Five Little Pigs

A Hercule Poirot Mystery

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In Agatha Christie’s classic, Five Little Pigs, beloved detective Hercule Poirot races to solve a case from out of the past.

Beautiful Caroline Crale was convicted of poisoning her husband, but just like the nursery rhyme, there were five other “little pigs” who could have done it: Philip Blake (the stockbroker), who went to market; Meredith Blake (the amateur herbalist), who stayed at home; Elsa Greer (the three-time divorcée), who had her roast beef; Cecilia Williams (the devoted governess), who had none; and Angela Warren (the disfigured sister), who cried all the way home.

Sixteen years later, Caroline’s daughter is determined to prove her mother’s innocence, and Poirot just can’t get that nursery rhyme out of his mind.




Hercule Poirot looked with interest and appreciation at the young woman who was being ushered into the room.

There had been nothing distinctive in the letter she had written. It had been a mere request for an appointment, with no hint of what lay behind that request. It had been brief and businesslike. Only the firmness of the handwriting had indicated that Carla Lemarchant was a young woman.

And now here she was in the flesh—a tall, slender young woman in the early twenties. The kind of young woman that one definitely looked at twice. Her clothes were good, an expensive well-cut coat and skirt and luxurious furs. Her head was well poised on her shoulders, she had a square brow, a sensitively cut nose and a determined chin. She looked very much alive. It was her aliveness, more than her beauty, which struck the predominant note.

Before her entrance, Hercule Poirot had been feeling old—now he felt rejuvenated—alive—keen!

As he came forward to greet her, he was aware of her dark grey eyes studying him attentively. She was very earnest in that scrutiny.

She sat down and accepted the cigarette that he offered her. After it was lit she sat for a minute or two smoking, still looking at him with that earnest, thoughtful gaze.

Poirot said gently:

“Yes, it has to be decided, does it not?”

She started. “I beg your pardon?”

Her voice was attractive, with a faint, agreeable huskiness in it.

“You are making up your mind, are you not, whether I am a mere mountebank, or the man you need?”

She smiled. She said:

“Well, yes—something of that kind. You see, Mr. Poirot, you—you don’t look exactly the way I pictured you.”

“And I am old, am I not? Older than you imagined?”

“Yes, that too.” She hesitated. “I’m being frank, you see. I want—I’ve got to have—the best.”

“Rest assured,” said Hercule Poirot. “I am the best!”

Carla said: “You’re not modest…All the same, I’m inclined to take you at your word.”

Poirot said placidly:

“One does not, you know, employ merely the muscles. I do not need to bend and measure the footprints and pick up the cigarette ends and examine the bent blades of grass. It is enough for me to sit back in my chair and think. It is this”—he tapped his egg-shaped head—“this that functions!”

“I know,” said Carla Lemarchant. “That’s why I’ve come to you. I want you, you see, to do something fantastic!”

“That,” said Hercule Poirot, “promises well!”

He looked at her in encouragement.

Carla Lemarchant drew a deep breath.

“My name,” she said, “isn’t Carla. It’s Caroline. The same as my mother’s. I was called after her.” She paused. “And though I’ve always gone by the name of Lemarchant—my real name is Crale.”

Hercule Poirot’s forehead creased a moment perplexedly. He murmured: “Crale—I seem to remember….”

She said:

“My father was a painter—rather a well-known painter. Some people say he was a great painter. I think he was.”

Hercule Poirot said: “Amyas Crale?”

“Yes.” She paused, then she went on: “And my mother, Caroline Crale, was tried for murdering him!”

“Aha,” said Hercule Poirot. “I remember now—but only vaguely. I was abroad at the time. It was a long time ago.”

“Sixteen years,” said the girl.

Her face was very white now and her eyes two burning lights.

She said:

“Do you understand? She was tried and convicted…She wasn’t hanged because they felt that there were extenuating circumstances—so the sentence was commuted to penal servitude for life. But she died only a year after the trial. You see? It’s all over—done—finished with….”

Poirot said quietly: “And so?”

The girl called Carla Lemarchant pressed her hands together. She spoke slowly and haltingly but with an odd, pointed emphasis.

She said:

“You’ve got to understand—exactly—where I come in. I was five years old at the time it—happened. Too young to know anything about it. I remember my mother and my father, of course, and I remember leaving home suddenly—being taken to the country. I remember the pigs and a nice fat farmer’s wife—and everybody being very kind—and I remember, quite clearly, the funny way they used to look at me—everybody—a sort of furtive look. I knew, of course, children do, that there was something wrong—but I didn’t know what.

“And then I went on a ship—it was exciting—it went on for days, and then I was in Canada and Uncle Simon met me, and I lived in Montreal with him and with Aunt Louise, and when I asked about Mummy and Daddy they said they’d be coming soon. And then—and then I think I forgot—only I sort of knew that they were dead without remembering anyone actually telling me so. Because by that time, you see, I didn’t think about them any more. I was very happy, you know. Uncle Simon and Aunt Louise were sweet to me, and I went to school and had a lot of friends, and I’d quite forgotten that I’d ever had another name, not Lemarchant. Aunt Louise, you see, told me that that was my name in Canada and that seemed quite sensible to me at the time—it was just my Canadian name—but as I say I forgot in the end that I’d ever had any other.”

She flung up her defiant chin. She said:

“Look at me. You’d say—wouldn’t you? if you met me: ‘There goes a girl who’s got nothing to worry about!’ I’m well off, I’ve got splendid health, I’m sufficiently good to look at, I can enjoy life. At twenty, there wasn’t a girl anywhere I’d have changed places with.

“But already, you know, I’d begun to ask questions. About my own mother and father. Who they were and what they did? I’d have been bound to find out in the end—

“As it was, they told me the truth. When I was twenty-one. They had to then, because for one thing I came into my own money. And then, you see, there was the letter. The letter my mother left for me when she died.”

Her expression changed, dimmed. Her eyes were no longer two burning points, they were dark dim pools. She said:

“That’s when I learnt the truth. That my mother had been convicted of murder. It was—rather horrible.”

She paused.

“There’s something else I must tell you. I was engaged to be married. They said we must wait—that we couldn’t be married until I was twenty-one. When I knew, I understood why.”

Poirot stirred and spoke for the first time. He said:

“And what was your fiancé’s reaction?”

“John? John didn’t care. He said it made no difference—not to him. He and I were John and Carla—and the past didn’t matter.”

She leaned forward.

“We’re still engaged. But all the same, you know, it does matter. It matters to me. And it matters to John too…It isn’t the past that matters to us—it’s the future.” She clenched her hands. “We want children, you see. We both want children. And we don’t want to watch our children growing up and be afraid.”

Poirot said:

“Do you not realize that amongst every one’s ancestors there has been violence and evil?”

“You don’t understand. That’s so, of course. But then, one doesn’t usually know about it. We do. It’s very near to us. And sometimes—I’ve seen John just look at me. Such a quick glance—just a flash. Supposing we were married and we’d quarrelled—and I saw him look at me and—and wonder?

Hercule Poirot said: “How was your father killed?”

Carla’s voice came clear and firm.

“He was poisoned.”

Hercule Poirot said: “I see.”

There was a silence.

Then the girl said in a calm, matter-of-fact voice:

“Thank goodness you’re sensible. You see that it does matter—and what it involves. You don’t try and patch it up and trot out consoling phrases.”

“I understand very well,” said Poirot. “What I do not understand is what you want of me?

Carla Lemarchant said simply:

“I want to marry John! And I mean to marry John! And I want to have at least two girls and two boys. And you’re going to make that possible!”

“You mean—you want me to talk to your fiancé? Ah no, it is idiocy what I say there! It is something quite different that you are suggesting. Tell me what is in your mind.”

“Listen, Mr. Poirot. Get this—and get it clearly. I’m hiring you to investigate a case of murder.”

“Do you mean—?”

“Yes, I do mean. A case of murder is a case of murder whether it happened yesterday or sixteen years ago.”

“But my dear young lady—”

“Wait, Mr. Poirot. You haven’t got it all yet. There’s a very important point.”


“My mother was innocent,” said Carla Lemarchant.

Hercule Poirot rubbed his nose. He murmured:

“Well, naturally—I comprehend that—”

“It isn’t sentiment. There’s her letter. She left it for me before she died. It was to be given to me when I was twenty-one. She left it for that one reason—that I should be quite sure. That’s all that was in it. That she hadn’t done it—that she was innocent—that I could be sure of that always.”

Hercule Poirot looked thoughtfully at the young vital face staring so earnestly at him. He said slowly:

“Tout de même—”

Carla smiled.

“No, mother wasn’t like that! You’re thinking that it might be a lie—a sentimental lie?” She leaned forward earnestly. “Listen, Mr. Poirot, there are some things that children know quite well. I can remember my mother—a patchy remembrance, of course, but I remember quite well the sort of person she was. She didn’t tell lies—kind lies. If a thing was going to hurt she always told you so. Dentists, or thorns in your finger—all that sort of thing. Truth was a—a natural impulse to her. I wasn’t, I don’t think, especially fond of her—but I trusted her. I still trust her! If she says she didn’t kill my father then she didn’t kill him! She wasn’t the sort of person who would solemnly write down a lie when she knew she was dying.”

Slowly, almost reluctantly, Hercule Poirot bowed his head.

Carla went on.

“That’s why it’s all right for me marrying John. I know it’s all right. But he doesn’t. He feels that naturally I would think my mother was innocent. It’s got to be cleared up, Mr. Poirot. And you’re going to do it!”

Hercule Poirot said slowly:

“Granted that what you say is true, mademoiselle, sixteen years have gone by!”

Carla Lemarchant said: “Oh! of course it’s going to be difficult! Nobody but you could do it!”

Hercule Poirot’s eyes twinkled slightly. He said:

“You give me the best butter—hein?

Carla said:

“I’ve heard about you. The things you’ve done. The way you have done them. It’s psychology that interests you, isn’t it? Well, that doesn’t change with time. The tangible things are gone—the cigarette end and the footprints and the bent blades of grass. You can’t look for those any more. But you can go over all the facts of the case, and perhaps talk to the people who were there at the time—they’re all alive still—and then—and then, as you said just now, you can lie back in your chair and think. And you’ll know what really happened….”

Hercule Poirot rose to his feet. One hand caressed his moustache. He said:

“Mademoiselle, I am honoured! I will justify your faith in me. I will investigate your case of murder. I will search back into the events of sixteen years ago and I will find out the truth.”

Carla got up. Her eyes were shining. But she only said:


Hercule Poirot shook an eloquent forefinger.

“One little moment. I have said I will find out the truth. I do not, you understand, have the bias. I do not accept your assurance of your mother’s innocence. If she was guilty—eh bien, what then?”

Carla’s proud head went back. She said:

“I’m her daughter. I want the truth!

Hercule Poirot said:

En avant, then. Though it is not that, that I should say. On the contrary. En arrière….”




“Do I remember the Crale case?” asked Sir Montague Depleach. “Certainly I do. Remember it very well. Most attractive woman. But unbalanced, of course. No self-control.”

He glanced sideways at Poirot.

“What makes you ask me about it?”

“I am interested.”

“Not really tactful of you, my dear man,” said Depleach, showing his teeth in his sudden famous “wolf’s smile,” which had been reputed to have such a terrifying effect upon witnesses. “Not one of my successes, you know. I didn’t get her off.”

“I know that.”

Sir Montague shrugged his shoulders. He said:

“Of course I hadn’t quite as much experience then as I have now. All the same I think I did all that could humanly be done. One can’t do much without cooperation. We did get it commuted to penal servitude. Provocation, you know. Lots of respectable wives and mothers got up a petition. There was a lot of sympathy for her.”

He leaned back stretching out his long legs. His face took on a judicial, appraising look.

“If she’d shot him, you know, or even knifed him—I’d have gone all out for manslaughter. But poison—no, you can’t play tricks with that. It’s tricky—very tricky.”

“What was the defence?” asked Hercule Poirot.

He knew because he had already read the newspaper files, but he saw no harm in playing the complete ignorant to Sir Montague.

“Oh, suicide. Only thing you could go for. But it didn’t go down well. Crale simply wasn’t that kind of man! You never met him, I suppose? No? Well, he was a great blustering, vivid sort of chap. Great womanizer, beer drinker—all the rest of it. Went in for the lusts of the flesh and enjoyed them. You can’t persuade a jury that a man like that is going to sit down and quietly do away with himself. It just doesn’t fit. No, I was afraid I was up against a losing proposition from the first. And she wouldn’t play up! I knew we’d lost as soon as she went into the box. No fight in her at all. But there it is—if you don’t put your client into the box, the jury draw their own conclusions.”

Poirot said:

“Is that what you meant when you said just now that one cannot do much without cooperation?”

“Absolutely, my dear fellow. We’re not magicians, you know. Half the battle is the impression the accused makes on the jury. I’ve known juries time and again bring in verdicts dead against the judge’s summing up. ‘’E did it, all right’—that’s the point of view. Or ‘He never did a thing like that—don’t tell me!’ Caroline Crale didn’t even try to put up a fight.”

“Why was that?”

Sir Montague shrugged his shoulders.

“Don’t ask me. Of course, she was fond of the fellow. Broke her all up when she came to and realized what she’d done. Don’t believe she ever rallied from the shock.”

“So in your opinion she was guilty?”

Depleach looked rather startled. He said:

“Er—well, I thought we were taking that for granted.”

“Did she ever admit to you that she was guilty?”

Depleach looked shocked.

“Of course not—of course not. We have our code, you know. Innocence is always—er—assumed. If you’re so interested it’s a pity you can’t get hold of old Mayhew. Mayhews were the solicitors who briefed me. Old Mayhew could have told you more than I can. But there—he’s joined the great majority. There’s young George Mayhew, of course, but he was only a boy at the time. It’s a long time ago, you know.”

“Yes, I know. It is fortunate for me that you remember so much. You have a remarkable memory.”

Depleach looked pleased. He murmured:

“Oh well, one remembers the main headings, you know. Especially when it’s a capital charge. And, of course, the Crale case got a lot of publicity from the press. Lot of sex interest and all that. The girl in the case was pretty striking. Hard-boiled piece of goods, I thought.”

“You will forgive me if I seem too insistent,” said Poirot, “but I repeat once more, you had no doubt of Caroline Crale’s guilt?”

Depleach shrugged his shoulders. He said:

“Frankly—as man to man—I don’t think there’s much doubt about it. Oh yes, she did it all right.”

“What was the evidence against her?”

“Very damning indeed. First of all there was motive. She and Crale had led a kind of cat and dog life for years—interminable rows. He was always getting mixed up with some woman or other. Couldn’t help it. He was that kind of man. She stood it pretty well on the whole. Made allowances for him on the score of temperament—and the man really was a first-class painter, you know. His stuff’s gone up enormously in price—enormously. Don’t care for that style of painting myself—ugly forceful stuff, but it’s good—no doubt of that.

“Well, as I say, there had been trouble about women from time to time. Mrs. Crale wasn’t the meek kind who suffers in silence. There were rows all right. But he always came back to her in the end. These affairs of his blew over. But this final affair was rather different. It was a girl, you see—and quite a young girl. She was only twenty.

“Elsa Greer, that was her name. She was the only daughter of some Yorkshire manufacturer. She’d got money and determination, and she knew what she wanted. What she wanted was Amyas Crale. She got him to paint her—he didn’t paint regular Society portraits, ‘Mrs. Blinkety Blank in satin and pearls,’ but he painted figures. I don’t know that most women would have cared to be painted by him—he didn’t spare them! But he painted the Greer girl, and he ended by falling for her good and proper. He was getting on for forty, you know, and he’d been married a good many years. He was just ripe for making a fool of himself over some chit of a girl. Elsa Greer was the girl. He was crazy about her, and his idea was to get a divorce from his wife and marry Elsa.

“Caroline Crale wasn’t standing for that. She threatened him. She was overheard by two people to say that if he didn’t give the girl up she’d kill him. And she meant it all right! The day before it happened, they’d been having tea with a neighbour. He was by way of dabbling in herbs and home-brewed medicines. Amongst his patent brews was one of coniine—spotted hemlock. There was some talk about it and its deadly properties.

“The next day he noticed that half the contents of the bottle had gone. Got the wind up about it. They found an almost empty bottle of it in Mrs. Crale’s room, hidden away at the bottom of a drawer.”

Hercule Poirot moved uncomfortably. He said:

“Somebody else might have put it there.”

“Oh! She admitted to the police she’d taken it. Very unwise, of course, but she didn’t have a solicitor to advise her at that stage. When they asked her about it, she admitted quite frankly that she had taken it.”

“For what reason?”

“She made out that she’d taken it with the idea of doing herself in. She couldn’t explain how the bottle came to be empty—nor how it was that there were only her fingerprints on it. That part of it was pretty damaging. She contended, you see, that Amyas Crale had committed suicide. But if he’d taken the coniine from the bottle she’d hidden in her room, his fingerprints would have been on the bottle as well as hers.”

“It was given him in beer, was it not?”

“Yes. She got out the bottle from the refrigerator and took it down herself to where he was painting in the garden. She poured it out and gave it to him and watched him drink it. Every one went up to lunch and left him—he often didn’t come in to meals. Afterwards she and the governess found him there dead. Her story was that the beer she gave him was all right. Our theory was that he suddenly felt so worried and remorseful that he slipped the poison in himself. All poppycock—he wasn’t that kind of man! And the fingerprint evidence was the most damning of all.”

“They found her fingerprints on the bottle?”

“No, they didn’t—they found only his—and they were phoney ones. She was alone with the body, you see, while the governess went to call up a doctor. And what she must have done was to wipe the bottle and glass and then press his fingers on them. She wanted to pretend, you see, that she’d never even handled the stuff. Well, that didn’t work. Old Rudolph, who was prosecuting, had a lot of fun with that—proved quite definitely by demonstration in court that a man couldn’t hold a bottle with his fingers in that position! Of course we did our best to prove that he could—that his hands would take up a contorted attitude when he was dying—but frankly our stuff wasn’t very convincing.”

Hercule Poirot said:

“The coniine in the bottle must have been put there before she took it down to the garden.”

“There was no coniine in the bottle at all. Only in the glass.”

He paused—his large handsome face suddenly altered—he turned his head sharply. “Hallo,” he said. “Now then, Poirot, what are you driving at?

Poirot said:

If Caroline Crale was innocent, how did that coniine get into the beer? The defence said at the time that Amyas Crale himself put it there. But you say to me that that was in the highest degree unlikely—and for my part I agree with you. He was not that kind of man. Then, if Caroline Crale did not do it, someone else did.”

Depleach said with almost a splutter:

“Oh, damn it all, man, you can’t flog a dead horse. It’s all over and done with years ago. Of course she did it. You’d know that well enough if you’d seen her at the time. It was written all over her! I even fancy that the verdict was a relief to her. She wasn’t frightened. No nerves at all. Just wanted to get through the trial and have it over. A very brave woman, really….”

“And yet,” said Hercule Poirot, “when she died she left a letter to be given to her daughter in which she swore solemnly that she was innocent.”

“I dare say she did,” said Sir Montague Depleach. “You or I would have done the same in her place.”

On Sale
Nov 23, 2004
Page Count
288 pages