Ordeal by Innocence
Author:Agatha Christie

Chapter 5
The Chief Constable's eyebrows climbed slowly up his forehead in a vain attempt to reach the receding line of his grey hair. He cast his eyes up to the ceiling and then down again to the papers on his desk.

"It beggars description!" he said.

The young man whose business it was to make the right responses to the Chief Constable, said: "Yes, sir?"

"A pretty kettle offish," muttered Major Finney. He tapped with his fingers on the table. "Is Huish here?" he asked.

"Yes, sir. Superintendent Huish came about five minutes ago." "Right," said the Chief Constable. "Send him in, will you?"

Superintendent Huish was a tall, sad-looking man. His air of melancholy was so profound that no one would have believed that he could be the life and soul of a children's party, cracking jokes and bringing pennies out of little boys' ears, much to their delight.

The Chief Constable said: "Morning, Huish, this is a pretty kettle offish we've got here. What d'you think of it?"

Superintendent Huish breathed heavily and sat down in the chair indicated.

"It seems as though we made a mistake two years ago," he said. "This fellow -what's-his-name -"

The Chief Constable rustled his papers. "Calory - no, Calgary. Some sort of a professor. Absent-minded bloke, maybe? People like that often vague about times and all that sort of thing?" There was perhaps a hint of appeal in his voice, but Huish did not respond. He said:

"He's a kind of scientist, I understand."

"So that you think we've got to accept what he says?"

"Well," said Huish, "Sir Reginald seems to have accepted it, and I don't suppose there's anything would get past him." This was a tribute to the Director of Public Prosecutions.

"No," said Major Finney, rather unwillingly. "If the D.P.P.'s convinced, well I suppose we've just got to take it. That means opening up the case again. You've brought the relevant data with you, have you, as I asked?"

"Yes, sir, I've got it here."

The superintendent spread out various documents on the table.

"Been over it?" the Chief Constable asked.

"Yes, sir, I went all over it last night. My memory of it was fairly fresh. After all, it's not so long ago."

"Well, let's have it, Huish. Where are we?"

"Back at the beginning, sir," said Superintendent Huish. "The trouble is, you see, there really wasn't any doubt at the time."

"No," said the Chief Constable. "It seemed a perfectly clear case. Don't think I'm blaming you, Huish. I was behind you a hundred per cent."

"There wasn't anything else really that we could think," said Huish thoughtfully. "A call came in that she'd been killed. The information that the boy had been there threatening her, the fingerprint evidence - his fingerprints on the poker, and the money. We picked him up almost at once and there the money was, in his possession."

"What sort of impression did he make on you at the time?"

Huish considered. "Bad," he said. "Far too cocky and plausible. Came reeling out with his times and his alibis. Cocky. You know the type. Murderers are usually cocky. Think they're so clever. Think whatever they've done is sure to be all right, no matter how things go for other people. He was a wrong 'un all right."

"Yes," Finney agreed, "he was a wrong 'un. All his record goes to prove that. But were you convinced at once that he was a killer?"

The superintendent considered. "It's not a thing you can be sure about. He was the type, I'd say, that very often ends up as a killer. Like Harmon in 1938. Long record behind him of pinched bicycles, swindled money, frauds on elderly women, and finally he does one woman in, pickles her in acid, gets pleased with himself and starts making a habit of it. I'd have taken Jacko Argyle for one of that type."

"But it seems," said the Chief Constable slowly, "that we were wrong."

"Yes," said Huish, "yes, we were wrong. And the chap's dead. It's a bad business. Mind you," he added, with sudden animation, "he was a wrong 'un all right. He may not have been a murderer - in fact he wasn't a murderer, so we find now -but he was a wrong 'un."

"Well, come on, man," Finney snapped at him, "who did kill her? You've been over the case, you say, last night. Somebody killed her. The woman didn't hit herself on the back of her head with the poker. Somebody else did. Who was it?"

Superintendent Huish sighed and leaned back in his chair. "I'm wondering if we'll ever know," he said. "Difficult as all that, eh?"

"Yes, because the scent's cold and because there'll be very little evidence to find and I should rather imagine that there never was very much evidence."

"The point being that it was someone in the house, someone close to her?"

"Don't see who else it could have been," said the superintendent. "It was someone there in the house or it was someone that she herself opened the door to and let in. The Argyles were the locking-up type. Burglar bolts on the windows, chains, extra locks on the front door. They'd had one burglary a couple of years before and it had made them burglar-conscious." He paused and went on, "The trouble is, sir, that we didn't look elsewhere at the time. The case against Jacko Argyle was complete. Of course, one can see now, the murderer took

advantage of that."

"Took advantage of the fact that the boy had been there, that he'd quarrelled with her and that he'd threatened her?"

"Yes. All that person had to do was to step in the room, pick up the poker in a gloved hand, from where Jacko had thrown it down, walk up to the table where Mrs. Argyle was writing and biff her one on the head."

Major Finney said one simple word: "Why?" Superintendent Huish nodded slowly.

"Yes, sir, that's what we've got to find out. It's going to be one of the difficulties. Absence of motive."

"There didn't seem at the time," said the Chief Constable, "to be any obvious motive knocking about, as you might say. Like most other women who have property and a considerable fortune of their own, she'd entered into such various schemes as are legally permitted to avoid death duties. A beneficiary trust was already in existence, the children were all provided for in advance of her death. They'd get nothing further when she did die. And it wasn't as though she was an unpleasant woman, nagging or bullying or mean. She'd lavished money

on them all their lives. Good education, capital sums to start them in jobs, handsome allowances to them all. Affection, kindness,

benevolence."

"That's so, sir," agreed Superintendent Huish. "On the face of it there's no reason for anyone to want her out of the way. Of course -" He paused.

"Yes, Huish?"

"Mr. Argyle, I understand, is thinking of remarrying. He's marrying Miss Gwenda Vaughan, who's acted as his secretary over a good number of years."

"Yes," said Major Finney thoughtfully. "I suppose there's a motive there. One that we didn't know about at the time. She's been working for him for some years, you say. Think there was anything between them at the time of the murder?"

"I should rather doubt it, sir," said Superintendent Huish. "That sort of thing soon gets talked about in a village. I mean, I don't think there were any goings-on, as you might say. Nothing for Mrs. Argyle to find out about or cut up rough about."

"No," said the Chief Constable, "but he might have wanted to marry Gwenda Vaughan quite badly."

"She's an attractive young woman," said Superintendent Huish. "Not glamorous, I wouldn't say that, but good-looking and attractive in a nice kind of way."

"Probably been devoted to him for years," said Major Finney. "These women secretaries always seem to be in love with their boss."

"Well, we've got a motive of a kind for those two," said Huish. "Then there's the lady help, the Swedish woman. She mightn't really have been as fond of Mrs. Argyle as she appeared to be. There might have been slights or imagined slights; things she resented. She didn't benefit financially by the death because Mrs. Argyle had already bought her a very handsome annuity. She seems a nice, sensible kind

of woman and not the sort you can imagine hitting anyone on the head with a poker! But you never know, do you? Look at the Lizzie Borden case."

"No," said the Chief Constable, "you never know. There's no question of an outsider of any kind?"

"No trace of one," said the superintendent. "The drawer where the money was, was pulled out. A sort of attempt had been made to make

the room look as though a burglar had been there, but it was a very amateurish effort. Sort of thing that fitted in perfectly with young Jacko having tried to create that particular effect."

"The odd thing to me," said the Chief Constable, "is the money."

"Yes," said Huish. "That's very difficult to understand. One of the fivers Jack Argyle had on him was definitely one that had been given to Mrs. Argyle at the bank that morning. Mrs. Bottleberry was the name written on the back of it. He said his mother had given the money to him, but both Mr. Argyle and Gwenda Vaughan are quite definite that Mrs. Argyle came into the library at a quarter to seven and told them about Jacko's demands for money and categorically said she'd refused to give him any."

"It's possible, of course," the Chief Constable pointed out, "with what we know now, that Argyle and the Vaughan girl might have been lying."

"Yes, that's a possibility - or perhaps -" the superintendent broke off.

"Yes, Huish?" Finney encouraged him.

"Say someone - we'll call him or her X for the moment - overheard the quarrel and the threats that Jacko was making. Suppose someone saw

an opportunity there. Got the money, ran after the boy, said that his mother after all wanted him to have it, thus paving the way to one of the prettiest little frame-ups ever. Careful to use the poker that he'd picked up to threaten her with, without smearing his fingerprints."

"Dammit all," said the Chief Constable angrily. "None of it seems to fit with what I know of the family. Who else was in the house that evening besides Argyle and Gwenda Vaughan, Hester Argyle and this

Lindstrom woman?"

"The eldest married daughter, Mary Durrant, and her husband were staying there."

"He's a cripple, isn't he? That lets him out. What about Mary Durrant?"

"She's a very calm piece of goods, sir. You can't imagine her getting excited or, well, or killing anyone."

"The servants?" demanded the Chief Constable. "All dailies, sir, and they'd gone home by six o'clock." "Let me have a look at the times." The superintendent passed the paper to him.

"H'm... yes, I see. A quarter to seven Mrs. Argyle was in the library talking to her husband about Jacko's threats. Gwenda Vaughan was present during part of the conversation. Gwenda Vaughan went home

just after seven. Hester Argyle saw her mother alive at about two or three minutes to seven. After that, Mrs. Argyle was not seen till half past seven, when her dead body was discovered by Miss Lindstrom. Between seven andhalfpastthere was plenty of opportunity. Hester could have killed her, Gwenda Vaughan could have killed her after she left the library and before she left the house. Miss Lindstrom could have killed her when she 'discovered the body'. Leo Argyle was alone in his library from ten past seven until Miss Lindstrom sounded the alarm. He could have gone to his wife's sitting-room and killed her any time during that twenty minutes. Mary Durrant, who was upstairs, could have come down during that half hour and killed her mother. And

-" said Finney thoughtfully - "Mrs. Argyle herself could have let anyone in by the front door as we thought she let Jack Argyle in. Leo Argyle said, if you remember, that he thought he did hear a ring at the bell, and the sound of the front door opening and closing, but he was very vague about the time. We assumed that that was when Jacko returned

and killed her."

"He needn't have rung the bell," said Huish. "He had a key of his own. They all had."

"There's another brother, isn't there?"

"Yes, Michael. Works as a car salesman in Drymouth."

"You'd better find out, I suppose," said the Chief Constable, "what he was doing that evening."

"After two years?" said Superintendent Huish. "Not likely anyone will remember, is it?"

"Was he asked at the time?"

"Out testing a customer's car, I understand. No reason for suspecting him then, but he had a key and he could have come over and killed her."

The Chief Constable sighed.

"I don't know how you're going to set about it, Huish. I don't know whether we're ever going to get anywhere."

"I'd like to know myself who killed her," said Huish. "From all I can make out, she was a fine type of woman. She'd done a lot for people. For unlucky children, for all sorts of charities. She's the sort of person that oughtn't to have been killed. Yes. I'd like to know. Even if we can never get enough evidence to satisfy the D.P.P. I'd still like to know."

"Well, I wish you the best of luck, Huish," said the Chief Constable.

"Fortunately we've nothing very much on just now, but don't be discouraged if you can't get anywhere. It's a very cold trail. Yes, it's a very cold trail."