Mrs Ferrars died on the night of the 16th September — a Thursday. I was sent for at eight o'clock on Friday morning and a few minutes after nine I reached home again.
'Is that you, James?' my sister Caroline called. 'Come and get your breakfast!'
I walked into the dining-room.
'You've had an early call.'
'Yes,' I said. 'King's Paddock. Mrs Ferrars.'
'I know. Annie told me.'
Annie is our maid.
'Well?' my sister demanded.
'A sad business. She must have died in her sleep.'
'I know,' said my sister again.
'I didn't know myself until I got there! If Annie knows...'
'It was the milkman who told me. The Ferrars' cook told him. What did she die of?'
'She died of an overdose of veronal. She's been taking it for sleeplessness. She must have taken too much.'
'No,' said Caroline. 'She took it on purpose! I told you she poisoned her husband. And ever since she's been haunted by what she did.'
I told Caroline that her whole idea was nonsense.
'Nonsense?' said Caroline. 'I'm sure she's left a letter confessing everything.'
'She didn't leave a letter,' I said sharply.
'Oh!' said Caroline. 'So you did inquire about that, did you?'
Who's Who in King's Abbot
There are only two houses of any importance in King's Abbot. One is King's Paddock, left to Mrs Ferrars by her husband. The other, Fernly Park, is owned by Roger Ackroyd, an extremely successful businessman of nearly fifty years of age. He gives generously to village activities, though he is said to be extremely mean in personal spending. When he was just twenty-one, Ackroyd married a beautiful widow. Mrs Paton, who had one child, Ralph. Sadly, Mrs Ackroyd was an alcoholic and drank herself to death. Ralph, now twenty-five, has been a continual source of trouble to Ackroyd. However, we are all very fond of Ralph in King's Abbot.
After her husband's death, Ackroyd and Mrs Ferrars were always seen together, and it was thought that at the end of a period of mourning. Mrs Ferrars would become Mrs Roger Ackroyd.
The Ferrarses only came to live here just over a year ago. Before that, the whole village had confidently expected Ackroyd to marry his housekeeper, Miss Russell. At the same time, his widowed sister-in-law, Mrs Cecil Ackroyd, with her daughter, came to stay with Ackroyd — and she certainly disapproved of him marrying his housekeeper.
I went on my round, my thoughts returning to Mrs Ferrars' death. I had last seen her only yesterday, walking with Ralph Paton. I had been very surprised to see him. He and his stepfather had argued very badly six months ago and he hadn't been seen in King's Abbot since. I was still thinking of it when I came face to face with Roger Ackroyd himself.
'Sheppard!' he exclaimed. 'This is a terrible business! I've got to talk to you. Can you come back with me now?'
'No. I've got patients to visit still, and surgery.'
'Then come for dinner tonight. At 7.30. I — Damn! Here's old Miss Gannett coming. I don't want to have to talk to her. See you tonight, Sheppard.'
Miss Gannett was full of gossip. Wasn't it sad about poor dear Mrs Ferrars? People were saying she had been a drug addict.
I went home, thoughtful, to find several patients waiting for me to begin surgery.
The Man Who Grew Vegetable Marrows
I told Caroline at lunch that I would be dining at Fernly.
'Excellent,' she said. 'You'll hear all about it. By the way, why is Ralph staying at the Three Boars pub? He arrived yesterday morning. And last night he went out to meet a girl. I don't know who she is.'
It must have been very hard for Caroline to have to admit that she didn't know.
'But I can guess,' continued my sister. 'His «cousin», Flora Ackroyd is, of course, no relation really to Ralph Paton. They are secretly engaged. Ackroyd disapproves and they have to meet secretly,'
I began to talk about our new neighbour, which stopped Caroline saying more about her romantic theory. The house next door, The Larches, has recently been rented by a stranger. To Caroline's annoyance, she has not been able to find out anything about him, except that his name is Mr Porrott, he is a foreigner, and he is interested in growing vegetable marrows. That is not the sort of information Caroline wants. She wants to know where he comes from, what he does, whether he is married — and so on.
'My dear Caroline,' I said. 'There's no doubt that the man is a retired hairdresser. Look at that moustache of his.'
I escaped into the garden. I was digging up weeds when a heavy object flew past my ears and fell at my feet. It was a marrow! Over the wall there appeared an egg-shaped head, partly covered with suspiciously black hair, a huge moustache, and a pair of green eyes. It was the mysterious Mr Porrott.
'A thousand pardons, Monsieur. For some months now I grow the marrows. This morning I become angry with them. I seize one. I throw him over the wall. Monsieur, I am ashamed. Do not worry. It is not a habit with me. But Monsieur, do you not think that a man may work to reach a peaceful retirement, and then find that, after all, he wants the old busy days back, and the occupation that he thought he was so glad to leave?'
'Yes,' I said, thinking how strangely he spoke English. 'I know that feeling well. I have always wanted to travel, to see the world. A year ago I inherited some money — enough to allow me to realize a dream, yet I am still here.'
My little neighbour nodded. 'Habits are very hard to break. And Monsieur, my work was the most interesting work there is in the world; the study of human nature!'
Clearly a retired hairdresser. Who knows the secrets of human nature better than a hairdresser?
'Also, I had a friend who for many years never left my side. Occasionally he behaved stupidly enough to make me afraid, but his honest opinions, the pleasure of delighting and surprising him by my greater intelligence — I miss these things more than I can tell you.'
'Not so. He lives now in the Argentine.'
'In the Argentine,' I said, jealously.
Mr Porrott looked at me sympathetically.
'You will go there, yes?' he asked.
I shook my head with a sigh. 'I could have gone a year ago. But I was foolish and speculated.'
'Not those new oilfields?' he asked.
'I thought about them, but in the end I chose a gold mine in Western Australia.'
My neighbour was regarding me with a strange expression.
'It is Fate, that I should live next to a man who would seriously consider investing in oilfields, and gold mines. And you are a doctor, a man who knows the stupidity of most things. Well, well, we are neighbors. Please, you must give your excellent sister my best marrow.'
He bent down, picked up a huge marrow and gave it to me.
'Indeed,' said the little man cheerfully, 'this has not been a wasted morning. I have met a man who in some ways resembles my old friend. By the way, you must know everyone in this village. Who is the young man with the very dark hair and eyes, and the handsome face?'
'Captain Ralph Paton,' I said. 'He is the stepson of Mr Ackroyd of Fernly Park.'
'I should have guessed. Mr Ackroyd spoke of him many times.'
'You know Mr Ackroyd?' I asked, surprised.
'Mr Ackroyd knew me in London — when I worked there. I have asked him to say nothing of my profession down here. I have not even tried to correct the way the local people pronounce my name. So, Captain Ralph Paton, and he is engaged to the beautiful Miss Flora.'
'Who told you so?'
'Mr Ackroyd. He put some pressure on the young man. That is never wise. A young man should marry to please himself — not to please a stepfather, even though he expects to inherit a great deal of money from him.'
I was confused. I could not imagine Ackroyd discussing the marriage with a hairdresser.
At that moment my sister called me from the house. I went in. Caroline had just come back from the village. She began talking immediately. 'I met Mr Ackroyd and I asked him about Ralph. He was astonished. He had no idea the boy was down here. Then he went on to tell me that Ralph and Flora are engaged. And I told him that Ralph was staying at the Three Boars.'
'Caroline,' I said, 'do you never think that you might do harm by repeating everything you hear?'
'Nonsense! People should know things. I think Mr Ackroyd went straight to the Three Boars, but if so he didn't find Ralph there, because as I was coming through the woods...'
'Coming through the woods?' I interrupted.
'It was such a lovely day. The autumn colours are so perfect at this time of year.'
Caroline does not like woods at any time of year. But our local woods are the only place where you can talk with a young woman unseen by the whole village.
'Anyway, I heard voices. One was Ralph Paton's. The other was a girl's. She said something I didn't hear and Ralph answered very angrily. «My dear girl,» he said, «the old man will disinherit me, which means I'll be very, very poor! If he doesn't, I will be a very, very rich man when he dies, so I don't want him to change his will. You leave it to me, and don't worry.» Unfortunately, just then I stepped on a piece of wood which broke and made a noise, and they moved away. So I wasn't able to see who the girl was. Who could it have been?'
I made an excuse about a patient and went out, but I went straight to the Three Boars. Ralph had not inherited his mother's addiction to alcohol, but he was self-indulgent and extravagant. Nevertheless, his friends were all devoted to him. At the Three Boars I was told that Captain Paton had just come in. I went up to his room.
'Why, it's Sheppard! The one person I am glad to see in this place. Have a drink, won't you?'
'Thanks,' I said, 'I will.'
He pressed the bell, then sat down with a sigh. 'I'm in a complete mess; I just don't know what to do next. It's my stepfather.'
'What has he done?'
'It isn't what he's done, but what he's likely to do.'
'If I could help-' I suggested.
He shook his head. 'It's good of you, Doctor. But I've got to do this on my own...'
Dinner at Fernly
As Parker, the Fernly Park butler, took my coat, Ackroyd's secretary, a pleasant young man called Geoffrey Raymond, passed through the hall on his way to Ackroyd's study, with his hands full of business documents.
'Good evening, Doctor. Coming to dine? Or is this a professional call?'
This referred to my black bag, which I had put down on the oak table. I explained that I expected to be called to deliver a baby at any moment. Raymond went on his way, saying,
'Go into the drawing room. I'll tell Mr Ackroyd you're here.'
I noticed, just as I was turning the handle of the drawing-room door, a sound from inside — like the shutting down of a sash window. As I walked in, Miss Russell, Ackroyd's housekeeper, was just coming out. What a good-looking woman she was!
'I'm afraid I'm early,' I said.
'Oh! I don't think so. It's gone half-past seven, Dr Sheppard. But I must be going. I only came in to see if the flowers were all right.'
She went, and I saw, of course, what I had forgotten — that the windows were long French ones opening on the terrace. So that could not have been the sound I heard.
I noticed the silver table, which displays silver and other valuable items. Its glass top lifts, and inside, as I knew from other visits, were one or two pieces of old silver, a baby shoe which had belonged to King Charles I, and a number of African pieces. Wanting to examine one of the figures more closely, I lifted the lid. It slipped through my fingers and fell. The sound I had heard was this lid being shut down!
I was still bending over the silver table when Flora Ackroyd came in. Nobody can help admiring her. She has pale gold hair, her eyes are the deepest blue, and her skin is the color of cream and roses.
'Congratulate me, Dr Sheppard,' said Flora. She held out her left hand. On the third finger was a beautiful single pearl ring. 'I'm going to marry Ralph. Uncle is very pleased.'
I took both her hands in mine.
'My dear,' I said, 'I hope you'll be very happy.'
'We've been engaged for about a month,' continued Flora, 'but it was only announced yesterday. Uncle is going to do up Cross-stones, and give it to us to live in, and were going to pretend to farm. Really, we shall hunt all the winter and go to London for the season.'
Just then the widowed Mrs Cecil Ackroyd came in. I am sorry to say I cannot stand Mrs Ackroyd. She is all teeth and bones, with small pale blue eyes, and however friendly her words may be, her eyes always remain coldly calculating. Had I heard about Flora's engagement, she wondered.
Mrs Ackroyd was interrupted as the drawing-room door opened once more.
'You know Major Blunt, don't you, Doctor?'
Hector Blunt has shot more wild animals in Africa and India than any man living and every two years he spends a fortnight at Fernly. A man of medium height and well-built, Blunt's face is deeply suntanned, and strangely expressionless. He is not a man who talks a lot!
He said now, 'How are you, Sheppard?' and then stood in front of the fireplace looking over our heads as though he saw something very interesting happening in the far distance.
'Major Blunt,' said Flora, 'Could you tell me about these African things? I'm sure you know what they all are.'
Blunt joined Flora at the silver table and they bent over it together.
Dinner was not a cheerful affair. Ackroyd ate almost nothing and immediately after dinner he took me to his study.
'Once we've had coffee, we won't be disturbed again,' he explained. 'I told Raymond to make sure we won't be interrupted.'
As Parker entered with the coffee tray, Ackroyd sat down in an armchair in front of the fire.
'That pain I was getting after eating — it's back again,' he said. 'You must give me some more of those tablets.'
I realized that he wanted to pretend to Parker that our discussion was a medical one. I cooperated. 'I brought some with me. They're in my bag in the hall so I'll go and get them.'
'Don't go yourself. Parker, bring in the doctor's bag, will you?'
'Very good, sir.'
Parker went out. As I was about to speak, Ackroyd raised his hand.
'Don't say anything yet. And make certain that window's closed, will you?'
I got up and went to it. It was an ordinary sash window. The heavy blue curtains were closed, but the window itself was open at the top.
Parker re-entered with my bag while I was still at the window.
'That's done,' I said as the door closed behind Parker. 'What's the matter with you, Ackroyd?'
'I'm in mental agony,' he said. 'Yesterday, Mrs Ferrars told me she poisoned her husband! I want your advice — I don't know what to do.'
'Why did Mrs Ferrars tell you this?'
'Three months ago I asked her to marry me. She said yes, but that I couldn't announce it until her year of mourning was over. Yesterday I pointed out that a year and three weeks had now passed since her husband's death. I had noticed that she had been behaving strangely for some days. She — she told me everything. Her hatred of her brutal husband, her growing love for me, and the — the terrible thing she had done. Poison! My goodness! It was murder in cold blood.'
I saw the horror in Ackroyd's face, just as Mrs Ferrars must have seen it.
'But Sheppard, it seems that someone knew about the murder and has been blackmailing her for huge sums of money. The strain of that drove her nearly mad.'
'Who was the man?'
'She wouldn't tell me,' said Ackroyd slowly. 'She didn't actually say that it was a man. But...'
'Of course,' I agreed. 'It must have been a man. And you've no suspicion at all?'
'Something she said made me think that the blackmailer might be among my household — but I must have misunderstood her.'
'What did you say to her?' I asked.
'What could I say? By telling me, she made me as guilty as herself, unless I reported her to the police. She made me promise to do nothing for twenty-four hours. I swear to you, Sheppard, that it never entered my head what she was going to do. Suicide! And I drove her to it — she saw the awful shock on my face, the horror of what she'd done. But what am I to do now? The poor lady is dead. Why bring up past trouble? But how am I to get hold of that scoundrel who blackmailed her to her death?'
'I see,' I said. 'The person ought to be punished, but the cost must be understood — her reputation ruined, suspicion that you really might have been her accomplice...'
'Look here, Sheppard, suppose we leave it like this. If no word comes from her after twenty-four hours, we won't say anything.'
'What do you mean by word coming from her?' I asked curiously.
'I have the strongest impression that she left a message for me. And I've got a feeling that, by choosing death, she wanted the whole thing to come out, if only to get revenge on the man who made her desperate.'
The door opened and the butler, Parker, entered carrying some letters on a silver tray.
'The evening post, Sir.' Ackroyd took the letters off the tray, then Parker collected the coffee cups and left quietly.
Ackroyd was staring at a long blue envelope like a man turned to stone.
'Her writing. She must have posted it last night, just before — before-'
He tore open the envelope and pulled out a thick letter. Then he looked up sharply. 'You're sure you shut the window?'
'I'm full of nerves,' murmured Ackroyd to himself.
He unfolded the thick sheets of paper, and read in a low voice.
'My very dear Roger, — I killed Ashley and now I must die to pay for that. I saw the horror in your face this afternoon. So I am taking the only road open to me. I leave to you the punishment of the blackmailer who has made my life unbearable. I could not tell you the name this afternoon, but I propose to write it to you now. If you can, my very dear Roger; forgive me...'
Ackroyd paused. 'Sheppard, I'm sorry, but I must read this alone,' he said unsteadily. He put the letter in the envelope and laid it on the table. 'Later, when I am alone.'
For some reason I tried to persuade him. 'At least, read the name of the blackmailer,' I said. He refused.
The letter had been brought in at twenty minutes to nine. It was ten minutes to nine when I left him, the letter still unread. I hesitated with my hand on the door handle, looking back and wondering if there was anything I had left undone. I could think of nothing.
As I closed the door behind me I was surprised to see Parker nearby. It occurred to me that he might have been listening at the door.
'Mr Ackroyd does not want to be disturbed,' I said coldly. 'He told me to tell you so.'
The village church clock rang nine o'clock as I passed by the gatekeeper's cottage at the end of the drive and ten minutes later I was at home once more. It was a quarter past ten when the telephone rang. I picked it up.
'What?' I said. 'What? I'll come at once.' I called to Caroline, 'That was Parker telephoning from Fernly. They've just found Roger Ackroyd murdered!'
I heard the noise of the door chain at Fernly Park and then Parker stood in the open doorway.
'Where is he?' I demanded. 'Have you telephoned the police?'
'The police, Sir?' Parker stared at me.
'What's the matter with you, Parker? If your master has been murdered...'
'The master? Murdered? Impossible, Sir!'
'Didn't you telephone me, not five minutes ago, and tell me that Mr Ackroyd had been found murdered?'
'Me? Oh! No indeed, Sir.'
'I'll give you the exact words I heard. «Is that Dr Sheppard? Parker speaking. Will you please come at once, Sir? Mr Ackroyd has been murdered.»'
'A wicked joke to play, Sir,' Parker said in a shocked voice.
'Where is Mr Ackroyd?' I asked.
'Still in the study, Sir. The ladies have gone to bed, and Major Blunt and Mr Raymond are in the billiard room.'
'I think I'll just look in and see him,' I said.
I passed through the door on the right of the main hall, into the small inner hall which led to Ackroyd's study. A small flight of stairs to the left went up to his bedroom. I tapped on the study door. There was no answer and the door was locked.
'Allow me, Sir,' said Parker, who had followed me. He dropped on one knee and looked through the keyhole. 'The key is in the lock, Sir,' he said, rising. 'Mr Ackroyd must have locked himself in and fallen asleep.'
I shook the handle and called out, 'Ackroyd, Ackroyd, it's Sheppard. Let me in.'
And still — silence. I picked up a heavy oak chair and hit the door with it. At the third blow the lock broke. Ackroyd was sitting as I had left him, in the armchair in front of the fire. His head had fallen sideways, and just below the collar of his jacket, was a shining piece of metal.
'Stabbed from behind,' Parker murmured. 'Horrible!' He stretched out a hand towards the handle of the dagger.
'You mustn't touch that,' I said sharply. 'Go and telephone the police. Then tell Mr Raymond and Major Blunt to come to the study.'
'Very good, Sir.'
When our local inspector, a man called Davis, and Police Constable Jones arrived, Ackroyd's secretary, Geoffrey Raymond, and Blunt, were in the study with me.
'Good evening, gentlemen,' said Inspector Davis. 'Now then, who found the body?'
I explained the circumstances.
'Did it sound like Parker's voice on the telephone, Doctor?'
'Well — I didn't really notice. I just assumed it was him.'
'How long would you say Mr Ackroyd has been dead, Doctor?'
'Half an hour at least.'
'The door was locked on the inside? What about the window?'
'I closed and bolted it earlier in the evening at Mr Ackroyd's request.'
The inspector walked across and opened the curtains. 'Well, it's open now.'
True, the lower sash was raised as high as it could go. Davis produced a torch and shone it along the windowsill outside.
'This is the way he went all right, and got in.'
In the light of the torch, several footprints could be seen.
'Are there any valuables missing?'
Geoffrey Raymond, shook his head. 'Not that we can discover.'
I said nothing. But the blue envelope containing Mrs Ferrar's letter had disappeared...
'Hmm,' said the inspector. He turned to the butler, 'Have any suspicious strangers been hanging about?'
'When was Mr Ackroyd last seen alive?'
'Probably by me,' I said, 'when I left at about ten minutes to nine. He told me that he didn't wish to be disturbed, and I repeated the order to Parker.'
'Mr Ackroyd was alive at half-past nine,' Raymond added. 'I heard him talking in here.'
'I assumed that it was Dr Sheppard. I wanted to ask him about some papers I was working on. However, when I heard the voices I remembered he wanted to talk to Dr Sheppard without being disturbed, and I went away again.'
'Who could have been with him at half-past nine?' queried the inspector. 'It wasn't you, Mr — er-'
'Major Blunt,' I said.
'Major Hector Blunt?' asked the inspector, with a respectful tone in his voice. Blunt nodded. 'I didn't see him after dinner.' The inspector turned once more to Raymond. 'Didn't you hear what Mr Ackroyd was saying, Sir?'
'Only a few words. Mr Ackroyd was saying, «There have been so many demands on my financial resources recently, that I cannot agree to your request...» I did not hear any more.'
'A demand for money,' said the inspector thoughtfully, 'and it seems almost certain that Mr Ackroyd himself must have let this stranger in. One thing's clear. Mr Ackroyd was alive and well at nine-thirty. That is the last moment we know he was alive.'
'If you'll excuse me,' Parker said, 'Miss Flora saw him at about a quarter to ten. I was bringing a tray with whisky and soda when Miss Flora, who was just coming out of this room, stopped me and said her uncle didn't want to be disturbed.'
'You'd already been told that Mr Ackroyd didn't want to be disturbed, hadn't you?'
'Yes, Sir. But I always bring the drinks' tray about that time, Sir...'
Parker was shaking. His reaction looked more like guilt than shock.
'Hmm,' said the inspector. 'I must see Miss Ackroyd at once. For the moment we'll leave this room as it is. I will just close and lock the window.'
He then led the way into the small hall and we followed him. 'Constable Jones, stay here. Don't let anyone go into that room.'
'If you'll excuse me, Sir,' said Parker. 'If you lock the door into the main hall, nobody can get into this part of the house.'
The inspector then locked the hall door behind him and gave the constable some instructions in a low voice.
'We must get busy on those footprints,' explained the inspector. 'But first of all, Miss Ackroyd. Does she know about the murder yet?'
Raymond shook his head.
'Well, she can answer my questions better without being upset by knowing about the murder. Tell her there's been a burglary, and ask her to come down and answer a few questions.'
In less than five minutes Flora came down the main staircase and the inspector stepped forward.
'Good evening, Miss Ackroyd. Were afraid there's been an attempt at burglary, and we want you to help us. Come into the billiard room and sit down. Now, Miss Ackroyd. Parker here says you came out of your uncle's study at about a quarter to ten. Is that right?'
'Quite right. I had been to say goodnight to him.'
'Was there anyone with your uncle?'
'He was alone.'
'Did you happen to notice whether the window was open or shut?'
Flora shook her head. 'I can't say. The curtains were closed.'
'Do you mind telling us exactly what happened?'
'I went in and said, «Goodnight, Uncle, I'm going to bed now.» I kissed him, and he said, «Tell Parker I don't want anything more tonight, and that he's not to disturb me.» I met Parker just outside the door and gave him Uncle's message. Can you tell me what has been stolen?'
'Were not quite — certain,' said the inspector.
The girl stood up. 'You're hiding something from me!'
Hector Blunt came between her and the inspector. She half stretched out her hand, and as he took it, she turned to him as though he promised safety.
'It's bad news, Flora,' he said quietly. 'Poor Roger's dead.'
'When?' she whispered.
'Very soon after you left him, I'm afraid,' said Blunt.
Flora gave a little cry, and fainted. Blunt and I carried her upstairs and laid her on her bed. Then I got him to wake Mrs Ackroyd and tell her the news.
The Tunisian Dagger
I met the inspector coming from the kitchen.
'Do you mind coming into the study with me, Doctor?' Inspector Davis unlocked the hall door and locked it again behind him. 'We don't want anyone to hear us. What's all this about blackmail? Is it Parker's imagination? Or is there something in it?'
'If Parker heard anything about blackmail, he must have been listening outside this door,' I replied.
'That's very likely. I didn't like his manner and when I questioned him again, he told me some story of blackmail.'
I told him the events of the evening.
'Most extraordinary story,' Davis said, when I had finished. 'And you say you couldn't see that letter on the study table when you found Ackroyd? Well, it gives us a motive for the murder.'
'Do you think that Parker himself might be the man we're after?'
'It looks likely. But keep it quiet until we've got all the evidence.'
He crossed over to Ackroyd's body in the armchair. 'The weapon ought to give us a clue.' He pulled the dagger out carefully from Ackroyd and put it in an empty flower vase on the mantelpiece. 'Quite a work of art.'
It was indeed a beautiful object. A narrow blade, and a beautifully decorated handle.
'Take a look at the handle. Fingerprints! I want to see if Mr Raymond can tell us anything about this dagger.'
We went back to the billiard room, where the inspector held up the dagger, still in the vase. 'Have you ever seen this before, Mr Raymond?'
'Why — that's the Tunisian dagger. It was given to Mr Ackroyd by Major Blunt.'
'Where was this kept?'
'In the silver table in the drawing-room.'
'What?' I exclaimed. 'When I arrived last night I heard the lid of the table being shut.'
I explained in detail.
'Was the dagger there when you were looking at the table?' the inspector asked.
'I don't remember noticing it.'
'We'd better ask the housekeeper,' remarked the inspector.
A few minutes later Miss Russell entered the room. 'Oh yes, the silver table was open,' she said, when the inspector had put his question. 'I shut the lid as I passed.'
'Can you tell me if this dagger was in its place then?'
'I can't say,' she replied.
'Thank you,' said the inspector.
Miss Russell left the room.
'Let me see,' said the inspector. 'This silver table is in front of one of the French windows and the windows were open. Well, somebody could get that dagger any time he liked. I'll be coming back in the morning with the Chief Constable. Colonel Melrose. Until then, I'll keep the key of that door. I want the chief constable to see everything exactly as it is.'
When I got back, Caroline extracted the whole history of the evening from me, though I said nothing of the blackmail.
'The police suspect Parker,' I said.
'Parker!' said my sister. 'That inspector must be a complete fool. Parker indeed!'
With these mysterious words we went up to bed.
I Learn My Neighbour's Profession
The following morning Flora Ackroyd came to our house.
'Dr Sheppard, I want you to come to The Larches with me.'
'To see that funny little man?' exclaimed Caroline.
'Yes. He is Hercule Poirot, the famous private detective! Uncle promised not to tell anyone, because Monsieur Poirot wanted to live quietly.'
'Flora,' I said seriously, 'I advise you not to involve this detective in the case.'
'I know why you say that,' she cried. 'You're afraid! But Ralph wouldn't murder anyone.'
'No, no,' I exclaimed. 'I never thought he could kill anyone.'
'Then why did you go to the Three Boars last night? After Uncle's body was found?'
'How did you know about that?'
'I heard from the servants that Ralph was staying there, so I went this morning. The people there told me that he went out at about nine o'clock yesterday evening and that later you came to see him and went up to his room to see if he was in. This morning they discovered that his bed hadn't been slept in.' Her eyes met mine. 'There must be a simple explanation.'
'Well, he wasn't in his room when I got there, so I came home. But I know the police don't suspect Ralph.'
'They do suspect him. A man from Cranchester arrived this morning — Inspector Raglan. He had been to the Three Boars before me. The barman told me all about the questions he asked. He must think Ralph did it. Oh! Dr Sheppard, let us go at once to Monsieur Poirot. He will find out the truth.'
'Monsieur le docteur,' Monsieur Poirot said. Mademoiselle.' He bowed to Flora. 'I have heard of the tragedy which has occurred and I offer all my sympathy. In what way can I serve you?'
'Find the murderer,' said Flora.
'I see,' said the little man. 'But if I go into this, I will go through with it to the end. You may wish that you had left it to the police.'
'I want the truth,' said Flora, looking him straight in the eyes.
'Then I accept,' said the little man quietly. 'Now, tell me all.'
'Dr Sheppard should tell you,' said Flora. 'He knows more than I do.'
Poirot listened carefully. 'You went to this inn last night? Now why was that?'
I chose my words carefully. 'I thought someone ought to inform the young man of his stepfather's death.'
Poirot nodded and suggested a visit to the local police. He thought it better for Flora to return home, and for me to accompany him.
At the police station we found Inspector Davis, the Chief Constable Colonel Melrose and Inspector Raglan. I introduced Poirot to them and explained the situation.
'The case is clear,' said Raglan. 'No need for amateurs.'
It was Poirot who saved the embarrassing situation.
'I have retired,' he said, 'and I hate publicity. I must ask, that if I help solve the mystery, my name should not be mentioned. If Inspector Raglan permits me to assist him, I will be honoured.'
Raglan was obviously pleased with this.
'Well, well,' said Colonel Melrose, 'we must tell you the latest developments, Monsieur Poirot.'
'I thank you,' said Poirot. 'Dr Sheppard said something about the butler being suspected?'
'Nonsense,' said Raglan. 'These high-class servants get into such a panic with things like this that they act suspiciously for no reason at all.'
'The fingerprints?' I hinted.
'Nothing like Parker's. And yours and Mr Raymond's don't fit either, Doctor.'
We had given our fingerprints to Davis last night.
'What about those of Captain Paton?' asked Poirot.
'We're going to take that young gentleman's fingerprints as soon as we find him.'
'What have you got against him?' I asked.
'He went out just on nine o'clock last night; he was seen near Fernly Park about nine-thirty and he hasn't been seen since. He's believed to be in serious money difficulties. I've got a pair of his shoes here — he had two pairs, almost exactly the same. I'm going up now to compare them with those footprints.'
We all drove up to Fernly in the colonel's car.
'Would you like to go with the inspector, Monsieur Poirot,' asked the Chief Constable, 'or would you prefer to examine the study?'
Poirot chose the study and Melrose took us in. The body had been taken away but otherwise the room was exactly as it had been last night.
'The letter in the blue envelope, Doctor, where was it when you left the room?' Poirot asked.
'Mr Ackroyd had put it down on this little table on his right.'
Poirot nodded. 'Colonel Melrose, would you sit down in this chair a minute? I thank you. Now Monsieur le docteur, will you point out the exact position of the dagger?'
1 did so, whilst the little man stood in the doorway.
'So the handle of the dagger was clearly visible from the door then?'
Poirot went to the window. 'The electric light was on, of course, when you discovered the body?'
I agreed, and he came to the middle of the room.
'Are you a man of good observation, Dr Sheppard?'
'I think so.'
'There was a fire burning in the fireplace. When you broke the door down and found Mr Ackroyd dead, how was the fire? Was it low?'
'I — I really can't say.'
The little man shook his head. 'I made a mistake in asking you that question. You could tell me the details of the patient's appearance — nothing there would escape you. If I wanted information about the papers on that desk, Mr Raymond would have noticed anything there was to see. To find out about the fire, I must ask the man whose business it is to observe such things.' He moved swiftly to the wall and rang the servants' bell. After a minute or two, Parker appeared.
'Parker,' said Poirot, 'when you found your master dead, what was the state of the fire?'
'It was almost out.'
Ah! And is this room exactly as it was then?'
The butler looked round the room 'The curtains were closed, Sir, and the electric light was on. This chair was a little more forward.'
He indicated a high-backed chair to the left of the door, between it and the window.
'Show me,' said Poirot.
The butler pulled the chair out two feet from the wall, turning it so that the seat faced the door.
'Now, who pushed it back into its place again? Did you?'
'No, Sir,' said Parker. 'But it was back in position when I arrived with the police, Sir, I'm sure of that.'
'Raymond or Blunt must have pushed it back,' I suggested. 'Surely it isn't important?'
'It is completely unimportant,' said Poirot. 'That is why it is so interesting.'
'Excuse me a minute,' said Colonel Melrose. He left the room with Parker.
'I wish you'd tell me something of your methods,' I said to Poirot. 'The point about the fire, for instance?'
'Oh! That was simple. You left Mr Ackroyd at ten minutes to nine. The window was closed and bolted and the door unlocked. At a quarter past ten when the body was discovered, the door was locked and the window was open. Who opened it? Clearly only Mr Ackroyd himself could have done so. Either because the room became unbearably hot, but since the fire was nearly out, that cannot be the reason, or because he let someone in that way. And if he did, it must have been someone well known to him, since he had previously been nervous about that same window.'
'It sounds very simple,' I said.
'Everything is simple if you arrange the facts methodically. Ah! Here is the colonel.'
'That telephone call has been traced,' the colonel said. 'It was put through to Dr Sheppard at 10.15 last night from a public call box at King's Abbot railway station. And at 10.23 the night mail train leaves for Liverpool.'
Inspector Raglan is Confident
'You will be making inquiries at the station?' I asked.
'Naturally, but you know what that station is like,' replied Colonel Melrose.
I did. King's Abbot's station is an important one where different railway lines meet. It has two public telephone boxes. At that time of night, three local trains come in to deliver passengers to the express for Liverpool, which comes in at 10.19 and leaves at 10.23. The chances of someone being noticed telephoning or getting on to the express are very small indeed.
'But why telephone at all?' demanded Melrose. 'There seems no reason.'
'Be sure there was a reason,' Poirot said. 'And when we know that, we will know everything. We should find out if Mr Ackroyd had been visited by any strangers during the past week.'
Colonel Melrose went in search of Raymond, and I rang the bell for Parker. When Geoffrey Raymond came in, he seemed delighted to meet Poirot.
'It will be a great privilege to watch you at work,' he said. Then, 'Hello, what's this?'
Poirot had moved aside and I saw that while my back had been turned, he had pulled out the armchair so that it stood in the position Parker had indicated.
'Monsieur Raymond, this chair was pulled out — like this — last night when Mr Ackroyd was found killed. Someone moved it back into its place. Did you move it back?'
'No. I don't even remember that it was in that position.'
'It is of no importance,' said the detective as Parker came in. 'What I really want to ask you is this: did any stranger come to see Mr Ackroyd during this past week?'
'No,' said Raymond. 'I can't remember anyone. Can you, Parker?'
'There was the young man who came on Wednesday, Sir,' he said. 'From Curtis and Trout, I understood he was.'
'Oh! That is not the kind of stranger this gentleman means.' Raymond turned to Poirot. 'Mr Ackroyd had some idea of buying a Dictaphone. The firm sent down their salesman, but Mr Ackroyd did not buy.'
The butler spoke to Raymond. 'Mr Hammond has just arrived, Sir.'
'I'll come at once,' said the young man.
Poirot looked inquiringly at the Chief Constable.
'Mr Hammond is the family lawyer, Monsieur Poirot.'
Poirot nodded. 'Could you please show me the table from which the dagger was taken?'
We went to the drawing room, but on the way Constable Jones waylaid Colonel Melrose, who went with him. I showed Poirot the silver table, and after raising the lid once and letting it fall, he pushed open the window and stepped out onto the terrace. I followed him. Inspector Raglan had just come round the corner of the house.
'Well, Monsieur Poirot, this isn't going to be much of a case. I'm sorry, too, because I like Ralph Paton. A nice young fellow gone wrong.'
'You have worked so quickly,' Poirot observed. 'How exactly did you reach this conclusion, if I may ask?'
'To begin with — method. That's what I always say — method! First, Mr Ackroyd was last seen alive at a quarter to ten by Miss Flora. At half-past ten, the doctor says that Mr Ackroyd had been dead at least half an hour. That gives us exactly a quarter of an hour in which the crime was committed. I made a list of everyone in the house, and worked through it, setting down opposite their names where they were and what they were doing between 9.45 and 10 p.m.'
He handed a sheet of paper to Poirot. I read it over his shoulder.
Major Blunt: in billiard room with Mr Raymond. Major Blunt confirms this.
Mr Raymond: billiard room. See above.
Mrs Ackroyd: 9.45 watching billiard match. Went up to bed 9.55.
Miss Ackroyd: went straight upstairs from her uncle's room. Confirmed by Parker, also housemaid. Elsie Dale.
Parker: went straight to butler's pantry — Confirmed by housekeeper, Miss Russell.
Miss Russell: as above, spoke to housemaid, Elsie Dale, upstairs at 9.45.
Ursula Bourne (parlourmaid): in her own room until 9.55 — then in Servants' Hall.
Mrs Cooper (cook): in Servants' Hall.
Gladys Jones (second housemaid): in Servants' Hall.
Elsie Dale: upstairs in bedroom — seen there by Miss Russell and Miss Flora Ackroyd.
Mary Thripp (kitchen maid): Servants' Hall.
'The cook has been here seven years, the parlourmaid eighteen months, and Parker just over a year. The others are new. Except for Parker, they all seem quite all right.'
'I am quite sure that Parker did not commit the murder,' Poirot said.
'That covers the household,' continued the inspector. 'Now, Mary Black, who lives in the house by the Fernly Park gates — the lodge — was closing the curtains last night when she saw Ralph Paton go past and take the path to the right, which is a quicker way than the drive to get to the terrace. It was exactly twenty-five minutes past nine. He enters the study through the window. At nine-thirty, Mr Geoffrey Raymond hears someone in the study asking for money and Mr Ackroyd refusing. What happens next? Let us suppose Captain Paton leaves the same way — through the window. He walks along the terrace. He comes to the open drawing-room window. Say it's now a quarter to ten. Miss Flora Ackroyd is saying goodnight to her uncle. Major Blunt, Mr Raymond, and Mrs Ackroyd are in the billiard room. The drawing room is empty. He enters quietly, takes the dagger from the silver table, and returns to the study window. He takes off his shoes so that Mr Ackroyd won't hear him, climbs in, and — well, I don't need to go into details. Then he leaves quietly and heads for the station, rings up from there...'
'Why?' said Poirot softly. His eyes shone with a strange green light.
'It's difficult to say exactly why he did that,' Raglan said. 'But murderers do funny things. Come along and I'll show you those footprints.'
We followed him to the study window, where the constable produced the shoes taken from the local inn. The inspector laid them over the footprints.
'They aren't the same pair that made these prints. He went away in those. This is a pair just like them, but older — see how the studs are worn down?'
'Surely a great many people wear shoes with rubber studs in them?' asked Poirot.
'That's so. I wouldn't give so much importance to the footprints if it wasn't for everything else. He left no prints on the terrace or on the graveled path. But just at the end of the path from the drive, look at this.'
A graveled path joined the terrace a few feet away. In one place the ground was wet and there again were the marks of footsteps, among them the shoes with rubber studs. Poirot followed the path on a little way. 'You noticed the women's footprints?'
The inspector laughed. 'Naturally. But several different women have walked this way — men as well. It's a regular short cut to the house, you see. But it's the footsteps on the windowsill that are really important.'
'It's no good going further,' said the inspector, as we came in view of the drive. 'It's all graveled again here.'
Again Poirot nodded, but he stayed until the inspector had gone back towards the house. Then he looked at me. 'Luck has sent you to replace my friend Hastings… you are always by my side.'
The Goldfish Pond
'Let us walk a little,' Poirot said. 'The air is pleasant today.'
He led me down a path enclosed by bushes. At the end was a paved area with a seat and a pond of goldfish. Poirot took another path which went up the side of a wooded slope. In one place the trees had been cut down, and a seat looked down on the pond.
'England is very beautiful,' said Poirot. Then he smiled. 'And so are English girls. Hush, my friend, and look at the pretty picture below us.'
Flora was moving along the path we had just left and she was singing quietly to herself. Despite her black mourning dress, there was nothing but joy in her whole attitude. She suddenly turned round, flung her head back and laughed. As she did so a man stepped out from the trees. It was Hector Blunt.
'How you surprised me!' the girl said. 'I didn't see you.'
Blunt stood looking at her for a minute or two in silence.
'What I like about you,' said Flora, 'is your cheerful conversation.'
'I was never good at conversation. Not even when I was young.'
'That was a very long time ago, I suppose,' said Flora.
I caught the laughter in her voice, but I don't think Blunt did.
'Yes,' he said simply, 'it was. It's time I went back to Africa. I'm useless in social gatherings.'
'But you're not going now,' cried Flora. 'No — not while we're in all this trouble. Oh, please! If you go...' she turned away.
'You want me to stay?' asked Blunt.
'I meant you personally,' said Blunt, with directness.
Flora turned slowly back again and met his eyes. 'I want you to stay,' she said, 'if — if that makes any difference.'
'It makes all the difference,' said Blunt.
They sat down on the stone seat by the goldfish pond.
'It's such a lovely morning,' said Flora. 'You know, I can't help feeling happy, in spite of everything. That's awful, I suppose?'
'It's quite natural,' said Blunt. 'You never saw your uncle until two years ago, did you? You can't be expected to grieve very much.'
'You make things seem so simple,' said Flora. 'I'll — I'll tell you why I felt so happy this morning. However heartless you think me. It's because the lawyer has been here — Mr Hammond. He told us about the will. Uncle Roger has left me twenty thousand pounds. Think of it — twenty thousand beautiful pounds.'
Blunt looked surprised. 'Does it mean so much to you?'
'Why, it's everything. Freedom — life — no more pretending to be thankful for all the old clothes rich relations give you. I'm so happy. I'm free. Free to do what I like. Free not to...' She stopped suddenly.
'Not to what?' asked Blunt quickly.
'Miss Ackroyd, can I do anything? About Paton, I mean. I know how anxious you must be.'
'Thank you,' said Flora in a cold voice. 'Ralph will be all right. I've got the most wonderful detective in the world, and he's going to find out all about it.'
Poirot rose to his feet. 'I demand pardon,' he cried. 'I cannot allow Mademoiselle to praise me, and not draw attention to my presence.'
He hurried down the path with me close behind him.
'This is Monsieur Hercule Poirot,' said Flora. 'I expect you've heard of him.'
'I know Major Blunt by reputation,' he said. 'I am glad to meet you, Monsieur. I am in need of some information. When did you last see Monsieur Ackroyd alive?'
'And you neither saw nor heard anything of him after that?'
'I didn't see him, but I heard his voice.'
'How was that?'
'I went out on the terrace at about half-past nine. I was walking up and down smoking. I heard Ackroyd speaking to his secretary. I assumed it was Raymond, because Raymond had said just before I came out that he was taking some papers to Ackroyd. I never thought of it being anybody else. Seems I was wrong.'
'Can you remember what the words you heard were?'
'I'm afraid I can't. Something quite ordinary.'
'It is of no importance,' murmured Poirot. 'Did you move a chair back against the wall in the study after the body was discovered?'
Poirot turned to Flora.
'There is one thing I should like to know from you, Mademoiselle. When you were looking at the things in the silver table with Monsieur Blunt before dinner, was the dagger in its place, or was it not?'
'Inspector Raglan asked me that. I'm certain the dagger was not there. Raglan thinks it was and that Ralph took it later in the evening. He thinks I'm saying it to protect Ralph.'
'And aren't you?' I asked.
Flora stamped her foot. 'No, Dr Sheppard!'
Poirot tactfully changed the subject of the conversation. 'Look — there is something shiny in this pond. Let us see if I can reach it.'
He knelt down by the pond, pushed up the sleeve of his jacket, and put his arm in the water. However, the mud at the bottom of the pond moved and his hand came out empty.
Blunt looked at his watch. 'Nearly lunchtime,' he said. 'We'd better get back to the house.'
'You will have lunch with us, Monsieur Poirot?' asked Flora. 'I would like you to meet my mother.'
The little man bowed. 'I will be delighted, Mademoiselle.'
'And you will stay, too, won't you, Dr Sheppard?'
We set off towards the house, Flora and Blunt walking ahead. Poirot began to brush drops of water off his sleeve.
'And all for nothing, too,' I said sympathetically, 'I wonder what it was in the pond?'
'My good friend,' he said gently, 'Hercule Poirot does not risk spoiling his clothes without being sure of getting what he is looking for. Before showing my empty hand, I dropped what it contained into my other hand.'
He held out his left hand, palm open. On it lay a woman's wedding ring.
I took it from him.
'Look inside,' commanded Poirot. I did so. Inside was fine writing:
From R., March 13th.
I looked at Poirot, but I saw that he did not wish to say anything more.
Three possibilities came to my mind: the obvious one being that Ralph had secretly married Flora despite her uncle's disapproval at that time. That Roger Ackroyd had been secretly married to Mrs Ferrars — or the least likely, that Roger Ackroyd had married his housekeeper, Miss Russell...
We found Mrs Ackroyd in the hall. With her was a small man with sharp grey eyes.
'Mr Hammond is staying to lunch with us,' said Mrs Ackroyd. 'You know Major Blunt, Mr Hammond? And dear Dr Sheppard — a close friend of poor Roger's. And, let me see...'
'This is Monsieur Poirot, Mother. I told you about him. He is going to find out who killed Uncle.'
Poirot went up to the lawyer, and spoke to him quietly. I joined them — then hesitated.
'Perhaps I'm intruding,' I said.
'Not at all,' cried Poirot. 'You and I, Monsieur le docteur, we investigate this business side by side. I desire a little information from the good Mr Hammond.'
'I cannot seriously believe that Captain Paton can be involved in this crime,' the lawyer said. 'The fact that he was in need of money is nothing. It was a permanent condition with Ralph. He was always asking his stepfather for money.'
'Mr Hammond, seeing that I am acting for Miss Ackroyd, you will not object to telling me the terms of Mr Ackroyd's will?'
'They are quite simple. After paying certain legacies...'
'Such as...?' interrupted Poirot.
'A thousand pounds to his housekeeper, Miss Russell; fifty pounds to the cook, Emma Cooper; five hundred pounds to his secretary, Mr Geoffrey Raymond. Then to various hospitals...'
Poirot held up his hand. 'Ah! The charitable bequests, they do not interest me.'
'Quite so. The income on ten thousand pounds' worth of shares is to be paid to Mrs Cecil Ackroyd during her lifetime. Miss Flora Ackroyd inherits twenty thousand pounds. Everything else — including this property, and the shares in Ackroyd and Son — is left to his adopted son, Ralph Paton. Captain Paton will be a very wealthy young man.'
After lunch, the lawyer asked Mrs Ackroyd: 'Now, have you all the cash you need for now? If not, I can arrange to let you have whatever you require.'
'That ought to be all right,' said Raymond. 'Mr Ackroyd cashed a cheque for a hundred pounds yesterday. For wages and other expenses due today.'
'Where is this money?' Hammond asked, 'In his desk?'
'No, he always kept his cash in his bedroom.'
'I think,' said the lawyer, 'we ought to make sure the money is there before I leave.'
'Certainly,' agreed the secretary. 'I'll take you up now… Oh! I forgot. The door is locked.'
A few minutes later, Inspector Raglan joined us and brought the key with him. He unlocked the door and we went up the small staircase. At the top of the stairs the door into Ackroyd's bedroom stood open. The inspector opened the curtains, letting in the sunlight, and Geoffrey Raymond went to the top drawer of a desk and took out a round leather box. Opening it, he took out a thick wallet.
'Here is the money,' he said, taking out some banknotes. 'You will find the hundred there. Mr Ackroyd put it in the box in my presence last night when he was dressing for dinner.'
Mr Hammond took the notes and counted them. He looked up sharply. 'There are only sixty pounds here.'
'But — I don't understand it,' cried the secretary.
'It is very simple,' remarked Poirot. 'Either Mr Ackroyd paid out that forty pounds sometime last evening, or else it has been stolen.'
The inspector turned to Mrs Ackroyd. 'Which of the servants would usually come in here yesterday evening?'
'The housemaid would get the bed ready.'
'I think we ought to clear this matter up,' said the inspector. 'The other servants are all right, as far as you know? Has anything gone missing before?'
'Are any of them leaving?'
'The parlourmaid gave notice yesterday, I believe.'
'Oh, no. Miss Russell deals with household matters.'
Poirot and I accompanied the inspector to the housekeeper's room. She said the housemaid, Elsie Dale, had been at Fernly for five months. A nice girl, and most respectable, with good references.
'What about the parlourmaid?' asked Poirot.
'She is clearly better educated than most servants and very quiet and ladylike. An excellent worker.'
'Then why is she leaving?' asked the inspector.
'I understand Mr Ackroyd was very angry at something she had done yesterday afternoon and she gave notice. Perhaps you'd like to see her yourselves?'
Ursula Bourne came as instructed. She was a tall girl, with a lot of brown hair rolled tightly away at the back of her neck, and very steady grey eyes.
'You are Ursula Bourne?' asked the inspector.
'I understand you are leaving?'
'Why is that?'
'It was my job to tidy the study and I disturbed some papers on Mr Ackroyd's desk. He was very angry about it and I said I had better leave. He told me to go as soon as possible.'
'Were you in Mr Ackroyd's bedroom last night?'
'No, sir. That is Elsie's work. I never went upstairs.'
'I must tell you, my girl, that a large sum of money is missing from Mr Ackroyd's room.'
Her face reddened. 'If you think I took it, and that is why Mr Ackroyd dismissed me, you are wrong. You can search my things if you like.'
'It was yesterday afternoon that Mr Ackroyd dismissed you — or you dismissed yourself, was it not?' Poirot asked.
The girl nodded.
'How long did the discussion last between you and Mr Ackroyd? Twenty minutes? Half an hour?'
'Something like that.'
'Thank you, Mademoiselle.'
I looked at him. His eyes were shining.
Ursula Bourne left and the inspector turned to Miss Russell. 'Have you got her references?'
Miss Russell moved to a desk and took out a handful of letters. She selected one and handed it to the inspector.
'Hmm,' he said. 'It seems to be all right. Her last job was at Marby Grange, Marby — with Mrs Richard Folliott. Well, let's have a look at Elsie Dale.'
Elsie Dale answered our questions easily, and was very upset about the loss of the money.
'I don't think there's anything wrong with her,' observed the inspector, when she had gone. 'Well, thank you very much, Miss Russell. It's highly probable Mr Ackroyd spent that money himself.'
I left the house with Poirot.
'I wonder,' I said, 'what the papers Ursula Bourne disturbed were? They must have been important for Ackroyd to be so angry.'
'The secretary said there were no papers of particular importance on the desk,' said Poirot quietly. 'So why would he have been so angry with her?'
1 had no answer.
Poirot Pays a Call
On Sunday, after seeing my patients, I arrived home at about six o'clock.
'I've had a very interesting afternoon,' began Caroline.
'Have you?' I said. 'Did Miss Gannett come for tea?'
'No, Monsieur Poirot! Now, what do you think of that?'
I thought a good many things of it, but I was careful not to say them to Caroline.
'What did he talk about?' I asked.
'He told me a lot about himself and his cases. And naturally we talked about the murder. I was able to correct Monsieur Poirot on several points. He was very grateful to me. He said I could make an excellent detective, with a wonderful understanding of human nature. He talked a lot about the little grey cells of the brain. His own, he says, are of the first quality.'
'He isn't modest, is he?'
'He thought that it was very important for Ralph to be found as soon as possible, and explain himself. He says that his disappearance will produce a very bad impression at the inquest. I agreed with him,' said Caroline.
'Caroline,' I said, 'did you tell Monsieur Poirot what you overheard in the woods that day?'
'I did,' said Caroline.
'You realize you're giving Poirot evidence that will prove Ralph is guilty?'
'Not at all,' said Caroline. 'I was surprised you hadn't told him.'
'I took very good care not to,' I said. 'I'm fond of that boy.'
'So am I. That's why I say you're talking nonsense. I don't believe Ralph did it, and so the truth can't hurt him. Therefore we ought to give Monsieur Poirot all the help we can.'
'Did Poirot ask you any more questions?' I inquired.
'Only about the patients you had that morning. Your surgery patients. How many and who they were.'
'Were you able to tell him that?'
'Of course!' said my sister. 'I can see the path up to the surgery door perfectly from this window. And I've got an excellent memory, James. Much better than yours.'
'I'm sure you have.'
'There was old Mrs Bennett, and that boy from the farm with the bad foot. Dolly Grice came to have a needle taken out of her finger, and that American steward off the ship. Let me see — that's four. Yes, and old George Evans with his bad stomach. And lastly, Miss Russell.'
Round the Table
A joint inquest for Mrs Ferrars and Ackroyd was held on Monday. By arrangement with the police, very little information was allowed to come out at the inquest. I gave evidence about the cause of Ackroyd's death and the probable time. The absence of Ralph Paton was commented on by the coroner, but not stressed. Afterwards, Poirot and I had a few words with Inspector Raglan.
'It looks bad, Monsieur Poirot,' he said. 'I'm a local man, and I've seen Captain Paton many times, so I don't want him to be the murderer — but if he's innocent, why doesn't he come forward? We've got evidence against him, but it's just possible that the evidence could be explained away.'
Ralph's description had been given to every port and railway station in England. His apartment in town was watched, and any houses he visited frequently. He had no luggage, and, as far as anyone knew, no money. It seemed impossible that Ralph could avoid detection.
'I can't find anyone who saw him at the station that night,' continued the inspector. 'There's no news from Liverpool either.'
'You think he went to Liverpool?' asked Poirot.
'Well, that telephone message from the station was just three minutes before the Liverpool express train left.'
'Ah yes, the telephone message. My friend,' said Poirot seriously, 'I believe that when we find the explanation of that telephone call we will find the explanation of the murder.'
'I must confess, I think we've got better clues than that, Mr Poirot,' said the inspector. 'The fingerprints on the dagger, for instance.'
Poirot suddenly became very foreign in manner, as he often did when excited over something.
'Monsieur Inspecteur,' he said, 'those fingerprints — they may lead you nowhere.'