, to take the pistol and put it in Madame’s coat… And so - in the end - she failed…’ Poirot finished.

‘What about Ellen?’ I asked. ‘Did she know or suspect anything?’

‘No. She decided to stay in the house that night because Nick had insisted much too strongly that she should go out and see the fireworks. Ellen told me that she “felt in her bones that something was going to happen”, but she thought it was going to happen to Madame Rice. She knew Miss Nick’s temper, she said, and that she had been a strange little girl.’

‘Yes,’ murmured Frederica. ‘Yes, let us think of her like that. A little girl who couldn’t help herself… I will, anyway.’ Frederica smiled sadly. ‘I’m glad I gave her my watch.’

‘Yes, Madame.’

She looked up at him quickly. ‘You know about the watches, too?’

Poirot took her hand and raised it gently to his lips. ‘Of course, Madame.’

Charles Vyse got to his feet. ‘I must see about some kind of defense for Nick, get her a good lawyer…’

‘There will be no need, I think,’ said Poirot quietly. ‘Not if I am correct in my thinking.’ He turned suddenly on Challenger. ‘That’s where you put the cocaine, isn’t it?’ he said. ‘In those wristwatches.’

‘I - I…’ Challenger stammered.

‘Do not try and deceive me with your friendly manner. It has taken in Hastings - but it does not deceive me. You make a lot of money out of it, do you not - the dealing in drugs? I advise you, if you do not want the police to know, go.’

And to my great surprise, Challenger went from the room immediately.

Poirot laughed. ‘I told you, mon ami. Your instincts are always wrong!’

‘Cocaine was in the wristwatch?’ I asked in surprise.

‘Yes, yes. That is how Mademoiselle Nick had it with her so conveniently at the nursing home for the chocolates. Tonight she needed it for a different reason. It will be a full dose this time.’

‘You mean…?’ I said shocked.

‘It is the best way. Better than the hangman’s rope…’

‘I must be going,’ said Charles Vyse with disapproval as he left the room.

Poirot looked from Frederica to Lazarus. ‘You are going to get married - eh?’

‘As soon as we can,’ said Lazarus.

‘And indeed, Monsieur Poirot,’ said Frederica, ‘with happiness ahead, I will not need a wristwatch anymore.’

‘I hope you will be happy, Madame,’ said Poirot gently. ‘You have suffered greatly. And in spite of everything, you still have a good heart…’

‘I will look after her,’ said Lazarus. ‘My business is not doing well, but I believe it will improve. And if it doesn’t, well - Frederica does not mind being poor - with me.’

Poirot looked up at the picture of old Sir Nicholas. ‘Of all my questions, one is still unanswered. Tell me, why did you offer fifty pounds for that picture?’

Lazarus smiled. ‘Mr Poirot, I am a dealer. That picture is not worth more than twenty pounds. I knew that if I offered Nick fifty, she would immediately suspect it was worth more and would have it valued by someone else. Then she would find that I had offered her far more than it was worth. The next time I offered to buy a picture, she would have accepted my offer immediately.’

‘Yes, and then?’

‘The picture on the far wall is worth at least five thousand pounds,’ said Lazarus, smiling.

‘Ah!’ Poirot took in a long breath. ‘Now I know everything,’ he said happily.

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