Best Detective Stories of Agatha Christie
Best Detective Stories of Agatha Christie
Longman, 1986 (Unabridged)
“…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.”
“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.”
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 precipitared 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: ‘H2SO4 decomposes chlorates with evolution of CL4O2 If heated, violent explosions occur; the mixture ought therefore to be kept cool and only very small quantities used.’“