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Problem at Pollensa Bay Agatha Christie A collection of short stories featuring some of Agatha Christie’s best-loved detectives – Hercule Poirot, Parker Pyne, Mr Satterthwaite and Harley Quin…All great crime writers have their favourite creations. Similarly, every great sleuth has his, or her, own preferred method of deduction.Take the charming Parker Pyne, who relies upon an intuitive knowledge of human nature to solve the Problem at Pollensa Bay. Or Mr Satterthwaite, who seeks inspiration through his collaboration with the enigmatic Mr Quin in The Harlequin Tea Set mystery. Then, of course, there’s Poirot, whose measured analysis of motive and opportunity is tested to the full in Yellow Iris, when he receives an anonymous call about a matter of life and death. Copyright (#ulink_dfbfc913-c91e-5448-bdfc-ca70dd9b7023) Published by HarperCollinsPublishers Ltd 1 London Bridge Street London SE1 9GF www.harpercollins.co.uk (http://www.harpercollins.co.uk) First published in Great Britain by HarperCollinsPublishers 1991 Agatha Christie Problem at Pollensa Bay copyright © Agatha Christie Limited 1991. All rights reserved. www.agathachristie.com (http://www.agathachristie.com) Cover by designedbydavid.co.uk (http://designedbydavid.co.uk) © HarperCollins/Agatha Christie Ltd 2008 Agatha Christie asserts the moral right to be identified as the author of this work. A catalogue copy of this book is available from the British Library. This novel is entirely a work of fiction. The names, characters and incidents portrayed in it are the work of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events or localities is entirely coincidental. All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. By payment of the required fees, you have been granted the non-exclusive, non-transferable right to access and read the text of this e-book on screen. No part of this text may be reproduced, transmitted, down-loaded, 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. Source ISBN: 9780008196455 Ebook Edition © December 2016 ISBN: 9780007422753 Version: 2017-09-13 Contents Cover (#u1a476996-b6d2-5fbb-810b-0f866940391f) Title Page (#u2504c892-0a09-53e7-a02b-3c052b239b0f) Copyright (#uaee16fc0-6c3a-5ffa-a7d2-28675ae67a58) 1. Problem at Pollensa Bay (#u79873348-c40b-57e1-b412-5bbfedb8562d) 2. The Second Gong (#u534c74f1-50d5-5ebf-9bfc-6275492cb931) 3. Yellow Iris (#litres_trial_promo) 4. The Harlequin Tea Set (#litres_trial_promo) 5. The Regatta Mystery (#litres_trial_promo) 6. The Love Detectives (#litres_trial_promo) 7. Next to a Dog (#litres_trial_promo) 8. Magnolia Blossom (#litres_trial_promo) Keep Reading … (#litres_trial_promo) Also by Agatha Christie (#litres_trial_promo) About the Publisher (#litres_trial_promo) Problem at Pollensa Bay (#ulink_2446fab9-1168-5c88-a089-6f62d9427cf3) The steamer from Barcelona to Majorca landed Mr Parker Pyne at Palma in the early hours of the morning—and straightaway he met with disillusionment. The hotels were full! The best that could be done for him was an airless cupboard overlooking an inner court in a hotel in the centre of the town—and with that Mr Parker Pyne was not prepared to put up. The proprietor of the hotel was indifferent to his disappointment. ‘What will you?’ he observed with a shrug. Palma was popular now! The exchange was favourable! Everyone—the English, the Americans—they all came to Majorca in the winter. The whole place was crowded. It was doubtful if the English gentleman would be able to get in anywhere—except perhaps at Formentor where the prices were so ruinous that even foreigners blenched at them. Mr Parker Pyne partook of some coffee and a roll and went out to view the cathedral, but found himself in no mood for appreciating the beauties of architecture. He next had a conference with a friendly taxi driver in inadequate French interlarded with native Spanish, and they discussed the merits and possibilities of Soller, Alcudia, Pollensa and Formentor—where there were fine hotels but very expensive. Mr Parker Pyne was goaded to inquire how expensive. They asked, said the taxi driver, an amount that it would be absurd and ridiculous to pay—was it not well known that the English came here because prices were cheap and reasonable? Mr Parker Pyne said that that was quite so, but all the same what sums did they charge at Formentor? A price incredible! Perfectly—but WHAT PRICE EXACTLY? The driver consented at last to reply in terms of figures. Fresh from the exactions of hotels in Jerusalem and Egypt, the figure did not stagger Mr Parker Pyne unduly. A bargain was struck, Mr Parker Pyne’s suitcases were loaded on the taxi in a somewhat haphazard manner, and they started off to drive round the island, trying cheaper hostelries en route but with the final objective of Formentor. But they never reached that final abode of plutocracy, for after they had passed through the narrow streets of Pollensa and were following the curved line of the seashore, they came to the Hotel Pino d’Oro—a small hotel standing on the edge of the sea looking out over a view that in the misty haze of a fine morning had the exquisite vagueness of a Japanese print. At once Mr Parker Pyne knew that this, and this only, was what he was looking for. He stopped the taxi, passed through the painted gate with the hope that he would find a resting place. The elderly couple to whom the hotel belonged knew no English or French. Nevertheless the matter was concluded satisfactorily. Mr Parker Pyne was allotted a room overlooking the sea, the suitcases were unloaded, the driver congratulated his passenger upon avoiding the monstrous exigencies of ‘these new hotels’, received his fare and departed with a cheerful Spanish salutation. Mr Parker Pyne glanced at his watch and perceiving that it was, even now, but a quarter to ten, he went out onto the small terrace now bathed in a dazzling morning light and ordered, for the second time that morning, coffee and rolls. There were four tables there, his own, one from which breakfast was being cleared away and two occupied ones. At the one nearest him sat a family of father and mother and two elderly daughters—Germans. Beyond them, at the corner of the terrace, sat what were clearly an English mother and son. The woman was about fifty-five. She had grey hair of a pretty tone—was sensibly but not fashionably dressed in a tweed coat and skirt—and had that comfortable self-possession which marks an Englishwoman used to much travelling abroad. The young man who sat opposite her might have been twenty-five and he too was typical of his class and age. He was neither good-looking nor plain, tall nor short. He was clearly on the best of terms with his mother—they made little jokes together—and he was assiduous in passing her things. As they talked, her eye met that of Mr Parker Pyne. It passed over him with well-bred nonchalance, but he knew that he had been assimilated and labelled. He had been recognized as English and doubtless, in due course, some pleasant non-committal remark would be addressed to him. Mr Parker Pyne had no particular objection. His own countrymen and women abroad were inclined to bore him slightly, but he was quite willing to pass the time of day in an amiable manner. In a small hotel it caused constraint if one did not do so. This particular woman, he felt sure, had excellent ‘hotel manners’, as he put it. The English boy rose from his seat, made some laughing remark and passed into the hotel. The woman took her letters and bag and settled herself in a chair facing the sea. She unfolded a copy of the Continental Daily Mail. Her back was to Mr Parker Pyne. As he drank the last drop of his coffee, Mr Parker Pyne glanced in her direction, and instantly he stiffened. He was alarmed—alarmed for the peaceful continuance of his holiday! That back was horribly expressive. In his time he had classified many such backs. Its rigidity—the tenseness of its poise—without seeing her face he knew well enough that the eyes were bright with unshed tears—that the woman was keeping herself in hand by a rigid effort. Moving warily, like a much-hunted animal, Mr Parker Pyne retreated into the hotel. Not half an hour before he had been invited to sign his name in the book lying on the desk. There it was—a neat signature—C. Parker Pyne, London. A few lines above Mr Parker Pyne noticed the entries: Mrs R. Chester, Mr Basil Chester—Holm Park, Devon. Seizing a pen, Mr Parker Pyne wrote rapidly over his signature. It now read (with difficulty) Christopher Pyne. If Mrs R. Chester was unhappy in Pollensa Bay, it was not going to be made easy for her to consult Mr Parker Pyne. Already it had been a source of abiding wonder to that gentleman that so many people he had come across abroad should know his name and have noted his advertisements. In England many thousands of people read the Times every day and could have answered quite truthfully that they had never heard such a name in their lives. Abroad, he reflected, they read their newspapers more thoroughly. No item, not even the advertisement columns, escaped them. Already his holidays had been interrupted on several occasions. He had dealt with a whole series of problems from murder to attempted blackmail. He was determined in Majorca to have peace. He felt instinctively that a distressed mother might trouble that peace considerably. Mr Parker Pyne settled down at the Pino d’Oro very happily. There was a larger hotel not far off, the Mariposa, where a good many English people stayed. There was also quite an artist colony living all round. You could walk along by the sea to the fishing village where there was a cocktail bar where people met—there were a few shops. It was all very peaceful and pleasant. Girls strolled about in trousers with brightly coloured handkerchiefs tied round the upper halves of their bodies. Young men in berets with rather long hair held forth in ‘Mac’s Bar’ on such subjects as plastic values and abstraction in art. On the day after Mr Parker Pyne’s arrival, Mrs Chester made a few conventional remarks to him on the subject of the view and the likelihood of the weather keeping fine. She then chatted a little with the German lady about knitting, and had a few pleasant words about the sadness of the political situation with two Danish gentlemen who spent their time rising at dawn and walking for eleven hours. Mr Parker Pyne found Basil Chester a most likeable young man. He called Mr Parker Pyne ‘sir’ and listened most politely to anything the older man said. Sometimes the three English people had coffee together after dinner in the evening. After the third day, Basil left the party after ten minutes or so and Mr Parker Pyne was left tête-à-tête with Mrs Chester. They talked about flowers and the growing of them, of the lamentable state of the English pound and of how expensive France had become, and of the difficulty of getting good afternoon tea. Every evening when her son departed, Mr Parker Pyne saw the quickly concealed tremor of her lips, but immediately she recovered and discoursed pleasantly on the above-mentioned subjects. Little by little she began to talk of Basil—of how well he had done at school—‘he was in the First XI, you know’—of how everyone liked him, of how proud his father would have been of the boy had he lived, of how thankful she had been that Basil had never been ‘wild’. ‘Of course I always urge him to be with young people, but he really seems to prefer being with me.’ She said it with a kind of nice modest pleasure in the fact. But for once Mr Parker Pyne did not make the usual tactful response he could usually achieve so easily. He said instead: ‘Oh! well, there seem to be plenty of young people here—not in the hotel, but round about.’ At that, he noticed, Mrs Chester stiffened. She said: Of course there were a lot of artists. Perhaps she was very old-fashioned—real art, of course, was different, but a lot of young people just made that sort of thing an excuse for lounging about and doing nothing—and the girls drank a lot too much. On the following day Basil said to Mr Parker Pyne: ‘I’m awfully glad you turned up here, sir—especially for my mother’s sake. She likes having you to talk to in the evenings.’ ‘What did you do when you were first here?’ ‘As a matter of fact we used to play piquet.’ ‘I see.’ ‘Of course one gets rather tired of piquet. As a matter of fact I’ve got some friends here—frightfully cheery crowd. I don’t really think my mother approves of them—’ He laughed as though he felt this ought to be amusing. ‘The mater’s very old-fashioned … Even girls in trousers shock her!’ ‘Quite so,’ said Mr Parker Pyne. ‘What I tell her is—one’s got to move with the times … The girls at home round us are frightfully dull …’ ‘I see,’ said Mr Parker Pyne. All this interested him well enough. He was a spectator of a miniature drama, but he was not called upon to take part in it. And then the worst—from Mr Parker Pyne’s point of view—happened. A gushing lady of his acquaintance came to stay at the Mariposa. They met in the tea shop in the presence of Mrs Chester. The newcomer screamed: ‘Why—if it isn’t Mr Parker Pyne—the one and only Mr Parker Pyne! And Adela Chester! Do you know each other? Oh, you do? You’re staying at the same hotel? He’s the one and only original wizard, Adela—the marvel of the century—all your troubles smoothed out while you wait! Didn’t you know? You must have heard about him? Haven’t you read his advertisements? “Are you in trouble? Consult Mr Parker Pyne.” There’s just nothing he can’t do. Husbands and wives flying at each other’s throats and he brings ’em together—if you’ve lost interest in life he gives you the most thrilling adventures. As I say the man’s just a wizard!’ It went on a good deal longer—Mr Parker Pyne at intervals making modest disclaimers. He disliked the look that Mrs Chester turned upon him. He disliked even more seeing her return along the beach in close confabulation with the garrulous singer of his praises. The climax came quicker than he expected. That evening, after coffee, Mrs Chester said abruptly, ‘Will you come into the little salon, Mr Pyne? There is something I want to say to you.’ He could but bow and submit. Mrs Chester’s self-control had been wearing thin—as the door of the little salon closed behind them, it snapped. She sat down and burst into tears. ‘My boy, Mr Parker Pyne. You must save him. We must save him. It’s breaking my heart!’ ‘My dear lady, as a mere outsider—’ ‘Nina Wycherley says you can do anything. She said I was to have the utmost confidence in you. She advised me to tell you everything—and that you’d put the whole thing right.’ Inwardly Mr Parker Pyne cursed the obtrusive Mrs Wycherley. Resigning himself he said: ‘Well, let us thrash the matter out. A girl, I suppose?’ ‘Did he tell you about her?’ ‘Only indirectly.’ Words poured in a vehement stream from Mrs Chester. ‘The girl was dreadful. She drank, she swore—she wore no clothes to speak of. Her sister lived out here—was married to an artist—a Dutchman. The whole set was most undesirable. Half of them were living together without being married. Basil was completely changed. He had always been so quiet, so interested in serious subjects. He had thought at one time of taking up archaeology—’ ‘Well, well,’ said Mr Parker Pyne. ‘Nature will have her revenge.’ ‘What do you mean?’ ‘It isn’t healthy for a young man to be interested in serious subjects. He ought to be making an idiot of himself over one girl after another.’ ‘Please be serious, Mr Pyne.’ ‘I’m perfectly serious. Is the young lady, by any chance, the one who had tea with you yesterday?’ He had noticed her—her grey flannel trousers—the scarlet handkerchief tied loosely around her breast—the vermilion mouth and the fact that she had chosen a cocktail in preference to tea. ‘You saw her? Terrible! Not the kind of girl Basil has ever admired.’ ‘You haven’t given him much chance to admire a girl, have you?’ ‘I?’ ‘He’s been too fond of your company! Bad! However, I daresay he’ll get over this—if you don’t precipitate matters.’ ‘You don’t understand. He wants to marry this girl—Betty Gregg—they’re engaged.’ ‘It’s gone as far as that?’ ‘Yes. Mr Parker Pyne, you must do something. You must get my boy out of this disastrous marriage! His whole life will be ruined.’ ‘Nobody’s life can be ruined except by themselves.’ ‘Basil’s will be,’ said Mrs Chester positively. ‘I’m not worrying about Basil.’ ‘You’re not worrying about the girl?’ ‘No, I’m worrying about you. You’ve been squandering your birthright.’ Mrs Chester looked at him, slightly taken aback. ‘What are the years from twenty to forty? Fettered and bound by personal and emotional relationships. That’s bound to be. That’s living. But later there’s a new stage. You can think, observe life, discover something about other people and the truth about yourself. Life becomes real—significant. You see it as a whole. Not just one scene—the scene you, as an actor, are playing. No man or woman is actually himself (or herself ) till after forty-five. That’s when individuality has a chance.’ Mrs Chester said: ‘I’ve been wrapped up in Basil. He’s been everything to me.’ ‘Well, he shouldn’t have been. That’s what you’re paying for now. Love him as much as you like—but you’re Adela Chester, remember, a person—not just Basil’s mother.’ ‘It will break my heart if Basil’s life is ruined,’ said Basil’s mother. He looked at the delicate lines of her face, the wistful droop of her mouth. She was, somehow, a lovable woman. He did not want her to be hurt. He said: ‘I’ll see what I can do.’ He found Basil Chester only too ready to talk, eager to urge his point of view. ‘This business is being just hellish. Mother’s hopeless—prejudiced, narrow-minded. If only she’d let herself, she’d see how fine Betty is.’ ‘And Betty?’ He sighed. ‘Betty’s being damned difficult! If she’d just conform a bit—I mean leave off the lipstick for a day—it might make all the difference. She seems to go out of her way to be—well—modern—when Mother’s about.’ Mr Parker Pyne smiled. ‘Betty and Mother are two of the dearest people in the world, I should have thought they would have taken to each other like hot cakes.’ ‘You have a lot to learn, young man,’ said Mr Parker Pyne. ‘I wish you’d come along and see Betty and have a good talk about it all.’ Mr Parker Pyne accepted the invitation readily. Betty and her sister and her husband lived in a small dilapidated villa a little way back from the sea. Their life was of a refreshing simplicity. Their furniture comprised three chairs, a table and beds. There was a cupboard in the wall that held the bare requirements of cups and plates. Hans was an excitable young man with wild blond hair that stood up all over his head. He spoke very odd English with incredible rapidity, walking up and down as he did so. Stella, his wife, was small and fair. Betty Gregg had red hair and freckles and a mischievous eye. She was, he noticed, not nearly so made-up as she had been the previous day at the Pino d’Oro. She gave him a cocktail and said with a twinkle: ‘You’re in on the big bust-up?’ Mr Parker Pyne nodded. ‘And whose side are you on, big boy? The young lovers—or the disapproving dame?’ ‘May I ask you a question?’ ‘Certainly.’ ‘Have you been very tactful over all this?’ ‘Not at all,’ said Miss Gregg frankly. ‘But the old cat put my back up.’ (She glanced round to make sure that Basil was out of earshot) ‘That woman just makes me feel mad. She’s kept Basil tied to her apron strings all these years—that sort of thing makes a man look a fool. Basil isn’t a fool really. Then she’s so terribly pukka sahib.’ ‘That’s not really such a bad thing. It’s merely “unfashionable” just at present.’ Betty Gregg gave a sudden twinkle. ‘You mean it’s like putting Chippendale chairs in the attic in Victorian days? Later you get them down again and say, “Aren’t they marvellous?”’ ‘Something of the kind.’ Betty Gregg considered. ‘Perhaps you’re right. I’ll be honest. It was Basil who put my back up—being so anxious about what impression I’d make on his mother. It drove me to extremes. Even now I believe he might give me up—if his mother worked on him good and hard.’ ‘He might,’ said Mr Parker Pyne. ‘If she went about it the right way.’ ‘Are you going to tell her the right way? She won’t think of it herself, you know. She’ll just go on disapproving and that won’t do the trick. But if you prompted her—’ She bit her lip—raised frank blue eyes to his. ‘I’ve heard about you, Mr Parker Pyne. You’re supposed to know something about human nature. Do you think Basil and I could make a go of it—or not?’ ‘I should like an answer to three questions.’ ‘Suitability test? All right, go ahead.’ ‘Do you sleep with your window open or shut?’ ‘Open. I like lots of air.’ ‘Do you and Basil enjoy the same kind of food?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘Do you like going to bed early or late?’ ‘Really, under the rose, early. At half past ten I yawn—and I secretly feel rather hearty in the mornings—but of course I daren’t admit it.’ ‘You ought to suit each other very well,’ said Mr Parker Pyne. ‘Rather a superficial test.’ ‘Not at all. I have known seven marriages at least, entirely wrecked, because the husband liked sitting up till midnight and the wife fell asleep at half past nine and vice versa.’ ‘It’s a pity,’ said Betty, ‘that everybody can’t be happy. Basil and I, and his mother giving us her blessing.’ Mr Parker Pyne coughed. ‘I think,’ he said, ‘that that could possibly be managed.’ She looked at him doubtfully. ‘Now I wonder,’ she said, ‘if you’re double-crossing me?’ Mr Parker Pyne’s face told nothing. To Mrs Chester he was soothing, but vague. An engagement was not marriage. He himself was going to Soller for a week. He suggested that her line of action should be non-committal. Let her appear to acquiesce. He spent a very enjoyable week at Soller. On his return he found that a totally unexpected development had arisen. As he entered the Pino d’Oro the first thing he saw was Mrs Chester and Betty Gregg having tea together. Basil was not there. Mrs Chester looked haggard. Betty, too, was looking off colour. She was hardly made-up at all, and her eyelids looked as though she had been crying. They greeted him in a friendly fashion, but neither of them mentioned Basil. Suddenly he heard the girl beside him draw in her breath sharply as though something had hurt her. Mr Parker Pyne turned his head. Basil Chester was coming up the steps from the sea front. With him was a girl so exotically beautiful that it quite took your breath away. She was dark and her figure was marvellous. No one could fail to notice the fact since she wore nothing but a single garment of pale blue crêpe. She was heavily made-up with ochre powder and an orange scarlet mouth—but the unguents only displayed her remarkable beauty in a more pronounced fashion. As for young Basil, he seemed unable to take his eyes from her face. ‘You’re very late, Basil,’ said his mother. ‘You were to have taken Betty to Mac’s.’ ‘My fault,’ drawled the beautiful unknown. ‘We just drifted.’ She turned to Basil. ‘Angel—get me something with a kick in it!’ She tossed off her shoe and stretched out her manicured toenails which were done emerald green to match her fingernails. She paid no attention to the two women, but she leaned a little towards Mr Parker Pyne. ‘Terrible island this,’ she said. ‘I was just dying with boredom before I met Basil. He is rather a pet!’ ‘Mr Parker Pyne—Miss Ramona,’ said Mrs Chester. The girl acknowledged the introduction with a lazy smile. ‘I guess I’ll call you Parker almost at once,’ she murmured. ‘My name’s Dolores.’ Basil returned with the drinks. Miss Ramona divided her conversation (what there was of it—it was mostly glances) between Basil and Mr Parker Pyne. Of the two women she took no notice whatever. Betty attempted once or twice to join in the conversation but the other girl merely stared at her and yawned. Suddenly Dolores rose. ‘Guess I’ll be going along now. I’m at the other hotel. Anyone coming to see me home?’ Basil sprang up. ‘I’ll come with you.’ Mrs Chester said: ‘Basil, my dear—’ ‘I’ll be back presently, Mother.’ ‘Isn’t he the mother’s boy?’ Miss Ramona asked of the world at large. ‘Just toots round after her, don’t you?’ Basil flushed and looked awkward. Miss Ramona gave a nod in Mrs Chester’s direction, a dazzling smile to Mr Parker Pyne and she and Basil moved off together. After they had gone there was rather an awkward silence. Mr Parker Pyne did not like to speak first. Betty Gregg was twisting her fingers and looking out to sea. Mrs Chester looked flushed and angry. Betty said: ‘Well, what do you think of our new acquisition in Pollensa Bay?’ Her voice was not quite steady. Mr Parker Pyne said cautiously: ‘A little—er—exotic.’ ‘Exotic?’ Betty gave a short bitter laugh. Mrs Chester said: ‘She’s terrible—terrible. Basil must be quite mad.’ Betty said sharply: ‘Basil’s all right.’ ‘Her toenails,’ said Mrs Chester with a shiver of nausea. Betty rose suddenly. ‘I think, Mrs Chester, I’ll go home and not stay to dinner after all.’ ‘Oh, my dear—Basil will be so disappointed.’ ‘Will he?’ asked Betty with a short laugh. ‘Anyway, I think I will. I’ve got rather a headache.’ She smiled at them both and went off. Mrs Chester turned to Mr Parker Pyne. ‘I wish we had never come to this place—never!’ Mr Parker Pyne shook his head sadly. ‘You shouldn’t have gone away,’ said Mrs Chester. ‘If you’d been here this wouldn’t have happened.’ Mr Parker Pyne was stung to respond. ‘My dear lady, I can assure you that when it comes to a question of a beautiful young woman, I should have no influence over your son whatever. He—er—seems to be of a very susceptible nature.’ ‘He never used to be,’ said Mrs Chester tearfully. ‘Well,’ said Mr Parker Pyne with an attempt at cheerfulness, ‘this new attraction seems to have broken the back of his infatuation for Miss Gregg. That must be some satisfaction to you.’ ‘I don’t know what you mean,’ said Mrs Chester. ‘Betty is a dear child and devoted to Basil. She is behaving extremely well over this. I think my boy must be mad.’ Mr Parker Pyne received this startling change of face without wincing. He had met inconsistency in women before. He said mildly: ‘Not exactly mad—just bewitched.’ ‘The creature’s a Dago. She’s impossible.’ ‘But extremely good-looking.’ Mrs Chester snorted. Basil ran up the steps from the sea front. ‘Hullo, Mater, here I am. Where’s Betty?’ ‘Betty’s gone home with a headache. I don’t wonder.’ ‘Sulking, you mean.’ ‘I consider, Basil, that you are being extremely unkind to Betty.’ ‘For God’s sake, Mother, don’t jaw. If Betty is going to make this fuss every time I speak to another girl a nice sort of life we’ll lead together.’ ‘You are engaged.’ ‘Oh, we’re engaged all right. That doesn’t mean that we’re not going to have any friends of our own. Nowadays people have to lead their own lives and try to cut out jealousy.’ He paused. ‘Look here, if Betty isn’t going to dine with us—I think I’ll go back to the Mariposa. They did ask me to dine …’ ‘Oh, Basil—’ The boy gave her an exasperated look, then ran off down the steps. Mrs Chester looked eloquently at Mr Parker Pyne. ‘You see,’ she said. He saw. Matters came to a head a couple of days later. Betty and Basil were to have gone for a long walk, taking a picnic lunch with them. Betty arrived at the Pino d’Oro to find that Basil had forgotten the plan and gone over to Formentor for the day with Dolores Ramona’s party. Beyond a tightening of the lips the girl made no sign. Presently, however, she got up and stood in front of Mrs Chester (the two women were alone on the terrace). ‘It’s quite all right,’ she said. ‘It doesn’t matter. But I think—all the same—that we’d better call the whole thing off.’ She slipped from her finger the signet ring that Basil had given her—he would buy the real engagement ring later. ‘Will you give him back this, Mrs Chester? And tell him it’s all right—not to worry …’ ‘Betty dear, don’t! He does love you—really.’ ‘It looks like it, doesn’t it?’ said the girl with a short laugh. ‘No—I’ve got some pride. Tell him everything’s all right and that I—I wish him luck.’ When Basil returned at sunset he was greeted by a storm. He flushed a little at the sight of his ring. ‘So that’s how she feels, is it? Well, I daresay it’s the best thing.’ ‘Basil!’ ‘Well, frankly, Mother, we don’t seem to have been hitting it off lately.’ ‘Whose fault was that?’ ‘I don’t see that it was mine particularly. Jealousy’s beastly and I really don’t see why you should get all worked up about it. You begged me yourself not to marry Betty.’ ‘That was before I knew her. Basil—my dear—you’re not thinking of marrying this other creature.’ Basil Chester said soberly: ‘I’d marry her like a shot if she’d have me—but I’m afraid she won’t.’ Cold chills went down Mrs Chester’s spine. She sought and found Mr Parker Pyne, placidly reading a book in a sheltered corner. ‘You must do something! You must do something! My boy’s life will be ruined.’ Mr Parker Pyne was getting a little tired of Basil Chester’s life being ruined. ‘What can I do?’ ‘Go and see this terrible creature. If necessary buy her off.’ ‘That may come very expensive.’ ‘I don’t care.’ ‘It seems a pity. Still there are, possibly, other ways.’ She looked a question. He shook his head. ‘I’ll make no promises—but I’ll see what I can do. I have handled that kind before. By the way, not a word to Basil—that would be fatal.’ ‘Of course not.’ Mr Parker Pyne returned from the Mariposa at midnight. Mrs Chester was sitting up for him. ‘Well?’ she demanded breathlessly. His eyes twinkled. ‘The Señorita Dolores Ramona will leave Pollensa tomorrow morning and the island tomorrow night.’ ‘Oh, Mr Parker Pyne! How did you manage it?’ ‘It won’t cost a cent,’ said Mr Parker Pyne. Again his eyes twinkled. ‘I rather fancied I might have a hold over her—and I was right.’ ‘You are wonderful. Nina Wycherley was quite right. You must let me know—er—your fees—’ Mr Parker Pyne held up a well-manicured hand. ‘Not a penny. It has been a pleasure. I hope all will go well. Of course the boy will be very upset at first when he finds she’s disappeared and left no address. Just go easy with him for a week or two.’ ‘If only Betty will forgive him—’ ‘She’ll forgive him all right. They’re a nice couple. By the way, I’m leaving tomorrow, too.’ ‘Oh, Mr Parker Pyne, we shall miss you.’ ‘Perhaps it’s just as well I should go before that boy of yours gets infatuated with yet a third girl.’ Mr Parker Pyne leaned over the rail of the steamer and looked at the lights of Palma. Beside him stood Dolores Ramona. He was saying appreciatively: ‘A very nice piece of work, Madeleine. I’m glad I wired you to come out. It’s odd when you’re such a quiet, stay-at-home girl really.’ Madeleine de Sara, alias Dolores Ramona, alias Maggie Sayers, said primly: ‘I’m glad you’re pleased, Mr Parker Pyne. It’s been a nice little change. I think I’ll go below now and get to bed before the boat starts. I’m such a bad sailor.’ A few minutes later a hand fell on Mr Parker Pyne’s shoulder. He turned to see Basil Chester. ‘Had to come and see you off, Mr Parker Pyne, and give you Betty’s love and her and my best thanks. It was a grand stunt of yours. Betty and Mother are as thick as thieves. Seemed a shame to deceive the old darling—but she was being difficult. Anyway it’s all right now. I must just be careful to keep up the annoyance stuff a couple of days longer. We’re no end grateful to you, Betty and I.’ ‘I wish you every happiness,’ said Mr Parker Pyne. ‘Thanks.’ There was a pause, then Basil said with somewhat overdone carelessness: ‘Is Miss—Miss de Sara—anywhere about? I’d like to thank her, too.’ Mr Parker Pyne shot a keen glance at him. He said: ‘I’m afraid Miss de Sara’s gone to bed.’ ‘Oh, too bad—well, perhaps I’ll see her in London sometime.’ ‘As a matter of fact she is going to America on business for me almost at once.’ ‘Oh!’ Basil’s tone was blank. ‘Well,’ he said. ‘I’ll be getting along …’ Mr Parker Pyne smiled. On his way to his cabin he tapped on the door of Madeleine’s. ‘How are you, my dear? All right? Our young friend has been along. The usual slight attack of Madeleinitis. He’ll get over it in a day or two, but you are rather distracting.’ The Second Gong (#ulink_2446fab9-1168-5c88-a089-6f62d9427cf3) Joan Ashby came out of her bedroom and stood a moment on the landing outside her door. She was half turning as if to go back into the room when, below her feet as it seemed, a gong boomed out. Immediately Joan started forward almost at a run. So great was her hurry that at the top of the big staircase she collided with a young man arriving from the opposite direction. ‘Hullo, Joan! Why the wild hurry?’ ‘Sorry, Harry. I didn’t see you.’ ‘So I gathered,’ said Harry Dalehouse dryly. ‘But as I say, why the wild haste?’ ‘It was the gong.’ ‘I know. But it’s only the first gong.’ ‘No, it’s the second.’ ‘First.’ ‘Second.’ Thus arguing they had been descending the stairs. They were now in the hall, where the butler, having replaced the gongstick, was advancing toward them at a grave and dignified pace. ‘It is the second,’ persisted Joan. ‘I know it is. Well, for one thing, look at the time.’ Harry Dalehouse glanced up at the grandfather clock. ‘Just twelve minutes past eight,’ he remarked. ‘Joan, I believe you’re right, but I never heard the first one. Digby,’ he addressed the butler, ‘is this the first gong or the second?’ ‘The first, sir.’ ‘At twelve minutes past eight? Digby, somebody will get the sack for this.’ A faint smile showed for a minute on the butler’s face. ‘Dinner is being served ten minutes later tonight, sir. The master’s orders.’ ‘Incredible!’ cried Harry Dalehouse. ‘Tut, tut! Upon my word, things are coming to a pretty pass! Wonders will never cease. What ails my revered uncle?’ ‘The seven o’clock train, sir, was half an hour late, and as—’ The butler broke off, as a sound like the crack of a whip was heard. ‘What on earth—’ said Harry. ‘Why, that sounded exactly like a shot.’ A dark, handsome man of thirty-five came out of the drawing room on their left. ‘What was that?’ he asked. ‘It sounded exactly like a shot.’ ‘It must have been a car backfiring, sir,’ said the butler. ‘The road runs quite close to the house this side and the upstairs windows are open.’ ‘Perhaps,’ said Joan doubtfully. ‘But that would be over there.’ She waved a hand to the right. ‘And I thought the noise came from here.’ She pointed to the left. The dark man shook his head. ‘I don’t think so. I was in the drawing room. I came out here because I thought the noise came from this direction.’ He nodded his head in front of him in the direction of the gong and the front door. ‘East, west, and south, eh?’ said the irrepressible Harry. ‘Well, I’ll make it complete, Keene. North for me. I thought it came from behind us. Any solutions offered?’ ‘Well, there’s always murder,’ said Geoffrey Keene, smiling. ‘I beg your pardon, Miss Ashby.’ ‘Only a shiver,’ said Joan. ‘It’s nothing. A what-do-you-call-it walking over my grave.’ ‘A good thought—murder,’ said Harry. ‘But, alas! No groans, no blood. I fear the solution is a poacher after a rabbit.’ ‘Seems tame, but I suppose that’s it,’ agreed the other. ‘But it sounded so near. However, let’s come into the drawing room.’ ‘Thank goodness, we’re not late,’ said Joan fervently. ‘I was simply haring it down the stairs thinking that was the second gong.’ All laughing, they went into the big drawing room. Lytcham Close was one of the most famous old houses in England. Its owner, Hubert Lytcham Roche, was the last of a long line, and his more distant relatives were apt to remark that ‘Old Hubert, you know, really ought to be certified. Mad as a hatter, poor old bird.’ Allowing for the exaggeration natural to friends and relatives, some truth remained. Hubert Lytcham Roche was certainly eccentric. Though a very fine musician, he was a man of ungovernable temper and had an almost abnormal sense of his own importance. People staying in the house had to respect his prejudices or else they were never asked again. One such prejudice was his music. If he played to his guests, as he often did in the evening, absolute silence must obtain. A whispered comment, a rustle of a dress, a movement even—and he would turn round scowling fiercely, and goodbye to the unlucky guest’s chances of being asked again. Another point was absolute punctuality for the crowning meal of the day. Breakfast was immaterial—you might come down at noon if you wished. Lunch also—a simple meal of cold meats and stewed fruit. But dinner was a rite, a festival, prepared by a cordon bleu whom he had tempted from a big hotel by the payment of a fabulous salary. A first gong was sounded at five minutes past eight. At a quarter past eight a second gong was heard, and immediately after the door was flung open, dinner announced to the assembled guests, and a solemn procession wended its way to the dining room. Anyone who had the temerity to be late for the second gong was henceforth excommunicated—and Lytcham Close shut to the unlucky diner forever. Hence the anxiety of Joan Ashby, and also the astonishment of Harry Dalehouse, at hearing that the sacred function was to be delayed ten minutes on this particular evening. Though not very intimate with his uncle, he had been to Lytcham Close often enough to know what a very unusual occurrence that was. Geoffrey Keene, who was Lytcham Roche’s secretary, was also very much surprised. ‘Extraordinary,’ he commented. ‘I’ve never known such a thing to happen. Are you sure?’ ‘Digby said so.’ ‘He said something about a train,’ said Joan Ashby. ‘At least I think so.’ ‘Queer,’ said Keene thoughtfully. ‘We shall hear all about it in due course, I suppose. But it’s very odd.’ Both men were silent for a moment or two, watching the girl. Joan Ashby was a charming creature, blue-eyed and golden-haired, with an impish glance. This was her first visit to Lytcham Close and her invitation was at Harry’s prompting. The door opened and Diana Cleves, the Lytcham Roches’ adopted daughter, came into the room. There was a daredevil grace about Diana, a witchery in her dark eyes and her mocking tongue. Nearly all men fell for Diana and she enjoyed her conquests. A strange creature, with her alluring suggestion of warmth and her complete coldness. ‘Beaten the Old Man for once,’ she remarked. ‘First time for weeks he hasn’t been here first, looking at his watch and tramping up and down like a tiger at feeding time.’ The young men had sprung forward. She smiled entrancingly at them both—then turned to Harry. Geoffrey Keene’s dark cheek flushed as he dropped back. He recovered himself, however, a moment later as Mrs Lytcham Roche came in. She was a tall, dark woman, naturally vague in manner, wearing floating draperies of an indeterminate shade of green. With her was a middle-aged man with a beaklike nose and a determined chin—Gregory Barling. He was a somewhat prominent figure in the financial world and, well-bred on his mother’s side, he had for some years been an intimate friend of Hubert Lytcham Roche. Boom! The gong resounded imposingly. As it died away, the door was flung open and Digby announced: ‘Dinner is served.’ Then, well-trained servant though he was, a look of complete astonishment flashed over his impassive face. For the first time in his memory, his master was not in the room! That his astonishment was shared by everybody was evident. Mrs Lytcham Roche gave a little uncertain laugh. ‘Most amazing. Really—I don’t know what to do.’ Everybody was taken aback. The whole tradition of Lytcham Close was undermined. What could have happened? Conversation ceased. There was a strained sense of waiting. At last the door opened once more; a sigh of relief went round only tempered by a slight anxiety as to how to treat the situation. Nothing must be said to emphasize the fact that the host had himself transgressed the stringent rule of the house. But the newcomer was not Lytcham Roche. Instead of the big, bearded, viking-like figure, there advanced into the long drawing room a very small man, palpably a foreigner, with an egg-shaped head, a flamboyant moustache, and most irreproachable evening clothes. His eyes twinkling, the newcomer advanced toward Mrs Lytcham Roche. ‘My apologies, madame,’ he said. ‘I am, I fear, a few minutes late.’ ‘Oh, not at all!’ murmured Mrs Lytcham Roche vaguely. ‘Not at all, Mr—’ She paused. ‘Poirot, madame. Hercule Poirot.’ He heard behind him a very soft ‘Oh’—a gasp rather than an articulate word—a woman’s ejaculation. Perhaps he was flattered. ‘You knew I was coming?’ he murmured gently. ‘N’est ce pas, madame? Your husband told you.’ ‘Oh—oh, yes,’ said Mrs Lytcham Roche, her manner unconvincing in the extreme. ‘I mean, I suppose so. I am so terribly unpractical, M. Poirot. I never remember anything. But fortunately Digby sees to everything.’ ‘My train, I fear, was late,’ said M. Poirot. ‘An accident on the line in front of us.’ ‘Oh,’ cried Joan, ‘so that’s why dinner was put off.’ His eye came quickly round to her—a most uncannily discerning eye. ‘That is something out of the usual—eh?’ ‘I really can’t think—’ began Mrs Lytcham Roche, and then stopped. ‘I mean,’ she went on confusedly, ‘it’s so odd. Hubert never—’ Poirot’s eyes swept rapidly round the group. ‘M. Lytcham Roche is not down yet?’ ‘No, and it’s so extraordinary—’ She looked appealingly at Geoffrey Keene. ‘Mr Lytcham Roche is the soul of punctuality,’ explained Keene. ‘He has not been late for dinner for—well, I don’t know that he was ever late before.’ To a stranger the situation must have been ludicrous—the perturbed faces and the general consternation. ‘I know,’ said Mrs Lytcham Roche with the air of one solving a problem. ‘I shall ring for Digby.’ She suited the action to the word. The butler came promptly. ‘Digby,’ said Mrs Lytcham Roche, ‘your master. Is he—’ As was customary with her, she did not finish her sentence. It was clear that the butler did not expect her to do so. He replied promptly and with understanding. ‘Mr Lytcham Roche came down at five minutes to eight and went into the study, madam.’ ‘Oh!’ She paused. ‘You don’t think—I mean—he heard the gong?’ ‘I think he must have—the gong is immediately outside the study door.’ ‘Yes, of course, of course,’ said Mrs Lytcham Roche more vaguely than ever. ‘Shall I inform him, madam, that dinner is ready?’ ‘Oh, thank you, Digby. Yes, I think—yes, yes, I should.’ ‘I don’t know,’ said Mrs Lytcham Roche to her guests as the butler withdrew, ‘what I would do without Digby!’ A pause followed. Then Digby re-entered the room. His breath was coming a little faster than is considered good form in a butler. ‘Excuse me, madam—the study door is locked.’ It was then that M. Hercule Poirot took command of the situation. ‘I think,’ he said, ‘that we had better go to the study.’ He led the way and everyone followed. His assumption of authority seemed perfectly natural. he was no longer a rather comic-looking guest. He was a personality and master of the situation. He led the way out into the hall, past the staircase, past the great clock, past the recess in which stood the gong. Exactly opposite that recess was a closed door. He tapped on it, first gently, then with increasing violence. But there was no reply. Very nimbly he dropped to his knees and applied his eye to the keyhole. He rose and looked round. ‘Messieurs,’ he said, ‘we must break open this door. Immediately!’ As before no one questioned his authority. Geoffrey Keene and Gregory Barling were the two biggest men. They attacked the door under Poirot’s directions. It was no easy matter. The doors of Lytcham Close were solid affairs—no modern jerry-building here. It resisted the attack valiantly, but at last it gave before the united attack of the men and crashed inward. The house party hesitated in the doorway. They saw what they had subconsciously feared to see. Facing them was the window. On the left, between the door and the window, was a big writing table. Sitting, not at the table, but sideways to it, was a man—a big man—slouched forward in the chair. His back was to them and his face to the window, but his position told the tale. His right hand hung limply down and below it, on the carpet, was a small shining pistol. Poirot spoke sharply to Gregory Barling. ‘Take Mrs Lytcham Roche away—and the other two ladies.’ The other nodded comprehendingly. He laid a hand on his hostess’s arm. She shivered. ‘He has shot himself,’ she murmured. ‘Horrible!’ With another shiver she permitted him to lead her away. The two girls followed. Poirot came forward into the room, the two young men behind him. He knelt down by the body, motioning them to keep back a little. He found the bullet hole on the right side of the head. It had passed out the other side and had evidently struck a mirror hanging on the left-hand wall, since this was shivered. On the writing table was a sheet of paper, blank save for the word Sorry scrawled across it in hesitating, shaky writing. Poirot’s eyes darted back to the door. ‘The key is not in the lock,’ he said. ‘I wonder—’ His hand slid into the dead man’s pocket. ‘Here it is,’ he said. ‘At least I think so. Have the goodness to try it, monsieur?’ Geoffrey Keene took it from him and tried it in the lock. ‘That’s it, all right.’ ‘And the window?’ Harry Dalehouse strode across to it. ‘Shut.’ ‘You permit?’ Very swiftly, Poirot scrambled to his feet and joined the other at the window. It was a long French window. Poirot opened it, stood a minute scrutinizing the grass just in front of it, then closed it again. ‘My friends,’ he said, ‘we must telephone for the police. Until they have come and satisfied themselves that it is truly suicide nothing must be touched. Death can only have occurred about a quarter of an hour ago.’ ‘I know,’ said Harry hoarsely. ‘We heard the shot.’ ‘Comment? What is that you say?’ Harry explained with the help of Geoffrey Keene. As he finished speaking, Barling reappeared. Poirot repeated what he had said before, and while Keene went off to telephone, Poirot requested Barling to give him a few minutes’ interview. They went into a small morning room, leaving Digby on guard outside the study door, while Harry went off to find the ladies. ‘You were, I understand, an intimate friend of M. Lytcham Roche,’ began Poirot. ‘It is for that reason that I address myself to you primarily. In etiquette, perhaps, I should have spoken first to madame, but at the moment I do not think that is pratique.’ He paused. ‘I am, see you, in a delicate situation. I will lay the facts plainly before you. I am, by profession, a private detective.’ The financier smiled a little. ‘It is not necessary to tell me that, M. Poirot. Your name is, by now, a household word.’ ‘Monsieur is too amiable,’ said Poirot, bowing. ‘Let us, then, proceed. I receive, at my London address, a letter from this M. Lytcham Roche. In it he says that he has reason to believe that he is being swindled of large sums of money. For family reasons, so he puts it, he does not wish to call in the police, but he desires that I should come down and look into the matter for him. Well, I agree. I come. Not quite so soon as M. Lytcham Roche wishes—for after all I have other affairs, and M. Lytcham Roche, he is not quite the King of England, though he seems to think he is.’ Barling gave a wry smile. ‘He did think of himself that way.’ ‘Exactly. Oh, you comprehend—his letter showed plainly enough that he was what one calls an eccentric. He was not insane, but he was unbalanced, n’est-ce pas?’ ‘What he’s just done ought to show that.’ ‘Oh, monsieur, but suicide is not always the act of the unbalanced. The coroner’s jury, they say so, but that is to spare the feelings of those left behind.’ ‘Hubert was not a normal individual,’ said Barling decisively. ‘He was given to ungovernable rages, was a monomaniac on the subject of family pride, and had a bee in his bonnet in more ways than one. But for all that he was a shrewd man.’ ‘Precisely. He was sufficiently shrewd to discover that he was being robbed.’ ‘Does a man commit suicide because he’s being robbed?’ Barling asked. ‘As you say, monsieur. Ridiculous. And that brings me to the need for haste in the matter. For family reasons—that was the phrase he used in his letter. Eh bien, monsieur, you are a man of the world, you know that it is for precisely that—family reasons—that a man does commit suicide.’ ‘You mean?’ ‘That it looks—on the face of it—as if ce pauvre monsieur had found out something further—and was unable to face what he had found out. But you perceive, I have a duty. I am already employed—commissioned—I have accepted the task. This “family reason”, the dead man did not want it to get to the police. So I must act quickly. I must learn the truth.’ ‘And when you have learned it?’ ‘Then—I must use my discretion. I must do what I can.’ ‘I see,’ said Barling. He smoked for a minute or two in silence, then he said, ‘All the same I’m afraid I can’t help you. Hubert never confided anything to me. I know nothing.’ ‘But tell me, monsieur, who, should you say, had a chance of robbing this poor gentleman?’ ‘Difficult to say. Of course, there’s the agent for the estate. He’s a new man.’ ‘The agent?’ ‘Yes. Marshall. Captain Marshall. Very nice fellow, lost an arm in the war. He came here a year ago. But Hubert liked him, I know, and trusted him, too.’ ‘If it were Captain Marshall who was playing him false, there would be no family reasons for silence.’ ‘N-No.’ The hesitation did not escape Poirot. ‘Speak, monsieur. Speak plainly, I beg of you.’ ‘It may be gossip.’ ‘I implore you, speak.’ ‘Very well, then, I will. Did you notice a very attractive looking young woman in the drawing room?’ ‘I noticed two very attractive looking young women.’ ‘Oh, yes, Miss Ashby. Pretty little thing. Her first visit. Harry Dalehouse got Mrs Lytcham Roche to ask her. No, I mean a dark girl—Diana Cleves.’ ‘I noticed her,’ said Poirot. ‘She is one that all men would notice, I think.’ ‘She’s a little devil,’ burst out Barling. ‘She’s played fast and loose with every man for twenty miles round. Someone will murder her one of these days.’ He wiped his brow with a handkerchief, oblivious of the keen interest with which the other was regarding him. ‘And this young lady is—’ ‘She’s Lytcham Roche’s adopted daughter. A great disappointment when he and his wife had no children. They adopted Diana Cleves—she was some kind of cousin. Hubert was devoted to her, simply worshipped her.’ ‘Doubtless he would dislike the idea of her marrying?’ suggested Poirot. ‘Not if she married the right person.’ ‘And the right person was—you, monsieur?’ Barling started and flushed. ‘I never said—’ ‘Mais, non, mais, non! You said nothing. But it was so, was it not?’ ‘I fell in love with her—yes. Lytcham Roche was pleased about it. It fitted in with his ideas for her.’ ‘And mademoiselle herself?’ ‘I told you—she’s the devil incarnate.’ ‘I comprehend. She has her own ideas of amusement, is it not so? But Captain Marshall, where does he come in?’ ‘Well, she’s been seeing a lot of him. People talked. Not that I think there’s anything in it. Another scalp, that’s all.’ Poirot nodded. ‘But supposing that there had been something in it—well, then, it might explain why M. Lytcham Roche wanted to proceed cautiously.’ ‘You do understand, don’t you, that there’s no earthly reason for suspecting Marshall of defalcation.’ ‘Oh, parfaitement, parfaitement! It might be an affair of a forged cheque with someone in the household involved. This young Mr Dalehouse, who is he?’ ‘A nephew.’ ‘He will inherit, yes?’ ‘He’s a sister’s son. Of course he might take the name—there’s not a Lytcham Roche left.’ ‘I see.’ ‘The place isn’t actually entailed, though it’s always gone from father to son. I’ve always imagined that he’d leave the place to his wife for her lifetime and then perhaps to Diana if he approved of her marriage. You see, her husband could take the name.’ ‘I comprehend,’ said Poirot. ‘You have been most kind and helpful to me, monsieur. May I ask of you one thing further—to explain to Madame Lytcham Roche all that I have told you, and to beg of her that she accord me a minute?’ Sooner than he had thought likely, the door opened and Mrs Lytcham Roche entered. She floated to a chair. ‘Mr Barling has explained everything to me,’ she said. ‘We mustn’t have any scandal, of course. Though I do feel really it’s fate, don’t you? I mean with the mirror and everything.’ ‘Comment—the mirror?’ ‘The moment I saw it—it seemed a symbol. Of Hubert! A curse, you know. I think old families have a curse very often. Hubert was always very strange. Lately he has been stranger than ever.’ ‘You will forgive me for asking, madame, but you are not in any way short of money?’ ‘Money? I never think of money.’ ‘Do you know what they say, madame? Those who never think of money need a great deal of it.’ He ventured a tiny laugh. She did not respond. Her eyes were far away. ‘I thank you, madame,’ he said, and the interview came to an end. Poirot rang, and Digby answered. ‘I shall require you to answer a few questions,’ said Poirot. ‘I am a private detective sent for by your master before he died.’ ‘A detective!’ the butler gasped. ‘Why?’ ‘You will please answer my questions. As to the shot now—’ He listened to the butler’s account. ‘So there were four of you in the hall?’ ‘Yes, sir; Mr Dalehouse and Miss Ashby and Mr Keene came from the drawing room.’ ‘Where were the others?’ ‘The others, sir?’ ‘Yes, Mrs Lytcham Roche, Miss Cleves and Mr Barling.’ ‘Mrs Lytcham Roche and Mr Barling came down later, sir.’ ‘And Miss Cleves?’ ‘I think Miss Cleves was in the drawing room, sir.’ Poirot asked a few more questions, then dismissed the butler with the command to request Miss Cleves to come to him. She came immediately, and he studied her attentively in view of Barling’s revelations. She was certainly beautiful in her white satin frock with the rosebud on the shoulder. He explained the circumstances which had brought him to Lytcham Close, eyeing her very closely, but she showed only what seemed to be genuine astonishment, with no signs of uneasiness. She spoke of Marshall indifferently with tepid approval. Only at mention of Barling did she approach animation. ‘That man’s a crook,’ she said sharply. ‘I told the Old Man so, but he wouldn’t listen—went on putting money into his rotten concerns.’ ‘Are you sorry, mademoiselle, that your—father is dead?’ She stared at him. ‘Of course. I’m modern, you know, M. Poirot. I don’t indulge in sob stuff. But I was fond of the Old Man. Though, of course, it’s best for him.’ ‘Best for him?’ ‘Yes. One of these days he would have had to be locked up. It was growing on him—this belief that the last Lytcham Roche of Lytcham Close was omnipotent.’ Poirot nodded thoughtfully. ‘I see, I see—yes, decided signs of mental trouble. By the way, you permit that I examine your little bag? It is charming—all these silk rosebuds. What was I saying? Oh, yes, did you hear the shot?’ ‘Oh, yes! But I thought it was a car or a poacher, or something.’ ‘You were in the drawing room?’ ‘No. I was out in the garden.’ ‘I see. Thank you, mademoiselle. Next I would like to see M. Keene, is it not?’ ‘Geoffrey? I’ll send him along.’ Keene came in, alert and interested. ‘Mr Barling has been telling me of the reason for your being down here. I don’t know that there’s anything I can tell you, but if I can—’ Poirot interrupted him. ‘I only want to know one thing, Monsieur Keene. What was it that you stooped and picked up just before we got to the study door this evening?’ ‘I—’ Keene half sprang up from his chair, then subsided again. ‘I don’t know what you mean,’ he said lightly. ‘Oh, I think you do, monsieur. You were behind me, I know, but a friend of mine he says I have eyes in the back of my head. You picked up something and you put it in the right hand pocket of your dinner jacket.’ There was a pause. Indecision was written plainly on Keene’s handsome face. At last he made up his mind. ‘Take your choice, M. Poirot,’ he said, and leaning forward he turned his pocket inside out. There was a cigarette holder, a handkerchief, a tiny silk rosebud, and a little gold match box. A moment’s silence and then Keene said, ‘As a matter of fact it was this.’ He picked up the match box. ‘I must have dropped it earlier in the evening.’ ‘I think not,’ said Poirot. ‘What do you mean?’ ‘What I say. I, monsieur, am a man of tidiness, of method, of order. A match box on the ground, I should see it and pick it up—a match box of this size, assuredly I should see it! No, monsieur, I think it was something very much smaller—such as this, perhaps.’ He picked up the little silk rosebud. ‘From Miss Cleve’s bag, I think?’ There was a moment’s pause, then Keene admitted it with a laugh. ‘Yes, that’s so. She—gave it to me last night.’ ‘I see,’ said Poirot, and at the moment the door opened and a tall fair-haired man in a lounge suit strode into the room. ‘Keene—what’s all this? Lytcham Roche shot himself? Man, I can’t believe it. It’s incredible.’ ‘Let me introduce you,’ said Keene, ‘to M. Hercule Poirot.’ The other started. ‘He will tell you all about it.’ And he left the room, banging the door. ‘M. Poirot—’ John Marshall was all eagerness ‘—I’m most awfully pleased to meet you. It is a bit of luck your being down here. Lytcham Roche never told me you were coming. I’m a most frightful admirer of yours, sir.’ A disarming young man, thought Poirot—not so young, either, for there was grey hair at the temples and lines in the forehead. It was the voice and manner that gave the impression of boyishness. ‘The police—’ ‘They are here now, sir. I came up with them on hearing the news. They don’t seem particularly surprised. Of course, he was mad as a hatter, but even then—’ ‘Even then you are surprised at his committing suicide?’ ‘Frankly, yes. I shouldn’t have thought that—well, that Lytcham Roche could have imagined the world getting on without him.’ ‘He has had money troubles of late, I understand?’ Marshall nodded. ‘He speculated. Wildcat schemes of Barling’s.’ Poirot said quietly, ‘I will be very frank. Had you any reason to suppose that Mr Lytcham Roche suspected you of tampering with your accounts?’ Marshall stared at Poirot in a kind of ludicrous bewilderment. So ludicrous was it that Poirot was forced to smile. ‘I see that you are utterly taken aback, Captain Marshall.’ ‘Yes, indeed. The idea’s ridiculous.’ ‘Ah! Another question. He did not suspect you of robbing him of his adopted daughter?’ ‘Oh, so you know about me and Di?’ He laughed in an embarrassed fashion. ‘It is so, then?’ Marshall nodded. ‘But the old man didn’t know anything about it. Di wouldn’t have him told. I suppose she was right. He’d have gone up like a—a basketful of rockets. I should have been chucked out of a job, and that would have been that.’ ‘And instead what was your plan?’ ‘Well, upon my word, sir, I hardly know. I left things to Di. She said she’d fix it. As a matter of fact I was looking out for a job. If I could have got one I would have chucked this up.’ ‘And mademoiselle would have married you? But M. Lytcham Roche might have stopped her allowance. Mademoiselle Diana is, I should say, fond of money.’ Marshall looked rather uncomfortable. ‘I’d have tried to make it up to her, sir.’ Geoffrey Keene came into the room. ‘The police are just going and would like to see you, M. Poirot.’ ‘Merci. I will come.’ In the study were a stalwart inspector and the police surgeon. ‘Mr Poirot?’ said the inspector. ‘We’ve heard of you, sir. I’m Inspector Reeves.’ ‘You are most amiable,’ said Poirot, shaking hands. ‘You do not need my co-operation, no?’ He gave a little laugh. ‘Not this time, sir. All plain sailing.’ ‘The case is perfectly straightforward, then?’ demanded Poirot. ‘Absolutely. Door and window locked, key of door in dead man’s pocket. Manner very strange the past few days. No doubt about it.’ ‘Everything quite—natural?’ The doctor grunted. ‘Must have been sitting at a damned queer angle for the bullet to have hit that mirror. But suicide’s a queer business.’ ‘You found the bullet?’ ‘Yes, here.’ The doctor held it out. ‘Near the wall below the mirror. Pistol was Mr Roche’s own. Kept it in the drawer of the desk always. Something behind it all, I daresay, but what that is we shall never know.’ Poirot nodded. The body had been carried to a bedroom. The police now took their leave. Poirot stood at the front door looking after them. A sound made him turn. Harry Dalehouse was close behind him. ‘Have you, by any chance, a strong flashlight, my friend?’ asked Poirot. ‘Yes, I’ll get it for you.’ When he returned with it Joan Ashby was with him. ‘You may accompany me if you like,’ said Poirot graciously. He stepped out of the front door and turned to the right, stopping before the study window. About six feet of grass separated it from the path. Poirot bent down, playing the flashlight on the grass. He straightened himself and shook his head. ‘No,’ he said, ‘not there.’ Then he paused and slowly his figure stiffened. On either side of the grass was a deep flower border. Poirot’s attention was focused on the right hand border, full of Michaelmas daisies and dahlias. His torch was directed on the front of the bed. Distinct on the soft mould were footprints. ‘Four of them,’ murmured Poirot. ‘Two going toward the window, two coming from it.’ ‘A gardener,’ suggested Joan. ‘But no, mademoiselle, but no. Employ your eyes. These shoes are small, dainty, high-heeled, the shoes of a woman. Mademoiselle Diana mentioned having been out in the garden. Do you know if she went downstairs before you did, mademoiselle?’ Joan shook her head. ‘I can’t remember. I was in such a hurry because the gong went, and I thought I’d heard the first one. I do seem to remember that her room door was open as I went past, but I’m not sure. Mrs Lytcham Roche’s was shut, I know.’ ‘I see,’ said Poirot. Something in his voice made Harry look up sharply, but Poirot was merely frowning gently to himself. In the doorway they met Diana Cleves. ‘The police have gone,’ she said. ‘It’s all—over.’ She gave a deep sigh. ‘May I request one little word with you, mademoiselle?’ She led the way into the morning room, and Poirot followed, shutting the door. ‘Well?’ She looked a little surprised. ‘One little question, mademoiselle. Were you tonight at any time in the flower border outside the study window?’ ‘Yes.’ She nodded. ‘About seven o’clock and again just before dinner.’ ‘I do not understand,’ he said. ‘I can’t see that there is anything to “understand”, as you call it,’ she said coldly. ‘I was picking Michaelmas daisies—for the table. I always do the flowers. That was about seven o’clock.’ ‘And afterward—later?’ ‘Oh, that! As a matter of fact I dropped a spot of hair oil on my dress—just on the shoulder here. It was just as I was ready to come down. I didn’t want to change the dress. I remembered I’d seen a late rose in bud in the border. I ran out and picked it and pinned it in. See—’ She came close to him and lifted the head of the rose. Poirot saw the minute grease spot. She remained close to him, her shoulder almost brushing his. ‘And what time was this?’ ‘Oh, about ten minutes past eight, I suppose.’ ‘You did not—try the window?’ ‘I believe I did. Yes, I thought it would be quicker to go in that way. But it was fastened.’ ‘I see.’ Poirot drew a deep breath. ‘And the shot,’ he said, ‘where were you when you heard that? Still in the flower border?’ ‘Oh, no; it was two or three minutes later, just before I came in by the side door.’ ‘Do you know what this is, mademoiselle?’ On the palm of his hand he held out the tiny silk rosebud. She examined it coolly. ‘It looks like a rosebud off my little evening bag. Where did you find it?’ ‘It was in Mr Keene’s pocket,’ said Poirot dryly. ‘Did you give it to him, mademoiselle?’ ‘Did he tell you I gave it to him?’ Poirot smiled. ‘When did you give it to him, mademoiselle?’ ‘Last night.’ ‘Did he warn you to say that, mademoiselle?’ ‘What do you mean?’ she asked angrily. But Poirot did not answer. He strode out of the room and into the drawing room. Barling, Keene, and Marshall were there. He went straight up to them. ‘Messieurs,’ he said brusquely, ‘will you follow me to the study?’ He passed out into the hall and addressed Joan and Harry. ‘You, too, I pray of you. And will somebody request madame to come? I thank you. Ah! And here is the excellent Digby. Digby, a little question, a very important little question. Did Miss Cleves arrange some Michaelmas daisies before dinner?’ The butler looked bewildered. ‘Yes, sir, she did.’ ‘You are sure?’ ‘Quite sure, sir.’ ‘Très bien. Now—come, all of you.’ Inside the study he faced them. ‘I have asked you to come here for a reason. The case is over, the police have come and gone. They say Mr Lytcham Roche has shot himself. All is finished.’ He paused. ‘But I, Hercule Poirot, say that it is not finished.’ As startled eyes turned to him the door opened and Mrs Lytcham Roche floated into the room. ‘I was saying, madame, that this case is not finished. It is a matter of the psychology. Mr Lytcham Roche, he had the manie de grandeur, he was a king. Such a man does not kill himself. No, no, he may go mad, but he does not kill himself. Mr Lytcham Roche did not kill himself.’ He paused. ‘He was killed.’ ‘Killed?’ Marshall gave a short laugh. ‘Alone in a room with the door and window locked?’ ‘All the same,’ said Poirot stubbornly, ‘he was killed.’ ‘And got up and locked the door or shut the window afterward, I suppose,’ said Diana cuttingly. ‘I will show you something,’ said Poirot, going to the window. He turned the handle of the French windows and then pulled gently. Конец ознакомительного фрагмента. Текст предоставлен ООО «ЛитРес». Прочитайте эту книгу целиком, купив полную легальную версию (https://www.litres.ru/agata-kristi/problem-at-pollensa-bay/?lfrom=334617187) на ЛитРес. 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