The poisoner poured tea from the same pot. 3 people drank it. Only 1 died.
This is one from the annals.
The year was 1851. The year of the Great Exhibition in the Crystal Palace, and also the year in which the Arsenic Act was passed, placing certain controls on the sale of all compounds of arsenic. Unfortunately, the law did not receive Royal Assent until June, which was too late to save Ebediah Smithson.
When Ebediah joined his sister Rebecca and her new husband Zardok Cripplegate for tea at their Croydon house on May 1st that year, arsenic was still freely available for anyone to purchase over any number of counters, from a qualified pharmacist’s to a general grocer’s. Furthermore, it was still being sold in forms that could be introduced without detection into an unsuspecting victim’s food or drink.
The small party was exhausted but exhilarated. The Great Exhibition had opened its doors to the public that very day and they had been among the first visitors. The crowds had left Rebecca tired, but the two men were energised by what they had seen. The event particularly chimed with Ebediah’s outlook and personality, which, despite his orphan status, was dominated by optimism. He expressed his intention to return to the Crystal Palace the following day. There was so much to see there that no one could take it all in in a single day.
Zardok Cripplegate smiled indulgently at his young friend’s enthusiasm.
Ebediah was 21, Rebecca 17. Their mother had died giving birth to Rebecca and their father had died of a heart attack on being told the news. Zardok Cripplegate was 47. He had been a business associate and trusted friend of their father’s. He and his first wife, Ambrosia, had become the children’s guardians.
Upon the sudden death last year of the first Mrs Cripplegate, Zardok had astonished the world – or at least that portion of the world aware of his existence – by making a proposal of marriage to the young Miss Smithson. Whether it was shock, fear, gratitude, confusion, or some other emotion that impelled her, Rebecca accepted.
Rebecca had always felt the vulnerability of her position more than Ebediah. At his last birthday, he had inherited the entirety of his father’s estate. Rebecca, on the other hand, would always be dependent on the generosity of men. She would have to marry someone, she presumed. And after her brother (whom she was naturally prevented from marrying) there was no one she trusted, and on whose goodwill she was confident to rely, more than Mr Zardok Cripplegate.
Once she had overcome her surprise at the unexpectedness of the proposal, she found that she had no objections to it. Mr Cripplegate was a handsome enough man, given his years; that is to say, he inspired no strong repugnance in her. On the contrary, he had always shown her the greatest kindness and attention.
Perhaps it was strange that she was now married to a man she had once called Uncle, and even stranger when she persisted in that term of address after their marriage. But Zardok Cripplegate was not her uncle or related to her by blood in any way. Her use of the term was simply a sign of the affection she continued to entertain towards him.
Everyone involved accepted that things had turned out for the best.
Even though their relationship was now one of husband and wife, rather than guardian and ward, Mr Cripplegate continued to exercise a great deal of control over Rebecca, for example monitoring her diet and restricting her intake of fattening food. He would always chide her gently, with an avuncular smile and a wagging finger, reminding her that the last thing she wanted was to lose her girlish figure.
He was also able to exert considerable influence on his brother-in-law, Ebediah.
In keeping with his optimism and enthusiasm, Ebediah’s nature was open and trusting. He knew that there was evil in the world, but he had little direct experience of it. (The deaths of his parents he considered unfortunate, rather than evil.) If there were bad people, they were not anyone he knew.
It rarely occurred to him to practise deceit, and usually when he did so it was for the best of motives, to spare someone’s feelings, for example, or to prepare the way for a pleasing surprise. And so it was hard for him to imagine that others might undertake to deceive him, and that they might do so for the most despicable of motives.
The very last person he would have been able to imagine acting in this way was Zardok Cripplegate.
And so when Cripplegate – a solicitor by profession, and once his father’s partner – suggested that his brother-in-law sign certain papers concerning various trusts and investments and life insurance policies, Ebediah thought nothing of it. Uncle Zardok had always advised him in such matters. “And one other thing. I took the liberty of drawing up a will for you. For Rebecca’s sake, you understand. You have come into possession of a considerable fortune. There are responsibilities that go with that, responsibilities towards your sister. If anything were to happen to you, God forbid, and you had not left a will, it would place Rebecca at a considerable disadvantage.”
Such business taken care of, they settled themselves in the back parlour to discuss the notable exhibits of the day.
Rebecca professed herself disappointed by the Koh-i-noor, which had been advertised as the biggest diamond in the world. “We had to queue for so long to see it,” she complained. “But it was not much to look at.”
Ebediah had been much struck by the Tempest Prognosticator, a barometer which relied on the sensitivity of leeches. For Zardok, the most arresting invention at the Great Exhibition was not an exhibit as such, it was the Public Conveniences in the Retiring Rooms. “Mark my words, the inventor of that stands to make a fortune. It is a brilliant but simple invention. Everyone must relieve his or her self. The inventor’s genius is to charge a penny for the convenience of doing so.”
At last the tea was brewed. Zardok showed his consideration to his weary wife by urging her not to trouble herself. He would do the honours. He poured and handed out the cups, passing round the sugar. Of course, he discouraged his wife with the usual prohibition. “Now now, my dear. You know you only have to look at the sugar bowl to put on the pounds.”
Rebecca bowed her head sadly but complied.
And so it was that young Ebediah Smithson was the only one to partake of sugar. In fact, he found it necessary to help himself to more than his usual three spoonfuls, as even after adding those, the tea was not quite as sweet as he was used to.
“Another cup?” said Zardok, when Ebediah had finished the first. “Good, good. That’s right. You can have as much sugar as you like.”