فصل 24

مجموعه: کارآگاه هرکول پوآرو / کتاب: قاتل راجر آکروید / فصل 24

فصل 24

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Chapter twenty four

And Nothing But The Truth

There was complete silence for a minute and a half. Then I laughed.

‘You’re mad,’ I said.

‘No,’ said Poirot. ‘I am not mad. It was the little discrepancy in time that first brought my attention to you - right at the beginning. You left the house at ten minutes to nine - both by your own statement and that of Parker, and yet it was nine o’clock when you passed through the lodge gates. It was a cold night - not an evening a man would want to walk slowly; why had you taken ten minutes to do a five minutes’ walk? All along I realized that we had only your statement that the study window was closed. Ackroyd asked you if you had done so - he never looked to see. Supposing, then, that the study window was open? Supposing, too, that you killed Ackroyd before you left? Then you go out of the front door and run round to the summerhouse. You then take Ralph Paton’s shoes out of your black bag, put them on, walk through the mud in them, and leave prints on the windowsill when you climb in. You lock the study door on the inside and run back to the summerhouse. Then you change back into your own shoes, and run down to the gate. I did exactly the same things myself the other day - it took ten minutes exactly. Then you went home, which gave you your alibi - since you had timed the Dictaphone for half-past nine.’

‘My dear Poirot,’ I said, ‘what on earth had I to gain by murdering Ackroyd?’

‘Safety. It was you who was blackmailing Mrs Ferrars. Who knew more about Mr Ferrars’ death than his doctor? When you spoke to me that first day in the garden, you mentioned a legacy that you received about a year ago. I have been unable to discover any trace of a legacy. You had to invent some way to explain the twenty thousand pounds you blackmailed out of Mrs Ferrars - money that has not done you much good. You lost most of it in speculation - and then you went back to Mrs Ferrars for more money - and Mrs Ferrars took an unexpected way out of the torture you were putting her through. You knew that if Ackroyd learnt the truth, he would have no mercy on you - you were ruined.’

‘And the telephone call?’ I asked. ‘You have an explanation of that also, I suppose?’

‘That was my greatest problem - when I discovered that a call had really been put through to you. At first I believed that you had simply invented the story. It was a very clever idea, that. You needed some excuse for arriving at Fernly and finding the body, and then getting the chance to remove the Dictaphone on which your alibi depended. I had a very vague idea of how it was done when I came to see your sister that first day and asked her which patients you had seen on Friday morning. Among your patients that morning was the steward of an American liner who was leaving for Liverpool by the train that evening. And afterwards he would be on the Atlantic Ocean, well out of the way. I noted that the SS Orion had sailed on Saturday, and having discovered the name of the steward, I sent him a wireless message asking a certain question. This is his reply you saw me receive just now.’ He held out the message to me. It ran as follows: ‘Quite correct. Dr Sheppard asked me to take a note to a patient’s house. I was to ring him up from the station with the reply. Reply was “No answer.”’

‘It was a clever idea,’ said Poirot. ‘The call was genuine. But there was only one man’s report as to what was actually said - your own!’

‘Now, remember what I said - the truth goes to Inspector Raglan in the morning. But, because I admire and like your good sister, I am willing to give you the chance of another way out. There might be, for instance, an overdose of a sleeping drug. You understand me? But Captain Ralph Paton must be proved innocent. I suggest that you finish that very interesting manuscript of yours - with the truth.’

‘Have you quite finished?’

‘There is one more thing. It would be most unwise of you to attempt to silence me as you silenced Monsieur Ackroyd. That kind of business does not succeed against Hercule Poirot, you understand.’

‘My dear Poirot,’ I said, smiling a little, ‘whatever else I may be, I am not a fool.’

I stood. ‘Well, well,’ I said, with a slight vain. ‘I must be off home. Thank you for a most interesting and instructive evening.’

Poirot also stood and bowed with his usual politeness as I went out of the room.

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