“You see,” Cross shifted his position so that he was able to turn back and face me when he spoke. “Once Mr. Dison had disposed of Corbet Adams’s body the way Jonathan Adell dictated, there was this information that Mr. Dison had about what happened.” Cross kept his back to Miss Mary as he spoke.
“I’m sure that Jonathan Adell never expected a fellow greenery lover to turn into a blackmailer like he did.” While Cross spoke, I turned to watch Miss Mary. Though her face was as unchanged as before, there was a slight tremor coursing through her frame.
“What a price to pay for the services of such a man.” Cross drew a low hiss of breath through his clenched teeth.
“I was to marry him before the year was out.” Miss Mary’s voice fell into the conversation. Her words fell at her feet. “You’ve no idea how horrible it all felt. I couldn’t marry him. I didn’t love him. And, yet, I couldn’t allow my father’s name to be drug through the courts.”
“Even though he had arranged for the murder of the man that you loved?” My heart went out to her.
“Even then.” Miss Mary released a soft sigh. “You see, no matter how much I loved Corbet, I still loved my father. And, though Corbet was gone, my father was still here. Seeing him disgraced would break my heart.”
Cross clucked his tongue against his teeth. “So, you planted the cutting of African Milk Plant in Corbet’s pocket because you wanted people to know he didn’t commit suicide, and the clue would have been vague enough that perhaps the connection to your father may never be discovered.”
Miss Mary nodded.
“How is it that Manuel Dison came to be poisoned?” My mind tore at the improbability of it all. “Surely he would have been most careful anytime he was on the estate, never taking tea, as it were.”
“Ah,” a twinkle flashed, for a moment, in Miss Mary’s eye. “The ego of such a man is easily wielded when the right words are spoken.”
“The dutiful host and fiancée,” Cross murmured.
“Quite.” Miss Mary nodded. “You are right, Mr. Martin, Manuel never took tea with my father. But, there are other means, other treats that can house a poison.” Her voice fell to a whisper.
“I am sorry, Mr. Martin, that you suffered for your visit yesterday. I do promise that it was never intended that you should have taken any of the poison. I’m afraid that silly girl of a maid didn’t follow my instructions on disposing of the tea.” Miss Mary rose from the chair. “I do hope you’ll forgive any injury.”
Cross stood, “So, one suitor ends the life of another suitor, only to have his own life ended. That’s quite the little complication.”
“What do you intend to do, Mr. Cross? Now that you know the truth?” Miss Mary, her tremor still slightly visible in her arms.
“You mean, will I go to the police and lay everything before them?”
Miss Mary nodded.
“I don’t really know. On the one hand, I don’t work for the police, but on the other hand, there are two murders that must be answered for.” Cross walked to the sitting room door and opened it. “Good day, Miss Adell.”
When Miss Adell had moved far enough from the door to prevent her overhearing, I turned to Cross. “Surely, you’re going to police. We can’t just let that family get away with murder.”
“Can’t we?” Cross’s face had a dark weariness about it, like the weight of the universe had suddenly planted itself between his eyes. “There’s more to this than a simple murder, more to it than who was right and who was wrong. Where do we draw the line on self-defense?” Cross plopped back into the armchair. “No, I need to think this one through.”
The day passed as agonizingly slow as the night before. When Cross finally did move from the armchair, it was to fetch the evening edition of the paper. It was upon his return that I knew something was horribly wrong. Never had I seen his face so stricken.
“What is it? What’s happened?”
Cross dropped the evening paper in my lap before falling into the armchair. There, printed across the front page in bold print, the main headline read: Three dead at Adell Estate, investigation underway.
The article went on to say that, the deaths were believed to be accidental as Mr. Adell was an avid gardener who enjoyed dabbling in his own tea mixes. It was further believed that their last collection of leaves were mistakenly mixed with the highly poisonous Belladonna.
Cross sighed, his whole frame sinking against the back of the armchair. “There is no stronger poison, nor one any deadlier than desperation mixed with passion.”