Read Peril at End House Online

Authors: Agatha Christie

Peril at End House (6 page)

BOOK: Peril at End House
3.1Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

‘Of course—but there’s nothing in it. They were just stupid things. There’s a heavy picture hangs over my bed. It fell in the night. Just by pure chance I had happened to hear a door banging somewhere in the house and went down to find it and shut it—and so I escaped. It would probably have bashed my head in. That’s No. 1.’

Poirot did not smile.

‘Continue, Mademoiselle. Let us pass to No. 2.’

‘Oh, that’s weaker still. There’s a scrambly cliff path down to the sea. I go down that way to bathe. There’s a rock you can dive off. A boulder got dislodged
somehow and came roaring down just missing me. The third thing was quite different. Something went wrong with the brakes of the car—I don’t know quite what—the garage man explained, but I didn’t follow it. Anyway if I’d gone through the gate and down the hill, they wouldn’t have held and I suppose I’d have gone slap into the Town Hall and there would have been the devil of a smash. Slight defacement of the Town Hall, complete obliteration of me. But owing to my
always
leaving something behind, I turned back and merely ran into the laurel hedge.’

‘And you cannot tell me what the trouble was?’

‘You can go and ask them at Mott’s Garage. They’ll know. It was something quite simple and mechanical that had been unscrewed, I think. I wondered if Ellen’s boy (my stand-by who opened the door to you, has got a small boy) had tinkered with it. Boys do like messing about with cars. Of course Ellen swore he’d never been near the car. I think something must just have worked loose in spite of what Mott said.’

‘Where is your garage, Mademoiselle?’

‘Round the other side of the house.’

‘Is it kept locked?’

Nick’s eyes widened in surprise.

‘Oh!
no
. Of course not.’

‘Anyone could tamper with the car unobserved?’

‘Well—yes—I suppose so. But it’s so silly.’

‘No, Mademoiselle. It is not silly. You do not understand. You are in danger—grave danger. I tell it to you. I! And you do not know who I am?’

‘No.’ said Nick, breathlessly.

‘I am Hercule Poirot.’

‘Oh!’ said Nick, in rather a flat tone. ‘Oh, yes.’

‘You know my name, eh?’

‘Oh, yes.’

She wriggled uncomfortably. A hunted look came into her eyes. Poirot observed her keenly.

‘You are not at ease. That means, I suppose, that you have not read my books.’

‘Well—no—not all of them. But I know the name, of course.’

‘Mademoiselle, you are a polite little liar.’ (I started, remembering the words spoken at the Majestic Hotel that day after lunch.) ‘I forget—you are only a child—you would not have heard. So quickly does fame pass. My friend there—he will tell you.’

Nick looked at me. I cleared my throat, somewhat embarrassed.

‘Monsieur Poirot is—er—was—a great detective,’ I explained.

‘Ah! my friend,’ cried Poirot. ‘Is that all you can find to say?
Mais dis donc!
Say then to Mademoiselle that I am a detective unique, unsurpassed, the greatest that ever lived!’

‘That is now unnecessary,’ I said coldly. ‘You have told her yourself.’

‘Ah, yes, but it is more agreeable to have been able to preserve the modesty. One should not sing one’s own praises.’

‘One should not keep a dog and have to bark oneself,’ agreed Nick, with mock sympathy. ‘Who is the dog, by the way? Dr Watson, I presume.’

‘My name is Hastings,’ I said coldly.

‘Battle of—1066,’ said Nick. ‘Who said I wasn’t educated? Well, this is all too,
too
marvellous! Do you think someone really wants to do away with me? It would be thrilling. But, of course, that sort of thing doesn’t really happen. Only in books. I expect Monsieur Poirot is like a surgeon who’s invented an operation or a doctor who’s found an obscure disease and wants everyone to have it.’


Sacré tonnerre!
’ thundered Poirot. ‘Will you be serious? You young people of today, will nothing make you serious? It would not have been a joke, Mademoiselle, if you had been lying in the hotel garden a pretty little corpse with a nice little hole through your head instead of your hat. You would not have laughed then—eh?’

‘Unearthly laughter heard at a
séance
,’ said Nick. ‘But seriously, M. Poirot—it’s very kind of you and all that—but the whole thing
must
be an accident.’

‘You are as obstinate as the devil!’

‘That’s where I got my name from. My grandfather was popularly supposed to have sold his soul to the devil. Everyone round here called him Old Nick. He was a wicked old man—but great fun. I adored him. I went everywhere with him and so they called us Old Nick and Young Nick. My real name is Magdala.’

‘That is an uncommon name.’

‘Yes, it’s a kind of family one. There have been lots of Magdalas in the Buckley family. There’s one up there.’

She nodded at a picture on the wall.

‘Ah!’ said Poirot. Then looking at a portrait hanging over the mantelpiece, he said:

‘Is that your grandfather, Mademoiselle?’

‘Yes, rather an arresting portait, isn’t it? Jim Lazarus offered to buy it, I wouldn’t sell. I’ve got an affection for Old Nick.’

‘Ah!’ Poirot was silent for a minute, then he said very earnestly:


Revenons à nos moutons
. Listen, Mademoiselle. I implore you to be serious. You are in danger. Today, somebody shot at you with a Mauser pistol—’

‘A Mauser pistol?—’

For a moment she was startled.

‘Yes, why? Do you know of anyone who has a Mauser pistol?’

She smiled.

‘I’ve got one myself.’

‘You have?’

‘Yes—it was Dad’s. He brought it back from the War. It’s been knocking round here ever since. I saw it only the other day in that drawer.’

She indicated an old-fashioned bureau. Now, as though suddenly struck by an idea, she crossed to it and pulled the drawer open. She turned rather blankly. Her voice held a new note.

‘Oh!’ she said. ‘It’s—it’s gone.’

It was from that moment that the conversation took on a different tone. Up to now, Poirot and the girl had been at cross-purposes. They were separated by a gulf of years. His fame and reputation meant nothing to her—she was of the generation that knows only the great names of the immediate moment. She was, therefore, unimpressed by his warnings. He was to her only a rather comic elderly foreigner with an amusingly melodramatic mind.

And this attitude baffled Poirot. To begin with, his vanity suffered. It was his constant dictum that all the world knew Hercule Poirot. Here was someone who did not. Very good for him, I could not but feel—but not precisely helpful to the object in view!

With the discovery of the missing pistol, however, the affair took on a new phase. Nick ceased to treat it as a mildly amusing joke. She still treated the matter
lightly, because it was her habit and her creed to treat all occurrences lightly, but there was a distinct difference in her manner.

She came back and sat down on the arm of a chair, frowning thoughtfully.

‘That’s odd,’ she said.

Poirot whirled round on me.

‘You remember, Hastings, the little idea I mentioned? Well, it was correct, my little idea! Supposing Mademoiselle had been found shot lying in the hotel garden? She might not have been found for some hours—few people pass that way. And
beside her hand
—just fallen from it—
is her own pistol
. Doubtless the good Madame Ellen would identify it. There would be suggestions, no doubt, of worry or of sleeplessness—’

Nick moved uneasily.

‘That’s true. I have been worried to death. Everybody’s been telling me I’m nervy. Yes—they’d say all that…’

‘And bring in a verdict of suicide. Mademoiselle’s fingerprints conveniently on the pistol and nobody else’s—but yes, it would be very simple and convincing.’

‘How terribly amusing!’ said Nick, but not, I was glad to note, as though she were terribly amused.

Poirot accepted her words in the conventional sense in which they were uttered.

‘N’est ce pas
? But you understand, Mademoiselle, there must be no more of this. Four failures—yes—but the fifth time there may be a success.’

‘Bring out your rubber-tyred hearses,’ murmured Nick.

‘But we are here, my friend and I, to obviate all that!’ I felt grateful for the ‘we’. Poirot has a habit of sometimes ignoring my existence.

‘Yes,’ I put in. ‘You mustn’t be alarmed, Miss Buckley. We will protect you.’

‘How frightfully nice of you,’ said Nick. ‘I think the whole thing is perfectly marvellous. Too, too thrilling.’

She still preserved her airy detached manner, but her eyes, I thought, looked troubled.

‘And the first thing to do,’ said Poirot, ‘is to have the consultation.’

He sat down and beamed upon her in a friendly manner.

‘To begin with, Mademoiselle, a conventional question—but—have you any enemies?’

Nick shook her head rather regretfully.

‘I’m afraid not,’ she said apologetically.


Bon
. We will dismiss that possibility then. And now we ask the question of the cinema, of the detective novel—Who profits by your death, Mademoiselle?’

‘I can’t imagine,’ said Nick. ‘That’s why it all seems
such nonsense. There’s this beastly old barn, of course, but it’s mortgaged up to the hilt, the roof leaks and there can’t be a coal mine or anything exciting like that hidden in the cliff.’

‘It is mortgaged—
hein
?’

‘Yes. I had to mortgage it. You see there were two lots of death duties—quite soon after each other. First my grandfather died—just six years ago, and then my brother. That just about put the lid on the financial position.’

‘And your father?’

‘He was invalided home from the War, then got pneumonia and died in 1919. My mother died when I was a baby. I lived here with grandfather. He and Dad didn’t get on (I don’t wonder), so Dad found it convenient to park me and go roaming the world on his own account. Gerald—that was my brother—didn’t get on with grandfather either. I dare say I shouldn’t have got on with him if I’d been a boy. Being a girl saved me. Grandfather used to say I was a chip off the old block and had inherited his spirit.’ She laughed. ‘He was an awful old rip, I believe. But frightfully lucky. There was a saying round here that everything he touched turned to gold. He was a gambler, though, and gambled it away again. When he died he left hardly anything beside the house and land. I was sixteen when he died and Gerald was twenty-two. Gerald was killed in a motor accident
just three years ago and the place came to me.’

‘And after you, Mademoiselle? Who is your nearest relation?’

‘My cousin, Charles. Charles Vyse. He’s a lawyer down here. Quite good and worthy but very dull. He gives me good advice and tries to restrain my extravagant tastes.’

‘He manages your affairs for you—eh?’

‘Well—yes, if you like to put it that way. I haven’t many affairs to manage. He arranged the mortgage for me and made me let the lodge.’

‘Ah!—the lodge. I was going to ask you about that. It is let?’

‘Yes—to some Australians. Croft their name is. Very hearty, you know—and all that sort of thing. Simply oppressively kind. Always bringing up sticks of celery and early peas and things like that. They’re shocked at the way I let the garden go. They’re rather a nuisance, really—at least he is. Too terribly friendly for words. She’s a cripple, poor thing, and lies on a sofa all day. Anyway they pay the rent and that’s the great thing.’

‘How long have they been here?’

‘Oh! about six months.’

‘I see. Now, beyond this cousin of yours—on your father’s side or your mother’s, by the way?’

‘Mother’s. My mother was Amy Vyse.’


Bien!
Now, beyond this cousin, as I was saying, have you any other relatives?’

‘Some very distant cousins in Yorkshire—Buckleys.’

‘No one else?’

‘No.’

‘That is lonely.’

Nick stared at him.

‘Lonely? What a funny idea. I’m not down here much, you know. I’m usually in London. Relations are too devastating as a rule. They fuss and interfere. It’s much more fun to be on one’s own.’

‘I will not waste the sympathy. You are a modern, I see, Mademoiselle. Now—your household.’

‘How grand that sounds! Ellen’s the household. And her husband, who’s a sort of gardener—not a very good one. I pay them frightfully little because I let them have the child here. Ellen does for me when I’m down here and if I have a party we get in who and what we can to help. I’m giving a party on Monday. It’s Regatta week, you know.’

‘Monday—and today is Saturday. Yes. Yes. And now, Mademoiselle, your friends—the ones with whom you were lunching today, for instance?’

‘Well, Freddie Rice—the fair girl—is practically my greatest friend. She’s had a rotten life. Married to a beast—a man who drank and drugged and was altogether a queer of the worst description. She had
to leave him a year or two ago. Since then she’s drifted round. I wish to goodness she’d get a divorce and marry Jim Lazarus.’

‘Lazarus? The art dealer in Bond Street?’

‘Yes. Jim’s the only son. Rolling in money, of course. Did you see that car of his? He’s a Jew, of course, but a frightfully decent one. And he’s devoted to Freddie. They go about everywhere together. They are staying at the Majestic over the week-end and are coming to me on Monday.’

‘And Mrs Rice’s husband?’

‘The mess? Oh! he’s dropped out of everything. Nobody knows where he is. It makes it horribly awkward for Freddie. You can’t divorce a man when you don’t know where he is.’


Evidemment!’

‘Poor Freddie,’ said Nick, pensively. ‘She’s had rotten luck. The thing was all fixed once. She got hold of him and put it to him, and he said he was perfectly willing, but he simply hadn’t got the cash to take a woman to a hotel. So the end of it all was she forked out—and he took it and off he went and has never been heard of from that day to this. Pretty mean, I call it.’

‘Good heavens,’ I exclaimed.

‘My friend Hastings is shocked,’ remarked Poirot. ‘You must be more careful, Mademoiselle. He is out of date, you comprehend. He has just returned from
those great clear open spaces, etc., and he has yet to learn the language of nowadays.’

‘Well, there’s nothing to get shocked about,’ said Nick, opening her eyes very wide. ‘I mean, everybody knows, don’t they, that there are such people. But I call it a low-down trick all the same. Poor old Freddie was so damned hard up at the time that she didn’t know where to turn.’

‘Yes, yes, not a very pretty affair. And your other friend, Mademoiselle. The good Commander Challenger?’

‘George? I’ve known George all my life—well, for the last five years anyway. He’s a good scout, George.’

‘He wishes you to marry him—eh?’

‘He does mention it now and again. In the small hours of the morning or after the second glass of port.’

‘But you remain hard-hearted.’

‘What would be the use of George and me marrying one another? We’ve neither of us got a bean. And one would get terribly bored with George. That “playing for one’s side,” “good old school” manner. After all, he’s forty if he’s a day.’

The remark made me wince slightly.

‘In fact he has one foot in the grave,’ said Poirot. ‘Oh! do not mind me, Mademoiselle. I am a grandpapa—a nobody. And now tell me more about these accidents. The picture, for instance?’

‘It’s been hung up again—on a new cord. You can come and see it if you like.’

She led the way out of the room and we followed her. The picture in question was an oil painting in a heavy frame. It hung directly over the bed-head.

With a murmured, ‘You permit, Mademoiselle,’ Poirot removed his shoes and mounted upon the bed. He examined the picture and the cord, and gingerly tested the weight of the painting. With an elegant grimace he descended.

‘To have that descend on one’s head—no, it would not be pretty. The cord by which it was hung, Mademoiselle, was it, like this one, a wire cable?’

‘Yes, but not so thick. I got a thicker one this time.’

‘That is comprehensible. And you examined the break—the edges were frayed?’

‘I think so—but I didn’t notice particularly. Why should I?’

‘Exactly. As you say, why should you? All the same, I should much like to look at that piece of wire. Is it about the house anywhere?’

‘It was still on the picture. I expect the man who put the new wire on just threw the old one away.’

‘A pity. I should like to have seen it.’

‘You don’t think it was just an accident after all? Surely it couldn’t have been anything else.’

‘It may have been an accident. It is impossible to say.
But the damage to the brakes of your car—that was not an accident. And the stone that rolled down the cliff—I should like to see the spot where that accident occurred.’

Nick took us out in the garden and led us to the cliff edge. The sea glittered blue below us. A rough path led down the face of the rock. Nick described just where the accident occurred and Poirot nodded thoughtfully. Then he asked:

‘How many ways are there into your garden, Mademoiselle?’

‘There’s the front way—past the lodge. And a tradesman’s entrance—a door in the wall half-way up that lane. Then there’s a gate just along here on the cliff edge. It leads out on to a zig zag path that leads up from that beach to the Majestic Hotel. And then, of course, you can go straight through a gap in the hedge into the Majestic garden—that’s the way I went this morning. To go through the Majestic garden is a short cut to the town anyway.’

‘And your gardener—where does he usually work?’

‘Well, he usually potters round the kitchen garden, or else he sits in the potting-shed and pretends to be sharpening the shears.’

‘Round the other side of the house, that is to say?’

‘So that if anyone were to come in here and dislodge a boulder he would be very unlikely to be noticed.’

Nick gave a sudden little shiver.

‘Do you—do you really think that is what happened?’ she asked, ‘I can’t believe it somehow. It seems so perfectly futile.’

Poirot drew the bullet from his pocket again and looked at it.

‘That was not futile, Mademoiselle,’ he said gently.

‘It must have been some madman.’

‘Possibly. It is an interesting subject of after-dinner conversation—are all criminals really madmen? There may be a malformation in their little grey cells—yes, it is very likely. That, it is the affair of the doctor. For me—I have different work to perform. I have the innocent to think of, not the guilty—the victim, not the criminal. It is you I am considering now, Mademoiselle, not your unknown assailant. You are young and beautiful, and the sun shines and the world is pleasant, and there is life and love ahead of you. It is all that of which I think, Mademoiselle. Tell me, these friends of yours, Mrs Rice and Mr Lazarus—they have been down here, how long?’

‘Freddie came down on Wednesday to this part of the world. She stopped with some people near Tavistock for a couple of nights. She came on here yesterday. Jim has been touring round about, I believe.’

‘And Commander Challenger?’

‘He’s at Devonport. He comes over in his car whenever he can—week-ends mostly.’

Poirot nodded. We were walking back to the house. There was a silence, and then he said suddenly:

‘Have you a friend whom you can trust, Mademoiselle?’

‘There’s Freddie.’

‘Other than Mrs Rice.’

‘Well, I don’t know. I suppose I have. Why?’

‘Because I want you to have a friend to stay with you—immediately.’

‘Oh!’

Nick seemed rather taken aback. She was silent a moment or two, thinking. Then she said doubtfully:

‘There’s Maggie. I could get hold of her, I expect.’

‘Who is Maggie?’

‘One of my Yorkshire cousins. There’s a large family of them. He’s a clergyman, you know. Maggie’s about my age, and I usually have her to stay sometime or other in the summer. She’s no fun, though—one of those painfully pure girls, with the kind of hair that has just become fashionable by accident. I was hoping to get out of having her this year.’

BOOK: Peril at End House
3.1Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Other books

Home Free by Sharon Jennings
What the Dead Want by Norah Olson
Haunted Ever After by Juliet Madison
Hadrian by Grace Burrowes
Two Can Play That Game by Myla Jackson
Just One Golden Kiss by M. A. Thomas
The Widow of the South by Robert Hicks
A Fate Worse Than Death by Jonathan Gould
Ruth by Elizabeth Gaskell
Love Came Just in Time by Lynn Kurland