|From Argosy, September 1946|
"Money is so corrupting I always think," she said
by J. T. STORY
WHEN the aged Miss Agatha Thistle found the poison, she was shocked.
“Dear, dear !" she said. "And he's really such a nice boy.”
She blamed the wretched money. The little she had saved over the years, coupled with the legacy o f Cousin John. The root of all evil, she thought, as she turned the ugly little bottle in her old pale hands. She really shouldn't have told Reginald that she had made her will in his favour. But, of course, she had never dreamt—well, there was that boyish prank that had sent him to reform school. But murder ! She really was shocked.
She tried to pronounce the name on the bottle, but it was in some foreign language. Only the word POISON stood out in bold English letters. She consulted her medical dictionary, the one that Cousin John had left along with his money.
‑‑‑has the effect of mushroom poisoning, she read. Fancy, she thought, what will they think of next !
Agatha took the bottle out of the room and came back with it containing quite harmless water from the tap. Then she telephoned her lawyer.
Reginald came in carrying a basket, as the lawyer went out. Reginald was a very distant relative—very distant. Agatha had a remote and blushing recollection of something shocking that had happened to her cousin Florrie in Chatham many years ago. Reginald had descended on Agatha just after she had received cousin John's legacy.
Now she meant to let bygones be bygones, and she said, very pleasantly, " Been shopping, Reginald ?”
Reginald, whose face had managed to age two years for each of his thirty birthdays, scowled at the departing back of the lawyer.
" What did he want ?" he asked.
" I have been changing my will," Agatha told him blandly.
Reginald's face turned grey and put on another odd year or two. Not—not the cats' home…"
“No," Agatha said. " I have decided to let you enjoy some of my money now. After all, I might live forever, mightn’t I ?”
Reginald gulped and said yes, she might, but he did not seem very certain of it.
"So I've arranged with Mr. Longman for you to be paid one hundred pounds a month till my death."
"One hundred pounds."
"Yes. But when I die it stops, and the residue goes…”
"To the cats' home," said Reginald.
"But don't let's talk about money," Agatha said. "What have you been buying ? "
Reginald looked down at the basket and blushed—not with shame, but with apprehension. "Mushrooms," he said.
Agatha's face expressed great delight. "How lovely! For me?"
"Yes—no, I mean. That is, I don't think they'd agree with you—"
"Nonsense, Reginald," cried the old lady. "Everything agrees with a woman of my age. We've got nothing to lose, you know, like the young ones. No waist lines—"
"They're rather dangerous."
"Then I'll eat some first," Agatha said, "and you'll feel safe."
"I was thinking of you, Aunt," Reginald said.
And he was thinking of her all through the meal. Beseeching her not to cat too many. Telling her not to drink water directly afterwards, as it might bring on indigestion. And after dinner he hastily adjourned to his room and emptied the poison bottle into the hand basin.
In the months that followed, Miss Agatha Thistle was fussed over as she had never been fussed over before. Reginald was full of fussiness. She must wear her shawl in the evening. She must let him help her up and down the stairs. She was not to go out alone. He even insisted on reading to her in the evening to safeguard her ageing eyes. Short of putting her in cold storage, he did everything that he could possibly think of to preserve her good health.
The one hundred pounds he received each month satisfied all his tastes and allowed him to put a considerable amount beneath his mattress, but the worry of taking care of his aunt robbed him of all pleasure. He fervently wished he had put the mushroom plan into action a little sooner.
One day Agatha saw Reginald putting a roll of notes under his mattress.
"Isn't that rather unwise, Reginald ? " she said. "There are so many dishonest people about. And money is so corrupting, I always think."
"Why worry," Reginald scoffed. "Plenty more where this came from, eh ?" And he laughed.
Agatha laughed with him. But if he had been at all discerning he would have detected a falseness in his aunt's laughter. For after months of supplying her nephew with a generous allowance, Miss Agatha Thistle was penniless. Cousin John's legacy had gone. Her personal savings had gone. And Reginald had something like a small fortune under his mattress.
Reginald was taken ill on a Thursday, which was the day the village doctor went over to the nearby market town. By the evening, when the doctor called, he was dead.
"What did he have for breakfast ?" the doctor asked.
"Mushrooms," said the distressed Agatha,
"Aaaaah ! " said the doctor. "Just as I thought."
"You don't mean—"
"Yes," said the doctor, patting the tearful old lady's shoulder. "Dear me !" said Miss Agatha in shocked tones. "And he was such a nice boy."