فصل 02

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Chapter two

End House

‘Poirot,’ I said later. ‘I have been thinking.’

‘An admirable exercise, my friend. Continue it.’

We were at lunch.

‘This shot must have been fired quite close to us. And yet we did not hear it. It is strange.’

‘No, it is not. Some sounds - you get used to them so soon that you hardly notice they are there. All this morning, my friend, speedboats have been making trips in the bay. You complained at first - soon, you did not even notice. But you could fire a machine gun almost and not notice it when one of those boats is on the sea.’

‘Yes, that’s true,’ I agreed.

‘Ah!’ said Poirot. ‘Mademoiselle Buckley and her friends. They are to lunch here, it seems, therefore I must return the hat. But it doesn’t matter. The situation, all on its own, is serious enough to require a visit.’

He hurried across and gave the hat to Miss Buckley with a bow just as she, Commander Challenger, another man and another woman were sitting down.

My friend was silent during our meal and as soon as the other lunch party had left the room, he rose to his feet. They were just getting comfortable in the lounge when Poirot marched up and spoke to Nick Buckley. ‘Mademoiselle, may I have a little word?’

She moved a few steps aside. Almost immediately I saw an expression of surprise pass over her face at the words Poirot was saying. In the meantime, Challenger offered me a cigarette. I thought that I was more his kind of man than the tall, fair young man he had been lunching with. The woman in the group was an unusual type - she had fair, almost colorless hair and her face was completely white, yet attractive. Her eyes were very light grey with large pupils. Suddenly she spoke. ‘Sit down - till your friend has finished with Nick.’

She seemed to me the most tired person I had ever met. Tired in mind, as though she had found everything in the world to be empty and valueless.

‘Miss Buckley very kindly helped my friend when he twisted his ankle this morning,’ I explained as I accepted her offer.

She looked at me thoughtfully. ‘Nothing wrong with his ankle now, is there?’

I felt myself turning pink.

‘Oh, well. I’m glad to hear Nick didn’t invent the whole thing. She’s one of my oldest friends, but Nick is such a liar, isn’t she, Jim? That story about the brakes of the car - Jim says it wasn’t true at all.’

The fair man in a soft voice said, ‘I know something about cars.’ He half turned his head. Outside was a long, red car. It looked new.

‘Is that yours?’ I asked.

He nodded. ‘Yes.’

Poirot joined us at that moment. I rose; he gave a quick bow to the party, and we left the room.

‘It is arranged. We are to call on Mademoiselle at End House at half past six.’

We started out from the hotel at six o’clock.

‘It seems incredible,’ I remarked, as we descended the steps of the terrace. ‘To shoot anyone in a hotel garden. Only a madman would do such a thing.’

‘I disagree. To begin with, the garden is deserted. It is usual to sit on the terrace overlooking the bay - only I sit overlooking the garden. And even then, I saw nothing. There are many large bushes and trees, you observe. Anyone could hide himself while he waited for Mademoiselle to pass this way from her house. And she would come this way. To come round by the road from End House would be much longer!’

‘All the same,’ I said, ‘the risk was enormous. He might have been seen - and you can’t make shooting look like an accident.’

‘Not like an accident - no.’

‘What do you mean?’

‘Nothing - a little idea. But let us not think about that for a moment. Think instead of this: the motive for Mademoiselle’s death cannot be obvious. If it were - then it would be too great a risk to take. People would say, “Where was X when the shot was fired?” No, the would-be murderer cannot be obvious. And that, Hastings, is why I am afraid! Yes, these “accidents” - I want to hear about them!’

He turned back abruptly. ‘It is still early. We will go by the road. The garden has nothing to tell us. Let us inspect the other way up to End House.’

We walked out of the front gate of the hotel and up a sharp hill to the right. At the top was a small road with a notice on the wall: ‘TO END HOUSE ONLY.’ After a few hundred yards there was an abrupt turn and we could see a pair of broken entrance gates. Inside these, to the right, was a small cottage. The small garden round it was well-kept, the window frames had been recently painted and there were bright curtains at the windows. Picking some flowers was a man in a well-worn jacket. He was about sixty; six foot tall at least, with bright-blue eyes.

‘Good afternoon,’ he said as we passed.

‘Good afternoon,’ I replied and we went on up the path.

End House itself was large and clearly in bad condition. Poirot rang the bell and the door was opened by a middle-aged woman. Miss Buckley, she said, had not yet returned. Poirot explained that we had an appointment and we were taken into the living room to wait. This room looked onto the sea and was full of sunshine. There were family portraits on the walls, some of which were very good. There was a newspaper open on the end of the sofa. Poirot picked it up. It was the St Loo Weekly Herald and Directory, and he was reading it when the door opened and Nick Buckley came in.

‘Bring the ice, Ellen,’ she called over her shoulder, then spoke to us. ‘Well, here I am - and I am extremely curious about why you want to see me.’

The woman who had opened the door to us came into the room with ice and a tray of bottles. Nick mixed cocktails expertly, then she said sharply, ‘Well?’

‘Mademoiselle.’ Poirot took the cocktail from her hand. ‘To your good health, Mademoiselle - your continued good health.’ She frowned. ‘Is anything the matter?’

‘Yes, Mademoiselle. This…’

He held out his hand with the bullet on the palm of it. She picked it up with a puzzled frown. ‘It’s a bullet.’

‘Exactly. Mademoiselle - it was not a bee that flew past your face this morning - it was this bullet.’

‘Well, I’m damned.’ said Nick frankly. ‘I really am a lucky girl! That’s number four.’

‘Yes,’ said Poirot. ‘That is number four. I want, Mademoiselle, to hear about the other three “accidents”. I want to be very sure, Mademoiselle, that they were accidents.’

‘Why, of course! What else could they be?’

‘Mademoiselle, what if someone is trying to kill you?’

Nick laughed. ‘My dear man, who on earth do you think would try to kill me? I’m not a beautiful young heiress whose death would leave millions to her heir. I wish somebody was trying to kill me - that would be exciting, if you like - but I’m afraid there’s not a hope!’

‘Will you tell me, Mademoiselle, about those accidents?’

‘Of course - but they were just stupid things. There’s a heavy painting that hangs over my bed. It fell in the night. By chance I had heard a door banging somewhere in the house and went down to shut it - and so I escaped. It would probably have fallen on my head and killed me. That’s Number 1.’

‘Number 2’s weaker still. There’s a cliff path down to the sea. I go down that way to swim. A very large rock fell down behind me, just missing me. The third thing was quite different. Something went wrong with the brakes of my car - the garage man explained what the problem was, but I didn’t understand it. Anyway, if I’d gone through the gate and down the hill, the brakes wouldn’t have worked and I’d have crashed straight into a building. But because I had left my jacket behind, I had turned back and I only crashed into the bushes at the side of the road.’

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

‘You can ask them at Mott’s Garage. It was something quite simple and mechanical that had been taken out. I wondered if Ellen’s boy had done it. Boys do like playing about with cars. Of course Ellen insisted he’d never been near it.’

‘Where is your garage, Mademoiselle?’

‘Round the other side of the house.’

‘Is it usually locked?’

Nick’s eyes opened in surprise. ‘Of course not.’

‘So anyone could have touched the car without being seen?’

‘Well, yes. But it’s silly to think that anyone would.’

‘No, Mademoiselle: It is not silly. You are in danger - serious danger. I tell it to you. I, Hercule Poirot! You know my name, eh?’

‘Oh, yes.’

Poirot observed her carefully. ‘Mademoiselle, you are a polite little liar.’ (I was shocked, remembering what her friend had said at the Majestic Hotel that day after lunch.) ‘I forget - you are only a child - you would not have heard. Ah, fame passes so quickly! My friend there - he will tell you.’

‘Monsieur Poirot is - er - was - a great detective,’ I explained, slightly embarrassed.

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

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

‘Ah, yes, but I should not have to praise myself.’

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

‘My name is Hastings,’ I said coldly.

‘Well, this is all wonderful,’ said Nick, ‘but seriously, Monsieur Poirot, the whole thing must be an accident.’

‘You are as obstinate as the devil!’

‘That’s where I got my name from. They say my grandfather sold his soul to the devil, Monsieur Poirot, and in England the devil is also known as Old Nick. Well, my grandfather’s name was Nicholas so everyone round here called him Old Nick. I went everywhere with him and so they called me Young Nick. My real name is Magdala. There have been lots of Magdala’s in the Buckley family. There’s one up there.’ She pointed to a picture on the wall.

‘Ah!’ said Poirot. Then, looking at a portrait hanging over the fireplace, he said, ‘Is that your grandfather, Mademoiselle?’

‘Yes, good, isn’t it? Jim Lazarus offered to buy it, I wouldn’t sell. I loved Old Nick and I couldn’t sell his portrait.’

‘Ah!’ Poirot was silent, then he said very seriously, ‘Listen, Mademoiselle. I beg you to be serious. Today, somebody shot at you with a Mauser pistol.’

‘A Mauser?’ She was surprised.

‘Yes, why? Do you know of anyone who has a Mauser pistol?’ She smiled. ‘I’ve got one myself. Dad brought it back from the War. It’s in that drawer.’ She crossed the room and pulled the drawer open.

‘Oh!’ she said. ‘It’s - it’s gone.’

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