The Witness for the Prosecution: And Other Stories Agatha Christie Agatha Christie’s classic short story collection, published to tie-in with a new BBC TV adaptation of the book’s most enduring and shocking thriller, The Witness for the Prosecution.1920s London. A murder, brutal and bloodthirsty, has stained the plush carpets of a handsome London townhouse. The victim is the glamorous and enormously rich Emily French. All the evidence points to Leonard Vole, a young chancer to whom the heiress left her vast fortune and who ruthlessly took her life. At least, this is the story that Emily’s dedicated housekeeper Janet Mackenzie stands by in court. Leonard however, is adamant that his partner, the enigmatic chorus girl Romaine, can prove his innocence. Copyright (#ulink_968931c5-87a2-54c0-962d-8cd473cbc2d2) Published by HarperCollinsPublishers Ltd 1 London Bridge Street London SE1 9GF www.harpercollins.co.uk (http://www.harpercollins.co.uk) ‘The Witness for the Prosecution’, ‘The Fourth Man’, ‘The Mystery of the Blue Jar’, ‘The Red Signal’, ‘S.O.S.’ and ‘Wireless’ previously published in the UK in The Hound of Death (1933). ‘Accident’, ‘Mr Eastwood’s Aventure’, ‘Philomel Cottage’ and ‘Sing a Song of Sixpence’ previously published in the UK in The Listerdale Mystery (1934). ‘The Second Gong’ previously published in the UK in Problem at Pollensa Bay (1991). ‘Poirot and the Regatta Mystery’ previously published in the UK in Hercule Poirot: The Complete Short Stories (2008). Witness for the Prosecution®, Agatha Christie®, Poirot® and the Agatha Christie Signature are registered trade marks of Agatha Christie Limited in the UK and elsewhere. This collection copyright © Agatha Christie Limited 2016 All rights reserved. www.agathachristie.com (http://www.agathachristie.com) Cover layout design © HarperCollinsPublishers Ltd 2016 Cover photographs by Todd Anthony (Kim Cattrall) and Robert Viglasky © Agatha Christie Productions and Mammoth Screen 2016 From the major BBC series The Witness for the Prosecution starring Kim Cattrall, Billy Howle, Toby Jones and Andrea Riseborough 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: 9780008201258 Ebook Edition © December 2016 ISBN: 9780008201265 Version: 2017-09-13 Contents Cover (#u8169a72a-0782-52b5-a3ff-4ccce20f3558) Title Page (#uf9b71289-1ed4-50fd-8b3e-29239370d10f) Copyright (#u030a1193-8812-5a9f-be0b-8218bcc3b179) Introduction (#uc1091b7c-d541-5c59-b7ca-b6eb612c0df1) 1. The Witness for the Prosecution (#u80cb489d-1f4f-515e-b4dd-0ee851d9e4df) 2. Accident (#ua07919d2-493e-535d-97a7-263032e897cd) 3. The Fourth Man (#u4abb2d1d-02c9-5450-a8b9-60b49631a835) 4. The Mystery of the Blue Jar (#litres_trial_promo) 5. Mr Eastwood’s Adventure (#litres_trial_promo) 6. Philomel Cottage (#litres_trial_promo) 7. The Red Signal (#litres_trial_promo) 8. The Second Gong (#litres_trial_promo) 9. Sing a Song of Sixpence (#litres_trial_promo) 10. S.O.S. (#litres_trial_promo) 11. Wireless (#litres_trial_promo) 12. Poirot and the Regatta Mystery (#litres_trial_promo) Footnote (#litres_trial_promo) Also by Agatha Christie (#litres_trial_promo) About the Publisher (#litres_trial_promo) Introduction (#ulink_b152fe83-b755-52fd-aa65-f5e274f22b7c) I should come clean from the start. Until a few years ago, I had never read anything by Agatha Christie, nor had I ever watched one of the many adaptations of her novels. I’d seen bits of them, yes, but watched them from beginning to end, no. I’d walked past the St Martin’s Theatre, where The Mousetrap has been running for over 60 years, hundreds of times, stepping into the street to avoid the queues on the pavement. The name Agatha Christie was wholly familiar to me and so I thought I knew what she was all about: vicarages and village greens, the Orient Express and the Nile, country houses, clipped accents and a corpse on the floor. ‘Murder!’ somebody shrieks, but the murder really serves as catalyst for the ludic delights of the mystery and an abundance of cryptic clues that only the outsiders – such as the sharp-eyed and sharp-tongued spinster Miss Jane Marple or the extravagantly moustachioed Belgian detective Hercule Poirot – can unravel. It’s entertainment. Cosy. The epitome of a particular nostalgia-laden Englishness. The mystery is satisfactorily resolved, the villain is identified and the status quo restored. Everything is alright in The End. That is what I thought. Then I was asked to read And Then There Were None to adapt it for the BBC, and the savagery of the novel knocked me sideways. Ten strangers are invited to a remote island by a mysterious host. Archetypal characters: the Doctor, the General, the Detective, the Judge, the Schoolmistress, the Spinster, the Butler, like pieces set out for a board game. A recorded voice accuses them all of murder and names their victims. One by one, the characters die, the manner of their deaths in keeping with a chilling nursery rhyme. They search for the murderer but there is no one else on the island. The killer is one of them. But which one? And Then There Were None is many things: the ultimate locked-room mystery; a nerve-shredding psychological thriller; a forensic disquisition on the nature of guilt; a portrait of a psychopath … and despite the flashes of mordant wit, it is terrifying. Ten isolated and paranoid characters, facing a brutal and remorseless reckoning from which there is no possible mitigation, no chance to plead and nowhere to hide. No sleuth will arrive to interpret the clues, apprehend the villain and restore order, and the only thing you can do is try desperately to survive. Cosy is the very last thing it is. It also struck me that this is a novel of its time. Written and published in 1939, as the world was about to be precipitated into another cataclysmic war, the story felt on the very edge of the chaos and slaughter of the Second World War and, simultaneously, shockingly contemporary. It also felt profoundly subversive. Following And Then There Were None, I was asked to read The Witness for the Prosecution for a two-hour BBC adaptation. It is a story of sex, money, deceit, performance and murder with the most glorious, sleight-of-hand twist. It has all the elements of classic Noir – murky motives, an enigmatic femme fatale and a seemingly decent man drawn deep into the web. It is set (as are many of the stories in this collection) in the deeply divided 1920s, an era of giddy hedonistic excess, champagne, shingled hair, the sizzle and thrill of jazz for some but grinding penury and want for most. It’s a world of grimy boarding houses, dank streets thick with chill fog, flickering gaslights and the cold clear light of the courtroom. The shadow of the First World War, with its seismic upheavals, ruptured certainties, scars and horrors, looms darkly. In the TV adaptation Leonard Vole, the penniless young man accused of seducing and manipulating the wealthy, indulgent Emily French into making her will in his favour, and then murdering her, tells his pedantic solicitor John Mayhew that he hadn’t been able to ‘settle to anything, not since service’. This detail thrums with battle trauma. Romaine, a Viennese actress and the only person who can speak in Vole’s defence, is considered to have got her ‘hooks’ into Vole to get herself out of the scorched ruins of Europe. She is a ‘dangerous woman’, thinks Mayhew, ‘very dangerous.’ He has no idea. The story is rife with the bat-squeaks of transgression. The relationship between Emily French and Leonard Vole that Vole describes as motherly could equally be perceived as sexual. Janet the maid is described as so consumed with loathing and jealousy that you wonder at the dynamic of the household that Vole becomes a part of. Even Mayhew, with his dry little cough and his pince-nez and his adherence to ‘normal procedure’, isn’t immune to transgression. He is fascinated by Romaine to the point of obsession. His stuffy legal language is abandoned for eroticism during her very public humiliation; her ‘exquisite body’, how she flames and flaunts herself ‘like a tropical flower’. You can’t help but feel how much he’s enjoying watching Romaine break while the rest of the court judges her. The scarlet woman – not so dangerous now. The twist, when it comes, explodes like a bomb. The law is flawed. Justice is entirely fallible, driven by emotion, and emotions are easily manipulated. It’s not the truth that matters, Christie seems to suggest, but performance. Performance is everything. Running throughout Christie’s work is the theme of performance, and the identities people inhabit to hide their true selves and their motives. The characters in And Then There Were None look at each other, the familiar archetypes, and wonder with horror who they really are and what they are capable of, now that they see behind the facade of wealth, sex, faith and status. The same is true of the characters in these short stories. All human interactions, between men and women, between parents and children, between old friends, are loaded with menace. ‘Philomel Cottage’, the idyllic home of passionate newlyweds, slowly turns into Bluebeard’s Castle with a young wife living in fear of her new husband. The forceful bonhomie of the family atmosphere in ‘S.O.S.’ is taut with threat. Ordinary objects and daily rituals shimmer with malevolence. Goodness and human decency are no protection, rather they mark you out as vulnerable and easy prey. In one of the cruellest stories, ‘The Mystery of the Blue Jar’, a cheerful young man and avid golfer spirals into madness and hallucination because he believes he has heard a woman’s helpless scream of ‘Murder!’ He meets people whom he trusts to help him and who instead are the architects of his despair and dislocation. In ‘The Red Signal’ one of the characters observes that ‘the man […] or woman who is to all appearance perfectly normal may be in reality a poignant source of danger to the community.’ In other words, trust no one. Not a single soul. You do not know who anyone really is. ‘Perfectly normal.’ Your neighbours. The people you see every day. Your family. The woman sitting next to you on the train. They look like you. They talk like you. They pass. They fit in but they could change at any moment and you don’t know when. And they are sizing you up to see what they can gain and how they’re going to get away with it. What I find astonishing about this is the pervasive queasy tensions, the paranoia and simmering violence. Yes, as murder mysteries they should be tense and have the edge of violence, but there’s something else going on here too. All writers absorb the preoccupations of their times, we can’t help it, and what gives Christie’s best novels and stories their contemporary urgency for me is the way she takes the pulse of her times and finds it thready, anxious and febrile. Englishness itself is being dissected. The old certainties are crumbling. The status quo is not restored, everything is not going to be alright in The End. Faith, the law, status, privilege and profession are thin disguises and they are no protection against smiling predators, spilled blood and lives lost. We are all capable of terrible things. Danger is everywhere. You do not know who anyone truly is, if the cocktail they’re handing you is safe to drink, if the candlestick they’re polishing could be used as a weapon, if they will consider your life a fair trade-off for their ambition … You just do not know. So trust no one. Not even yourself … Because the predator might even be you. SARAH PHELPS 2016 The Witness for the Prosecution (#ulink_6dfe7a63-f7ad-5112-aaca-9525da40e78a) Mr Mayherne adjusted his pince-nez and cleared his throat with a little dry-as-dust cough that was wholly typical of him. Then he looked again at the man opposite him, the man charged with wilful murder. Mr Mayherne was a small man precise in manner, neatly, not to say foppishly dressed, with a pair of very shrewd and piercing grey eyes. By no means a fool. Indeed, as a solicitor, Mr Mayherne’s reputation stood very high. His voice, when he spoke to his client, was dry but not unsympathetic. ‘I must impress upon you again that you are in very grave danger, and that the utmost frankness is necessary.’ Leonard Vole, who had been staring in a dazed fashion at the blank wall in front of him, transferred his glance to the solicitor. ‘I know,’ he said hopelessly. ‘You keep telling me so. But I can’t seem to realize yet that I’m charged with murder—murder. And such a dastardly crime too.’ Mr Mayherne was practical, not emotional. He coughed again, took off his pince-nez, polished them carefully, and replaced them on his nose. Then he said: ‘Yes, yes, yes. Now, my dear Mr Vole, we’re going to make a determined effort to get you off—and we shall succeed—we shall succeed. But I must have all the facts. I must know just how damaging the case against you is likely to be. Then we can fix upon the best line of defence.’ Still the young man looked at him in the same dazed, hopeless fashion. To Mr Mayherne the case had seemed black enough, and the guilt of the prisoner assured. Now, for the first time, he felt a doubt. ‘You think I’m guilty,’ said Leonard Vole, in a low voice. ‘But, by God, I swear I’m not! It looks pretty black against me, I know that. I’m like a man caught in a net—the meshes of it all round me, entangling me whichever way I turn. But I didn’t do it, Mr Mayherne, I didn’t do it!’ In such a position a man was bound to protest his innocence. Mr Mayherne knew that. Yet, in spite of himself, he was impressed. It might be, after all, that Leonard Vole was innocent. ‘You are right, Mr Vole,’ he said gravely. ‘The case does look very black against you. Nevertheless, I accept your assurance. Now, let us get to facts. I want you to tell me in your own words exactly how you came to make the acquaintance of Miss Emily French.’ ‘It was one day in Oxford Street. I saw an elderly lady crossing the road. She was carrying a lot of parcels. In the middle of the street she dropped them, tried to recover them, found a bus was almost on top of her and just managed to reach the kerb safely, dazed and bewildered by people having shouted at her. I recovered the parcels, wiped the mud off them as best I could, re-tied the string of one, and returned them to her.’ ‘There was no question of your having saved her life?’ ‘Oh! dear me, no. All I did was to perform a common act of courtesy. She was extremely grateful, thanked me warmly, and said something about my manners not being those of most of the younger generation—I can’t remember the exact words. Then I lifted my hat and went on. I never expected to see her again. But life is full of coincidences. That very evening I came across her at a party at a friend’s house. She recognized me at once and asked that I should be introduced to her. I then found out that she was a Miss Emily French and that she lived at Cricklewood. I talked to her for some time. She was, I imagine, an old lady who took sudden violent fancies to people. She took one to me on the strength of a perfectly simple action which anyone might have performed. On leaving, she shook me warmly by the hand, and asked me to come and see her. I replied, of course, that I should be very pleased to do so, and she then urged me to name a day. I did not want particularly to go, but it would have seemed churlish to refuse, so I fixed on the following Saturday. After she had gone, I learned something about her from my friends. That she was rich, eccentric, lived alone with one maid and owned no less than eight cats.’ ‘I see,’ said Mr Mayherne. ‘The question of her being well off came up as early as that?’ ‘If you mean that I inquired—’ began Leonard Vole hotly, but Mr Mayherne stilled him with a gesture. ‘I have to look at the case as it will be presented by the other side. An ordinary observer would not have supposed Miss French to be a lady of means. She lived poorly, almost humbly. Unless you had been told the contrary, you would in all probability have considered her to be in poor circumstances—at any rate to begin with. Who was it exactly who told you that she was well off?’ ‘My friend, George Harvey, at whose house the party took place.’ ‘Is he likely to remember having done so?’ ‘I really don’t know. Of course it is some time ago now.’ ‘Quite so, Mr Vole. You see, the first aim of the prosecution will be to establish that you were in low water financially—that is true, is it not?’ Leonard Vole flushed. ‘Yes,’ he said, in a low voice. ‘I’d been having a run of infernal bad luck just then.’ ‘Quite so,’ said Mr Mayherne again. ‘That being, as I say, in low water financially, you met this rich old lady and cultivated her acquaintance assiduously. Now if we are in a position to say that you had no idea she was well off, and that you visited her out of pure kindness of heart—’ ‘Which is the case.’ ‘I dare say. I am not disputing the point. I am looking at it from the outside point of view. A great deal depends on the memory of Mr Harvey. Is he likely to remember that conversation or is he not? Could he be confused by counsel into believing that it took place later?’ Leonard Vole reflected for some minutes. Then he said steadily enough, but with a rather paler face: ‘I do not think that that line would be successful, Mr Mayherne. Several of those present heard his remark, and one or two of them chaffed me about my conquest of a rich old lady.’ The solicitor endeavoured to hide his disappointment with a wave of the hand. ‘Unfortunately,’ he said. ‘But I congratulate you upon your plain speaking, Mr Vole. It is to you I look to guide me. Your judgement is quite right. To persist in the line I spoke of would have been disastrous. We must leave that point. You made the acquaintance of Miss French, you called upon her, the acquaintanceship progressed. We want a clear reason for all this. Why did you, a young man of thirty-three, good-looking, fond of sport, popular with your friends, devote so much time to an elderly woman with whom you could hardly have anything in common?’ Leonard Vole flung out his hands in a nervous gesture. ‘I can’t tell you—I really can’t tell you. After the first visit, she pressed me to come again, spoke of being lonely and unhappy. She made it difficult for me to refuse. She showed so plainly her fondness and affection for me that I was placed in an awkward position. You see, Mr Mayherne, I’ve got a weak nature—I drift—I’m one of those people who can’t say “No.” And believe me or not, as you like, after the third or fourth visit I paid her I found myself getting genuinely fond of the old thing. My mother died when I was young, an aunt brought me up, and she too died before I was fifteen. If I told you that I genuinely enjoyed being mothered and pampered, I dare say you’d only laugh.’ Mr Mayherne did not laugh. Instead he took off his pince-nez again and polished them, always a sign with him that he was thinking deeply. ‘I accept your explanation, Mr Vole,’ he said at last. ‘I believe it to be psychologically probable. Whether a jury would take that view of it is another matter. Please continue your narrative. When was it that Miss French first asked you to look into her business affairs?’ ‘After my third or fourth visit to her. She understood very little of money matters, and was worried about some investments.’ Mr Mayherne looked up sharply. ‘Be careful, Mr Vole. The maid, Janet Mackenzie, declares that her mistress was a good woman of business and transacted all her own affairs, and this is borne out by the testimony of her bankers.’ ‘I can’t help that,’ said Vole earnestly. ‘That’s what she said to me.’ Mr Mayherne looked at him for a moment or two in silence. Though he had no intention of saying so, his belief in Leonard Vole’s innocence was at that moment strengthened. He knew something of the mentality of elderly ladies. He saw Miss French, infatuated with the good-looking young man, hunting about for pretexts that should bring him to the house. What more likely than that she would plead ignorance of business, and beg him to help her with her money affairs? She was enough of a woman of the world to realize that any man is slightly flattered by such an admission of his superiority. Leonard Vole had been flattered. Perhaps, too, she had not been averse to letting this young man know that she was wealthy. Emily French had been a strong-willed old woman, willing to pay her price for what she wanted. All this passed rapidly through Mr Mayherne’s mind, but he gave no indication of it, and asked instead a further question. ‘And you did handle her affairs for her at her request?’ ‘I did.’ ‘Mr Vole,’ said the solicitor, ‘I am going to ask you a very serious question, and one to which it is vital I should have a truthful answer. You were in low water financially. You had the handling of an old lady’s affairs—an old lady who according to her own statement, knew little or nothing of business. Did you at any time, or in any manner, convert to your own use the securities which you handled? Did you engage in any transaction for your own pecuniary advantage which will not bear the light of day?’ He quelled the other’s response. ‘Wait a minute before you answer. There are two courses open to us. Either we can make a feature of your probity and honesty in conducting her affairs whilst pointing out how unlikely it is that you would commit murder to obtain money which you might have obtained by such infinitely easier means. If, on the other hand, there is anything in your dealings which the prosecution will get hold of—if, to put it baldly, it can be proved that you swindled the old lady in any way, we must take the line that you had no motive for the murder, since she was already a profitable source of income to you. You perceive the distinction. Now, I beg of you, take your time before you reply.’ But Leonard Vole took no time at all. ‘My dealings with Miss French’s affairs are all perfectly fair and above board. I acted for her interests to the very best of my ability, as anyone will find who looks into the matter.’ ‘Thank you,’ said Mr Mayherne. ‘You relieve my mind very much. I pay you the compliment of believing that you are far too clever to lie to me over such an important matter.’ ‘Surely,’ said Vole eagerly, ‘the strongest point in my favour is the lack of motive. Granted that I cultivated the acquaintanceship of a rich old lady in the hope of getting money out of her—that, I gather, is the substance of what you have been saying—surely her death frustrates all my hopes?’ The solicitor looked at him steadily. Then, very deliberately, he repeated his unconscious trick with his pince-nez. It was not until they were firmly replaced on his nose that he spoke. ‘Are you not aware, Mr Vole, Miss French left a will under which you are the principal beneficiary?’ ‘What?’ The prisoner sprang to his feet. His dismay was obvious and unforced. ‘My God! What are you saying? She left her money to me?’ Mr Mayherne nodded slowly. Vole sank down again, his head in his hands. ‘You pretend you know nothing of this will?’ ‘Pretend? There’s no pretence about it. I knew nothing about it.’ ‘What would you say if I told you that the maid, Janet Mackenzie, swears that you did know? That her mistress told her distinctly that she had consulted you in the matter, and told you of her intentions?’ ‘Say? That she’s lying! No, I go too fast. Janet is an elderly woman. She was a faithful watchdog to her mistress, and she didn’t like me. She was jealous and suspicious. I should say that Miss French confided her intentions to Janet, and that Janet either mistook something she said, or else was convinced in her own mind that I had persuaded the old lady into doing it. I dare say that she believes herself now that Miss French actually told her so.’ ‘You don’t think she dislikes you enough to lie deliberately about the matter?’ Leonard Vole looked shocked and startled. ‘No, indeed! Why should she?’ ‘I don’t know,’ said Mr Mayherne thoughtfully. ‘But she’s very bitter against you.’ The wretched young man groaned again. ‘I’m beginning to see,’ he muttered. ‘It’s frightful. I made up to her, that’s what they’ll say, I got her to make a will leaving her money to me, and then I go there that night, and there’s nobody in the house—they find her the next day—oh! my God, it’s awful!’ ‘You are wrong about there being nobody in the house,’ said Mr Mayherne. ‘Janet, as you remember, was to go out for the evening. She went, but about half past nine she returned to fetch the pattern of a blouse sleeve which she had promised to a friend. She let herself in by the back door, went upstairs and fetched it, and went out again. She heard voices in the sitting-room, though she could not distinguish what they said, but she will swear that one of them was Miss French’s and one was a man’s.’ ‘At half past nine,’ said Leonard Vole. ‘At half past nine …’ He sprang to his feet. ‘But then I’m saved—saved—’ ‘What do you mean, saved?’ cried Mr Mayherne, astonished. ‘By half past nine I was at home again! My wife can prove that. I left Miss French about five minutes to nine. I arrived home about twenty past nine. My wife was there waiting for me. Oh! thank God—thank God! And bless Janet Mackenzie’s sleeve pattern.’ In his exuberance, he hardly noticed that the grave expression of the solicitor’s face had not altered. But the latter’s words brought him down to earth with a bump. ‘Who, then, in your opinion, murdered Miss French?’ ‘Why, a burglar, of course, as was thought at first. The window was forced, you remember. She was killed with a heavy blow from a crowbar, and the crowbar was found lying on the floor beside the body. And several articles were missing. But for Janet’s absurd suspicions and dislike of me, the police would never have swerved from the right track.’ ‘That will hardly do, Mr Vole,’ said the solicitor. ‘The things that were missing were mere trifles of no value, taken as a blind. And the marks on the window were not all conclusive. Besides, think for yourself. You say you were no longer in the house by half past nine. Who, then, was the man Janet heard talking to Miss French in the sitting-room? She would hardly be having an amicable conversation with a burglar?’ ‘No,’ said Vole. ‘No—’ He looked puzzled and dis couraged. ‘But anyway,’ he added with reviving spirit, ‘it lets me out. I’ve got an alibi. You must see Romaine—my wife—at once.’ ‘Certainly,’ acquiesced the lawyer. ‘I should already have seen Mrs Vole but for her being absent when you were arrested. I wired to Scotland at once, and I understand that she arrives back tonight. I am going to call upon her immediately I leave here.’ Vole nodded, a great expression of satisfaction settling down over his face. ‘Yes, Romaine will tell you. My God! it’s a lucky chance that.’ ‘Excuse me, Mr Vole, but you are very fond of your wife?’ ‘Of course.’ ‘And she of you?’ ‘Romaine is devoted to me. She’d do anything in the world for me.’ He spoke enthusiastically, but the solicitor’s heart sank a little lower. The testimony of a devoted wife—would it gain credence? ‘Was there anyone else who saw you return at nine-twenty? A maid, for instance?’ ‘We have no maid.’ ‘Did you meet anyone in the street on the way back?’ ‘Nobody I knew. I rode part of the way in a bus. The conductor might remember.’ Mr Mayherne shook his head doubtfully. ‘There is no one, then, who can confirm your wife’s testimony?’ ‘No. But it isn’t necessary, surely?’ ‘I dare say not. I dare say not,’ said Mr Mayherne hastily. ‘Now there’s just one thing more. Did Miss French know that you were a married man?’ ‘Oh, yes.’ ‘Yet you never took your wife to see her. Why was that?’ For the first time, Leonard Vole’s answer came halting and uncertain. ‘Well—I don’t know.’ ‘Are you aware that Janet Mackenzie says her mistress believed you to be single, and contemplated marrying you in the future?’ Vole laughed. ‘Absurd! There was forty years difference in age between us.’ ‘It has been done,’ said the solicitor drily. ‘The fact remains. Your wife never met Miss French?’ ‘No—’ Again the constraint. ‘You will permit me to say,’ said the lawyer, ‘that I hardly understand your attitude in the matter.’ Vole flushed, hesitated, and then spoke. ‘I’ll make a clean breast of it. I was hard up, as you know. I hoped that Miss French might lend me some money. She was fond of me, but she wasn’t at all interested in the struggles of a young couple. Early on, I found that she had taken it for granted that my wife and I didn’t get on—were living apart. Mr Mayherne—I wanted the money—for Romaine’s sake. I said nothing, and allowed the old lady to think what she chose. She spoke of my being an adopted son for her. There was never any question of marriage—that must be just Janet’s imagination.’ ‘And that is all?’ ‘Yes—that is all.’ Was there just a shade of hesitation in the words? The lawyer fancied so. He rose and held out his hand. ‘Goodbye, Mr Vole.’ He looked into the haggard young face and spoke with an unusual impulse. ‘I believe in your innocence in spite of the multitude of facts arrayed against you. I hope to prove it and vindicate you completely.’ Vole smiled back at him. ‘You’ll find the alibi is all right,’ he said cheerfully. Again he hardly noticed that the other did not respond. ‘The whole thing hinges a good deal on the testimony of Janet Mackenzie,’ said Mr Mayherne. ‘She hates you. That much is clear.’ ‘She can hardly hate me,’ protested the young man. The solicitor shook his head as he went out. ‘Now for Mrs Vole,’ he said to himself. He was seriously disturbed by the way the thing was shaping. The Voles lived in a small shabby house near Paddington Green. It was to this house that Mr Mayherne went. In answer to his ring, a big slatternly woman, obviously a charwoman, answered the door. ‘Mrs Vole? Has she returned yet?’ ‘Got back an hour ago. But I dunno if you can see her.’ ‘If you will take my card to her,’ said Mr Mayherne quietly, ‘I am quite sure that she will do so.’ The woman looked at him doubtfully, wiped her hand on her apron and took the card. Then she closed the door in his face and left him on the step outside. In a few minutes, however, she returned with a slightly altered manner. ‘Come inside, please.’ She ushered him into a tiny drawing-room. Mr Mayherne, examining a drawing on the wall, started up suddenly to face a tall pale woman who had entered so quietly that he had not heard her. ‘Mr Mayherne? You are my husband’s solicitor, are you not? You have come from him? Will you please sit down?’ Until she spoke he had not realized that she was not English. Now, observing her more closely, he noticed the high cheek-bones, the dense blue-black of the hair, and an occasional very slight movement of the hands that was distinctly foreign. A strange woman, very quiet. So quiet as to make one uneasy. From the very first Mr Mayherne was conscious that he was up against something that he did not understand. ‘Now, my dear Mrs Vole,’ he began, ‘you must not give way—’ He stopped. It was so very obvious that Romaine Vole had not the slightest intention of giving way. She was perfectly calm and composed. ‘Will you please tell me all about it?’ she said. ‘I must know everything. Do not think to spare me. I want to know the worst.’ She hesitated, then repeated in a lower tone, with a curious emphasis which the lawyer did not understand: ‘I want to know the worst.’ Mr Mayherne went over his interview with Leonard Vole. She listened attentively, nodding her head now and then. ‘I see,’ she said, when he had finished. ‘He wants me to say that he came in at twenty minutes past nine that night?’ ‘He did come in at that time?’ said Mr Mayherne sharply. ‘That is not the point,’ she said coldly. ‘Will my saying so acquit him? Will they believe me?’ Mr Mayherne was taken aback. She had gone so quickly to the core of the matter. ‘That is what I want to know,’ she said. ‘Will it be enough? Is there anyone else who can support my evidence?’ There was a suppressed eagerness in her manner that made him vaguely uneasy. ‘So far there is no one else,’ he said reluctantly. ‘I see,’ said Romaine Vole. She sat for a minute or two perfectly still. A little smile played over her lips. The lawyer’s feeling of alarm grew stronger and stronger. ‘Mrs Vole—’ he began. ‘I know what you must feel—’ ‘Do you?’ she said. ‘I wonder.’ ‘In the circumstances—’ ‘In the circumstances—I intend to play a lone hand.’ He looked at her in dismay. ‘But, my dear Mrs Vole—you are overwrought. Being so devoted to your husband—’ ‘I beg your pardon?’ The sharpness of her voice made him start. He repeated in a hesitating manner: ‘Being so devoted to your husband—’ Romaine Vole nodded slowly, the same strange smile on her lips. ‘Did he tell you that I was devoted to him?’ she asked softly. ‘Ah! yes, I can see he did. How stupid men are! Stupid—stupid—stupid—’ She rose suddenly to her feet. All the intense emotion that the lawyer had been conscious of in the atmosphere was now concentrated in her tone. ‘I hate him, I tell you! I hate him. I hate him, I hate him! I would like to see him hanged by the neck till he is dead.’ The lawyer recoiled before her and the smouldering passion in her eyes. She advanced a step nearer, and continued vehemently: ‘Perhaps I shall see it. Supposing I tell you that he did not come in that night at twenty past nine, but at twenty past ten? You say that he tells you he knew nothing about the money coming to him. Supposing I tell you he knew all about it, and counted on it, and committed murder to get it? Supposing I tell you that he admitted to me that night when he came in what he had done? That there was blood on his coat? What then? Supposing that I stand up in court and say all these things?’ Her eyes seemed to challenge him. With an effort, he concealed his growing dismay, and endeavoured to speak in a rational tone. ‘You cannot be asked to give evidence against your husband—’ ‘He is not my husband!’ The words came out so quickly that he fancied he had misunderstood her. ‘I beg your pardon? I—’ ‘He is not my husband.’ The silence was so intense that you could have heard a pin drop. ‘I was an actress in Vienna. My husband is alive but in a madhouse. So we could not marry. I am glad now.’ She nodded defiantly. ‘I should like you to tell me one thing,’ said Mr Mayherne. He contrived to appear as cool and unemotional as ever. ‘Why are you so bitter against Leonard Vole?’ She shook her head, smiling a little. ‘Yes, you would like to know. But I shall not tell you. I will keep my secret …’ Mr Mayherne gave his dry little cough and rose. ‘There seems no point in prolonging this interview,’ he remarked. ‘You will hear from me again after I have communicated with my client.’ She came closer to him, looking into his eyes with her own wonderful dark ones. ‘Tell me,’ she said, ‘did you believe—honestly—that he was innocent when you came here today?’ ‘I did,’ said Mr Mayherne. ‘You poor little man,’ she laughed. ‘And I believe so still,’ finished the lawyer. ‘Good evening, madam.’ He went out of the room, taking with him the memory of her startled face. ‘This is going to be the devil of a business,’ said Mr Mayherne to himself as he strode along the street. Extraordinary, the whole thing. An extraordinary woman. A very dangerous woman. Women were the devil when they got their knife into you. What was to be done? That wretched young man hadn’t a leg to stand upon. Of course, possibly he did commit the crime … ‘No,’ said Mr Mayherne to himself. ‘No—there’s almost too much evidence against him. I don’t believe this woman. She was trumping up the whole story. But she’ll never bring it into court.’ He wished he felt more conviction on the point. The police court proceedings were brief and dramatic. The principal witnesses for the prosecution were Janet Mackenzie, maid to the dead woman, and Romaine Heilger, Austrian subject, the mistress of the prisoner. Mr Mayherne sat in the court and listened to the damning story that the latter told. It was on the lines she had indicated to him in their interview. The prisoner reserved his defence and was committed for trial. Mr Mayherne was at his wits’ end. The case against Leonard Vole was black beyond words. Even the famous KC who was engaged for the defence held out little hope. ‘If we can shake that Austrian woman’s testimony, we might do something,’ he said dubiously. ‘But it’s a bad business.’ Mr Mayherne had concentrated his energies on one single point. Assuming Leonard Vole to be speaking the truth, and to have left the murdered woman’s house at nine o’clock, who was the man whom Janet heard talking to Miss French at half past nine? The only ray of light was in the shape of a scapegrace nephew who had in bygone days cajoled and threatened his aunt out of various sums of money. Janet Mackenzie, the solicitor learned, had always been attached to this young man, and had never ceased urging his claims upon her mistress. It certainly seemed possible that it was this nephew who had been with Miss French after Leonard Vole left, especially as he was not to be found in any of his old haunts. In all other directions, the lawyer’s researches had been negative in their result. No one had seen Leonard Vole entering his own house, or leaving that of Miss French. No one had seen any other man enter or leave the house in Cricklewood. All inquiries drew blank. It was the eve of the trial when Mr Mayherne received the letter which was to lead his thoughts in an entirely new direction. It came by the six o’clock post. An illiterate scrawl, written on common paper and enclosed in a dirty envelope with the stamp stuck on crooked. Mr Mayherne read it through once or twice before he grasped its meaning. Dear Mister: Youre the lawyer chap wot acks for the young feller. if you want that painted foreign hussy showd up for wot she is an her pack of lies you come to 16 Shaw’s Rents Stepney tonight. It ull cawst you 2 hundred quid Arsk for Missis Mogson. The solicitor read and re-read this strange epistle. It might, of course, be a hoax, but when he thought it over, he became increasingly convinced that it was genuine, and also convinced that it was the one hope for the prisoner. The evidence of Romaine Heilger damned him completely, and the line the defence meant to pursue, the line that the evidence of a woman who had admittedly lived an immoral life was not to be trusted, was at best a weak one. Mr Mayherne’s mind was made up. It was his duty to save his client at all costs. He must go to Shaw’s Rents. He had some difficulty in finding the place, a ramshackle building in an evil-smelling slum, but at last he did so, and on inquiry for Mrs Mogson was sent up to a room on the third floor. On this door he knocked and getting no answer, knocked again. At this second knock, he heard a shuffling sound inside, and presently the door was opened cautiously half an inch and a bent figure peered out. Suddenly the woman, for it was a woman, gave a chuckle and opened the door wider. ‘So it’s you, dearie,’ she said, in a wheezy voice. ‘Nobody with you, is there? No playing tricks? That’s right. You can come in—you can come in.’ With some reluctance the lawyer stepped across the threshold into the small dirty room, with its flickering gas jet. There was an untidy unmade bed in a corner, a plain deal table and two rickety chairs. For the first time Mr Mayherne had a full view of the tenant of this unsavoury apartment. She was a woman of middle age, bent in figure, with a mass of untidy grey hair and a scarf wound tightly round her face. She saw him looking at this and laughed again, the same curious toneless chuckle. ‘Wondering why I hide my beauty, dear? He, he, he. Afraid it may tempt you, eh? But you shall see—you shall see.’ She drew aside the scarf and the lawyer recoiled involuntarily before the almost formless blur of scarlet. She replaced the scarf again. ‘So you’re not wanting to kiss me, dearie? He, he, I don’t wonder. And yet I was a pretty girl once—not so long ago as you’d think, either. Vitriol, dearie, vitriol—that’s what did that. Ah! but I’ll be even with ’em—’ She burst into a hideous torrent of profanity which Mr Mayherne tried vainly to quell. She fell silent at last, her hands clenching and unclenching themselves nervously. ‘Enough of that,’ said the lawyer sternly. ‘I’ve come here because I have reason to believe you can give me information which will clear my client, Leonard Vole. Is that the case?’ Her eyes leered at him cunningly. ‘What about the money, dearie?’ she wheezed. ‘Two hundred quid, you remember.’ ‘It is your duty to give evidence, and you can be called upon to do so.’ ‘That won’t do, dearie. I’m an old woman, and I know nothing. But you give me two hundred quid, and perhaps I can give you a hint or two. See?’ ‘What kind of hint?’ ‘What should you say to a letter? A letter from her. Never mind now how I got hold of it. That’s my business. It’ll do the trick. But I want my two hundred quid.’ Mr Mayherne looked at her coldly, and made up his mind. ‘I’ll give you ten pounds, nothing more. And only that if this letter is what you say it is.’ ‘Ten pounds?’ She screamed and raved at him. ‘Twenty,’ said Mr Mayherne, ‘and that’s my last word.’ He rose as if to go. Then, watching her closely, he drew out a pocket book, and counted out twenty one-pound notes. ‘You see,’ he said. ‘That is all I have with me. You can take it or leave it.’ But already he knew that the sight of the money was too much for her. She cursed and raved impotently, but at last she gave in. Going over to the bed, she drew something out from beneath the tattered mattress. ‘Here you are, damn you!’ she snarled. ‘It’s the top one you want.’ It was a bundle of letters that she threw to him, and Mr Mayherne untied them and scanned them in his usual cool, methodical manner. The woman, watching him eagerly, could gain no clue from his impassive face. He read each letter through, then returned again to the top one and read it a second time. Then he tied the whole bundle up again carefully. They were love letters, written by Romaine Heilger, and the man they were written to was not Leonard Vole. The top letter was dated the day of the latter’s arrest. ‘I spoke true, dearie, didn’t I?’ whined the woman. ‘It’ll do for her, that letter?’ Mr Mayherne put the letters in his pocket, then he asked a question. ‘How did you get hold of this correspondence?’ ‘That’s telling,’ she said with a leer. ‘But I know something more. I heard in court what that hussy said. Find out where she was at twenty past ten, the time she says she was at home. Ask at the Lion Road Cinema. They’ll remember—a fine upstanding girl like that—curse her!’ ‘Who is the man?’ asked Mr Mayherne. ‘There’s only a Christian name here.’ The other’s voice grew thick and hoarse, her hands clenched and unclenched. Finally she lifted one to her face. ‘He’s the man that did this to me. Many years ago now. She took him away from me—a chit of a girl she was then. And when I went after him—and went for him too—he threw the cursed stuff at me! And she laughed—damn her! I’ve had it in for her for years. Followed her, I have, spied upon her. And now I’ve got her! She’ll suffer for this, won’t she, Mr Lawyer? She’ll suffer?’ ‘She will probably be sentenced to a term of imprisonment for perjury,’ said Mr Mayherne quietly. ‘Shut away—that’s what I want. You’re going, are you? Where’s my money? Where’s that good money?’ Without a word, Mr Mayherne put down the notes on the table. Then, drawing a deep breath, he turned and left the squalid room. Looking back, he saw the old woman crooning over the money. He wasted no time. He found the cinema in Lion Road easily enough, and, shown a photograph of Romaine Heilger, the commissionaire recognized her at once. She had arrived at the cinema with a man some time after ten o’clock on the evening in question. He had not noticed her escort particularly, but he remembered the lady who had spoken to him about the picture that was showing. They stayed until the end, about an hour later. Mr Mayherne was satisfied. Romaine Heilger’s evidence was a tissue of lies from beginning to end. She had evolved it out of her passionate hatred. The lawyer wondered whether he would ever know what lay behind that hatred. What had Leonard Vole done to her? He had seemed dumbfounded when the solicitor had reported her attitude to him. He had declared earnestly that such a thing was incredible—yet it had seemed to Mr Mayherne that after the first astonishment his protests had lacked sincerity. He did know. Mr Mayherne was convinced of it. He knew, but had no intention of revealing the fact. The secret between those two remained a secret. Mr Mayherne wondered if some day he should come to learn what it was. The solicitor glanced at his watch. It was late, but time was everything. He hailed a taxi and gave an address. ‘Sir Charles must know of this at once,’ he murmured to himself as he got in. The trial of Leonard Vole for the murder of Emily French aroused widespread interest. In the first place the prisoner was young and good-looking, then he was accused of a particularly dastardly crime, and there was the further interest of Romaine Heilger, the principal witness for the prosecution. There had been pictures of her in many papers, and several fictitious stories as to her origin and history. The proceedings opened quietly enough. Various technical evidence came first. Then Janet Mackenzie was called. She told substantially the same story as before. In cross-examination counsel for the defence succeeded in getting her to contradict herself once or twice over her account of Vole’s association with Miss French. He emphasized the fact that though she had heard a man’s voice in the sitting-room that night, there was nothing to show that it was Vole who was there, and he managed to drive home a feeling that jealousy and dislike of the prisoner were at the bottom of a good deal of her evidence. Then the next witness was called. ‘Your name is Romaine Heilger?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘You are an Austrian subject?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘For the last three years you have lived with the prisoner and passed yourself off as his wife?’ Just for a moment Romaine Heilger’s eye met those of the man in the dock. Her expression held something curious and unfathomable. ‘Yes.’ The questions went on. Word by word the damning facts came out. On the night in question the prisoner had taken out a crowbar with him. He had returned at twenty minutes past ten, and had confessed to having killed the old lady. His cuffs had been stained with blood, and he had burned them in the kitchen stove. He had terrorized her into silence by means of threats. As the story proceeded, the feeling of the court which had, to begin with, been slightly favourable to the prisoner, now set dead against him. He himself sat with downcast head and moody air, as though he knew he were doomed. Yet it might have been noted that her own counsel sought to restrain Romaine’s animosity. He would have preferred her to be a more unbiased witness. Formidable and ponderous, counsel for the defence arose. He put it to her that her story was a malicious fabrication from start to finish, that she had not even been in her own house at the time in question, that she was in love with another man and was deliberately seeking to send Vole to his death for a crime he did not commit. Romaine denied these allegations with superb insolence. Then came the surprising denouement, the production of the letter. It was read aloud in court in the midst of a breathless stillness. Max, beloved, the Fates have delivered him into our hands! He has been arrested for murder—but, yes, the murder of an old lady! Leonard who would not hurt a fly! At last I shall have my revenge. The poor chicken! I shall say that he came in that night with blood upon him—that he confessed to me. I shall hang him, Max—and when he hangs he will know and realize that it was Romaine who sent him to his death. And then—happiness, Beloved! Happiness at last! There were experts present ready to swear that the handwriting was that of Romaine Heilger, but they were not needed. Confronted with the letter, Romaine broke down utterly and confessed everything. Leonard Vole had returned to the house at the time he said, twenty past nine. She had invented the whole story to ruin him. With the collapse of Romaine Heilger, the case for the Crown collapsed also. Sir Charles called his few witnesses, the prisoner himself went into the box and told his story in a manly straightforward manner, unshaken by cross-examination. The prosecution endeavoured to rally, but without great success. The judge’s summing up was not wholly favourable to the prisoner, but a reaction had set in and the jury needed little time to consider their verdict. ‘We find the prisoner not guilty.’ Leonard Vole was free! Little Mr Mayherne hurried from his seat. He must congratulate his client. He found himself polishing his pince-nez vigorously, and checked himself. His wife had told him only the night before that he was getting a habit of it. Curious things habits. People themselves never knew they had them. An interesting case—a very interesting case. That woman, now, Romaine Heilger. The case was dominated for him still by the exotic figure of Romaine Heilger. She had seemed a pale quiet woman in the house at Paddington, but in court she had flamed out against the sober background. She had flaunted herself like a tropical flower. If he closed his eyes he could see her now, tall and vehement, her exquisite body bent forward a little, her right hand clenching and unclenching itself unconsciously all the time. Curious things, habits. That gesture of hers with the hand was her habit, he supposed. Yet he had seen someone else do it quite lately. Who was it now? Quite lately— He drew in his breath with a gasp as it came back to him. The woman in Shaw’s Rents … He stood still, his head whirling. It was impossible—impossible—Yet, Romaine Heilger was an actress. The KC came up behind him and clapped him on the shoulder. ‘Congratulated our man yet? He’s had a narrow shave, you know. Come along and see him.’ But the little lawyer shook off the other’s hand. He wanted one thing only—to see Romaine Heilger face to face. He did not see her until some time later, and the place of their meeting is not relevant. ‘So you guessed,’ she said, when he had told her all that was in his mind. ‘The face? Oh! that was easy enough, and the light of that gas jet was too bad for you to see the make-up.’ ‘But why—why—’ ‘Why did I play a lone hand?’ She smiled a little, remembering the last time she had used the words. ‘Such an elaborate comedy!’ ‘My friend—I had to save him. The evidence of a woman devoted to him would not have been enough—you hinted as much yourself. But I know something of the psychology of crowds. Let my evidence be wrung from me, as an admission, damning me in the eyes of the law, and a reaction in favour of the prisoner would immediately set in.’ ‘And the bundle of letters?’ ‘One alone, the vital one, might have seemed like a—what do you call it?—put-up job.’ ‘Then the man called Max?’ ‘Never existed, my friend.’ ‘I still think,’ said little Mr Mayherne, in an aggrieved manner, ‘that we could have got him off by the—er—normal procedure.’ ‘I dared not risk it. You see, you thought he was innocent—’ ‘And you knew it? I see,’ said little Mr Mayherne. ‘My dear Mr Mayherne,’ said Romaine, ‘you do not see at all. I knew—he was guilty!’ Accident (#ulink_cd870f69-7b43-5a7c-b0cb-698954d028bf) ‘… And I tell you this—it’s the same woman—not a doubt of it!’ Captain Haydock looked into the eager, vehement face of his friend and sighed. He wished Evans would not be so positive and so jubilant. In the course of a career spent at sea, the old sea captain had learned to leave things that did not concern him well alone. His friend, Evans, late C.I.D. Inspector, had a different philosophy of life. ‘Acting on information received—’ had been his motto in early days, and he had improved upon it to the extent of finding out his own information. Inspector Evans had been a very smart, wide-awake officer, and had justly earned the promotion which had been his. Even now, when he had retired from the force, and had settled down in the country cottage of his dreams, his professional instinct was still active. ‘Don’t often forget a face,’ he reiterated complacently. ‘Mrs Anthony—yes, it’s Mrs Anthony right enough. When you said Mrs Merrowdene—I knew her at once.’ Captain Haydock stirred uneasily. The Merrowdenes were his nearest neighbours, barring Evans himself, and this identifying of Mrs Merrowdene with a former heroine of a cause célèbre distressed him. ‘It’s a long time ago,’ he said rather weakly. ‘Nine years,’ said Evans, accurately as ever. ‘Nine years and three months. You remember the case?’ ‘In a vague sort of way.’ ‘Anthony turned out to be an arsenic eater,’said Evans, ‘so they acquitted her.’ ‘Well, why shouldn’t they?’ ‘No reason in the world. Only verdict they could give on the evidence. Absolutely correct.’ ‘Then that’s all right,’ said Haydock. ‘And I don’t see what we’re bothering about.’ ‘Who’s bothering?’ ‘I thought you were.’ ‘Not at all.’ ‘The thing’s over and done with,’ summed up the captain. ‘If Mrs Merrowdene at one time of her life was unfortunate enough to be tried and acquitted for murder—’ ‘It’s not usually considered unfortunate to be acquitted,’ put in Evans. ‘You know what I mean,’ said Captain Haydock irritably. ‘If the poor lady has been through that harrowing experience, it’s no business of ours to rake it up, is it?’ Evans did not answer. ‘Come now, Evans. The lady was innocent—you’ve just said so.’ ‘I didn’t say she was innocent. I said she was acquitted.’ ‘It’s the same thing.’ ‘Not always.’ Captain Haydock, who had commenced to tap his pipe out against the side of his chair, stopped, and sat up with a very alert expression. ‘Hallo—allo—allo,’ he said. ‘The wind’s in that quarter, is it? You think she wasn’t innocent?’ ‘I wouldn’t say that. I just—don’t know. Anthony was in the habit of taking arsenic. His wife got it for him. One day, by mistake, he takes far too much. Was the mistake his or his wife’s? Nobody could tell, and the jury very properly gave her the benefit of the doubt. That’s all quite right and I’m not finding fault with it. All the same—I’d like to know.’ Captain Haydock transferred his attention to his pipe once more. ‘Well,’ he said comfortably. ‘It’s none of our business.’ ‘I’m not so sure …’ ‘But surely—’ ‘Listen to me a minute. This man, Merrowdene—in his laboratory this evening, fiddling round with tests—you remember—’ ‘Yes. He mentioned Marsh’s test for arsenic. Said you would know all about it—it was in your line—and chuckled. He wouldn’t have said that if he’d thought for one moment—’ Evans interrupted him. ‘You mean he wouldn’t have said that if he knew. They’ve been married how long—six years you told me? I bet you anything he has no idea his wife is the once notorious Mrs Anthony.’ ‘And he will certainly not know it from me,’ said Captain Haydock stiffly. Evans paid no attention, but went on: ‘You interrupted me just now. After Marsh’s test, Merrowdene heated a substance in a test-tube, the metallic residue he dissolved in water and then precipitated it by adding silver nitrate. That was a test for chlorates. A neat unassuming little test. But I chanced to read these words in a book that stood open on the table: “H SO decomposes chlorates with evolution of CL O . If heated, violent explosions occur; the mixture ought therefore to be kept cool and only very small quantities used.” Haydock stared at his friend. ‘Well, what about it?’ ‘Just this. In my profession we’ve got tests too—tests for murder. There’s adding up the facts—weighing them, dissecting the residue when you’ve allowed for prejudice and the general inaccuracy of witnesses. But there’s another test of murder—one that is fairly accurate, but rather—dangerous! A murderer is seldom content with one crime. Give him time, and a lack of suspicion, and he’ll commit another. You catch a man—has he murdered his wife or hasn’t he?—perhaps the case isn’t very black against him. Look into his past—if you find that he’s had several wives—and that they’ve all died shall we say—rather curiously?—then you know! I’m not speaking legally, you understand. I’m speaking of moral certainty. Once you know, you can go ahead looking for evidence.’ ‘Well?’ ‘I’m coming to the point. That’s all right if there is a past to look into. But suppose you catch your murderer at his or her first crime? Then that test will be one from which you get no reaction. But suppose the prisoner is acquitted—starting life under another name. Will or will not the murderer repeat the crime?’ ‘That’s a horrible idea!’ ‘Do you still say it’s none of our business?’ ‘Yes, I do. You’ve no reason to think that Mrs Merrowdene is anything but a perfectly innocent woman.’ The ex-inspector was silent for a moment. Then he said slowly: ‘I told you that we looked into her past and found nothing. That’s not quite true. There was a stepfather. As a girl of eighteen she had a fancy for some young man—and her stepfather exerted his authority to keep them apart. She and her stepfather went for a walk along a rather dangerous part of the cliff. There was an accident—the stepfather went too near the edge—it gave way, and he went over and was killed.’ ‘You don’t think—’ ‘It was an accident. Accident! Anthony’s overdose of arsenic was an accident. She’d never have been tried if it hadn’t transpired that there was another man—he sheered off, by the way. Looked as though he weren’t satisfied even if the jury were. I tell you, Haydock, where that woman is concerned I’m afraid of another—accident!’ The old captain shrugged his shoulders. ‘It’s been nine years since that affair. Why should there be another “accident”, as you call it, now?’ ‘I didn’t say now. I said some day or other. If the necessary motive arose.’ Captain Haydock shrugged his shoulders. ‘Well, I don’t know how you’re going to guard against that.’ ‘Neither do I,’ said Evans ruefully. ‘I should leave well alone,’ said Captain Haydock. ‘No good ever came of butting into other people’s affairs.’ But that advice was not palatable to the ex-inspector. He was a man of patience but determination. Taking leave of his friend, he sauntered down to the village, revolving in his mind the possibilities of some kind of successful action. Turning into the post office to buy some stamps, he ran into the object of his solicitude, George Merrowdene. The ex-chemistry professor was a small dreamy-looking man, gentle and kindly in manner, and usually completely absent-minded. He recognized the other and greeted him amicably, stooping to recover the letters that the impact had caused him to drop on the ground. Evans stooped also and, more rapid in his movements than the other, secured them first, handing them back to their owner with an apology. He glanced down at them in doing so, and the address on the topmost suddenly awakened all his suspicions anew. It bore the name of a well-known insurance firm. Instantly his mind was made up. The guileless George Merrowdene hardly realized how it came about that he and the ex-inspector were strolling down the village together, and still less could he have said how it came about that the conversation should come round to the subject of life insurance. Evans had no difficulty in attaining his object. Merrowdene of his own accord volunteered the information that he had just insured his life for his wife’s benefit, and asked Evans’s opinion of the company in question. ‘I made some rather unwise investments,’ he explained. ‘As a result my income has diminished. If anything were to happen to me, my wife would be left very badly off. This insurance will put things right.’ ‘She didn’t object to the idea?’ inquired Evans casually. ‘Some ladies do, you know. Feel it’s unlucky—that sort of thing.’ ‘Oh, Margaret is very practical,’ said Merrowdene, smiling. ‘Not at all superstitious. In fact, I believe it was her idea originally. She didn’t like my being so worried.’ Evans had got the information he wanted. He left the other shortly afterwards, and his lips were set in a grim line. The late Mr Anthony had insured his life in his wife’s favour a few weeks before his death. Accustomed to rely on his instincts, he was perfectly sure in his own mind. But how to act was another matter. He wanted, not to arrest a criminal red-handed, but to prevent a crime being committed, and that was a very different and a very much more difficult thing. All day he was very thoughtful. There was a Primrose League Fête that afternoon held in the grounds of the local squire, and he went to it, indulging in the penny dip, guessing the weight of a pig, and shying at coconuts all with the same look of abstracted concentration on his face. He even indulged in half a crown’s worth of Zara, the Crystal Gazer, smiling a little to himself as he did so, remembering his own activities against fortune-tellers in his official days. He did not pay very much heed to her sing-song droning voice—till the end of a sentence held his attention. ‘… And you will very shortly—very shortly indeed—be engaged on a matter of life or death … Life or death to one person.’ ‘Eh—what’s that?’ he asked abruptly. ‘A decision—you have a decision to make. You must be very careful—very, very careful … If you were to make a mistake—the smallest mistake—’ ‘Yes?’ The fortune-teller shivered. Inspector Evans knew it was all nonsense, but he was nevertheless impressed. ‘I warn you—you must not make a mistake. If you do, I see the result clearly—a death …’ Odd, damned odd. A death. Fancy her lighting upon that! ‘If I make a mistake a death will result? Is that it?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘In that case,’ said Evans, rising to his feet and handing over half a crown, ‘I mustn’t make a mistake, eh?’ He spoke lightly enough, but as he went out of the tent, his jaw set determinedly. Easy to say—not so easy to be sure of doing. He mustn’t make a slip. A life, a vulnerable human life depended on it. And there was no one to help him. He looked across at the figure of his friend Haydock in the distance. No help there. ‘Leave things alone,’ was Haydock’s motto. And that wouldn’t do here. Haydock was talking to a woman. She moved away from him and came towards Evans and the inspector recognized her. It was Mrs Merrowdene. On an impulse he put himself deliberately in her path. Mrs Merrowdene was rather a fine-looking woman. She had a broad serene brow, very beautiful brown eyes, and a placid expression. She had the look of an Italian madonna which she heightened by parting her hair in the middle and looping it over her ears. She had a deep rather sleepy voice. She smiled up at Evans, a contented welcoming smile. ‘I thought it was you, Mrs Anthony—I mean Mrs Merrowdene,’ he said glibly. He made the slip deliberately, watching her without seeming to do so. He saw her eyes widen, heard the quick intake of her breath. But her eyes did not falter. She gazed at him steadily and proudly. ‘I was looking for my husband,’ she said quietly. ‘Have you seen him anywhere about?’ ‘He was over in that direction when I last saw him.’ They went side by side in the direction indicated, chatting quietly and pleasantly. The inspector felt his admiration mounting. What a woman! What self-command. What wonderful poise. A remarkable woman—and a very dangerous one. He felt sure—a very dangerous one. He still felt very uneasy, though he was satisfied with his initial step. He had let her know that he recognized her. That would put her on her guard. She would not dare attempt anything rash. There was the question of Merrowdene. If he could be warned … They found the little man absently contemplating a china doll which had fallen to his share in the penny dip. His wife suggested going home and he agreed eagerly. Mrs Merrowdene turned to the inspector: ‘Won’t you come back with us and have a quiet cup of tea, Mr Evans?’ Was there a faint note of challenge in her voice? He thought there was. ‘Thank you, Mrs Merrowdene. I should like to very much.’ They walked there, talking together of pleasant ordinary things. The sun shone, a breeze blew gently, everything around them was pleasant and ordinary. Their maid was out at the fête, Mrs Merrowdene explained, when they arrived at the charming old-world cottage. She went into her room to remove her hat, returning to set out tea and boil the kettle on a little silver lamp. From a shelf near the fireplace she took three small bowls and saucers. ‘We have some very special Chinese tea,’ she explained. ‘And we always drink it in the Chinese manner—out of bowls, not cups.’ She broke off, peered into a bowl and exchanged it for another with an exclamation of annoyance. ‘George—it’s too bad of you. You’ve been taking these bowls again.’ ‘I’m sorry, dear,’ said the professor apologetically. ‘They’re such a convenient size. The ones I ordered haven’t come.’ ‘One of these days you’ll poison us all,’ said his wife with a half-laugh. ‘Mary finds them in the laboratory and brings them back here, and never troubles to wash them out unless they’ve anything very noticeable in them. Why, you were using one of them for potassium cyanide the other day. Really, George, it’s frightfully dangerous.’ Merrowdene looked a little irritated. ‘Mary’s no business to remove things from the laboratory. She’s not to touch anything there.’ ‘But we often leave our teacups there after tea. How is she to know? Be reasonable, dear.’ The professor went into his laboratory, murmuring to himself, and with a smile Mrs Merrowdene poured boiling water on the tea and blew out the flame of the little silver lamp. Evans was puzzled. Yet a glimmering of light penetrated to him. For some reason or other, Mrs Merrowdene was showing her hand. Was this to be the ‘accident’? Was she speaking of all this so as deliberately to prepare her alibi beforehand? So that when, one day, the ‘accident’ happened, he would be forced to give evidence in her favour. Stupid of her, if so, because before that— Suddenly he drew in his breath. She had poured the tea into the three bowls. One she set before him, one before herself, the other she placed on a little table by the fire near the chair her husband usually sat in, and it was as she placed this last one on the table that a little strange smile curved round her lips. It was the smile that did it. He knew! A remarkable woman—a dangerous woman. No waiting—no preparation. This afternoon—this very after-noon—with him here as witness. The boldness of it took his breath away. It was clever—it was damnably clever. He would be able to prove nothing. She counted on his not suspecting—simply because it was ‘so soon’. A woman of lightning rapidity of thought and action. He drew a deep breath and leaned forward. ‘Mrs Merrowdene, I’m a man of queer whims. Will you be very kind and indulge me in one of them?’ She looked inquiring but unsuspicious. He rose, took the bowl from in front of her and crossed to the little table where he substituted it for the other. This other he brought back and placed in front of her. ‘I want to see you drink this.’ Her eyes met his. They were steady, unfathomable. The colour slowly drained from her face. She stretched out her hand, raised the cup. He held his breath. Supposing all along he had made a mistake. She raised it to her lips—at the last moment, with a shudder, she leant forward and quickly poured it into a pot containing a fern. Then she sat back and gazed at him defiantly. He drew a long sigh of relief, and sat down again. ‘Well?’ she said. Her voice had altered. It was slightly mocking—defiant. He answered her soberly and quietly: ‘You are a very clever woman, Mrs Merrowdene. I think you understand me. There must be no—repetition. You know what I mean?’ ‘I know what you mean.’ Her voice was even, devoid of expression. He nodded his head, satisfied. She was a clever woman, and she didn’t want to be hanged. ‘To your long life and to that of your husband,’ he said significantly, and raised his tea to his lips. Then his face changed. It contorted horribly … he tried to rise—to cry out … His body stiffened—his face went purple. He fell back sprawling over his chair—his limbs convulsed. Mrs Merrowdene leaned forward, watching him. A little smile crossed her lips. She spoke to him—very softly and gently. ‘You made a mistake, Mr Evans. You thought I wanted to kill George … How stupid of you—how very stupid.’ She sat there a minute longer looking at the dead man, the third man who had threatened to cross her path and separate her from the man she loved. Her smile broadened. She looked more than ever like a madonna. Then she raised her voice and called: ‘George, George! … Oh, do come here! I’m afraid there’s been the most dreadful accident … Poor Mr Evans …’ The Fourth Man (#ulink_34badc09-1f13-5850-8a8f-afaf509a8812) Canon Parfitt panted a little. Running for trains was not much of a business for a man of his age. For one thing his figure was not what it was and with the loss of his slender silhouette went an increasing tendency to be short of breath. This tendency the Canon himself always referred to, with dignity, as ‘My heart, you know!’ He sank into the corner of the first-class carriage with a sigh of relief. The warmth of the heated carriage was most agreeable to him. Outside the snow was falling. Lucky to get a corner seat on a long night journey. Miserable business if you didn’t. There ought to be a sleeper on this train. The other three corners were already occupied, and noting this fact Canon Parfitt became aware that the man in the far corner was smiling at him in gentle recognition. He was a clean-shaven man with a quizzical face and hair just turning grey on the temples. His profession was so clearly the law that no one could have mistaken him for anything else for a moment. Sir George Durand was, indeed, a very famous lawyer. ‘Well, Parfitt,’ he remarked genially, ‘you had a run for it, didn’t you?’ ‘Very bad for my heart, I’m afraid,’ said the Canon. ‘Quite a coincidence meeting you, Sir George. Are you going far north?’ ‘Newcastle,’ said Sir George laconically. ‘By the way,’ he added, ‘do you know Dr Campbell Clark?’ The man sitting on the same side of the carriage as the Canon inclined his head pleasantly. ‘We met on the platform,’ continued the lawyer. ‘Another coincidence.’ Canon Parfitt looked at Dr Campbell Clark with a good deal of interest. It was a name of which he had often heard. Dr Clark was in the forefront as a physician and mental specialist, and his last book, The Problem of the Unconscious Mind, had been the most discussed book of the year. Canon Parfitt saw a square jaw, very steady blue eyes and reddish hair untouched by grey, but thinning rapidly. And he received also the impression of a very forceful personality. By a perfectly natural association of ideas the Canon looked across to the seat opposite him, half-expecting to receive a glance of recognition there also, but the fourth occupant of the carriage proved to be a total stranger—a foreigner, the Canon fancied. He was a slight dark man, rather insignificant in appearance. Huddled in a big overcoat, he appeared to be fast asleep. ‘Canon Parfitt of Bradchester?’ inquired Dr Campbell Clark in a pleasant voice. The Canon looked flattered. Those ‘scientific sermons’ of his had really made a great hit—especially since the Press had taken them up. Well, that was what the Church needed—good modern up-to-date stuff. ‘I have read your book with great interest, Dr Campbell Clark,’ he said. ‘Though it’s a bit technical here and there for me to follow.’ Durand broke in. ‘Are you for talking or sleeping, Canon?’ he asked. ‘I’ll confess at once that I suffer from insomnia and that therefore I’m in favour of the former.’ ‘Oh! certainly. By all means,’ said the Canon. ‘I seldom sleep on these night journeys, and the book I have with me is a very dull one.’ ‘We are at any rate a representative gathering,’ remarked the doctor with a smile. ‘The Church, the Law, the Medical Profession.’ ‘Not much we couldn’t give an opinion on between us, eh?’ laughed Durand. ‘The Church for the spiritual view, myself for the purely worldly and legal view, and you, Doctor, with the widest field of all, ranging from the purely pathological to the—super-psychological! Between us three we should cover any ground pretty completely, I fancy.’ ‘Not so completely as you imagine, I think,’ said Dr Clark. ‘There’s another point of view, you know, that you left out, and that’s rather an important one.’ ‘Meaning?’ queried the lawyer. ‘The point of view of the Man in the Street.’ ‘Is that so important? Isn’t the Man in the Street usually wrong?’ ‘Oh! almost always. But he has the thing that all expert opinion must lack—the personal point of view. In the end, you know, you can’t get away from personal relationships. I’ve found that in my profession. For every patient who comes to me genuinely ill, at least five come who have nothing whatever the matter with them except an inability to live happily with the inmates of the same house. They call it everything—from housemaid’s knee to writer’s cramp, but it’s all the same thing, the raw surface produced by mind rubbing against mind.’ ‘You have a lot of patients with “nerves”, I suppose,’ the Canon remarked disparagingly. His own nerves were excellent. ‘Ah! and what do you mean by that?’ The other swung round on him, quick as a flash. ‘Nerves! People use that word and laugh after it, just as you did. “Nothing the matter with so and so,” they say. “Just nerves.” But, good God, man, you’ve got the crux of everything there! You can get at a mere bodily ailment and heal it. But at this day we know very little more about the obscure causes of the hundred and one forms of nervous disease than we did in—well, the reign of Queen Elizabeth!’ ‘Dear me,’ said Canon Parfitt, a little bewildered by this onslaught. ‘Is that so?’ ‘Mind you, it’s a sign of grace,’ Dr Campbell Clark went on. ‘In the old days we considered man a simple animal, body and soul—with stress laid on the former.’ ‘Body, soul and spirit,’ corrected the clergyman mildly. ‘Spirit?’ The doctor smiled oddly. ‘What do you parsons mean exactly by spirit? You’ve never been very clear about it, you know. All down the ages you’ve funked an exact definition.’ The Canon cleared his throat in preparation for speech, but to his chagrin he was given no opportunity. The doctor went on. ‘Are we even sure the word is spirit—might it not be spirits?’ ‘Spirits?’ Sir George Durand questioned, his eyebrows raised quizzically. ‘Yes.’ Campbell Clark’s gaze transferred itself to him. He leaned forward and tapped the other man lightly on the breast. ‘Are you so sure,’ he said gravely, ‘that there is only one occupant of this structure—for that is all it is, you know—this desirable residence to be let furnished—for seven, twenty-one, forty-one, seventy-one—whatever it may be!—years? And in the end the tenant moves his things out—little by little—and then goes out of the house altogether—and down comes the house, a mass of ruin and decay. You’re the master of the house—we’ll admit that, but aren’t you ever conscious of the presence of others—soft-footed servants, hardly noticed, except for the work they do—work that you’re not conscious of having done? Or friends—moods that take hold of you and make you, for the time being, a “different man” as the saying goes? You’re the king of the castle, right enough, but be very sure the “dirty rascal” is there too.’ ‘My dear Clark,’ drawled the lawyer. ‘You make me positively uncomfortable. Is my mind really a battleground of conflicting personalities? Is that Science’s latest?’ It was the doctor’s turn to shrug his shoulders. ‘Your body is,’ he said drily. ‘If the body, why not the mind?’ ‘Very interesting,’ said Canon Parfitt. ‘Ah! Wonderful science—wonderful science.’ And inwardly he thought to himself: ‘I can get a most arresting sermon out of that idea.’ But Dr Campbell Clark had leant back in his seat, his momentary excitement spent. ‘As a matter of fact,’ he remarked in a dry professional manner, ‘it is a case of dual personality that takes me to Newcastle tonight. Very interesting case. Neurotic subject, of course. But quite genuine.’ ‘Dual personality,’ said Sir George Durand thoughtfully. ‘It’s not so very rare, I believe. There’s loss of memory as well, isn’t there? I know the matter cropped up in a case in the Probate Court the other day.’ Dr Clark nodded. ‘The classic case, of course,’ he said, ‘was that of Felicie Bault. You may remember hearing of it?’ ‘Of course,’ said Canon Parfitt. ‘I remember reading about it in the papers—but quite a long time ago—seven years at least.’ Dr Campbell Clark nodded. ‘That girl became one of the most famous figures in France. Scientists from all over the world came to see her. She had no less than four distinct personalities. They were known as Felicie 1, Felicie 2, Felicie 3, etc.’ ‘Wasn’t there some suggestion of deliberate trickery?’ asked Sir George alertly. ‘The personalities of Felicie 3 and Felicie 4 were a little open to doubt,’ admitted the doctor. ‘But the main facts remain. Felicie Bault was a Brittany peasant girl. She was the third of a family of five; the daughter of a drunken father and a mentally defective mother. In one of his drinking bouts the father strangled the mother and was, if I remember rightly, transported for life. Felicie was then five years of age. Some charitable people interested themselves in the children and Felicie was brought up and educated by an English maiden lady who had a kind of home for destitute children. She could make very little of Felicie, however. She describes the girl as abnormally slow and stupid, only taught to read and write with the greatest difficulty and clumsy with her hands. This lady, Miss Slater, tried to fit the girl for domestic service, and did indeed find her several places when she was of an age to take them. But she never stayed long anywhere owing to her stupidity and also her intense laziness.’ The doctor paused for a minute, and the Canon, re-crossing his legs, and arranging his travelling rug more closely round him, was suddenly aware that the man opposite him had moved very slightly. His eyes, which had formerly been shut, were now open, and something in them, something mocking and indefinable, startled the worthy Canon. It was as though the man were listening and gloating secretly over what he heard. ‘There is a photograph taken of Felicie Bault at the age of seventeen,’ continued the doctor. ‘It shows her as a loutish peasant girl, heavy of build. There is nothing in that picture to indicate that she was soon to be one of the most famous persons in France. ‘Five years later, when she was 22, Felicie Bault had a severe nervous illness, and on recovery the strange phenomena began to manifest themselves. The following are facts attested to by many eminent scientists. The personality called Felicie 1 was undistinguishable from the Felicie Bault of the last twenty-two years. Felicie 1 wrote French badly and haltingly, she spoke no foreign languages and was unable to play the piano. Felicie 2, on the contrary, spoke Italian fluently and German moderately. Her handwriting was quite dissimilar to that of Felicie 1, and she wrote fluent and expressive French. She could discuss politics and art and she was passionately fond of playing the piano. Felicie 3 had many points in common with Felicie 2. She was intelligent and apparently well educated, but in moral character she was a total contrast. She appeared, in fact, an utterly depraved creature—but depraved in a Parisian and not a provincial way. She knew all the Paris argot, and the expressions of the chic demi monde. Her language was filthy and she would rail against religion and so-called “good people” in the most blasphemous terms. Finally there was Felicie 4—a dreamy, almost half-witted creature, distinctly pious and professedly clairvoyant, but this fourth personality was very unsatisfactory and elusive and has been sometimes thought to be a deliberate trickery on the part of Felicie 3—a kind of joke played by her on a credulous public. I may say that (with the possible exception of Felicie 4) each personality was distinct and separate and had no knowledge of the others. Felicie 2 was undoubtedly the most predominant and would last sometimes for a fortnight at a time, then Felicie 1 would appear abruptly for a day or two. After that, perhaps Felicie 3 or 4, but the two latter seldom remained in command for more than a few hours. Each change was accompanied by severe headache and heavy sleep, and in each case there was complete loss of memory of the other states, the personality in question taking up life where she had left it, unconscious of the passage of time.’ ‘Remarkable,’ murmured the Canon. ‘Very remarkable. As yet we know next to nothing of the marvels of the universe.’ ‘We know that there are some very astute impostors in it,’ remarked the lawyer drily. ‘The case of Felicie Bault was investigated by lawyers as well as by doctors and scientists,’ said Dr Campbell Clark quickly. ‘Maître Quimbellier, you remember, made the most thorough investigation and confirmed the views of the scientists. And after all, why should it surprise us so much? We come across the double-yolked egg, do we not? And the twin banana? Why not the double soul—or in this case the quadruple soul—in the single body?’ ‘The double soul?’ protested the Canon. Dr Campbell Clark turned his piercing blue eyes on him. ‘What else can we call it? That is to say—if the personality is the soul?’ ‘It is a good thing such a state of affairs is only in the nature of a “freak”,’ remarked Sir George. ‘If the case were common, it would give rise to pretty complications.’ ‘The condition is, of course, quite abnormal,’ agreed the doctor. ‘It was a great pity that a longer study could not have been made, but all that was put an end to by Felicie’s unexpected death.’ ‘There was something queer about that, if I remember rightly,’ said the lawyer slowly. Dr Campbell Clark nodded. ‘A most unaccountable business. The girl was found one morning dead in bed. She had clearly been strangled. But to everyone’s stupefaction it was presently proved beyond doubt that she had actually strangled herself. The marks on her neck were those of her own fingers. A method of suicide which, though not physically impossible, must have necessitated terrific muscular strength and almost superhuman will power. What had driven the girl to such straits has never been found out. Of course her mental balance must always have been precarious. Still, there it is. The curtain has been rung down for ever on the mystery of Felicie Bault.’ It was then that the man in the far corner laughed. The other three men jumped as though shot. They had totally forgotten the existence of the fourth amongst them. As they stared towards the place where he sat, still huddled in his overcoat, he laughed again. ‘You must excuse me, gentlemen,’ he said, in perfect English that had, nevertheless, a foreign flavour. He sat up, displaying a pale face with a small jet-black moustache. ‘Yes, you must excuse me,’ he said, with a mock bow. ‘But really! in science, is the last word ever said?’ ‘You know something of the case we have been discussing?’ asked the doctor courteously. ‘Of the case? No. But I knew her.’ ‘Felicie Bault?’ ‘Yes. And Annette Ravel also. You have not heard of Annette Ravel, I see? And yet the story of the one is the story of the other. Believe me, you know nothing of Felicie Bault if you do not also know the history of Annette Ravel.’ He drew out his watch and looked at it. ‘Just half an hour before the next stop. I have time to tell you the story—that is, if you care to hear it?’ ‘Please tell it to us,’ said the doctor quietly. ‘Delighted,’ said the Canon. ‘Delighted.’ Sir George Durand merely composed himself in an attitude of keen attention. ‘My name, gentlemen,’ began their strange travelling companion, ‘is Raoul Letardeau. You have spoken just now of an English lady, Miss Slater, who interested herself in works of charity. I was born in that Brittany fishing village and when my parents were both killed in a railway accident it was Miss Slater who came to the rescue and saved me from the equivalent of your English workhouse. There were some twenty children under her care, girls and boys. Amongst these children were Felicie Bault and Annette Ravel. If I cannot make you understand the personality of Annette, gentlemen, you will understand nothing. She was the child of what you call a “fille de joie” who had died of consumption abandoned by her lover. The mother had been a dancer, and Annette, too, had the desire to dance. When I saw her first she was eleven years old, a little shrimp of a thing with eyes that alternately mocked and promised—a little creature all fire and life. And at once—yes, at once—she made me her slave. It was “Raoul, do this for me.” “Raoul, do that for me.” And me, I obeyed. Already I worshipped her, and she knew it. ‘We would go down to the shore together, we three—for Felicie would come with us. And there Annette would pull off her shoes and stockings and dance on the sand. And then when she sank down breathless, she would tell us of what she meant to do and to be. ‘“See you, I shall be famous. Yes, exceedingly famous. I will have hundreds and thousands of silk stockings—the finest silk. And I shall live in an exquisite apartment. All my lovers shall be young and handsome as well as being rich. And when I dance all Paris shall come to see me. They will yell and call and shout and go mad over my dancing. And in the winters I shall not dance. I shall go south to the sunlight. There are villas there with orange trees. I shall have one of them. I shall lie in the sun on silk cushions, eating oranges. As for you, Raoul, I will never forget you, however rich and famous I shall be. I will protect you and advance your career. Felicie here shall be my maid—no, her hands are too clumsy. Look at them, how large and coarse they are.” ‘Felicie would grow angry at that. And then Annette would go on teasing her. ‘“She is so ladylike, Felicie—so elegant, so refined. She is a princess in disguise—ha, ha.” ‘“My father and mother were married, which is more than yours were,” Felicie would growl out spitefully. ‘“Yes, and your father killed your mother. A pretty thing, to be a murderer’s daughter.” ‘“Your father left your mother to rot,” Felicie would rejoin. ‘“Ah! yes.” Annette became thoughtful. “Pauvre Maman. One must keep strong and well. It is everything to keep strong and well.” ‘“I am as strong as a horse,” Felicie boasted. ‘And indeed she was. She had twice the strength of any other girl in the Home. And she was never ill. ‘But she was stupid, you comprehend, stupid like a brute beast. I often wondered why she followed Annette round as she did. It was, with her, a kind of fascination. Sometimes, I think, she actually hated Annette, and indeed Annette was not kind to her. She jeered at her slowness and stupidity, and baited her in front of the others. I have seen Felicie grow quite white with rage. Sometimes I have thought that she would fasten her fingers round Annette’s neck and choke the life out of her. She was not nimble-witted enough to reply to Annette’s taunts, but she did learn in time to make one retort which never failed. That was a reference to her own health and strength. She had learned (what I had always known) that Annette envied her her strong physique, and she struck instinctively at the weak spot in her enemy’s armour. ‘One day Annette came to me in great glee. ‘“Raoul,” she said. “We shall have fun today with that stupid Felicie. We shall die of laughing.” ‘“What are you going to do?” ‘“Come behind the little shed, and I will tell you.” ‘It seemed that Annette had got hold of some book. Part of it she did not understand, and indeed the whole thing was much over her head. It was an early work on hypnotism. ‘“A bright object, they say. The brass knob of my bed, it twirls round. I made Felicie look at it last night. ‘Look at it steadily,’ I said. ‘Do not take your eyes off it.’ And then I twirled it. Raoul, I was frightened. Her eyes looked so queer—so queer. ‘Felicie, you will do what I say always,’ I said. ‘I will do what you say always, Annette,’ she answered. And then—and then—I said: ‘Tomorrow you will bring a tallow candle out into the playground at twelve o’clock and start to eat it. And if anyone asks you, you will say that is it the best galette you ever tasted.’ Oh! Raoul, think of it!” ‘“But she’ll never do such a thing,” I objected. ‘“The book says so. Not that I can quite believe it—but, oh! Raoul, if the book is all true, how we shall amuse ourselves!” ‘I, too, thought the idea very funny. We passed word round to the comrades and at twelve o’clock we were all in the playground. Punctual to the minute, out came Felicie with a stump of candle in her hand. Will you believe me, Messieurs, she began solemnly to nibble at it? We were all in hysterics! Every now and then one or other of the children would go up to her and say solemnly: “It is good, what you eat there, eh, Felicie?” And she would answer: “But, yes, it is the best galette I ever tasted.” And then we would shriek with laughter. We laughed at last so loud that the noise seemed to wake up Felicie to a realization of what she was doing. She blinked her eyes in a puzzled way, looked at the candle, then at us. She passed her hand over her forehead. ‘“But what is it that I do here?” she muttered. ‘“You are eating a candle,” we screamed. ‘“I made you do it. I made you do it,” cried Annette, dancing about. ‘Felicie stared for a moment. Then she went slowly up to Annette. ‘“So it is you—it is you who have made me ridiculous? I seem to remember. Ah! I will kill you for this.” ‘She spoke in a very quiet tone, but Annette rushed suddenly away and hid behind me. ‘“Save me, Raoul! I am afraid of Felicie. It was only a joke, Felicie. Only a joke.” ‘“I do not like these jokes,” said Felicie. “You understand? I hate you. I hate you all.” ‘She suddenly burst out crying and rushed away. ‘Annette was, I think, scared by the result of her experiment, and did not try to repeat it. But from that day on, her ascendancy over Felicie seemed to grow stronger. ‘Felicie, I now believe, always hated her, but nevertheless she could not keep away from her. She used to follow Annette around like a dog. ‘Soon after that, Messieurs, employment was found for me, and I only came to the Home for occasional holidays. Annette’s desire to become a dancer was not taken seriously, but she developed a very pretty singing voice as she grew older and Miss Slater consented to her being trained as a singer. ‘She was not lazy, Annette. She worked feverishly, without rest. Miss Slater was obliged to prevent her doing too much. She spoke to me once about her. ‘“You have always been fond of Annette,” she said. “Persuade her not to work too hard. She has a little cough lately that I do not like.” ‘My work took me far afield soon afterwards. I received one or two letters from Annette at first, but then came silence. For five years after that I was abroad. ‘Quite by chance, when I returned to Paris, my attention was caught by a poster advertising Annette Ravelli with a picture of the lady. I recognized her at once. That night I went to the theatre in question. Annette sang in French and Italian. On the stage she was wonderful. Afterwards I went to her dressing-room. She received me at once. ‘“Why, Raoul,” she cried, stretching out her whitened hands to me. “This is splendid. Where have you been all these years?” ‘I would have told her, but she did not really want to listen.’ ‘“You see, I have very nearly arrived!” ‘She waved a triumphant hand round the room filled with bouquets. ‘“The good Miss Slater must be proud of your success.” ‘“That old one? No, indeed. She designed me, you know, for the Conservatoire. Decorous concert singing. But me, I am an artist. It is here, on the variety stage, that I can express myself.” ‘Just then a handsome middle-aged man came in. He was very distinguished. By his manner I soon saw that he was Annette’s protector. He looked sideways at me, and Annette explained. ‘“A friend of my infancy. He passes through Paris, sees my picture on a poster et voilà!” ‘The man was then very affable and courteous. In my presence he produced a ruby and diamond bracelet and clasped it on Annette’s wrist. As I rose to go, she threw me a glance of triumph and a whisper. ‘“I arrive, do I not? You see? All the world is before me.” ‘But as I left the room, I heard her cough, a sharp dry cough. I knew what it meant, that cough. It was the legacy of her consumptive mother. ‘I saw her next two years later. She had gone for refuge to Miss Slater. Her career had broken down. She was in a state of advanced consumption for which the doctors said nothing could be done. ‘Ah! I shall never forget her as I saw her then! She was lying in a kind of shelter in the garden. She was kept outdoors night and day. Her cheeks were hollow and flushed, her eyes bright and feverish and she coughed repeatedly. ‘She greeted me with a kind of desperation that startled me. ‘“It is good to see you, Raoul. You know what they say—that I may not get well? They say it behind my back, you understand. To me they are soothing and consolatory. But it is not true, Raoul, it is not true! I shall not permit myself to die. Die? With beautiful life stretching in front of me? It is the will to live that matters. All the great doctors say that nowadays. I am not one of the feeble ones who let go. Already I feel myself infinitely better—infinitely better, do you hear?” ‘She raised herself on her elbow to drive her words home, then fell back, attacked by a fit of coughing that racked her thin body. ‘“The cough—it is nothing,” she gasped. “And haemorrhages do not frighten me. I shall surprise the doctors. It is the will that counts. Remember, Raoul, I am going to live.” ‘It was pitiful, you understand, pitiful. ‘Just then, Felicie Bault came out with a tray. A glass of hot milk. She gave it to Annette and watched her drink it with an expression that I could not fathom. There was a kind of smug satisfaction in it. ‘Annette too caught the look. She flung the glass down angrily, so that it smashed to bits. ‘“You see her? That is how she always looks at me. She is glad I am going to die! Yes, she gloats over it. She who is well and strong. Look at her, never a day’s illness, that one! And all for nothing. What good is that great carcass of hers to her? What can she make of it?” ‘Felicie stooped and picked up the broken fragments of glass. ‘“I do not mind what she says,” she observed in a singsong voice. “What does it matter? I am a respectable girl, I am. As for her. She will be knowing the fires of Purgatory before very long. I am a Christian, I say nothing.” ‘“You hate me, cried Annette. “You have always hated me. Ah! but I can charm you, all the same. I can make you do what I want. See now, if I ask you to, you would go down on your knees before me now on the grass.” ‘“You are absurd,” said Felicie uneasily. ‘“But, yes, you will do it. You will. To please me. Down on your knees. I ask it of you, I, Annette. Down on your knees, Felicie.” ‘Whether it was the wonderful pleading in the voice, or some deeper motive, Felicie obeyed. She sank slowly to her knees, her arms spread wide, her face vacant and stupid. ‘Annette flung her head back and laughed—peal upon peal of laughter. ‘“Look at her, with her stupid face! How ridiculous she looks. You can get up now, Felicie, thank you! It is of no use to scowl at me. I am your mistress. You have to do what I say.” ‘She lay back on her pillows exhausted. Felicie picked up the tray and moved slowly away. Once she looked back over her shoulder, and the smouldering resentment in her eyes startled me. ‘I was not there when Annette died. But it was terrible, it seems. She clung to life. She fought against death like a madwoman. Again and again she gasped out: “I will not die—do you hear me? I will not die. I will live—live—” ‘Miss Slater told me all this when I came to see her six months later. ‘“My poor Raoul,” she said kindly. “You loved her, did you not?” ‘“Always—always. But of what use could I be to her? Let us not talk of it. She is dead—she so brilliant, so full of burning life …” ‘Miss Slater was a sympathetic woman. She went on to talk of other things. She was very worried about Felicie, so she told me. The girl had had a queer sort of nervous breakdown, and ever since she had been very strange in manner. ‘“You know,” said Miss Slater, after a momentary hesitation, “that she is learning the piano?” ‘I did not know it, and was very much surprised to hear it. Felicie—learning the piano! I would have declared the girl would not know one note from another. Конец ознакомительного фрагмента. Текст предоставлен ООО «ЛитРес». Прочитайте эту книгу целиком, купив полную легальную версию (https://www.litres.ru/agata-kristi/the-witness-for-the-prosecution-and-other-stories/?lfrom=334617187) на ЛитРес. 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