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Accident is a short story, written by Agatha Christie which was first published in the Sunday Dispatch in 1929 in the UK. In 1934, the story was compiled and published as part of the anthology The Listerdale Mystery. In the US, the story was not published until 1943 in the Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine and subsequently as part of the 1948 anthology The Witness for the Prosecution and Other Stories.

Synopsis

In an English village, retired policeman Inspector Evans thinks he recognises a woman who was acquitted some years ago for poisoning her husband although he believes in her guilt. His friend Captain Haydock feels he should leave well alone but Evans believes that murderers never stop at one.

Plot summary

(may contain spoilers - click on expand to read)

In an English village, ex-Inspector Evans, late of the CID tells his friend, Captain Haydock (ex-Royal Navy), that he has recognized a local woman, Mrs Merrowdene, as being Mrs Anthony, a notorious woman who was charged and tried nine years previously with the murder of her husband by arsenic poisoning. She claimed that her husband was an arsenic-eater and that he took too much. Giving her the benefit of the doubt, the jury acquitted her and for the past six years she has been the wife of a local elderly professor. After recognizing her, Evans has carried out further investigations and found out that Mrs Merrowdene's stepfather died when he fell off a cliff path when walking with her one day. At that time, the stepfather had opposed the girl's (she was eighteen at the time of this incident) relationship with another man. Evans is convinced this earlier death was not accidental and that Mrs. Merrowdene is guilty of multiple murders.

Soon afterward, walking in the village, Evans meets and talks with Professor Merrowdene and finds out that he has just taken out a large insurance policy which will pay out to his wife should he die. Evans is more convinced than ever that Mrs Merrowdene is planning a third killing. He goes to the village fête where a fortuneteller foresees him being involved in a matter of 'life and death'. He meets Mrs Merrowdene at the fête and deliberately calls her Mrs Anthony, trying to provoke a reaction, but the lady remains composed. She invites Evans home for tea with her and her husband. Once there, she tells him they drink Chinese tea in bowls and then admonishes her husband for using the bowls for his chemical laboratory work, as it leaves a residue. Evans sees that she is about to poison her husband in front of him, using him as a witness. When Merrowdene leaves the room, Evans insists that the lady drinks from the bowl she prepared for her husband. She hesitates and then pours the contents into a plant pot. Evans is satisfied that he has prevented the murder and warns Mrs Merrowdene that she must not continue her 'activities'. He then drinks his bowl, chokes and dies on the spot. Having declared his suspicions of the woman, Evans was Mrs Merrowdene's victim, not her husband.

It is mentioned toward the end of the story that Inspector Evans was the third man who had threatened to cross Mrs Merrowdene and separate her from the man she loved; this means that Mr. Merrowdene is the man she loved when she was 18, and the three men were: her stepfather, Mr Anthony (whom she presumably did not love anymore), and Inspector Evans.

Characters

Adaptations

In 1939 Margery Vosper adapted the short story into a stage play, named Tea for Three.

Publication history

References

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