Read Third Girl Online

Authors: Agatha Christie

Third Girl (11 page)

“Perhaps your wife—your second wife—”

“Yes, you may have something there. I had been married to Mary just a month or two when my brother died. Mary was born in South Africa but she had been to England several times and she liked the life there. She liked particularly the idea of having an English garden!

“And I? Well, for the first time perhaps I felt I would like life in England, too. And I thought of Norma as well. Her mother had died two years earlier. I talked to Mary about it all, and she was quite willing to help me make a home for my daughter. The prospects all seemed good and so—” he smiled, “—and so I came home.”

Poirot looked at the portrait that hung behind Restarick's head. It was in a better light here than it had been at the house in the country. It showed very plainly the man who was sitting at the desk; there were the distinctive features, the obstinancy of the chin,
the quizzical eyebrows, the poise of the head, but the portrait had one thing that the man sitting in the chair beneath it lacked. Youth!

Another thought occurred to Poirot. Why had Andrew Restarick moved the portrait from the country to his London office? The two portraits of him and his wife had been companion portraits done at the same time and by that particular fashionable artist of the day whose speciality was portrait painting. It would have been more natural, Poirot thought, to have left them together, as they had been meant to be originally. But Restarick had moved one portrait, his own, to his office. Was it a kind of vanity on his part—a wish to display himself as a City man, as someone important to the City? Yet he was a man who had spent his time in wild places, who professed to prefer wild places. Or did he perhaps do it in order to keep before his mind himself in his City personality? Did he feel the need of reinforcement?

“Or, of course,” thought Poirot, “it could be simple vanity!

“Even I myself,” said Poirot to himself, in an unusual fit of modesty, “even I myself am capable of vanity on occasions.”

The short silence, of which both men had seemed unaware, was broken. Restarick spoke apologetically.

“You must forgive me, M. Poirot. I seem to have been boring you with the story of my life.”

“There is nothing to excuse, Mr. Restarick. You have been talking really only of your life as it may have affected that of your daughter. You are much disquieted about your daughter. But I do not think that you have yet told me the real reason. You want her found, you say?”

“Yes, I want her found.”

“You want her found, yes, but do you want her found by
me?
Ah, do not hesitate.
La politesse
—it is very necessary in life, but it is not necessary here. Listen. I tell you, if you want your daughter found I advise you, I—Hercule Poirot—to go to the police for they have the facilities. And from my own knowledge they can be discreet.”

“I won't go to the police unless—well, unless I get very desperate.”

“You would rather go to a private agent?”

“Yes. But you see, I don't know anything about private agents. I don't know who—who can be trusted. I don't know who—”

“And what do you know about me?”

“I do know something about you. I know, for instance, that you held a responsible position in Intelligence during the war, since, in fact, my own uncle vouches for you. That is an admitted fact.”

The faintly cynical expression on Poirot's face was not perceived by Restarick. The admitted fact was, as Poirot was well aware, a complete illusion—although Restarick must have known how undependable Sir Roderick was in the matter of memory and eyesight—he had swallowed Poirot's own account of himself, hook, line and sinker. Poirot did not disillusion him. It merely confirmed him in his long-held belief that you should never believe anything anyone said without first checking it.
Suspect everybody,
had been for many years, if not his whole life, one of his first axioms.

“Let me reassure you,” said Poirot. “I have been throughout my career exceptionally successful. I have been indeed in many ways unequalled.”

Restarick looked less reassured by this than he might have been! Indeed, to an Englishman, a man who praised himself in such terms aroused some misgivings.

He said: “What do you feel yourself, M. Poirot? Have you confidence that you can find my daughter?”

“Probably not as quickly as the police could do, but yes. I shall find her.”

“And—and if you do—”

“But if you wish me to find her, Mr. Restarick, you must tell me all the circumstances.”

“But I have told them to you. The time, the place, where she ought to be. I can give you a list of her friends….”

Poirot was making some violent shakings of his head. “No, no, I suggest you tell me the truth.”

“Do you suggest I haven't told you the truth?”

“You have not told me all of it. Of that I am assured. What are you afraid of? What are the unknown facts—the facts that I have to know if I am to have success? Your daughter dislikes her stepmother. That is plain. There is nothing strange about that. It is a very natural reaction. You must remember that she may have secretly idealised you for many many years. That is quite possible in the case of a broken marriage where a child has had a severe blow in her affections. Yes, yes, I know what I am talking about. You say a child forgets. That is true. Your daughter could have forgotten you in the sense that when she saw you again she might not remember your face or your voice. She would make her own image of you. You went away. She wanted you to come back. Her mother, no doubt, discouraged her from talking about you, and therefore she thought about you perhaps all the more. You
mattered
to her all the more. And because she could not talk about you to her own mother she had what is a very natural reaction with a child—the blaming of the parent who remains for the absence of the parent who has gone.
She said to herself something in the nature of ‘Father was fond of me. It's Mother he didn't like,' and from that was born a kind of idealisation, a kind of secret liaison between you and her. What had happened was not her father's fault. She will not believe it!

“Oh yes, that often happens, I assure you. I know something of the psychology. So when she learns that you are coming home, that you and she will be reunited, many memories that she has pushed aside and not thought of for years return. Her father is coming back! He and she will be happy together! She hardly realises the stepmother, perhaps, until she sees her. And then she is violently jealous. It is most natural, I assure you. She is violently jealous partly because your wife is a good-looking woman, sophisticated, and well poised, which is a thing girls often resent because they frequently lack confidence in themselves. She herself is possibly gauche with perhaps an inferiority complex. So when she sees her competent and good-looking stepmother, quite possibly she hates her; but hates her as an adolescent girl who is still half a child might do.”

“Well—” Restarick hesitated. “That
is
more or less what the doctor said when we consulted him—I mean—”

“Aha,” said Poirot, “so you consulted a doctor? You must have had some reason, is it not so, for calling in a doctor?”

“Nothing really.”

“Ah no, you cannot say that to Hercule Poirot. It was not
nothing.
It was something serious and you had better tell me, because if I know just what has been in this girl's mind, I shall make more progress. Things will go quicker.”

Restarick was silent for several moments, then he made up his mind.

“This is in absolute confidence, M. Poirot? I can rely on you—I have your assurance as to that?”

“By all means. What was the trouble?”

“I cannot be—be sure.”

“Your daughter entered into some action against your wife? Something more than being merely childishly rude or saying unpleasant things. It was something worse than that—something more serious. Did she perhaps attack her
physically?

“No, it was not an attack—not a physical attack but—nothing was proved.”

“No, no. We will admit that.”

“My wife became far from well—” He hesitated.

“Ah,” said Poirot. “Yes, I see…And what was the nature of her illness? Digestive, possibly? A form of enteritis?”

“You're quick, M. Poirot. You're very quick. Yes, it
was
digestive. This complaint of my wife's was puzzling, because she had always had excellent health. Finally they sent her to hospital for ‘observation,' as they call it. A check-up.”

“And the result?”

“I don't think they were completely satisfied…She appeared to regain her health completely and was sent home in due course. But the trouble recurred. We went carefully over the meals she had, the cooking. She seemed to be suffering from a form of intestinal poisoning for which there appeared to be no cause. A further step was taken, tests were made of the dishes she ate. By taking samples of everything, it was definitely proved that a certain substance had been administered in various dishes. In each case it was a dish of which only my wife had partaken.”

“In plain language somebody was giving her arsenic. Is that right?”

“Quite right. In small doses which would in the end have a cumulative effect.”

“You suspected your daughter?”

“No.”

“I think you did. Who else could have done it? You suspected your daughter.”

Restarick gave a deep sigh.

“Frankly, yes.”

II

When Poirot arrived home, George was awaiting him:

“A woman named Edith rang up, sir—”

“Edith?” Poirot frowned.

“She is, I gather, in the service of Mrs. Oliver. She asked me to inform you that Mrs. Oliver is in St. Giles's Hospital.”

“What has happened to her?”

“I understand she has been—er—coshed.” George did not add the latter part of the message, which had been—“—and you tell him it's been all his fault.”

Poirot clicked his tongue. “I warned her—I was uneasy last night when I rang her up, and there was no answer.
Les Femmes!

“L
et's buy a peacock,” said Mrs. Oliver suddenly and unexpectedly. She did not open her eyes as she made this remark, and her voice was weak though full of indignation.

Three people brought startled eyes to bear upon her. She made a further statement.

“Hit on the head.”

She opened badly focused eyes and endeavoured to make out where she was.

The first thing she saw was a face entirely strange to her. A young man who was writing in a notebook. He held the pencil poised in his hand.

“Policeman,” said Mrs. Oliver decisively.

“I beg your pardon, Madam?”

“I said you were a policeman,” said Mrs. Oliver. “Am I right?”

“Yes, Madam.”

“Criminal assault,” said Mrs. Oliver and closed her eyes in a
satisfied manner. When she opened them again, she took in her surroundings more fully. She was in a bed, one of those rather high hygienic-looking hospital beds, she decided. The kind that you shoot up and down and round and about. She was not in her own house. She looked round and decided on her environment.

“Hospital, or could be nursing home,” she said.

A sister was standing with an air of authority at the door, and a nurse was standing by her bed. She identified a fourth figure. “Nobody,” said Mrs. Oliver, “could mistake those moustaches. What are you doing here, M. Poirot?”

Hercule Poirot advanced towards the bed. “I told you to be careful, Madame,” he said.

“Anyone might lose their way,” said Mrs. Oliver, somewhat obscurely, and added, “My head aches.”

“With good cause. As you surmise, you were hit on the head.”

“Yes. By the Peacock.”

The policeman stirred uneasily then said, “Excuse me, Madam, you say you were assaulted by a peacock?”

“Of course. I'd had an uneasy feeling for some time—you know, atmosphere.” Mrs. Oliver tried to wave her hand in an appropriate gesture to describe atmosphere, and winced. “Ouch,” she said, “I'd better not try that again.”

“My patient must not get overexcited,” said the sister with disapproval.

“Can you tell me where this assault occurred?”

“I haven't the faintest idea. I'd lost my way. I was coming from a kind of studio. Very badly kept. Dirty. The other young man hadn't shaved for days. A greasy leather jacket.”

“Is this the man who assaulted you?”

“No, it's another one.”

“If you could just tell me—”

“I am telling you, aren't I? I'd followed him, you see, all the way from the café—only I'm not very good at following people. No practice. It's much more difficult than you'd think.”

Her eyes focused on the policeman. “But I suppose you know all about that. You have courses—in following people, I mean? Oh, never mind, it doesn't matter. You see,” she said, speaking with sudden rapidity, “it's quite simple. I had got off at The World's End, I think it was, and naturally I thought he had stayed with the others—or gone the other way. But instead, he came up behind me.”

“Who was this?”

“The Peacock,” said Mrs. Oliver, “and he startled me, you see. It does startle you when you find things are the wrong way round. I mean he following you instead of you following him—only it was earlier—and I had a sort of uneasy feeling. In fact, you know, I was
afraid.
I don't know why. He spoke quite politely but I was
afraid.
Anyway there it was and he said ‘Come up and see the studio' and so I came up rather a rickety staircase. A kind of ladder staircase and there was this other young man—the dirty young man—and he was painting a picture, and the girl was acting as model. She was quite clean. Rather pretty really. And so there we were and they were quite nice and polite, and then I said I must be getting home, and they told me the right way to get back to the King's Road. But they can't really have told me the right way. Of course I
might
have made a mistake. You know, when people tell you second left and third right, well, you sometimes do it the wrong way round. At least I do. Anyway, I got into a rather peculiar slummy part quite
close to the river. The afraid feeling had gone away by then. I must have been quite off my guard when the Peacock hit me.”

“I think she's delirous,” said the nurse in an explanatory voice.

“No, I'm not,” said Mrs. Oliver. “I know what I'm talking about.”

The nurse opened her mouth, caught the sister's admonitory eye and shut it again quickly.

“Velvets and satins and long curly hair,” said Mrs. Oliver.

“A peacock in satin? A real peacock, Madam. You thought you saw a peacock near the river in Chelsea?”

“A real peacock?” said Mrs. Oliver. “Of course not. How silly. What would a real peacock be doing down on Chelsea Embankment?”

Nobody appeared to have an answer to this question.

“He struts,” said Mrs. Oliver, “that's why I nicknamed him a peacock. Shows off, you know. Vain, I should think. Proud of his looks. Perhaps a lot of other things as well.” She looked at Poirot. “David something. You know who I mean.”

“You say this young man of the name of David assaulted you by striking you on the head?”

“Yes I do.”

Hercule Poirot spoke. “You
saw
him?”

“I didn't see him,” said Mrs. Oliver, “I didn't know anything about it. I just thought I heard something behind me, and before I could turn my head to look—it all happened! Just as if a ton of bricks or something fell on me. I think I'll go to sleep now,” she added.

She moved her head slightly, made a grimace of pain, and relapsed into what appeared to be a perfectly satisfactory unconsciousness.

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