I’ve often wondered what might have happened if Rebecca had been written by Agatha Christie instead of Daphne Du Maurier. Maybe it would have ended like this…
“Mesdames, Messieurs,” said the dapper little Belgian. “Thank you all for coming here at my invitation. I apologise for incommoding you. I would have preferred to have assembled you at Monsieur de Winter’s home at Manderley, but unfortunately the recent conflagration has prevented that. I hope that you have made yourself as comfortable as one may be here in the room where the inquest into Madame de Winter’s death was held.”
Poirot moved a few paces to his right, stopped, and turned to face the company. Every eye was on him. The company, seated or standing, looked at him expectantly; he, in his turn looked at them.
“We are here to reveal the late Madame de Winter’s murderer,” he said. At that there were gasps and cries of “What?” Colonel Julyan rose to his feet.
“I say, look here, Moosior Poirot,” he objected. “Rebecca de Winter’s death was suicide. The facts bear that out. The finding of the inquest was unequivocal and the evidence was conclusive. The lady took her own life. Do you now dispute that?”
“Mon cher Colonel, I do not for one moment dispute either the facts or the evidence,” said the detective mildly. “I merely dispute the interpretation put upon them. If you and the ladies and gentlemen here will hear me out with patience, then I, Poirot, will reveal to you what actually happened on the day Madame de Winter died, and why.”
The room fell silent again, and Poirot continued. “There can be no doubt that the late Madame de Winter did not die by her own hand, that she in fact was murdered. Furthermore, Mesdames et Messieurs, there is no doubt that the person by whose hand she did died is, at this very moment, here in this room!”
Again there were gasps, glances were shot from one person to the next, and a babble of questions were directed at Poirot. He held up a manicured hand.
“S’il vous plait, s’il vous plait. Poirot will reveal all to you, I promise that in a very short time all mystery will be cleared away, everything that can be made known to you, shall be made known. But first, I have asked Chief Inspector Japp of Scotland Yard to be with us…” Poirot raised his voice slightly as he mentioned the Chief Inspector’s name, and that very person entered the room making his way to the Belgian’s side. “… in case his presence should be needed. Now then, Mesdames et Messieurs, to the matter of the crime about which Poirot has been exercising the little grey cells. There is more than one of you who had reason to resent the late Rebecca de Winter, and perhaps that resentment might have – how do you say? – boiled over into a rage of homicide. For example you… Monsieur Favell.”
“Damn you, you detestable little frog,” snapped Jack Favell, grinding out his cigarette. “I’ve good mind to throttle you where you stand! I loved Rebecca.”
“Where Poirot stands, he stands!” said the Belgian, ignoring both Favell’s insult and its inaccuracy. “You show sufficient anger to be capable of murder perhaps. Indeed you did love the lady, but how often do we see love and jealousy go hand in hand? For certainment she had other lovers – a crime passionelle would not have been impossible. However I believe that you lack the courage. Your way is to creep around, not to confront – your surreptitious visit to Manderley to see Madame Danvers when Monsieur de Winter was absent shows as much. Non, you are not the murderer. Shall we see who else might have a motive. Perhaps Monsieur Crawley, the estate manager.”
Frank Crawley raised his eyebrows in surprise.
“You, Monsieur Crawley, are the devoted friend and faithful employee of Monsieur de Winter. You have worked for him for many years, taking care of the estate for which you yourself have much love. And yet – Poirot is correct, is he not? – Madame Rebecca once made the romantic overture to you. You could not stand the thought that one day the estate that you loved would come into her hands, the hands of a woman who would deceive her husband, your friend.”
“By George, you’re right!” said Frank Crawley. “She did, just the once. I was shocked, I can tell you, and for a good while I had my doubts about the kind of woman she was. But if she was unfaithful to Mr de Winter she managed to conceal it well enough from me, and I thought it had been an isolated… mistake.”
“Oh, but isolated it was not,” said Poirot. “Again am I not correct, Major Lacey?”
Major Lacey turned red, looked down, and mumbled something.
“Good grief, Giles!” exclaimed Beatrice Lacey.
“But again, there is not enough there to light a spark from which murder can burst into flame,” said Poirot. “Leaving aside the late Madame de Winter’s flirtings, there is at least one person present to whom she was deliberately and viciously cruel – le pauvre Monsieur Ben.”
Ben, standing at the back of the room, his battered hat clutched in his hand, realised that he was being spoken about. There has panic in his eyes.
“I didn’t do nothing,” he said, piteously. “Don’t send me to the asylum… I don’t want to go to the asylum…”
Poirot’s look was kindly. “Have no fear, Monsieur Ben,” he said, gently. “No one will ever send you to that dreadful place which you fear so much. As you say, you did nothing. You do not have the necessary skill to pilot a boat, to sink it, to return to the shore, and to cause to disappear all the evidence of this. Non, Monsieur Ben, the one person who ever threatened you with that dreadful place is gone, never to return.”
“She’s gone, that one,” said Ben.
“I shall make sure Ben is provided for, sir,” interjected Frank Crawley. Poirot made a short bow towards him, and continued.
“Who else is there who had motive or opportunity? Frith, the butler, standing there in our presence? Non, I can reveal that the butler did not do it. In fact, the finding of the inquest, it was almost correct. It is possible to say that the late Madame de Winter did indeed kill herself. Rather than suffer the wreck of her youthfulness and beauty, rather than die in pain from the fatal disease from which, we now know, she was suffering, she walked up to and stared into the face of her death, at the hands of you… Monsieur de Winter.”
“I knew it!” cried Jack Favell, jumping to his feet as Chief Inspector Japp moved swiftly to intercept him and push him back down into his chair. “Max, you swine! It was you all along.”
Maxim de Winter rose from his chair, and his young, rather dowdy second wife rose with him. He stood, his eyes steady on Poirot’s. “Go on,” he said, and Poirot, returning his steady gaze, did so.
“On the day in question you confronted your late wife in the boathouse cottage. There she taunted you about her infidelities – about which you already knew – but this time perhaps her taunts were insupportable, perhaps she said she would break her word, her promise of silence, and ruin your reputation and your family name. All the anger and resentment that you had held inside, at that moment it became too much to bear. You took up a gun and you shot her through the heart. After that you carried the body to the boat, piloted it out into the bay, spiked the hull, opened the sea-cocks, and rowed back to shore in the dinghy. You made sure that there was no evidence of the shooting in the boathouse. When a drowned woman was found later, you took the opportunity to identify her as your wife, even though you knew she was not – that was no mistake. No one would have known, had it not been for the shipwreck and for the discovery by the diver of your late wife’s boat. There, is Poirot not correct?”
“Say nothing, Maxim,” said Mrs de Winter, her voice quiet but firm.
Japp stepped forward. “Maximilian de Winter, I’m arresting you…” Poirot’s hand was on his arm, and the puzzled policeman stopped in mid-sentence.
“Not possible, mon cher Japp,” he said. “If indeed Monsieur de Winter remains silent, makes no confession, there is not one shred of material evidence against him. The bullet which killed his late wife passed through her body without leaving any mark upon her skeleton, and although the exercise of Poirot’s little grey cells is, as ever, impeccable, I must admit that without Monsieur de Winter’s confession there is no case. Even the accessory after the fact, the second Madame de Winter cannot be touched by the law. Oh yes, Madame, you have known for some time. Your fainting fit at the inquest, just at the moment when your husband’s testimony was beginning to appear shaky, it was most convenient. But it did not deceive Poirot! Enfin, you were about to leave for Southampton, if you go now you will still be in time to catch your steamer. Do not stand there – go! Go before Poirot changes his mind and gives you into the hands of the good Chief Inspector!”
Maxim de Winter seemed about to say something, but his little wife had caught his sleeve, her eyes as hard as steel. Without another word they both left the room.
“Look here, Poirot, this won’t do!” said Chief Inspector Japp, rounding on him. “You had a murderer and an accessory right here and you let them off scot free!”
“Scot free, mon cher Japp? Mais non. I have condemned them to a life sentence. Maxim de Winter is deprived of the house he loved, and the childlike qualities of his second wife, which so endeared her to him, have gone for ever. Their life together will be a prison of conjugal ennui. But resume your seats Mesdames et Messieurs, because there is another crime to consider – the burning down of Manderley.”
“Surely that was an accident, a fault with an electric lamp or something, wasn’t it?” asked Colonel Julyan.
“Non, mon Colonel, it was most certainly an act of arson.”
“Oh, I’ll put my hand up to that one,” said Jack Favell, taking a cigarette from its case and tapping it on the lid. “I always was a little careless with a cigarette lighter.”
Poirot turned to him and gave a weak smile. “Non, Monsieur Favell, it was not you. You could not have returned from the visit to Doctor Baker, when Madame Rebecca’s illness became known, in time to set the house ablaze before the de Winters returned. Impossible for a man to drive that fast and to take the correct route when he is – how do you say? – so well acquainted with a hip flask. But on this occasion you make perhaps an uncharacteristically generous gesture, one of protection, because you have guessed what Poirot has guessed, and you seek to protect someone of whom you are fond, someone who has always been on your side, someone whom no doubt you telephoned after the meeting with Doctor Baker. Madame Danvers, I must address my next remarks to you.”
The housekeeper sat rigid on her chair, her hands gripping the arms, an expression of utter hatred in her eyes as she looked at Poirot.
“You had disappeared, Madame, and we would not have found you had you not tried to sell some of the late Madame de Winter’s jewellery.”
“She gave me those, before she died. Keepsakes, presents,” said the housekeeper, through clenched teeth. “They were mine to do with as I pleased.”
“Perhaps, perhaps,” said the little Belgian. “The ownership of the jewels is of no importance. For a time, you were under suspicion for the murder, but your devotion to the lady was too great for that crime. The arson, however, is another matter. The fire began and had its greatest intensity in the east wing, in the bedroom of the second Madame de Winter, whose presence you resented, and whom you once tried to persuade to commit suicide. This was a crime of hate, an attempt to blot out all trace of the woman who had usurped the place of the one to whom you were so devoted. Again, is Poirot not correct?”
“Evangeline Danvers, I am arresting you… oh for heaven’s sake, Poirot, what now?”
Poirot had gently interposed himself between the policeman and the housekeeper, shaking his head. “Once more, mon cher Japp, unless Madame Danvers cares to confess, there is no material evidence. Well, Madame, do you wish to – please pardon the expression – make the clean breast of it?”
Getting to her feet, Mrs Danvers merely said, “Rot in hell – all of you!”, turned, and left the room.
“Wait for me, Danny,” called Jack Favell, following her.
“Poirot, I must say this is a bad show all round,” said Chief Inspector Japp with not a little irritation. “You got me down here with assurance of murder and arson, and now I have to go back to the Yard empty handed. If you’ll excuse me, ladies and gentlemen, I have a train to catch.”
“I give you this assurance, mon cher Japp,” said Poirot with a smile. “None of the people who committed a crime have escaped. At the very least they will wake up each night from dreams of the wreck of their lives, and of the burned shell of the great house of Manderley!”
“Moosior Poirot,” said Colonel Julyan, when everyone else had gone. “What will you do now. I for one would like to hear more about some of the cases which you have solved – professional interest, you know, as a magistrate. Can I persuade you to stay in Kerrith for a while longer? The local food they serve at the inn has a first class reputation.”
Poirot politely declined. “Alas, mon Colonel, I believe I ought to take also the London train, and make my peace with the good Chief Inspector. But I thank you for the kind invitation. Another time, perhaps, when you next visit London.”
Bowing and handing the Colonel his card, Poirot left. As he made for the station he sighed with relief. He thought, “I shall escape from this Cornwall – ses brouillards, ses orages, ses naufrages! – and most especially from the prospect of having to endure its cuisine. Oh those gastronomically detestable – how do they call them? – pasties!”