فصل 17

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Chapter seventeen

The doctor looked very tired that evening as he offered Craddock a drink and poured one for himself as well. ‘Well, how can I help you?’

‘First, thank you for advising Miss Crackenthorpe to come to me with the letter that said it was from her brother’s widow.’

‘Oh, I didn’t exactly advise her to come. She wanted to.

‘Do you think it really was from Martine?’

‘I don’t know. I never saw it, but I think it was probably from someone who knew the facts and was trying to get some money from the family.’ He paused. ‘But why ask me? I’ve got nothing to do with it?’

‘I really came to ask you something else…’

Dr Quimper looked interested.

‘I have heard that at Christmas Mr Crackenthorpe was suddenly rather ill with a stomach upset.’

‘Yes.’

‘Mr Crackenthorpe mentioned you. I’m sorry, Doctor - he said you made a silly fuss about it.’

Quimper smiled. ‘He said you had asked him lots of questions, not only about what he had eaten, but about who prepared it and served it.’

The doctor was not smiling now. ‘Go on.’

‘He said you talked as though you believed someone had poisoned him. Did you believe that?’

Quimper said, ‘Do you think a doctor can suggest that someone has been poisoned without any proof?’

‘I’d just like to know if you suspected he had been poisoned.’

Dr Quimper said, ‘Old Crackenthorpe usually eats very little. When the family comes down, Emma increases the amount of food. Result - gastro-enteritis.’

‘So you were not at all - puzzled?’

‘All right. Yes, I was puzzled! Does that please you?’

‘It interests me,’ said Craddock. ‘Why were you puzzled?’

‘Because there were certain signs that were more like arsenic poisoning than ordinary gastro-enteritis. Although the two things are very much alike.’

‘And what was the result of your inquiries?’

‘That what I suspected could not possibly be true. Mr Crackenthorpe told me that he had had similar upsets before I had been his doctor, and always when he had eaten too much rich food.’

‘Which was when the house was full? With the family? Or guests?’

‘Yes. So I wrote to Dr Morris. He was my older partner who stopped working soon after I joined him. I asked about the earlier upsets that Mr Crackenthorpe had bad.’

‘And what did he say?’

Quimper smiled. ‘He told me not to be so silly.’

‘I wonder. Crackenthorpe is a healthy old man, do you think he might live to be ninety?’

‘Easily.’

‘And his sons - and daughter - are all getting older too, and they all need money?’

‘You leave Emma out of it. She’s no poisoner. These upsets only happen when the others are there - not when she and he are alone.’

‘Very wise of her if she was the poisoner,’ the Inspector thought, but did not say so. He paused. ‘But suppose arsenic was put in his food, hasn’t Crackenthorpe been very lucky not to die?’

‘Well yes,’ said the doctor. ‘It’s obviously not a case of small amounts of arsenic given regularly - which is the usual method of arsenic poisoning. So if these upsets are not from natural causes, it looks as though the poisoner is getting it wrong every time. Why hasn’t he increased the amount? It doesn’t make sense.’

‘I agree,’ the Inspector said. ‘It doesn’t seem to make sense.’

‘Inspector Craddock!’

The excited whisper made him jump. Craddock had just been going to ring the front-door bell when Alexander and Stoddart- West appeared from the shadows.

‘We’ve found a clue,’ Alexander said. ‘Come with us.’

A little unwillingly, he followed them round the corner of Rutherford Hall and into a yard where Stoddart-West pushed open a heavy door.

‘It really is a clue, sir,’ said Stoddart-West, his eyes shining behind his spectacles. ‘We found it this afternoon.’

‘You see that big rubbish bin,’ said Alexander. ‘Hillman keeps it full of waste paper for when the boiler goes out and he wants to start it again.’

‘Any odd paper that’s blowing about. He picks it up and puts it in there…’

‘And that’s where we found it…’

‘Found WHAT?’ Craddock interrupted.

‘The clue. Show him, James.’

Stoddart-West took from his pocket an envelope which he handed to the Inspector.

The due had been through the post, there was no letter inside, it was just a torn envelope - addressed to Mrs Martine Crackenthorpe, 126 Elvers Crescent, N10.

‘You see?’ said Alexander. ‘It shows she was here - Uncle Edmund’s French wife…’

Stoddart-West interrupted. ‘Don’t you think, sir, that it must have been her in the sarcophagus?’

‘You’ll test it for fingerprints, won’t you, sir?’

‘Of course,’ said Craddock.

‘Good luck for us, wasn’t it? ‘ Stoddart-West said. ‘On our last day, too.’

‘I’m going to James’s place tomorrow,’ said Alexander. ‘His parents have got a beautiful house - built in the time of Queen Anne, wasn’t it?’

‘William and Mary.’

‘I thought your mother said…’

‘Mum’s French,’ said Stoddart-West. ‘She doesn’t really know about English houses.’

Craddock was examining the envelope. How clever of Lucy Eyelesbarrow to put a post mark on it. Great fun for the boys. ‘Come on,’ he said, ‘You’ve been very helpful.’

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