فصل 01

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فصل 01

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دانلود اپلیکیشن «زیبوک»

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دانلود اپلیکیشن «زیبوک»

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CHAPTER ONE

An Extraordinary Announcement

Every morning between 7.30 and 8.30 Johnnie Butt, the newspaper boy, rode around the small village of Chipping Cleghorn on his bicycle. He stopped at each house and pushed the morning papers through the letterbox. On Friday mornings Johnnie also delivered to most of the houses a copy of the local paper, the Chipping Cleghorn Gazette - known simply as the Gazette. After a quick look at the headlines in the national papers, most people eagerly opened the Gazette. They glanced quickly through the Letters page, and then nine out of ten readers turned to the Personal Column.

This contained advertisements from people wanting to buy or sell things, from hens to garden equipment, or looking for help in the home. The notices in the Personal Column always interested the people of Chipping Cleghorn, but on one particular Friday - October 29th - a notice appeared which was more interesting than any of the others.

Mrs Swettenham opened The Times, glanced through it quickly, then picked up the Gazette. When her son Edmund entered the room a moment later, she was busy reading the Personal Column.

‘Good morning, dear,’ said Mrs Swettenham. ‘The Smedleys are selling their car.’

Edmund did not reply. He poured himself a cup of coffee and sat down at the breakfast table, then opened the Daily Worker.

‘Selina Lawrence is advertising for a cook again,’ Mrs Swettenham said. ‘Yes, Mrs Finch?’

The door had opened and the unsmiling face of Mrs Swettenham’s housekeeper appeared round it.

‘Good morning, madam,’ she said.

‘Can I clear the table?’

‘Not yet. We haven’t finished,’ said Mrs Swettenham. Mrs Finch stared coldly at Edmund before leaving again.

‘Why do you have to read that awful paper, Edmund?’ said his mother. ‘Mrs Finch doesn’t like it at all.’

‘I don’t think my political views are Mrs Finch’s business.’

‘And you’re not even a worker.’

‘That’s not true!’ said Edmund. ‘I’m writing a book.’

‘I meant real work,’ said Mrs Swettenham.

She continued reading the Personal Column.

A marriage is announced - no, a murder. What? Edmund, listen to this…

‘A murder is announced and will take place on Friday, October 29th, at Little Paddocks at 6.30p.m. Friends, please accept this, the only notice.

‘What an extraordinary thing! Edmund?’

‘What’s that?’ Edmund looked up from his newspaper.

‘Friday, October 29th… But that’s today.’

‘Let me see.’ Edmund took the paper from his mother.

‘What does it mean?’ asked Mrs Swettenham. Edmund rubbed his nose doubtfully.

‘Some sort of party, I suppose. The Murder Game - that kind of thing.’

‘Oh,’ said Mrs Swettenham doubtfully. ‘It seems a very strange way of announcing a game. It’s not like Letitia Blacklock at all. She always seems to me such a sensible woman. A murder game…It sounds quite exciting.’

‘It will probably be very boring. I’m not going,’ said Edmund.

‘Nonsense, Edmund,’ said Mrs Swettenham firmly. ‘I’m going and you’re coming with me.’

‘Archie,’ said Mrs Easterbrook to her husband, ‘listen to this.’

Colonel Easterbrook paid no attention. He was busy reading The Times.

‘These reporters know nothing about India,’ he said. ‘Nothing! If they did, they wouldn’t write such rubbish.’

‘Yes, I know,’ said his wife. ‘Archie, do listen.’

‘A murder is announced and will take place on Friday, October 29th, at Little Paddocks at 6.30p.m. Friends, please accept this, the only notice.’

She paused. Colonel Easterbrook smiled at her affectionately.

‘It’s the Murder Game,’ he said. ‘That’s all. One person’s the murderer, but nobody knows who. The lights go out. The murderer chooses the person he’s going to murder. This person has to count to twenty before he screams. Then the person who’s been chosen to be the detective questions everybody. It’s a good game - if the detective knows something about police work.’

‘Like you, Archie. You had to deal with all those interesting cases in India. Why didn’t Miss Blacklock ask you to help her organize the game?’

‘Oh, well, she’s got that young nephew staying with her,’ said Colonel Easterbrook. ‘I expect this is his idea.’

‘It was in the Personal Column. I suppose it is an invitation?’

‘Strange kind of invitation. I’m not going.’

‘Oh, but Archie,’ said his wife, ‘I really do think you ought to go - just to help Miss Blacklock. I’m sure she’s depending on you to make the game a success. One must be a good neighbour.’

Mrs Easterbrook put her blonde head on one side and opened her blue eyes very wide. Colonel Easterbrook twisted his grey moustache, and looked at his wife. Mrs Easterbrook was at least thirty years younger than her husband.

‘Of course, if that’s what you think, Laura…’ he said.

‘I really do think it’s your duty, Archie,’ said Mrs Easterbrook.

The Chipping Cleghorn Gazette had also been delivered to Boulders, the pretty cottage where Miss Hinchcliffe and Miss Murgatroyd lived. Miss Murgatroyd, a round, pleasant woman with untidy grey hair, walked through the long wet grass to the henhouse, carrying a copy of the paper.

Her friend, who had short hair and was dressed in men’s work clothes, looked up from feeding the chickens.

‘What is it, Amy?’

‘Listen to this,’ said Miss Murgatroyd. ‘What can it mean? A murder is announced and will take place on Friday, October 29th, at Little Paddocks at 6.30p.m. Friends, please accept this, the only notice.’

She paused, and waited for her friend to give her opinion.

‘It’s silly,’ said Miss Hinchcliffe.

‘Yes, but what do you think it means? Is it a sort of invitation?’

‘We’ll find out when we get there,’ said Miss Hinchcliffe.

‘It’s a strange way to invite people, isn’t it?’

But Miss Hinchcliffe wasn’t listening. She was busy trying to catch a hen which had escaped.

‘Ooh, excellent!’ said Mrs Harmon across the breakfast table to her husband, the Reverend Julian Harmon. ‘There’s going to be a murder at Miss Blacklock’s.’

‘A murder?’ said her husband, slightly surprised. ‘When?’

‘This evening. 6.30. Oh, what a pity, darling, you won’t be able to come. You’ve got to write your speech for tomorrow.’

Mrs Harmon, whose real name was Diana but who was usually called ‘Bunch’, handed her husband the Gazette across the table.

‘There. It’s among the notices in the Personal Column.’

‘What an extraordinary announcement!’ said her husband.

‘Isn’t it?’ said Bunch happily. ‘I suppose the young Simmonses have given Miss Blacklock the idea. I do think, darling, it’s a pity you can’t be there. I don’t like games that happen in the dark. If someone touches my shoulder and whispers “You’re dead”, the shock might really kill me. Do you think that’s likely?’

‘No, Bunch,’ replied her husband. ‘I think you’re going to live to be an old, old woman - with me.’

‘And die on the same day and be buried in the same grave. That would be lovely.’

‘You seem very happy, Bunch,’ said her husband.

‘Who wouldn’t be happy if they were me?’ said Bunch.

At Little Paddocks, Miss Blacklock, the owner of the house, sat at the head of the table. She was about sixty years old and with her heavy country suit was wearing, rather strangely, a choker of large false pearls. Also at the table, reading the national newspapers, were her young cousins, Julia and Patrick Simmons. The fourth person at the table was Miss Dora Bunner, who was reading the local paper.

Suddenly Miss Bunner gave a cry of surprise. ‘Letty - Letty - have you seen this? What can it mean?’

‘What’s the matter, Dora?’ asked Miss Blacklock.

‘The most extraordinary advertisement. It says Little Paddocks very clearly. But what can it mean?’

‘If you’d let me see, Dora dear -‘ Miss Blacklock held out her hand and Miss Bunner obediently gave her the newspaper. Miss Blacklock looked. She glanced quickly round the table. Then she read the advertisement out loud.

‘A murder is announced and will take place on Friday, October 29th, at Little Paddocks at 6.30p.m. Friends, please accept this, the only notice.’

‘Patrick, is this your idea?’ She looked at the handsome face of the young man at the other end of the table.

‘No, Aunt Letty. Why should I know anything about it?’

‘I thought it might be your idea of a joke. Julia?’

Julia, looking bored, said, ‘Of course not.’

Miss Bunner looked at the empty place at the table. ‘Do you think Mrs Haymes-?’ she said.

‘Oh, I don’t think Phillipa would try and be funny,’ said Patrick. ‘She’s a serious girl.’

‘But what does it mean?’ said Julia, with no real interest.

Miss Blacklock said slowly, ‘I suppose - it’s a silly joke.’

‘But why?’ said Dora Bunner. ‘It seems very stupid to me.’

Miss Blacklock smiled at her. ‘Don’t upset yourself, Bunny,’ she said. ‘It’s just somebody’s sense of humour.’

‘It says today,’ said Miss Bunner. ‘Today at 6.30 p.m. What do you think’s going to happen?’

‘Death’ said Patrick in q. low, serious voice. ‘Delicious Death.’

Miss Bunner gave a little scream.

‘I only meant that special cake that Mitzi makes,’ said Patrick apologetically. ‘You know we always call it Delicious Death.’

Miss Blacklock smiled. ‘I know one thing that will happen at 6.30,’ she said cheerfully. ‘Half the people in the village will be here, wondering what’s going to happen. I’d better make sure we’ve got some sherry in the house.’

‘You are worried, aren’t you, Lotty?’

Miss Blacklock looked up from her writing at the anxious face of her old friend Dora Bunner. She was not quite sure what to say to her. Dora, she knew, mustn’t be worried or upset. At school Dora had been a pretty, fair-haired, blue-eyed, rather stupid girl. She would surely marry a nice army officer or country lawyer. But life had been unkind to Dora. She hadn’t married, but had had to work.

The two friends had lost contact. But about six months ago, Miss Blacklock had received a letter from Dora. In the letter, Dora said she was unwell. She was living in one room, with very little money. She wondered if her old school friend could help.

Miss Blacklock had brought Dora to live at Little Paddocks. She had told Dora that she needed someone to help her run the house. This wasn’t true, but Miss Blacklock knew that the arrangement would not be for long - Dora’s doctor had told her that. Sometimes Miss Blacklock found Dora annoying. She lost bills and letters, and upset Mitzi, Miss Blacklock’s foreign ‘help’.

‘Worried?’ Miss Blacklock said eventually. ‘No, not exactly. You mean, about that silly notice in the Gazette?’

‘Yes - even if it’s a joke, it seems to me it’s - it’s not a nice kind of joke. It frightens me - It’s dangerous. I’m sure it is.’

The door opened and a young woman came in. Her eyes were dark and flashing.

‘I can speak to you? Yes, please, no?’

Miss Blacklock sighed. ‘Of course, Mitzi, what is it?’

‘I am going - I am going at once! I do not wish to die. My family - they died - my mother, my little brother, my sweet little niece. But me, I ran away. I came to England. I do work that I would never - never do in my own country. I-‘

‘I know all that,’ said Miss Blacklock. She had heard it many times before. ‘But why do you want to leave now?’

‘Because again they have come to kill me! My enemies. The Nazis! They know I am here. They will come to kill me. It is in the newspaper!’ Mitzi brought out a copy of the Gazette which she had been hiding behind her back. ‘See - here it says a murder. This evening at 6.30. I do not want to be murdered - no.’

‘But why should this be about you?’ said Miss Blacklock. ‘It’s - we think it’s a joke. If anyone wanted to murder you, they wouldn’t advertise the fact in the paper, would they?’

‘You do not think they would?’ said Mitzi. ‘Perhaps it is you who they mean to murder, Miss Blacklock.’

‘I certainly can’t believe anyone wants to murder me,’ said Miss Blacklock lightly. ‘And really, Mitzi, I don’t see why anyone should want to murder you. We’ll have beef for lunch today,’ she continued. ‘And some people may come for drinks this evening. Could you make some cheese snacks?’

‘This evening? But who will come then? Why will they come?’

‘They’re coming to the funeral,’ said Miss Blacklock with a smile. ‘Now, Mitzi, I’m busy.’

Mitzi went out, looking puzzled.

‘You’re so efficient, Letty,’ said Miss Bunner admiringly.

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