فصل 01

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Chapter one

Mrs Elspeth McGillicuddy hurried along Platform 3 at Paddington Station after the porter who was carrying her suitcase. Mrs McGillicuddy was short and the porter was tall. Mrs McGillicuddy was also carrying a lot of packages after a day of Christmas shopping. So the porter had already turned the corner at the end of the platform while she searched her bag for the ticket at the entrance gate.

At that moment, a voice sounded above her head, ‘The train standing at Platform 3, is the 4.50 for Brackhampton, Milchester, Waverton, Roxeter and stations to Chadmouth. Passengers for Brackhampton and Milchester travel at the back of the train.’

Mrs McGillicuddy found her ticket and showed it to the man at the gate who said, ‘On the right, at the back.’

Mrs McGillicuddy continued up the platform and found her porter waiting outside the door of a third-class carriage.

‘I’m travelling first-class,’ said Mrs McGillicuddy.

‘You didn’t say so,’ said the porter. Mrs McGillicuddy, had said so, but was too tired to argue.

The porter carried her suitcase to the next coach, where Mrs McGillicuddy sat down alone and opened her magazine. Five minutes later, whistles blew, and the train started. The magazine slipped from Mrs McGillicuddy’s hand, her head dropped sideways and three minutes later she was asleep. She slept for thirty-five minutes and awoke feeling much better as she sat looking out of the window at the countryside flying past. It was almost dark now and the train passed through a station, then began to slow down, and then it stopped for a short while before it began to move forward again.

A train passed them, going in the opposite direction. Then another train, going in the same direction, passed frighteningly close to them. For a time the two trains ran parallel, and Mrs McGillicuddy looked from her window into the windows of the other carriages. Most of the blinds were down, but occasionally she could see people in the carriages, although many of them were empty.

Suddenly, when the two trains seemed to have stopped because they were both moving at the same slow speed, a blind flew up and Mrs McGillicuddy looked into the lighted first-class carriage that was only a short distance away.

Then she gasped and stood up.

Standing with his back to the window was a man. His hands were round the throat of a woman, and he was slowly strangling her. Her eyes were wide open and her face was purple. As Mrs McGillicuddy watched, the womans body collapsed. At the same time, the other train began to go forward faster and a moment later, it had passed Mrs McGillicuddy’s train and disappeared.

Then the door of her carriage opened and a man said, ‘Ticket, please.’

Mrs McGillicuddy turned to him, ‘A woman has been strangled in a train that has just passed ours. I saw it - through there.’ She pointed to the window. ‘You must do something at once!’

The ticket collector coughed. ‘You don’t think that you may have been asleep and - er -?’

‘I have been asleep, but if you think this was a dream, you’re wrong. I saw it, I tell you.’

The ticket collector looked at his watch. ‘We shall be in Brackhampton in seven minutes. I will report what you have told me. Perhaps you could give me your name and address…’

Mrs McGillicuddy gave him the address where she would be staying for the next few days and her home address in Scotland.

The train was slowing down now, and running through the bright lights of a large town. As it moved towards a crowded platform, the usual voice was saying, ‘The train now arriving at Platform 1 is the 5.38 for Milchester, Waverton, Roxeter, and stations to Chadmouth…’

Her mind went back to the scene on the other train. Awful, really awful… and if the blind of the carriage had not by chance flown up… then she would not have been a witness to the crime.

Voices shouted, whistles blew, doors were banged shut. The 5.38 moved slowly out of Brackhampton station. An hour and five minutes later it stopped at Milchester. Mrs McGillicuddy collected her packages and her suitcase and got out.

Outside the station, a taxi driver came forward, ‘Are you Mrs McGillicuddy? For St Mary Mead?’

It was a nine-mile drive, but at last the taxi reached the familiar village street and finally stopped. Mrs McGillicuddy got out and walked up the brick path to the door, which was opened by a servant. While the driver put her bags inside, Mrs McGillicuddy walked straight through the hall to where, at the open sitting room door, stood a fragile old lady.

‘Elspeth!’

‘Jane!’

They kissed and then, without a pause, Mrs McGillicuddy cried, ‘Oh, Jane, I’ve just seen a murder!’

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