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Authors: Agatha Christie

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‘You know that it was posted?’

‘My dear M. Poirot, I posted it myself. Right in this box here by the gate.’

‘So if M. Vyse says he never got it—’

Croft stared.

‘Do you mean that it got lost in the post? Oh! but surely that’s impossible.’

‘Anyway, you are certain that you posted it.’

‘Certain sure,’ said Mr Croft, heartily. ‘I’ll take my oath on that any day.’

‘Ah! well,’ said Poirot. ‘Fortunately it does not matter. Mademoiselle is not likely to die just yet awhile.’

Et voilà!
’ said Poirot, when we were out of earshot and walking down to the hotel. ‘Who is lying? M. Croft? Or M. Charles Vyse? I must confess I see no reason why M. Croft should be lying. To suppress the will would be of no advantage to him—especially when he had been instrumental in getting it made. No, his statement seems clear enough and tallies exactly with what was told us by Mademoiselle Nick. But all the same—’


‘All the same, I am glad that M. Croft was doing the cooking when we arrived. He left an excellent impression of a greasy thumb and first finger on a corner of the newspaper that covered the kitchen table. I managed to tear it off unseen by him. We will send it to our good friend Inspector Japp of Scotland Yard. There is just a chance that he might know something about it.’


‘You know, Hastings, I cannot help feeling that our genial M. Croft is a little too good to be genuine.’

‘And now,’ he added. ‘
Le déjeuner
. I faint with hunger.’

Poirot’s inventions about the Chief Constable were proved not to have been so mendacious after all. Colonel Weston called upon us soon after lunch.

He was a tall man of military carriage with considerable good-looks. He had a suitable reverence for Poirot’s achievements, with which he seemed to be well acquainted.

‘Marvellous piece of luck for us having you down here, M. Poirot,’ he said again and again.

His one fear was that he should be compelled to call in the assistance of Scotland Yard. He was anxious to solve the mystery and catch the criminal without their aid. Hence his delight at Poirot’s presence in the neighbourhood.

Poirot, so far as I could judge, took him completely into his confidence.

‘Deuced odd business,’ said the Colonel. ‘Never
heard of anything like it. Well, the girl ought to be safe enough in a nursing home. Still, you can’t keep her there for ever!’

‘That, M. le Colonel, is just the difficulty. There is only one way of dealing with it.’

‘And that is?’

‘We must lay our hands on the person responsible.’

‘If what you suspect is true, that isn’t going to be so easy.’

Ah! je le sais bien.

‘Evidence! Getting evidence is going to be the devil.’

He frowned abstractedly.

‘Always difficult, these cases, where there’s no routine work. If we could get hold of the pistol—’

‘In all probability it is at the bottom of the sea. That is, if the murderer had any sense.’

‘Ah!’ said Colonel Weston. ‘But often they haven’t. You’d be surprised at the fool things people do. I’m not talking of murders—we don’t have many murders down in these parts, I’m glad to say—but in ordinary police court cases. The sheer damn foolishness of these people would surprise you.’

‘They are of a different mentality, though,’

‘Yes—perhaps. If Vyse is the chap, well, we’ll have our work cut out. He’s a cautious man and a sound lawyer. He’ll not give himself away. The woman—well, there would be more hope there. Ten to one she’ll try
again. Women have no patience.’

He rose.

‘Inquest tomorrow morning. Coroner will work in with us and give away as little as possible. We want to keep things dark at present.’

He was turning towards the door when he suddenly came back.

‘Upon my soul, I’d forgotten the very thing that will interest you most, and that I want your opinion about.’

Sitting down again, he drew from his pocket a torn scrap of paper with writing on it and handed it to Poirot.

‘My police found this when they were searching the grounds. Nor far from where you were all watching the fireworks. It’s the only suggestive thing they did find.’

Poirot smoothed it out. The writing was large and straggling.

‘…must have money at once. If not you…what will happen. I’m warning you.’

Poirot frowned. He read and re-read it.

‘This is interesting,’ he said. ‘I may keep it?’

‘Certainly. There are no finger-prints on it. I’ll be glad if you can make anything of it.’

Colonel Weston got to his feet again.

‘I really must be off. Inquest tomorrow, as I said. By the way, you are not being called as witness—only Captain Hastings. Don’t want the newspaper people to get wise to your being on the job.’

‘I comprehend. What of the relations of the poor young lady?’

‘The father and mother are coming from Yorkshire today. They’ll arrive about half-past five. Poor souls. I’m heartily sorry for them. They are taking the body back with them the following day.’

He shook his head.

‘Unpleasant business. I’m not enjoying this, M. Poirot.’

‘Who could, M. le Colonel? It is, as you say, an unpleasant business.’

When he had gone, Poirot examined the scrap of paper once more.

‘An important clue?’ I asked.

He shrugged his shoulders.

‘How can one tell? There is a hint of blackmail about it! Someone of our party that night was being pressed for money in a very unpleasant way. Of course, it is possible that it was one of the strangers.’

He looked at the writing through a little magnifying glass.

‘Does this writing look at all familiar to you, Hastings?’

‘It reminds me a little of something—Ah! I have it—that note of Mrs Rice’s.’

‘Yes,’ said Poirot, slowly. ‘There are resemblances. Decidedly there are resemblances. It is curious. Yet I do not think that this is the writing of Madame Rice. Come in,’ he said, as a knock came at the door.

It was Commander Challenger.

‘Just looked in,’ he explained. ‘Wanted to know if you were any further forward.’

,’ said Poirot. ‘At this moment I am feeling that I am considerably further back. I seem to progress
en reculant

‘That’s bad. But I don’t really believe it, M. Poirot. I’ve been hearing all about you and what a wonderful chap you are. Never had a failure, they say.’

‘That is not true,’ said Poirot. ‘I had a bad failure in Belgium in 1893. You recollect, Hastings? I recounted it to you. The affair of the box of chocolates.’

‘I remember,’ I said.

And I smiled, for at the time that Poirot told me that tale, he had instructed me to say ‘chocolate box’ to him if ever I should fancy he was growing conceited! He was then bitterly offended when I used the magical words only a minute and a quarter later.

‘Oh, well,’ said Challenger, ‘that is such a long time ago it hardly counts. You are going to get to the bottom of this, aren’t you?’

‘That I swear. On the word of Hercule Poirot. I am the dog who stays on the scent and does not leave it.’

‘Good. Got any ideas?’

‘I have suspicions of two people.’

‘I suppose I mustn’t ask you who they are?’

‘I should not tell you! You see, I might possibly be in error.’

is satisfactory, I trust,’ said Challenger, with a faint twinkle.

Poirot smiled indulgently at the bronzed face in front of him. ‘You left Devonport at a few minutes past 8.30. You arrived here at five minutes past ten—twenty minutes after the crime had been committed. But the distance from Devonport is only just over thirty miles, and you have often done it in an hour since the road is good. So, you see, your alibi is not good at all!’

‘Well, I’m—’

‘You comprehend, I inquire into everything. Your
, as I say, is not good. But there are other things beside alibis. You would like, I think, to marry Mademoiselle Nick?’

The sailor’s face flushed.

‘I’ve always wanted to marry her,’ he said huskily.

Eh bien
—Mademoiselle Nick was engaged to another man. A reason, perhaps, for killing the other man. But that is unnecessary—he dies the death of a hero.’

‘So it
true—that Nick was engaged to Michael
Seton? There’s a rumour to that effect all over the town this morning.’

‘Yes—it is interesting how soon news spreads. You never suspected it before?’

‘I knew Nick was engaged to someone—she told me so two days ago. But she didn’t give me a clue as to whom it was.’

‘It was Michael Seton.
Entre nous
, he has left her, I fancy, a very pretty fortune. Ah! assuredly, it is not a moment for killing Mademoiselle Nick—from your point of view. She weeps for her lover now, but the heart consoles itself. She is young. And I think, Monsieur, that she is very fond of you…’

Challenger was silent for a moment or two.

‘If it should be…’ he murmured.

There was a tap on the door.

It was Frederica Rice.

‘I’ve been looking for you,’ she said to Challenger. ‘They told me you were here. I wanted to know if you’d got my wrist-watch back yet.’

‘Oh, yes, I called for it this morning.’

He took it from his pocket and handed it to her. It was a watch of rather an unusual shape—round, like a globe, set on a strap of plain black moiré. I remembered that I had seen one much the same shape on Nick Buckley’s wrist.

‘I hope it will keep better time now.’

‘It’s rather a bore. Something is always going wrong with it.’

‘It is for beauty, Madame, and not for utility,’ said Poirot.

‘Can’t one have both?’ She looked from one to the other of us. ‘Am I interrupting a conference?’

‘No, indeed, Madame. We were talking gossip—not the crime. We were saying how quickly news spreads—how that everyone now knows that Mademoiselle Nick was engaged to that brave airman who perished.’

‘So Nick
engaged to Michael Seton!’ exclaimed Frederica.

‘It surprises you, Madame?’

‘It does a little. I don’t know why. Certainly I did think he was very taken with her last autumn. They went about a lot together. And then, after Christmas, they both seemed to cool off. As far as I know, they hardly met.’

‘The secret, they kept it very well.’

‘That was because of old Sir Matthew, I suppose. He was really a little off his head, I think.’

‘You had no suspicion, Madame? And yet Mademoiselle was such an intimate friend.’

‘Nick’s a close little devil when she likes,’ murmured Frederica. ‘But I understand now why she’s been so nervy lately. Oh! and I ought to have guessed from something she said only the other day.’

‘Your little friend is very attractive, Madame.’

‘Old Jim Lazarus used to think so at one time,’ said Challenger, with his loud, rather tactless laugh.

‘Oh! Jim—’ She shrugged her shoulders, but I thought she was annoyed.

She turned to Poirot.

‘Tell me, M. Poirot, did you—’

She stopped. Her tall figure swayed and her face turned whiter still. Her eyes were fixed on the centre of the table.

‘You are not well, Madame.’

I pushed forward a chair, helped her to sink into it. She shook her head, murmured, ‘I’m all right,’ and leaned forward, her face between her hands. We watched her awkwardly.

She sat up in a minute.

‘How absurd! George, darling, don’t look so worried. Let’s talk about murders. Something exciting. I want to know if M. Poirot is on the track.’

‘It is early to say, Madame,’ said Poirot, noncommittally.

‘But you have ideas—yes?’

‘Perhaps. But I need a great deal more evidence.’

‘Oh!’ She sounded uncertain.

Suddenly she rose.

‘I’ve got a head. I think I’ll go and lie down. Perhaps tomorrow they’ll let me see Nick.’

She left the room abruptly. Challenger frowned.

‘You never know what that woman’s up to. Nick may have been fond of her, but I don’t believe she was fond of Nick. But there, you can’t tell with women. It’s darling—darling—darling—all the time—and “damn you” would probably express it much better. Are you going out, M. Poirot?’ For Poirot had risen and was carefully brushing a speck off his hat.

‘Yes, I am going into the town.’

‘I’ve got nothing to do. May I come with you.’

‘Assuredly. It will be a pleasure.’

We left the room. Poirot, with an apology, went back.

‘My stick,’ he explained, as he rejoined us.

Challenger winced slightly. And indeed the stick, with its embossed gold band, was somewhat ornate.

Poirot’s first visit was to a florist.

‘I must send some flowers to Mademoiselle Nick,’ he explained.

He proved difficult to suit.

In the end he chose an ornate gold basket to be filled with orange carnations. The whole to be tied up with a large blue bow.

The shopwoman gave him a card and he wrote on it with a flourish: ‘With the Compliments of Hercule Poirot.’

‘I sent her some flowers this morning,’ said Challenger. ‘I might send her some fruit.’

’ said Poirot.


‘I said it was useless. The eatable—it is not permitted.’

‘Who says so?’

‘I say so. I have made the rule. It has already been impressed on Mademoiselle Nick. She understands.’

‘Good Lord!’ said Challenger.

He looked thoroughly startled. He stared at Poirot curiously.

‘So that’s it, is it?’ he said. ‘You’re still—afraid.’

The inquest was a dry proceeding—mere bare bones. There was evidence of identification, then I gave evidence of the finding of the body. Medical evidence followed.

The inquest was adjourned for a week.

The St Loo murder had jumped into prominence in the daily press. It had, in fact, succeeded ‘Seton Still Missing. Unknown Fate of Missing Airman.’

Now that Seton was dead and due tribute had been paid to his memory, a new sensation was due. The St Loo Mystery was a godsend to papers at their wits’ end for news in the month of August.

After the inquest, having successfully dodged reporters, I met Poirot, and we had an interview with the Rev. Giles Buckley and his wife.

Maggie’s father and mother were a charming pair, completely unworldly and unsophisticated.

Mrs Buckley was a woman of character, tall and fair and showing very plainly her northern ancestry. Her husband was a small man, grey-haired, with a diffident appealing manner.

Poor souls, they were completely dazed by the misfortune that had overtaken them and robbed them of a well-beloved daughter. ‘Our Maggie’, as they called her.

‘I can scarcely realize it even now,’ said Mr Buckley. ‘Such a dear child, M. Poirot. So quiet and unselfish—always thinking of others. Who could wish to harm her?’

‘I could hardly understand the telegram,’ said Mrs Buckley. ‘Why it was only the morning before that we had seen her off.’

‘In the midst of life we are in death,’ murmured her husband.

‘Colonel Weston has been very kind,’ said Mrs Buckley. ‘He assures us that everything is being done to find the man who did this thing. He must be a madman. No other explanation is possible.’

‘Madame, I cannot tell you how I sympathize with you in your loss—and how I admire your bravery!’

‘Breaking down would not bring Maggie back to us,’ said Mrs Buckley, sadly.

‘My wife is wonderful,’ said the clergyman. ‘Her faith and courage are greater than mine. It is all so—so bewildering, M. Poirot.’

‘I know—I know, Monsieur.’

‘You are a great detective, M. Poirot?’ said Mrs Buckley.

‘It has been said, Madame.’

‘Oh! I know. Even in our remote country village we have heard of you. You are going to find out the truth, M. Poirot?’

‘I shall not rest until I do, Madame.’

‘It will be revealed to you, M. Poirot,’ quavered the clergyman. ‘Evil cannot go unpunished.’

‘Evil never goes unpunished, Monsieur. But the punishment is sometimes secret.’

‘What do you mean by that, M. Poirot?’

Poirot only shook his head.

‘Poor little Nick,’ said Mrs Buckley. ‘I am really sorriest of all for her. I had a most pathetic letter. She says she feels she asked Maggie down here to her death.’

‘That is morbid,’ said Mr Buckley.

‘Yes, but I know how she feels. I wish they would let me see her. It seems so extraordinary not to let her own family visit her.’

‘Doctors and nurses are very strict,’ said Poirot, evasively. ‘They make the rules—so—and nothing will change them. And doubtless they fear for her the emotion—the natural emotion—she would experience on seeing you.’

‘Perhaps,’ said Mrs Buckley, doubtfully. ‘But I don’t hold with nursing homes. Nick would do much better if they let her come back with me—right away from this place.’

‘It is possible—but I fear they will not agree. It is long since you have seen Mademoiselle Buckley?’

‘I haven’t seen her since last autumn. She was at Scarborough. Maggie went over and spent the day with her and then she came back and spent a night with us. She’s a pretty creature—though I can’t say I like her friends. And the life she leads—well, it’s hardly her fault, poor child. She’s had no upbringing of any kind.’

‘It is a strange house—End House,’ said Poirot thoughtfully.

‘I don’t like it,’ said Mrs Buckley. ‘I never have. There’s something all wrong about that house. I disliked old Sir Nicholas intensely. He made me shiver.’

‘Not a good man, I’m afraid,’ said her husband. ‘But he had a curious charm.’

never felt it,’ said Mrs Buckley. ‘There’s an evil feeling about that house. I wish we’d never let our Maggie go there.’

‘Ah! wishing,’ said Mr Buckley, and shook his head.

‘Well,’ said Poirot. ‘I must not intrude upon you any longer. I only wished to proffer to you my deep sympathy.’

‘You have been very kind, M. Poirot. And we are indeed grateful for all you are doing.’

‘You return to Yorkshire—when?’

‘Tomorrow. A sad journey. Goodbye, M. Poirot, and thank you again.’

‘Very simple delightful people,’ I said, after we had left.

Poirot nodded.

‘It makes the heart ache, does it not,
mon ami
? A tragedy so useless—so purposeless.
Cette jeune fille
—Ah! but I reproach myself bitterly. I, Hercule Poirot, was on the spot and I did not prevent the crime!’

‘Nobody could have prevented it.’

‘You speak without reflection, Hastings. No ordinary person could have prevented it—but of what good is it to be Hercule Poirot with grey cells of a finer quality than other people’s, if you do not manage to do what ordinary people cannot?’

‘Well, of course,’ I said. ‘If you are going to put it like that—’

‘Yes, indeed. I am abased, downhearted—completely abased.’

I reflected that Poirot’s abasement was strangely like other people’s conceit, but I prudently forebore from making any remark.

‘And now,’ he said, ‘
en avant. To London


Mais oui
. We shall catch the two o’clock train very comfortably. All is peaceful here. Mademoiselle is safe in the nursing home. No one can harm her. The watch-dogs, therefore, can take leave of absence. There are one or two little pieces of information that I require.’

Our first proceeding on arriving in London was to call upon the late Captain Seton’s solicitors, Messrs Whitfield, Pargiter & Whitfield.

Poirot had arranged for an appointment beforehand, and although it was past six o’clock, we were soon closeted with Mr Whitfield, the head of the firm.

He was a very urbane and impressive person. He had in front of him a letter from the Chief Constable and another from some high official at Scotland Yard.

‘This is all very irregular and unusual, M.—ah—Poirot,’ he said, as he polished his eyeglasses.

‘Quite so, M. Whitfield. But then murder is also irregular—and, I am glad to say, sufficiently unusual.’

‘True. True. But rather far-fetched—to make a connection between this murder and my late client’s bequest—eh?’

‘I think not.’

‘Ah! you think not. Well—under the circumstances—and I must admit that Sir Henry puts it very strongly in his letter—I shall be—er—happy to do anything that is in my power.’

‘You acted as legal adviser to the late Captain Seton?’

‘To all the Seton family, my dear sir. We have done so—our firm have done so, I mean—for the last hundred years.’

. The late Sir Matthew Seton made a will?’

‘We made it for him.’

‘And he left his fortune—how?’

‘There were several bequests—one to the Natural History Museum—but the bulk of his large—his, I may say,
very large fortune
—he left to Captain Michael Seton absolutely. He had no other near relations.’

‘A very large fortune, you say?’

‘The late Sir Matthew was the second richest man in England,’ replied Mr Whitfield, composedly.

‘He had somewhat peculiar views, had he not?’ Mr Whitfield looked at him severely.

‘A millionaire, M. Poirot, is allowed to be eccentric. It is almost expected of him.’

Poirot received his correction meekly and asked another question.

‘His death was unexpected, I understand?’

unexpected. Sir Matthew enjoyed remarkably good health. He had an internal growth, however, which no one had suspected. It reached a vital tissue and an immediate operation was necessary. The operation was, as always on these occasions, completely successful. But Sir Matthew died.’

‘And his fortune passed to Captain Seton.’

‘That is so.’

‘Captain Seton had, I understand, made a will before leaving England?’

‘If you can call it a will—yes,’ said Mr Whitfield, with strong distaste.

‘It is legal?’

‘It is perfectly legal. The intention of the testator is plain and it is properly witnessed. Oh, yes, it is legal.’

‘But you do not approve of it?’

‘My dear sir, what are

I had often wondered. Having once had occasion to make a perfectly simple will myself. I had been appalled at the length and verbiage that resulted from my solicitor’s office.

‘The truth of the matter was,’ continued Mr Whitfield, ‘that at the time Captain Seton had little or nothing to leave. He was dependent on the allowance he received from his uncle. He felt, I suppose, that anything would do.’

And had thought correctly, I whispered to myself.

‘And the terms of this will?’ asked Poirot.

‘He leaves everything of which he dies possessed to his affianced wife, Miss Magdala Buckley absolutely. He names me as his executor.

‘Then Miss Buckley inherits?’

‘Certainly Miss Buckley inherits.’

‘And if Miss Buckley had happened to die last Monday?’

‘Captain Seton having predeceased her, the money would go to whomever she had named in her will as residuary legatee—or failing a will to her next of kin.’

‘I may say,’ added Mr Whitfield, with an air of enjoyment, ‘that death duties would have been enormous. Enormous! Three deaths, remember, in rapid succession.’ He shook his head. ‘Enormous!’

‘But there would have been something left?’ murmured Poirot, meekly.

‘My dear sir, as I told you, Sir Matthew was the second richest man in England.’

Poirot rose.

‘Thank you, Mr Whitfield, very much for the information that you have given me.’

‘Not at all. Not at all. I may say that I shall be in communication with Miss Buckley—indeed, I believe the letter has already gone. I shall be happy to be of any service I can to her.’

‘She is a young lady,’ said Poirot, ‘who could do with some sound legal advice.’

‘There will be fortune hunters, I am afraid,’ said Mr Whitfield, shaking his head.

‘It seems indicated,’ agreed Poirot. ‘Good day, Monsieur.’

‘Goodbye, M. Poirot. Glad to have been of service to you. Your name is—ah!—familiar to me.’

He said this kindly—with an air of one making a valuable admission.

‘It is all exactly as you thought, Poirot,’ I said, when we were outside.

Mon ami
, it was bound to be.
It could not be any other way
. We will go now to the Cheshire Cheese where Japp meets us for an early dinner.’

We found Inspector Japp of Scotland Yard awaiting us at the chosen rendezvous. He greeted Poirot with every sign of warmth.

‘Years since I’ve seen you, Moosior Poirot. Thought you were growing vegetable marrows in the country.’

‘I tried, Japp, I tried. But even when you grow vegetable marrows you cannot get away from murder.’

He sighed. I knew of what he was thinking—that strange affair at Fernley Park. How I regretted that I had been far away at that time.

‘And Captain Hastings too,’ said Japp. ‘How are you, sir?’

‘Very fit, thanks,’ I said.

‘And now there are more murders?’ continued Japp, facetiously.

‘As you say—more murders.’

‘Well, you mustn’t be depressed, old cock,’ said Japp. ‘Even if you can’t see your way clear—well—you can’t
go about at your time of life and expect to have the success you used to do. We all of us get stale as the years go by. Got to give the young ’uns a chance, you know.’

‘And yet the old dog is the one who knows the tricks,’ murmured Poirot. ‘He is cunning. He does not leave the scent.’

‘Oh! well—we’re talking about human beings, not dogs.’

‘Is there so much difference?’

‘Well, it depends how you look at things. But you’re a caution, isn’t he, Captain Hastings? Always was. Looks much the same—hair a bit thinner on top but the face fungus fuller than ever.’

‘Eh?’ said Poirot. ‘What is that?’

‘He’s congratulating you on your moustaches,’ I said, soothingly.

‘They are luxuriant, yes,’ said Poirot, complacently caressing them.

Japp went off into a roar of laughter.

‘Well,’ he said, after a minute or two, ‘I’ve done your bit of business. Those finger-prints you sent me—’

‘Yes?’ said Poirot, eagerly.

‘Nothing doing. Whoever the gentleman may be—he hasn’t passed through
hands. On the other hand, I wired to Melbourne and nobody of that description or name is known there.’


‘So there may be something fishy after all. But he’s not one of the lads.’

‘As to the other business,’ went on Japp.


‘Lazarus and Son have a good reputation. Quite straight and honourable in their dealings. Sharp, of course—but that’s another matter. You’ve got to be sharp in business. But they’re all right. They’re in a bad way, though—financially, I mean.’

‘Oh!—is that so?’

‘Yes—the slump in pictures has hit them badly. And antique furniture too. All this modern continental stuff coming into fashion. They built new premises last year and—well—as I say, they’re not far from Queer Street.’

‘I am much obliged to you.’

‘Not at all. That sort of thing isn’t my line, as you know. But I made a point of finding out as you wanted to know. We can always get information.’

‘My good Japp, what should I do without you?’

‘Oh! that’s all right. Always glad to oblige an old friend. I let you in on some pretty good cases in the old days, didn’t I?’

This, I realized, was Japp’s way of acknowledging indebtedness to Poirot, who had solved many a case which had baffled the inspector.

‘They were the good days—yes.’

‘I wouldn’t mind having a chat with you now and again even in these days. Your methods may be old-fashioned but you’ve got your head screwed on the right way, M. Poirot.’

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