Chapter 11. The Teatime Discussions

An awkward silence followed Poirot's final words, until Jean Arlsbury put on her veil and coat and rose from her chair:

"I really must be going to check the preparations for Donald's funeral. I don't know how to thank you, Monsieur Poirot."

Inspector Japp, Brian Martin and Jenny Driver took the hint and excused themselves too, leaving only myself, Poirot, and the inhabitants of Marsh House in the room.

"I think I should prepare tea," Miss Carroll sighed. "Would you stay and have some tea?" she asked us. Poirot nodded:

"We'll be very glad to."

She walked out. Ronald Marsh suddenly expressed a strong wish to prove his gratitude to us by showing me and Poirot his wonderful, excellent, amazing, etc. etc. collection of Pre-Raphaelite paintings while the tea is prepared. I don't like Pre-Raphaelites very much myself, and I politely protested, but Ronald almost dragged us out of the living-room into his own study.

"Now, let me check if the policemen haven't damaged them when hunting for clues," he said as he opened his drawers and examined the contents carefully. While he was doing so, finally, I realized his ultimate goal – to leave Alfred Grithe and Geraldine Marsh alone.

However, leaving to Ronald's study wasn't the best idea, for the two people in question talked quite loudly, and, unintentionally, Poirot and I heard them. Ronald was genuinely absorbed in his paintings and didn't notice it.

"Oh, Raldie, what you must think of me," Alfred's voice echoed from the living-room.

"I think it was dreadful for you – to hear everything about what you thought and did," Geraldine spoke. "And in the presence of strangers like Inspector Japp and Miss Driver…"

"I don't care a bit about Inspector Japp and Miss Driver. But you are certainly mad at me now."

"Alfred, goodness, you don't understand at all…"

The tenderness in Geraldine's last phrase was enough for Poirot to cough politely and suggest:

"Monsieur Marsh, I am sure the pictures should better be exhibited in the dining-hall. The light is better there, and there is more space."

Ronald came back to reality:

"Oh, of course!"

We all came to the dining-hall, and Ronald showed us about thirty paintings, excitedly talking about every single one of them. Miss Carroll brought us tea and then went to call Alfred and Geraldine.

There was no need for that. They came running down the stairway and almost knocked the secretary to the floor.

"I hope none of you minds," Alfred announced with a wide smile. "We're engaged."

"How wonderful!" Ronald exclaimed.

"Geraldine!" Miss Carroll cried. "Alfred Grithe was your butler!"

"But, as I've said, he comes from an ancient family," Poirot said.

Miss Carroll sighed, defeated, and smiled at Geraldine:

"Fine. Congratulations, dear. I always hoped you'd find your match."

She glanced at Alfred Grithe with some uncertainty, but then said:

"Well, now, it's time to celebrate! Come on, have some tea – and I've ordered Leslie to buy a box of chocolates."

We sat around the table, and the awkwardness slowly faded. Ronald joyously chattered with Alfred and Geraldine, Miss Carroll, still reluctant to be friendly to the former butler, asked Poirot about his detective methods. Just sometimes, for the sake of Geraldine and politeness, she turned to the other end of the table with a question such as:

"Have some more apple jam, Mr. Grithe?"

After getting the answer, she hurriedly turned back to us and asked:

"So, Monsieur Poirot, how exactly did you trace the crime to that dreadful woman?"

"I have to thank mostly Monsieur Grithe and his brilliant fake evidence," Poirot smiled. "Because of him, there were so many clues pointing to Monsieur and Mademoiselle Marsh that I couldn't believe either of them to be the real murderer. Then, after discovering the veronal box among Carlotta Adams's possessions with the forged note, I remembered Brian Martin's words. An obscure actress like Carlotta was very unlikely to be friendly with the proud and exclusive Marshes. But she could have been acquainted with Jane Wilkinson – at least because she was a friend of Brian Martin's.

"Then, I recalled everything I've read in the newspaper gossips about the Duke of Merton. I realized that a Puritan like this would never marry a divorcee. Also I discovered the torn page in Carlotta's letter. At first it confused me that it has been torn and not cut. And then I concluded: it was torn to tear away some letter – the 's' from 'she'.

"Actually, after the murder of Donald Ross I was convinced that the murderess was Lady Edgware – she was the only one present at Sir Corner's dinner who was connected with the case. Brian Martin and Jenny Driver were there, though, but they left much earlier than Hastings and thus they weren't able to overhear the words of ce pauvre Monsieur Ross.

"The only problem for me was the kidnapping of Mademoiselle Marsh. I was rather foolish: from the first moment of making the acquaintance of Alfred Grithe I suspected him of being in love with her, but I didn't realize he could kidnap her. And, thankfully, I am on friendly terms with Lord and Lady Dawlish, so I made the right guess when I thought of where to search for Monsieur Grithe and Mademoiselle Marsh."

"And you were not in the least surprised when they announced their engagement," Miss Carroll said almost accusingly.

"Not at all. Everyone, of course, tried to convince me Mademoiselle Marsh was very fond of her cousin, but it was obvious for me that her feelings for Monsieur Marsh were purely motherly, and that she felt quite a strong passion for Monsieur Grithe instead."

"What? I don't believe it!" Miss Carroll exclaimed. "She never told me!"

"Of course she didn't. She tried hard and maybe not without success to dislike him. But Miss Carroll, imagine a young imaginative girl stuck in a family like this – who met a handsome enigmatic man who came to work at her house! She must have been enchanted by him quite quickly. But then he suddenly became very hateful towards everyone, especially her – so…"

"How did you guess it, Poirot?" I asked.

"I noticed that Mademoiselle Marsh was too much worried about him being rude to her. She didn't pay attention to other servants' suspicious glances, but Alfred Grithe's opinion seemed to matter a lot to her. And then, when he left, she looked absolutely crestfallen – though she yawned and spoke weakly to convince us it was just exhaustion."

"And I was worried only about her headaches and stresses, so I never asked her or even noticed anything," Miss Carroll whispered, looking amazed and guilty.

There is no need for further details. In a year, Alfred Grithe and Geraldine Marsh were married. Ronald Marsh, although more than glad with his cousin's engagement, refused to give the couple more than one hundred pounds per year (Geraldine, according to her father's last will, was left practically penniless). Jane Wilkinson, in her first and last act of kindness, sent her stepdaughter the genuine pearl necklace before her execution. But neither Alfred nor Geraldine accepted the present, moreover, in her fury after receiving it Geraldine threw it into the Thames.

Miss Carroll, desperate to convince Ronald to give his cousin at least some fair sum of money, wrote a letter to Poirot, asking for his financial help. But the letter reached us only after Geraldine's wedding, on which Ronald unexpectedly gave Alfred Grithe the ownership of one of Lord Edgware's houses and of a large amount of money. He confessed that he refused to do it before only to make sure Grithe was not a fortune-hunter.

Brian Martin, after losing two actors from the cast of Mona Lisa's Enigmatic Smile, stopped the productions and angrily left to the US. Jenny Driver went with him – "not to let some actress catch him", as the yellow press told us.

When the Second World War broke out, both Lord Ronald Edgware and Mr. Alfred Grithe went to fight. Alfred joined the Navy and spent the war in the Atlantic. He was captured four times, much to his wife and children's despair, but always managed to escape – by himself; only the last time he was freed by an American ship.

In 1944 the much more serious and grown-up Captain Ronald Marsh saved the life of the charming Marion Hayle, Lord Kidderminster's daughter, who worked for the Red Cross. She went with his division, and they got married in just two months, after the Battle of Monte Cassino.

After the war ended, Ronald Marsh, persuaded by his parents-in-law, started his political career. When I last heard of him, he was planning to become the Minister of Foreign Affairs.

All these facts I know from the letters of Miss Carroll. The good old woman had never forgotten Poirot and me, and sent long letters every two or three months. She described everything and everyone's life in details; the only person, dead or alive, who was never mentioned in her letters was "that dreadful woman" – Jane Wilkinson.