If such a thing were possible, it could be said that what awaited Hercule Poirot in the servants’ quarters was all the more tragic than the brutal discovery in the pantry. Accompanied by Captain Hastings and Chief Inspector Japp, he stood grim-faced, eyes turned skyward towards the crumpled remains of humanity dangling from the main beam. Stout, sensible boots poked out beneath long black skirts, a pristine white apron atop, fastened neatly just below the bust. It would have been impossible to secure the ties at the waist as a protruding swelling of the stomach inhibited them. Further up, the face was not visible, obscured as it was by both the slumped positioning of the head and the presence of a puffed white mop bonnet secured to it. But even so there could be no doubt; this was Maggie the maid hanging by her neck from the ceiling.
Derbyshire had been the first to stumble upon the scene and had made mutterings of suicide, to which Hastings and Japp were in mournful agreement. But Poirot made no such great leaps of faith in his deductions. Although there were several obvious things that presented themselves to his fastidious eyes, the diminutive Belgian knew from his extensive experience that it would be the subtle mundanities where the truth could be found.
Maggie’s room was more spacious than one might expect for below-stairs staff and the furnishings, although far from luxurious, were certainly beyond adequate. Poirot noted that the mattress on the bed was well-stuffed and the sheets and blankets in good repair. An elderly but good quality sitting chair stood stoically in the corner, a polished occasional table adorned with a tidy pile of needlework its near neighbour. The chest of drawers on the far wall was of the same design as the wardrobe in which Poirot and Hastings had hidden during the ill-fated game of hide and seek the previous evening. A large, barely-worn rug lay on the stripped wooden floorboards and there was even a little writing desk, adorned with a few chipped trinkets and fripperies. It struck Poirot that this room had been furnished from hand-me-downs of the main house.
“I know it hardly my place, but if I may, gentlemen, offer my thoughts?”
Derbyshire had been mumbling to himself throughout and it seemed to Poirot only a matter of time before he unburdened himself. Japp refilled his pipe and nodded at the butler.
“Maggie has been behaving quite oddly these last few weeks,” began the butler. “We put it down to the nature of her condition, you know…”
“Mademoiselle Maggie, she is… was… with child?” Poirot asked most delicately.
“Yes, Mister Poirot. Such a thing can play havoc with a woman’s whatnots, or so I’m led to believe. Her moods have been quite frightful. Both the master and my good self had warned her that her temper was no good for the little one, but she wouldn’t be told.”
“Lord Bottomclutch, he was concerned for the welfare of the baby?”
“Yes, Mister Poirot. The master was very protective of Maggie,” replied Derbyshire. “That caused a little bit of bad feeling among the staff, as you can imagine. Favouritism towards the new girl, you know. It didn’t go down very well.”
“And Lady Bottomclutch?” continued Poirot. “How did this favouritism, as you say, go down with her?”
Derbyshire fell silent for a moment, perhaps engaged in some internal debate as to how best answer the question without betraying professional loyalties.
“Lady Bottomclutch is a highly strung woman, Mister Poirot,” he replied, at last. “She is irritated by a great many things and the Maggie situation was certainly no different.”
“D’accord, Monsieur Derbyshire. Poirot understands completely.”
“What about the father of Maggie’s baby?” asked Japp, looking up at the body. “Where’s he?”
“The name of the father is not known, Chief Inspector,” replied Derbyshire flatly.
“An unmarried mother on the serving staff?” Japp continued. “Surely that must have caused some talk. Were any names suggested at all?”
“I don’t make it my business to take note of the idle chitter-chatter of the staff, Chief Inspector.”
“You were saying about her moods,” Hastings piped up. “What did you mean by that?”
“Maggie could become quite angry at times,” said Derbyshire. “She seemed to focus a lot of her anger towards Miss Bottomclutch, as if she was jealous of her, almost.”
“Jealous? How so?”
“I really couldn’t say, Captain Hastings,” Derbyshire sighed. “As I say, I put it down to her condition. But, gentlemen, I do fear that perhaps her moods got the better of her and then, she could not live with what she had done.”
“Are you saying that you think Maggie killed Clara in a fit of temper, and then hung herself in remorse?” asked Japp, not sounding entirely convinced.
“It certainly looks that way, Chief Inspector.”
Japp relit his pipe and raised an eyebrow towards Poirot, who was stroking his moustache with great deliberation.
“What do you think, Poirot?”
“It seems to Poirot that Monsieur Derbyshire’s story would make perfect sense, Chief Inspector,” Poirot replied. “It would, that is, if Mademoiselle Maggie’s death was suicide, mais, it is certain that it is not.”
“I say!” exclaimed Hastings. “Not suicide?”
“Non, my dear Hastings. Very much non! It is most obvious to Poirot that this is clearly murder. Allow me, if you please, to tell to you the reasons why…”