Read Third Girl Online

Authors: Agatha Christie

Third Girl (8 page)

“It is not I who can send you to one! You need not be alarmed. You could go to a doctor entirely on your own behalf if you liked. You can go and say to him the things you have been saying to me, and you may ask him
why,
and he will perhaps tell you the cause.”

“That's what David says. That's what David says I should do but I don't think—I don't think he
understands.
I'd have to tell a doctor that I—I might have tried to do things….”

“What makes you think you have?”

“Because I don't always remember what I've done—or where I've been. I lose an hour of time—two hours—and I can't
remember.
I was in a corridor once—a corridor outside a door, her door. I'd something in my hand—I don't know how I got it. She came walking along towards me—But when she got near me, her face changed. It wasn't her at all. She'd changed into somebody else.”

“You are remembering, perhaps, a nightmare. There people do change into somebody else.”

“It wasn't a nightmare. I picked up the revolver—It was lying there at my feet—”

“In a corridor?”

“No, in the courtyard. She came and took it away from me.”

“Who did?”

“Claudia. She took me upstairs and gave me some bitter stuff to drink.”

“Where was your stepmother then?”

“She was there, too—No, she wasn't. She was at Crosshedges. Or in hospital. That's where they found out she was being poisoned—and that it was me.”

“It need not have been you—It could have been someone else.”

“Who else could it have been?”

“Perhaps—her husband.”

“Father? Why on earth should Father want to poison
Mary.
He's devoted to her. He's silly about her!”

“There are others in the house, are there not?”

“Old Uncle Roderick? Nonsense!”

“One does not know,” said Poirot, “he might be mentally afflicted. He might think it was his duty to poison a woman who might be a beautiful spy. Something like that.”

“That would be very interesting,” said Norma, momentarily diverted, and speaking in a perfectly natural manner. “Uncle Roderick
was
mixed up a good deal with spies and things in the last war. Who else is there? Sonia? I suppose
she
might be a beautiful spy, but she's not quite my idea of one.”

“No, and there does not seem very much reason why she should wish to poison your stepmother. I suppose there might be servants, gardeners?”

“No, they just come in for the days. I don't think—well, they wouldn't be the kind of people to have any
reason.

“She might have done it herself.”

“Committed
suicide,
do you mean? Like the other one?”

“It is a possibility.”

“I can't imagine
Mary
committing suicide. She's far too sensible. And why should she want to?”

“Yes, you feel that if she did, she would put her head in the gas oven, or she would lie on a bed nicely arranged and take an overdose of sleeping draughts. Is that right?”

“Well, it would have been more natural. So you see,” said Norma earnestly, “
it must have been me.

“Aha,” said Poirot, “that interests me. You would almost, it would seem,
prefer
that it should be you. You are attracted to the idea that it was your hand who slipped the fatal dose of this, that or the other. Yes, you
like
the idea.”

“How dare you say such a thing! How can you?”


Because I think it is true,
” said Poirot. “Why does the thought that you may have committed murder excite you, please you?”

“It's not true.”

“I wonder,” said Poirot.

She scooped up her bag and began feeling in it with shaking fingers.

“I'm not going to stop here and have you say these horrible things to me.” She signalled to the waitress who came, scribbled on a pad of paper, detached it and laid it down by Norma's plate.

“Permit me,” said Hercule Poirot.

He removed the slip of paper deftly, and prepared to draw his notecase from his pocket. The girl snatched it back again.

“No, I won't let you pay for me.”

“As you please,” said Poirot.

He had seen what he wanted to see. The bill was for two. It would seem therefore that David of the fine feathers had no objection to having his bills paid by an infatuated girl.

“So it is you who entertain a friend to elevenses, I see.”

“How did you know that I was with anyone?”

“I tell you, I know a good deal.”

She placed coins on the table and rose. “I'm going now,” she said, “and I forbid you to follow me.”

“I doubt if I could,” said Poirot. “You must remember my advanced age. If you were to run down the street I should certainly not be able to follow you.”

She got up and went towards the door.

“Do you hear? You are
not
to follow me.”

“You permit me at least to open the door for you.” He did so with something of a flourish. “
Au revoir,
Mademoiselle.”

She threw a suspicious glance at him and walked away down the street with a rapid step, turning her head back over her shoulder from time to time. Poirot remained by the door watching her, but made no attempt to gain the pavement or to catch her up. When she was out of sight, he turned back into the café.

“And what the devil does all that mean?” said Poirot to himself.

The waitress was advancing upon him, displeasure on her face. Poirot regained his seat at the table and placated her by ordering a cup of coffee. “There is something here very curious,” he murmured to himself. “Yes, something very curious indeed.”

A cup of pale beige fluid was placed in front of him. He took a sip of it and made a grimace.

He wondered where Mrs. Oliver was at this moment.

M
rs. Oliver was seated in a bus. She was slightly out of breath though full of the zest of the chase. What she called in her own mind the Peacock, had led a somewhat brisk pace. Mrs. Oliver was not a rapid walker. Going along the Embankment she followed him at a distance of some twenty yards or so. At Charing Cross he got into the underground. Mrs. Oliver also got into the underground. At Sloane Square he got out, so did Mrs. Oliver. She waited in a bus queue some three or four people behind him. He got on a bus and so did she. He got out at World's End, so did Mrs. Oliver. He plunged into a bewildering maze of streets between King's Road and the river. He turned into what seemed a builder's yard. Mrs. Oliver stood in the shadow of a doorway and watched. He turned into an alleyway, Mrs. Oliver gave him a moment or two and then followed—he was nowhere to be seen. Mrs. Oliver reconnoitred her general surroundings. The whole place appeared somewhat decrepit. She wandered farther down the alleyway. Other alleyways
led off from it—some of them cul-de-sacs. She had completely lost her sense of direction when she once more came to the builder's yard and a voice spoke behind her, startling her considerably. It said, politely, “I hope I didn't walk too fast for you.”

She turned sharply. Suddenly what had recently been almost fun, a chase undertaken lightheartedly and in the best of spirits, now was that no longer. What she felt now was a sudden unexpected throb of fear. Yes, she was afraid. The atmosphere had suddenly become tinged with menace. Yet the voice was pleasant, polite; but behind it she knew there was anger. The sudden kind of anger that recalled to her in a confused fashion all the things one read in newspapers. Elderly women attacked by gangs of young men. Young men who were ruthless, cruel, who were driven by hate and the desire to do harm. This was the young man whom she had been following. He had known she was there, had given her the slip and had then followed her into this alleyway, and he stood there now barring her way out. As is the precarious fashion of London, one moment you are amongst people all round you and the next moment there is nobody in sight. There must be people in the next street, someone in the houses near, but nearer than that is a masterful figure, a figure with strong cruel hands. She felt that in this moment he was thinking of using those hands…The Peacock. A proud peacock. In his velvets, his tight, elegant black trousers, speaking in that quiet ironical amused voice that held behind it anger…Mrs. Oliver took three big gasps. Then, in a lightning moment of decision she put up a quickly imagined defence. Firmly and immediately she sat down on a dustbin which was against the wall quite close to her.

“Goodness, how you startled me,” she said. “I'd no idea you were there. I hope you're not annoyed.”

“So you
were
following me?”

“Yes, I'm afraid I was. I expect it must have been rather annoying to you. You see I thought it would be such an excellent opportunity. I'm sure you're frightfully angry but you needn't be, you know. Not really. You see—” Mrs. Oliver settled herself more firmly on the dustbin, “you see I write books. I write detective stories and I've really been very worried this morning. In fact I went into a café to have a cup of coffee just to try and think things out. I'd just got to the point in my book where I was following somebody. I mean my hero was following someone and I thought to myself, ‘Really I know very little about following people.' I mean, I'm always using the phrase in a book and I've read a lot of books where people do follow other people, and I wondered if it was as easy as it seems to be in some people's books or if it was as almost entirely impossible as it seemed in other people's books. So I thought ‘Well, really, the only thing was to try it out
myself
'—because until you try things out yourself you can't really tell what it's like. I mean you don't know what you feel like, or whether you get worried at losing a person. As it happened, I just looked up and you were sitting at the next table to me in the café and I thought you'd be—I hope you won't be annoyed again—but I thought you'd be an especially good person to follow.”

He was still staring at her with those strange, cold blue eyes, yet she felt somehow that the tension had left them.

“Why was I an especially good person to follow?”

“Well, you were so decorative,” explained Mrs. Oliver. “They are really very attractive clothes—almost Regency, you know, and I thought, well, I might take advantage of your being fairly easy to
distinguish from other people. So you see, when you went out of the café I went out too. And it's not really easy at all.” She looked up at him. “Do you mind telling me if you knew I was there all the time?”

“Not at once, no.”

“I see,” said Mrs. Oliver thoughtfully. “But of course I'm not as distinctive as you are. I mean you wouldn't be able to tell me very easily from a lot of other elderly women. I don't stand out very much, do I?”

“Do you write books that are published? Have I ever come across them?”

“Well, I don't know. You may have. I've written forty-three by now. My name's Oliver.”

“Ariadne Oliver?”

“So you do know my name,” said Mrs. Oliver. “Well, that's rather gratifying, of course, though I daresay you wouldn't like my books very much. You probably would find them rather old-fashioned—not violent enough.”

“You didn't know me personally beforehand?”

Mrs. Oliver shook her head. “No, I'm sure I don't—didn't, I mean.”

“What about the girl I was with?”

“You mean the one you were having—baked beans, was it—with in the café? No, I don't think so. Of course I only saw the back of her head. She looked to me—well, I mean girls do look rather alike, don't they?”

“She knew you,” said the boy suddenly. His tone in a moment had a sudden acid sharpness. “She mentioned once that she'd met you not long ago. About a week ago, I believe.”

“Where? Was it at a party? I suppose I might have met her. What's her name? Perhaps I'd know that.”

She thought he was in two moods whether to mention the name or not, but he decided to and he watched her face very keenly as he did so.

“Her name's Norma Restarick.”

“Norma Restarick. Oh, of course, yes, it was at a party in the country. A place called—wait a minute—Long Norton was it?—I don't remember the name of the house. I went there with some friends. I don't think I would have recognised her anyway, though I believe she did say something about my books. I even promised I'd give her one. It's very odd, isn't it, that I should make up my mind and actually choose to follow a person who was sitting with somebody I more or less knew. Very odd. I don't think I could put anything like that in my book. It would look rather too much of a coincidence, don't you think?”

Mrs. Oliver rose from her seat.

“Good gracious, what have I been sitting on? A dustbin! Really! Not a very nice dustbin either.” She sniffed. “What
is
this place I've got to?”

David was looking at her. She felt suddenly that she was completely mistaken in everything she had previously thought. “Absurd of me,” thought Mrs. Oliver, “absurd of me. Thinking that he was dangerous, that he might do something to me.” He was smiling at her with an extraordinary charm. He moved his head slightly and his chestnut ringlets moved on his shoulders. What fantastic creatures there were in the way of young men nowadays!

“The least I can do,” he said, “is to show you, I think, where you've been brought to, just by following me. Come on, up these
stairs.” He indicated a ramshackle outside staircase running up to what seemed to be a loft.

“Up those stairs?” Mrs. Oliver was not so certain about this. Perhaps he was trying to lure her up there with his charm, and he would then knock her on the head. “It's no good, Ariadne,” said Mrs. Oliver to herself, “you've got yourself into this spot, and now you've got to go on with it and find out what you can find out.”

“Do you think they'll stand my weight?” she said, “they look frightfully rickety.”

“They're quite all right. I'll go up first,” he said, “and show you the way.”

Mrs. Oliver mounted the ladderlike stairs behind him. It was no good. She was, deep down, still frightened. Frightened, not so much of the Peacock, as frightened of where the Peacock might be taking her. Well, she'd know very soon. He pushed open the door at the top and went into a room. It was a large, bare room and it was an artist's studio, an improvised kind of one. A few mattresses lay here and there on the floor, there were canvasses stacked against the wall, a couple of easels. There was a pervading smell of paint. There were two people in the room. A bearded young man was standing at an easel, painting. He turned his head as they entered.

“Hallo, David,” he said, “bringing us company?”

He was, Mrs. Oliver thought, quite the dirtiest-looking young man she'd ever seen. Oily black hair hung in a kind of circular bob down the back of his neck and over his eyes in front. His face apart from the beard was unshaven, and his clothes seemed mainly composed of greasy black leather and high boots. Mrs. Oliver's glance went beyond him to a girl who was acting as a model. She was on a wooden chair on a dais, half flung across it, her head back
and her dark hair drooping down from it. Mrs. Oliver recognised her at once. It was the second one of the three girls in Borodene Mansions. Mrs. Oliver couldn't remember her last name, but she remembered her first one. It was the highly decorative and languid-looking girl called Frances.

“Meet Peter,” said David, indicating the somewhat revolting looking artist. “One of our budding geniuses. And Frances who is posing as a desperate girl demanding abortion.”

“Shut up, you ape,” said Peter.

“I believe I know you, don't I?” said Mrs. Oliver, cheerfully, without any air of conscious certainty. “I'm sure I've met you somewhere! Somewhere quite lately, too.”

“You're Mrs. Oliver, aren't you?” said Frances.

“That's what she said she was,” said David. “True, too, is it?”

“Now, where
did
I meet you,” continued Mrs. Oliver. “Some party, was it? No. Let me think. I know. It was Borodene Mansions.”

Frances was sitting up now in her chair and speaking in weary but elegant tones. Peter uttered a loud and miserable groan.

“Now you've ruined the pose! Do you have to have all this wriggling about? Can't you keep still?”

“No, I couldn't any longer. It was an awful pose. I've got the most frightful crick in my shoulder.”

“I've been making experiments in following people,” said Mrs. Oliver. “It's much more difficult than I thought. Is this an artist's studio?” she added, looking round her brightly.

“That's what they're like nowadays, a kind of loft—and lucky if you don't fall through the floor,” said Peter.

“It's got all you need,” said David. “It's got a north light and plenty of room and a pad to sleep on, and a fourth share in the loo
downstairs—and what they call cooking facilities. And it's got a bottle or two,” he added. Turning to Mrs. Oliver, but in an entirely different tone, one of utter politeness, he said, “And can we offer you a drink?”

“I don't drink,” said Mrs. Oliver.

“The lady doesn't drink,” said David. “Who would have thought it!”

“That's rather rude but you're quite right,” said Mrs. Oliver. “Most people come up to me and say, ‘I always thought you drank like a fish.'”

She opened her handbag—and immediately three coils of grey hair fell on the floor. David picked them up and handed them to her.

“Oh! thank you.” Mrs. Oliver took them. “I hadn't time this morning. I wonder if I've got any more hairpins.” She delved in her bag and started attaching the coils to her head.

Peter roared with laughter—“Bully for you,” he said.

“How extraordinary,” Mrs. Oliver thought to herself, “that I should ever have had this silly idea that I was in danger.
Danger
—from
these
people? No matter what they look like, they're really very nice and friendly. It's quite true what people always say to me. I've far too much imagination.”

Presently she said she must be going, and David, with Regency gallantry, helped her down the rickety steps, and gave her definite directions as to how to rejoin the King's Road in the quickest way.

“And then,” he said, “you can get a bus—or a taxi if you want it.”

“A taxi,” said Mrs. Oliver. “My feet are absolutely dead. The sooner I fall into a taxi the better. Thank you,” she added, “for
being so very nice about my following you in what must have seemed a very peculiar way. Though after all I don't suppose private detectives, or private eyes or whatever they call them, would look anything at all like me.”

“Perhaps not,” said David gravely. “Left here—and then right, and then left again until you see the river and go towards it, and then sharp right and straight on.”

Curiously enough, as she walked across the shabby yard the same feeling of unease and suspense came over her. “I mustn't let my imagination go again.” She looked back at the steps and the window of the studio. The figure of David still stood looking after her. “Three perfectly nice young people,” said Mrs. Oliver to herself. “Perfectly nice and very kind. Left here, and then right. Just because they
look
rather peculiar, one goes and has silly ideas about their being dangerous. Was it right again? or left? Left, I think—Oh goodness, my feet. It's going to rain, too.” The walk seemed endless and the King's Road incredibly far away. She could hardly hear the traffic now—And where on earth was the river? She began to suspect that she had followed the directions wrongly.

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