Hickory Dickory Dock - Agatha Christie

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CHAPTER ONE

Hercule Poirot frowned.
'Miss Lemon,' he said.
'Yes, Monsieur Poirot?'
'There are three mistakes in this letter.'
He sounded shocked. Miss Lemon, a proud and professional woman, never made mistakes. She was never ill, never tired, never upset, never inaccurate. Order and method had been Hercule Poirot's favourite words for many years. With George, his perfect manservant, and Miss Lemon, his perfect secretary, order and method shaped his life.
And yet, this morning, Miss Lemon had made three mistakes in typing a very simple letter. The world had stopped turning.
Hercule Poirot held out the offending document. He was not annoyed, he was just confused. This was something that just could not happen — but it had!
Miss Lemon took the letter. 'Oh, dear, I can't think how I did that — well, perhaps I can. It's because of my sister.'
'Your sister?' Another shock. Poirot had never known that Miss Lemon had a sister.
Miss Lemon nodded. 'Yes, most of her life she has lived in Singapore. Her husband was in the rubber business there, but he died four years ago. There were no children, so when she came back to England I found a very nice little flat for her but -' Miss Lemon paused. 'Well, she was lonely and she told me that she was thinking about taking a job.'
'Job?'
'Looking after a hostel for students. It is owned by a woman who is partly Greek and she wanted someone to manage it for her. It's a big old house and my sister was going to have a very nice flat -'
Miss Lemon stopped and Poirot made an encouraging noise for her to continue.
'I wasn't sure about it, but my sister likes to be busy and she's always been good with young people.'
'So your sister took the job?' Poirot asked.
'Yes, she moved into 26 Hickory Road about six months ago and she liked her work there.'
Hercule Poirot listened. So far, the story of Miss Lemon's sister had been disappointingly ordinary.
'But for some time now she's been very worried.'
'Why?'
'Well, Monsieur Poirot, she doesn't like the things that are going on there.'
'There are students there of both sexes?' Poirot inquired delicately.
'Oh no, I don't mean that! One always expects difficulties of that kind! No, but things have been disappearing.'
'Disappearing?'
'Yes. And such odd things… And all in rather a strange way.'
'When you say things have been disappearing, you mean things have been stolen?'
'Yes.'
'Have the police been called in?'
'No. My sister is fond of these young people — well, of some of them — and she would prefer to straighten things out by herself.'
'Yes,' said Poirot. 'I can understand that. But that does not explain, if I may say so, your own anxiety.'
'I cannot help feeling that something is going on which I do not understand. No ordinary explanation seems to fit with the facts.'
Poirot nodded. 'Not an ordinary thief? A kleptomaniac, perhaps?'
'I do not think so. I read about the subject, in the Encyclopaedia Britannica. But I was not persuaded.'
Hercule Poirot was silent for a minute and a half. Did he wish to involve himself in the troubles of Miss Lemon's sister? But it was very inconvenient to have Miss Lemon making mistakes in his letters. He told himself that if he were to involve himself, that would be the reason. He did not admit to himself that he had been rather bored lately.
'Supposing, Miss Lemon, you were to invite your sister here for afternoon tea? I might be able to be of some small help to her.'
'That's very kind of you, Monsieur Poirot.'
'Then shall we say tomorrow?'
CHAPTER TWO
Miss Lemon's sister, Mrs Hubbard, looked very like her. She was a little fatter, her hair was more stylish, and she was gentler in manner, but her eyes were the same sharp eyes that shone through Miss Lemon's glasses.
'This is very kind of you, Monsieur Poirot,' she said. 'Very kind. And such a wonderful tea, too.'
'First, we enjoy our tea — afterwards we talk business.' Poirot smiled at her and stroked his moustache. 'Can you explain to me exactly what worries you?'
'Yes, I can. It would be natural for money to be taken. And jewellery — that's natural too — well, I don't really mean natural — but it would make sense. So I'll just read you a list of the things that have been taken.' Mrs Hubbard opened her bag and took out a small notebook.
Evening shoe (one of a new pair)
Bracelet (cheap)
Diamond ring (found in a plate of soup)
Powder compact Lipstick Stethoscope Old grey trousers Electric light bulbs Box of chocolates Silk scarf (cut to pieces)
Rucksack (cut to pieces)
Boracic powder Bath salts Cookery book
Hercule Poirot took a long, deep breath. 'Very — very interesting. I congratulate you, Mrs Hubbard.'
She looked surprised. 'But why, Monsieur Poirot?'
'I congratulate you on having such an unusual and beautiful problem.'
'Well, perhaps it makes sense to you, Monsieur Poirot, but -'
'It does not make sense at all. Why was such a strange collection of things stolen? Is there any system there? The first thing to do is to study the list of objects very carefully.'
There was a silence while Poirot did this. When he finally spoke, Mrs Hubbard jumped.
'The first thing that I notice is this,' said Poirot. 'Most of the things were of small value, except for two — a stethoscope and a ring. Forget the stethoscope for a moment, I would like to concentrate on the ring. You say a diamond ring?'
'Yes, it had been Miss Lane's mother's engagement ring. She was most upset when it was missing, and we were all relieved when it reappeared the same evening in Miss Hobhouse's plate of soup. Just an unpleasant joke, we thought.'
'And so it may have been. But I myself think for someone to steal the ring and then return, it is important. If a lipstick, or a powder compact or a book are missing, you do not call in the police. But a diamond ring is different. It is very likely that the police will be called in. So the ring is returned.'
'But why take it if you're going to return it?' said Miss Lemon. 'That is a good question,' said Poirot. 'But for the moment we will forget questions. I am concentrating now on the objects. Who is this Miss Lane from whom the ring was stolen?'
'Patricia Lane? She's a very nice girl who's studying History.'
'Rich?'
'She's got a little money, but she doesn't have many new clothes.'
'What is she like?'
'Well, she's neither dark nor fair and rather quiet. A serious type of girl.'
'And the ring was found in Miss Hobhouse's plate of soup. Who is Miss Hobhouse?'
'Valerie Hobhouse? She's a clever girl with dark hair and rather a sharp manner. She works in a beauty salon, Sabrina Fair.'
'Are these two girls friendly?'
Mrs Hubbard thought. 'I think so — Patricia gets on well with everybody really. Valerie has her enemies, but she's got her admirers too, if you know what I mean.'
'I think I know,' said Poirot. He looked at the list again. 'What is so interesting is the different groups of things. There are the cheap articles and then we have the stethoscope, which someone might want to sell. Who did it belong to?'
'Mr Bateson — he's a big, friendly young man.'
'A medical student?'
'Yes.'
'Was he very angry?'
'Yes, Monsieur Poirot.'
'And who did the grey trousers belong to?'
'Mr McNabb. They were very old, but Mr McNabb is fond of his old clothes and he never throws anything away.'
'So we have come to the things that seem not worth stealing — old trousers, light bulbs, boracic powder, bath salts — a cookery book. The boracic was probably taken by mistake; the cookery book may have been borrowed and not returned. Then there is the evening shoe, one of a new pair? Who do they belong to?'
'Sally Finch. She's an American girl studying Science over here on a scholarship. She was going to a party in evening dress and the shoes were really important because they were her only evening shoes.'
'It was inconvenient — and annoying for her — yes. Yes, perhaps there is something there...' He was silent for a moment. 'And there are two more articles — a rucksack and a silk scarf, both cut to pieces. Here we have something that may be cruel. Who did the rucksack belong to?'
'Nearly all the students have rucksacks and many of them are the same — bought at the same place. But this one belonged to Leonard Bateson.'
'And the silk scarf. To whom did that belong?'
'To Valerie Hobhouse.'
'Miss Hobhouse… I see.'
Poirot closed his eyes. Pieces of silk scarf and rucksack, cookery books, lipsticks, names and pictures of students spun round in space. But Poirot knew that somewhere there must be a pattern… He opened his eyes. 'This is a matter that needs some consideration. But we might start with practical things. The evening shoe — yes, we might start with that. Miss Lemon, Mrs Hubbard will obtain for you, perhaps, the remaining shoe. Go with it to Baker Street Station, to the lost property department. You will say you left a shoe on a bus. How many buses pass near Hickory Road?'
'Two only, Monsieur Poirot.'
'Good.'
'But why do you think -' began Mrs Hubbard.
Poirot interrupted her. 'Let us see first what results we get. Then you and I must talk again. You will tell me then those things which are necessary for me to know.'
'I really think I've told you everything I can.'
'No, no. Here we have young people all living together, different characters, different sexes. A loves B, but B loves C, and D and E hate each other because of A perhaps. It is all that I need to know.'
'I'm sure,' said Mrs Hubbard uncomfortably, 'I don't know anything about that sort of thing.'
'But you are interested in people. You will tell me — yes, you will tell me! Because you are worried — not about what has been happening — you could go to the police about that -'
'The owner, Mrs Nicoletis, would not like to have the police called in, I can tell you that.'
Poirot paid no attention to this and continued, 'No, you are worried about someone — someone who you think may have been involved in this. Someone, therefore, that you like.'
'Really, Monsieur Poirot!'
'Yes, really. And I think you are right to be worried. For that silk scarf cut to pieces, it is not nice. And the rucksack, that also is not nice. The rest it seems like childishness — and yet — I am not sure. I am not sure at all!'
CHAPTER THREE
Hurrying up the steps, Mrs Hubbard put her key into the door of 26 Hickory Road. Just as it opened, a big young man with red hair ran up behind her.
'Hallo, Ma, have you been out having fun?'
'I've been out to tea, Mr Bateson.'
'I cut up a beautiful dead body today,' said Len. 'That was fun!'
'A beautiful dead body! Really, you are awful.'
Len Bateson laughed.
A thin young man with untidy hair came out of a room on the right, and said sharply, 'Oh, it's only you. I thought because of the noise it must be at least a group of big men.'
'I hope it doesn't harm your nerves,' replied Bateson.
'Not more than usual,' said Nigel Chapman, and went back into his room.
'Our delicate flower,' said Len.
'Now don't you two quarrel.' said Mrs Hubbard. 'I like everyone to be friendly.'
The big young man smiled down at her. 'I don't mind Nigel, Ma.'
'Oh, Mrs Hubbard, Mrs Nicoletis is in her room and said she would like to see you as soon as you got back.' A tall dark girl stood against the wall on the stairs to let her pass.
Mrs Hubbard sighed and went on up.
Len Bateson said, 'What is it, Valerie? Complaints about our behaviour?'
'I don't know.' The girl came down the stairs. 'This place gets more like a madhouse every day.' She went through the door on the right.
In fact, 26 Hickory Road was two houses: 24 and 26. They had been made into one on the ground floor so that there was a large sitting room and dining room there. Two staircases led to the floors above which remained separate. The girls occupied bedrooms on the right-hand side of the house, and the men on the other, the original Number 24.
Upstairs, Mrs Hubbard knocked on the door of Mrs Nicoletis's room and entered. Mrs Nicoletis was on the sofa. She was a big woman, still good-looking, with an angry-looking mouth and large brown eyes.
'Ah! So there you are.'
'Yes,' said Mrs Hubbard, 'I was told you wanted to see me.'
'Yes, I do. It is disgusting!'
'What's disgusting?'
'These bills!' Mrs Nicoletis showed her a handful of papers. 'What are we feeding these students on? Shellfish and champagne? Is this the Ritz Hotel?'
'They get a good breakfast and a good evening meal — plain, healthy food. It is all very economical.'
'Economical? You dare to say that to me? When I am being ruined?'
'You make a very good profit. Mrs Nicoletis.'
'Bah! That Italian cook and her husband. They cheat you over the food.'
'Oh no, they don't. I can tell that no one cheats me over anything.'
'Then it is you yourself — you who are robbing me.'
Mrs Hubbard remained calm. 'I can't allow you to say things like that. It is not nice, and one day you will be in trouble for it.'
'Ah!' Mrs Nicoletis threw the bills up in the air from where they fell to the floor in all directions. 'You admit that these totals are higher than those of last week?'
'Of course they are.' Mrs Hubbard bent and picked the bills up. 'There's been some very good cut-price food at Lampson's Stores. I've taken advantage of it. Next week's totals will be below average. There.' Mrs Hubbard put the bills in a neat pile on the table. 'Anything else?'
'The American girl, Sally Finch, she talks of leaving — I do not want her to go. She will bring here other American scholars. She must not leave.'
'What's her reason for leaving?'
'How can I remember? It was not true, what she said. I could tell that. You will talk to her?'
'Yes, of course.'
'It must be because of the Communists — you know how Americans hate Communists. Nigel Chapman — he is a Communist.'
'I doubt it.'
'Yes, yes. You should have heard what he was saying one evening.'
'Nigel will say anything to annoy people.'
'You know them all so well. Dear Mrs Hubbard, you are wonderful! I say to myself again and again — what would I do without Mrs Hubbard?'
'Well, I'll do what I can.' She left the room and hurried along the passage to her own sitting room.
But there was to be no peace for Mrs Hubbard just yet. As she entered, a tall figure stood up and said, 'I would like to speak to you for a few minutes, please.'
'Of course, Elizabeth.'
Mrs Hubbard was rather surprised. Elizabeth Johnston was a girl from the West Indies who was studying Law. She was hard-working and ambitious, and kept herself to herself, but Mrs Hubbard heard a slight shake in her voice.
'Will you come with me to my room, please?'
Mrs Hubbard followed her up to the top floor. Elizabeth opened the door of her room and went across to a table near the window.
'Here are my work notes. The result of several months' hard study. You see what has been done?'
Mrs Hubbard gasped. Ink had been spilled on the table. It had run all over the papers. Mrs Hubbard touched it with her finger. It was still wet.
'This was done while I was out. It is not even my own ink. Somebody brought ink here and did it deliberately.'
'What a very cruel thing to do. Elizabeth, I am shocked and will do my best to find out who did this. Do you have any ideas about that?'
The girl replied at once. 'This is green ink. Not many people use it, but I know one person here who does. Nigel Chapman.'
'Nigel? Do you think Nigel would do a thing like that?'
'I don't think so — no.'
'Well, I'm very sorry, Elizabeth, that such a thing has happened in this house.'
'Thank you, Mrs Hubbard. There have been — other things, haven't there?'
'Yes — er — yes.'
Mrs Hubbard left the room and started towards the stairs. But she stopped suddenly and instead went along the passage to a door at the end. She knocked and a voice told her to enter. The room was a pleasant one and Sally Finch herself, a cheerful redhead, was a pleasant person. She was writing at a desk and looked up, smiling.
'Sally, have you heard what's happened to Elizabeth Johnston?'
'What has happened to her?'
Mrs Hubbard told her about the green ink.
'That's an awful thing to do,' Sally said. 'But everybody likes Elizabeth, so who...? Well, it fits in with all the other things. That's why -'
'That's why what?'
Sally said slowly, 'That's why I'm getting out of here. Did Mrs Nick tell you?'
'Yes. She was very upset about it.'
'Well, I just don't like what's going on. It was strange losing my shoe, but then Valerie's scarf being all cut to bits and Len's rucksack… I've a feeling that there's a person in this house who isn't right.'
Mrs Hubbard went downstairs to the students' common room. There were four people there: Valerie Hobhouse, lying on a sofa; Nigel Chapman, sitting at a table with a heavy book open in front of him; Patricia Lane, leaning against the fireplace; and a girl in a coat, who was pulling off a woollen hat. She was a short, fair girl with brown eyes and a mouth that was usually a little open so that she always looked surprised.
'Something very unpleasant has happened,' Mrs Hubbard said. 'Nigel, I want you to help me.'
'Me, Madam?' Nigel shut his book. His thin face suddenly lit up with a surprisingly sweet smile. 'What have I done?'
'Nothing, I hope,' said Mrs Hubbard. 'But ink has been deliberately spilt all over Elizabeth Johnston's notes, and it's green ink.'
His smile disappeared. 'I use green ink.'
'Awful stuff,' said Patricia. 'I wish you wouldn't, Nigel.'
'I like being unusual,' said Nigel. 'But are you serious, Mum? About Elizabeth's papers?'
'Yes, I am serious. Did you do it, Nigel?'
'No, of course not. I like annoying people, but I would never do an unpleasant thing like that — and certainly not to Elizabeth. I usually keep my ink on the shelf over there.' He got up and went across the room. 'The bottle's nearly empty. It should be nearly full.'
The girl in the coat gasped. 'Oh, I don't like it -'
Nigel turned to her. 'Have you got an alibi. Celia?'
'I didn't do it. I really didn't. I've been at the hospital all day. I couldn't -'
'Now, Nigel,' said Mrs Hubbard. 'Don't joke with Celia.' Patricia Lane said angrily, 'Why do you suspect Nigel? Just because his ink was taken -'
Valerie said, 'That's right, darling, defend your little boy. You know,' she looked at Mrs Hubbard, 'all this is getting beyond a joke. Something will have to be done about it.'
'Something is going to be done,' said Mrs Hubbard firmly.
CHAPTER FOUR
'Here you are, Monsieur Poirot.' Miss Lemon laid a small brown paper package before him. He removed the paper and looked at a silver evening shoe.
'It was at the Lost Property Office, just as you said.'
'That tells us my ideas are correct,' said Poirot.
'And I received a letter from my sister. There have been some new developments.' She handed it to him and, after reading it, he asked Miss Lemon to get her sister on the telephone.
'Oh, Monsieur Poirot, how kind of you to ring me up so quickly.'
'Mrs Hubbard, do you sometimes arrange talks at the hostel, or films?'
'Yes, sometimes.'
'Ah. Then this evening you will have persuaded Monsieur Hercule Poirot to come and talk to your students about his more interesting cases.'
Dinner was at seven-thirty and most of the students were already seated when Mrs Hubbard came down from her sitting room, followed by a small man with surprisingly black hair and a very large moustache.
'This is Monsieur Hercule Poirot who is kindly going to talk to us after dinner.'
Poirot sat down by Mrs Hubbard and busied himself with keeping his moustache out of the excellent soup which was served by an Italian manservant. This was followed by spaghetti and it was then that a girl sitting on Poirot's right spoke to him.
'Is it true that Mrs Hubbard's sister works for you?'
'But yes. Miss Lemon is the most perfect secretary that ever lived. I am sometimes afraid of her.'
'Oh I see. I wondered -'
'Now what did you wonder, Mademoiselle?' He smiled upon her in fatherly fashion, making a note in his mind as he did so: 'Pretty, worried, not very clever, frightened...' He said, 'May I know your name and what it is you are studying?'
'Celia Austin. I don't study. I'm a chemist at St Catherine's Hospital.'
'And these others? Can you tell me something about them, perhaps?'
'Well, sitting on Mrs Hubbard's left is Nigel Chapman. He's studying Italian at London University. Then there's Patricia Lane, with glasses on, next to him. She's studying History. The big redheaded boy is Len Bateson, he's a medical student, and the dark girl is Valerie Hobhouse, she works in a beauty shop. Next to her is Colin McNabb — he's studying Psychology.' There was a change in her voice as she described Colin and her face went slightly pink.
Poirot said to himself, 'So — she is in love.' He noticed that McNabb never looked at her, as he was much too interested in his conversation with a laughing red-headed girl beside him.
'That's Sally Finch. She's American — studying Science. Then there's Genevieve Maricaud. She's doing English, and the small fair girl is Jean Tomlinson — she's at the hospital too, a physiotherapist. The black man is Akibombo — he comes from West Africa and he's very nice. Then there's Elizabeth Johnston, she's from Jamaica and she's studying Law.'
'Thank you. Do you all get on well together? Or do you have quarrels?' Poirot asked lightly.
Celia said, 'Oh, we're all too busy to have quarrels — although -'
'Although what, Miss Austin?'
'Well — Nigel — he likes making people angry. And Len Bateson gets angry. But he's very sweet really.'
'And Colin McNabb — does he too get annoyed?'
'Oh no. Colin just looks amused.'
'I see. And the young ladies, do you have your quarrels?'
'No, we all get on very well. Genevieve sometimes… I think French people can be a bit difficult — oh, I'm sorry -' Celia looked confused.
'Me, I am Belgian,' said Poirot, and continued. 'What did you mean just now when you said that you wondered. You wondered — what?'
'Oh that — just, there have been some silly jokes lately — I thought Mrs Hubbard perhaps — no, I didn't mean anything.'
Poirot did not put pressure on her. He turned to Mrs Hubbard and was soon having a conversation with her and Nigel Chapman, who declared that crime was a form of creative art — and that people only became policemen to express their secret cruelty.
'All you young people nowadays think of nothing but politics and psychology,' Mrs Hubbard said. 'When I was a girl we used to dance, but you never do.'
Patricia Lane said, 'You see, Mrs Hubbard, with lectures to attend and then notes to write up, there's really not time for anything else.'
A chocolate pudding followed the spaghetti and afterwards they all went into the common room, and Poirot was invited to begin his talk. He spoke in his usual confident way about some of his more entertaining cases, exaggerating a little to amuse his audience. 'And so, you see,' he finished, 'prevention, always, is better than cure. We want to prevent murders — not wait until they have been committed.'
The students clapped loudly. Poirot bowed. And then, as he was about to sit down, Colin McNabb said, 'And now, perhaps, you'll talk about what you're really here for!'
Patricia said, 'Colin!'
'Well, we can guess, can't we?' He looked round. 'Monsieur Poirot has given us a very amusing little talk, but that's not what he came here for. He's here as a working detective. You don't really think, Monsieur Poirot, that we don't know that?'
'I will admit,' Poirot said, 'that Mrs Hubbard has told me that certain events have caused her — worry.'
Celia gave a frightened gasp. 'Then I was right!'
Mrs Hubbard spoke firmly. 'I asked Monsieur Poirot to give us a talk, but I also wanted to ask his advice about various things that have happened lately. Something has got to be done and it seemed to me that the only other possibility was — the police.'
At once a violent argument broke out and then, in a moment of quiet, Leonard Bateson's voice could be heard. 'Let's hear what Monsieur Poirot has to say about these troubles.'
Poirot bowed. 'Thank you.' As though performing a magic trick he brought out a pair of evening shoes and handed them to Sally Finch. 'Your shoes, Mademoiselle?'
'Both of them? Where did the missing one come from?'
'From the Lost Property Office at Baker Street Station.'
'But why did you think it might be there, Monsieur Poirot?'
'Someone takes a shoe from your room. Why? Not to wear and not to sell. And since everyone will try to find it, then the shoe must be got out of the house, or destroyed. But it is not so easy to destroy a shoe. The easiest way is to take it on a bus and leave it under a seat.' He paused. 'Monsieur Bateson has asked me to say what I myself think of these troubles. But it would not be right for me to speak unless I am invited to by all of you.'
'Oh, goodness,' Sally Finch said. 'This is a kind of party, all friends together. Let's hear what Monsieur Poirot advises without any more fuss.'
'I couldn't agree with you more, Sally,' said Nigel.
'Very well,' Poirot said. 'My advice is simple. Mrs Hubbard — or Mrs Nicoletis rather — should call in the police at once.'
CHAPTER FIVE
There was no doubt that Poirot's statement was unexpected. It caused a sudden and uncomfortable silence. Then Poirot was taken by Mrs Hubbard up to her sitting room. 'You are probably right,' she said. 'Perhaps we should get the police in — especially after this cruel ink business. But I wish you hadn't said so — right out like that.'
'Ah,' said Poirot. 'You think I should have kept it a secret?'
'Well, whoever has been doing these stupid things — well, that person is warned now.'
'Perhaps, yes.'
'Even if he's someone who wasn't here this evening, he will hear about it.'
'That is true.'
'And we can't call in the police unless Mrs Nicoletis agrees — oh, who's that now?' There had been a sharp knock on the door. Mrs Hubbard called crossly, 'Come in.'
Colin McNabb entered. 'Excuse me, but I would like to speak to you with Monsieur Poirot here.'
'With me?' Poirot turned his head in innocent surprise.
'Yes, with you.' Colin spoke sharply. 'I know you're a man who's had a lot of experience, but if you'll excuse me for saying so, your methods and your ideas are both very old-fashioned.'
'Really, Colin,' said Mrs Hubbard. 'You are extremely rude.'
'Crime and punishment, Monsieur Poirot — that's all you think about. But nowadays, even the Law has to understand that it is the causes that are important.'
'But there,' cried Poirot, 'I could not agree with you more!'
'Because there always is a reason, and it may be, to the person concerned, a very good reason. I am studying Psychology and what I'm saying is that you've got to understand the basic cause of the trouble if you're ever to cure the young criminal.'
Poirot said, 'I am willing to listen to you, Mr McNabb.' Colin looked surprised. 'Thank you. Well, I'll start with the pair of shoes you returned to Sally Finch. Remember, one shoe was stolen. Only one.'
'I remember noticing the fact,' said Poirot.
Colin McNabb leaned forward. 'Ah, but you didn't see the importance of it. We have here, very definitely, a Cinderella complex. You know the Cinderella fairy story?'
'A French story — yes.'
'Cinderella, the servant, sits by the fire; her sisters go to the Prince's party. A fairy godmother sends Cinderella too, to that party. At midnight, her beautiful clothes turn back to rags — she escapes, leaving behind her one shoe. So here we have a mind that compares itself to Cinderella — the girl who steals a shoe. Why?'
'A girl?'
'Of course, a girl. That should be clear to the lowest intelligence.'
'Really, Colin!' said Mrs Hubbard.
'She wants to be the Princess, to be claimed by the Prince. Another important fact, the shoe is stolen from an attractive girl who is going to a party. So now let's look at a few of the other things that were taken. A powder compact, lipsticks, earrings, a bracelet, a ring — all pretty things, and there are two important points here. The girl wants to be noticed. And she also wants to be punished. It is not the value of these things that is wanted.'
'Yet a diamond ring was amongst the things stolen,' said Poirot.
'That was returned.'
'And surely, Mr McNabb, you would not say that a stethoscope is a pretty thing?'
'That had a deeper meaning. Women who feel they are not attractive can find confidence through professional work.'
'And the cookery book?'
A symbol of home life, husband and family.'
And boracic powder?'
Colin said crossly, 'Monsieur Poirot, nobody would steal boracic powder! Why would they?'
'This is what I have asked myself. Mr McNabb, you seem to have an answer for everything. Explain to me, then, the importance of an old pair of grey trousers — your trousers, I understand.'
For the first time Colin appeared uncomfortable. 'I could explain that — but it would be complicated, and perhaps — well, rather embarrassing.'
Ah. And the ink that is spilt over another student's papers, the silk scarf that is cut. Do these things cause you no worry?' Colin's calmness suddenly disappeared. 'They do. She ought to have treatment — at once. Medical treatment. She's all confused. If I...'
Poirot interrupted him. 'You know then who she is?'
'I think perhaps that I do.'
Poirot said quietly, 'A girl who is not very successful with men. A kind girl. A girl who is not very clever. A girl who feels lonely. A girl...'
There was a knock on the door.
'Come in,' said Mrs Hubbard.
The door opened.
'Ah,' said Poirot. 'Exactly. Miss Celia Austin.'
Celia looked at Colin with pain in her eyes. 'I didn't know you were here. I came because -' She took a deep breath and rushed to
Mrs Hubbard. 'Please, please don't send for the police. It's me. I've been taking those things. I don't know why. I just — something told me to.' She turned to Colin. 'So now you know what I'm like… and you'll never speak to me again. I'm awful...'
'No you're not,' said Colin. 'If you'll trust me, Celia, I'll soon be able to put you right.'
'Oh Colin — really?'
He took her hand. 'Don't worry.' Then he looked at Mrs Hubbard. 'I hope now, that you will not call in the police. Celia will return anything she has taken.'
'I can't return the bracelet and the powder compact,' said Celia anxiously. 'I put them in a rubbish bin. But I'll buy new ones.'
'And the stethoscope?' said Poirot. 'Where did you put that?'
'I didn't take the stethoscope. And it wasn't me who spilt ink over Elizabeth's papers. I would never do a thing like that.'
'Yet you cut up Miss Hobhouse's scarf, Mademoiselle?'
Celia looked uncomfortable. 'That was different. I mean — Valerie didn't mind.'
And the rucksack?'
'Oh, I didn't cut that up. That was done with anger.'
Poirot took out the list he had copied from Mrs Hubbard's notebook. 'Tell me, which of these things you did, or did not, take?'
Celia read the list. 'I don't know anything about the rucksack, or the electric light bulbs, or bath salts, and the ring was just a mistake. When I realised it was valuable I returned it.'
Colin said quickly. 'I can promise you that there will be no more things taken. From now on I'll be responsible for her.'
'Oh, Colin, you are good to me.'
'I would like you to tell me all about your early home life, Celia. Did your parents get on well together?'
'Oh no, it was awful -'
'Exactly. And -'
Mrs Hubbard interrupted. 'That is enough. I'm glad, Celia, that you've told the truth. Now, please go.' As the door closed behind them, she took a deep breath. 'Well, what do you think of that?'
Hercule Poirot smiled. 'I think — that we have helped at a love scene — modern style. In my young days love was all like a beautiful dream. Nowadays it is the difficulties which bring a boy and girl together.'
'All such nonsense.' said Mrs Hubbard. 'Celia's father died when she was young, but she had a very happy childhood.'
'Ah, but she is wise enough not to say so to young McNabb!'
'Do you believe all those ideas of his, Monsieur Poirot?'
'I do not believe that Celia had a Cinderella complex. I think she stole unimportant articles in order to attract the attention of Colin McNabb — and she has been successful.'
'I do apologize for wasting your time over such a silly business. Anyway, all's well that ends well.'
'No, no.' Poirot shook his head. 'I do not think we are at the end yet. There are things still that are not explained; and me, I think that we have here something serious — really serious. I wonder, Madame, if I could speak to Miss Patricia Lane. I would like to examine the ring that was stolen.'
'Why, of course, Monsieur Poirot. I'll go down and send her up to you.'
Patricia Lane came in shortly afterwards. 'Mrs Hubbard said you wanted to see my ring.' She slipped it off her finger and held it out to him. 'It was my mother's engagement ring.'
Poirot nodded. 'She is alive still, your mother?'
'No. Both my parents are dead.'
'That is sad.'
'Yes. They were both very nice people, but somehow I was never quite so close to them as I ought to have been. One feels sad about that afterwards. My mother wanted a daughter who was fond of clothes and parties. She was very disappointed that I preferred History.'
'You have always had a serious mind?'
'I think so. I feel that life is so short, I ought to be doing something important.'
Poirot looked at her thoughtfully. Apart from a little lipstick, Patricia Lane wore no make-up. Her mouse-coloured hair was combed back from her face and her blue eyes looked back at him through glasses.
Patricia was saying, 'I'm really very shocked about what happened to Elizabeth. It seems to me that someone deliberately used the green ink to blame Nigel. But Nigel would never do a thing like that.'
'Ah.' Poirot looked at her with more interest.
'Nigel's not easy to understand. You see, he had a very difficult home life.'
'My goodness, another of them!'
'What did you say?'
'Nothing. Please continue -'
'About Nigel. He's very clever, but even if everybody in this place thinks he did that trick with the ink, he won't say that he didn't. He'll just say, «Let them think it if they want to.» And that attitude is really so stupid.'
'It can be misunderstood, certainly.'
'It's a kind of pride, I think. Because he has always been misunderstood. In some ways, in spite of his being so independent, he needs looking after like a child.'
Poirot felt, suddenly, very tired of love and was glad to be past all that. He stood up. 'Will you permit me, Mademoiselle, to keep your ring? It will be returned to you tomorrow.'
'Certainly,' said Patricia.
'And please, Mademoiselle, be careful.'
'Careful? Careful of what?'
'I wish I knew,' said Hercule Poirot.
CHAPTER SIX
The next day Mrs Hubbard woke with a sense of relief. A silly girl had been responsible for the recent events. And now there was order again. Going down to breakfast, however, her new sense of peace was destroyed.
'Is it true, Ma?' said Len Bateson. 'That it's Celia who's been taking those things? Is that why she was not at breakfast?'
'I'm not really surprised,' said Sally. 'I always had a sort of idea...'
'Are you saying that it was Celia who threw ink on my notes?' Elizabeth looked shocked.
'Celia did not throw ink on your work,' said Mrs Hubbard. 'And I wish you would all stop discussing this. I meant to tell you all later, but -'
'But Jean was listening outside the door last night,' said Valerie.
'I was not listening. I just happened to go -'
'Come now, Elizabeth,' said Nigel. 'You know very well who threw the green ink. I did, of course.'
'He didn't!' said Patricia. 'He's only pretending. Nigel, how can you be so stupid?'
'I'm being kind to you, Pat. Who borrowed my ink yesterday morning? You did.'
'I do not understand, please,' said Mr Akibombo.
'You don't want to,' Sally said.
Colin McNabb had been trying to speak for some time. Now he hit the table hard with his hand and suddenly everyone was silent. 'Don't any of you know anything about psychology? Celia's been going through a very difficult time and she needs treating with kindness, not all this nonsense.'
'I quite agree about being kind,' said Jean, 'but we should not encourage stealing.'
'This wasn't stealing.' said Colin. 'You make me sick — all of you.'
'Interesting case, is she, Colin?' said Valerie, and smiled at him.
'If you're interested in the workings of the mind, yes.'
'I would like to make a formal protest.' said Mr Chandra Lal, an Indian student who also lived in the hostel. 'Boracic powder, very necessary for my eyes, was taken.'
'Please,' said Mr Akibombo. 'I still do not understand.'
'Come along,' said Sally. 'I'll tell you about it on the way to the college.' She guided him out of the room and was followed by the other students.
'Oh dear,' said Mrs Hubbard. 'Why did I ever take this job on?'
Valerie, who was the only person left, smiled. 'Don't worry, Ma. It's a good thing it's all come out. Everyone was getting very anxious.'
'I must say I was very surprised.'
'That it was Celia? I thought it was rather obvious, really.'
'Have you always thought that?'
'Well, one or two things made me wonder. Anyway, she's got Colin where she wants him.'
As Valerie went out, Mrs Hubbard heard her saying cheerfully in the hall, 'Good morning, Celia. All is known and all is going to be forgiven.'
Celia came into the dining room, her eyes red from crying.
'You're very late.' Mrs Hubbard said. 'The coffee's cold and there's not much left to eat.'
'I didn't want to meet the others.'
'You've got to meet them sooner or later.'
'Oh, I know, but of course I'll leave at the end of the week.'
'You don't need to do that. But you'll have to pay for anything that you can't return.'
Celia interrupted her eagerly. 'Oh, yes, I've got my cheque book with me.' It was in her hand with an envelope. 'And I had written to you in case you weren't here, to say how sorry I was.'
'All right.' Mrs Hubbard looked at the list of objects. 'It's difficult to say how much -'
'Well let me give you a cheque for what you think and then I can take some back or give you more later.'
Mrs Hubbard suggested a sum and Celia opened the cheque book and started to write, then stopped. 'Oh dear, my pen has no ink.' She went over to the shelves where there were various small things that belonged to the students. 'There isn't any ink here either, except Nigel's awful green. Oh, I'll use that.' She filled the pen and wrote out the cheque. Then she looked at her watch. 'I shall be late. I had better not stop for breakfast.'
'Now, you should have something, Celia — Yes, what is it? ' Geronimo, the Italian manservant, had come into the room. 'Mrs Nicoletis, she has just come in. She wants to see you. She is very angry.'
'I'm coming.' Mrs Hubbard left the room while Celia began cutting off a piece of bread.
Mrs Nicoletis was walking up and down her room and turned when she heard Mrs Hubbard come in. 'You sent for the police? Without a word to me? Who do you think you are?'
'I did not send for the police.'
'You are not telling the truth.'
'Mrs Nicoletis, you can't talk to me like that.'
'Oh no! Of course it is I who am wrong. Not you. Always me. Everything you do is perfect. Police in my respectable hostel.'
'But no one has «called in the police». A famous private detective had dinner here last night. He gave a very interesting talk to the students.'
'Yes, and you told this detective friend of yours all about our most private matters. That is a great breaking of trust.'
'Not at all. I'm responsible for this place and I'm glad to tell you that one of the students has admitted that she has been responsible for most of these things.'
'What is the good of that? My beautiful Students' Home will now have a bad name. No one will come.' Mrs Nicoletis sat down on the sofa and began to cry. 'Nobody thinks of my feelings. If I died tomorrow, who would care?'
Wisely leaving this question unanswered, Mrs Hubbard left the room.
She then put notes in all the students' rooms explaining that Celia wished to pay them for anything they had lost.
As she came down to dinner, Len Bateson stopped her. 'I'll wait for Celia out in the hall, and bring her in. So that she knows everything is all right.'
'That's very nice of you, Len.'
So, as soup was being passed round, Len's voice was heard from the hall. 'Come along in, Celia. All friends here.'
Nigel remarked sharply to his soup plate, 'So, he's done his good job for the day!' but he waved to Celia as she came in with Len's arm round her. And there was a general sound of cheerful conversation.
Colin McNabb came in late and seemed quieter than usual. When the meal was nearly finished he got up and said, 'I've got to go out and see someone, but I would like to tell you all first.
Celia and I — hope to get married next year when I've done my course.' He immediately received good wishes and jokes from his friends and finally escaped.
'I'm so glad, Celia,' said Patricia. 'I hope you'll be very happy.'
'Everything is now perfect,' said Nigel. 'Why is dear Jean looking so serious? Do you disapprove of marriage, Jean?'
'Of course not.'
'I always think it's so much better than free love, don't you? Nicer for the children. Looks better on their passports.'
Elizabeth Johnston said suddenly, 'I would still like to talk about what happened yesterday.'
Valerie said, 'What's the matter, Elizabeth?'
'Oh, please,' said Celia. 'I really think that if the person who threw the ink on your papers, and cut up that rucksack, admits it like I've done, then everything will be all right.'
Valerie said with a short laugh, 'And we'll all live happily ever after.'
They all got up and went into the common room. There was some competition to give Celia her coffee, then finally everyone living in 24 and 26 Hickory Road went to bed.
CHAPTER SEVEN
Miss Lemon was rarely, if ever, late. Storms, illness, transport failure — none of these things seemed to affect her. But this morning Miss Lemon arrived, breathless, at five minutes past ten instead of at ten o'clock.
'I'm extremely sorry, Monsieur Poirot. I was just about to leave the flat when my sister rang up, very upset. One of the students has committed suicide.'
'What is the name of the student?'
'A girl called Celia Austin.'
'How?'
'They think she took morphia.'
'Could it have been an accident?'
'Oh no. She left a note.'
Poirot said softly, 'It was not this I expected, no,… and yet it is true, I expected something.' He looked at Miss Lemon. 'Please answer what letters you can. Me, I will go round to Hickory Road.'
Geronimo let Poirot in. 'Sir, we have here big trouble. The girl, she is dead in her bed this morning. First the doctor came. Now comes an Inspector of the police. He is upstairs with Mrs Hubbard. Why would she wish to kill herself, when last night she was engaged to be married?'
'Engaged?'
'Yes, yes, to Mr Colin.' Geronimo opened the door of the common room for Poirot. 'You stay here, yes? When the police go, I will tell Mrs Hubbard you are here.'
Upstairs, Mrs Hubbard was with Inspector Sharpe, who was asking questions. He was a big, comfortable-looking man with a gentle manner that hid his determination.
'There will have to be an inquest,' he said. 'So we must get the facts right. Now, this girl had been unhappy lately, you say?'
'Yes.'
'Love affair?'
'Not exactly.' Mrs Hubbard paused.
'You think perhaps she had a reason for killing herself?'
'Inspector Sharpe, the girl had done some very stupid things, but...'
'Yes?'
'Well, for three months things have been disappearing — small things, I mean — nothing important. No money.'
'And this girl was responsible?'
'Yes. The night before last a friend of mine came to dinner. A Monsieur Hercule Poirot — perhaps you know the name?'
Inspector Sharpe's eyes opened rather wide. 'Monsieur Hercule Poirot? Now that's very interesting.'
'He gave us a little talk after dinner and we discussed the fact that things had been stolen. He advised me, in front of them all, to go to the police.'
'He did, did he?'
Afterwards, Celia came to my room and admitted everything. She was very upset.'
'Were you going to tell the police?'
'No. She was going to pay for everything, and everyone was very nice to her about it.'
'Was she short of money?'
'No. She had a job as a pharmacist at St Catherine's Hospital and a little money of her own. It was kleptomania, I suppose,' said Mrs Hubbard. 'You see, there was a young man she was fond of.'
And he ended their relationship?'
'Oh no. The complete opposite. He defended her very strongly, and last night he told us that they were now engaged to be married.'
Inspector Sharpe looked very surprised. 'And then she goes to bed and takes morphia?'
'I can't understand it.' Mrs Hubbard shook her head.
'And yet the facts are clear.' Sharpe looked at the small, torn piece of paper on the table.
Dear Mrs Hubbard, I really am sorry and this is the best thing I can do.
'It's not signed, but you are sure it's her handwriting?'
'Yes.' But Mrs Hubbard was worried. Why did she feel so strongly that there was something wrong about it?
'There's one clear fingerprint on it which is definitely hers,' said the Inspector. 'The morphia was in a small bottle with the label of St Catherine's Hospital on it, so she probably brought it home with her yesterday in order to commit suicide.'
'I really can't believe that. She was so happy last night.'
'Well, perhaps her mood changed when she went up to bed. Perhaps there was more in her past than you know about. This young man of hers — what's his name?'
'Colin McNabb. He's doing a Psychology course at St Catherine's. Celia was very much in love with him, more, I think, than he was with her.'
'That probably explains things. She hadn't told him everything she should have. Young people are very romantic and sometimes expect too much of love affairs.' He stood up. 'Thank you, Mrs Hubbard. Her mother died two years ago and the only relative is an elderly aunt — we'll contact her.' He picked up the small piece of paper with Celia's writing on it.
'There's something wrong about that,' said Mrs Hubbard suddenly.
'Wrong? In what way?'
'I don't know — but I feel I should know. Oh dear, I feel so stupid this morning.'
'It's all been very difficult for you.' Inspector Sharpe opened the door and immediately fell over Geronimo, who was pressed against it. 'Hello,' he said. 'Listening at doors, eh?'
'No, no, I do not listen — never! I am just coming in with message.'
'I see. What message?'
'There is gentleman downstairs to see Mrs Hubbard.'
'All right. Go in and tell her.'
The Inspector walked down the passage and then paused as he heard Geronimo say, 'The gentleman with the moustache, he is waiting to see you.'
'Gentleman with the moustache, eh,' said Sharpe to himself, and went downstairs and into the common room. 'Hello, Monsieur Poirot. It's a long time since we met.'
Calmly Poirot turned from where he had been examining a bookshelf near the fireplace. 'Surely — yes, it is Inspector Sharpe, is it not? But you did not work in this part of London?'
'I moved here two years ago. So I would like to know why you came along here the other night to give a talk on criminology to students.'
Poirot smiled. 'But Mrs Hubbard here is the sister of my wonderful secretary, Miss Lemon. So when she asked me -' When she asked you to investigate what had been going on here, you came along. That's it really, isn't it?'
'You are correct.'
'But why? A silly girl taking a few things. Why did that interest you, Monsieur Poirot?'
Poirot shook his head. 'It is not so simple as that.'
'Why not? I don't understand,' Sharpe said.
'No, and I do not understand. The things that were taken — they did not make a pattern — they did not make sense. And other things happened that were meant to fit in with the pattern of Celia Austin — but they did not fit in. They were meaningless, and some were even cruel. But Celia was not cruel.'
'She was a kleptomaniac?'
'I very much doubt it. It is my opinion that stealing these cheap objects was to attract the attention of a certain young man.'
'Colin McNabb?'
'Yes. She was in love with Colin McNabb, who never noticed her. So instead of being a pretty, well-behaved girl, she became a young criminal. Colin McNabb was immediately interested in her.'
'He must be very stupid.'
'Not at all. He is a keen psychologist.'
'Oh, one of those! I understand now.' Inspector Sharpe smiled. 'So, the girl was rather clever.'
'Surprisingly so. And I think the idea had been suggested to her by someone else.'
'But still,' said Sharpe, 'I don't understand. If this kleptomania business was successful, why did she commit suicide?'
'The answer is that she did not commit suicide. Are you quite sure that she did?'
'It's obvious, Monsieur Poirot and -'
The door opened and Mrs Hubbard came in looking very pleased with herself. 'I've got it. It came to me suddenly. Why that suicide note looked wrong, I mean. Celia couldn't possibly have written it.'
'Why not, Mrs Hubbard?' asked Sharpe.
'Because it's written in blue-black ink. And Celia filled her pen with green ink — that ink over there — at breakfast time yesterday morning.' She went to the shelf and held up the nearly empty bottle. 'I am sure that the piece of paper was torn out of the letter she wrote to me yesterday — and which I never opened.'
'What did she do with it? Can you remember?'
Mrs Hubbard shook her head. 'I left her alone in here and she must have just forgotten about it.'
'And somebody found it and opened it… somebody -' The Inspector paused. 'You understand what this means? Somebody saw the possibility of using the opening words of her letter to you — to suggest something very different. To suggest suicide — So this means -'
'Murder,' said Hercule Poirot.
CHAPTER EIGHT
It was five o'clock and Inspector Sharpe was drinking his third cup of tea. 'Thank you for inviting me to your home, Monsieur Poirot. I've got an hour to wait until the students get back to the house so that I can question them all.'
'You have been to St Catherine's Hospital?' Poirot asked. 'Yes. The chief pharmacist was very helpful.'
'What did he say about the girl?'
'She had worked there for just over a year and everyone liked her.' He paused. 'The morphia certainly came from there.'
'It did? That is interesting — and rather strange.'
'It was morphine tartrate and was kept in the poison cupboard on the upper shelf, amongst drugs that were not often used.'
'So, if one small bottle disappeared it would not immediately be noticed?'
'That's right. The three pharmacists all had keys to the poison cupboard, but on a busy day someone is going to it every few minutes, therefore the cupboard is unlocked and remains unlocked till the end of work.'
'What outsiders come into the pharmacy?'
'Quite a lot of people go through the pharmacy to get to the chief pharmacist's office — and salesmen from big drug companies go through it too. Then, of course, friends come in sometimes to see one of the pharmacists.'
'Who came in recently to see Celia Austin?'
Sharpe looked at his notebook. 'A girl called Patricia Lane came on Tuesday last week. She wanted Celia to meet her at the cinema after the pharmacy closed.'
'Patricia Lane,' said Poirot thoughtfully.
'She was only there for about five minutes and did not go near the poison cupboard. They also remember a West Indian girl coming — about two weeks ago. She was interested in the work and asked questions about it and made notes.'
'That must be Elizabeth Johnston. Anyone else?'
'Not that the other pharmacists can remember.'
'Do doctors come to the pharmacy?'
Sharpe smiled. 'All the time. Sometimes to ask about a particular drug. Sometimes they just come in for a talk to the girls. And a lot of young fellows come in for pills because they've been drinking too much.'
Poirot said, 'And if I remember rightly, one or more of the students at Hickory Road is studying at St Catherine's — a big, red-haired boy — Bateman -'
'Leonard Bateson. That's right. And Colin McNabb is doing a course there. Then there's a girl, Jean Tomlinson, who works in the physiotherapy department.'
'And all of these have probably been quite often in the pharmacy?'
'Yes, and nobody remembers when because they're so used to seeing them.'
'It is not easy,' said Poirot.
'No, it is not!' Sharpe paused. 'You said this morning that someone might have suggested the kleptomania idea to Celia Austin. If so, who?'
'Only three of the students, I believe, would have been able to think of such an idea. Leonard Bateson might have suggested kleptomania to Celia almost as a joke, but I do not really think he would have allowed such a thing to go on for so long. Nigel Chapman is a humorous and slightly cruel character. He would think it good fun, and would not care if things went wrong.
The third person is a young woman called Valerie Hobhouse. She is clever and has probably read enough psychology to judge Colin's probable reaction.'
'Thanks,' said Sharpe, writing down the names. 'And is that all the help you can give me, Monsieur Poirot?'
'I fear so. But I shall continue to be interested and do what I can. For me, there is only one method.'
'And that is?'
'Conversation, my friend. Conversation and again conversation! All the murderers I have ever met enjoyed talking. They are so pleased with themselves that sooner or later they say something that shows they know too much about the crime.'
Sharpe stood up. 'I suppose every single one of the students is a possible murderer.'
'I think so,' said Poirot lightly.
CHAPTER NINE
Inspector Sharpe leaned back in his chair and took a deep breath. He had interviewed a tearful French girl, the gentle Mr Akibombo and several other foreign students who did not really understand what he was saying. None of these, he was certain, knew anything about the death of Celia Austin.
His next interview was with Nigel Chapman, who immediately took control of the conversation. 'Of course, I had an idea that you'd got it wrong when you thought it was suicide. But it rather pleases me that you suddenly saw it in a new way because she filled her pen with my green ink. The one thing the murderer couldn't possibly have expected. I suppose you've thought carefully about what can be the motive for this crime?'
'I'm asking the questions, Mr Chapman,' said Inspector Sharpe. 'Oh, of course,' said Nigel. 'I was trying to go directly to the important points. But I suppose we've got to go through all the usual boring questions. Name, Nigel Chapman. Age, twenty-five. I'm studying History at London University. Anything else you want to know?'
'What is your home address, Mr Chapman?'
'No home address. I have a father, but he and I have quarrelled, and his address is therefore no longer mine. So 26 Hickory Road and Coutts Bank, will always find me.'
Inspector Sharpe did not react to Nigel's behaviour. He suspected that it hid his nervousness of being questioned about a murder. 'How well did you know Celia Austin?' he asked.
'I knew her very well in the sense that I saw her almost every day, but in fact I didn't know her at all. I wasn't interested in her and I think she probably disapproved of me.'
'Did she disapprove of you for any particular reason?'
'She didn't like my sense of humour.'
'When was the last time you saw Celia Austin?'
'At dinner yesterday evening. When Colin told us they were engaged.'
'Was that at dinner or in the common room?'
'At dinner. Afterwards, when we went into the common room, Colin went off somewhere.'
'And the rest of you had coffee in the common room?'
'Yes.'
'Did Celia Austin have coffee?'
'Well, I suppose so. I mean, I didn't actually notice her having coffee, but she must have had it.'
'You did not personally hand her some coffee?'
'Are you trying to suggest something, Mr Sharpe? Well, I didn't go near her. I've never been attracted to Celia, and her engagement to Colin McNabb caused no murderous feelings in me.'
'I'm not suggesting anything like that, Mr Chapman,' said Sharpe. 'But somebody wanted Celia Austin dead. Why?'
'I can't imagine why, Inspector. Celia was such a boring girl, but very nice, not at all the type to get herself murdered.'
'Were you surprised when you found that it was Celia who had been stealing things here?'
'Very.'
'You didn't, perhaps, encourage her to take those things?'
'Me! Why would I? And surely, Inspector, the reason was psychological?'
'Do you think that Celia Austin was a kleptomaniac?'
'What other explanation can there be?'
'You don't think that someone might have suggested it to Miss Austin as a way of — say — making Mr McNabb look at her in a new way?'
Nigel's eyes shone. 'Now that really is a most interesting explanation. And it's perfectly possible, because of course Colin would react like that.'
'Have you any ideas, Mr Chapman, about the things that have been going on in this house? About, for example, the throwing of ink over Miss Johnston's papers?'
'If you're thinking I did it, Inspector, that's quite untrue. Of course, it looks like me because of the green ink, but if you ask me, somebody used my ink to make it look like me.'
The next person on Inspector Sharpe's list was Leonard Bateson. He was even more uncomfortable than Nigel, though it showed in a different way.
'All right!' he shouted, after the first few questions. 'I poured out Celia's coffee and gave it to her. And you can believe it or not, but there was no morphia in it.'
'You saw her drink it?'
'No. We were all moving around and I got into an argument with someone just after that.'
'So you are saying that anybody could have dropped morphia into her coffee cup?'
'No. You try to put anything in anyone's cup! Everybody would see you.'
'Would they?' said Sharpe.
Len shouted, 'Why do you think I would want to poison the girl? I liked her. She must have taken it herself. There's no other explanation.'
'We might think so, if it wasn't for the false suicide note.'
'False! She wrote it, didn't she?'
'She wrote it as part of a letter, early that morning.'
'Well — she could have torn a bit out and used it as a suicide note.'
'Really, Mr Bateson, if you wanted to write a suicide note you would write one. You wouldn't take a letter you had written to somebody else and carefully tear out one particular bit.'
'I might do. People do all sorts of strange things.'
'So did you believe Celia when she said she had stolen the things in the house?'
'Of course. But it did seem strange. She didn't seem to be the type to be a kleptomaniac. Nor a thief either.'
'And you can't think of any other reason for her having done it?'
'What other reason could there be?'
'Well, she might have wanted to make Colin McNabb interested in her.'
Len shook his head. 'She wouldn't have been able to plan a thing like that. She didn't have the knowledge.'
'You've got the knowledge, though, haven't you?'
Len gave a short laugh. 'You think I would do a stupid thing like that? You're mad.'
The Inspector changed direction. 'Do you think that Celia Austin spilled the ink over Elizabeth Johnston's papers, or do you think someone else did it?'
'Someone else. Celia said she didn't do that and I believe her. She never got annoyed with Elizabeth, not like some people did.'
'Who got annoyed with her — and why? '
'She criticised people, you know.' Len paused. Anyone who said something without really thinking. She would look across the table and say something like, «I'm afraid that is not proved by the facts. It has been well established by mathematics that...» Well, it was annoying — especially to Nigel, for example.'
Ah yes. Nigel Chapman.'
And it was green ink, too.'
'So you think it was Nigel who
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