Dead for a Ducat
So strong among these people had been a supposition that all the murders had been the work of some maniac or fiend, that the name given by Carolus at last caused more sensation that he could have expected. He had, after all, practically eliminated everyone else, and the more intelligent of his audience should have realised long ago that Montaccord was the poisoner.
Inevitably came from Mr. Fleece the obvious interjection.
“But he’s dead!” he remembered. “How could he . . .?”
“The evil that men do lives after them,” said Carolus.
“I was afraid you’d trot that one out,” sighed Rupert Priggley.
“In a very literal sense the evil here lived after its initiator. It might have lived longer and gone farther. If, for instance, anyone else had preferred Noyau to brandy we should have had another death. On the other hand, if Lady Pipford had consented to do as Detective Sergeant Moore and I begged her—go away and leave the house to be examined from roof to cellar—she would have saved her life. Darryl Montaccord was like some huge white slug that leaves its slime behind it.
“How well he fits in all our categories. He had access to cyanide of potassium. Swillow told me how Darryl went up to London about a month previously. ‘Went to see Jason. Went to where he works,” said Swillow, and added that his wife had given him this information. Carolus turned to Jason. “It’s true, I take it?”
“Quite true,” said Jason. “He came to borrow money.”
“Was he successful?” Carolus scarcely needed to ask.
“No. I was very annoyed, as a matter of fact, that he should have come to my laboratory.”
“He knew it well?”
“Very. There was a time, before he married my sister, when he was a frequent and welcome visitor of mine.”
“He knew where the various chemicals were kept?”
“Was he left alone where they were accessible that afternoon?”
“For about ten minutes, yes. I was doing some important work in the smaller laboratory when he arrived and left him to wait.”
“And you wouldn’t have known afterwards if he had taken cyanide of potassium from your supply?”
“Almost certainly not, unless he took a large quantity.”
“He would have taken sufficient to make its chocolate in a two-pound box and at least one bottle of my own faithfully poisonous? Without your knowing, I mean.”
“Certainly. Perhaps more.”
“I believe he did so,” said Carolus. “I believe he went to your laboratory that afternoon with no other purpose in mind. Had he asked for money before?”
“Had you ever lent or given him money?”
“Then why should he have supposed he would obtain it on that afternoon? Why should he have gone up to London specially for it when he knew the almost certain result? No. He went to get poison.”
“That’s an assumption, of course,” said John Moore.
“Of course, though a legitimate one. All I’m asking you to believe that present is that Montaccord had access to cyanide of potassium. That, you may remember, was the poison is first qualification. His second was that he should have a motive, and of no one is this as true as of Montaccord.”
“Why?” asked Moore.
“Because he knew that Lady Pipford intended to cut him out of her Will. He practically told Boater this, and the fact that he never asked her, when she was making certain terms with him, seems evidence enough to me. He knew what the original Will gave him. He must have guessed that it would not be allowed to stand when he been bought off from his place in the family by Lady Pipford, and he must have connected Mr. Geary’s visit with this.
“That is quite true,” said Geary from his place beside John Moore. “I had to see him about the Brighton hotel, and he was fishing for facts then. I told him in round terms that after the partnership was bought he must expect no more from Lady Pipford, and he gave an unpleasant little laugh and said he didn’t.”
“Yes,” continued Carolus. “Of everyone in the case he alone had a strong and credible motive. For to this matter of the Will was added the hatred which we know from Boater he felt for the woman who had given him so much, his mother-in-law. He was being turned out, and before he went he was determined to secure the money that was coming to him and avenge himself for all the humiliations he felt he had suffered.
“The third necessity was that the murderer should have had access to the poisoned chocolates and Noyau, and here we are not only satisfied but have a bonus of evidence which I have just received from Priggley. For a long time I had suspected that the chocolates which Lady Pipford locked up came from Montaccord. Why else should she has sent them to Jason for analysis?
“It happened that Lady Pipford’s birthday, as I heard from Miss Crick, fell a week after Montaccord’s visit to London. He expected to be able to give her a box of chocolates on that day with out arousing any suspicion, but his mother-in-law new his meanness so well that her suspicions were at once aroused.
“Further evidence of this came from Poppy Munn, who found another, unopened box of Windsor chocolates among his possessions. He had this ready, I think, to substitute for the poisoned ones as soon as Lady Pipford had eaten one. If he had any cunning in his scheme at all, I think, he intended to put one or two poisoned chocolates in some other receptacle beside her dead body and leave his unpoisoned box there too, so that the inference would be drawn that she had not been poisoned by one of the chocolate he had given her. We heard from May Swillow that for those last few weeks he was never far away from Lady Pipford while she was in the house, and I think this was because he had to be present when she would be poisoned. His exasperation when the days went by and still the box was not produced can be imagined.
“I sent Priggley to the various shops in Newminister to see what he could trace. I had not many hopes of the result, because I thought that Montaccord had probably bought his two boxes while he was in London. But his scheme apparently evolved slowly. At a shop in Newminster High Street, the young lady assistant, described by Priggley in his report as a piece of homework, remembered a man of Montaccord’s heavy build, but wearing dark sun-glasses, buying two boxes of Windsor chocolates about three and a half weeks before the date of his death, or between his visit to London and Lady Pipford’s birthday. These chocolates are expensive, and the sale of two two-pound boxes together impressed themselves on the girl’s memory. It is possible that the exact date and established from the firm’s accounts and that it may tally with the date on which, Swillow told me, he drove Montaccord to Newminster. If so, the evidence becomes rather more than circumstantial.
Poppy Munn interrupted.
“There was a pair of dark glasses among his things,” she said. “I noticed them at the time because I’ve never seen him wear them.”
“Thank you. That helps,” said Carolus.
“Then as it became clear to Montaccord that Lady Pipford did not intend to eat the chocolates he had given her, he had to seek some other means of administering the poison, and thought of the liqueur of which she was so fond. I knew from Boater that Montaccord had a key of the wine-cellar, and heard from Lady Pipford tonight that she bought Noyau by the dozen bottles. It was an obvious choice for him. It is a pity that no one told me about Lady Pipford’s predelection for this liqueur. All I knew until this evening was that she drank it on the occasion of the last dinner-party. If I had been warned that she might have it brought from her stock, it might have saved her life.
“I think, either way, that Montaccord’s postponement of his departure to Brighton is accounted for by this. Suspicion would be less likely to attach to him if he were actually present at her death than if he had gone away. He may have had some further scheme to divert suspicion from himself, perhaps putting some of the poison into someone else’s possession or something of the sort. That we shall never know.
“The fourth way in which Darryl Montaccord fits the bill will seem more nebulous to some of you, but to me is paramount; I mean his character. For this murder was not only premeditated, It was plotted. A man lived for weeks with this plan, waking to it and sleeping with it, picturing it affect without pity, only anxious about its benefit to himself and his own escape from discovery.
“I do not believe that most murders are committed by people who might be distinguishable as murderers. Crimes of passion and violence, the sudden flaming up of desire for vengeance, murders that come from productions of hatred or jealousy—these could be the work of many, perhaps most of us in certain desperate circumstances. But a cold-blooded, scheming poisoner is another matter, and quite frankly, although I have talked of a suspect list and in my nightmares have seen everyone as a possible murderer, there was no one except Montaccord connected with this case of whom I could feel any real suspicion. Had it been, as some of you supposed, a maniac at work, then almost any of us who had schizophrenic tendencies might have been guilty and continued to lead a commonplace life. But there was no maniac here. On the contrary, there was a frigidly resolute killer who planned cunningly and worked without any scruple. Long before I had what could be called a clue to the mystery I thought instinctively that Montaccord was my man. My friend Detective Sergeant Moore will find that a dangerous argument, and if it were the only one it would be so. As a supplementary consideration it had, in my mind, enormous force.
“Montaccord certainly knew the habits of the household—that was his fifth qualification. indeed, he seems to have shared in the sweet-tooth gluttony—I’m afraid I must use that word—which was in evidence here. he knew that Lady Pipford loved chocolates and Noyau. He knew every relevant fact which made this poisoner’s scheme practicable. He was not, of course, alone in this, but it was a necessary factor.
“It is when we come to be sixth that again we find Montaccord spotlighted. He more than anyone except Jason Pipford had the knowledge necessary. I knew from Lady Pipford that Montaccord had been trained as a chemist and from Jason Pipford that they had been fellow undergraduates. He would know all the relevant facts—the poison to administer, the dose, the effect, the odour, the taste, the way disguise it. He would realise, with a sly grin, perhaps, the luck he had in Lady Pipford’s taste for Noyau, of all things.
“I said earlier that the method and poison used precluded no one from suspicion entirely, that anyone could learn the few necessary facts about cyanide of potassium, and this is true. But I might have added that in learning those facts someone wholly unacquainted with the subject would probably have left traces behind him. He would have been forced to inquire of someone else, and the conversation might be remembered, or have used a reference book, his purchase or borrowing of which would be recorded. With Montaccord this was not so. He had all the knowledge necessary
“The final point was really settled when we discussed Montaccord’s character. He and he alone we have the cold-bloodedness to be prepared to sit and watch his victim die. Most of you have had the experience tonight without the awful sense of responsibility that would have been the murderer’s. None of us is likely to forget it. How much more dire it would have been for a man sitting at the table knowing that a sip of liqueur would mean death. Yet this man was prepared to face it. I do not believe that anyone but Montaccord could steel himself to that.
“There is one final and overpowering piece of evidence against Montaccord, but before I give it to you I must ask your indulgence for a few minutes. I want to look at my notes. And, frankly, I want a drink.”
“Very understandable, my dear Deene,” pronounced Mr. Gorringer. “And the night is so far gone that I think we should be prepared now to be patient. We appreciate that you cannot allow yourself to be hurried.”
There was a general easing of the tension in the room, and conversation arose on all sides. Mr. Gorringer could be heard informing Mrs. Fleece that it was an admirably lucid exposition of the truth and she was evidently pleased to listen to him, since it relieved her of Boater, who was wide awake now and seeking someone to talk to.
“Do you think it would be safe to make a cup of tea?” Miss Crick asked Carolus. “If I had known I would have brought up some of my Dandelion coffee. . . .”
“Mrs. Stick will make some more coffee,” said Carolus, and left it to Stick to ask his wife.
“Like a daily I once had,” said Mrs. Gorringer, recovering a little of her spirit. “ ‘I couldn’t half do with a cuppa’.”
Her husband gave a polite chuckle, but no one else in her audience was in a mood even to smile. She subsided again.
Mr. Fleece’s interjections were perhaps more suited to the occasion.
“Dreadful thing,” he commented vigourously. “Scarcely seems possible, does it? Such evil so near home. Montaccord was not one of my congregation. An agnostic, I understand. But he lived in my parish. I almost feel a sense of responsibility.”
On the other side of the room, Rupert Priggley was drawing out Nockings.
“You guessed it was Montaccord, didn’t you?” he asked.
“I had my suspicions, though I felt it was only Right not to jump to conclusions in anything so serious. I’m not a man to think ill of his neighbour. I was reading in the paper . . .”
“Yes,” said Rupert Priggley with assumed eagerness. “What were you reading in the paper?”
Nockings was rather put out by this direct attack.
“What I was talking about. About what I said. Very much to the point, it was.”
Coffee was drunk, cigarettes were lighted, Mr. Gorringer’s throat was cleared. It was clearly time for Carolus to continue.
“Yes, there was one more piece of evidence that Montaccord was a poisoner. It was provided by his own death.”
“You mean he committed suicide?”
“I mean he was murdered,” said Carolus.
“And you know who was the murderer?” asked John Moore.
“Of course I do. There has never been much mystery about that. It was only the motive that was missing until May Swillow’s death.”
“But Montaccord died long before May Swillow,” pointed out Mr. Fleece.
“Exactly. But Lady Pipford had known for nearly a fortnight that the chocolates were poisoned when she decided to kill Darryl Montaccord.”
“Lady Pipford?” gasped Mr. Fleece, speaking, it might be said, for nearly all of them.
“Of course. That much, I should have thought, was obvious. Lady Pipford killed her son-in-law for trying to kill her. If you had asked her about it, she would have shrugged and asked what else she could have done. It really seemed to her the only thing to do. But let’s go back a bit.”