12. The Evidence of the German Lady’s-Maid
M. Bouc was looking at his friend curiously.
“I do not quite understand you, mon vieux. You were trying to do-what?”
“I was searching for a flaw, my friend.”
“Yes-in the armour of a young lady’s self-possession. I wished to shake hersang-froid. Did I succeed? I do not know. But I know this: she did not expect me to tackle the matter as I did.”
“You suspect her,” said M. Bow slowly. “But why? She seems a very charming young lady-the last person in the world to be mixed up in a crime of this kind.”
“I agree,” said Constantine. “She is cold. She has not emotions. She would not stab a man-she would sue him in the law courts.”
“You must, both of you, get rid of your obsession that this is an unpremeditated and sudden crime. As for the reasons why I suspect Miss Debenham, there are two. One is because of something that I overheard, and that you do not as yet know.”
He retailed to them the curious interchange of phrases he had overheard on the journey from Aleppo.
“That is curious, certainly,” said M. Bouc when he had finished. “It needs explaining. If it means what you suspect it means, then they are both of them in it together-she and the stiff Englishman.”
“And that is just what is not borne out by the facts,” he said. “See you, if they were both in this together, what should we expect to find? That each of them would provide an alibi for the other. Is not that so? But no-that does not happen. Miss Debenham’s alibi is provided by a Swedish woman whom she has never seen before, and Colonel Arbuthnot’s alibi is vouched for by MacQueen, the dead mans secretary. No, that solution of the puzzle is too easy.”
“You said there was another reason for your suspicions of her,” M. Bouc, reminded him.
“Ah! but that is only psychological. I ask myself, is it possible for Miss Debenham to have planned this crime? Behind this business, I am convinced, there is a cool, intelligent, resourceful brain. Miss Debenham answers to that description.”
M. Bouc shook his head. “I think you are wrong, my friend. I do not see that young English girl as a criminal.”
“Ah! Well,” said Poirot, picking up the last passport. “To the final name on our list. Hildegarde Schmidt, lady’s-maid.”
Summoned by the attendant, Hildegarde Schmidt came into the restaurant car and stood waiting respectfully.
Poirot motioned her to sit down.
She did so, folding her hands and waiting placidly till he questioned her. She seemed a placid creature altogether-eminently respectable, perhaps not over-intelligent.
Poirot’s methods with Hildegarde Schmidt were a complete contrast to his handling of Mary Debenham.
He was at his kindest and most genial, setting the woman at her ease. Then, having got her to write down her name and address, he slid gently into his questions.
The interview took place in German.
“We want to know as much as possible about what happened last night,” he said. “We know that you cannot give us much information bearing on the crime itself, but you may have seen or heard something that, while conveying nothing to you, may be valuable to us. You understand?”
She did not seem to. Her broad, kindly face remained set in its expression of placid stupidity as she answered:
“I do not know anything, Monsieur.”
“Well, for instance you know that your mistress sent for you last night.”
“Do you remember the time?”
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