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CHAPTER TWENTY THREE

‘What made you guess, Jane?’

Miss Marple took her time before answering. She looked thoughtfully at the other two - Carrie Louise, thinner and frailer and yet strangely untouched - and the old man with the sweet smile and the thick white hair. Dr Galbraith, Bishop of Cromer.

The Bishop took Carrie Louise’s hand in his. ‘This has been a great sadness for you, my poor child, and a great shock.’

‘Sadness, yes, but not really a shock.’

‘No,’ said Miss Marple. ‘That’s what I discovered, you know. Everyone kept saying how Carrie Louise lived in another world from this and was out of touch with reality. But actually, Carrie Louise, it was reality you were in touch with, and not the illusion. You are never fooled by illusion like most of us are. When I suddenly understood that, I saw that I must trust what you thought and felt. You were quite sure that no one would try to poison you, you couldn’t believe it - and you were quite right not to believe it, because it wasn’t so! You never believed that Edgar would harm Lewis - and again you were right. He never would have harmed Lewis.

‘So therefore, if I was to go by you, all the things that seemed to be true were only illusions. Illusions created for a reason - in the same way that magicians create illusions, to trick an audience. We were the audience.

‘Alex Restarick got an idea of the truth first because he had the chance of seeing things from a different angle - from the outside angle. He was with the Inspector in the drive, and he looked at the house and realized the possibilities of the windows - and he remembered the sound of running feet he had heard that night, and then the timing of the Constable showed him what a very short time things take. The Constable got very breathless, and later, thinking of that, I remembered that Lewis Serrocold was out of breath that night when he opened the study door. He had just been running hard, you see.

‘But it was Edgar Lawson that was the centre of it all to me. There was always something wrong to me about Edgar Lawson. All the things he said and did were exactly right for what he was supposed to be, but he himself wasn’t right. Because he was actually a normal young man playing the part of a schizophrenic - and he was always a little more theatrical than is true to life.

‘It must have all been very carefully planned. Lewis must have realized when Christian last visited that something had made him suspicious. And he knew that if Christian suspected anything, then he would not stop until he had discovered the whole truth.’

Carrie Louise said, ‘Yes, Christian was like that. I don’t know what it was that had made him suspicious but he started investigating - and he found out the truth.’

The Bishop said, ‘I blame myself for not having been a better trustee.’

‘Nobody expected you to understand finance,’ said Carrie Louise. ‘Lewis’s great financial experience gave him complete control. And it was a test of honesty that he failed.’ The pink colour came up in her cheeks. ‘Lewis was a great man,’ she said. ‘A man of great vision, and a passionate believer in what could be done - with money. He didn’t want it for himself - or at least not in the greedy sense - he did want the power of it - he wanted the power to do great good with it.’

‘And so he embezzled the trust funds?’ said Miss Marple.

Dr Galbraith hesitated. ‘It wasn’t only that.’

‘Tell her,’ said Carrie Louise. ‘She is my oldest friend.’

The Bishop said, ‘Lewis Serrocold was what one might call a financial expert. In his years of highly technical accountancy, he had amused himself by working out various methods of embezzlement which were almost impossible to detect. This had just been a game for his own entertainment, but then he saw what could be done with a huge sum of money. And it stopped being a game. You see, he had some first-class material to use. Amongst the boys who passed through here, he chose a small select group. They were boys who were naturally criminal, who loved excitement and who were very intelligent. We still don’t know everything, but it seems clear that this group was specially trained and were placed in key positions. By carrying out Lewis’s directions, very large sums of money were stolen without anybody being suspicious. I understand that the operations are so complicated that it will be months before they can all be uncovered. But the result seems to be that, under various names and banking accounts and companies, Lewis Serrocold would have been able to control a huge sum of money. He was going to establish an overseas colony where juvenile delinquents would eventually come to own and rule the place as a co-operative. It may have been a wild dream.’

‘It was a dream that might have come true,’ said Carrie Louise.

‘Yes, it might have come true. But the means Lewis Serrocold used were dishonest, and Christian Gulbrandsen discovered that. He was very upset, particularly by what the discovery and prosecution of Lewis would mean to you, Carrie Louise.’

‘That’s why he asked me if my heart was strong, and seemed so worried about my health,’ said Carrie Louise. ‘I couldn’t understand it.’

‘Then Lewis Serrocold returned,’ the Bishop continued, ‘and Christian met him outside the house and told him that he knew what was happening. Lewis took it calmly, I think. Both men agreed they must do all they could to save you from the pain this knowledge would bring you. Christian said he would write to me and ask me to come here, as a co-trustee, to discuss the position.’

‘But of course,’ said Miss Marple, ‘Lewis Serrocold had already prepared for this emergency. It was all planned. He had brought the young man who was to play the part of Edgar Lawson to the house. There was a real Edgar Lawson - of course - in case the police looked up his record. This false Edgar knew exactly what he had to do - act the part of a schizophrenic victim of persecution - and give Lewis Serrocold an alibi for a few vital minutes.

‘The next step had been carefully planned too. Lewis’s story that you, Carrie Louise, were being slowly poisoned, was very clever. There was nobody but Lewis who could say what Christian had told him - that, and a few lines he added on the typewriter while he was waiting for the police. It was easy to add arsenic to the medicine. No danger for you there - since he was ready to stop you drinking it. The chocolates were just an added touch - and of course the original chocolates weren’t poisoned - only those he poisoned before giving them to Inspector Curry.’

‘And Alex guessed,’ said Carrie Louise.

‘Yes - that’s why he collected your nail clippings. They would show if arsenic actually had been given over a long period.’

‘Poor Alex - poor Ernie.’

There was a moment’s silence as the other two thought of Christian Gulbrandsen, of Alex Restarick, and of the boy Ernie - and the terrible act of murder.

‘But surely,’ said the Bishop, ‘Lewis was taking a big risk in persuading Edgar to be his accomplice - even if he had some power over him-‘

Carrie shook her head. ‘It wasn’t exactly a hold over him. Edgar was devoted to Lewis.’

‘Yes,’ said Miss Marple. ‘I wonder perhaps if…’ She paused delicately.

‘You saw the likeness, I suppose?’ said Carrie Louise.

‘So you knew that all along?’

‘I guessed. I knew Lewis had once had an affair with an actress, before he met me. I’ve no doubt at all that Edgar was actually Lewis’s son.’

‘Yes,’ said Miss Marple. ‘That explains everything.’

‘And he gave his life for him in the end,’ said Carrie Louise. She looked at the Bishop. ‘He did, you know.’

There was a silence and then Carrie Louise said, ‘I’m glad it ended that way with his life given in the hope of saving the boy from drowning. People who can be very good can be very bad, too. I always knew that was true about Lewis. But - he loved me very much - and I loved him.’

‘Did you - ever suspect him?’ asked Miss Marple.

‘No,’ said Carrie Louise. ‘Because I was puzzled by the poisoning. I knew Lewis would never poison me and yet that letter of Christian’s said definitely that someone was poisoning me - so I thought that everything I knew about people must be wrong.’

Miss Marple said, ‘But when Alex and Ernie were found killed. You suspected then?’

‘Yes,’ said Carrie Louise. ‘Because I didn’t think anyone else but Lewis would have dared. And I began to be afraid of what he might do next.’ She shivered. ‘I admired Lewis. I admired his - what shall I call it - his goodness? But I do see that if you’re good, you have to be humble as well.’

Dr Galbraith said gently, ‘That, Carrie Louise, is what I have always admired in you - your humility.’

The lovely blue eyes opened wide in surprise. ‘But I’m not particularly good. I can only admire goodness in other people.’

‘Dear Carrie Louise,’ said Miss Marple.

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