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The Pale Horse Agatha Christie A priest’s death leads to sinister goings-on in an old country pub…To understand the strange goings on at The Pale Horse Inn, Mark Easterbrook knew he had to begin at the beginning. But where exactly was the beginning?Was it the savage blow to the back of Father Gorman’s head? Or was it when the priest’s assailant searched him so roughly he tore the clergyman’s cassock? Or could it have been the priest’s visit, just minutes before, to a woman on her death bed?Or was there a deeper significance to the violent squabble which Mark Easterbrook had himself witnessed earlier?Wherever the beginning lies, Mark and his sidekick, Ginger Corrigan, may soon have cause to wish they’d never found it… Copyright (#ulink_53619854-4cc9-5d34-8250-815ae6c950ee) 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 Collins, The Crime Club 1961 The Pale Horse™ is a trade mark of Agatha Christie Limited and Agatha Christie and the Agatha Christie Signature are registered trade marks of Agatha Christie Limited in the UK and elsewhere. Copyright © 1961 Agatha Christie Limited. All rights reserved. www.agathachristie.com (http://www.agathachristie.com) Cover by designedbydavid.co.uk (http://designedbydavid.co.uk) © HarperCollins/Agatha Christie Ltd 2017 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: 9780008196387 Ebook Edition © March 2017 ISBN: 9780007422654 Version: 2017-04-15 Dedication (#ulink_322b2935-2413-5ccc-861e-2a1966d0d002) To John and Helen Mildmay White with many thanks for the opportunity given me to see justice done Contents Cover (#ud5845634-5575-59c1-82b7-f6dd6a24c99e) Title Page (#u560ac3e3-704a-5995-a6e7-ebe7e06cd146) Copyright (#uefba6700-18ce-530e-bc03-a37c872993db) Dedication (#u38cb0471-06c4-5fcc-b194-658bf9f2b945) Foreword by Mark Easterbrook (#uc44f3b71-68da-5084-8e5d-6234301fa276) Chapter 1: Mark Easterbrook’s Narrative (#u95744933-077c-50b3-a05e-6b29f9ca4d63) Chapter 2 (#ub1e8381a-b22c-56a1-9cac-f33de10ed779) Chapter 3 (#ud1daf6f9-c620-5eb7-86c3-4fb31b8d607f) Chapter 4: Mark Easterbrook’s Narrative (#u854909a8-6388-5fb8-85e9-4d01ae2dc908) Chapter 5: Mark Easterbrook’s Narrative (#u31095ba0-c3b4-5eb6-b51c-dec88eeb82bd) Chapter 6: Mark Easterbrook’s Narrative (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 7: Mark Easterbrook’s Narrative (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 8 (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 9: Mark Easterbrook’s Narrative (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 10 (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 11: Mark Easterbrook’s Narrative (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 12: Mark Easterbrook’s Narrative (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 13: Mark Easterbrook’s Narrative (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 14: Mark Easterbrook’s Narrative (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 15: Mark Easterbrook’s Narrative (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 16: Mark Easterbrook’s Narrative (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 17: Mark Easterbrook’s Narrative (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 18: Mark Easterbrook’s Narrative (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 19: Mark Easterbrook’s Narrative (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 20: Mark Easterbrook’s Narrative (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 21: Mark Easterbrook’s Narrative (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 22: Mark Easterbrook’s Narrative (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 23: Mark Easterbrook’s Narrative (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 24: Mark Easterbrook’s Narrative (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 25: Mark Easterbrook’s Narrative (#litres_trial_promo) Also by Agatha Christie (#litres_trial_promo) About the Publisher (#litres_trial_promo) FOREWORD (#ulink_d45d5d3f-2a59-5ffb-ae3c-4af88eeee115) by Mark Easterbrook (#ulink_d45d5d3f-2a59-5ffb-ae3c-4af88eeee115) There are two methods, it seems to me, of approaching this strange business of the Pale Horse. In spite of the dictum of the White King, it is difficult to achieve simplicity. One cannot, that is to say, ‘Begin at the beginning, go on to the end, and then stop.’ For where is the beginning? To a historian, that always is the difficulty. At what point in history does one particular portion of history begin? In this case, you can begin at the moment when Father Gorman set forth from his presbytery to visit a dying woman. Or you can start before that, on a certain evening in Chelsea. Perhaps, since I am writing the greater part of this narrative myself, it is there that I should begin. CHAPTER 1 (#ulink_db735277-ad83-585c-af51-1661092164cb) Mark Easterbrook’s Narrative (#ulink_db735277-ad83-585c-af51-1661092164cb) The Espresso machine behind my shoulder hissed like an angry snake. The noise it made had a sinister, not to say devilish, suggestion about it. Perhaps, I reflected, most of our contemporary noises carry that implication. The intimidating angry scream of jet planes as they flash across the sky; the slow menacing rumble of a tube train approaching through its tunnel; the heavy road transport that shakes the very foundations of your house … Even the minor domestic noises of today, beneficial in action though they may be, yet carry a kind of alert. The dish-washers, the refrigerators, the pressure cookers, the whining vacuum cleaners—‘Be careful,’ they all seem to say. ‘I am a genie harnessed to your service, but if your control of me fails …’ A dangerous world—that was it, a dangerous world. I stirred the foaming cup placed in front of me. It smelt pleasant. ‘What else will you have? Nice banana and bacon sandwich?’ It seemed an odd juxtaposition to me. Bananas I connected with my childhood—or occasionally flambé with sugar and rum. Bacon, in my mind, was firmly associated with eggs. However, when in Chelsea, eat as Chelsea does. I agreed to a nice banana and bacon sandwich. Although I lived in Chelsea—that is to say, I had had a furnished flat there for the last three months—I was in every other way a stranger in these parts. I was writing a book on certain aspects of Mogul architecture, but for that purpose I could have lived in Hampstead or Bloomsbury or Streatham or Chelsea and it would have been all the same to me. I was oblivious of my surroundings except for the tools of my trade, and the neighbourhood in which I lived was completely indifferent to me, I existed in a world of my own. On this particular evening, however, I had suffered from one of those sudden revulsions that all writers know. Mogul architecture, Mogul Emperors, the Mogul way of life—and all the fascinating problems it raised, became suddenly as dust and ashes. What did they matter? Why did I want to write about them? I flicked back various pages, rereading what I had written. It all seemed to me uniformly bad—poorly written and singularly devoid of interest. Whoever had said ‘History is bunk’ (Henry Ford?) had been absolutely right. I pushed back my manuscript with loathing, got up and looked at my watch. The time was close on eleven p.m. I tried to remember if I had had dinner … From my inner sensations I thought not. Lunch, yes, at the Athenaeum. That was a long time ago. I went and looked into the refrigerator. There was a small remnant of desiccated tongue. I looked at it without favour. So it was that I wandered out into the King’s Road, and eventually turned into an Espresso Coffee Bar with the name Luigi written in red neon light across its window, and was now contemplating a bacon and banana sandwich whilst I reflected on the sinister implications of present-day noises and their atmospheric effects. All of them, I thought, had something in common with my early memories of pantomime. Davy Jones arriving from his locker in clouds of smoke! Trap doors and windows that exuded the infernal powers of evil, challenging and defying a Good Fairy Diamond, or some such name, who in turn waved an inadequate-looking wand and recited hopeful platitudes as to the ultimate triumph of good in a flat voice, thus prefacing the inevitable ‘song of the moment’ which never had anything to do with the story of that particular pantomime. It came to me suddenly that evil was, perhaps, necessarily always more impressive than good. It had to make a show! It had to startle and challenge! It was instability attacking stability. And in the end, I thought, stability will always win. Stability can survive the triteness of Good Fairy Diamond; the flat voice, the rhymed couplet, even the irrelevant vocal statement of ‘There’s a Winding Road runs down the Hill, To the Olde World Town I love.’ All very poor weapons it would seem, and yet those weapons would inevitably prevail. The pantomime would end in the way it always ended. The staircase, and the descending cast in order of seniority, with Good Fairy Diamond, practising the Christian virtue of humility and not seeking to be first (or, in this case, last) but arriving about half-way through the procession, side by side with her late opponent, now seen to be no longer the snarling Demon King breathing fire and brimstone, but just a man dressed up in red tights. The Espresso hissed again in my ear. I signalled for another cup of coffee and looked around me. A sister of mine was always accusing me of not being observant, not noticing what was going on. ‘You live in a world of your own,’ she would say accusingly. Now, with a feeling of conscious virtue, I took note of what was going on. It was almost impossible not to read about the coffee bars of Chelsea and their patrons every day in the newspapers; this was my chance to make my own appraisal of contemporary life. It was rather dark in the Espresso, so you could not see very clearly. The clientele were almost all young people. They were, I supposed vaguely, what was called the off-beat generation. The girls looked, as girls always did look to me nowadays, dirty. They also seemed to be much too warmly dressed. I had noticed that when I had gone out a few weeks ago to dine with some friends. The girl who had sat next to me had been about twenty. The restaurant was hot, but she had worn a yellow wool pullover, a black skirt and black woollen stockings, and the perspiration poured down her face all through the meal. She smelt of perspiration-soaked wool and also, strongly, of unwashed hair. She was said, according to my friends, to be very attractive. Not to me! My only reaction was a yearning to throw her into a hot bath, give her a cake of soap and urge her to get on with it! Which just showed, I suppose, how out of touch with the times I was. Perhaps it came of having lived abroad so much. I recalled with pleasure Indian women with their beautifully-coiled black hair, and their saris of pure bright colours hanging in graceful folds, and the rhythmic sway of their bodies as they walked … I was recalled from these pleasant thoughts by a sudden accentuation of noise. Two young women at the table next to me had started a quarrel. The young men who were with them tried to adjust things, but without avail. Suddenly they were screaming at each other. One girl slapped the other’s face, the second dragged the first from her chair. They fought each other like fishwives, screaming abuse hysterically. One was a tousled red-head, the other a lank-haired blonde. What the quarrel was about, apart from terms of abuse, I did not gather. Cries and catcalls arose from other tables. ‘Attagirl! Sock her, Lou!’ The proprietor behind the bar, a slim Italian-looking fellow with sideburns, whom I had taken to be Luigi, came to intervene in a voice that was pure cockney London. ‘Nah then—break it up—break it up—You’ll ’ave the whole street in in a minute. You’ll ’ave the coppers here. Stop it, I say.’ But the lank blonde had the red-head by the hair and was tugging furiously as she screamed: ‘You’re nothing but a man-stealing bitch!’ ‘Bitch yourself.’ Luigi and the two embarrassed escorts forced the girls apart. In the blonde’s fingers were large tufts of red hair. She held them aloft gleefully, then dropped them on the floor. The door from the street was pushed open and Authority, dressed in blue, stood on the threshold and uttered the regulation words majestically. ‘What’s going on here?’ Immediately a common front was presented to the enemy. ‘Just a bit of fun,’ said one of the young men. ‘That’s all,’ said Luigi. ‘Just a bit of fun among friends.’ With his foot he kicked the tufts of hair adroitly under the nearest table. The contestants smiled at each other in false amnesty. The policeman looked at everybody suspiciously. ‘We’re just going now,’ said the blonde sweetly. ‘Come on, Doug.’ By a coincidence several other people were just going. Authority watched them go grimly. His eye said that he was overlooking it this time, but he’d got his eye on them. He withdrew slowly. The red-head’s escort paid the check. ‘You all right?’ said Luigi to the girl who was adjusting a headscarf. ‘Lou served you pretty bad, tearing out your hair by the roots like that.’ ‘It didn’t hurt,’ said the girl nonchalantly. She smiled at him. ‘Sorry for the row, Luigi.’ The party went out. The bar was now practically empty. I felt in my pocket for change. ‘She’s a sport all right,’ said Luigi approvingly, watching the door close. He seized a floor brush and swept the tufts of red hair behind the counter. ‘It must have been agony,’ I said. ‘I’d have hollered if it had been me,’ admitted Luigi. ‘But she’s a real sport, Tommy is.’ ‘You know her well?’ ‘Oh, she’s in here most evenings. Tuckerton, that’s her name, Thomasina Tuckerton, if you want the whole set out. But Tommy Tucker’s what she’s called round here. Stinking rich, too. Her old man left her a fortune, and what does she go and do? Comes to Chelsea, lives in a slummy room half-way to Wandsworth Bridge, and mooches around with a gang all doing the same thing. Beats me, half of that crowd’s got money. Could have any mortal thing they want; stay at the Ritz if they liked. But they seem to get a kick out of living the way they do. Yes—it beats me.’ ‘It wouldn’t be your choice?’ ‘Ar, I’ve got sense!’ said Luigi. ‘As it is, I just cash in.’ I rose to go and asked what the quarrel was about. ‘Oh, Tommy’s got hold of the other girl’s boy friend. He’s not worth fighting about, believe me!’ ‘The other girl seemed to think he was,’ I observed. ‘Oh, Lou’s very romantic,’ said Luigi tolerantly. It was not my idea of romance, but I did not say so. It must have been about a week later that my eye was caught by a name in the Deaths column of The Times. TUCKERTON. On October 2nd at Fallowfield Nursing Home, Amberley, Thomasina Ann, aged twenty, only daughter of the late Thomas Tuckerton, Esq., of Carrington Park, Amberley, Surrey. Funeral private. No flowers. No flowers for poor Tommy Tucker; and no more ‘kicks’ out of life in Chelsea. I felt a sudden fleeting compassion for the Tommy Tuckers of today. Yet after all, I reminded myself, how did I know that my view was the right one? Who was I to pronounce it a wasted life? Perhaps it was my life, my quiet scholarly life, immersed in books, shut off from the world, that was the wasted one. Life at second hand. Be honest now, was I getting kicks out of life? A very unfamiliar idea! The truth was, of course, that I didn’t want kicks. But there again, perhaps I ought to? An unfamiliar and not very welcome thought. I dismissed Tommy Tucker from my thoughts, and turned to my correspondence. The principal item was a letter from my cousin Rhoda Despard, asking me to do her a favour. I grasped at this, since I was not feeling in the mood for work this morning, and it made a splendid excuse for postponing it. I went out into King’s Road, hailed a taxi, and was driven to the residence of a friend of mine, a Mrs Ariadne Oliver. Mrs Oliver was a well-known writer of detective stories. Her maid, Milly, was an efficient dragon who guarded her mistress from the onslaughts of the outside world. I raised my eyebrows inquiringly, in an unspoken question. Milly nodded a vehement head. ‘You’d better go right up, Mr Mark,’ she said. ‘She’s in a mood this morning. You may be able to help her snap out of it.’ I mounted two flights of stairs, tapped lightly on a door, and walked in without waiting for encouragement. Mrs Oliver’s workroom was a good-sized room, the walls papered with exotic birds nesting in tropical foliage. Mrs Oliver herself, in a state apparently bordering on insanity, was prowling round the room, muttering to herself. She threw me a brief uninterested glance and continued to prowl. Her eyes, unfocused, swept round the walls, glanced out of the window, and occasionally closed in what appeared to be a spasm of agony. ‘But why,’ demanded Mrs Oliver of the universe, ‘why doesn’t the idiot say at once that he saw the cockatoo? Why shouldn’t he? He couldn’t have helped seeing it! But if he does mention it, it ruins everything. There must be a way … there must be …’ She groaned, ran her fingers through her short grey hair and clutched it in a frenzied hand. Then, looking at me with suddenly focused eyes, she said, ‘Hallo, Mark. I’m going mad,’ and resumed her complaint. ‘And then there’s Monica. The nicer I try to make her, the more irritating she gets … Such a stupid girl … Smug, too! Monica … Monica? I believe the name’s wrong. Nancy? Would that be better? Joan? Everybody is always Joan. Anne is the same. Susan? I’ve had a Susan. Lucia? Lucia? Lucia? I believe I can see a Lucia. Red-haired. Polo-necked jumper … Black tights? Black stockings, anyway.’ This momentary gleam of good cheer was eclipsed by the memory of the cockatoo problem, and Mrs Oliver resumed her unhappy prowling, picking up things off tables unseeingly and putting them down again somewhere else. She fitted with some care her spectacle case into a lacquered box which already contained a Chinese fan and then gave a deep sigh and said: ‘I’m glad it’s you.’ ‘That’s very nice of you.’ ‘It might have been anybody. Some silly woman who wanted me to open a bazaar, or the man about Milly’s insurance card which Milly absolutely refuses to have—or the plumber (but that would be too much good fortune, wouldn’t it?). Or, it might be someone wanting an interview—asking me all those embarrassing questions which are always the same every time. What made you first think of taking up writing? How many books have you written? How much money do you make? Etc. etc. I never know the answers to any of them and it makes me look such a fool. Not that any of that matters because I think I am going mad, over this cockatoo business.’ ‘Something that won’t jell?’ I said sympathetically. ‘Perhaps I’d better go away.’ ‘No, don’t. At any rate you’re a distraction.’ I accepted this doubtful compliment. ‘Do you want a cigarette?’ Mrs Oliver asked with vague hospitality. ‘There are some somewhere. Look in the typewriter lid.’ ‘I’ve got my own, thanks. Have one. Oh no, you don’t smoke.’ ‘Or drink,’ said Mrs Oliver. ‘I wish I did. Like those American detectives that always have pints of rye conveniently in their collar drawers. It seems to solve all their problems. You know, Mark, I really can’t think how anyone ever gets away with a murder in real life. It seems to me that the moment you’ve done a murder the whole thing is so terribly obvious.’ ‘Nonsense. You’ve done lots of them.’ ‘Fifty-five at least,’ said Mrs Oliver. ‘The murder part is quite easy and simple. It’s the covering up that’s so difficult. I mean, why should it be anyone else but you? You stick out a mile.’ ‘Not in the finished article,’ I said. ‘Ah, but what it costs me,’ said Mrs Oliver darkly. ‘Say what you like, it’s not natural for five or six people to be on the spot when B is murdered and all have a motive for killing B—unless, that is, B is absolutely madly unpleasant and in that case nobody will mind whether he’s been killed or not, and doesn’t care in the least who’s done it.’ ‘I see your problem,’ I said. ‘But if you’ve dealt with it successfully fifty-five times, you will manage to deal with it once again.’ ‘That’s what I tell myself,’ said Mrs Oliver, ‘over and over again, but every single time I can’t believe it, and so I’m in agony.’ She seized her hair again and tugged it violently. ‘Don’t,’ I cried. ‘You’ll have it out by the roots.’ ‘Nonsense,’ said Mrs Oliver. ‘Hair’s tough. Though when I had measles at fourteen with a very high temperature, it did come out—all round the front. Most shaming. And it was six whole months before it grew properly again. Awful for a girl—girls mind so. I thought of it yesterday when I was visiting Mary Delafontaine in that nursing home. Her hair was coming out just like mine did. She said she’d have to get a false front when she was better. If you’re sixty it doesn’t always grow again, I believe.’ ‘I saw a girl pull out another girl’s hair by the roots the other night,’ I said. I was conscious of a slight note of pride in my voice as one who has seen life. ‘What extraordinary places have you been going to?’ asked Mrs Oliver. ‘This was in a coffee bar in Chelsea.’ ‘Oh Chelsea!’ said Mrs Oliver. ‘Everything happens there, I believe. Beatniks and sputniks and squares and the beat generation. I don’t write about them much because I’m so afraid of getting the terms wrong. It’s safer, I think, to stick to what you know.’ ‘Such as?’ ‘People on cruises, and in hotels, and what goes on in hospitals, and on parish councils—and sales of work—and music festivals, and girls in shops, and committees and daily women, and young men and girls who hike round the world in the interests of science, and shop assistants—’ She paused, out of breath. ‘That seems fairly comprehensive to be getting on with,’ I said. ‘All the same, you might take me out to a coffee bar in Chelsea some time—just to widen my experience,’ said Mrs Oliver wistfully. ‘Any time you say. Tonight?’ ‘Not tonight. I’m too busy writing or rather worrying because I can’t write. That’s really the most tiresome thing about writing—though everything is tiresome really, except the one moment when you get what you think is going to be a wonderful idea, and can hardly wait to begin. Tell me, Mark, do you think it is possible to kill someone by remote control?’ ‘What do you mean by remote control? Press a button and set off a radioactive death ray?’ ‘No, no, not science fiction. I suppose,’ she paused doubtfully, ‘I really mean black magic.’ ‘Wax figures and pins in them?’ ‘Oh, wax figures are right out,’ said Mrs Oliver scornfully. ‘But queer things do happen—in Africa or the West Indies. People are always telling you so. How natives just curl up and die. Voodoo—or ju-ju … Anyway, you know what I mean.’ I said that much of that was attributed nowadays to the power of suggestion. Word is always conveyed to the victim that his death has been decreed by the medicine-man—and his subconscious does the rest. Mrs Oliver snorted. ‘If anyone hinted to me that I had been doomed to lie down and die, I’d take a pleasure in thwarting their expectations!’ I laughed. ‘You’ve got centuries of good Occidental sceptical blood in your veins. No predispositions.’ ‘Then you think it can happen?’ ‘I don’t know enough about the subject to judge. What put it into your head? Is your new masterpiece to be Murder by Suggestion?’ ‘No, indeed. Good old-fashioned rat poison or arsenic is good enough for me. Or the reliable blunt instrument. Not firearms if possible. Firearms are so tricky. But you didn’t come here to talk to me about my books.’ ‘Frankly no—The fact is that my cousin Rhoda Despard has got a church fête and—’ ‘Never again!’ said Mrs Oliver. ‘You know what happened last time? I arranged a Murder Hunt, and the first thing that happened was a real corpse. I’ve never quite got over it!’ ‘It’s not a Murder Hunt. All you’d have to do would be to sit in a tent and sign your own books—at five bob a time.’ ‘We-e-l-l-l,’ said Mrs Oliver doubtfully. ‘That might be all right. I shouldn’t have to open the fête? Or say silly things? Or have to wear a hat?’ None of these things, I assured her, would be required of her. ‘And it would only be for an hour or two,’ I said coaxingly. ‘After that, there’ll be a cricket match—no, I suppose not this time of year. Children dancing, perhaps. Or a fancy dress competition—’ Mrs Oliver interrupted me with a wild scream. ‘That’s it,’ she cried. ‘A cricket ball! Of course! He sees it from the window … rising up in the air … and it distracts him—and so he never mentions the cockatoo! What a good thing you came, Mark. You’ve been wonderful.’ ‘I don’t quite see—’ ‘Perhaps not, but I do,’ said Mrs Oliver. ‘It’s all rather complicated, and I don’t want to waste time explaining. Nice as it’s been to see you, what I’d really like you to do now is to go away. At once.’ ‘Certainly. About the fête—’ ‘I’ll think about it. Don’t worry me now. Now where on earth did I put my spectacles? Really, the way things just disappear …’ CHAPTER 2 (#ulink_1582ffbf-1bb5-5c38-b9ee-a067d66834c9) Mrs Gerahty opened the door of the presbytery in her usual sharp pouncing style. It was less like answering a bell, than a triumphant manoeuvre expressing the sentiment ‘I’ve caught you this time!’ ‘Well now, and what would you be wanting?’ she demanded belligerently. There was a boy on the doorstep, a very negligible looking boy—a boy not easily noticeable nor easily remembered—a boy like a lot of other boys. He sniffed because he had a cold in his head. ‘Is this the priest’s place?’ ‘Is it Father Gorman you’re wanting?’ ‘He’s wanted,’ said the boy. ‘Who wants him and where and what for?’ ‘Benthall Street. Twenty-three. Woman as says she’s dying. Mrs Coppins sent me. This is a Carthlick place all right, isn’t it? Woman says the vicar won’t do.’ Mrs Gerahty reassured him on this essential point, told him to stop where he was and retired into the presbytery. Some three minutes later a tall elderly priest came out carrying a small leather case in his hand. ‘I’m Father Gorman,’ he said. ‘Benthall Street? That’s round by the railway yards, isn’t it?’ ‘’Sright. Not more than a step, it isn’t.’ They set out together, the priest walking with a free striding step. ‘Mrs—Coppins, did you say? Is that the name?’ ‘She’s the one what owns the house. Lets rooms, she does. It’s one of the lodgers wants you. Name of Davis, I think.’ ‘Davis. I wonder now. I don’t remember—’ ‘She’s one of you all right. Carthlick, I mean. Said as no vicar would do.’ The priest nodded. They came to Benthall Street in a very short time. The boy indicated a tall dingy house in a row of other tall dingy houses. ‘That’s it.’ ‘Aren’t you coming in?’ ‘I don’t belong. Mrs C. give me a bob to take the message.’ ‘I see. What’s your name?’ ‘Mike Potter.’ ‘Thank you, Mike.’ ‘You’re welcome,’ said Mike, and went off whistling. The imminence of death for someone else did not affect him. The door of No. 23 opened and Mrs Coppins, a large red-faced woman, stood on the threshold and welcomed the visitor with enthusiasm. ‘Come in, come in. She’s bad, I’d say. Ought to be in hospital, not here. I’ve rung up, but goodness knows when anybody will come nowadays. Six hours my sister’s husband had to wait when he broke his leg. Disgraceful, I call it. Health Service, indeed! Take your money and when you want them where are they?’ She was preceding the priest up the narrow stairs as she talked. ‘What’s the matter with her?’ ‘’Flu’s what she’s had. Seemed better. Went out too soon I’d say. Anyway she comes in last night looking like death. Took to her bed. Wouldn’t eat anything. Didn’t want a doctor. This morning I could see she was in a raging fever. Gone to her lungs.’ ‘Pneumonia?’ Mrs Coppins, out of breath by now, made a noise like a steam engine, which seemed to signify assent. She flung open a door, stood aside to let Father Gorman go in, said over his shoulder: ‘Here’s the Reverend for you. Now you’ll be all right!’ in a spuriously cheerful way, and retired. Father Gorman advanced. The room, furnished with old-fashioned Victorian furniture, was clean and neat. In the bed near the window a woman turned her head feebly. That she was very ill, the priest saw at once. ‘You’ve come … There isn’t much time—’ she spoke between panting breaths. ‘… Wickedness … such wickedness … I must … I must … I can’t die like this … Confess—confess—my sin—grievous—grievous …’ the eyes wandered … half closed … A rambling monotone of words came from her lips. Father Gorman came to the bed. He spoke as he had spoken so often—so very often. Words of authority—of reassurance … the words of his calling and of his belief. Peace came into the room … The agony went out of the tortured eyes … Then, as the priest ended his ministry, the dying woman spoke again. ‘Stopped … It must be stopped … You will …’ The priest spoke with reassuring authority. ‘I will do what is necessary. You can trust me …’ A doctor and an ambulance arrived simultaneously a little later. Mrs Coppins received them with gloomy triumph. ‘Too late as usual!’ she said. ‘She’s gone …’ Father Gorman walked back through the gathering twilight. There would be fog tonight, it was growing denser rapidly. He paused for a moment, frowning. Such a fantastic extraordinary story … How much of it was born of delirium and high fever? Some of it was true, of course—but how much? Anyway it was important to make a note of certain names whilst they were fresh in his memory. The St Francis Guild would be assembled when he got back. He turned abruptly into a small café, ordered a cup of coffee and sat down. He felt in the pocket of his cassock. Ah, Mrs Gerahty—he’d asked her to mend the lining. As usual, she hadn’t! His notebook and a loose pencil and the few coins he carried about him, had gone through to the lining. He prised up a coin or two and the pencil, but the notebook was too difficult. The coffee came, and he asked if he could have a piece of paper. ‘This do you?’ It was a torn paper bag. Father Gorman nodded and took it. He began to write—the names—it was important not to forget the names. Names were the sort of thing he did forget … The café door opened and three young lads in Edwardian dress came in and sat down noisily. Father Gorman finished his memorandum. He folded up the scrap of paper and was about to shove it into his pocket when he remembered the hole. He did what he had often done before, pressed the folded scrap down into his shoe. A man came in quietly and sat down in a far corner. Father Gorman took a sip or two of the weak coffee for politeness’ sake, called for his bill, and paid. Then he got up and went out. The man who had just come in seemed to change his mind. He looked at his watch as though he had mistaken the time, got up, and hurried out. The fog was coming on fast. Father Gorman quickened his steps. He knew his district very well. He took a short-cut by turning down the small street which ran close by the railway. He may have been conscious of steps behind him but he thought nothing of them. Why should he? The blow from the cosh caught him completely unaware. He heeled forward and fell … Dr Corrigan, whistling ‘Father O’Flynn’, walked into the D.D.I.’s room and addressed Divisional Detective Inspector Lejeune in a chatty manner. ‘I’ve done your padre for you,’ he said. ‘And the result?’ ‘We’ll save the technical terms for the coroner. Well and truly coshed. First blow probably killed him, but whoever it was made sure. Quite a nasty business.’ ‘Yes,’ said Lejeune. He was a sturdy man, dark haired and grey eyed. He had a misleadingly quiet manner, but his gestures were sometimes surprisingly graphic and betrayed his French Huguenot ancestry. He said thoughtfully: ‘Nastier than would be necessary for robbery?’ ‘Was it robbery?’ asked the doctor. ‘One supposes so. His pockets were turned out and the lining of his cassock ripped.’ ‘They couldn’t have hoped for much,’ said Corrigan. ‘Poor as a rat, most of these parish priests.’ ‘They battered his head in—to make sure,’ mused Lejeune. ‘One would like to know why.’ ‘Two possible answers,’ said Corrigan. ‘One, it was done by a vicious-minded young thug, who likes violence for violence’s sake—there are plenty of them about these days, more’s the pity.’ ‘And the other answer?’ The doctor shrugged his shoulders. ‘Somebody had it in for your Father Gorman. Was that likely?’ Lejeune shook his head. ‘Most unlikely. He was a popular man, well loved in the district. No enemies, as far as one can hear. And robbery’s unlikely. Unless—’ ‘Unless what?’ asked Corrigan. ‘The police have a clue! Am I right?’ ‘He did have something on him that wasn’t taken away. It was in his shoe, as a matter of fact.’ Corrigan whistled. ‘Sounds like a spy story.’ Lejeune smiled. ‘It’s much simpler than that. He had a hole in his pocket. Sergeant Pine talked to his housekeeper. She’s a bit of a slattern, it seems. Didn’t keep his clothes mended in the way she might have done. She admitted that, now and again, Father Gorman would thrust a paper or a letter down the inside of his shoe—to prevent it from going down into the lining of his cassock.’ ‘And the killer didn’t know that?’ ‘The killer never thought of that! Assuming, that is, that this piece of paper is what he may have been wanting—rather than a miserly amount of small change.’ ‘What was on the paper?’ Lejeune reached into a drawer and took out a flimsy piece of creased paper. ‘Just a list of names,’ he said. Corrigan looked at it curiously. Ormerod Sandford Parkinson Hesketh-Dubois Shaw Harmondsworth Tuckerton Corrigan? Delafontaine? His eyebrows rose. ‘I see I’m on the list!’ ‘Do any of the names mean anything to you?’ asked the inspector. ‘None of them.’ ‘And you’ve never met Father Gorman?’ ‘Never.’ ‘Then you won’t be able to help us much.’ ‘Any ideas as to what this list means—if anything?’ Lejeune did not reply directly. ‘A boy called at Father Gorman’s about seven o’clock in the evening. Said a woman was dying and wanted the priest. Father Gorman went with him.’ ‘Where to? If you know?’ ‘We know. It didn’t take long to check up. Twenty-three Benthall Street. House owned by a woman named Coppins. The sick woman was a Mrs Davis. The priest got there at a quarter past seven and was with her for about half an hour. Mrs Davis died just before the ambulance arrived to take her to hospital.’ ‘I see.’ ‘The next we hear of Father Gorman is at Tony’s Place, a small down-at-heel café. Quite decent, nothing criminal about it, serves refreshment of poor quality and isn’t much patronised. Father Gorman asked for a cup of coffee. Then apparently he felt in his pocket, couldn’t find what he wanted and asked the proprietor, Tony, for a piece of paper. This—’ he gestured with his finger, ‘is the piece of paper.’ ‘And then?’ ‘When Tony brought the coffee, the priest was writing on the paper. Shortly afterwards he left, leaving his coffee practically untasted (for which I don’t blame him), having completed this list and shoved it into his shoe.’ ‘Anybody else in the place?’ ‘Three boys of the Teddy boy type came in and sat at one table and an elderly man came in and sat at another. The latter went away without ordering.’ ‘He followed the priest?’ ‘Could be. Tony didn’t notice when he went. Didn’t notice what he looked like, either. Described him as an inconspicuous type of man. Respectable. The kind of man that looks like everybody else. Medium height, he thinks, dark blue overcoat—or could be brown. Not very dark and not very fair. No reason he should have had anything to do with it. One just doesn’t know. He hasn’t come forward to say he saw the priest in Tony’s place—but it’s early days yet. We’re asking for anyone who saw Father Gorman between a quarter to eight and eight-fifteen to communicate with us. Only two people so far have responded: a woman and a chemist who had a shop nearby. I’ll be going to see them presently. His body was found at eight-fifteen by two small boys in West Street—you know it? Practically an alleyway, bounded by the railway on one side. The rest—you know.’ Corrigan nodded. He tapped the paper. ‘What’s your feeling about this?’ ‘I think it’s important,’ said Lejeune. ‘The dying woman told him something and he got these names down on paper as soon as he could before he forgot them? The only thing is—would he have done that if he’d been told under seal of the confessional?’ ‘It needn’t have been under a seal of secrecy,’ said Lejeune. ‘Suppose, for instance, these names have a connection of—say, blackmail—’ ‘That’s your idea, is it?’ ‘I haven’t any ideas yet. This is just a working hypothesis. These people were being blackmailed. The dying woman was either the blackmailer, or she knew about the blackmail. I’d say that the general idea was, repentance, confession, and a wish to make reparation as far as possible. Father Gorman assumed the responsibility.’ ‘And then?’ ‘Everything else is conjectural,’ said Lejeune. ‘Say it was a paying racket, and someone didn’t want it to stop paying. Someone knew Mrs Davis was dying and that she’d sent for the priest. The rest follows.’ ‘I wonder now,’ said Corrigan, studying the paper again. ‘Why do you think there’s an interrogation mark after the last two names?’ ‘It could be that Father Gorman wasn’t sure he’d remembered those two names correctly.’ ‘It might have been Mulligan instead of Corrigan,’ agreed the doctor with a grin. ‘That’s likely enough. But I’d say that with a name like Delafontaine, either you’d remember it or you wouldn’t—if you know what I mean. It’s odd that there isn’t a single address—’ He read down the list again. ‘Parkinson—lots of Parkinsons. Sandford, not uncommon—Hesketh-Dubois—that’s a bit of a mouthful. Can’t be many of them.’ On a sudden impulse he leaned forward and took the telephone directory from the desk. ‘E to L. Let’s see. Hesketh, Mrs A … John and Co., Plumbers … Sir Isidore. Ah! here we are! Hesketh-Dubois, Lady, Forty-nine, Ellesmere Square, S.W.1. What say we just ring her up?’ ‘Saying what?’ ‘Inspiration will come,’ said Doctor Corrigan airily. ‘Go ahead,’ said Lejeune. ‘What?’ Corrigan stared at him. ‘I said go ahead,’ Lejeune spoke airily. ‘Don’t look so taken aback.’ He himself picked up the receiver. ‘Give me an outside line.’ He looked at Corrigan. ‘Number?’ ‘Grosvenor 64578.’ Lejeune repeated it, then handed the receiver over to Corrigan. ‘Enjoy yourself,’ he said. Faintly puzzled, Corrigan looked at him as he waited. The ringing tone continued for some time before anyone answered. Then, interspersed with heavy breathing, a woman’s voice said: ‘Grosvenor 64578.’ ‘Is that Lady Hesketh-Dubois’s house?’ ‘Well—well, yes—I mean—’ Doctor Corrigan ignored these uncertainties. ‘Can I speak to her, please?’ ‘No, that you can’t do! Lady Hesketh-Dubois died last April.’ ‘Oh!’ Startled, Dr Corrigan ignored the ‘Who is it speaking, please?’ and gently replaced the receiver. He looked coldly at Inspector Lejeune. ‘So that’s why you were so ready to let me ring up.’ Lejeune smiled maliciously. ‘We don’t really neglect the obvious,’ he pointed out. ‘Last April,’ said Corrigan thoughtfully. ‘Five months ago. Five months since blackmail or whatever it was has failed to worry her. She didn’t commit suicide, or anything like that?’ ‘No. She died of a tumour on the brain.’ ‘So now we start again,’ said Corrigan, looking down at the list. Lejeune sighed. ‘We don’t really know that list had anything to do with it,’ he pointed out. ‘It may have been just an ordinary coshing on a foggy night—and precious little hope of finding who did it unless we have a piece of luck …’ Dr Corrigan said: ‘Do you mind if I continue to concentrate on this list?’ ‘Go ahead. I wish you all the luck in the world.’ ‘Meaning I’m not likely to get anywhere if you haven’t! Don’t be too sure. I shall concentrate on Corrigan. Mr or Mrs or Miss Corrigan—with a big interrogation mark.’ CHAPTER 3 (#ulink_304022dc-8232-5ae3-abbf-04e06416cd8c) ‘Well, really, Mr Lejeune, I don’t see what more I can tell you! I told it all before to your sergeant. I don’t know who Mrs Davis was, or where she came from. She’d been with me about six months. She paid her rent regular, and she seemed a nice quiet respectable person, and what more you expect me to say I’m sure I don’t know.’ Mrs Coppins paused for breath and looked at Lejeune with some displeasure. He gave her the gentle melancholy smile which he knew by experience was not without its effect. ‘Not that I wouldn’t be willing to help if I could,’ she amended. ‘Thank you. That’s what we need—help. Women know—they feel instinctively—so much more than a man can know.’ It was a good gambit, and it worked. ‘Ah,’ said Mrs Coppins. ‘I wish Coppins could hear you. So hoity-toity and off-hand he always was. “Saying you know things when you haven’t got anything to go on!” he’d say and snort. And nine times out of ten I was right.’ ‘That’s why I’d like to hear what ideas you have about Mrs Davis. Was she—an unhappy woman, do you think?’ ‘Now as to that—no, I wouldn’t say so. Businesslike. That’s what she always seemed. Methodical. As though she’d got her life planned and was acting accordingly. She had a job, I understand, with one of these consumer research associations. Going around and asking people what soap powder they used, or flour, and what they spend on their weekly budget and how it’s divided up. Of course I’ve always felt that sort of thing is snooping really—and why the Government or anyone else wants to know beats me! All you hear at the end of it is only what everybody has known perfectly well all along—but there, there’s a craze for that sort of thing nowadays. And if you’ve got to have it, I should say that poor Mrs Davis would do the job very nicely. A pleasant manner, not nosy, just businesslike and matter-of-fact.’ ‘You don’t know the actual name of the firm or association that employed her?’ ‘No, I don’t, I’m afraid.’ ‘Did she ever mention relatives—?’ ‘No. I gathered she was a widow and had lost her husband many years ago. A bit of an invalid he’d been, but she never talked much about him.’ ‘She didn’t mention where she came from—what part of the country?’ ‘I don’t think she was a Londoner. Came from somewhere up north, I should say.’ ‘You didn’t feel there was anything—well, mysterious about her?’ Lejeune felt a doubt as he spoke. If she was a suggestible woman—But Mrs Coppins did not take advantage of the opportunity offered to her. ‘Well, I can’t say really that I did. Certainly not from anything she ever said. The only thing that perhaps might have made me wonder was her suitcase. Good quality it was, but not new. And the initials on it had been painted over. J.D.—Jessie Davis. But originally it had been J. something else. H., I think. But it might have been an A. Still, I didn’t think anything of that at the time. You can often pick up a good piece of luggage second-hand ever so cheap, and then it’s natural to get the initials altered. She hadn’t a lot of stuff—only the one case.’ Lejeune knew that. The dead woman had had curiously few personal possessions. No letters had been kept, no photographs. She had had apparently no insurance card, no bank book, no cheque book. Her clothes were of good everyday serviceable quality, nearly new. ‘She seemed quite happy?’ he asked. ‘I suppose so.’ He pounced on the faint doubtful tone in her voice. ‘You only suppose so?’ ‘Well, it’s not the kind of thing you think about, is it? I should say she was nicely off, with a good job, and quite satisfied with her life. She wasn’t the bubbling over sort. But of course, when she got ill—’ ‘Yes, when she got ill?’ he prompted her. ‘Vexed, she was at first. When she went down with ’flu, I mean. It would put all her schedule out, she said. Missing appointments and all that. But ’flu’s ’flu, and you can’t ignore it when it’s there. So she stopped in bed, and made herself tea on the gas ring, and took aspirin. I said why not have the doctor and she said no point in it. Nothing to do for ’flu but stay in bed and keep warm and I’d better not come near her to catch it. I did a bit of cooking for her when she got better. Hot soup and toast. And a rice pudding now and again. It got her down, of course, ’flu does—but not more than what’s usual, I’d say. It’s after the fever goes down that you get the depression—and she got that like everyone does. She sat there, by the gas fire, I remember, and said to me, “I wish one didn’t have so much time to think. I don’t like having time to think. It gets me down.”’ Lejeune continued to look deeply attentive and Mrs Coppins warmed to her theme. ‘Lent her some magazines, I did. But she didn’t seem able to keep her mind on reading. Said once, I remember, “If things aren’t all they should be, it’s better not to know about it, don’t you agree?” and I said, “That’s right, dearie.” And she said, “I don’t know—I’ve never really been sure.” And I said that was all right, then. And she said, ‘Everything I’ve done has always been perfectly straightforward and above board. I’ve nothing to reproach myself with.” And I said, “Of course you haven’t, dear.” But I did just wonder in my own mind whether in the firm that employed her there mightn’t have been some funny business with the accounts maybe, and she’d got wind of it—but had felt it wasn’t really her business.’ ‘Possible,’ agreed Lejeune. ‘Anyway, she got well again—or nearly so, and went back to work. I told her it was too soon. Give yourself another day or two, I said. And there, how right I was! Come back the second evening, she did, and I could see at once she’d got a high fever. Couldn’t hardly climb the stairs. You must have the doctor, I says, but no, she wouldn’t. Worse and worse she got, all that day, her eyes glassy, and her cheeks like fire, and her breathing terrible. And the next day in the evening she said to me, hardly able to get the words out: “A priest. I must have a priest. And quickly … or it will be too late.” But it wasn’t our vicar she wanted. It had to be a Roman Catholic priest. I never knew she was a Roman, never any crucifix about or anything like that.’ But there had been a crucifix, tucked away at the bottom of the suitcase. Lejeune did not mention it. He sat listening. ‘I saw young Mike in the street and I sent him for that Father Gorman at St Dominic’s. And I rang for the doctor, and the hospital on my own account, not saying nothing to her.’ ‘You took the priest up to her when he came?’ ‘Yes, I did. And left them together.’ ‘Did either of them say anything?’ ‘Well now, I can’t exactly remember. I was talking myself, saying here was the priest and now she’d be all right, trying to cheer her up, but I do call to mind now as I closed the door I heard her say something about wickedness. Yes—and something, too, about a horse—horse-racing, maybe. I like a half-crown on myself occasionally—but there’s a lot of crookedness goes on in racing, so they say.’ ‘Wickedness,’ said Lejeune. He was struck by the word. ‘Have to confess their sins, don’t they, Romans, before they die? So I suppose that was it.’ Lejeune did not doubt that that was it, but his imagination was stirred by the word used. Wickedness … Something rather special in wickedness, he thought, if the priest who knew about it was followed and clubbed to death … There was nothing to be learnt from the other three lodgers in the house. Two of them, a bank clerk and an elderly man who worked in a shoe shop, had been there for some years. The third was a girl of twenty-two who had come there recently and had a job in a nearby department store. All three of them barely knew Mrs Davis by sight. The woman who had reported having seen Father Gorman in the street that evening had no useful information to give. She was a Catholic who attended St Dominic’s and she knew Father Gorman by sight. She had seen him turn out of Benthall Street and go into Tony’s Place about ten minutes to eight. That was all. Mr Osborne, the proprietor of the chemist’s shop on the corner of Barton Street, had a better contribution to make. He was a small, middle-aged man, with a bald domed head, a round ingenuous face, and glasses. ‘Good evening, Chief Inspector. Come behind, will you?’ He held up the flap of an old-fashioned counter. Lejeune passed behind and through a dispensing alcove where a young man in a white overall was making up bottles of medicine with the swiftness of a professional conjurer, and so through an archway into a tiny room with a couple of easy-chairs, a table and a desk. Mr Osborne pulled the curtain of the archway behind him in a secretive manner and sat down in one chair, motioning to Lejeune to take the other. He leaned forward, his eyes glinting in pleasurable excitement. ‘It just happens that I may be able to assist you. It wasn’t a busy evening—nothing much to do, the weather being unfavourable. My young lady was behind the counter. We keep open until eight on Thursdays always. The fog was coming on and there weren’t many people about. I’d gone to the door to look at the weather, thinking to myself that the fog was coming up fast. The weather forecast had said it would. I stood there for a bit—nothing going on inside that my young lady couldn’t deal with—face creams and bath salts and all that. Then I saw Father Gorman coming along on the other side of the street. I know him quite well by sight, of course. A shocking thing, this murder, attacking a man so well thought of as he is. “There’s Father Gorman,” I said to myself. He was going in the direction of West Street, it’s the next turn on the left before the railway, as you know. A little way behind him there was another man. It wouldn’t have entered my head to notice or think anything of that, but quite suddenly this second man came to a stop—quite abruptly, just when he was level with my door. I wondered why he’d stopped—and then I noticed that Father Gorman, a little way ahead, was slowing down. He didn’t quite stop. It was as though he was thinking of something so hard that he almost forgot he was walking. Then he started on again, and this other man started to walk, too—rather fast. I thought—inasmuch as I thought at all, that perhaps it was someone who knew Father Gorman and wanted to catch him up and speak to him.’ ‘But in actual fact he could simply have been following him?’ ‘That’s what I’m sure he was doing now—not that I thought anything of it at the time. What with the fog coming up, I lost sight of them both almost at once.’ ‘Can you describe this man at all?’ Lejeune’s voice was not confident. He was prepared for the usual nondescript characteristics. But Mr Osborne was made of different mettle to Tony of Tony’s Place. ‘Well, yes, I think so,’ he said with complacency. ‘He was a tall man—’ ‘Tall? How tall?’ ‘Well—five eleven to six feet, at least, I’d say. Though he might have seemed taller than he was because he was very thin. Sloping shoulders he had, and a definite Adam’s apple. Grew his hair rather long under his Homburg. A great beak of a nose. Very noticeable. Naturally I couldn’t say as to the colour of his eyes. I saw him in profile as you’ll appreciate. Perhaps fifty as to age. I’m going by the walk. A youngish man moves quite differently.’ Lejeune made a mental survey of the distance across the street, then back again to Mr Osborne, and wondered. He wondered very much … A description such as that given by the chemist could mean one of two things. It could spring from an unusually vivid imagination—he had known many examples of that kind, mostly from women. They built up a fancy portrait of what they thought a murderer ought to look like. Such fancy portraits, however, usually contained some decidedly spurious details—such as rolling eyes, beetle brows, ape-like jaws, snarling ferocity. The description given by Mr Osborne sounded like the description of a real person. In that case it was possible that here was the witness in a million—a man who observed accurately and in detail—and who would be quite unshakable as to what he had seen. Again Lejeune considered the distance across the street. His eyes rested thoughtfully on the chemist. He asked: ‘Do you think you would recognise this man if you saw him again?’ ‘Oh, yes.’ Mr Osborne was supremely confident. ‘I never forget a face. It’s one of my hobbies. I’ve always said that if one of these wife murderers came into my place and bought a nice little package of arsenic, I’d be able to swear to him at the trial. I’ve always had my hopes that something like that would happen one day.’ ‘But it hasn’t happened yet?’ Mr Osborne admitted sadly that it hadn’t. ‘And not likely to now,’ he added wistfully. ‘I’m selling this business. Getting a very nice price for it, and retiring to Bournemouth.’ ‘It looks a nice place you’ve got here.’ ‘It’s got class,’ said Mr Osborne, a note of pride in his voice. ‘Nearly a hundred years we’ve been established here. My grandfather and my father before me. A good old-fashioned family business. Not that I saw it that way as a boy. Stuffy, I thought it. Like many a lad, I was bitten by the stage. Felt sure I could act. My father didn’t try to stop me. “See what you can make of it, my boy,” he said. “You’ll find you’re no Sir Henry Irving.” And how right he was! Very wise man, my father. Eighteen months or so in repertory and back I came into the business. Took a pride in it, I did. We’ve always kept good solid stuff. Old-fashioned. But quality. But nowadays’—he shook his head sadly—‘disappointing for a pharmaceutist. All this toilet stuff. You’ve got to keep it. Half the profits come from all that muck. Powder and lipstick and face creams; and hair shampoos and fancy sponge bags. I don’t touch the stuff myself. I have a young lady behind the counter who attends to all that. No, it’s not what it used to be, having a chemist’s establishment. However, I’ve a good sum put by, and I’m getting a very good price, and I’ve made a down payment on a very nice little bungalow near Bournemouth.’ He added: ‘Retire whilst you can still enjoy life. That’s my motto. I’ve got plenty of hobbies. Butterflies, for instance. And a bit of bird watching now and then. And gardening—plenty of good books on how to start a garden. And there’s travel. I might go on one of these cruises—see foreign parts before it’s too late.’ Lejeune rose. ‘Well, I wish you the best of luck,’ he said. ‘And if, before you actually leave these parts, you should catch sight of that man—’ ‘I’ll let you know at once, Mr Lejeune. Naturally. You can count on me. It will be a pleasure. As I’ve told you, I’ve a very good eye for a face. I shall be on the lookout. On the qui vive, as they say. Oh yes. You can rely on me. It will be a pleasure.’ CHAPTER 4 (#ulink_b7197535-a5bb-5fb6-b2d0-b52fdf1049f6) Mark Easterbrook’s Narrative (#ulink_b7197535-a5bb-5fb6-b2d0-b52fdf1049f6) I came out of the Old Vic, my friend Hermia Redcliffe beside me. We had been to see a performance of Macbeth. It was raining hard. As we ran across the street to the spot where I had parked the car, Hermia remarked unjustly that whenever one went to the Old Vic it always rained. ‘It’s just one of those things.’ I dissented from this view. I said that, unlike sundials, she remembered only the rainy hours. ‘Now at Glyndebourne,’ went on Hermia as I let in the clutch, ‘I’ve always been lucky. I can’t imagine it other than perfection: the music—the glorious flower borders—the white flower border in particular.’ We discussed Glyndebourne and its music for a while, and then Hermia remarked: ‘We’re not going to Dover for breakfast, are we?’ ‘Dover? What an extraordinary idea. I thought we’d go to the Fantasie. One needs some really good food and drink after all the magnificent blood and gloom of Macbeth, Shakespeare always makes me ravenous.’ ‘Yes. So does Wagner. Smoked salmon sandwiches at Covent Garden in the intervals are never enough to stay the pangs. As to why Dover, it’s because you’re driving in that direction.’ ‘One has to go round,’ I explained. ‘But you’ve overdone going round. You’re well away on the Old (or is it the New?) Kent Road.’ I took stock of my surroundings and had to admit that Hermia, as usual, was quite right. ‘I always get muddled here,’ I said in apology. ‘It is confusing,’ Hermia agreed. ‘Round and round Waterloo Station.’ Having at last successfully negotiated Westminster Bridge we resumed our conversation, discussing the production of Macbeth that we had just been viewing. My friend Hermia Redcliffe was a handsome young woman of twenty-eight. Cast in the heroic mould, she had an almost flawless Greek profile, and a mass of dark chestnut hair, coiled on the nape of her neck. My sister always referred to her as ‘Mark’s girl friend’ with an intonation of inverted commas about the term that never failed to annoy me. The Fantasie gave us a pleasant welcome and showed us to a small table against the crimson velvet wall. The Fantasie is deservedly popular, and the tables are close together. As we sat down, our neighbours at the next table greeted us cheerfully. David Ardingly was a lecturer in History at Oxford. He introduced his companion, a very pretty girl, with a fashionable hairdo, all ends, bits and pieces, sticking out at improbable angles on the crown of her head. Strange to say, it suited her. She had enormous blue eyes and a mouth that was usually half-open. She was, as all David’s girls were known to be, extremely silly. David, who was a remarkably clever young man, could only find relaxation with girls who were practically half-witted. ‘This is my particular pet, Poppy,’ he explained. ‘Meet Mark and Hermia. They’re very serious and highbrow and you must try and live up to them. We’ve just come from Do it for Kicks. Lovely show! I bet you two are straight from Shakespeare or a revival of Ibsen.’ ‘Macbeth at the Old Vic,’ said Hermia. ‘Ah, what do you think of Batterson’s production?’ ‘I liked it,’ said Hermia. ‘The lighting was very interesting. And I’ve never seen the banquet scene so well managed.’ ‘Ah, but what about the witches?’ ‘Awful!’ said Hermia. ‘They always are,’ she added. David agreed. ‘A pantomime element seems bound to creep in,’ he said. ‘All of them capering about and behaving like a three-fold Demon King. You can’t help expecting a Good Fairy to appear in white with spangles to say in a flat voice: Your evil shall not triumph. In the end, It is Macbeth who will be round the bend.’ We all laughed, but David, who was quick on the uptake, gave me a sharp glance. ‘What gives with you?’ he asked. ‘Nothing. It was just that I was reflecting only the other day about Evil and Demon Kings in pantomime. Yes—and Good Fairies, too.’ ‘À propos de what?’ ‘Oh, in Chelsea at a coffee bar.’ ‘How smart and up to date you are, aren’t you, Mark? All among the Chelsea set. Where heiresses in tights marry corner boys on the make. That’s where Poppy ought to be, isn’t it, duckie?’ Poppy opened her enormous eyes still wider. ‘I hate Chelsea,’ she protested. ‘I like the Fantasie much better! Such lovely, lovely food.’ ‘Good for you, Poppy. Anyway, you’re not really rich enough for Chelsea. Tell us more about Macbeth, Mark, and the awful witches. I know how I’d produce the witches if I were doing a production.’ David had been a prominent member of the O.U.D.S. in the past. ‘Well, how?’ ‘I’d make them very ordinary. Just sly quiet old women. Like the witches in a country village.’ ‘But there aren’t any witches nowadays?’ said Poppy, staring at him. ‘You say that because you’re a London girl. There’s still a witch in every village in rural England. Old Mrs Black, in the third cottage up the hill. Little boys are told not to annoy her, and she’s given presents of eggs and a home-baked cake now and again. Because,’ he wagged a finger impressively, ‘if you get across her, your cows will stop giving milk, your potato crop will fail, or little Johnnie will twist his ankle. You must keep on the right side of old Mrs Black. Nobody says so outright—but they all know!’ ‘You’re joking,’ said Poppy, pouting. ‘No, I’m not. I’m right, aren’t I, Mark?’ ‘Surely all that kind of superstition has died out completely with education,’ said Hermia sceptically. ‘Not in the rural pockets of the land. What do you say, Mark?’ ‘I think perhaps you’re right,’ I said slowly. ‘Though I wouldn’t really know. I’ve never lived in the country much.’ ‘I don’t see how you could produce the witches as ordinary old women,’ said Hermia, reverting to David’s earlier remark. ‘They must have a supernatural atmosphere about them, surely.’ ‘Oh, but just think,’ said David. ‘It’s rather like madness. If you have someone who raves and staggers about with straws in their hair and looks mad, it’s not frightening at all! But I remember being sent once with a message to a doctor at a mental home and I was shown into a room to wait, and there was a nice elderly lady there, sipping a glass of milk. She made some conventional remark about the weather and then suddenly she leant forward and asked in a low voice: ‘“Is it your poor child who’s buried there behind the fireplace?” And then she nodded her head and said “12.10 exactly. It’s always at the same time every day. Pretend you don’t notice the blood.” ‘It was the matter-of-fact way she said it that was so spine-chilling.’ ‘Was there really someone buried behind the fireplace?’ Poppy wanted to know. David ignored her and went on: ‘Then take mediums. At one moment trances, darkened rooms, knocks and raps. Afterwards the medium sits up, pats her hair and goes home to a meal of fish and chips, just an ordinary quite jolly woman.’ ‘So your idea of the witches,’ I said, ‘is three old Scottish crones with second sight—who practise their arts in secret, muttering their spells round a cauldron, conjuring up spirits, but remaining themselves just an ordinary trio of old women. Yes—it could be impressive.’ ‘If you could ever get any actors to play it that way,’ said Hermia drily. ‘You have something there,’ admitted David. ‘Any hint of madness in the script and an actor is immediately determined to go to town on it! The same with sudden deaths. No actor can just quietly collapse and fall down dead. He has to groan, stagger, roll his eyes, gasp, clutch his heart, clutch his head, and make a terrific performance of it. Talking of performances, what did you think of Fielding’s Macbeth? Great division of opinion among the critics.’ ‘I thought it was terrific,’ said Hermia. ‘That scene with the doctor, after the sleep-walking scene. “Canst thou not minister to a mind diseas’d.” He made clear what I’d never thought of before—that he was really ordering the doctor to kill her. And yet he loved his wife. He brought out the struggle between his fear and his love. That “Thou shouldst have died hereafter” was the most poignant thing I’ve ever known.’ ‘Shakespeare might get a few surprises if he saw his plays acted nowadays,’ I said drily. ‘Burbage and Co. had already quenched a good deal of his spirit, I suspect,’ said David. Hermia murmured: ‘The eternal surprise of the author at what the producer has done to him.’ ‘Didn’t somebody called Bacon really write Shakespeare?’ asked Poppy. ‘That theory is quite out of date nowadays,’ said David kindly. ‘And what do you know of Bacon?’ ‘He invented gunpowder,’ said Poppy triumphantly. ‘You see why I love this girl?’ he said. ‘The things she knows are always so unexpected. Francis, not Roger, my love.’ ‘I thought it interesting,’ said Hermia, ‘that Fielding played the part of Third Murderer. Is there a precedent for that?’ ‘I believe so,’ said David. ‘How convenient it must have been in those times,’ he went on, ‘to be able to call up a handy murderer whenever you wanted a little job done. Fun if one could do it nowadays.’ ‘But it is done,’ protested Hermia. ‘Gangsters. Hoods—or whatever you call them. Chicago and all that.’ ‘Ah,’ said David. ‘But what I meant was not gangsterdom, not racketeers or Crime Barons. Just ordinary everyday folk who want to get rid of someone. That business rival; Aunt Emily, so rich and so unfortunately long-lived; that awkward husband always in the way. How convenient if you could ring up Harrods and say “Please send along two good murderers, will you?”’ We all laughed. ‘But one can do that in a way, can’t one?’ said Poppy. We turned towards her. ‘What way, poppet?’ asked David. ‘Well, I mean, people can do that if they want to … People like us, as you said. Only I believe it’s very expensive.’ Poppy’s eyes were wide and ingenuous, her lips were slightly parted. ‘What do you mean?’ asked David curiously. Poppy looked confused. ‘Oh—I expect—I’ve got it mixed. I meant the Pale Horse. All that sort of thing.’ ‘A pale horse? What kind of a pale horse?’ Poppy flushed and her eyes dropped. ‘I’m being stupid. It’s just something someone mentioned—but I must have got it all wrong.’ ‘Have some lovely Coupe Nesselrode,’ said David kindly. One of the oddest things in life, as we all know, is the way that when you have heard a thing mentioned, within twenty-four hours you nearly always come across it again. I had an instance of that the next morning. My telephone rang and I answered it— ‘Flaxman 73841.’ A kind of gasp came through the phone. Then a voice said breathlessly but defiantly: ‘I’ve thought about it, and I’ll come!’ I cast round wildly in my mind. ‘Splendid,’ I said, stalling for time. ‘Er—is that—?’ ‘After all,’ said the voice, ‘lightning never strikes twice.’ ‘Are you sure you’ve got the right number?’ ‘Of course I have. You’re Mark Easterbrook, aren’t you?’ ‘Got it!’ I said. ‘Mrs Oliver.’ ‘Oh,’ said the voice, surprised. ‘Didn’t you know who it was? I never thought of that. It’s about that fête of Rhoda’s. I’ll come and sign books if she wants me to.’ ‘That’s frightfully nice of you. They’ll put you up, of course.’ ‘There won’t be parties, will there?’ asked Mrs Oliver apprehensively. ‘You know the kind of thing,’ she went on. ‘People coming up to me and saying am I writing something just now—when you’d think they could see I’m drinking ginger ale or tomato juice and not writing at all. And saying they like my books—which of course is pleasing, but I’ve never found the right answer. If you say “I’m so glad” it sounds like “Pleased to meet you.” A kind of stock phrase. Well, it is, of course. And you don’t think they’ll want me to go out to the Pink Horse and have drinks?’ ‘The Pink Horse?’ ‘Well, the Pale Horse. Pubs, I mean. I’m so bad in pubs. I can just drink beer at a pinch, but it makes me terribly gurgly.’ ‘Just what do you mean by the Pale Horse?’ ‘There’s a pub called that down there, isn’t there? Or perhaps I do mean the Pink Horse? Or perhaps that’s somewhere else. I may have just imagined it. I do imagine quite a lot of things.’ ‘How’s the Cockatoo getting on?’ I asked. ‘The Cockatoo?’ Mrs Oliver sounded at sea. ‘And the cricket ball?’ ‘Really,’ said Mrs Oliver with dignity. ‘I think you must be mad or have a hangover or something. Pink Horses and cockatoos and cricket balls.’ She rang off. I was still considering this second mention of the Pale Horse when my telephone rang again. This time, it was Mr Soames White, a distinguished solicitor who rang up to remind me that under the will of my godmother, Lady Hesketh-Dubois, I was entitled to choose three of her pictures. ‘There is nothing outstandingly valuable, of course,’ said Mr Soames White in his defeatist melancholy tones. ‘But I understand that at some time you expressed admiration of some of the pictures to the deceased.’ ‘She had some very charming water colours of Indian scenes,’ I said. ‘I believe you already have written to me about this matter, but I’m afraid it slipped my memory.’ ‘Quite so,’ said Mr Soames White. ‘But probate has now been granted, and the executors, of whom I am one, are arranging for the sale of the effects of her London house. If you could go round to Ellesmere Square in the near future …’ ‘I’ll go now,’ I said. It seemed an unfavourable morning for work. Carrying the three water colours of my choice under my arm, I emerged from Forty-nine Ellesmere Square and immediately cannoned into someone coming up the steps to the front door. I apologised, received apologies in return, and was just about to hail a passing taxi when something clicked in my mind and I turned sharply to ask: ‘Hallo—isn’t it Corrigan?’ ‘It is—and—yes—you’re Mark Easterbrook!’ Jim Corrigan and I had been friends in our Oxford days—but it must have been fifteen years or more since we had last met. ‘Thought I knew you—but couldn’t place you for the moment,’ said Corrigan. ‘I read your articles now and again—and enjoy them, I must say.’ ‘What about you? Have you gone in for research as you meant to do?’ Corrigan sighed. ‘Hardly. It’s an expensive job—if you want to strike out on your own. Unless you can find a tame millionaire, or a suggestible Trust.’ ‘Liver flukes, wasn’t it?’ ‘What a memory! No, I went off liver flukes. The properties of the secretions of the Mandarian glands; that’s my present-day interest. You wouldn’t have heard of them! Connected with the spleen. Apparently serving no purpose whatever!’ He spoke with a scientist’s enthusiasm. ‘What’s the big idea, then?’ ‘Well,’ Corrigan sounded apologetic. ‘I have a theory that they may influence behaviour. To put it very crudely, they may act rather as the fluid in your car brakes does. No fluid—the brakes don’t act. In human beings, a deficiency in these secretions might—I only say might—make you a criminal.’ I whistled. ‘And what happens to Original Sin?’ ‘What indeed?’ said Dr Corrigan. ‘The parsons wouldn’t like it, would they? I haven’t been able to interest anyone in my theory, unfortunately. So I’m a police surgeon, in N.W. division. Quite interesting. One sees a lot of criminal types. But I won’t bore you with shop—unless you’ll come and have some lunch with me?’ ‘I’d like to. But you were going in there,’ I nodded towards the house behind Corrigan. ‘Not really,’ said Corrigan. ‘I was just going to gatecrash.’ ‘There’s nobody there but a caretaker.’ ‘So I imagined. But I wanted to find out something about the late Lady Hesketh-Dubois if I could.’ ‘I dare say I can tell you more than a caretaker could. She was my godmother.’ ‘Was she indeed? That’s a bit of luck. Where shall we go to feed? There’s a little place off Lowndes Square—not grand, but they do a special kind of sea food soup.’ We settled ourselves in the little restaurant—a cauldron of steaming soup was brought to us by a pale-faced lad in French sailor trousers. ‘Delicious,’ I said, sampling the soup. ‘Now then, Corrigan, what do you want to know about the old lady? And incidentally, why?’ ‘Why’s rather a long story,’ said my friend. ‘First tell me what kind of an old lady she was?’ I considered. ‘She was an old-fashioned type,’ I said. ‘Victorian. Widow of an ex-Governor of some obscure island. She was rich and liked her comfort. Went abroad in the winters to Estoril and places like that. Her house is hideous, full of Victorian furniture and the worst and most ornate kind of Victorian silver. She had no children, but kept a couple of fairly well-behaved poodles whom she loved dearly. She was opinionated and a staunch Conservative. Kindly, but autocratic. Very set in her ways. What more do you want to know?’ ‘I’m not quite sure,’ said Corrigan. ‘Was she ever likely to have been blackmailed, would you say?’ ‘Blackmailed?’ I asked in lively astonishment. ‘I can imagine nothing more unlikely. What is this all about?’ It was then I heard for the first time of the circumstances of Father Gorman’s murder. I laid down my spoon and asked, ‘This list of names? Have you got it?’ ‘Not the original. But I copied them out. Here you are.’ I took the paper he produced from his pocket and proceeded to study it. ‘Parkinson? I know two Parkinsons. Arthur who went into the Navy. Then there’s a Henry Parkinson in one of the Ministries. Ormerod—there’s a Major Ormerod in the Blues—Sandford—our old Rector when I was a boy was Sandford. Harmondsworth? No—Tuckerton—’ I paused. ‘Tuckerton … Not Thomasina Tuckerton, I suppose?’ Corrigan looked at me curiously. ‘Could be, for all I know. Who’s she and what does she do?’ ‘Nothing now. Her death was in the paper about a week ago.’ ‘That’s not much help, then.’ I continued with my reading. ‘Shaw. I know a dentist called Shaw, and there’s Jerome Shaw, Q.C. … Delafontaine—I’ve heard that name lately, but I can’t remember where. Corrigan. Does that refer to you, by any chance?’ ‘I devoutly hope not. I’ve a feeling that it’s unlucky to have your name on that list.’ ‘Maybe. What made you think of blackmail in connection with it?’ ‘It was Detective Inspector Lejeune’s suggestion if I remember rightly. It seemed the most likely possibility—But there are plenty of others. This may be a list of dope smugglers or drug addicts or secret agents—it may be anything in fact. There’s only one thing sure, it was important enough for murder to be committed in order to get hold of it.’ I asked curiously: ‘Do you always take such an interest in the police side of your work?’ He shook his head. ‘Can’t say I do. My interest is in criminal character. Background, upbringing, and particularly glandular health—all that!’ ‘Then why the interest in this list of names?’ ‘Blessed if I know,’ said Corrigan slowly. ‘Seeing my own name on the list, perhaps. Up the Corrigans! One Corrigan to the rescue of another Corrigan.’ ‘Rescue? Then you definitely see this as a list of victims—not a list of malefactors. But surely it could be either?’ ‘You’re entirely right. And it’s certainly odd that I should be so positive. Perhaps it’s just a feeling. Or perhaps it’s something to do with Father Gorman. I didn’t come across him very often, but he was a fine man, respected by everyone and loved by his own flock. He was the good tough militant kind. I can’t get it out of my head that he considered this list a matter of life or death …’ ‘Aren’t the police getting anywhere?’ ‘Oh yes, but it’s a long business. Checking here, checking there. Checking the antecedents of the woman who called him out that night.’ ‘Who was she?’ ‘No mystery about her, apparently. Widow. We had an idea that her husband might have been connected with horse-racing, but that doesn’t seem to be so. She worked for a small commercial firm that does consumer research. Nothing wrong there. They are a reputable firm in a small way. They don’t know much about her. She came from the north of England—Lancashire. The only odd thing about her is that she had so few personal possessions.’ I shrugged my shoulders. ‘I expect that’s true for a lot more people than we ever imagine. It’s a lonely world.’ ‘Yes, as you say.’ ‘Anyway, you decided to take a hand?’ ‘Just nosing around. Hesketh-Dubois is an uncommon name. I thought if I could find out a little about the lady—’ He left the sentence unfinished. ‘But from what you tell me, there doesn’t seem to be any possible lead there.’ ‘Neither a dope addict nor a dope smuggler,’ I assured him. ‘Certainly not a secret agent. Has led far too blameless a life to have been blackmailed. I can’t imagine what kind of a list she could possibly be on. Her jewellery she keeps at the bank so she wouldn’t be a hopeful prospect for robbery.’ ‘Any other Hesketh-Duboises that you know about? Sons?’ ‘No children. She’s got a nephew and a niece, I think, but not of that name. Her husband was an only child.’ Corrigan told me sourly that I’d been a lot of help. He looked at his watch, remarked cheerfully that he was due to cut somebody up, and we parted. I went home thoughtful, found it impossible to concentrate on my work, and finally, on an impulse, rang up David Ardingly. ‘David? Mark here. That girl I met with you the other evening. Poppy. What’s her other name?’ ‘Going to pinch my girl, is that it?’ David sounded highly amused. ‘You’ve got so many of them,’ I retorted. ‘You could surely spare one.’ ‘You’ve got a heavyweight of your own, old boy. I thought you were going steady with her.’ ‘Going steady.’ A repulsive term. And yet, I thought, struck suddenly with its aptitude, how well it described my relationship with Hermia. And why should it make me feel depressed? I had always felt in the back of my mind that some day Hermia and I would marry … I liked her better than anyone I knew. We had so much in common … For no conceivable reason, I felt a terrible desire to yawn … Our future stretched out before me. Hermia and I going to plays of significance—that mattered. Discussions of art—of music. No doubt about it, Hermia was the perfect companion. But not much fun, said some derisive imp, popping up from my subconscious. I was shocked. ‘Gone to sleep?’ asked David. ‘Of course not. To tell the truth, I found your friend Poppy very refreshing.’ ‘Good word. She is—taken in small doses. Her actual name is Pamela Stirling, and she works in one of those arty flower places in Mayfair. You know, three dead twigs, a tulip with its petals pinned back and a speckled laurel leaf. Price three guineas.’ He gave me the address. ‘Take her out and enjoy yourself,’ he said in a kindly avuncular fashion. ‘You’ll find it a great relaxation. That girl knows nothing—she’s absolutely empty headed. She’ll believe anything you tell her. She’s virtuous by the way, so don’t indulge in any false hopes.’ He rang off. I invaded the portals of Flower Studies Ltd. with some trepidation. An overpowering smell of gardenia nearly knocked me backwards. A number of girls, dressed in pale green sheaths and all looking exactly like Poppy, confused me. Finally, I identified her. She was writing down an address with some difficulty, pausing doubtfully over the spelling of Fortescue Crescent. As soon as she was at liberty, after having further difficulties connected with producing the right change for a five-pound note, I claimed her attention. ‘We met the other night—with David Ardingly,’ I reminded her. ‘Oh yes!’ agreed Poppy warmly, her eyes passing vaguely over my head. ‘I wanted to ask you something.’ I felt sudden qualms. ‘Perhaps I’d better buy some flowers?’ Like an automaton who has had the right button pressed, Poppy said: ‘We’ve some lovely roses, fresh in today.’ ‘These yellow ones, perhaps?’ There were roses everywhere. ‘How much are they?’ ‘Vewy vewy cheap,’ said Poppy in a honeyed persuasive voice. ‘Only five shillings each.’ I swallowed and said I would have six of them. ‘And some of these vewy special leaves with them?’ I looked dubiously at the special leaves which appeared to be in an advanced state of decay. Instead I chose some bright green asparagus fern, which choice obviously lowered me in Poppy’s estimation. ‘There was something I wanted to ask you,’ I reiterated as Poppy was rather clumsily draping the asparagus fern round the roses. ‘The other evening you mentioned something called the Pale Horse.’ With a violent start, Poppy dropped the roses and the asparagus fern on the floor. ‘Can you tell me more about it?’ Poppy straightened herself after stooping. ‘What did you say?’ she asked. ‘I was asking you about the Pale Horse.’ ‘A pale horse? What do you mean?’ ‘You mentioned it the other evening.’ ‘I’m sure I never did anything of the kind! I’ve never heard of any such thing.’ ‘Somebody told you about it. Who was it?’ Poppy drew a deep breath and spoke very fast. ‘I don’t in the least know what you mean! And we’re not supposed to talk to customers.’ … She slapped paper round my choice. ‘That will be thirty-five shillings, please.’ I gave her two pound notes. She thrust six shillings into my hand and turned quickly to another customer. Her hands, I noticed, were shaking slightly. I went out slowly. When I had gone a little way, I realised she had quoted the wrong price (asparagus fern was seven and six) and had also given me too much change. Her mistakes in arithmetic had previously been in the other direction. I saw again the rather lovely vacant face and the wide blue eyes. There had been something showing in those eyes … ‘Scared,’ I said to myself. ‘Scared stiff … Now why? Why?’ CHAPTER 5 (#ulink_5635a648-a3dd-5a9b-b020-ec018f53b889) Mark Easterbrook’s Narrative (#ulink_5635a648-a3dd-5a9b-b020-ec018f53b889) ‘What a relief,’ sighed Mrs Oliver. ‘To think it’s over and nothing has happened!’ It was a moment of relaxation. Rhoda’s fête had passed off in the manner of fêtes. Violent anxiety about the weather which in the early morning appeared capricious in the extreme. Considerable argument as to whether any stalls should be set up in the open, or whether everything should take place in the long barn and the marquee. Various passionate local disputes regarding tea arrangements, produce stalls, et cetera. Tactful settlement of same by Rhoda. Periodical escapes of Rhoda’s delightful but undisciplined dogs who were supposed to be incarcerated in the house, owing to doubts as to their behaviour on this great occasion. Doubts fully justified! Arrival of pleasant but vague starlet in a profusion of pale fur, to open the fête, which she did very charmingly, adding a few moving words about the plight of refugees which puzzled everybody, since the object of the fête was the restoration of the church tower. Enormous success of the bottle stall. The usual difficulties about change. Pandemonium at tea-time when every patron wanted to invade the marquee and partake of it simultaneously. Finally, blessed arrival of evening. Displays of local dancing in the long barn were still going on. Fireworks and a bonfire were scheduled, but the weary household had now retired to the house, and were partaking of a sketchy cold meal in the dining-room, indulging meanwhile in one of those desultory conversations where everyone utters their own thoughts, and pays little attention to those of other people. It was all disjointed and comfortable. The released dogs crunched bones happily under the table. ‘We shall take more than we did for the Save the Children last year,’ said Rhoda gleefully. ‘It seems very extraordinary to me,’ said Miss Macalister, the children’s Scottish nursery governess, ‘that Michael Brent should find the buried treasure three years in succession. I’m wondering if he gets some advance information?’ ‘Lady Brookbank won the pig,’ said Rhoda. ‘I don’t think she wanted it. She looked terribly embarrassed.’ The party consisted of my cousin Rhoda, and her husband Colonel Despard, Miss Macalister, a young woman with red hair suitably called Ginger, Mrs Oliver, and the vicar, the Rev. Caleb Dane Calthrop and his wife. The vicar was a charming elderly scholar whose principal pleasure was finding some apposite comment from the classics. This, though often an embarrassment, and a cause of bringing the conversation to a close, was perfectly in order now. The vicar never required acknowledgement of his sonorous Latin, his pleasure in having found an apt quotation was its own reward. Конец ознакомительного фрагмента. Текст предоставлен ООО «ЛитРес». Прочитайте эту книгу целиком, купив полную легальную версию (https://www.litres.ru/agata-kristi/the-pale-horse/?lfrom=334617187) на ЛитРес. 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