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Crooked House

Crooked House
Crooked House Agatha Christie A wealthy Greek businessman is found dead at his London home…The Leonides were one big happy family living in a sprawling, ramshackle mansion. That was until the head of the household, Aristide, was murdered with a fatal barbiturate injection.Suspicion naturally falls on the old man’s young widow, fifty years his junior. But the murderer has reckoned without the tenacity of Charles Hayward, fiance of the late millionare’s granddaughter… Copyright (#u2ba1aa1d-d798-5a40-a168-52128d7fd76e) Published by HarperCollinsPublishers Ltd 1 London Bridge Street London SE1 9GF www.harpercollins.co.uk (http://www.harpercollins.co.uk) First published in Great Britain by Collins, The Crime Club 1949 Crooked House™ is a trade mark of Agatha Christie Limited and Agatha Christie and the Agatha Christie Signature are registered trade marks of Agatha Christie Limited in the UK and elsewhere. Copyright © 1949 Agatha Christie Limited. All rights reserved. www.agathachristie.com (http://www.agathachristie.com) Agatha Christie asserts the moral right to be identified as the author of this work. A catalogue copy of this book is available from the British Library. This novel is entirely a work of fiction. The names, characters and incidents portrayed in it are the work of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events or localities is entirely coincidental. All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. By payment of the required fees, you have been granted the non-exclusive, non-transferable right to access and read the text of this e-book on screen. No part of this text may be reproduced, transmitted, down-loaded, decompiled, reverse engineered, or stored in or introduced into any information storage and retrieval system, in any form or by any means, whether electronic or mechanical, now known or hereinafter invented, without the express written permission of HarperCollins. Source ISBN: 9780008196349 Ebook Edition © February 2017 ISBN: 9780007422234 Version: 2017-11-28 Contents Cover (#ubcc74a47-048c-53d7-8a77-dd1ee4adc442) Title Page (#uf32c31f4-83fe-5a2b-a68f-0d9ea4e5b6a7) Copyright Author’s Foreword Chapter 1 Chapter 2 Chapter 3 Chapter 4 Chapter 5 Chapter 6 Chapter 7 Chapter 8 Chapter 9 Chapter 10 Chapter 11 Chapter 12 Chapter 13 Chapter 14 Chapter 15 Chapter 16 Chapter 17 Chapter 18 Chapter 19 Chapter 20 Chapter 21 Chapter 22 Chapter 23 Chapter 24 Chapter 25 Chapter 26 Also by Agatha Christie About the Publisher Author’s Foreword (#u2ba1aa1d-d798-5a40-a168-52128d7fd76e) This book is one of my own special favourites. I saved it up for years, thinking about it, working it out, saying to myself: ‘One day, when I’ve plenty of time, and want to really enjoy myself—I’ll begin it!’ I should say that of one’s output, five books are work to one that is real pleasure. Crooked House was pure pleasure. I often wonder whether people who read a book can know if it has been hard work or a pleasure to write? Again and again someone says to me: ‘How you must have enjoyed writing so and so!’ This about a book that obstinately refused to come out the way you wished, whose characters are sticky, the plot needlessly involved, and the dialogue stilted—or so you think yourself. But perhaps the author isn’t the best judge of his or her own work. However, practically everybody has liked Crooked House, so I am justified in my own belief that it is one of my best. I don’t know what put the Leonides family into my head—they just came. Then, like Topsy ‘they growed’. I feel that I myself was only their scribe. CHAPTER 1 (#u2ba1aa1d-d798-5a40-a168-52128d7fd76e) I first came to know Sophia Leonides in Egypt towards the end of the war. She held a fairly high administrative post in one of the Foreign Office departments out there. I knew her first in an official capacity, and I soon appreciated the efficiency that had brought her to the position she held, in spite of her youth (she was at that time just twenty-two). Besides being extremely easy to look at, she had a clear mind and a dry sense of humour that I found very delightful. We became friends. She was a person whom it was extraordinarily easy to talk to and we enjoyed our dinners and occasional dances very much. All this I knew; it was not until I was ordered East at the close of the European war that I knew something else—that I loved Sophia and that I wanted to marry her. We were dining at Shepheard’s when I made this discovery. It did not come to me with any shock of surprise, but more as the recognition of a fact with which I had been long familiar. I looked at her with new eyes—but I saw what I had already known for a long time. I liked everything I saw. The dark crisp hair that sprang up proudly from her forehead, the vivid blue eyes, the small square fighting chin, and the straight nose. I liked the well-cut light-grey tailor-made, and the crisp white shirt. She looked refreshingly English and that appealed to me strongly after three years without seeing my native land. Nobody, I thought, could be more English—and even as I was thinking exactly that, I suddenly wondered if, in fact, she was, or indeed could be, as English as she looked. Does the real thing ever have the perfection of a stage performance? I realized that much and freely as we had talked together, discussing ideas, our likes and dislikes, the future, our immediate friends and acquaintances—Sophia had never mentioned her home or her family. She knew all about me (she was, as I have indicated, a good listener) but about her I knew nothing. She had, I supposed, the usual background, but she had never talked about it. And until this moment I had never realized the fact. Sophia asked me what I was thinking about. I replied truthfully: ‘You.’ ‘I see,’ she said. And she sounded as though she did see. ‘We may not meet again for a couple of years,’ I said. ‘I don’t know when I shall get back to England. But as soon as I do get back, the first thing I shall do will be to come and see you and ask you to marry me.’ She took it without batting an eyelash. She sat there, smoking, not looking at me. For a moment or two I was nervous that she might not understand. ‘Listen,’ I said. ‘The one thing I’m determined not to do, is to ask you to marry me now. That wouldn’t work out anyway. First you might turn me down, and then I’d go off miserable and probably tie up with some ghastly woman just to restore my vanity. And if you didn’t turn me down what could we do about it? Get married and part at once? Get engaged and settle down to a long waiting period? I couldn’t stand your doing that. You might meet someone else and feel bound to be “loyal” to me. We’ve been living in a queer hectic get-on-with-it-quickly atmosphere. Marriages and love affairs making and breaking all round us. I’d like to feel you’d gone home, free and independent, to look round you and size up the new post-war world and decide what you want out of it. What is between you and me, Sophia, has got to be permanent. I’ve no use for any other kind of marriage.’ ‘No more have I,’ said Sophia. ‘On the other hand,’ I said, ‘I think I’m entitled to let you know how I—well—how I feel.’ ‘But without undue lyrical expression?’ murmured Sophia. ‘Darling—don’t you understand? I’ve tried not to say I love you—’ She stopped me. ‘I do understand, Charles. And I like your funny way of doing things. And you may come and see me when you come back—if you still want to—’ It was my turn to interrupt. ‘There’s no doubt about that.’ ‘There’s always a doubt about everything, Charles. There may always be some incalculable factor that upsets the apple-cart. For one thing, you don’t know much about me, do you?’ ‘I don’t even know where you live in England.’ ‘I live at Swinly Dean.’ I nodded at the mention of the well-known outer suburb of London which boasts three excellent golf courses for the city financier. She added softly in a musing voice: ‘In a little crooked house …’ I must have looked slightly startled, for she seemed amused, and explained by elaborating the quotation. ‘“And they all lived together in a little crooked house.” That’s us. Not really such a little house either. But definitely crooked—running to gables and half-timbering!’ ‘Are you one of a large family? Brothers and sisters?’ ‘One brother, one sister, a mother, a father, an uncle, an aunt by marriage, a grandfather, a great-aunt, and a step-grandmother.’ ‘Good gracious!’ I exclaimed, slightly overwhelmed. She laughed. ‘Of course we don’t normally all live together. The war and blitzes have brought that about—but I don’t know’—she frowned reflectively—‘perhaps spiritually the family has always lived together—under my grandfather’s eye and protection. He’s rather a Person, my grandfather. He’s over eighty, about four-foot ten, and everybody else looks rather dim beside him.’ ‘He sounds interesting,’ I said. ‘He is interesting. He’s a Greek from Smyrna. Aristide Leonides.’ She added, with a twinkle, ‘He’s extremely rich.’ ‘Will anybody be rich after this is over?’ ‘My grandfather will,’ said Sophia with assurance. ‘No soak-the-rich tactics would have any effect on him. He’d just soak the soakers. ‘I wonder,’ she added, ‘if you’ll like him?’ ‘Do you?’ I asked. ‘Better than anyone in the world,’ said Sophia. CHAPTER 2 (#u2ba1aa1d-d798-5a40-a168-52128d7fd76e) It was over two years before I returned to England. They were not easy years. I wrote to Sophia and heard from her fairly frequently. Her letters, like mine, were not love letters. They were letters written to each other by close friends—they dealt with ideas and thoughts and with comments on the daily trend of life. Yet I know that as far as I was concerned, and I believed as far as Sophia was concerned too, our feelings for each other grew and strengthened. I returned to England on a soft grey day in September. The leaves on the trees were golden in the evening light. There were playful gusts of wind. From the airfield I sent a telegram to Sophia. ‘Just arrived back. Will you dine this evening Mario’s nine o’clock Charles.’ A couple of hours later I was sitting reading the Times; and scanning the Births, Marriages and Deaths column my eye was caught by the name Leonides: On Sept. 19th, at Three Gables, Swinly Dean, Aristide Leonides, beloved husband of Brenda Leonides, in his eighty-eighth year. Deeply regretted. There was another announcement immediately below: LEONIDES—Suddenly, at his residence, Three Gables, Swinly Dean, Aristide Leonides. Deeply mourned by his loving children and grandchildren. Flowers to St Eldred’s Church, Swinly Dean. I found the two announcements rather curious. There seemed to have been some faulty staff work resulting in overlapping. But my main preoccupation was Sophia. I hastily sent her a second telegram: ‘Just seen news of your grandfather’s death. Very sorry. Let me know when I can see you. Charles.’ A telegram from Sophia reached me at six o’clock at my father’s house. It said: ‘Will be at Mario’s nine o’clock. Sophia.’ The thought of meeting Sophia again made me both nervous and excited. The time crept by with maddening slowness. I was at Mario’s waiting twenty minutes too early. Sophia herself was only five minutes late. It is always a shock to meet again someone whom you have not seen for a long time but who has been very much present in your mind during that period. When at last Sophia came through the swing doors our meeting seemed completely unreal. She was wearing black, and that, in some curious way, startled me! Most other women were wearing black, but I got it into my head that it was definitely mourning—and it surprised me that Sophia should be the kind of person who did wear black—even for a near relative. We had cocktails—then went and found our table. We talked rather fast and feverishly—asking after old friends of the Cairo days. It was artificial conversation, but it tided us over the first awkwardness. I expressed commiseration for her grandfather’s death and Sophia said quietly that it had been ‘very sudden’. Then we started off again reminiscing. I began to feel, uneasily, that something was the matter—something, I mean, other than the first natural awkwardness of meeting again. There was something wrong, definitely wrong, with Sophia herself. Was she, perhaps, going to tell me that she had found some other man whom she cared for more than she did for me? That her feeling for me had been ‘all a mistake’? Somehow I didn’t think it was that—I didn’t know what it was. Meanwhile we continued our artificial talk. Then, quite suddenly, as the waiter placed coffee on the table and retired bowing, everything swung into focus. Here were Sophia and I sitting together as so often before at a small table in a restaurant. The years of our separation might never have been. ‘Sophia,’ I said. And immediately she said, ‘Charles!’ I drew a deep breath of relief. ‘Thank goodness that’s over,’ I said. ‘What’s been the matter with us?’ ‘Probably my fault. I was stupid.’ ‘But it’s all right now?’ ‘Yes, it’s all right now.’ We smiled at each other. ‘Darling!’ I said. And then: ‘How soon will you marry me?’ Her smile died. The something, whatever it was, was back. ‘I don’t know,’ she said. ‘I’m not sure, Charles, that I can ever marry you.’ ‘But, Sophia! Why not? Is it because you feel I’m a stranger? Do you want time to get used to me again? Is there someone else? No—’ I broke off. ‘I’m a fool. It’s none of those things.’ ‘No, it isn’t.’ She shook her head. I waited. She said in a low voice: ‘It’s my grandfather’s death.’ ‘Your grandfather’s death? But why? What earthly difference can that make? You don’t mean—surely you can’t imagine—is it money? Hasn’t he left any? But surely, dearest—’ ‘It isn’t money.’ She gave a fleeting smile. ‘I think you’d be quite willing to “take me in my shift”, as the old saying goes. And grandfather never lost any money in his life.’ ‘Then what is it?’ ‘It’s just his death—you see, I think, Charles, that he didn’t just—die. I think he may have been—killed …’ I stared at her. ‘But—what a fantastic idea. What made you think of it?’ ‘I didn’t think of it. The doctor was queer to begin with. He wouldn’t sign a certificate. They’re going to have a post-mortem. It’s quite clear that they suspect something is wrong.’ I didn’t dispute that with her. Sophia had plenty of brains; any conclusions she had drawn could be relied upon. Instead I said earnestly: ‘Their suspicions may be quite unjustified. But putting that aside, supposing that they are justified, how does that affect you and me?’ ‘It might under certain circumstances. You’re in the Diplomatic Service. They’re rather particular about wives. No—please don’t say all the things that you’re bursting to say. You’re bound to say them—and I believe you really think them—and theoretically I quite agree with them. But I’m proud—I’m devilishly proud. I want our marriage to be a good thing for everyone—I don’t want to represent one-half of a sacrifice for love! And, as I say, it may be all right …’ ‘You mean the doctor—may have made a mistake?’ ‘Even if he hasn’t made a mistake, it won’t matter—so long as the right person killed him.’ ‘What do you mean, Sophia?’ ‘It was a beastly thing to say. But, after all, one might as well be honest.’ She forestalled my next words. ‘No, Charles, I’m not going to say any more. I’ve probably said too much already. But I was determined to come and meet you tonight—to see you myself and make you understand. We can’t settle anything until this is cleared up.’ ‘At least tell me about it.’ She shook her head. ‘I don’t want to.’ ‘But—Sophia—’ ‘No, Charles. I don’t want you to see us from my angle. I want you to see us unbiased from the outside point of view.’ ‘And how am I to do that?’ She looked at me, a queer light in her brilliant blue eyes. ‘You’ll get that from your father,’ she said. I had told Sophia in Cairo that my father was Assistant Commissioner of Scotland Yard. He still held that office. At her words, I felt a cold weight settling down on me. ‘It’s as bad as that, then?’ ‘I think so. Do you see a man sitting at a table by the door all alone—rather a nice-looking stolid ex-Army type?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘He was on Swinly Dean platform this evening when I got into the train.’ ‘You mean he’s followed you here?’ ‘Yes. I think we’re all—how does one put it?—under observation. They more or less hinted that we’d all better not leave the house. But I was determined to see you.’ Her small square chin shot out pugnaciously. ‘I got out of the bathroom window and shinned down the water-pipe.’ ‘Darling!’ ‘But the police are very efficient. And of course there was the telegram I sent you. Well—never mind—we’re here—together … But from now on, we’ve both got to play a lone hand.’ She paused and then added: ‘Unfortunately—there’s no doubt—about our loving each other.’ ‘No doubt at all,’ I said. ‘And don’t say unfortunately. You and I have survived a world war, we’ve had plenty of near escapes from sudden death—and I don’t see why the sudden death of just one old man—how old was he, by the way?’ ‘Eighty-seven.’ ‘Of course. It was in the Times. If you ask me, he just died of old age, and any self-respecting GP would accept the fact.’ ‘If you’d known my grandfather,’ said Sophia, ‘you’d have been surprised at his dying of anything!’ CHAPTER 3 (#u2ba1aa1d-d798-5a40-a168-52128d7fd76e) I’d always taken a certain amount of interest in my father’s police work, but nothing had prepared me for the moment when I should come to take a direct and personal interest in it. I had not yet seen the Old Man. He had been out when I arrived, and after a bath, a shave, and a change I had gone out to meet Sophia. When I returned to the house, however, Glover told me that he was in his study. He was at his desk, frowning over a lot of papers. He jumped up when I came in. ‘Charles! Well, well, it’s been a long time.’ Our meeting, after five years of war, would have disappointed a Frenchman. Actually all the emotion of reunion was there all right. The Old Man and I are very fond of each other, and we understand each other pretty well. ‘I’ve got some whisky,’ he said. ‘Say when. Sorry I was out when you got here. I’m up to the ears in work. Hell of a case just unfolding.’ I leaned back in my chair and lit a cigarette. ‘Aristide Leonides?’ I asked. His brows came down quickly over his eyes. He shot me a quick appraising glance. His voice was polite and steely. ‘Now what makes you say that, Charles?’ ‘I’m right then?’ ‘How did you know about this?’ ‘Information received.’ The Old Man waited. ‘My information,’ I said, ‘came from the stable itself.’ ‘Come on, Charles, let’s have it.’ ‘You mayn’t like it,’ I said. ‘I met Sophia Leonides out in Cairo. I fell in love with her. I’m going to marry her. I met her tonight. She dined with me.’ ‘Dined with you? In London? I wonder just how she managed to do that! The family was asked—oh, quite politely, to stay put.’ ‘Quite so. She shinned down a pipe from the bathroom window.’ The Old Man’s lips twitched for a moment into a smile. ‘She seems,’ he said, ‘to be a young lady of some resource.’ ‘But your police force is fully efficient,’ I said. ‘A nice Army type tracked her to Mario’s. I shall figure in the reports you get. Five foot eleven, brown hair, brown eyes, dark-blue pin-stripe suit, etc.’ The Old Man looked at me hard. ‘Is this—serious?’ he asked. ‘Yes,’ I said. ‘It’s serious, Dad.’ There was a moment’s silence. ‘Do you mind?’ I asked. ‘I shouldn’t have minded—a week ago. They’re a well-established family—the girl will have money—and I know you. You don’t lose your head easily. As it is—’ ‘Yes, Dad?’ ‘It may be all right, if—’ ‘If what?’ ‘If the right person did it.’ It was the second time that night I had heard that phrase. I began to be interested. ‘Just who is the right person?’ He threw a sharp glance at me. ‘How much do you know about it all?’ ‘Nothing.’ ‘Nothing?’ He looked surprised. ‘Didn’t the girl tell you?’ ‘No. She said she’d rather I saw it all—from an outside point of view.’ ‘Now I wonder why that was?’ ‘Isn’t it rather obvious?’ ‘No, Charles. I don’t think it is.’ He walked up and down frowning. He had lit a cigar and the cigar had gone out. That showed me just how disturbed the old boy was. ‘How much do you know about the family?’ he shot at me. ‘Damn all! I know there was the old man and a lot of sons and grandchildren and in-laws. I haven’t got the ramifications clear.’ I paused and then said, ‘You’d better put me in the picture, Dad.’ ‘Yes.’ He sat down. ‘Very well then—I’ll begin at the beginning—with Aristide Leonides. He arrived in England when he was twenty-four.’ ‘A Greek from Smyrna.’ ‘You do know that much?’ ‘Yes, but it’s about all I do know.’ The door opened and Glover came in to say that Chief Inspector Taverner was here. ‘He’s in charge of the case,’ said my father. ‘We’d better have him in. He’s been checking up on the family. Knows more about them than I do.’ I asked if the local police had called in the Yard. ‘It’s in our jurisdiction. Swinly Dean is Greater London.’ I nodded as Chief Inspector Taverner came into the room. I knew Taverner from many years back. He greeted me warmly and congratulated me on my safe return. ‘I’m putting Charles in the picture,’ said the Old Man. ‘Correct me if I go wrong, Taverner. Leonides came to London in 1884. He started up a little restaurant in Soho. It paid. He started up another. Soon he owned seven or eight of them. They all paid hand over fist.’ ‘Never made any mistakes in anything he handled,’ said Chief Inspector Taverner. ‘He’d got a natural flair,’ said my father. ‘In the end he was behind most of the well-known restaurants in London. Then he went into the catering business in a big way.’ ‘He was behind a lot of other businesses as well,’ said Taverner. ‘Second-hand clothes trade, cheap jewellery stores, lots of things. Of course,’ he added thoughtfully, ‘he was always a twister.’ ‘You mean he was a crook?’ I asked. Taverner shook his head. ‘No, I don’t mean that. Crooked, yes—but not a crook. Never anything outside the law. But he was the sort of chap that thought up all the ways you can get round the law. He’s cleaned up a packet that way even in this last war, and old as he was. Nothing he did was ever illegal—but as soon as he’d got on to it, you had to have a law about it, if you know what I mean. But by that time he’d gone on to the next thing.’ ‘He doesn’t sound a very attractive character,’ I said. ‘Funnily enough, he was attractive. He’d got personality, you know. You could feel it. Nothing much to look at. Just a gnome—ugly little fellow—but magnetic—women always fell for him.’ ‘He made a rather astonishing marriage,’ said my father. ‘Married the daughter of a country squire—an MFH.’ I raised my eyebrows. ‘Money?’ The Old Man shook his head. ‘No, it was a love match. She met him over some catering arrangements for a friend’s wedding—and she fell for him. Her parents cut up rough, but she was determined to have him. I tell you, the man had charm—there was something exotic and dynamic about him that appealed to her. She was bored stiff with her own kind.’ ‘And the marriage was happy?’ ‘It was very happy, oddly enough. Of course their respective friends didn’t mix (those were the days before money swept aside all class distinctions) but that didn’t seem to worry them. They did without friends. He built a rather preposterous house at Swinly Dean and they lived there and had eight children.’ ‘This is indeed a family chronicle.’ ‘Old Leonides was rather clever to choose Swinly Dean. It was only beginning to be fashionable then. The second and third golf courses hadn’t been made. There was a mixture of Old Inhabitants who were passionately fond of their gardens and who liked Mrs Leonides, and rich City men who wanted to be in with Leonides, so they could take their choice of acquaintances. They were perfectly happy, I believe, until she died of pneumonia in 1905.’ ‘Leaving him with eight children?’ ‘One died in infancy. Two of the sons were killed in the last war. One daughter married and went to Australia and died there. An unmarried daughter was killed in a motor accident. Another died a year or two ago. There are two still living—the eldest son, Roger, who is married but has no children, and Philip, who married a well-known actress and has three children. Your Sophia, Eustace, and Josephine.’ ‘And they are all living at—what is it?—Three Gables?’ ‘Yes. The Roger Leonides were bombed out early in the war. Philip and his family have lived there since 1937. And there’s an elderly aunt, Miss de Haviland, sister of the first Mrs Leonides. She always loathed her brother-in-law apparently, but when her sister died she considered it her duty to accept her brother-in-law’s invitation to live with him and bring up the children.’ ‘She’s very hot on duty,’ said Inspector Taverner. ‘But she’s not the kind that changes her mind about people. She always disapproved of Leonides and his methods—’ ‘Well,’ I said, ‘it seems a pretty good houseful. Who do you think killed him?’ Taverner shook his head. ‘Early days,’ he said, ‘early days to say that.’ ‘Come on, Taverner,’ I said. ‘I bet you think you know who did it. We’re not in court, man.’ ‘No,’ said Taverner gloomily. ‘And we never may be.’ ‘You mean he may not have been murdered?’ ‘Oh, he was murdered all right. Poisoned. But you know what these poisoning cases are like. It’s very tricky getting the evidence. Very tricky. All the possibilities may point one way—’ ‘That’s what I’m trying to get at. You’ve got it all taped out in your mind, haven’t you?’ ‘It’s a case of very strong probability. It’s one of those obvious things. The perfect set-up. But I don’t know, I’m sure. It’s tricky.’ I looked appealingly at the Old Man. He said slowly: ‘In murder cases, as you know, Charles, the obvious is usually the right solution. Old Leonides married again, ten years ago.’ ‘When he was seventy-seven?’ ‘Yes, he married a young woman of twenty-four.’ I whistled. ‘What sort of a young woman?’ ‘A young woman out of a tea-shop. A perfectly respectable young woman—good-looking in an anæmic, apathetic sort of way.’ ‘And she’s the strong probability?’ ‘I ask you, sir,’ said Taverner. ‘She’s only thirty-four now—and that’s a dangerous age. She likes living soft. And there’s a young man in the house. Tutor to the grandchildren. Not been in the war—got a bad heart or something. They’re as thick as thieves.’ I looked at him thoughtfully. It was, certainly, an old and familiar pattern. The mixture as before. And the second Mrs Leonides was, my father had emphasized, very respectable. In the name of respectability many murders had been committed. ‘What was it?’ I asked. ‘Arsenic?’ ‘No. We haven’t got the analyst’s report yet—but the doctor thinks it’s eserine.’ ‘That’s a little unusual, isn’t it? Surely easy to trace the purchaser.’ ‘Not this thing. It was his own stuff, you see. Eyedrops.’ ‘Leonides suffered from diabetes,’ said my father. ‘He had regular injections of insulin. Insulin is given out in small bottles with a rubber cap. A hypodermic needle is pressed down through the rubber cap and the injection drawn up.’ I guessed the next bit. ‘And it wasn’t insulin in the bottle, but eserine?’ ‘Exactly.’ ‘And who gave him the injection?’ I asked. ‘His wife.’ I understood now what Sophia meant by the ‘right person’. I asked: ‘Does the family get on well with the second Mrs Leonides?’ ‘No. I gather they are hardly on speaking terms.’ It all seemed clearer and clearer. Nevertheless, Inspector Taverner was clearly not happy about it. ‘What don’t you like about it?’ I asked him. ‘If she did it, Mr Charles, it would have been so easy for her to substitute a bona fide bottle of insulin afterwards. In fact, if she is guilty, I can’t imagine why on earth she didn’t do just that.’ ‘Yes, it does seem indicated. Plenty of insulin about?’ ‘Oh yes, full bottles and empty ones. And if she’d done that, ten to one the doctor wouldn’t have spotted it. Very little is known of the post-mortem appearances in human poisoning by eserine. But as it was he checked up on the insulin (in case it was the wrong strength or something like that) and so, of course, he soon spotted that it wasn’t insulin.’ ‘So it seems,’ I said thoughtfully, ‘that Mrs Leonides was either very stupid—or possibly very clever.’ ‘You mean—’ ‘That she may be gambling on your coming to the conclusion that nobody could have been as stupid as she appears to have been. What are the alternatives? Any other—suspects?’ The Old Man said quietly: ‘Practically anyone in the house could have done it. There was always a good store of insulin—at least a fortnight’s supply. One of the phials could have been tampered with, and replaced in the knowledge that it would be used in due course.’ ‘And anybody, more or less, had access to them?’ ‘They weren’t locked away. They were kept on a special shelf in the medicine cupboard in the bathroom of his part of the house. Everybody in the house came and went freely.’ ‘Any strong motive?’ My father sighed. ‘My dear Charles, Aristide Leonides was enormously rich. He has made over a good deal of his money to his family, it is true, but it may be that somebody wanted more.’ ‘But the one that wanted it most would be the present widow. Has her young man any money?’ ‘No. Poor as a church mouse.’ Something clicked in my brain. I remembered Sophia’s quotation. I suddenly remembered the whole verse of the nursery rhyme: There was a crooked man and he went a crooked mile. He found a crooked sixpence beside a crooked stile. He had a crooked cat which caught a crooked mouse, And they all lived together in a little crooked house. I said to Taverner: ‘How does she strike you—Mrs Leonides? What do you think of her?’ He replied slowly: ‘It’s hard to say—very hard to say. She’s not easy. Very quiet—so you don’t know what she’s thinking. But she likes living soft—that I’ll swear I’m right about. Puts me in mind, you know, of a cat, a big purring lazy cat … Not that I’ve anything against cats. Cats are all right …’ He sighed. ‘What we want,’ he said, ‘is evidence.’ Yes, I thought, we all wanted evidence that Mrs Leonides had poisoned her husband. Sophia wanted it, and I wanted it, and Chief Inspector Taverner wanted it. Then everything in the garden would be lovely! But Sophia wasn’t sure, and I wasn’t sure, and I didn’t think Chief Inspector Taverner was sure either. CHAPTER 4 (#u2ba1aa1d-d798-5a40-a168-52128d7fd76e) On the following day I went down to Three Gables with Taverner. My position was a curious one. It was, to say the least of it, quite unorthodox. But the Old Man has never been highly orthodox. I had a certain standing. I had worked with the Special Branch at the Yard during the early days of the war. This, of course, was entirely different—but my earlier performances had given me, so to speak, a certain official standing. My father said: ‘If we’re ever going to solve this case, we’ve got to get some inside dope. We’ve got to know all about the people in that house. We’ve got to know them from the inside—not the outside. You’re the man who can get that for us.’ I didn’t like that. I threw my cigarette end into the grate as I said: ‘I’m a police spy? Is that it? I’m to get the inside dope from Sophia whom I love and who both loves and trusts me, or so I believe.’ The Old Man became quite irritable. He said sharply: ‘For heaven’s sake don’t take the commonplace view. To begin with, you don’t believe, do you, that your young woman murdered her grandfather?’ ‘Of course not. The idea’s absolutely absurd.’ ‘Very well—we don’t think so either. She’s been away for some years, she has always been on perfectly amicable terms with him. She has a very generous income and he would have been, I should say, delighted to hear of her engagement to you and would probably have made a handsome marriage settlement on her. We don’t suspect her. Why should we? But you can make quite sure of one thing. If this thing isn’t cleared up, that girl won’t marry you. From what you’ve told me I’m fairly sure of that. And mark this, it’s the kind of crime that may never be cleared up. We may be reasonably sure that the wife and her young man were in cahoots over it—but proving it will be another matter. There’s not even a case to put up to the DPP so far. And unless we get definite evidence against her, there’ll always be a nasty doubt. You see that, don’t you?’ Yes, I saw that. The Old Man then said quietly: ‘Why not put it to her?’ ‘You mean—ask Sophia if I—’ I stopped. The Old Man was nodding his head vigorously. ‘Yes, yes. I’m not asking you to worm your way in without telling the girl what you’re up to. See what she has to say about it.’ And so it came about that the following day I drove down with Chief Inspector Taverner and Detective Sergeant Lamb to Swinly Dean. A little way beyond the golf course, we turned in at a gateway where I imagined that before the war there had been an imposing pair of gates. Patriotism or ruthless requisitioning had swept these away. We drove up a long curving drive flanked with rhododendrons and came out on a gravelled sweep in front of the house. It was incredible! I wondered why it had been called Three Gables. Eleven Gables would have been more apposite! The curious thing was that it had a strange air of being distorted—and I thought I knew why. It was the type, really, of a cottage, it was a cottage swollen out of all proportion. It was like looking at a country cottage through a gigantic magnifying-glass. The slant-wise beams, the half-timbering, the gables—it was a little crooked house that had grown like a mushroom in the night! Yet I got the idea. It was a Greek restaurateur’s idea of something English. It was meant to be an Englishman’s home—built the size of a castle! I wondered what the first Mrs Leonides had thought of it. She had not, I fancied, been consulted or shown the plans. It was, most probably, her exotic husband’s little surprise. I wondered if she had shuddered or smiled. Apparently she had lived there quite happily. ‘Bit overwhelming, isn’t it?’ said Inspector Taverner. ‘Of course, the old gentleman built on to it a good deal—making it into three separate houses, so to speak, with kitchens and everything. It’s all tip-top inside, fitted up like a luxury hotel.’ Sophia came out of the front door. She was hatless and wore a green shirt and a tweed skirt. She stopped dead when she saw me. ‘You?’ she exclaimed. I said: ‘Sophia, I’ve got to talk to you. Where can we go?’ For a moment I thought she was going to demur, then she turned and said: ‘This way.’ We walked down across the lawn. There was a fine view across Swinly Dean’s No 1 course—away to a clump of pine trees on a hill, and beyond it, to the dimness of hazy countryside. Sophia led me to a rock-garden, now somewhat neglected, where there was a rustic wooden seat of great discomfort, and we sat down. ‘Well?’ she said. Her voice was not encouraging. I said my piece—all of it. She listened very attentively. Her face gave little indication of what she was thinking, but when I came at last to a full stop, she sighed. It was a deep sigh. ‘Your father,’ she said, ‘is a very clever man.’ ‘The Old Man has his points. I think it’s a rotten idea myself—but—’ She interrupted me. ‘Oh no,’ she said. ‘It isn’t a rotten idea at all. It’s the only thing that might be any good. Your father, Charles, knows exactly what’s been going on in my mind. He knows better than you do.’ With a sudden almost despairing vehemence, she drove one clenched hand into the palm of the other. ‘I’ve got to have the truth. I’ve got to know.’ ‘Because of us? But, dearest—’ ‘Not only because of us, Charles. I’ve got to know for my own peace of mind. You see, Charles, I didn’t tell you last night—but the truth is—I’m afraid.’ ‘Afraid?’ ‘Yes—afraid—afraid—afraid. The police think, your father thinks, you think, everybody thinks—that it was Brenda.’ ‘The probabilities—’ ‘Oh yes, it’s quite probable. It’s possible. But when I say, “Brenda probably did it,” I’m quite conscious that it’s only wishful thinking. Because, you see, I don’t really think so.’ ‘You don’t think so?’ I said slowly. ‘I don’t know. You’ve heard about it all from the outside as I wanted you to. Now I’ll show it you from the inside. I simply don’t feel that Brenda is that kind of a person—she’s not the sort of person, I feel, who would ever do anything that might involve her in any danger. She’s far too careful of herself.’ ‘How about this young man? Laurence Brown.’ ‘Laurence is a complete rabbit. He wouldn’t have the guts.’ ‘I wonder.’ ‘Yes, we don’t really know, do we? I mean, people are capable of surprising one frightfully. One gets an idea of them into one’s head, and sometimes it’s absolutely wrong. Not always—but sometimes. But all the same, Brenda’—she shook her head—‘she’s always acted so completely in character. She’s what I call the harem type. Likes sitting about and eating sweets and having nice clothes and jewellery and reading cheap novels and going to the cinema. And it’s a queer thing to say, when one remembers that he was eighty-seven, but I really think she was rather thrilled by grandfather. He had a power, you know. I should imagine he could make a woman feel—oh—rather like a queen—the sultan’s favourite! I think—I’ve always thought—that he made Brenda feel as though she were an exciting, romantic person. He’s been clever with women all his life—and that kind of thing is a sort of art—you don’t lose the knack of it, however old you are.’ I left the problem of Brenda for the moment and harked back to a phrase of Sophia’s which had disturbed me. ‘Why did you say,’ I asked, ‘that you were afraid?’ Sophia shivered a little and pressed her hands together. ‘Because it’s true,’ she said in a low voice. ‘It’s very important, Charles, that I should make you understand this. You see, we’re a very queer family … There’s a lot of ruthlessness in us—and—different kinds of ruthlessness. That’s what’s so disturbing. The different kinds.’ She must have seen incomprehension in my face. She went on, speaking energetically. ‘I’ll try and make what I mean clear. Grandfather, for instance. Once when he was telling us about his boyhood in Smyrna, he mentioned, quite casually, that he had stabbed two men. It was some kind of a brawl—there had been some unforgivable insult—I don’t know—but it was just a thing that had happened quite naturally. He’d really practically forgotten about it. But it was, somehow, such a queer thing to hear about, quite casually, in England.’ I nodded. ‘That’s one kind of ruthlessness,’ went on Sophia, ‘and then there was my grandmother. I only just remember her, but I’ve heard a good deal about her. I think she might have had the ruthlessness that comes from having no imagination whatever. All those fox-hunting forebears—and the old Generals, the shoot-’em-down type. Full of rectitude and arrogance, and not a bit afraid of taking responsibility in matters of life and death.’ ‘Isn’t that a bit far-fetched?’ ‘Yes, I dare say—but I’m always rather afraid of that type. It’s full of rectitude but it is ruthless. And then there’s my own mother—she’s an actress—she’s a darling, but she’s got absolutely no sense of proportion. She’s one of those unconscious egoists who can only see things in relation to how it affects them. That’s rather frightening, sometimes, you know. And there’s Clemency, Uncle Roger’s wife. She’s a scientist—she’s doing some kind of very important research—she’s ruthless too, in a kind of cold-blooded impersonal way. Uncle Roger’s the exact opposite—he’s the kindest and most lovable person in the world, but he’s got a really terrific temper. Things make his blood boil and then he hardly knows what he’s doing. And there’s father—’ She made a long pause. ‘Father,’ she said slowly, ‘is almost too well controlled. You never know what he’s thinking. He never shows any emotion at all. It’s probably a kind of unconscious self-defence against mother’s absolute orgies of emotion, but sometimes—it worries me a little.’ ‘My dear child,’ I said, ‘you’re working yourself up unnecessarily. What it comes to in the end is that everybody, perhaps, is capable of murder.’ ‘I suppose that’s true. Even me.’ ‘Not you!’ ‘Oh yes, Charles, you can’t make me an exception. I suppose I could murder someone …’ She was silent a moment or two, then added, ‘But if so, it would have to be for something really worth while!’ I laughed then. I couldn’t help it. And Sophia smiled. ‘Perhaps I’m a fool,’ she said, ‘but we’ve got to find out the truth about grandfather’s death. We’ve got to. If only it was Brenda …’ I felt suddenly rather sorry for Brenda Leonides. CHAPTER 5 (#u2ba1aa1d-d798-5a40-a168-52128d7fd76e) Along the path towards us came a tall figure walking briskly. It had on a battered old felt hat, a shapeless skirt, and a rather cumbersome jersey. ‘Aunt Edith,’ said Sophia. The figure paused once or twice, stooping to the flower borders, then it advanced upon us. I rose to my feet. ‘This is Charles Hayward, Aunt Edith. My aunt, Miss de Haviland.’ Edith de Haviland was a woman of about seventy. She had a mass of untidy grey hair, a weather-beaten face and a shrewd and piercing glance. ‘How d’ye do?’ she said. ‘I’ve heard about you. Back from the East. How’s your father?’ Rather surprised, I said he was very well. ‘Knew him when he was a boy,’ said Miss de Haviland. ‘Knew his mother very well. You look rather like her. Have you come to help us—or the other thing?’ ‘I hope to help,’ I said rather uncomfortably. She nodded. ‘We could do with some help. Place swarming with policemen. Pop out at you all over the place. Don’t like some of the types. A boy who’s been to a decent school oughtn’t to go into the police. Saw Moyra Kinoul’s boy the other day holding up the traffic at Marble Arch. Makes you feel you don’t know where you are!’ She turned to Sophia. ‘Nannie’s asking for you, Sophia. Fish.’ ‘Bother,’ said Sophia. ‘I’ll go and telephone about it.’ She walked briskly towards the house. Miss de Haviland turned and walked slowly in the same direction. I fell into step beside her. ‘Don’t know what we’d all do without nannies,’ said Miss de Haviland. ‘Nearly everybody’s got an old nannie. They come back and wash and iron and cook and do housework. Faithful. Chose this one myself—years ago.’ She stopped and pulled viciously at an entangling twining bit of green. ‘Hateful stuff—bindweed! Worst weed there is! Choking, entangling—and you can’t get at it properly, runs along underground.’ With her heel she ground the handful of greenstuff viciously underfoot. ‘This is a bad business, Charles Hayward,’ she said. She was looking towards the house. ‘What do the police think about it? Suppose I mustn’t ask you that. Seems odd to think of Aristide being poisoned. For that matter it seems odd to think of him being dead. I never liked him—never! But I can’t get used to the idea of his being dead … Makes the house seem so—empty.’ I said nothing. For all her curt way of speech, Edith de Haviland seemed in a reminiscent mood. ‘Was thinking this morning—I’ve lived here a long time. Over forty years. Came here when my sister died. He asked me to. Seven children—and the youngest only a year old … Couldn’t leave ’em to be brought up by their father, could I? An impossible marriage, of course. I always felt Marcia must have been—well—bewitched. He gave me a free hand—I will say that. Nurses, governesses, school. And proper wholesome nursery food—not those queer spiced rice dishes he used to eat.’ ‘And you’ve been here ever since?’ I murmured. ‘Yes. Queer in a way … I could have left, I suppose, when the children grew up and married … I suppose, really, I’d got interested in the garden. And then there was Philip. If a man marries an actress he can’t expect to have any home life. Don’t know why actresses have children. As soon as a baby’s born they rush off and play in Repertory in Edinburgh or somewhere as remote as possible. Philip did the sensible thing—moved in here with his books.’ ‘What does Philip Leonides do?’ ‘Writes books. Can’t think why. Nobody wants to read them. All about obscure historical details. You’ve never even heard of them, have you?’ I admitted it. ‘Too much money, that’s what he’s had,’ said Miss de Haviland. ‘Most people have to stop being cranks and earn a living.’ ‘Don’t his books pay?’ ‘Of course not. He’s supposed to be a great authority on certain periods and all that. But he doesn’t have to make his books pay—Aristide settled something like a hundred thousand pounds—something quite fantastic—on him! To avoid death duties! Aristide made them all financially independent. Roger runs Associated Catering—Sophia has a very handsome allowance. The children’s money is in trust for them.’ ‘So no one gains particularly by his death?’ She threw me a strange glance. ‘Yes, they do. They all get more money. But they could probably have had it, if they asked for it, anyway.’ ‘Have you any idea who poisoned him, Miss de Haviland?’ She replied characteristically: ‘No, indeed I haven’t. It’s upset me very much. Not nice to think one has a Borgia sort of person loose about the house. I suppose the police will fasten on poor Brenda.’ ‘You don’t think they’ll be right in doing so?’ ‘I simply can’t tell. She’s always seemed to me a singularly stupid and commonplace young woman—rather conventional. Not my idea of a poisoner. Still, after all, if a young woman of twenty-four marries a man close on eighty, it’s fairly obvious that she’s marrying him for his money. In the normal course of events she could have expected to become a rich widow fairly soon. But Aristide was a singularly tough old man. His diabetes wasn’t getting any worse. He really looked like living to be a hundred. I suppose she got tired of waiting …’ ‘In that case,’ I said, and stopped. ‘In that case,’ said Miss de Haviland briskly, ‘it will be more or less all right. Annoying publicity, of course. But after all, she isn’t one of the family.’ ‘You’ve no other ideas?’ I asked. ‘What other ideas should I have?’ I wondered. I had a suspicion that there might be more going on under the battered felt hat than I knew. Behind the perky, almost disconnected utterance, there was, I thought, a very shrewd brain at work. Just for a moment I even wondered whether Miss de Haviland had poisoned Aristide Leonides herself … It did not seem an impossible idea. At the back of my mind was the way she had ground the bindweed into the soil with her heel with a kind of vindictive thoroughness. I remembered the word Sophia had used. Ruthlessness. I stole a sideways glance at Edith de Haviland. Given good and sufficient reason … But what exactly would seem to Edith de Haviland good and sufficient reason? To answer that, I should have to know her better. CHAPTER 6 (#u2ba1aa1d-d798-5a40-a168-52128d7fd76e) The front door was open. We passed through it into a rather surprisingly spacious hall. It was furnished with restraint—well-polished dark oak and gleaming brass. At the back, where the staircase would normally appear, was a white panelled wall with a door in it. ‘My brother-in-law’s part of the house,’ said Miss de Haviland. ‘The ground floor is Philip and Magda’s.’ We went through a doorway on the left into a large drawing-room. It had pale-blue panelled walls, furniture covered in heavy brocade, and on every available table and on the walls were hung photographs and pictures of actors, dancers, and stage scenes and designs. A Degas of ballet dancers hung over the mantelpiece. There were masses of flowers, enormous brown chrysanthemums and great vases of carnations. ‘I suppose,’ said Miss de Haviland, ‘that you want to see Philip?’ Did I want to see Philip? I had no idea. All I had wanted to do was to see Sophia. That I had done. She had given emphatic encouragement to the Old Man’s plan—but she had now receded from the scene and was presumably somewhere telephoning about fish, having given me no indication of how to proceed. Was I to approach Philip Leonides as a young man anxious to marry his daughter, or as a casual friend who had dropped in (surely not at such a moment!) or as an associate of the police? Miss de Haviland gave me no time to consider her question. It was, indeed, not a question at all, but more an assertion. Miss de Haviland, I judged, was more inclined to assert than to question. ‘We’ll go to the library,’ she said. She led me out of the drawing-room, along a corridor and in through another door. It was a big room, full of books. The books did not confine themselves to the bookcases that reached up to the ceiling. They were on chairs and tables and even on the floor. And yet there was no sense of disarray about them. The room was cold. There was some smell absent in it that I was conscious of having expected. It smelt of the mustiness of old books and just a little beeswax. In a second or two I realized what I missed. It was the scent of tobacco. Philip Leonides was not a smoker. He got up from behind his table as we entered—a tall man, aged somewhere around fifty, an extraordinarily handsome man. Everyone had laid so much emphasis on the ugliness of Aristide Leonides, that for some reason I expected his son to be ugly too. Certainly I was not prepared for this perfection of feature—the straight nose, the flawless line of jaw, the fair hair touched with grey that swept back from a well-shaped forehead. ‘This is Charles Hayward, Philip,’ said Edith de Haviland. ‘Ah, how do you do?’ I could not tell if he had ever heard of me. The hand he gave me was cold. His face was quite incurious. It made me rather nervous. He stood there, patient and uninterested. ‘Where are those awful policemen?’ demanded Miss de Haviland. ‘Have they been in here?’ ‘I believe Chief Inspector’—(he glanced down at a card on the desk)—‘er—Taverner is coming to talk to me presently.’ ‘Where is he now?’ ‘I’ve no idea, Aunt Edith. Upstairs, I suppose.’ ‘With Brenda?’ ‘I really don’t know.’ Looking at Philip Leonides, it seemed quite impossible that a murder could have been committed anywhere in his vicinity. ‘Is Magda up yet?’ ‘I don’t know. She’s not usually up before eleven.’ ‘That sounds like her,’ said Edith de Haviland. What sounded like Mrs Philip Leonides was a high voice talking very rapidly and approaching fast. The door behind me burst open and a woman came in. I don’t know how she managed to give the impression of its being three women rather than one who entered. She was smoking a cigarette in a long holder and was wearing a peach satin négligé which she was holding up with one hand. A cascade of Titian hair rippled down her back. Her face had that almost shocking air of nudity that a woman’s has nowadays when it is not made up at all. Her eyes were blue and enormous and she was talking very rapidly in a husky, rather attractive voice with a very clear enunciation. ‘Darling, I can’t stand it—I simply can’t stand it—just think of the notices—it isn’t in the papers yet, but of course it will be—and I simply can’t make up my mind what I ought to wear at the inquest—very, very subdued—not black though, perhaps dark purple—and I simply haven’t got a coupon left—I’ve lost the address of that dreadful man who sells them to me—you know, the garage somewhere near Shaftesbury Avenue—and if I went up there in the car the police would follow me, and they might ask the most awkward questions, mightn’t they? I mean, what could one say? How calm you are, Philip! How can you be so calm? Don’t you realize we can leave this awful house now? Freedom—freedom! Oh, how unkind—the poor old Sweetie—of course we’d never have left him while he was alive. He really did dote on us, didn’t he—in spite of all the trouble that woman upstairs tried to make between us. I’m quite sure that if we had gone away and left him to her, he’d have cut us right out of everything. Horrible creature! After all, poor old Sweetie Pie was just on ninety—all the family feeling in the world couldn’t have stood up against a dreadful woman who was on the spot. You know, Philip, I really believe that this would be a wonderful opportunity to put on the Edith Thompson play. This murder would give us a lot of advance publicity. Bildenstein said he could get the Thespian—that dreary play in verse about miners is coming off any minute—it’s a wonderful part—wonderful. I know they say I must always play comedy because of my nose—but you know there’s quite a lot of comedy to be got out of Edith Thompson—I don’t think the author realized that—comedy always heightens the suspense. I know just how I’d play it—commonplace, silly, make-believe up to the last minute and then—’ She cast out an arm—the cigarette fell out of the holder on to the polished mahogany of Philip’s desk and began to burn it. Impassively he reached for it and dropped it into the wastepaper basket. ‘And then,’ whispered Magda Leonides, her eyes suddenly widening, her face stiffening, ‘just terror …’ The stark fear stayed on her face for about twenty seconds, then her face relaxed, crumpled, a bewildered child was about to burst into tears. Suddenly all emotion was wiped away as though by a sponge and, turning to me, she asked in a businesslike tone: ‘Don’t you think that would be the way to play Edith Thompson?’ I said I thought that would be exactly the way to play Edith Thompson. At the moment I could only remember very vaguely who Edith Thompson was, but I was anxious to start off well with Sophia’s mother. ‘Rather like Brenda, really, wasn’t she?’ said Magda. ‘D’you know, I never thought of that. It’s very interesting. Shall I point that out to the inspector?’ The man behind the desk frowned very slightly. ‘There’s really no need, Magda,’ he said, ‘for you to see him at all. I can tell him anything he wants to know.’ ‘Not see him?’ Her voice went up. ‘But of course I must see him! Darling, darling, you’re so terribly unimaginative! You don’t realize the importance of details. He’ll want to know exactly how and when everything happened, all the little things one noticed and wondered about at the time—’ ‘Mother,’ said Sophia, coming through the open door, ‘you’re not to tell the inspector a lot of lies.’ ‘Sophia—darling …’ ‘I know, precious, that you’ve got it all set and that you’re ready to give a most beautiful performance. But you’ve got it wrong. Quite wrong.’ ‘Nonsense. You don’t know—’ ‘I do know. You’ve got to play it quite differently, darling. Subdued—saying very little—holding it all back—on your guard—protecting the family.’ Magda Leonides’ face showed the naïve perplexity of a child. ‘Darling,’ she said, ‘do you really think—’ ‘Yes, I do. Throw it away. That’s the idea.’ Sophia added, as a little pleased smile began to show on her mother’s face: ‘I’ve made you some chocolate. It’s in the drawing-room.’ ‘Oh—good—I’m starving—’ She paused in the doorway. ‘You don’t know,’ she said, and the words appeared to be addressed either to me or to the bookshelf behind my head, ‘how lovely it is to have a daughter!’ On this exit line she went out. ‘God knows,’ said Miss de Haviland, ‘what she will say to the police!’ ‘She’ll be all right,’ said Sophia. ‘She might say anything.’ ‘Don’t worry,’ said Sophia. ‘She’ll play it the way the producer says. I’m the producer!’ She went out after her mother, then wheeled back to say: ‘Here’s Chief Inspector Taverner to see you, Father. You don’t mind if Charles stays, do you?’ I thought that a very faint air of bewilderment showed on Philip Leonides’ face. It well might! But his incurious habit served me in good stead. He murmured: ‘Oh certainly—certainly,’ in a rather vague voice. Chief Inspector Taverner came in, solid, dependable, and with an air of businesslike promptitude that was somehow soothing. ‘Just a little unpleasantness,’ his manner seemed to say, ‘and then we shall be out of the house for good—and nobody will be more pleased than I shall. We don’t want to hang about, I can assure you …’ I don’t know how he managed, without any words at all, but merely by drawing up a chair to the desk, to convey what he did, but it worked. I sat down unobtrusively a little way off. ‘Yes, Chief Inspector?’ said Philip. Miss de Haviland said abruptly: ‘You don’t want me, Chief Inspector?’ ‘Not just at the moment, Miss de Haviland. Later, if I might have a few words with you—’ ‘Of course. I shall be upstairs.’ She went out, shutting the door behind her. ‘Well, Chief Inspector?’ Philip repeated. ‘I know you’re a very busy gentleman and I don’t want to disturb you for long. But I may mention to you in confidence that our suspicions are confirmed. Your father did not die a natural death. His death was the result of an overdose of physostigmine—more usually known as eserine.’ Philip bowed his head. He showed no particular emotion. ‘I don’t know whether that suggests anything to you?’ Taverner went on. ‘What should it suggest? My own view is that my father must have taken the poison by accident.’ ‘You really think so, Mr Leonides?’ ‘Yes, it seems to me perfectly possible. He was close on ninety, remember, and with very imperfect eyesight.’ ‘So he emptied the contents of his eyedrop bottle into an insulin bottle. Does that really seem to you a credible suggestion, Mr Leonides?’ Philip did not reply. His face became even more impassive. Taverner went on: ‘We have found the eyedrop bottle, empty—in the dustbin, with no fingerprints on it. That in itself is curious. In the normal way there should have been fingerprints. Certainly your father’s, possibly his wife’s, or the valet …’ Philip Leonides looked up. ‘What about the valet?’ he said. ‘What about Johnson?’ ‘You are suggesting Johnson as the possible criminal? He certainly had opportunity. But when we come to motive it is different. It was your father’s custom to pay him a bonus every year—each year the bonus was increased. Your father made it clear to him that this was in lieu of any sum that he might otherwise have left him in his will. The bonus now, after seven years’ service, has reached a very considerable sum every year and is still rising. It was obviously to Johnson’s interest that your father should live as long as possible. Moreover, they were on excellent terms, and Johnson’s record of past service is unimpeachable—he is a thoroughly skilled and faithful valet attendant.’ He paused. ‘We do not suspect Johnson.’ Philip replied tonelessly: ‘I see.’ ‘Now, Mr Leonides, perhaps you will give me a detailed account of your own movements on the day of your father’s death?’ ‘Certainly, Chief Inspector. I was here, in this room, all that day—with the exception of meals, of course.’ ‘Did you see your father at all?’ ‘I said good morning to him after breakfast as was my custom.’ ‘Were you alone with him then?’ ‘My—er—stepmother was in the room.’ ‘Did he seem quite as usual?’ With a slight hint of irony, Philip replied: ‘He showed no foreknowledge that he was to be murdered that day.’ ‘Is your father’s portion of the house entirely separate from this?’ ‘Yes, the only access to it is through the door in the hall.’ ‘Is that door kept locked?’ ‘No.’ ‘Never?’ ‘I have never known it to be so.’ ‘Anyone could go freely between that part of the house and this?’ ‘Certainly. It was only separate from the point of view of domestic convenience.’ ‘How did you first hear of your father’s death?’ ‘My brother Roger, who occupies the west wing of the floor above, came rushing down to tell me that my father had had a sudden seizure. He had difficulty in breathing and seemed very ill.’ ‘What did you do?’ ‘I telephoned through to the doctor, which nobody seemed to have thought of doing. The doctor was out—but I left a message for him to come as soon as possible. I then went upstairs.’ ‘And then?’ ‘My father was clearly very ill. He died before the doctor came.’ There was no emotion in Philip’s voice. It was a simple statement of fact. ‘Where was the rest of your family?’ ‘My wife was in London. She returned shortly afterwards. Sophia was also absent, I believe. The two younger ones, Eustace and Josephine, were at home.’ ‘I hope you won’t misunderstand me, Mr Leonides, if I ask you exactly how your father’s death will affect your financial position.’ ‘I quite appreciate that you want to know all the facts. My father made us financially independent a great many years ago. My brother he made chairman and principal shareholder of Associated Catering—his largest company, and put the management of it entirely in his hands. He made over to me what he considered an equivalent sum—actually I think it was a hundred and fifty thousand pounds in various bonds and securities—so that I could use the capital as I chose. He also settled very generous amounts on my two sisters, who have since died.’ ‘But he left himself still a very rich man?’ ‘No, actually he only retained for himself a comparatively modest income. He said it would give him an interest in life. Since that time’—for the first time a faint smile creased Philip’s lips—‘he has become, as the result of various undertakings, an even richer man than he was before.’ ‘Your brother and yourself came here to live. That was not the result of any financial—difficulties?’ ‘Certainly not. It was a mere matter of convenience. My father always told us that we were welcome to make a home with him. For various domestic reasons this was a convenient thing for me to do. ‘I was also,’ added Philip deliberately, ‘extremely fond of my father. I came here with my family in 1937. I pay no rent, but I pay my proportion of the rates.’ ‘And your brother?’ ‘My brother came here as a result of the blitz, when his house in London was bombed in 1943.’ ‘Now, Mr Leonides, have you any idea what your father’s testamentary dispositions are?’ ‘A very clear idea. He re-made his will in 1946. My father was not a secretive man. He had a great sense of family. He held a family conclave at which his solicitor was also present and who, at his request, made clear to us the terms of the will. These terms I expect you already know. Mr Gaitskill will doubtless have informed you. Roughly, a sum of a hundred thousand pounds free of duty was left to my stepmother in addition to her already very generous marriage settlement. The residue of his property was divided into three portions, one to myself, one to my brother, and a third in trust for the three grandchildren. The estate is a large one, but the death duties, of course, will be very heavy.’ ‘Any bequests to servants or to charity?’ ‘No bequests of any kind. The wages paid to servants were increased annually if they remained in his service.’ ‘You are not—you will excuse my asking—in actual need of money, Mr Leonides?’ ‘Income tax, as you know, is somewhat heavy, Chief Inspector—but my income amply suffices for my needs—and for my wife’s. Moreover, my father frequently made us all very generous gifts, and had any emergency arisen, he would have come to the rescue immediately.’ Philip added coldly and clearly: ‘I can assure you that I had no financial reason for desiring my father’s death, Chief Inspector.’ ‘I am very sorry, Mr Leonides, if you think I suggested anything of the kind. But we have to get at all the facts. Now I’m afraid I must ask you some rather delicate questions. They refer to the relations between your father and his wife. Were they on happy terms together?’ ‘As far as I know, perfectly.’ ‘No quarrels?’ ‘I do not think so.’ ‘There was a—great disparity in age?’ ‘There was.’ ‘Did you—excuse me—approve of your father’s second marriage?’ ‘My approval was not asked.’ ‘That is not an answer, Mr Leonides.’ ‘Since you press the point, I will say that I considered the marriage unwise.’ ‘Did you remonstrate with your father about it?’ ‘When I heard of it, it was an accomplished fact.’ ‘Rather a shock to you—eh?’ Philip did not reply. ‘Was there any bad feeling about the matter?’ ‘My father was at perfect liberty to do as he pleased.’ ‘Your relations with Mrs Leonides have been amicable?’ ‘Perfectly.’ ‘You are on friendly terms with her?’ ‘We very seldom meet.’ Chief Inspector Taverner shifted his ground. ‘Can you tell me something about Mr Laurence Brown?’ ‘I’m afraid I can’t. He was engaged by my father.’ ‘But he was engaged to teach your children, Mr Leonides.’ ‘True. My son was a sufferer from infantile paralysis—fortunately a light case—and it was considered not advisable to send him to a public school. My father suggested that he and my young daughter Josephine should have a private tutor—the choice at the time was rather limited—since the tutor in question must be ineligible for military service. This young man’s credentials were satisfactory, my father and my aunt (who has always looked after the children’s welfare) were satisfied, and I acquiesced. I may add that I have no fault to find with his teaching, which has been conscientious and adequate.’ ‘His living quarters are in your father’s part of the house, not here?’ ‘There was more room up there.’ ‘Have you ever noticed—I am sorry to ask this—any signs of intimacy between Laurence Brown and your stepmother?’ ‘I have had no opportunity of observing anything of the kind.’ ‘Have you heard any gossip or tittle-tattle on the subject?’ ‘I don’t listen to gossip or tittle-tattle, Chief Inspector.’ ‘Very creditable,’ said Inspector Taverner. ‘So you’ve seen no evil, heard no evil, and aren’t speaking any evil?’ ‘If you like to put it that way, Chief Inspector.’ Inspector Taverner got up. ‘Well,’ he said, ‘thank you very much, Mr Leonides.’ I followed him unobtrusively out of the room. ‘Whew,’ said Taverner, ‘he’s a cold fish!’ CHAPTER 7 (#ulink_ab3c0155-eedb-5d39-b85b-7c1b63c1c936) ‘And now,’ said Taverner, ‘we’ll go and have a word with Mrs Philip. Magda West, her stage name is.’ ‘Is she any good?’ I asked. ‘I know her name, and I believe I’ve seen her in various shows, but I can’t remember when and where.’ ‘She’s one of those Near Successes,’ said Taverner. ‘She’s starred once or twice in the West End, she’s made quite a name for herself in repertory—she plays a lot for the little highbrow theatres and the Sunday clubs. The truth is, I think, she’s been handicapped by not having to earn her living at it. She’s been able to pick and choose, and to go where she likes and occasionally to put up the money and finance a show where she’s fancied a certain part—usually the last part in the world to suit her. Result is, she’s receded a bit into the amateur class rather than the professional. She’s good, mind you, especially in comedy—but managers don’t like her much—they say she’s too independent, and she’s a troublemaker—foments rows and enjoys a bit of mischief-making. I don’t know how much of it is true—but she’s not too popular amongst her fellow artists.’ Sophia came out of the drawing-room and said: ‘My mother is in here, Chief Inspector.’ I followed Taverner into the big drawing-room. For a moment I hardly recognized the woman who sat on the brocaded settee. The Titian hair was piled high on her head in an Edwardian coiffure, and she was dressed in a well-cut dark-grey coat and skirt with a delicately pleated pale mauve shirt fastened at the neck by a small cameo brooch. For the first time I was aware of the charm of her delightfully tip-tilted nose. I was faintly reminded of Athene Seyler—and it seemed quite impossible to believe that this was the tempestuous creature in the peach négligé. ‘Inspector Taverner?’ she said. ‘Do come in and sit down. Will you smoke? This is a most terrible business. I simply feel at the moment that I just can’t take it in.’ Her voice was low and emotionless, the voice of a person determined at all costs to display self-control. She went on: ‘Please tell me if I can help you in any way.’ ‘Thank you, Mrs Leonides. Where were you at the time of the tragedy?’ ‘I suppose I must have been driving down from London. I’d lunched that day at the Ivy with a friend. Then we’d gone to a dress show. We had a drink with some other friends at the Berkeley. Then I started home. When I got here everything was in commotion. It seemed my father-in-law had had a sudden seizure. He was—dead.’ Her voice trembled just a little. ‘You were fond of your father-in-law?’ ‘I was devoted—’ Her voice rose. Sophia adjusted, very slightly, the angle of the Degas picture. Magda’s voice dropped to its former subdued tone. ‘I was very fond of him,’ she said in a quiet voice. ‘We all were. He was—very good to us.’ ‘Did you get on well with Mrs Leonides?’ ‘We didn’t see very much of Brenda.’ ‘Why was that?’ ‘Well, we hadn’t much in common. Poor dear Brenda. Life must have been hard for her sometimes.’ Again Sophia fiddled with the Degas. ‘Indeed? In what way?’ ‘Oh, I don’t know.’ Magda shook her head, with a sad little smile. ‘Was Mrs Leonides happy with her husband?’ ‘Oh, I think so.’ ‘No quarrels?’ Again the slight smiling shake of the head. ‘I really don’t know, Inspector. Their part of the house is quite separate.’ ‘She and Mr Laurence Brown were very friendly, were they not?’ Magda Leonides stiffened. Her eyes opened reproachfully at Taverner. ‘I don’t think,’ she said with dignity, ‘that you ought to ask me things like that. Brenda was quite friendly to everyone. She is really a very amiable sort of person.’ ‘Do you like Mr Laurence Brown?’ ‘He’s very quiet. Quite nice, but you hardly know he’s there. I haven’t really seen very much of him.’ ‘Is his teaching satisfactory?’ ‘I suppose so. I really wouldn’t know. Philip seems quite satisfied.’ Taverner essayed some shock tactics. ‘I’m sorry to ask you this, but in your opinion was there anything in the nature of a love affair between Mr Brown and Mrs Brenda Leonides?’ Magda got up. She was very much the grande dame. ‘I have never seen any evidence of anything of that kind,’ she said. ‘I don’t think really, Inspector, that that is a question you ought to ask me. She was my father-in-law’s wife.’ I almost applauded. The Chief Inspector also rose. ‘More a question for the servants?’ he suggested. Magda did not answer. ‘Thank you, Mrs Leonides,’ said the Inspector and went out. ‘You did that beautifully, darling,’ said Sophia to her mother warmly. Magda twisted up a curl reflectively behind her right ear and looked at herself in the glass. ‘Ye-es,’ she said, ‘I think it was the right way to play it.’ Sophia looked at me. ‘Oughtn’t you,’ she asked, ‘to go with the Inspector?’ ‘Look here, Sophia, what am I supposed—’ I stopped. I could not very well ask outright in front of Sophia’s mother exactly what my role was supposed to be. Magda Leonides had so far evinced no interest in my presence at all, except as a useful recipient of an exit line on daughters. I might be a reporter, her daughter’s fiancé, or an obscure hanger-on of the police force, or even an undertaker—to Magda Leonides they would one and all come under the general heading of audience. Looking down at her feet, Mrs Leonides said with dissatisfaction: ‘These shoes are wrong. Frivolous.’ Obeying Sophia’s imperious wave of the head, I hurried after Taverner. I caught him up in the outer hall just going through the door to the stairway. ‘Just going up to see the elder brother,’ he explained. I put my problem to him without more ado. ‘Look here, Taverner, who am I supposed to be?’ He looked surprised. ‘Who are you supposed to be?’ ‘Yes, what am I doing here in this house? If anyone asks me, what do I say?’ ‘Oh I see.’ He considered for a moment. Then he smiled. ‘Has anybody asked you?’ ‘Well—no.’ ‘Then why not leave it at that. Never explain. That’s a very good motto. Especially in a house upset like this house is. Everyone is far too full of their own private worries and fears to be in a questioning mood. They’ll take you for granted so long as you just seem sure of yourself. It’s a great mistake ever to say anything when you needn’t. H’m, now we go through this door and up the stairs. Nothing locked. Of course you realize, I expect, that these questions I’m asking are all a lot of hooey! Doesn’t matter a hoot who was in the house and who wasn’t, or where they all were on that particular day—’ ‘Then why—’ He went on: ‘Because it at least gives me a chance to look at them all, and size them up, and hear what they’ve got to say, and to hope that, quite by chance, somebody might give me a useful pointer.’ He was silent a moment and then murmured: ‘I bet Mrs Magda Leonides could spill a mouthful if she chose.’ ‘Would it be reliable?’ I asked. ‘Oh no,’ said Taverner, ‘it wouldn’t be reliable. But it might start a possible line of inquiry. Everybody in the damned house had means and opportunity. What I want is a motive.’ Конец ознакомительного фрагмента. Текст предоставлен ООО «ЛитРес». Прочитайте эту книгу целиком, купив полную легальную версию (https://www.litres.ru/agata-kristi/crooked-house/?lfrom=334617187) на ЛитРес. 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