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Authors: Agatha Christie

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H
ercule Poirot looked up at the façade of the dignified Georgian house in what had been until recently a quiet street in an old-fashioned market town. Progress was rapidly overtaking it, but the new supermarket, the Gifte Shoppe, Margery's Boutique, Peg's Café, and a palatial new bank, had all chosen sites in Croft Road and not encroached on the narrow High Street.

The brass knocker on the door was brightly polished, Poirot noted with approval. He pressed the bell at the side.

It was opened almost at once by a tall distinguished-looking woman with upswept grey hair and an energetic manner.

“M. Poirot? You are very punctual. Come in.”

“Miss Battersby?”

“Certainly.” She held back the door. Poirot entered. She deposited his hat on the hall stand and led the way to a pleasant room overlooking a narrow walled garden.

She waved towards a chair and sat down herself in an attitude
of expectation. It was clear that Miss Battersby was not one to lose time in conventional utterances.

“You are, I think, the former Principal of Meadowfield School?”

“Yes. I retired a year ago. I understand you wished to see me on the subject of Norma Restarick, a former pupil.”

“That is right.”

“In your letters,” said Miss Battersby, “you gave me no further details.” She added, “I may say that I know who you are, M. Poirot. I should therefore like a little more information before I proceed further. Are you, for instance, thinking of employing Norma Restarick?”

“That is not my intention, no.”

“Knowing what your profession is you understand why I should want further details. Have you, for instance, an introduction to me from any of Norma's relations?”

“Again, no,” said Hercule Poirot. “I will explain myself further.”

“Thank you.”

“In actual fact, I am employed by Miss Restarick's father, Andrew Restarick.”

“Ah. He has recently returned to England, I believe, after many years' absence.”

“That is so.”

“But you do not bring me a letter of introduction from him?”

“I did not ask him for one.”

Miss Battersby looked at him inquiringly.

“He might have insisted on coming with me,” said Hercule Poirot. “That would have hampered me in asking you the questions
that I wish to ask, because it is likely that the answers to them might cause him pain and distress. There is no reason why he should be caused further distress than he is already suffering at this moment.”

“Has anything happened to Norma?”

“I hope not…There is, however, a possibility of that. You remember the girl, Miss Battersby?”

“I remember all my pupils. I have an excellent memory. Meadowfield, in any case, is not a very large school. Two hundred girls, no more.”

“Why have you resigned from it, Miss Battersby?”

“Really, M. Poirot, I cannot see that that is any of your business.”

“No, I am merely expressing my quite natural curiosity.”

“I am seventy. Is that not a reason?”

“Not in your case, I should say. You appear to me to be in full vigour and energy, fully capable of continuing your headmistressship for a good many years to come.”

“Times change, M. Poirot. One does not always like the way they are changing. I will satisfy your curiosity. I found I was having less and less patience with
parents.
Their aims for their daughters are shortsighted and quite frankly stupid.”

Miss Battersby was, as Poirot knew from looking up her qualifications, a very well-known mathematician.

“Do not think that I lead an idle life,” said Miss Battersby. “I lead a life where the work is far more congenial to me. I coach senior students. And now, please, may I know the reason for your interest in the girl, Norma Restarick?”

“There is some occasion for anxiety. She has, to put it baldly, disappeared.”

Miss Battersby continued to look quite unconcerned.

“Indeed? When you say ‘disappeared,' I presume you mean that she has left home without telling her parents where she was going. Oh, I believe her mother is dead, so without telling her father where she was going. That is really not at all uncommon nowadays, M. Poirot. Mr. Restarick has not consulted the police?”

“He is adamant on that subject. He refuses definitely.”

“I can assure you that I have no knowledge as to where the girl is. I have heard nothing from her. Indeed, I have had no news from her since she left Meadowfield. So I fear I cannot help you in any way.”

“It is not precisely that kind of information that I want. I want to know
what kind of a girl she is
—how you would describe her. Not her personal appearance. I do not mean that. I mean as to her personality and characteristics.”

“Norma, at school, was a perfectly ordinary girl. Not scholastically brilliant, but her work was adequate.”

“Not a neurotic type?”

Miss Battersby considered. Then she said slowly: “No, I would not say so. Not more, that is, than might be expected considering her home circumstances.”

“You mean her invalid mother?”

“Yes. She came from a broken home. The father, to whom I think she was very devoted, left home suddenly with another woman—a fact which her mother quite naturally resented. She probably upset her daughter more than she need have done by voicing her resentment without restraint.”

“Perhaps it may be more to the point if I ask you your opinion of the late Mrs. Restarick?”

“What you are asking me for is my private opinion?”

“If you do not object?”

“No, I have no hesitation at all in answering your question. Home conditions are very important in a girl's life and I have always studied them as much as I can through the meagre information that comes to me. Mrs. Restarick was a worthy and upright woman, I should say. Self-righteous, censorious and handicapped in life by being an extremely stupid one!”

“Ah,” said Poirot appreciatively.

“She was also, I would say, a
malade imaginaire.
A type that would exaggerate her ailments. The type of woman who is always in and out of nursing homes. An unfortunate home background for a girl—especially a girl who has no very definite personality of her own. Norma had no marked intellectual ambitions, she had no confidence in herself, she was not a girl to whom I would recommend a career. A nice ordinary job followed by marriage and children was what I would have hoped for her.”

“You saw—forgive me for asking—no signs at any time of mental instability?”

“Mental instability?” said Miss Battersby. “Rubbish!”

“So that is what you say. Rubbish! And
not
neurotic?”

“Any girl, or almost any girl, can be neurotic, especially in adolescence, and in her first encounters with the world. She is still immature, and needs guidance in her first encounters with sex. Girls are frequently attracted to completely unsuitable, sometimes even dangerous young men. There are, it seems, no parents nowadays, or hardly any, with the strength of character to save them from this, so they often go through a time of hysterical misery, and perhaps make an unsuitable marriage which ends not long after in divorce.”

“But Norma showed no signs of mental instability?” Poirot persisted with the question.

“She is an emotional but normal girl,” said Miss Battersby. “
Mental instability!
As I said before—rubbish! She's probably run away with some young man to get married, and there's nothing more normal than that!”

P
oirot sat in his big square armchair. His hands rested on the arms, his eyes looked at the chimneypiece in front of him without seeing it. By his elbow was a small table and on it, neatly clipped together, were various documents. Reports from Mr. Goby, information obtained from his friend, Chief Inspector Neele, a series of separate pages under the heading of “Hearsay, gossip, rumour” and the sources from which it had been obtained.

At the moment he had no need to consult these documents. He had, in fact, read them through carefully and laid them there in case there was any particular point he wished to refer to once more. He wanted now to assemble together in his mind all that he knew and had learned because he was convinced that these things must form a pattern. There
must
be a pattern there. He was considering now, from what exact angle to approach it. He was not one to trust in enthusiasm for some particular intuition. He was not an intuitive person—but he did have
feelings.
The important thing was not
the feelings themselves—but what might have caused them. It was the cause that was interesting, the cause was so often not what you thought it was. You had very often to work it out by logic, by sense and by knowledge.

What did he
feel
about this case—what
kind
of a case was it? Let him start from the general, then proceed to the particular. What were the salient facts of this case?

Money
was one of them, he thought, though he did not know
how.
Somehow or other,
money
…He also thought, increasingly so, that there was
evil
somewhere. He knew evil. He had met it before. He knew the tang of it, the taste of it, the way it went. The trouble was that here he did not yet know exactly where it
was.
He had taken certain steps to combat evil. He hoped they would be sufficient. Something was happening, something was in progress,
that was not yet accomplished.
Someone, somewhere, was in
danger.

The trouble was that the facts pointed both ways. If the person he
thought
was in danger was really in danger, there seemed so far as he could see no reason
why.
Why should that particular person be in danger? There was no motive. If the person he thought was in danger was
not
in danger, then the whole approach might have to be completely reversed…Everything that pointed one way he must turn round and look at from the complete opposite point of view.

He left that for the moment in the balance, and he came from there to the personalities—to the
people.
What pattern did
they
make? What part were they playing?

First—Andrew Restarick. He had accumulated by now a fair amount of information about Andrew Restarick. A general picture of his life before and after going abroad. A restless man, never stick
ing to one place or purpose long, but generally liked. Nothing of the wastrel about him, nothing shoddy or tricky. Not, perhaps, a strong personality? Weak in many ways?

Poirot frowned, dissatisfied. That picture did not somehow fit the Andrew Restarick that he himself had met. Not
weak
surely, with that thrust-out chin, the steady eyes, the air of resolution. He had been a successful businessman, too, apparently. Good at his job in the earlier years, and he had put through good deals in South Africa and in South America. He had increased his holdings. It was a success story that he had brought home with him, not one of failure. How then could he be a
weak
personality? Weak, perhaps, only where
women
were concerned. He had made a mistake in his marriage—married the wrong woman…Pushed into it perhaps by his family? And then he had met the other woman. Just that one woman? Or had there been several women? It was hard to find a record of that kind after so many years. Certainly he had not been a notoriously unfaithful husband. He had had a normal home, he had been fond, by all accounts, of his small daughter. But then he had come across a woman whom he had cared for enough to leave his home and to leave his country. It had been a real love affair.

But had it, perhaps, matched up with any additional motive? Dislike of office work, the City, the daily routine of London? He thought it might. It matched the pattern. He seemed, too, to have been a solitary type. Everyone had liked him both here and abroad, but there seemed no intimate friends. Indeed, it would have been difficult for him to have intimate friends abroad because he had never stopped in any one spot long enough. He had plunged into some gamble, attempted a coup, had made good, then tired of the thing and gone on somewhere else. Nomadic! A wanderer.

It still did not quite accord with his own picture of the man…A
picture?
The word stirred in his mind the memory of the picture that hung in Restarick's office, on the wall behind his desk. It had been a portrait of the same man fifteen years ago. How much difference had those fifteen years made in the man sitting there? Surprisingly little, on the whole! More grey in the hair, a heavier set to the shoulders, but the lines of character on the face were much the same. A determined face. A man who knew what he wanted, who meant to get it. A man who would take risks. A man with a certain ruthlessness.

Why, he wondered, had Restarick brought that picture up to London? They had been companion portraits of a husband and wife. Strictly speaking artistically, they should have remained together. Would a psychologist have said that subconsciously Restarick wanted to dissociate himself from his former wife once more, to separate himself from her? Was he then mentally still retreating from her personality although she was dead? An interesting point….

The pictures had presumably come out of storage with various other family articles of furnishing. Mary Restarick had no doubt selected certain personal objects to supplement the furniture of Crosshedges for which Sir Roderick had made room. He wondered whether Mary Restarick, the new wife, had liked hanging up that particular pair of portraits. More natural, perhaps, if she had put the first wife's portrait in an attic! But then he reflected that she would probably not have had an attic to stow away unwanted objects at Crosshedges. Presumably Sir Roderick had made room for a few family things whilst the returned couple were looking about for a suitable house in London. So it had not mattered much,
and it would have been easier to hang both portraits. Besides, Mary Restarick seemed a sensible type of woman—not a jealous or emotional type.


Tout de même,
” thought Hercule Poirot to himself, “
les femmes,
they are all capable of jealousy, and sometimes the one you would consider the least likely!”

His thoughts passed to Mary Restarick, and he considered her in turn. It struck him that what was really odd was that he had so few thoughts about her! He had seen her only the once, and she had, somehow or other, not made much impression on him. A certain efficiency, he thought, and also a certain—how could he put it?—artificiality? (“But there, my friend,” said Hercule Poirot, again in parenthesis, “there you are considering her wig!”)

It was absurd really that one should know so little about a woman. A woman who was efficient and who wore a wig, and who was good-looking, and who was sensible, and who could feel anger. Yes, she had been angry when she had found the Peacock Boy wandering uninvited in her house. She had displayed it sharply and unmistakably. And the boy—he had seemed what? Amused, no more. But she had been angry, very angry at finding him there. Well, that was natural enough. He would not be any mother's choice for her daughter—

Poirot stopped short in his thoughts, shaking his head vexedly. Mary Restarick was
not
Norma's mother. Not for her the agony, the apprehension about a daughter making an unsuitable unhappy marriage, or announcing an illegitimate baby with an unsuitable father! What
did
Mary feel about Norma? Presumably, to begin with, that she was a thoroughly tiresome girl—who had picked up with a young man who was going to be obviously a source of
worry and annoyance to Andrew Restarick. But after that? What had she thought and felt about a stepdaughter who was apparently deliberately trying to poison her?

Her attitude seemed to have been the sensible one. She had wanted to get Norma out of the house, herself out of danger; and to cooperate with her husband in suppressing any scandal about what had happened. Norma came down for an occasional weekend to keep up appearances, but her life henceforward was bound to centre in London. Even when the Restaricks moved into the house they were looking for, they would not suggest Norma living with them. Most girls, nowadays, lived away from their families. So that problem had been settled.

Except that, for Poirot, the question of who had administered poison to Mary Restarick was very far from settled. Restarick himself believed it was his daughter—

But Poirot wondered….

His mind played with the possibilities of the girl Sonia. What was she doing in that house? Why had she come there? She had Sir Roderick eating out of her hand all right—perhaps she had no wish to go back to her own country? Possibly her designs were purely matrimonial—old men of Sir Roderick's age married pretty young girls every day of the week. In the worldly sense, Sonia could do very well for herself. A secure social position, and widowhood to look forward to with a settled and sufficient income—or were her aims quite different? Had she gone to Kew Gardens with Sir Roderick's missing papers tucked between the pages of a book?

Had Mary Restarick become suspicious of her—of her activities, of her loyalties, of where she went on her days off, and of whom she met? And had Sonia, then, administered the substances
which, in cumulative small doses, would arouse no suspicion of anything but ordinary gastroenteritis?

For the time being, he put the household at Crosshedges out of his mind.

He came, as Norma had come, to London, and proceeded to the consideration of three girls who shared a flat.

Claudia Reece-Holland, Frances Cary, Norma Restarick. Claudia Reece-Holland, daughter of a well-known Member of Parliament, well-off, capable, well-trained, good-looking, a first-class secretary. Frances Cary, a country solicitor's daughter, artistic, had been to drama school for a short time, then to the Slade, chucked that also, occasionally worked for the Arts Council, now employed by an art gallery. Earned a good salary, was artistic and had bohemian associations. She knew the young man, David Baker, though not apparently more than casually. Perhaps she was in love with him? He was the kind of young man, Poirot thought, disliked generally by parents, members of the Establishment and also the police. Where the attraction lay for wellborn girls Poirot failed to see. But one had to acknowledge it as a fact. What did he himself think of David?

A good-looking boy with the impudent and slightly amused air whom he had first seen in the upper storeys of Crosshedges, doing an errand for Norma (or reconnoitring on his own, who should say?). He had seen him again when he gave him a lift in his car. A young man of personality, giving indeed an impression of ability in what he chose to do. And yet there was clearly an unsatisfactory side to him. Poirot picked up one of the papers on the table by his side and studied it. A bad record though not positively criminal. Small frauds on garages, hooliganism, smashing up things, on pro
bation twice. All those things were the fashion of the day. They did not come under Poirot's category of evil. He had been a promising painter, but had chucked it. He was the kind that did no steady work. He was vain, proud, a peacock in love with his own appearance. Was he anything more than that? Poirot wondered.

He stretched out an arm and picked up a sheet of paper on which was scribbled down the rough heads of the conversation held between Norma and David in the café—that is, as well as Mrs. Oliver could remember them. And how well was that, Poirot thought? He shook his head doubtfully. One never knew quite at what point Mrs. Oliver's imagination would take over! Did the boy care for Norma, really want to marry her? There was no doubt about her feelings for him. He had suggested marrying her. Had Norma got money of her own? She was the daughter of a rich man, but that was not the same thing. Poirot made an exclamation of vexation. He had forgotten to inquire the terms of the late Mrs. Restarick's will. He flipped through the sheets of notes. No, Mr. Goby had not neglected this obvious need. Mrs. Restarick apparently had been well provided for by her husband during her lifetime. She had had, apparently, a small income of her own amounting perhaps to a thousand a year. She had left everything she possessed to her daughter. It would hardly amount, Poirot thought, to a motive for marriage. Probably, as his only child, she would inherit a lot of money at her father's death but that was not at all the same thing. Her father might leave her very little indeed if he disliked the man she had married.

He would say then, that David
did
care for her, since he was willing to marry her. And yet—Poirot shook his head. It was about the fifth time he had shaken it. All these things did not tie up, they
did not make a satisfactory pattern. He remembered Restarick's desk, and the cheque he had been writing—apparently to buy off the young man—and the young man, apparently, was quite willing to be bought off! So that again did not tally. The cheque had certainly been made out to David Baker and it was for a very large—really a preposterous—sum. It was a sum that might have tempted any impecunious young man of bad character. And yet he had suggested marriage to her only a day before. That, of course, might have been just a move in the game—a move to raise the price he was asking. Poirot remembered Restarick sitting there, his lips hard. He must care a great deal for his daughter to be willing to pay so high a sum; and he must have been afraid too that the girl herself was quite determined to marry him.

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