فصل 03

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کتاب های ساده

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فصل 03

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Chapter three

Before Selena left my office that day, I told her that I needed to see her house first. I wanted to look for clues. The next day I drove to the town of Sutton. I left the car parked, and got a taxi. I had directions with me written by Selena. However, I didn’t need them; the taxi driver knew where the Willing mansion was. We left the town and drove into the country. After fifteen minutes we arrived at an enormous stone wall beside the road. We followed this wall for a few minutes until we came to a gate made of iron bars. It was closed, and behind it was a uniformed security guard. I paid the taxi driver and told the security guard that I had an appointment with Miss Willing. While he was telephoning the house, I looked through the bars of the gate. There was a road which led from the gate through some trees. Well, many trees; a wood, in fact. In the distance, I could just see the roof of a large house.

‘Alright,’ said the security guard. ‘Walk up the drive until you reach the house. Oh, and be careful of the tigers.’

Be careful of the tigers? He saw the panic in my eyes.

‘Ha, ha,’ he laughed. ‘Just my little joke. There are no tigers in the wood. Not at this time, anyway. They’re all in their cages behind the house.’

Not at this time, anyway? In their cages behind the house? I was beginning to feel that I didn’t want to visit this house. But the guard opened the gate and I went in and walked quickly, very quickly, up that driveway. About seventy-five yards from the house, the trees stopped. Then there was an open space, a forecourt, and then the house. Magnificent! A real English stately home. In the centre was a huge wooden front door, open, and Selena was standing in the doorway.

‘Hello,’ she said, brightly. ‘How are you today, Mr Boot?’

I needed three or four seconds to catch my breath. ‘Fine, thanks,’ I said surprised. ‘And you?’

We went into the house and she offered me some tea or coffee. I said that I wanted to inspect the house first. She took me on a guided tour, first of the ground floor: a living room at least twice as big as my flat, with a large ornamental marble fireplace in the centre of one wall; a dining room with a dark polished wooden table, about ten yards long, in the centre, with chairs around it; the kitchen and the pantry, a room that Selena used as an office; various other smaller rooms. Afterwards, we went upstairs to look at the bedrooms and bathrooms on the first floor. We didn’t go higher because Selena was sure that the noises came from below where she slept, on the second floor.

We returned to the living room and Selena rang a bell. A pretty little maid about eighteen years old appeared, and Selena asked for coffee. It arrived almost immediately, and we sat down to talk.

‘Well, Mr Boot. Any clues? Any ideas?’

I confessed that there was nothing strange or suspicious that I could see. Then I asked her if I might sleep in the house for at least one night.

‘Why not, Mr Boot? The servants will prepare a bedroom for you on the same floor as mine. Will you come tonight?’

I said yes, and at the same moment I remembered the tigers.

‘Tell me,’ I said. ‘Was the security guard joking when he warned me about the tigers?’

‘Well, yes and no,’ said Selena. ‘I do have five old tigers in cages just behind the trees at the back of the house. But we only let them out for exercise between two and three in the mornings.’

‘You let them out?’

‘Well, I don’t, personally. But one of the gardeners worked in a circus for many years. He lets them out and then puts them back in every night.’

‘How does he put them back in?’ I wanted to know.

‘Oh, they’re well-trained, Mr Boot. They know that while they are exercising, the gardener puts their dinner in the cages. A half a cow for each one.’

‘A half a cow?’

‘Yes. Tigers eat a lot. They bring the cows down from one of my farms in Scotland.’

‘But isn’t it rather dangerous to let tigers roam around the grounds?’

‘No, not really. We’re all in bed, myself and all the servants, at that time. And if we aren’t, we don’t go outside. Anyway, as I said, they’re quite old now, and well-fed, and probably quite harmless.’

‘But why do you have these tigers?’

‘They belonged to my father, Mr Boot, and were part of my inheritance. He loved the tigers and because of that, I’ve kept them. But when they die, I won’t get any more.’

I was glad to hear that. ‘But have they never given you any problems?’

‘Well, not really, well, yes, from time to time when they were younger. About six years ago one of them ate one of the servants while he was smoking a cigarette on the forecourt. It was a shame. He was a nice man.’

‘Good God!’ I exclaimed. ‘But is it legal to have tigers wandering about in a garden in England?’

‘I have no idea, Mr Boot,’ she said.

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