“There’s been nothing but shame brought about the walls of Somersby Hall, I tell you, Mr Poirot – nothing but shame!”
Poirot sat politely, saying nothing and waiting for Ethel Bowley to expand upon her statement. When the great detective and Chief Inspector Japp announced that they would begin their questioning, Ethel Bowley had made it quite apparent that she wished to be at the very front of the queue. Her pinched-faced twin sister Enid sat mute, as ever, at her side. Lord Bottomclutch had been good enough to arrange the use of his private study for these endeavours and loyal butler Derbyshire remained outside the door, guarding against any unwanted ears.
Beady eyes bulging, Ethel glared ferociously at Hercule Poirot, daring him to question her further. In fact, the immaculate Belgian had not yet asked a single question. To his mind, when a lady appeared so keen to have her say, it was better to let her get along with matters unimpeded.
“You realise, of course, that the girl Clara was nothing but a simpleton,” said Ethel, eventually.
An involuntary twitch from Poirot’s moustache was the only tell from his otherwise perfectly tempered visage.
“She was like it from birth,” continued Ethel, oblivious to the distaste her ignorance inspired. “They sent her away somewhere when she was younger, you know, one of those places they send the mentally defective. Couldn’t do much for her, apparently, so they neutered her like a dog and sent her home again. Always been a frightful disappointment to the Lord and Lady, as I’m sure you can imagine, Mister Poirot.”
“I assure you, mademoiselle, that Poirot can imagine nothing of the sort,” replied the detective, a forced smile his only protection against saying something that he might regret. “But please, to continue.”
“Well, I’m just saying, is all,” huffed Ethel, evidently perturbed that her revelation had not had greater effect. “And then there’s the maid, of course. I’m sure you know all about her.”
“How could we know all about her?” asked Japp, reasonably. “We’ve only just arrived.”
“Ah, but Mister Poirot and the Captain were asking after her, weren’t you, Mister Poirot?”
“Oui, c’est vrai,” replied Poirot. “Mademoiselle Maggie had a friend in Cambridge who was asking after her. Captain Hastings and myself had come to pass on a message.”
“Oh, and Cambridge is another thing,” sneered Ethel, bile thick upon her breath. “Another cause of shame for Somersby Hall!”
“Do you have any information regarding either of the murders,” began Japp, banging the bowl of his pipe on the heavy wooden sideboard “Or do you mean to waste our time with idle gossip?”
Ethel spluttered a little and Enid’s eyes widened like saucers. The sour sisters were used to mixing in polite company, where good manners prevented what needed to be said, being said.
“Mademoiselle Maggie, she was pregnant, non? Is this the shame you talk so ardently about?”
“It is, Mister Poirot,” Ethel replied, her cold eyes now aflame with indignation. “One of them, anyway. Of course, talk has it that Lord Bottomclutch is the father, although they were having her married off to that ridiculous fop James Philpott. Anyone can see the boy hasn’t got it in him to make a baby – or anything else – with any woman. That’s why Harold – the prodigal son – came home, for the wedding. A wedding that kills two shameful birds with one stone.”
“Two, mademoiselle?” asked Poirot, his smooth brow furrowed just barely.
“Well, it wouldn’t do for a vicar to have a son like James, would it?” snapped Ethel. “If he marries Maggie, it stops all talk of that and Lord Bottomclutch needn’t answer any awkward questions either. That’s the truth of the matter and if those two girls died because of any of it then I would hardly be surprised.”
“Where were you hiding, during the game of hide and seek, mademoiselle Ethel?” the rictus grin on the detective’s face was straining at the edges, now. “At the time of the murder of poor Clara?”
“Oh. We were tucked behind a couple of pot plants in the conservatory, Mister Poirot,” replied Ethel. “Why, does it matter? You can’t think we have anything to do with any of this?”
“When it comes to ladies such as yourselves, mademoiselle, Hercule Poirot, he will think anything.”