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The Mystery of the Spanish Chest: A Hercule Poirot Short Story

The Mystery of the Spanish Chest: A Hercule Poirot Short Story
The Mystery of the Spanish Chest: A Hercule Poirot Short Story Agatha Christie A classic Agatha Christie short story, available individually for the first time as an ebook.A newspaper headline about the arrest of a murderer raises Poirot’s suspicions that there has been a miscarriage of justice. A visit to the scene of the crime to meet the witnesses should allow him to uncover the truth… The Mystery of the Spanish Chest A Hercule Poirot Short Story by Agatha Christie Copyright (#ulink_c11ce595-37ca-56f8-8c5b-c1e2d0fb3db8) Published by HarperCollinsPublishers Ltd 1 London Bridge Street London SE1 9GF www.harpercollins.co.uk (http://www.harpercollins.co.uk) Copyright © 2008 Agatha Christie Ltd. Cover design © HarperCollinsPublishers 2014 All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. By payment of the required fees, you have been granted the nonexclusive, nontransferable right to access and read the text of this e-book onscreen. No part of this text may be reproduced, transmitted, downloaded, decompiled, reverse engineered, or stored in or introduced into any information storage and retrieval system, in any form or by any means, whether electronic or mechanical, now known or hereinafter invented, without the express written permission of HarperCollins e-books. Ebook Edition © JUNE 2014 ISBN 9780007560141 Version: 2017-04-15 HarperCollinsPublishers has made every reasonable effort to ensure that any picture content and written content in this ebook has been included or removed in accordance with the contractual and technological constraints in operation at the time of publication. Contents Cover (#ub790c283-ca88-5315-981c-a43bf4b5afcf) Title Page (#uc016bcec-0543-5682-9294-0520265ee1d0) Copyright The Mystery of the Spanish Chest (#u233e1d92-f036-51a2-83a7-adf6216300c2) Related Products (#litres_trial_promo) About the Publisher (#litres_trial_promo) The Mystery of the Spanish Chest (#ulink_ea991dda-8794-5150-931b-256c21eab35f) ‘The Mystery of the Spanish Chest’ is an expanded version of the story ‘The Mystery of the Baghdad Chest’ which was first published in The Strand, January 1932. Punctual to the moment, as always, Hercule Poirot entered the small room where Miss Lemon, his efficient secretary, awaited her instructions for the day. At first sight Miss Lemon seemed to be composed entirely of angles – thus satisfying Poirot’s demand for symmetry. Not that where women were concerned Hercule Poirot carried his passion for geometrical precision so far. He was, on the contrary, old-fashioned. He had a continental prejudice for curves – it might be said for voluptuous curves. He liked women to be women. He liked them lush, highly coloured, exotic. There had been a certain Russian countess – but that was long ago now. A folly of earlier days. But Miss Lemon he had never considered as a woman. She was a human machine – an instrument of precision. Her efficiency was terrific. She was forty-eight years of age, and was fortunate enough to have no imagination whatever. ‘Good morning, Miss Lemon.’ ‘Good morning, M. Poirot.’ Poirot sat down and Miss Lemon placed before him the morning’s mail, neatly arranged in categories. She resumed her seat and sat with pad and pencil at the ready. But there was to be this morning a slight change in routine. Poirot had brought in with him the morning newspaper, and his eyes were scanning it with interest. The headlines were big and bold. SPANISH CHEST MYSTERY. LATEST DEVELOPMENTS. ‘You have read the morning papers, I presume, Miss Lemon?’ ‘Yes, M. Poirot. The news from Geneva is not very good.’ Poirot waved away the news from Geneva in a comprehensive sweep of the arm. ‘A Spanish chest,’ he mused. ‘Can you tell me, Miss Lemon, what exactly is a Spanish chest?’ ‘I suppose, M. Poirot, that it is a chest that came originally from Spain.’ ‘One might reasonably suppose so. You have then, no expert knowledge?’ ‘They are usually of the Elizabethan period, I believe. Large, and with a good deal of brass decoration on them. They look very nice when well kept and polished. My sister bought one at a sale. She keeps household linen in it. It looks very nice.’ ‘I am sure that in the house of any sister of yours, all the furniture would be well kept,’ said Poirot, bowing gracefully. Miss Lemon replied sadly that servants did not seem to know what elbow grease was nowadays. Poirot looked a little puzzled, but decided not to inquire into the inward meaning of the mysterious phrase ‘elbow grease’. He looked down again at the newspaper, conning over the names: Major Rich, Mr and Mrs Clayton, Commander McLaren, Mr and Mrs Spence. Names, nothing but names to him; yet all possessed of human personalities, hating, loving, fearing. A drama, this, in which he, Hercule Poirot, had no part. And he would have liked to have a part in it! Six people at an evening party, in a room with a big Spanish chest against the wall, six people, five of them talking, eating a buffet supper, putting records on the gramophone, dancing, and the sixth dead, in the Spanish chest … Ah, thought Poirot. How my dear friend, Hastings, would have enjoyed this! What romantic flights of imagination he would have had. What ineptitudes he would have uttered! Ah, ce cher Hastings, at this moment, today, I miss him … Instead – He sighed and looked at Miss Lemon. Miss Lemon, intelligently perceiving that Poirot was in no mood to dictate letters, had uncovered her typewriter and was awaiting her moment to get on with certain arrears of work. Nothing could have interested her less than sinister Spanish chests containing dead bodies. Poirot sighed and looked down at a photographed face. Reproductions in newsprint were never very good, and this was decidedly smudgy – but what a face! Mrs Clayton, the wife of the murdered man … On an impulse, he thrust the paper at Miss Lemon. ‘Look,’ he demanded. ‘Look at that face.’ Miss Lemon looked at it obediently, without emotion. ‘What do you think of her, Miss Lemon? That is Mrs Clayton.’ Miss Lemon took the paper, glanced casually at the picture and remarked: ‘She’s a little like the wife of our bank manager when we lived at Croydon Heath.’ ‘Interesting,’ said Poirot. ‘Recount to me, if you will be so kind, the history of your bank manager’s wife.’ ‘Well, it’s not really a very pleasant story, M. Poirot.’ ‘It was in my mind that it might not be. Continue.’ ‘There was a good deal of talk – about Mrs Adams and a young artist. Then Mr Adams shot himself. But Mrs Adams wouldn’t marry the other man and he took some kind of poison – but they pulled him through all right; and finally Mrs Adams married a young solicitor. I believe there was more trouble after that, only of course we’d left Croydon Heath by then so I didn’t hear very much more about it.’ Hercule Poirot nodded gravely. ‘She was beautiful?’ ‘Well – not really what you’d call beautiful – But there seemed to be something about her –’ ‘Exactly. What is that something that they possess – the sirens of this world! The Helens of Troy, the Cleopatras –?’ Miss Lemon inserted a piece of paper vigorously into her typewriter. ‘Really, M. Poirot, I’ve never thought about it. It seems all very silly to me. If people would just go on with their jobs and didn’t think about such things it would be much better.’ Having thus disposed of human frailty and passion, Miss Lemon let her fingers hover over the keys of the typewriter, waiting impatiently to be allowed to begin her work. ‘That is your view,’ said Poirot. ‘And at this moment it is your desire that you should be allowed to get on with your job. But your job, Miss Lemon, is not only to take down my letters, to file my papers, to deal with my telephone calls, to typewrite my letters – All these things you do admirably. But me, I deal not only with documents but with human beings. And there, too, I need assistance.’ ‘Certainly, M. Poirot,’ said Miss Lemon patiently. ‘What is it you want me to do?’ ‘This case interests me. I should be glad if you would make a study of this morning’s report of it in all the papers and also of any additional reports in the evening papers – Make me a précis of the facts.’ ‘Very good, M. Poirot.’ Poirot withdrew to his sitting-room, a rueful smile on his face. ‘It is indeed the irony,’ he said to himself, ‘that after my dear friend Hastings I should have Miss Lemon. What greater contrast can one imagine? Ce cher Hastings – how he would have enjoyed himself. How he would have walked up and down talking about it, putting the most romantic construction on every incident, believing as gospel truth every word the papers have printed about it. And my poor Miss Lemon, what I have asked her to do, she will not enjoy at all!’ Miss Lemon came to him in due course with a typewritten sheet. ‘I’ve got the information you wanted, M. Poirot. I’m afraid though, it can’t be regarded as reliable. The papers vary a good deal in their accounts. I shouldn’t like to guarantee that the facts as stated are more than sixty per cent accurate.’ ‘That is probably a conservative estimate,’ murmured Poirot. ‘Thank you, Miss Lemon, for the trouble you have taken.’ The facts were sensational, but clear enough. Major Charles Rich, a well-to-do-bachelor, had given an evening party to a few of his friends, at his apartment. These friends consisted of Mr and Mrs Clayton, Mr and Mrs Spence, and a Commander McLaren. Commander McLaren was a very old friend of both Rich and the Claytons, Mr and Mrs Spence, a younger couple, were fairly recent acquaintances. Arnold Clayton was in the Treasury. Jeremy Spence was a junior Civil Servant. Major Rich was forty-eight, Arnold Clayton was fifty-five, Commander McLaren was forty-six, Jeremy Spence was thirty-seven. Mrs Clayton was said to be ‘some years younger than her husband.’ One person was unable to attend the party. At the last moment, Mr Clayton was called away to Scotland on urgent business, and was supposed to have left King’s Cross by the 8.15 train. The party proceeded as such parties do. Everyone appeared to be enjoying themselves. It was neither a wild party nor a drunken one. It broke up about 11.45. The four guests left together and shared a taxi. Commander McLaren was dropped first at his club and then the Spences dropped Margharita Clayton at Cardigan Gardens just off Sloane Street and went on themselves to their house in Chelsea. The gruesome discovery was made on the following morning by Major Rich’s manservant, William Burgess. The latter did not live in. He arrived early so as to clear up the sitting-room before calling Major Rich with his early morning tea. It was whilst clearing up that Burgess was startled to find a big stain discolouring the light-coloured rug on which stood the Spanish chest. It seemed to have seeped through from the chest, and the valet immediately lifted up the lid of the chest and looked inside. He was horrified to find there the body of Mr Clayton, stabbed through the neck. Obeying his first impulse, Burgess rushed out into the street and fetched the nearest policeman. Such were the bald facts of the case. But there were further details. The police had immediately broken the news to Mrs Clayton who had been ‘completely prostrated’. She had seen her husband for the last time at a little after six o’clock on the evening before. He had come home much annoyed, having been summoned to Scotland on urgent business in connection with some property that he owned. He had urged his wife to go to the party without him. Mr Clayton had then called in at his and Commander McLaren’s club, had had a drink with his friend, and had explained the position. He had then said, looking at his watch, that he had just time on his way to King’s Cross, to call in on Major Rich and explain. He had already tried to telephone him, but the line had seemed to be out of order. According to William Burgess, Mr Clayton arrived at the flat at about 7.55. Major Rich was out but was due to return any moment, so Burgess suggested that Mr Clayton should come in and wait. Clayton said he had no time, but would come in and write a note. He explained that he was on his way to catch a train at King’s Cross. The valet showed him into the sitting-room and himself returned to the kitchen where he was engaged in the preparation of canapés for the party. The valet did not hear his master return but about ten minutes later, Major Rich looked into the kitchen and told Burgess to hurry out and get some Turkish cigarettes which were Mrs Spence’s favourite smoking. The valet did so and brought them to his master in the sitting-room. Mr Clayton was not there, but the valet naturally thought he had already left to catch his train. Major Rich’s story was short and simple. Mr Clayton was not in the flat when he himself came in and he had no idea that he had been there. No note had been left for him and the first he heard of Mr Clayton’s journey to Scotland was when Mrs Clayton and the others arrived. There were two additional items in the evening papers. Mrs Clayton who was ‘prostrated with shock’ had left her flat in Cardigan Gardens and was believed to be staying with friends. The second item was in the stop press. Major Charles Rich had been charged with the murder of Arnold Clayton and had been taken into custody. ‘So that is that,’ said Poirot, looking up at Miss Lemon. ‘The arrest of Major Rich was to be expected. But what a remarkable case. What a very remarkable case! Do you not think so?’ ‘I suppose such things do happen, M. Poirot,’ said Miss Lemon without interest. ‘Oh certainly! They happen every day. Or nearly every day. But usually they are quite understandable – though distressing.’ ‘It is certainly a very unpleasant business.’ ‘To be stabbed to death and stowed away in a Spanish chest is certainly unpleasant for the victim – supremely so. But when I say this is a remarkable case, I refer to the remarkable behaviour of Major Rich.’ Miss Lemon said with faint distaste: ‘There seems to be a suggestion that Major Rich and Mrs Clayton were very close friends … It was a suggestion and not a proved fact, so I did not include it.’ ‘That was very correct of you. But it is an inference that leaps to the eye. Is that all you have to say?’ Miss Lemon looked blank. Poirot sighed, and missed the rich colourful imagination of his friend Hastings. Discussing a case with Miss Lemon was uphill work. ‘Consider for a moment this Major Rich. He is in love with Mrs Clayton – granted … He wants to dispose of her husband – that, too, we grant, though if Mrs Clayton is in love with him, and they are having the affair together, where is the urgency? It is, perhaps, that Mr Clayton will not give his wife the divorce? But it is not of all this that I talk. Major Rich, he is a retired soldier, and it is said sometimes that soldiers are not brainy. But, tout de même, this Major Rich, is he, can he be, a complete imbecile?’ Miss Lemon did not reply. She took this to be a purely rhetorical question. ‘Well,’ demanded Poirot. ‘What do you think about it all?’ ‘What do I think?’ Miss Lemon was startled. ‘Mais oui – you!’ Miss Lemon adjusted her mind to the strain put upon it. She was not given to mental speculation of any kind unless asked for it. In such leisure moments as she had, her mind was filled with the details of a superlatively perfect filing-system. It was her only mental recreation. ‘Well –’ she began, and paused. ‘Tell me just what happened – what you think happened, on that evening. Mr Clayton is in the sitting-room writing a note, Major Rich comes back – what then?’ ‘He finds Mr Clayton there. They – I suppose they have a quarrel. Major Rich stabs him. Then, when he sees what he has done, he – he puts the body in the chest. After all, the guests, I suppose, might be arriving any minute.’ ‘Yes, yes. The guests arrive! The body is in the chest. The evening passes. The guests depart. And then –’ ‘Well, then, I suppose Major Rich goes to bed and – Oh!’ ‘Ah,’ said Poirot. ‘You see it now. You have murdered a man. You have concealed his body in a chest. And then – you go peacefully to bed, quite unperturbed by the fact that your valet will discover the crime in the morning.’ ‘I suppose it’s possible that the valet might never have looked inside the chest?’ ‘With an enormous pool of blood on the carpet underneath it?’ ‘Perhaps Major Rich didn’t realize that the blood was there.’ ‘Was it not somewhat careless of him not to look and see?’ ‘I dare say he was upset,’ said Miss Lemon. Poirot threw up his hands in despair. Miss Lemon seized the opportunity to hurry from the room. The Mystery of the Spanish chest was, strictly speaking, no business of Poirot’s. He was engaged at the moment in a delicate mission for one of the large oil companies where one of the high ups was possibly involved in some questionable transaction. It was hush-hush, important and exceedingly lucrative. It was sufficiently involved to command Poirot’s attention, and had the great advantage that it required very little physical activity. It was sophisticated and bloodless. Crime at the highest levels. The mystery of the Spanish chest was dramatic and emotional; two qualities which Poirot had often declared to Hastings could be much overrated – and indeed frequently were so by the latter. He had been severe with ce cher Hastings on this point, and now here he was, behaving much as his friend might have done, obsessed with beautiful women, crimes of passion, jealousy, hatred and all the other romantic causes of murder! He wanted to know about it all. He wanted to know what Major Rich was like, and what his manservant, Burgess, was like, and what Margharita Clayton was like (though that, he thought, he knew) and what the late Arnold Clayton had been like (since he held that the character of the victim was of the first importance in a murder case), and even what Commander McLaren, the faithful friend, and Mr and Mrs Spence, the recently acquired acquaintances, were like. And he did not see exactly how he was going to gratify his curiosity! He reflected on the matter later in the day. Why did the whole business intrigue him so much? He decided, after reflection, that it was because – as the facts were related – the whole thing was more or less impossible! Yes, there was a Euclidean flavour. Starting from what one could accept, there had been a quarrel between two men. Cause, presumably, a woman. One man killed the other in the heat of rage. Yes, that happened – though it would be more acceptable if the husband had killed the lover. Still – the lover had killed the husband, stabbed him with a dagger (?) – somehow a rather unlikely weapon. Perhaps Major Rich had had an Italian mother? Somewhere – surely – there should be something to explain the choice of a dagger as a weapon. Anyway, one must accept the dagger (some papers called it a stiletto!) It was to hand and was used. The body was concealed in the chest. That was common sense and inevitable. The crime had not been premeditated, and as the valet was returning at any moment, and four guests would be arriving before very long, it seemed the only course indicated. Конец ознакомительного фрагмента. Текст предоставлен ООО «ЛитРес». Прочитайте эту книгу целиком, купив полную легальную версию (https://www.litres.ru/agata-kristi/the-myste-39799273/?lfrom=334617187) на ЛитРес. Безопасно оплатить книгу можно банковской картой Visa, MasterCard, Maestro, со счета мобильного телефона, с платежного терминала, в салоне МТС или Связной, через PayPal, WebMoney, Яндекс.Деньги, QIWI Кошелек, бонусными картами или другим удобным Вам способом.
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