Read Third Girl Online

Authors: Agatha Christie

Third Girl (9 page)

“Oh! well,” thought Mrs. Oliver, “I'm bound to get
somewhere
soon—the river, or Putney or Wandsworth or somewhere.” She asked her way to the King's Road from a passing man who said he was a foreigner and didn't speak English.

Mrs. Oliver turned another corner wearily and there ahead of her was the gleam of the water. She hurried towards it down a narrow passageway, heard a footstep behind her, half turned, when she was struck from behind and the world went up in sparks.

I

A
voice said:

“Drink this.”

Norma was shivering. Her eyes had a dazed look. She shrank back a little in the chair. The command was repeated. “Drink this.” This time she drank obediently, then choked a little.

“It's—it's very strong,” she gasped.

“It'll put you right. You'll feel better in a minute. Just sit still and wait.”

The sickness and the giddiness which had been confusing her passed off. A little colour came into her cheeks, and the shivering diminished. For the first time she looked round her, noting her surroundings. She had been obsessed by a feeling of fear and horror but now things seemed to be returning to normal. It was a medium-sized room and it was furnished in a way that seemed faintly familiar. A desk, a couch, an armchair and an ordinary chair, a stethoscope on a side table and some machine that she thought
had to do with eyes. Then her attention went from the general to the particular. The man who had told her to drink.

She saw a man of perhaps thirty-odd with red hair and a rather attractive ugly face, the kind of face that is craggy but interesting. He nodded at her in a reassuring fashion.

“Beginning to get your bearings?”

“I—I think so. I—did you—what happened?”

“Don't you remember?”

“The traffic. I—it came at me—it—” She looked at him. “I was run over.”

“Oh no, you weren't run over.” He shook his head. “I saw to that.”

“You?”

“Well, there you were in the middle of the road, a car bearing down on you and I just managed to snatch you out of its way. What were you thinking of to go running into the traffic like that?”

“I can't remember. I—yes, I suppose I must have been thinking of something else.”

“A Jaguar was coming pretty fast, and there was a bus bearing down on the other side of the road. The car wasn't trying to run you down or anything like that, was it?”

“I—no, no, I'm sure it wasn't. I mean I—”

“Well, I wondered—It just might have been something else, mightn't it?”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, it could have been deliberate, you know.”

“What do you mean by deliberate?”

“Actually I just wondered whether you were trying to get yourself killed?” He added casually, “Were you?”

“I—no—well—no, of course not.”

“Damn' silly way to do it, if so.” His tone changed slightly. “Come now, you must remember
something
about it.”

She began shivering again. “I thought—I thought it would be all over. I thought—”

“So you were trying to kill yourself, weren't you? What's the matter? You can tell me. Boyfriend? That can make one feel pretty bad. Besides, there's always the hopeful thought that if you kill yourself you make him sorry—but one should never trust to that. People don't like feeling sorry or feeling anything is their fault. All the boyfriend will probably say is, ‘I always thought she was unbalanced. It's really all for the best.' Just remember that next time you have an urge to charge Jaguars. Even Jaguars have feelings to be considered.
Was
that the trouble? Boyfriend walk out on you?”

“No,” said Norma. “Oh no. It was quite the opposite.” She added suddenly, “He wanted to marry me.”

“That's no reason for throwing yourself down in front of a Jaguar.”

“Yes it is. I did it because—” She stopped.

“You'd better tell me about it, hadn't you?”

“How did I get here?” asked Norma.

“I brought you here in a taxi. You didn't seem injured—a few bruises, I expect. You merely looked shaken to death, and in a state of shock. I asked you your address, but you looked at me as though you didn't know what I was talking about. A crowd was about to collect. So I hailed a taxi and brought you here.”

“Is this a—a doctor's surgery?”

“This is a doctor's consulting room and I'm the doctor. Stillingfleet, my name is.”

“I don't want to see a doctor! I don't want to talk to a doctor! I don't—”

“Calm down, calm down. You've been talking to a doctor for the last ten minutes. What's the matter with doctors, anyway?”

“I'm afraid. I'm afraid a doctor would say—”

“Come now, my dear girl, you're not consulting me professionally. Regard me as a mere outsider who's been enough of a busybody to save you from being killed or, what is far more likely, having a broken arm or a fractured leg or a head injury or something extremely unpleasant which might incapacitate you for life. There are other disadvantages. Formerly, if you deliberately tried to commit suicide you could be had up in Court. You still can if it's a suicide pact. There now, you can't say I haven't been frank. You could oblige now by being frank with me, and telling me why on earth you're afraid of doctors. What's a doctor ever done to you?”

“Nothing. Nothing has been
done
to me. But I'm afraid that they might—”

“Might what?”

“Shut me up.”

Dr. Stillingfleet raised his sandy eyebrows and looked at her.

“Well, well,” he said. “You seem to have some very curious ideas about doctors. Why should I want to shut you up? Would you like a cup of tea,” he added, “or would you prefer a purple heart or a tranquilliser? That's the kind of thing people of your age go in for. Done a bit yourself in that line, haven't you?”

She shook her head. “Not—not
really.

“I don't believe you. Anyway, why the alarm and despondency? You're not really mental, are you? I shouldn't have said so. Doctors
aren't at all anxious to have people shut up. Mental homes are far too full already. Difficult to squeeze in another body. In fact lately they've been letting a good many people out—in desperation—pushing them out, you might say—who jolly well ought to have been kept in. Everything's so overcrowded in this country.

“Well,” he went on, “what are your tastes? Something out of my drug cupboard or a good solid old-fashioned English cup of tea?”

“I—I'd like some tea,” said Norma.

“Indian or China? That's the thing to ask, isn't it? Mind you, I'm not sure if I've got any China.”

“I like Indian better.”

“Good.”

He went to the door, opened it and shouted, “Annie. Pot of tea for two.”

He came back and sat down and said, “Now you get this quite clear, young lady. What's your name, by the way?”

“Norma Res—” she stopped.

“Yes?”

“Norma West.”

“Well, Miss West, let's get this clear. I'm not treating you, you're not consulting me. You are the victim of a street accident—that is the way we'll put it and that is the way I suppose you meant it to appear, which would have been pretty hard on the fellow in the Jaguar.”

“I thought of throwing myself off a bridge first.”

“Did you? You wouldn't have found that so easy. People who build bridges are rather careful nowadays. I mean you'd have had to climb up onto the parapet and it's not so easy. Somebody stops
you. Well, to continue with my dissertation, I brought you home as you were in too much of a state of shock to tell me your address. What is it, by the way?”

“I haven't got an address. I—I don't live anywhere.”

“Interesting,” said Dr. Stillingfleet. “What the police call ‘of no fixed abode.' What do you do—sit out on the Embankment all night?”

She looked at him suspiciously.

“I could have reported the accident to the police but there was no obligation upon me to do so. I preferred to take the view that in a state of maiden meditation you were crossing the street before looking left first.”

“You're not at all like my idea of a doctor,” said Norma.

“Really? Well, I've been getting gradually disillusioned in my profession in this country. In fact, I'm giving up my practice here and I'm going to Australia in about a fortnight. So you're quite safe from me, and you can if you like tell me how you see pink elephants walking out of the wall, how you think the trees are leaning out their branches to wrap round and strangle you, how you think you know just when the devil looks out of people's eyes, or any other cheerful fantasy, and I shan't do a thing about it! You
look
sane enough, if I may say so.”

“I don't think I am.”

“Well, you may be right,” said Dr. Stillingfleet handsomely. “Let's hear what your reasons are.”

“I do things and don't remember about them…I tell people things about what I've done but I don't
remember
telling them….”

“It sounds as though you have a bad memory.”

“You don't understand. They're all—wicked things.”

“Religious mania? Now that would be very interesting.”

“It's not religious. It's just—just
hate.

There was a tap at the door and an elderly woman came in with a tea tray. She put it down on the desk and went out again.

“Sugar?” said Dr. Stillingfleet.

“Yes, please.”

“Sensible girl. Sugar is very good for you when you've had a shock.” He poured out two cups of tea, set hers at her side and placed the sugar basin beside it. “Now then,” he sat down. “What were we talking about? Oh yes, hate.”

“It is possible, isn't it, that you could hate someone so much that you really want to kill them?”

“Oh, yes,” said Stillingfleet, cheerfully still. “Perfectly possible. In fact, most natural. But even if you really want to do it you can't always screw yourself up to the point, you know. The human being is equipped with a natural braking system and it applies the brakes for you just at the right moment.”

“You make it sound so ordinary,” said Norma. There was a distinct overtone of annoyance in her voice.

“Oh, well, it is quite natural. Children feel like it almost every day. Lose their tempers, say to their mothers or their fathers: ‘You're wicked, I hate you, I wish you were dead.' Mothers, being sometimes sensible people, don't usually pay any attention. When you grow up, you still hate people, but you can't take quite so much trouble wanting to kill them by then. Or if you still do—well, then you go to prison. That is, if you actually brought yourself to do such a messy and difficult job. You aren't putting all this on, are you, by the way?” he asked casually.

“Of course not.” Norma sat up straight. Her eyes flashed with
anger. “Of course not. Do you think I would say such awful things if they weren't true?”

“Well, again,” said Dr. Stillingfleet, “people do. They say all sorts of awful things about themselves and enjoy saying them.” He took her empty cup from her. “Now then,” he said, “you'd better tell me all about everything. Who you hate, why you hate them, what you'd like to do to them.”

“Love can turn to hate.”

“Sounds like a melodramatic ballad. But remember hate can turn to love, too. It works both ways. And you say it's not a boyfriend.
He was your man and he did you wrong.
None of that stuff, eh?”

“No, no. Nothing like that. It's—it's my stepmother.”

“The cruel stepmother
motif.
But that's nonsense. At your age you can get away from a stepmother. What has she done to you besides marrying your father? Do you hate him too, or are you so devoted to him that you don't want to share him?”

“It's not like that at all. Not at all. I used to love him once. I loved him dearly. He was—he was—I thought he was wonderful.”

“Now then,” said Dr. Stillingfleet, “listen to me. I'm going to suggest something. You see that door?”

Norma turned her head and looked in a puzzled fashion at the door.

“Perfectly ordinary door, isn't it? Not locked. Opens and shuts in the ordinary way. Go on, try it for yourself. You saw my housekeeper come in and go out through it, didn't you? No illusions. Come on. Get up. Do what I tell you.”

Norma rose from her chair and rather hesitatingly went to the door and opened it. She stood in the aperture, her head turned towards him inquiringly.

“Right. What do you see? A perfectly ordinary hallway, wants redecorating but it's not worth having it done when I'm just off to Australia. Now go to the front door, open it, also no tricks about it. Go outside and down to the pavement and that will show you that you are perfectly free with no attempts to shut you up in any way. After that, when you have satisfied yourself that you could walk out of this place at any minute you like, come back, sit in that comfortable chair over there and tell me all about yourself. After which I will give you my valuable advice. You needn't take it,” he added consolingly. “People seldom do take advice, but you might as well have it. See? Agreed?”

Norma got up slowly, she went a little shakily out of the room, out into—as the doctor had described—the perfectly ordinary hallway, opened the front door with a simple catch, down four steps and stood on the pavement in a street of decorous but rather uninteresting houses. She stood there a moment, unaware that she was being watched through a lace blind by Dr. Stillingfleet himself. She stood there for about two minutes, then with a slightly more resolute bearing she turned, went up the steps again, shut the front door and came back into the room.

“All right?” said Dr. Stillingfleet. “Satisfied you there's nothing up my sleeve? All clear and aboveboard.”

The girl nodded.

“Right. Sit down there. Make yourself comfortable. Do you smoke?”

“Well, I—”

“Only reefers—something of that kind? Never mind, you needn't tell me.”

“Of course I don't take anything of that kind.”

“I shouldn't have said there was any ‘of course' about it, but one must believe what the patient tells one. All right. Now tell me about yourself.”

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