'Claremont Private Nursing Agency. This is Angela speaking. Can I help you?'
'Angela? It's Anne… Anne Harrison. Have you got the information about that new job?'
'Oh, hello Anne. Wait a minute… Yes, here it is! We need a private nurse for Mrs Kitty Blakemore.'
'Kitty Blakemore? The famous writer?'
'Yes,' said Angela. 'That's right. But, listen Anne, there isn't really much wrong with her. Her heart is a little weak, but she's not really ill. She's just a hypochondriac.'
'Oh, I see… one of those. What's the address?'
'The Grange, Kingsfield, Sussex,' said Angela. 'She wants you to be there tomorrow morning. Good luck!'
Early next morning, I drove to Kingsfield, a pretty little village near the sea. The Grange was just outside the village, at the end of a private road. It was a large grey house.
I rang the bell and waited. No one answered, so I rang it again. At last, the door opened and a young blonde girl appeared. She wore a dark blue dress and a white apron. She stood there and stared at me.
'Yes?' she said.
'I'm Nurse Harrison,' I said. 'The nursing agency sent me.'
'Oh, yes. Come in.'
I followed her into the hall. A tall woman, about forty years old, was coming down the stairs.
'Nurse Harrison?' she asked. We shook hands. 'I'm Stella Vixon, the housekeeper.'
She was quite beautiful, but also a little strange and frightening. She was very controlled and there was something mysterious about her eyes.
'I hope you'll be happy here,' she said. 'Charlotte will show you to your room now.' Then she smiled at me strangely and walked away.
I followed Charlotte up the stairs and down a long corridor. She pushed open a door at the end.
'Here's your room,' she said.
I put down my suitcase. I waited for her to go away but she didn't. Instead, she sat down on my bed.
'Why do you want to work in this place?' she asked.
'It's just a job,' I replied.
'Mrs Blakemore's terrible,' said Charlotte. 'She's not really sick. She just wants to lie in bed all day and give us orders. I don't know why her husband likes her. He's famous too, you know. He writes wonderful music. Have you ever heard of him? No? Well, he's lucky. He's away at the moment. He's working in Wales. Poor us! We have to stay here with her!'
Charlotte was talking and I was brushing my hair and looking at her in the mirror. She took something out of her apron pocket and examined it. Suddenly, there was a knock at the door and she jumped off the bed. She quickly put the thing back in her pocket. Stella Vixon came in.
'Are you still here, Charlotte?' she said. 'Hurry up and go downstairs. Oh… and… Mrs Blakemore has lost one of her rings. It's not in her jewel box. Do you know anything about it?'
'What do you mean? I'm not a thief!' cried Charlotte angrily. 'I didn't take it!'
'All right,' said Miss Vixon. 'Calm down. I only said, «Do you know anything about it?» Now hurry up and go and do your work.'
Then she turned to me.
'If you're ready, Nurse Harrison, we'll go and see Mrs Blakemore now.'
I followed Miss Vixon down the corridor. We went to another part of the house. She knocked on a heavy white door and we walked into Mrs Blakemore's bedroom. The curtains were half closed and the room was quite dark. A woman about fifty-five years old was sitting up in bed.
'Is that the new nurse?' she asked in a sharp voice.
I was surprised because she really did look very white and sick. Some bottles of medicine and bottles of pills were on the table beside the bed. The bed itself was covered with books, letters and half-eaten chocolates.
'Yes. This is Nurse Harrison,' said the housekeeper.
'Good,' said Mrs Blakemore. 'Now you — get out and leave us alone.'
I was astonished. But Miss Vixon said nothing. She just smiled politely and left the room.
Mrs Blakemore stared at me.
'You look intelligent, Nurse,' she said. 'These others… they're all useless. I'm not getting better, you know. I'm getting worse.' A look of fear came into her eyes. 'Do you know… sometimes I think that someone is poisoning me.'
'Nonsense!' I said. 'You just need some nice fresh air!'
I pulled back the curtains and opened the window. Sunlight poured into the room. I took her temperature. It was perfectly normal.
'Now, Mrs Blakemore,' I said. 'A nice walk in the garden will make you feel a lot better.'
'Oh, don't be silly,' she said. 'I'm much too weak.'
At that moment, Miss Vixon opened the door and said, 'Doctor Spencer is here.'
A short, fat man with glasses came in.
'And how's my patient today?' he asked.
'I've got a very nasty taste in my mouth, Doctor,' she complained. 'My legs hurt and I feel sick.'
'Ah!' he said. 'But you've got a nice new nurse! What a lucky woman you are!'
'Listen, Doctor,' said Mrs Blakemore. 'I'm not getting better. I was sick last night.'
'Oh, dear,' said Doctor Spencer. 'You've been eating too many chocolates!' He smiled at her and then at me.
'I'm really sick, you fool!' said Mrs Blakemore angrily.
'My dear lady,' said Doctor Spencer, gently. 'Please don't worry. You worry too much.'
He looked at me. 'I'll just give her a little injection. It will calm her down.'
'She has some strange ideas,' he said. 'She's a writer, you see.'
The injection worked. Soon she was lying there quietly. Then Doctor Spencer noticed the chocolates.
'Look! What did I say? More chocolates… Dear… dear...'
'Yes, my nephew always brings me chocolates,' said Mrs Blakemore.
'My nephew… our vicar… The Reverend John Palmer,' she explained in a tired voice.
'Oh. So he's your nephew, is he? That's interesting,' said the doctor. 'I didn't know that.'
'I've told you hundreds of times,' said Mrs Blakemore. Tour memory isn't very good, is it? Or perhaps you just want to annoy me.'
He laughed a little nervously and he left the room.
'Useless man!' she said. Then she smiled at me strangely. 'I've got a little joke for Doctor Spencer.'
'Have you?' I said.
'Yes. I've told him that I'm going to leave him a lot of money in my will. When I die. But it's not true. No, I'm not going to leave him anything.' Mrs Blakemore laughed weakly. 'He's a useless doctor.'
'Why don't you get a new one?' I asked.
'This isn't London, you know,' she said. 'This is the country. There's only one other doctor near here and he lives ten miles away. He's useless, too. The world is full of useless people.' She closed her eyes. 'Anyway, I'm leaving all my money to my nephew.'
'But what about your husband?'
'Edward?' Her face looked almost kind for a moment.
'Edward doesn't want my money. He has plenty of his own. Even this house is his. Anyway, he doesn't really care about money. He only thinks about music.'
She put another chocolate in her mouth and ate it.
Outside, in the corridor, I met Charlotte. She was carrying Mrs Blakemore's lunch. She took it into the bedroom and then she showed me the way to the kitchen. Here we all ate in silence until Bernard, the cook, suddenly put down his knife and fork.
'What do you think of her, then?' he asked me.
'Mrs Blakemore? Oh, she seems all right,' I replied.
'All right?' he said. 'She's rude, selfish and mean. Do you know, she's got lots of money… loads of it. But she always makes us use the last little bit of everything. The last bit of milk, the last bit of bread.'
'Well, perhaps she doesn't like to waste anything,' I said.
There was silence again.
'Mrs Blakemore thinks that someone is poisoning her,' I said.
Bernard laughed. 'Really?' he said. 'I'm sure that we would all like to poison her, if we could. I would do it if I could think of a good way.'
Miss Vixon's face went white. 'Bernard!'
'Well, it's true, isn't it?' he said. 'You don't like her either, do you?'
Miss Vixon didn't answer. Bernard went to get the ice-cream from the fridge. He walked with some difficulty. I saw that he had something wrong with his left leg.
Suddenly Charlotte said to me, 'That's a nice ring you have. It's a diamond, isn't it?'
'Yes,' I said. (At last the conversation had changed!) 'I'm getting married next year. My boyfriend's name's David and he's a sailor. He's going to be away at sea for the next six months.'
'Oh, I'd like to get married too,' Charlotte said. 'I want to marry a rich man. Then I can have a big house like this and a maid.' She laughed. 'Who knows… perhaps if Mrs Blakemore dies, Mr Blakemore will marry me! He's a bit old… but he's famous and he is rich!'
'If that's a joke, Charlotte, it's not very funny,' said Miss Vixon.
Bernard laughed again.
'Yes, Charlotte. Keep your mouth shut. Mr Blakemore would never want to marry a silly little girl like you.'
A nasty taste
After lunch, I visited my patient. She was asleep. The plate was by the bed. She hadn't eaten very much. 'Mmm...' I thought. 'She doesn't need all these bottles of medicine and pills. She just needs some vitamin tonic.' I decided to walk into the village and buy some for her.
It was a beautiful afternoon and the village looked very pretty. As I passed the church, I remembered that the vicar was Mrs Blakemore's nephew. So I went inside to have a look. It was a lovely old building, but it was in a terrible condition. Some of the coloured glass in the windows was broken and there were holes in the roof.
There was only one shop in Kingsfield. The woman who owned it was busy. She was talking to a thin man in a black suit.
'Oh dear, Vicar,' she said. 'It's going to cost a lot of money to mend that roof.'
'Don't worry, Mrs Owen,' he said. 'We'll get the money.'
Then she noticed me… a stranger. Her smile disappeared. 'Yes?' she said.
The vicar turned round. I could see his face now. It was a proud face, with a thin mouth and dull eyes. So, this was Mrs Blakemore's nephew!
'Hello!' I said brightly. 'A bottle of tonic please!'
That evening, I saw Reverend Palmer again. I had just helped Mrs Blakemore to go to her bathroom. She wanted to wash and brush her teeth. When he came in, I was helping her to get back into bed. He was holding another box of chocolates.
'Ah, John, it's you! Come and sit down,' she said. 'Look! I've got a nice new nurse. She's going to make me better.'
He looked at me but I don't think he remembered me.
'Smile, John, smile,' his aunt said. 'You're always so serious.'
'That's because I am very worried about the church, Aunt Kitty,' he said. 'We need thousands of pounds to mend the roof.'
'Oh, stop it,' said Mrs Blakemore. 'You're always talking about the church. It's so boring! Come on, Nurse, open the chocolates. My nephew needs something to make him smile.'
But he stood up. 'No, not for me, thank you, Aunt. I must go now. I'm very busy.'
I opened the box of chocolates and gave it to Mrs Blakemore. Then I left the room.
Outside the door, I met Charlotte. She was carrying Mrs Blakemore's dinner.
'What's she having tonight?' I asked.
'Scrambled eggs,' said Charlotte. 'We're having scrambled eggs, too.'
I went down to the kitchen. Bernard and Miss Vixon were talking. When they saw me, they stopped. I sat down. The silence was worse than at lunchtime.
Mrs Blakemore only ate half of her scrambled eggs.
'If you don't eat your food, you won't get better,' I said. 'I hate to waste things, but this tastes terrible,' she complained. Take it away. I want a glass of hot milk.'
I went back to the kitchen and I told Bernard.
'Oh, she always says my food tastes terrible,' he said. 'She wants a glass of hot milk,' I told him.
'Does she?' he said. 'Well, I'm not making it for her.'
'I'll make it,' said Miss Vixon. 'Don't worry, Nurse. Go and watch television. I'll take it up to her.'
I watched television until nine thirty. Then I went upstairs.
'I must brush my teeth again,' said Mrs Blakemore. 'I've got a very nasty taste in my mouth.'
I helped her to get out of bed.
'You really are very weak,' I said. 'Tomorrow you must eat all your food.'
'Oh, don't talk to me about food!'
I stood beside her in the bathroom. I thought she might fall. The toothpaste was nearly finished, but she managed to get out every last bit. She brushed her teeth several times. I smiled. I remembered what Bernard had said about her.
'That's better,' she said. 'Get me some more toothpaste tomorrow, Nurse. Here.' She gave me the empty tube. 'This is the kind I like. They don't sell it in the village. You'll have to drive to Hastings. My husband usually gets it for me.'
I put the tube in my apron pocket. Then I put my arm around her, because she was so weak. She couldn't breathe very well. Perhaps she wasn't a hypochondriac. Perhaps she really was ill. I felt a bit worried and I decided to telephone Doctor Spencer the next day.
A suspicious death
But the following morning, there was an urgent knock on my door. It was Stella Vixon.
'Nurse! Nurse!' she cried. 'Something terrible has happened! Mrs Blakemore's dead!'
I stared at her. 'Dead?'
'Yes. I must go,' she said. 'I must go and telephone Mr Blakemore at once. Oh! What am I going to say?'
'Telephone Doctor Spencer, too,' I said. Then I ran down the corridor.
Mrs Blakemore was lying with her eyes open. The light beside her bed was still on and the curtains-were closed. The empty milk glass was on the floor. I lifted her arm, but it was already cold. A strange, sweet smell came from her mouth.
Charlotte appeared with the breakfast.
'Take that away,' I said. 'I'm going to call the police.'
'The police?' she whispered. 'Why?'
'I think that Mrs Blakemore has been murdered.'
I phoned the police and a moment later Doctor Spencer arrived.
'Oh dear,' he said. 'I can't understand it. Her heart was a little weak, but it was nothing serious. I just can't understand it. I didn't think that she would die.'
'No, Doctor, neither did I,' I said coldly. 'But perhaps her heart wasn't the problem. Can you smell that strange smell? Perhaps she has been poisoned.'
'Poisoned?' His hands shook. 'You're not serious!'
'Yes, I am,' I said. 'She thought that she was being poisoned. But I didn't believe her. She said that her legs hurt and that she felt sick. I didn't do anything. But now I remember. Poison can make people feel like that.'
Doctor Spencer looked at Mrs Blakemore, then at me. Then he looked at the door. Did he want to escape? At last, he said quietly, 'Perhaps we should telephone the police.'
'Don't worry,' I said. 'I've already done that.'
When the police arrived, Miss Vixon brought them in. The Inspector was wearing a dark suit; the policewoman was in uniform.
'Inspector Braddock and Police Constable Hemmings,' she announced.
'Ah! The police! Good!' said Doctor Spencer, nervously. He was still looking at the door.
'Has anyone touched anything or moved anything from the room?' asked Inspector Braddock.
'No,' said Miss Vixon.
Then he turned and looked at me. 'Are you the nurse who telephoned us?'
'Yes,' I said. 'I'm from the nursing agency. I only arrived here yesterday. Mrs Blakemore thought that someone was poisoning her. But I didn't believe her. You see, the agency told me that she was a hypochondriac. Everyone said that she wasn't really ill.'
The policewoman picked up the empty chocolate box.
'Who gave her these chocolates?'
'Her nephew,' said Doctor Spencer. 'But you needn't worry. He's our vicar.'
'Anyone can be a murderer,' said the Inspector calmly.
'We'll take that away, Constable. We'll take those bottles of medicine and that bottle of tonic, too.'
'There's an empty glass on the floor here, sir,' PC Hemmings said.
'OK', said the Inspector. 'Pick it up.'
The policewoman put the things into a large plastic bag.
'What did Mrs Blakemore eat last night?' the Inspector asked.
'Scrambled eggs,' I said. 'But she only ate about half. Bernard threw the last bit away.'
'I see,' said the Inspector. 'Who else works here?'
'Only Charlotte,' said Miss Vixon. 'The maid.'
Inspector Braddock looked out of the window.
'Perhaps Mrs Blakemore was poisoned,' he said. 'We don't know yet. We must wait for the results of the autopsy. Ah! There's the ambulance. They've come to take the body away. Now then… is there a Mr Blakemore?'
'Yes,' said Miss Vixon. 'He's been working in Wales for a few weeks. I've just called him. He'll be here this evening.'
'Then we'll come back later,' said the Inspector. 'But first, I'd like to speak to Bernard and Charlotte. Where's the kitchen?'
I went to my room and stayed there all day. I felt terrible. I blamed myself. But I blamed Doctor Spencer and the nursing agency, too. Why had none of us done anything to help her? She had been sick. She had been really sick. And now she was dead.
Who is the murderer?
At about six o'clock I went downstairs. Mr Blakemore had just arrived. Charlotte was taking his suitcase. He was a good-looking man of about fifty, with white hair. His face was tired and worried.
'Come into my study,' he said to Miss Vixon. 'And tell me all about it.'
I went to the kitchen, because I wanted a sandwich. Bernard was pouring away a bottle of milk.
'Bernard!' I said. 'What are you doing? The Inspector doesn't want us to throw anything away.'
He turned round. 'Are you suggesting that I poisoned her? What about you? It's strange, isn't it? You arrive here and the next day Mrs Blakemore is murdered.'
'Don't be silly,' I said. 'I don't have a motive.'
Suddenly, Stella Vixon rushed in. 'Nurse Harrison! Quick! Can you come and see Mr Blakemore?'
When I reached his study, he was walking up and down.
'Sit down, Mr Blakemore,' I said. 'Here, let me pour a drink for you.'
'I want to be with her.' He was crying quietly. 'Why can't I be with her?'
'I'm sorry,' I said. 'They took your wife's body away.' He put his hands over his face.
Then Charlotte appeared at the door.
'It's the police,' she whispered. 'They're here again.'
They only spoke to Mr Blakemore that night. But the next day they returned and questioned everybody. Then the following day, a lawyer came to read the will. Doctor Spencer and Reverend Palmer arrived to hear it with the others. I was not invited, so I spent the morning in my bedroom. Nothing was certain yet. But I felt sure she had been murdered. There were three questions: who? How? Why? I made a list and tried to work it out.
1 Was it her nephew, The Reverend John Palmer, with his boxes of chocolates murder her for the money to repair the village church?
2 Was it doctor Spencer, with his medicines and injections? Did he think that she would leave him some money?
3 Was it Bernard, the cook? Did he poison her rood? Why did he hate Mrs Blakemore much?
4 Was it Charlotte, the maid? Did she put something into Mrs Blakemore's food? Does she think that Mr Blakemore will marry her now?
5 Was it Stella Vixon, the housekeeper? Did she poison die hot milk? Why does she seem so strange?
They all have a secret
That afternoon, the Inspector announced: 'We now have the results of the autopsy. Mrs Blakemore was poisoned. She was probably given small amounts of arsenic for some time, to make her weak. Then another poison, cyanide, finally killed her.'
He looked around at us all. Everyone seemed nervous and uncomfortable.
'Now then...' he continued. 'What was the motive for this murder? Well, money's usually a good motive. And… in her will, Mrs Blakemore left all her money to her nephew several million pounds. Nothing to anyone else. Nothing to her husband. This seems a bit strange.'
The Reverend John Palmer looked down at his hands, embarrassed.
'There's nothing strange about it,' said Mr Blakemore quietly. 'Kitty always said that she was going to leave everything to her nephew. She had no children, you see. And she was very fond of her sister. So, when her sister died, she decided to look after her sister's son. Anyway, she didn't need to leave me any money. I have plenty. And this house is all mine.'
'I see,' said the Inspector. 'Well, Vicar. Now you've got plenty of money too, haven't you? You can mend that church roof now, can't you?'
The Reverend Palmer's face went red, but he said nothing.
The Inspector continued. 'PC Hemmings, please read those lines about Doctor Spencer in the will.'
The policewoman stood up and read from the will. 'Doctor Spencer is expecting a reward. But it was only a little joke. I am sure that he will understand.'
'So, Doctor,' said the Inspector. 'Mrs Blakemore said that she would leave you some money, did she?'
'Well, yes...' The doctor was cleaning his glasses nervously. 'A little reward, a little thank you for my help.'
'Oh, how terrible!' cried Charlotte. 'What a cruel joke!'
'If you expected some money,' said the Inspector, 'then perhaps you too had a motive for murder, Doctor.'
'Oh, really!' Doctor Spencer stood up. 'I won't listen to any more of this. I'm a doctor, not a murderer!'
'We shall see,' said the Inspector. 'Sit down again please, sir. Now… Mrs Blakemore was not an easy person to live with. Am I right? She was often very rude and unkind. Is this correct?'
'Well,' said Mr Blakemore. 'She could be difficult sometimes. She was an intelligent woman and she didn't like fools.'
'But sir,' said the Inspector. 'You are an intelligent man… but you do not seem to be rude and unkind.'
'That's because he's a nicer person than she was,' said Charlotte hotly.
'I see.' The Inspector looked closely at her. 'You didn't like Mrs Blakemore, did you?'
'No, I didn't,' said Charlotte angrily.
'Perhaps she didn't like you either. But she gave you a job here, didn't she? You were dismissed from your last job, because you stole things. You left without any references. And yet Mrs Blakemore accepted you here.'
'How do you know all that?' cried Charlotte.
'We've been asking a lot of questions,' said the Inspector. Then he turned to Bernard.
'Tell us something about yourself, Bernard.'
'What do you want to know?'
'How long have you known Mrs Blakemore?'
'I've worked here for four years,' he answered.
'Ah, yes, but you first met her a long time ago,' said the Inspector. 'I've been talking to your mother. She said she used to be Mrs Blakemore's maid, years ago, in London.'
Bernard said nothing. He touched his bad leg and looked unhappy.
'You remember, don't you Bernard? You were the maid's child. A poor little boy with a damaged leg. Your mother worked for the rich lady in the big house.'
Stella Vixon was looking at Bernard. She seemed sorry for him.
The Inspector continued. 'You needed an operation on your leg, didn't you? But it was too expensive. And Mrs Blakemore wouldn't help you, would she?'
Bernard suddenly spoke. 'She was so mean!' he cried angrily. 'My mother asked her for some money. But she refused. Then she dismissed my mother, for no reason.'
'Yes, I know,' said the Inspector calmly. 'Then years later, you came to work for Mrs Blakemore yourself. You wanted to kill her, didn't you?'
Bernard laughed. 'I certainly hated her,' he said. 'But at first I didn't know that it was the same woman. Believe me, Inspector, I was surprised to see her again. I stayed because I like the country. There are other reasons, too.' He looked over at Charlotte with a smile, but she looked away from him angrily.
'I'm sorry, Inspector, but I didn't kill Mrs Blakemore. It wasn't me.'
'We shall see,' said Inspector Braddock. 'Now… I have a little problem. We have examined the things from Mrs Blakemore's bedroom, but we can't find any evidence of poison. It's very strange. She was certainly poisoned. We found arsenic and cyanide in her stomach. But how did they get there? Perhaps something was thrown away before we arrived.'
I remembered that Bernard had thrown away some milk. Was he guilty? I even began to feel guilty myself.
Inspector Braddock wrote some notes on a piece of paper. I looked around at everyone. The Reverend Palmer sat very straight in his seat, his lips tightly closed. Bernard looked angry. Doctor Spencer was wiping his face and glasses again. Charlotte looked frightened. Stella Vixon's face was embarrassed. She was looking down at her hands, like someone in pain. I looked quickly across the room and noticed something. For a second, only a second or two, Mr Blakemore lifted his head and looked at her. There was something mysterious in his eyes.
'OK. That's all for today,' said Inspector Braddock. 'We'll come back tomorrow.'
I was worried, but I didn't know why. I had forgotten something. But what?
Stella Vixon was very quiet during dinner. Why had Mr Blakemore looked at her in that strange way?
Two unhappy women
Later, at about ten o'clock, I left my bedroom and went down the corridor to the bathroom. On my way back, I heard something. Someone was crying. The noise came from Miss Vixon's room, so I knocked on her door.
'It's me. Nurse Harrison,' I said. 'Is anything wrong?' The handle turned and the door opened a little.
'Can I come in?' I said.
She looked terribly unhappy and her eyes were red. 'What's the matter?' I asked.
'I can't tell you,' she whispered.
'Sit down here on the bed,' I suggested. 'You're normally so calm and controlled. What is it?'
She looked at me for a moment. Then she hid her face in her hands.
'I didn't want her to die,' she whispered. 'She wasn't always a very nice woman. But murder! That's terrible!' I put my arm around her. Yes, Stella Vixon was different from the others. She was the only one with a kind heart. She had never said anything nasty about Mrs Blakemore. Someone in the house might be the murderer. But it wasn't Stella Vixon, I felt sure.
'Please,' she said. 'You must go now.'
'But will you be all right?' I was worried. She seemed so frightened.
'Yes, go,' she said. 'I'm sorry. It's my problem.'
'Well, try to get some sleep,' I said. 'I'll see you in the morning.'
'Yes. Thank you, Nurse. Goodnight.'
I was worried about her. Perhaps Charlotte could help. I went along the corridor to her room and knocked.
'Charlotte? Can I come in?'
There was no reply. So I knocked again. At last she opened the door.
'What is it?' she said sleepily.
'I need to talk to you.'
'I'm half asleep,' she complained. But she let me in. She got back into bed. I sat down beside her.
'I've just seen Miss Vixon. She's been crying. And she seems very frightened. Do you know why?'
'No. It's not my business. She can do what she likes. I don't care.'
'You don't like her, do you? Why?'
She did not reply. Instead she looked bored. She began to play with something on one of her fingers. It was a diamond ring.
'That's pretty,' I said. 'Where did you get it from?'
'It's mine,' she said quickly. Then she hid the ring with her other hand. 'Someone gave it to me.'
'Is it one of Mrs Blakemore's rings?'
Her face went red. 'I didn't take it! He gave it to me!'
'Who gave it to you?'
She would not answer.
'Listen, Charlotte,' I said. I tried to be gentle. 'Did Mr Blakemore give you that ring?'
She started to cry quietly, angrily. Then suddenly she said, 'I saw them. He tried to kiss her.'
'I went into the study with some wood for the fire. It was in February. I saw them.'
Charlotte's eyes became darker.
'Why did he want her?' she said to herself. She sounded jealous.
'What? Who did you see?'
'Mr Blakemore, of course!'
I tried to understand. 'Charlotte… you went into the study. And you saw Mr Blakemore. And he was trying to kiss his wife? Is that right?'
'No, silly!' she cried. 'Miss Vixon!'
I stared at her in astonishment. She started to cry.
'Later, he gave me this little ring. He said, «Be a good girl. It can be our little secret, can't it?»'
I was so shocked that I couldn't say anything. I remembered the strange look that Mr Blakemore had given Miss Vixon. And the look of embarrassment on her face.
'I don't know why he wanted her,' said Charlotte. 'He wanted her to marry him. But she told him not to be silly. He was already married.'
She looked at me sadly and dried her blue eyes. Then I remembered something. Mr Blakemore had cried, «I want to be with her. Why can't I be with her?» Now I understood. He hadn't been talking about his wife that night. He had been talking about Stella Vixon.
'You've been a bit silly yourself, Charlotte,' I said. 'Mr Blakemore is much too old for you. One day you'll meet the right man, I'm sure. Now go to sleep. You can tell all this to the police tomorrow morning.'
'The police!' she whispered. 'Why?'
'It may help them.'
'Will I have to give back the ring?'
'I don't know, Charlotte. Anyway, there are more important things than your ring.'
I left her. Outside, I began to shake with fear. Did Mr Blakemore murder his wife? No! It was impossible! He hadn't been in the house. And yet… perhaps there was something I had forgotten. What was it?
A 'perfect' murder
Suddenly, I heard footsteps. I hid myself in the shadows against the wall. I saw the shape of a man at the end of the corridor. He started to come towards me. At Stella Vixon's door, he stopped and knocked quietly. She didn't answer, so he knocked again, louder. He began to walk away. Then he came back.
'Stella!' he called, in a low voice. 'It's me… Edward. I must speak to you. You can't refuse me. Not now.'
He tried to open the door. But it was locked. At last, he stopped, and went away down the corridor. I opened Charlotte's door.
'Charlotte! Quick! Get out of bed. Lock your door. And don't open it again to anyone tonight. Not to anyone!
I hurried back to my room and locked my own door too. I was still shaking.
It was him. He had done it. Yes, Mr Blakemore had murdered his wife! And yet… it was impossible. He had been away in Wales. So he couldn't have done it. Or could he? I got into bed and lay down. Perhaps he had put the poison into something before he went away. There was something… something I had forgotten about. What was it?
I closed my eyes, but I couldn't go to sleep. My head was full of pictures… pictures and voices. I saw Mr Blakemore's face and he said, 'I'm all alone, Stella. You can't refuse me now.' Then I saw Miss Vixon's face. Her eyes were red and she whispered, 'I didn't want her to die.' She looked at me and said, 'It's terrible. Someone has murdered Mrs Blakemore!' I sat up and put the light on again.
Midnight. It was going to be a long night. Suddenly, a picture of Mrs Blakemore came into my head. It was the evening of her death. She was weak and thin. I was helping her into the bathroom. She wanted to brush her teeth. She had a nasty taste in her mouth. Then what? Oh yes… she finished the toothpaste. I had to get her some more. It was an unusual type. Her husband… her husband usually bought it for her in Hastings!
I opened my eyes. I got out of bed and found my uniform. I put my hand into the apron pocket. Then I touched something hard and cold. It was the empty toothpaste tube. Of course! Of course!
So — it had nearly been the perfect murder. Mr Blakemore had made sure that he was away… far away in Wales. So no one would ever suspect him. He had put the poison into the toothpaste. No one would ever think of that. His wife would use it every day until it was finished. And the empty tube? It would be thrown away. So there would never be any evidence.
It was a large tube… enough for several weeks.
I turned the top and took it off. Yes… I could smell that strange, sweet smell again.
But how did he put the poison into the toothpaste? Injections, probably. Yes, injections of arsenic deep into the tube, through the opening. And what about the cyanide at the bottom? It was a long tube — too long for most needles. I examined the tube very carefully. I was looking for marks on the outside. Yes, there were two very small holes in the metal, near the end.
I put the tube back in my apron pocket. It was safe there. Now I had to wait for the morning. And the police.
I washed my hands carefully and climbed back into bed. I tried to go to sleep. But that was impossible. Every time I closed my eyes, I could see Mrs Blakemore in her bathroom. She was trying to get out every last bit… every last bit of the toothpaste. And I could hear Bernard's voice: 'Do you know, she's so mean that she always uses up the last little bit of everything!'