Sparkling Cyanide Agatha Christie A beautiful heiress is fatally poisoned in a West End restaurant…Six people sit down to dinner at a table laid for seven. In front of the empty place is a sprig of rosemary – in solemn memory of Rosemary Barton who died at the same table exactly one year previously.No one present on that fateful night would ever forget the woman’s face, contorted beyond recognition – or what they remembered about her astonishing life. Copyright (#u24d098e3-ecaa-592b-9511-dab1ac0cff72) 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 1945 Sparkling Cyanide™ 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 © 1945 Agatha Christie Limited. All rights reserved. www.agathachristie.com (http://www.agathachristie.com) Cover by juliejenkinsdesign.com (http://juliejenkinsdesign.com) © 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. 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Source ISBN: 9780008196332 Ebook Edition © February 2017 ISBN: 9780007422821 Version: 2017-04-13 Contents Cover (#ubd005cac-b84e-5562-8fc9-55a8f50640d2) Title Page (#uacc0653c-5f21-5e94-8b98-2097b3d5ace1) Copyright BOOK I: Rosemary Chapter 1: Iris Marle Chapter 2: Ruth Lessing Chapter 3: Anthony Browne Chapter 4: Stephen Farraday Chapter 5: Alexandra Farraday Chapter 6: George Barton BOOK II: All Souls’ Day Chapter 1 Chapter 2 Chapter 3 Chapter 4 Chapter 5 Chapter 6 BOOK III: Iris Chapter 1 Chapter 2 Chapter 3 Chapter 4 Chapter 5 Chapter 6 Chapter 7 Chapter 8 Chapter 9 Chapter 10 Chapter 11 Chapter 12 Chapter 13 Chapter 14 Also by Agatha Christie About the Publisher BOOK I (#u24d098e3-ecaa-592b-9511-dab1ac0cff72) Rosemary (#u24d098e3-ecaa-592b-9511-dab1ac0cff72) ‘What can I do to drive away remembrance from mine eyes?’ Six people were thinking of Rosemary Barton who had died nearly a year ago … CHAPTER 1 (#u24d098e3-ecaa-592b-9511-dab1ac0cff72) Iris Marle (#u24d098e3-ecaa-592b-9511-dab1ac0cff72) Iris Marle was thinking about her sister, Rosemary. For nearly a year she had deliberately tried to put the thought of Rosemary away from her. She hadn’t wanted to remember. It was too painful—too horrible! The blue cyanosed face, the convulsed clutching fingers … The contrast between that and the gay lovely Rosemary of the day before … Well, perhaps not exactly gay. She had had ’flu—she had been depressed, run down … All that had been brought out at the inquest. Iris herself had laid stress on it. It accounted, didn’t it, for Rosemary’s suicide? Once the inquest was over, Iris had deliberately tried to put the whole thing out of her mind. Of what good was remembrance? Forget it all! Forget the whole horrible business. But now, she realized, she had got to remember. She had got to think back into the past … To remember carefully every slight unimportant seeming incident … That extraordinary interview with George last night necessitated remembrance. It had been so unexpected, so frightening. Wait—had it been so unexpected? Hadn’t there been indications beforehand? George’s growing absorption, his absent-mindedness, his unaccountable actions—his—well, queerness was the only word for it! All leading up to that moment last night when he had called her into the study and taken the letters from the drawer of the desk. So now there was no help for it. She had got to think about Rosemary—to remember. Rosemary—her sister … With a shock Iris realized suddenly that it was the first time in her life she had ever thought about Rosemary. Thought about her, that is, objectively, as a person. She had always accepted Rosemary without thinking about her. You didn’t think about your mother or your father or your sister or your aunt. They just existed, unquestioned, in those relationships. You didn’t think about them as people. You didn’t ask yourself, even, what they were like. What had Rosemary been like? That might be very important now. A lot might depend upon it. Iris cast her mind back into the past. Herself and Rosemary as children … Rosemary had been the elder by six years. Glimpses of the past came back—brief flashes—short scenes. Herself as a small child eating bread and milk, and Rosemary, important in pig tails, ‘doing lessons’ at a table. The seaside one summer—Iris envying Rosemary who was a ‘big girl’ and could swim! Rosemary going to boarding school—coming home for the holidays. Then she herself at school, and Rosemary being ‘finished’ in Paris. Schoolgirl Rosemary; clumsy, all arms and legs. ‘Finished’ Rosemary coming back from Paris with a strange new frightening elegance, soft voiced, graceful, with a swaying undulating figure, with red gold chestnut hair and big black fringed dark blue eyes. A disturbing beautiful creature—grown up—in a different world! From then on they had seen very little of each other, the six-year gap had been at its widest. Iris had been still at school, Rosemary in the full swing of a ‘season.’ Even when Iris came home, the gap remained. Rosemary’s life was one of late mornings in bed, fork luncheons with other débutantes, dances most evenings of the week. Iris had been in the schoolroom with Mademoiselle, had gone for walks in the park, had had supper at nine o’clock and gone to bed at ten. The intercourse between the sisters had been limited to such brief interchanges as: ‘Hullo, Iris, telephone for a taxi for me, there’s a lamb, I’m going to be devastatingly late,’ or ‘I don’t like that new frock, Rosemary. It doesn’t suit you. It’s all bunch and fuss.’ Then had come Rosemary’s engagement to George Barton. Excitement, shopping, streams of parcels, bridesmaids’ dresses. The wedding. Walking up the aisle behind Rosemary, hearing whispers: ‘What a beautiful bride she makes …’ Why had Rosemary married George? Even at the time Iris had been vaguely surprised. There had been so many exciting young men, ringing Rosemary up, taking her out. Why choose George Barton, fifteen years older than herself, kindly, pleasant, but definitely dull? George was well off, but it wasn’t money. Rosemary had her own money, a great deal of it. Uncle Paul’s money … Iris searched her mind carefully, seeking to differentiate between what she knew now and what she had known then: Uncle Paul, for instance? He wasn’t really an uncle, she had always known that. Without ever having been definitely told them she knew certain facts. Paul Bennett had been in love with their mother. She had preferred another and a poorer man. Paul Bennett had taken his defeat in a romantic spirit. He had remained the family friend, adopted an attitude of romantic platonic devotion. He had become Uncle Paul, had stood godfather to the first-born child, Rosemary. When he died, it was found that he had left his entire fortune to his little god-daughter, then a child of thirteen. Rosemary, besides her beauty, had been an heiress. And she had married nice dull George Barton. Why? Iris had wondered then. She wondered now. Iris didn’t believe that Rosemary had ever been in love with him. But she had seemed very happy with him and she had been fond of him—yes, definitely fond of him. Iris had good opportunities for knowing, for a year after the marriage, their mother, lovely delicate Viola Marle, had died, and Iris, a girl of seventeen, had gone to live with Rosemary Barton and her husband. A girl of seventeen. Iris pondered over the picture of herself. What had she been like? What had she felt, thought, seen? She came to the conclusion that that young Iris Marle had been slow of development—unthinking, acquiescing in things as they were. Had she resented, for instance, her mother’s earlier absorption in Rosemary? On the whole she thought not. She had accepted, unhesitatingly, the fact that Rosemary was the important one. Rosemary was ‘out’—naturally her mother was occupied as far as her health permitted with her elder daughter. That had been natural enough. Her own turn would come some day. Viola Marle had always been a somewhat remote mother, preoccupied mainly with her own health, relegating her children to nurses, governesses, schools, but invariably charming to them in those brief moments when she came across them. Hector Marle had died when Iris was five years old. The knowledge that he drank more than was good for him had permeated so subtly that she had not the least idea how it had actually come to her. Seventeen-year-old Iris Marle had accepted life as it came, had duly mourned for her mother, had worn black clothes, had gone to live with her sister and her sister’s husband at their house in Elvaston Square. Sometimes it had been rather dull in that house. Iris wasn’t to come out, officially, until the following year. In the meantime she took French and German lessons three times a week, and also attended domestic science classes. There were times when she had nothing much to do and nobody to talk to. George was kind, invariably affectionate and brotherly. His attitude had never varied. He was the same now. And Rosemary? Iris had seen very little of Rosemary. Rosemary had been out a good deal. Dressmakers, cocktail parties, bridge … What did she really know about Rosemary when she came to think of it? Of her tastes, of her hopes, of her fears? Frightening, really, how little you might know of a person after living in the same house with them! There had been little or no intimacy between the sisters. But she’d got to think now. She’d got to remember. It might be important. Certainly Rosemary had seemed happy enough … Until that day—a week before it happened. She, Iris, would never forget that day. It stood out crystal clear—each detail, each word. The shining mahogany table, the pushed back chair, the hurried characteristic writing … Iris closed her eyes and let the scene come back … Her own entry into Rosemary’s sitting-room, her sudden stop. It had startled her so; what she saw! Rosemary, sitting at the writing table, her head laid down on her outstretched arms. Rosemary weeping with a deep abandoned sobbing. She’d never seen Rosemary cry before—and this bitter, violent weeping frightened her. True, Rosemary had had a bad go of ’flu. She’d only been up a day or two. And everyone knew that ’flu did leave you depressed. Still— Iris had cried out, her voice childish, startled: ‘Oh, Rosemary, what is it?’ Rosemary sat up, swept the hair back from her disfigured face. She struggled to regain command of herself. She said quickly: ‘It’s nothing—nothing—don’t stare at me like that!’ She got up and passing her sister, she ran out of the room. Puzzled, upset, Iris went farther into the room. Her eyes, drawn wonderingly to the writing table, caught sight of her own name in her sister’s handwriting. Had Rosemary been writing to her then? She drew nearer, looked down on the sheet of blue notepaper with the big characteristic sprawling writing, even more sprawling than usual owing to the haste and agitation behind the hand that held the pen. Darling Iris, There isn’t any point in my making a will because my money goes to you anyway, but I’d like certain of my things to be given to certain people. To George, the jewellery he’s given me, and the little enamel casket we bought together when we were engaged. To Gloria King, my platinum cigarette case. To Maisie, my Chinese Pottery horse that she’s always admir— It stopped there, with a frantic scrawl of the pen as Rosemary had dashed it down and given way to uncontrollable weeping. Iris stood as though turned to stone. What did it mean? Rosemary wasn’t going to die, was she? She’d been very ill with influenza, but she was all right now. And anyway people didn’t die of ’flu—at least sometimes they did, but Rosemary hadn’t. She was quite well now, only weak and run down. Iris’s eyes went over the words again and this time a phrase stood out with startling effect: ‘… my money goes to you anyway …’ It was the first intimation she had had of the terms of Paul Bennett’s will. She had known since she was a child that Rosemary had inherited Uncle Paul’s money, that Rosemary was rich whilst she herself was comparatively poor. But until this moment she had never questioned what would happen to that money on Rosemary’s death. If she had been asked, she would have replied that she supposed it would go to George as Rosemary’s husband, but would have added that it seemed absurd to think of Rosemary dying before George! But here it was, set down in black and white, in Rosemary’s own hand. At Rosemary’s death the money came to her, Iris. But surely that wasn’t legal? A husband or wife got any money, not a sister. Unless, of course, Paul Bennett had left it that way in his will. Yes, that must be it. Uncle Paul had said the money was to go to her if Rosemary died. That did make it rather less unfair— Unfair? She was startled as the word leapt to her thoughts. Had she then been thinking that it was unfair for Rosemary to get all Uncle Paul’s money? She supposed that, deep down, she must have been feeling just that. It was unfair. They were sisters, she and Rosemary. They were both her mother’s children. Why should Uncle Paul give it all to Rosemary? Rosemary always had everything! Parties and frocks and young men in love with her and an adoring husband. The only unpleasant thing that ever happened to Rosemary was having an attack of ’flu! And even that hadn’t lasted longer than a week! Iris hesitated, standing by the desk. That sheet of paper—would Rosemary want it left about for the servants to see? After a minute’s hesitation she picked it up, folded it in two and slipped it into one of the drawers of the desk. It was found there after the fatal birthday party, and provided an additional proof, if proof was necessary, that Rosemary had been in a depressed and unhappy state of mind after her illness, and had possibly been thinking of suicide even then. Depression after influenza. That was the motive brought forward at the inquest, the motive that Iris’s evidence helped to establish. An inadequate motive, perhaps, but the only one available, and consequently accepted. It had been a bad type of influenza that year. Neither Iris nor George Barton could have suggested any other motive—then. Now, thinking back over the incident in the attic, Iris wondered that she could have been so blind. The whole thing must have been going on under her eyes! And she had seen nothing, noticed nothing! Her mind took a quick leap over the tragedy of the birthday party. No need to think of that! That was over—done with. Put away the horror of that and the inquest and George’s twitching face and bloodshot eyes. Go straight on to the incident of the trunk in the attic. That had been about six months after Rosemary’s death. Iris had continued to live at the house in Elvaston Square. After the funeral the Marle family solicitor, a courtly old gentleman with a shining bald head and unexpectedly shrewd eyes, had had an interview with Iris. He had explained with admirable clarity that under the will of Paul Bennett, Rosemary had inherited his estate in trust to pass at her death to any children she might have. If Rosemary died childless, the estate was to go to Iris absolutely. It was, the solicitor explained, a very large fortune which would belong to her absolutely upon attaining the age of twenty-one or on her marriage. In the meantime, the first thing to settle was her place of residence. Mr George Barton had shown himself anxious for her to continue living with him and had suggested that her father’s sister, Mrs Drake, who was in impoverished circumstances owing to the financial claims of a son (the black sheep of the Marle family), should make her home with them and chaperon Iris in society. Did Iris approve of this plan? Iris had been quite willing, thankful not to have to make new plans. Aunt Lucilla she remembered as an amiable friendly sheep with little will of her own. So the matter had been settled. George Barton had been touchingly pleased to have his wife’s sister still with him and treated her affectionately as a younger sister. Mrs Drake, if not a stimulating companion, was completely subservient to Iris’s wishes. The household settled down amicably. It was nearly six months later that Iris made her discovery in the attic. The attics of the Elvaston Square house were used as storage rooms for odds and ends of furniture, and a number of trunks and suitcases. Iris had gone up there one day after an unsuccessful hunt for an old red pullover for which she had an affection. George had begged her not to wear mourning for Rosemary, Rosemary had always been opposed to the idea, he said. This, Iris knew, was true, so she acquiesced and continued to wear ordinary clothes, somewhat to the disapproval of Lucilla Drake, who was old-fashioned and liked what she called ‘the decencies’ to be observed. Mrs Drake herself was still inclined to wear crêpe for a husband deceased some twenty-odd years ago! Various unwanted clothes, Iris knew, had been packed away in a trunk upstairs. She started hunting through it for her pullover, coming across, as she did so, various forgotten belongings, a grey coat and skirt, a pile of stockings, her skiing kit and one or two old bathing dresses. It was then that she came across an old dressing-gown that had belonged to Rosemary and which had somehow or other escaped being given away with the rest of Rosemary’s things. It was a mannish affair of spotted silk with big pockets. Iris shook it out, noting that it was in perfectly good condition. Then she folded it carefully and returned it to the trunk. As she did so, her hand felt something crackle in one of the pockets. She thrust in her hand and drew out a crumpled-up piece of paper. It was in Rosemary’s handwriting and she smoothed it out and read it. Leopard darling, you can’t mean it … You can’t—you can’t … We love each other! We belong together! You must know that just as I know it! We can’t just say goodbye and go on coolly with our own lives. You know that’s impossible, darling—quite impossible. You and I belong together—for ever and ever. I’m not a conventional woman—I don’t mind about what people say. Love matters more to me than anything else. We’ll go away together—and be happy—I’ll make you happy. You said to me once that life without me was dust and ashes to you—do you remember, Leopard darling? And now you write calmly that all this had better end—that it’s only fair to me. Fair to me? But I can’t live without you! I’m sorry about George—he’s always been sweet to me—but he’ll understand. He’ll want to give me my freedom. It isn’t right to live together if you don’t love each other any more. God meant us for each other, darling—I know He did. We’re going to be wonderfully happy—but we must be brave. I shall tell George myself—I want to be quite straight about the whole thing—but not until after my birthday. I know I’m doing what’s right, Leopard darling—and I can’t live without you—can’t, can’t—CAN’T. How stupid it is of me to write all this. Two lines would have done. Just ‘I love you. I’m never going to let you go.’ Oh darling— The letter broke off. Iris stood motionless, staring down at it. How little one knew of one’s own sister! So Rosemary had had a lover—had written him passionate love letters—had planned to go away with him? What had happened? Rosemary had never sent the letter after all. What letter had she sent? What had been finally decided between Rosemary and this unknown man? (‘Leopard!’ What extraordinary fancies people had when they were in love. So silly. Leopard indeed!) Who was this man? Did he love Rosemary as much as she loved him? Surely he must have done. Rosemary was so unbelievably lovely. And yet, according to Rosemary’s letter, he had suggested ‘ending it all’. That suggested—what? Caution? He had evidently said that the break was for Rosemary’s sake. That it was only fair to her. Yes, but didn’t men say that sort of thing to save their faces? Didn’t it really mean that the man, whoever he was, was tired of it all? Perhaps it had been to him a mere passing distraction. Perhaps he had never really cared. Somehow Iris got the impression that the unknown man had been very determined to break with Rosemary finally … But Rosemary had thought differently. Rosemary wasn’t going to count the cost. Rosemary had been determined, too … Iris shivered. And she, Iris, hadn’t known a thing about it! Hadn’t even guessed! Had taken it for granted that Rosemary was happy and contented and that she and George were quite satisfied with one another. Blind! She must have been blind not to know a thing like that about her own sister. But who was the man? She cast her mind back, thinking, remembering. There had been so many men about, admiring Rosemary, taking her out, ringing her up. There had been no one special. But there must have been—the rest of the bunch were mere camouflage for the one, the only one, that mattered. Iris frowned perplexedly, sorting her remembrances carefully. Two names stood out. It must, yes, positively it must, be one or the other. Stephen Farraday? It must be Stephen Farraday. What could Rosemary have seen in him? A stiff pompous young man—and not so very young either. Of course people did say he was brilliant. A rising politician, an under-secretaryship prophesied in the near future, and all the weight of the influential Kidderminster connection behind him. A possible future Prime Minister! Was that what had given him glamour in Rosemary’s eyes? Surely she couldn’t care so desperately for the man himself—such a cold self-contained creature? But they said that his own wife was passionately in love with him, that she had gone against all the wishes of her powerful family in marrying him—a mere nobody with political ambitions! If one woman felt like that about him, another woman might also. Yes, it must be Stephen Farraday. Because, if it wasn’t Stephen Farraday, it must be Anthony Browne. And Iris didn’t want it to be Anthony Browne. True, he’d been very much Rosemary’s slave, constantly at her beck and call, his dark good-looking face expressing a kind of humorous desperation. But surely that devotion had been too open, too freely declared to go really deep? Odd the way he had disappeared after Rosemary’s death. They had none of them seen him since. Still not so odd really—he was a man who travelled a lot. He had talked about the Argentine and Canada and Uganda and the USA. She had an idea that he was actually an American or a Canadian, though he had hardly any accent. No, it wasn’t really strange that they shouldn’t have seen anything of him since. It was Rosemary who had been his friend. There was no reason why he should go on coming to see the rest of them. He had been Rosemary’s friend. But not Rosemary’s lover! She didn’t want him to have been Rosemary’s lover. That would hurt—that would hurt terribly … She looked down at the letter in her hand. She crumpled it up. She’d throw it away, burn it … It was sheer instinct that stopped her. Some day it might be important to produce that letter … She smoothed it out, took it down with her and locked it away in her jewel case. It might be important, some day, to show why Rosemary took her own life. ‘And the next thing, please?’ The ridiculous phrase came unbidden into Iris’s mind and twisted her lips into a wry smile. The glib shop-keeper’s question seemed to represent so exactly her own carefully directed mental processes. Was not that exactly what she was trying to do in her survey of the past? She had dealt with the surprising discovery in the attic. And now—on to ‘the next thing, please!’ What was the next thing? Surely the increasingly odd behaviour of George. That dated back for a long time. Little things that had puzzled her became clear now in the light of the surprising interview last night. Disconnected remarks and actions took their proper place in the course of events. And there was the reappearance of Anthony Browne. Yes, perhaps that ought to come next in sequence, since it had followed the finding of the letter by just one week. Iris could recall her sensations exactly … Rosemary had died in November. In the following May, Iris, under the wing of Lucilla Drake, had started her social young girl’s life. She had gone to luncheons and teas and dances without, however, enjoying them very much. She had felt listless and unsatisfied. It was at a somewhat dull dance towards the end of June that she heard a voice say behind her: ‘It is Iris Marle, isn’t it?’ She had turned, flushing, to look into Anthony’s—Tony’s—dark quizzical face. He said: ‘I don’t expect you remember me, but—’ She interrupted. ‘Oh, but I do remember you. Of course I do!’ ‘Splendid. I was afraid you’d have forgotten me. It’s such a long time since I saw you.’ ‘I know. Not since Rosemary’s birthday par—’ She stopped. The words had come gaily, unthinkingly, to her lips. Now the colour rushed away from her cheeks, leaving them white and drained of blood. Her lips quivered. Her eyes were suddenly wide and dismayed. Anthony Browne said quickly: ‘I’m terribly sorry. I’m a brute to have reminded you.’ Iris swallowed. She said: ‘It’s all right.’ (Not since the night of Rosemary’s birthday party. Not since the night of Rosemary’s suicide. She wouldn’t think of it. She would not think of it!) Anthony Browne said again: ‘I’m terribly sorry. Please forgive me. Shall we dance?’ She nodded. Although already engaged for the dance that was just beginning, she had floated on to the floor in his arms. She saw her partner, a blushing immature young man whose collar seemed too big for him, peering about for her. The sort of partner, she thought scornfully, that debs have to put up with. Not like this man—Rosemary’s friend. A sharp pang went through her. Rosemary’s friend. That letter. Had it been written to this man she was dancing with now? Something in the easy feline grace with which he danced lent substance to the nickname ‘Leopard’. Had he and Rosemary— She said sharply: ‘Where have you been all this time?’ He held her a little way from him, looking down into her face. He was unsmiling now, his voice held coldness. ‘I’ve been travelling—on business.’ ‘I see.’ She went on uncontrollably, ‘Why have you come back?’ He smiled then. He said lightly: ‘Perhaps—to see you, Iris Marle.’ And suddenly gathering her up a little closer, he executed a long daring glide through the dancers, a miracle of timing and steering. Iris wondered why, with a sensation that was almost wholly pleasure, she should feel afraid. Since then Anthony had definitely become part of her life. She saw him at least once a week. She met him in the park, at various dances, found him put next to her at dinner. The only place he never came to was the house in Elvaston Square. It was some time before she noticed this, so adroitly did he manage to evade or refuse invitations there. When she did realize it she began to wonder why. Was it because he and Rosemary— Then, to her astonishment, George, easy-going, non-interfering George, spoke to her about him. ‘Who’s this fellow, Anthony Browne, you’re going about with? What do you know about him?’ She stared at him. ‘Know about him? Why, he was a friend of Rosemary’s!’ George’s face twitched. He blinked. He said in a dull heavy voice: ‘Yes, of course, so he was.’ Iris cried remorsefully: ‘I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have reminded you.’ George Barton shook his head. He said gently: ‘No, no, I don’t want her forgotten. Never that. After all,’ he spoke awkwardly, his eyes averted, ‘that’s what her name means. Rosemary—remembrance.’ He looked full at her. ‘I don’t want you to forget your sister, Iris.’ She caught her breath. ‘I never shall.’ George went on: ‘But about this young fellow, Anthony Browne. Rosemary may have liked him, but I don’t believe she knew much about him. You know, you’ve got to be careful, Iris. You’re a very rich young woman.’ A kind of burning anger swept over her. ‘Tony—Anthony—has plenty of money himself. Why, he stays at Claridge’s when he’s in London.’ George Barton smiled a little. He murmured: ‘Eminently respectable—as well as costly. All the same, my dear, nobody seems to know much about this fellow.’ ‘He’s an American.’ ‘Perhaps. If so, it’s odd he isn’t sponsored more by his own Embassy. He doesn’t come much to this house, does he?’ ‘No. And I can see why, if you’re so horrid about him!’ George shook his head. ‘Seem to have put my foot in it. Oh well. Only wanted to give you a timely warning. I’ll have a word with Lucilla.’ ‘Lucilla!’ said Iris scornfully. George said anxiously: ‘Is everything all right? I mean, does Lucilla see to it that you get the sort of time you ought to have? Parties—all that sort of thing?’ ‘Yes, indeed, she works like a beaver …’ ‘Because, if not, you’ve only got to say, you know, child. We could get hold of someone else. Someone younger and more up to date. I want you to enjoy yourself.’ ‘I do, George. Oh, George, I do.’ He said rather heavily: ‘Then that’s all right. I’m not much hand at these shows myself—never was. But see to it you get everything you want. There’s no need to stint expense.’ That was George all over—kind, awkward, blundering. True to his promise, or threat, he ‘had a word’ with Mrs Drake on the subject of Anthony Browne, but as Fate would have it the moment was unpropitious for gaining Lucilla’s full attention. She had just had a cable from that ne’er-do-well son who was the apple of her eye and who knew, only too well, how to wring the maternal heartstrings to his own financial advantage. ‘Can you send me two hundred pounds. Desperate. Life or death. Victor.’ ‘Victor is so honourable. He knows how straitened my circumstances are and he’d never apply to me except in the last resource. He never has. I’m always so afraid he’ll shoot himself.’ ‘Not he,’ said George Barton unfeelingly. ‘You don’t know him. I’m his mother and naturally I know what my own son is like. I should never forgive myself if I didn’t do what he asked. I could manage by selling out those shares.’ George sighed. ‘Look here, Lucilla. I’ll get full information by cable from one of my correspondents out there. We’ll find out just exactly what sort of a jam Victor’s in. But my advice to you is to let him stew in his own juice. He’ll never make good until you do.’ ‘You’re so hard, George. The poor boy has always been unlucky—’ George repressed his opinions on that point. Never any good arguing with women. He merely said: ‘I’ll get Ruth on to it at once. We should hear by tomorrow.’ Lucilla was partially appeased. The two hundred was eventually cut down to fifty, but that amount Lucilla firmly insisted on sending. George, Iris knew, provided the amount himself though pretending to Lucilla that he was selling her shares. Iris admired George very much for his generosity and said so. His answer was simple. ‘Way I look at it—always some black sheep in the family. Always someone who’s got to be kept. Someone or other will have to fork out for Victor until he dies.’ ‘But it needn’t be you. He’s not your family.’ ‘Rosemary’s family’s mine.’ ‘You’re a darling, George. But couldn’t I do it? You’re always telling me I’m rolling.’ He grinned at her. ‘Can’t do anything of that kind until you’re twenty-one, young woman. And if you’re wise you won’t do it then. But I’ll give you one tip. When a fellow wires that he’ll end everything unless he gets a couple of hundred by return, you’ll usually find that twenty pounds will be ample … I daresay a tenner would do! You can’t stop a mother coughing up, but you can reduce the amount—remember that. Of course Victor Drake would never do away with himself, not he! These people who threaten suicide never do it.’ Never? Iris thought of Rosemary. Then she pushed the thought away. George wasn’t thinking of Rosemary. He was thinking of an unscrupulous, plausible young man in Rio de Janeiro. The net gain from Iris’s point of view was that Lucilla’s maternal preoccupations kept her from paying full attention to Iris’s friendship with Anthony Browne. So—on to the ‘next thing, Madam.’ The change in George! Iris couldn’t put it off any longer. When had that begun? What was the cause of it? Even now, thinking back, Iris could not put her finger definitely on the moment when it began. Ever since Rosemary’s death George had been abstracted, had had fits of inattention and brooding. He had seemed older, heavier. That was all natural enough. But when exactly had his abstraction become something more than natural? It was, she thought, after their clash over Anthony Browne, that she had first noticed him staring at her in a bemused, perplexed manner. Then he formed a new habit of coming home early from business and shutting himself up in his study. He didn’t seem to be doing anything there. She had gone in once and found him sitting at his desk staring straight ahead of him. He looked at her when she came in with dull lack-lustre eyes. He behaved like a man who has had a shock, but to her question as to what was the matter, he replied briefly, ‘Nothing.’ As the days went on, he went about with the care-worn look of a man who has some definite worry upon his mind. Nobody had paid very much attention. Iris certainly hadn’t. Worries were always conveniently ‘Business’. Then, at odd intervals, and with no seeming reason, he began to ask questions. It was then that she began to put his manner down as definitely ‘queer’. ‘Look here, Iris, did Rosemary ever talk to you much?’ Iris stared at him. ‘Why, of course, George. At least—well, about what?’ ‘Oh, herself—her friends—how things were going with her. Whether she was happy or unhappy. That sort of thing.’ She thought she saw what was in his mind. He must have got wind of Rosemary’s unhappy love affair. She said slowly: ‘She never said much. I mean—she was always busy—doing things.’ ‘And you were only a kid, of course. Yes, I know. All the same, I thought she might have said something.’ He looked at her inquiringly—rather like a hopeful dog. She didn’t want George to be hurt. And anyway Rosemary never had said anything. She shook her head. George sighed. He said heavily: ‘Oh, well, it doesn’t matter.’ Another day he asked her suddenly who Rosemary’s best women friends had been. Iris reflected. ‘Gloria King. Mrs Atwell—Maisie Atwell. Jean Raymond.’ ‘How intimate was she with them?’ ‘Well, I don’t know exactly.’ ‘I mean, do you think she might have confided in any of them?’ ‘I don’t really know … I don’t think it’s awfully likely … What sort of confidence do you mean?’ Immediately she wished she hadn’t asked that last question, but George’s response to it surprised her. ‘Did Rosemary ever say she was afraid of anybody?’ ‘Afraid?’ Iris stared. ‘What I’m trying to get at is, did Rosemary have any enemies?’ ‘Amongst other women?’ ‘No, no, not that kind of thing. Real enemies. There wasn’t anyone—that you knew of—who—who might have had it in for her?’ Iris’s frank stare seemed to upset him. He reddened, muttered: ‘Sounds silly, I know. Melodramatic, but I just wondered.’ It was a day or two after that that he started asking about the Farradays. How much had Rosemary seen of the Farradays? Iris was doubtful. ‘I really don’t know, George.’ ‘Did she ever talk about them?’ ‘No, I don’t think so.’ ‘Were they intimate at all?’ ‘Rosemary was very interested in politics.’ ‘Yes. After she met the Farradays in Switzerland. Never cared a button about politics before that.’ ‘No. I think Stephen Farraday interested her in them. He used to lend her pamphlets and things.’ George said: ‘What did Sandra Farraday think about it?’ ‘About what?’ ‘About her husband lending Rosemary pamphlets.’ Iris said uncomfortably: ‘I don’t know.’ George said, ‘She’s a very reserved woman. Looks cold as ice. But they say she’s crazy about Farraday. Sort of woman who might resent his having a friendship with another woman.’ ‘Perhaps.’ ‘How did Rosemary and Farraday’s wife get on?’ Iris said slowly: ‘I don’t think they did. Rosemary laughed at Sandra. Said she was one of those stuffed political women like a rocking horse. (She is rather like a horse, you know.) Rosemary used to say that “if you pricked her sawdust would ooze out.”’ George grunted. Then he said: ‘Still seeing a good deal of Anthony Browne?’ ‘A fair amount.’ Iris’s voice was cold, but George did not repeat his warnings. Instead he seemed interested. ‘Knocked about a good deal, hasn’t he? Must have had an interesting life. Does he ever talk to you about it?’ ‘Not much. He’s travelled a lot, of course.’ ‘Business, I suppose.’ ‘I suppose so.’ ‘What is his business?’ ‘I don’t know.’ ‘Something to do with armament firms, isn’t it?’ ‘He’s never said.’ ‘Well, needn’t mention I asked. I just wondered. He was about a lot last Autumn with Dewsbury, who’s chairman of the United Arms Ltd … Rosemary saw rather a lot of Anthony Browne, didn’t she?’ ‘Yes—yes, she did.’ ‘But she hadn’t known him very long—he was more or less of a casual acquaintance? Used to take her dancing, didn’t he?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘I was rather surprised, you know, that she wanted him at her birthday party. Didn’t realize she knew him so well.’ Iris said quietly: ‘He dances very well …’ ‘Yes—yes, of course …’ Without wishing to, Iris unwillingly let a picture of that evening flit across her mind. The round table at the Luxembourg, the shaded lights, the flowers. The dance band with its insistent rhythm. The seven people round the table, herself, Anthony Browne, Rosemary, Stephen Farraday, Ruth Lessing, George, and on George’s right, Stephen Farraday’s wife, Lady Alexandra Farraday with her pale straight hair and those slightly arched nostrils and her clear arrogant voice. Such a gay party it had been, or hadn’t it? And in the middle of it, Rosemary—No, no, better not think about that. Better only to remember herself sitting next to Tony—that was the first time she had really met him. Before that he had been only a name, a shadow in the hall, a back accompanying Rosemary down the steps in front of the house to a waiting taxi. Tony— She came back with a start. George was repeating a question. ‘Funny he cleared off so soon after. Where did he go, do you know?’ She said vaguely, ‘Oh, Ceylon, I think, or India.’ ‘Never mentioned it that night.’ Iris said sharply: ‘Why should he? And have we got to talk about—that night?’ His face crimsoned over. ‘No, no, of course not. Sorry, old thing. By the way, ask Browne to dinner one night. I’d like to meet him again.’ Iris was delighted. George was coming round. The invitation was duly given and accepted, but at the last minute Anthony had to go North on business and couldn’t come. One day at the end of July, George startled both Lucilla and Iris by announcing that he had bought a house in the country. ‘Bought a house?’ Iris was incredulous. ‘But I thought we were going to rent that house at Goring for two months?’ ‘Nicer to have a place of one’s own—eh? Can go down for weekends all through the year.’ ‘Where is it? On the river?’ ‘Not exactly. In fact, not at all. Sussex. Marlingham. Little Priors, it’s called. Twelve acres—small Georgian house.’ ‘Do you mean you’ve bought it without us even seeing it?’ ‘Rather a chance. Just came into the market. Snapped it up.’ Mrs Drake said: ‘I suppose it will need a lot of doing up and redecorating.’ George said in an off-hand way: ‘Oh, that’s all right. Ruth has seen to all that.’ They received the mention of Ruth Lessing, George’s capable secretary, in respectful silence. Ruth was an institution—practically one of the family. Good looking in a severe black-and-white kind of way, she was the essence of efficiency combined with tact … During Rosemary’s lifetime, it had been usual for Rosemary to say, ‘Let’s get Ruth to see to it. She’s marvellous. Oh, leave it to Ruth.’ Every difficulty could always be smoothed out by Miss Lessing’s capable fingers. Smiling, pleasant, aloof, she surmounted all obstacles. She ran George’s office and, it was suspected, ran George as well. He was devoted to her and leaned upon her judgement in every way. She seemed to have no needs, no desires of her own. Nevertheless on this occasion Lucilla Drake was annoyed. ‘My dear George, capable as Ruth is, well, I mean—the women of a family do like to arrange the colour scheme of their own drawing-room! Iris should have been consulted. I say nothing about myself. I do not count. But it is annoying for Iris.’ George looked conscience-stricken. ‘I wanted it to be a surprise!’ Lucilla had to smile. ‘What a boy you are, George.’ Iris said: ‘I don’t mind about colour schemes. I’m sure Ruth will have made it perfect. She’s so clever. What shall we do down there? There’s a tennis court, I suppose.’ ‘Yes, and golf links six miles away, and it’s only about fourteen miles to the sea. What’s more we shall have neighbours. Always wise to go to a part of the world where you know somebody, I think.’ ‘What neighbours?’ asked Iris sharply. George did not meet her eyes. ‘The Farradays,’ he said. ‘They live about a mile and a half away just across the park.’ Iris stared at him. In a minute she leapt to the conviction that the whole of this elaborate business, the purchasing and equipping of a country house, had been undertaken with one object only—to bring George into close relationship with Stephen and Sandra Farraday. Near neighbours in the country, with adjoining estates, the two families were bound to be on intimate terms. Either that or a deliberate coolness! But why? Why this persistent harping on the Farradays? Why this costly method of achieving an incomprehensible aim? Did George suspect that Rosemary and Stephen Farraday had been something more than friends? Was this a strange manifestation of post-mortem jealousy? Surely that was a thought too far-fetched for words! But what did George want from the Farradays? What was the point of all the odd questions he was continually shooting at her, Iris? Wasn’t there something very queer about George lately? The odd fuddled look he had in the evenings! Lucilla attributed it to a glass or so too much of port. Lucilla would! No, there was something queer about George lately. He seemed to be labouring under a mixture of excitement interlarded with great spaces of complete apathy when he sunk in a coma. Most of that August they spent in the country at Little Priors. Horrible house! Iris shivered. She hated it. A gracious well-built house, harmoniously furnished and decorated (Ruth Lessing was never at fault!). And curiously, frighteningly vacant. They didn’t live there. They occupied it. As soldiers, in a war, occupied some look-out post. What made it horrible was the overlay of ordinary normal summer living. People down for weekends, tennis parties, informal dinners with the Farradays. Sandra Farraday had been charming to them—the perfect manner to neighbours who were already friends. She introduced them to the county, advised George and Iris about horses, was prettily deferential to Lucilla as an older woman. And behind the mask of her pale smiling face no one could know what she was thinking. A woman like a sphinx. Of Stephen they had seen less. He was very busy, often absent on political business. To Iris it seemed certain that he deliberately avoided meeting the Little Priors party more than he could help. So August had passed and September, and it was decided that in October they should go back to the London house. Iris had drawn a deep breath of relief. Perhaps, once they were back George would return to his normal self. And then, last night, she had been roused by a low tapping on her door. She switched on the light and glanced at the time. Only one o’clock. She had gone to bed at half-past ten and it had seemed to her it was much later. She threw on a dressing-gown and went to the door. Somehow that seemed more natural than just to shout ‘Come in.’ George was standing outside. He had not been to bed and was still in his evening clothes. His breath was coming unevenly and his face was a curious blue colour. He said: ‘Come down to the study, Iris. I’ve got to talk to you. I’ve got to talk to someone.’ Wondering, still dazed with sleep, she obeyed. Inside the study, he shut the door and motioned her to sit opposite him at the desk. He pushed the cigarette box across to her, at the same time taking one and lighting it, after one or two attempts, with a shaking hand. She said, ‘Is anything the matter, George?’ She was really alarmed now. He looked ghastly. George spoke between small gasps, like a man who has been running. ‘I can’t go on by myself. I can’t keep it any longer. You’ve got to tell me what you think—whether it’s true—whether it’s possible—’ ‘But what is it you’re talking about, George?’ ‘You must have noticed something, seen something. There must have been something she said. There must have been a reason—’ She stared at him. He passed his hand over his forehead. ‘You don’t understand what I’m talking about. I can see that. Don’t look so scared, little girl. You’ve got to help me. You’ve got to remember every damned thing you can. Now, now, I know I sound a bit incoherent, but you’ll understand in a minute—when I’ve shown you the letters.’ He unlocked one of the drawers at the side of the desk and took out two single sheets of paper. They were of a pale innocuous blue, with words printed on them in small prim letters. ‘Read that,’ said George. Iris stared down at the paper. What it said was quite clear and devoid of circumlocution: ‘YOU THINK YOUR WIFE COMMITTED SUICIDE. SHE DIDN’T. SHE WAS KILLED. ’ The second ran: ‘YOUR WIFE ROSEMARY DIDN’T KILL HERSELF. SHE WAS MURDERED.’ As Iris stayed staring at the words, George went on: ‘They came about three months ago. At first I thought it was a joke—a cruel rotten sort of joke. Then I began to think. Why should Rosemary have killed herself?’ Iris said in a mechanical voice: ‘Depression after influenza.’ ‘Yes, but really when you come to think of it, that’s rather piffle, isn’t it? I mean lots of people have influenza and feel a bit depressed afterwards—what?’ Iris said with an effort: ‘She might—have been unhappy?’ ‘Yes, I suppose she might.’ George considered the point quite calmly. ‘But all the same I don’t see Rosemary putting an end to herself because she was unhappy. She might threaten to, but I don’t think she would really do it when it came to the point.’ ‘But she must have done, George! What other explanation could there be? Why, they even found the stuff in her handbag.’ ‘I know. It all hangs together. But ever since these came,’ he tapped the anonymous letters with his finger-nail, ‘I’ve been turning things over in my mind. And the more I’ve thought about it the more I feel sure there’s something in it. That’s why I’ve asked you all those questions—about Rosemary ever making any enemies. About anything she’d ever said that sounded as though she were afraid of someone. Whoever killed her must have had a reason—’ ‘But, George, you’re crazy—’ ‘Sometimes I think I am. Other times I know that I’m on the right track. But I’ve got to know. I’ve got to find out. You’ve got to help me, Iris. You’ve got to think. You’ve got to remember. That’s it—remember. Go back over that night again and again. Because you do see, don’t you, that if she was killed, it must have been someone who was at the table that night? You do see that, don’t you?’ Yes, she had seen that. There was no pushing aside the remembrance of that scene any longer. She must remember it all. The music, the roll of drums, the lowered lights, the cabaret and the lights going up again and Rosemary sprawled forward on the table, her face blue and convulsed. Iris shivered. She was frightened now—horribly frightened … She must think—go back—remember. Rosemary, that’s for remembrance. There was to be no oblivion. CHAPTER 2 (#u24d098e3-ecaa-592b-9511-dab1ac0cff72) Ruth Lessing (#u24d098e3-ecaa-592b-9511-dab1ac0cff72) Ruth Lessing, during a momentary lull in her busy day, was remembering her employer’s wife, Rosemary Barton. She had disliked Rosemary Barton a good deal. She had never known quite how much until that November morning when she had first talked with Victor Drake. That interview with Victor had been the beginning of it all, had set the whole train in motion. Before then, the things she had felt and thought had been so far below the stream of her consciousness that she hadn’t really known about them. She was devoted to George Barton. She always had been. When she had first come to him, a cool, competent young woman of twenty-three, she had seen that he needed taking charge of. She had taken charge of him. She had saved him time, money and worry. She had chosen his friends for him, and directed him to suitable hobbies. She had restrained him from ill-advised business adventures, and encouraged him to take judicious risks on occasions. Never once in their long association had George suspected her of being anything other than subservient, attentive and entirely directed by himself. He took a distinct pleasure in her appearance, the neat shining dark head, the smart tailor-mades and crisp shirts, the small pearls in her well-shaped ears, the pale discreetly powdered face and the faint restrained rose shade of her lip-stick. Ruth, he felt, was absolutely right. He liked her detached impersonal manner, her complete absence of sentiment or familiarity. In consequence he talked to her a good deal about his private affairs and she listened sympathetically and always put in a useful word of advice. She had nothing to do, however, with his marriage. She did not like it. However, she accepted it and was invaluable in helping with the wedding arrangements, relieving Mrs Marle of a great deal of work. For a time after the marriage, Ruth was on slightly less confidential terms with her employer. She confined herself strictly to the office affairs. George left a good deal in her hands. Nevertheless such was her efficiency that Rosemary soon found that George’s Miss Lessing was an invaluable aid in all sorts of ways. Miss Lessing was always pleasant, smiling and polite. George, Rosemary and Iris all called her Ruth and she often came to Elvaston Square to lunch. She was now twenty-nine and looked exactly the same as she had looked at twenty-three. Without an intimate word ever passing between them, she was always perfectly aware of George’s slightest emotional reactions. She knew when the first elation of his married life passed into an ecstatic content, she was aware when that content gave way to something else that was not so easy to define. A certain inattention to detail shown by him at this time was corrected by her own forethought. However distrait George might be, Ruth Lessing never seemed to be aware of it. He was grateful to her for that. It was on a November morning that he spoke to her of Victor Drake. ‘I want you to do a rather unpleasant job for me, Ruth?’ She looked at him inquiringly. No need to say that certainly she would do it. That was understood. ‘Every family’s got a black sheep,’ said George. She nodded comprehendingly. ‘This is a cousin of my wife’s—a thorough bad hat, I’m afraid. He’s half ruined his mother—a fatuous sentimental soul who has sold out most of what few shares she has on his behalf. He started by forging a cheque at Oxford—they got that hushed up and since then he’s been shipped about the world—never making good anywhere.’ Ruth listened without much interest. She was familiar with the type. They grew oranges, started chicken farms, went as jackaroos to Australian stations, got jobs with meat-freezing concerns in New Zealand. They never made good, never stayed anywhere long, and invariably got through any money that had been invested on their behalf. They had never interested her much. She preferred success. ‘He’s turned up now in London and I find he’s been worrying my wife. She hadn’t set eyes on him since she was a schoolgirl, but he’s a plausible sort of scoundrel and he’s been writing to her for money, and I’m not going to stand for that. I’ve made an appointment with him for twelve o’clock this morning at his hotel. I want you to deal with it for me. The fact is I don’t want to get into contact with the fellow. I’ve never met him and I never want to and I don’t want Rosemary to meet him. I think the whole thing can be kept absolutely businesslike if it’s fixed up through a third party.’ ‘Yes, that is always a good plan. What is the arrangement to be?’ ‘A hundred pounds cash and a ticket to Buenos Aires. The money to be given to him actually on board the boat.’ Ruth smiled. ‘Quite so. You want to be sure he actually sails!’ ‘I see you understand.’ ‘It’s not an uncommon case,’ she said indifferently. ‘No, plenty of that type about.’ He hesitated. ‘Are you sure you don’t mind doing this?’ ‘Of course not.’ She was a little amused. ‘I can assure you I am quite capable of dealing with the matter.’ ‘You’re capable of anything.’ ‘What about booking his passage? What’s his name, by the way?’ ‘Victor Drake. The ticket’s here. I rang up the steamship company yesterday. It’s the San Cristobal, sails from Tilbury tomorrow.’ Ruth took the ticket, glanced over it to make sure of its correctness and put it into her handbag. ‘That’s settled. I’ll see to it. Twelve o’clock. What address?’ ‘The Rupert, off Russell Square.’ She made a note of it. ‘Ruth, my dear, I don’t know what I should do without you—’ He put a hand on her shoulder affectionately; it was the first time he had ever done such a thing. ‘You’re my right hand, my other self.’ She flushed, pleased. ‘I’ve never been able to say much—I’ve taken all you do for granted—but it’s not really like that. You don’t know how much I rely on you for everything—’ he repeated: ‘everything. You’re the kindest, dearest, most helpful girl in the world!’ Ruth said, laughing to hide her pleasure and embarrassment, ‘You’ll spoil me saying such nice things.’ ‘Oh, but I mean them. You’re part of the firm, Ruth. Life without you would be unthinkable.’ She went out feeling a warm glow at his words. It was still with her when she arrived at the Rupert Hotel on her errand. Ruth felt no embarrassment at what lay before her. She was quite confident of her powers to deal with any situation. Hard-luck stories and people never appealed to her. She was prepared to take Victor Drake as all in the day’s work. He was very much as she had pictured him, though perhaps definitely more attractive. She made no mistake in her estimate of his character. There was not much good in Victor Drake. As cold-hearted and calculating a personality as could exist, well masked behind an agreeable devilry. What she had not allowed for was his power of reading other people’s souls, and the practised ease with which he could play on the emotions. Perhaps, too, she had underestimated her own resistance to his charm. For he had charm. He greeted her with an air of delighted surprise. ‘George’s emissary? But how wonderful. What a surprise!’ In dry even tones, she set out George’s terms. Victor agreed to them in the most amiable manner. ‘A hundred pounds? Not bad at all. Poor old George. I’d have taken sixty—but don’t tell him so! Conditions:—“Do not worry lovely Cousin Rosemary—do not contaminate innocent Cousin Iris—do not embarrass worthy Cousin George.” All agreed to! Who is coming to see me off on the San Cristobal? You are, my dear Miss Lessing? Delightful.’ He wrinkled up his nose, his dark eyes twinkled sympathetically. He had a lean brown face and there was a suggestion about him of a toreador—romantic conception! He was attractive to women and knew it! ‘You’ve been with Barton some time, haven’t you, Miss Lessing?’ ‘Six years.’ ‘And he wouldn’t know what to do without you. Oh yes, I know all about it. And I know all about you, Miss Lessing.’ ‘How do you know?’ asked Ruth sharply. Victor grinned. ‘Rosemary told me.’ ‘Rosemary? But—’ ‘That’s all right. I don’t propose to worry Rosemary any further. She’s already been very nice to me—quite sympathetic. I got a hundred out of her, as a matter of fact.’ ‘You—’ Ruth stopped and Victor laughed. His laugh was infectious. She found herself laughing too. ‘That’s too bad of you, Mr Drake.’ ‘I’m a very accomplished sponger. Highly finished technique. The mater, for instance, will always come across if I send a wire hinting at imminent suicide.’ ‘You ought to be ashamed of yourself.’ ‘I disapprove of myself very deeply. I’m a bad lot, Miss Lessing. I’d like you to know just how bad.’ ‘Why?’ She was curious. ‘I don’t know. You’re different. I couldn’t play up the usual technique to you. Those clear eyes of yours—you wouldn’t fall for it. No, “More sinned against than sinning, poor fellow,” wouldn’t cut any ice with you. You’ve no pity in you.’ Her face hardened. ‘I despise pity.’ ‘In spite of your name? Ruth is your name, isn’t it? Piquant that. Ruth the ruthless.’ She said, ‘I’ve no sympathy with weakness!’ ‘Who said I was weak? No, no, you’re wrong there, my dear. Wicked, perhaps. But there’s one thing to be said for me.’ Her lip curled a little. The inevitable excuse. ‘Yes?’ ‘I enjoy myself. Yes,’ he nodded, ‘I enjoy myself immensely. I’ve seen a good deal of life, Ruth. I’ve done almost everything. I’ve been an actor and a storekeeper and a waiter and an odd job man, and a luggage porter, and a property man in a circus! I’ve sailed before the mast in a tramp steamer. I’ve been in the running for President in a South American Republic. I’ve been in prison! There are only two things I’ve never done, an honest day’s work, or paid my own way.’ He looked at her, laughing. She ought, she felt, to have been revolted. But the strength of Victor Drake was the strength of the devil. He could make evil seem amusing. He was looking at her now with that uncanny penetration. ‘You needn’t look so smug, Ruth! You haven’t as many morals as you think you have! Success is your fetish. You’re the kind of girl who ends up by marrying the boss. That’s what you ought to have done with George. George oughtn’t to have married that little ass Rosemary. He ought to have married you. He’d have done a damned sight better for himself if he had.’ ‘I think you’re rather insulting.’ ‘Rosemary’s a damned fool, always has been. Lovely as paradise and dumb as a rabbit. She’s the kind men fall for but never stick to. Now you—you’re different. My God, if a man fell in love with you—he’d never tire.’ He had reached the vulnerable spot. She said with sudden raw sincerity: ‘If! But he wouldn’t fall in love with me!’ ‘You mean George didn’t? Don’t fool yourself, Ruth. If anything happened to Rosemary, George would marry you like a shot.’ (Yes, that was it. That was the beginning of it all.) Victor said, watching her: ‘But you know that as well as I do.’ (George’s hand on hers, his voice affectionate, warm—Yes, surely it was true … He turned to her, depended on her …) Victor said gently: ‘You ought to have more confidence in yourself, my dear girl. You could twist George round your little finger. Rosemary’s only a silly little fool.’ ‘It’s true,’ Ruth thought. ‘If it weren’t for Rosemary, I could make George ask me to marry him. I’d be good to him. I’d look after him well.’ She felt a sudden blind anger, an uprushing of passionate resentment. Victor Drake was watching her with a good deal of amusement. He liked putting ideas into people’s heads. Or, as in this case, showing them the ideas that were already there … Yes, that was how it started—that chance meeting with the man who was going to the other side of the globe on the following day. The Ruth who came back to the office was not quite the same Ruth who had left it, though no one could have noticed anything different in her manner or appearance. Shortly after she had returned to the office Rosemary Barton rang up on the telephone. ‘Mr Barton has just gone out to lunch. Can I do anything?’ ‘Oh, Ruth, would you? That tiresome Colonel Race has sent a telegram to say he won’t be back in time for my party. Ask George who he’d like to ask instead. We really ought to have another man. There are four women—Iris is coming as a treat and Sandra Farraday and—who on earth’s the other? I can’t remember.’ ‘I’m the fourth, I think. You very kindly asked me.’ ‘Oh, of course. I’d forgotten all about you!’ Rosemary’s laugh came light and tinkling. She could not see the sudden flush, the hard line of Ruth Lessing’s jaw. Asked to Rosemary’s party as a favour—a concession to George! ‘Oh, yes, we’ll have your Ruth Lessing. After all she’ll be pleased to be asked, and she is awfully useful. She looks quite presentable too.’ In that moment Ruth Lessing knew that she hated Rosemary Barton. Hated her for being rich and beautiful and careless and brainless. No routine hard work in an office for Rosemary—everything handed to her on a golden platter. Love affairs, a doting husband—no need to work or plan— Hateful, condescending, stuck-up, frivolous beauty … ‘I wish you were dead,’ said Ruth Lessing in a low voice to the silent telephone. Her own words startled her. They were so unlike her. She had never been passionate, never vehement, never been anything but cool and controlled and efficient. She said to herself: ‘What’s happening to me?’ She had hated Rosemary Barton that afternoon. She still hated Rosemary Barton on this day a year later. Some day, perhaps, she would be able to forget Rosemary Barton. But not yet. She deliberately sent her mind back to those November days. Sitting looking at the telephone—feeling hatred surge up in her heart … Giving Rosemary’s message to George in her pleasant controlled voice. Suggesting that she herself should not come so as to leave the number even. George had quickly over-ridden that! Coming in to report next morning on the sailing of the San Cristobal. George’s relief and gratitude. ‘So he’s sailed on her all right?’ ‘Yes. I handed him the money just before the gang-way was taken up.’ She hesitated and said, ‘He waved his hand as the boat backed away from the quay and called out “Love and kisses to George and tell him I’ll drink his health tonight.”’ ‘Impudence!’ said George. He asked curiously, ‘What did you think of him, Ruth?’ Her voice was deliberately colourless as she replied: ‘Oh—much as I expected. A weak type.’ And George saw nothing, noticed nothing! She felt like crying out: ‘Why did you send me to see him? Didn’t you know what he might do to me? Don’t you realize that I’m a different person since yesterday? Can’t you see that I’m dangerous? That there’s no knowing what I may do?’ Instead she said in her businesslike voice, ‘About that San Paulo letter—’ She was the competent efficient secretary … Five more days. Rosemary’s birthday. A quiet day at the office—a visit to the hairdresser—the putting on of a new black frock, a touch of make-up skilfully applied. A face looking at her in the glass that was not quite her own face. A pale, determined, bitter face. It was true what Victor Drake had said. There was no pity in her. Later, when she was staring across the table at Rosemary Barton’s blue convulsed face, she still felt no pity. Now, eleven months later, thinking of Rosemary Barton, she felt suddenly afraid … CHAPTER 3 (#u24d098e3-ecaa-592b-9511-dab1ac0cff72) Anthony Browne (#u24d098e3-ecaa-592b-9511-dab1ac0cff72) Anthony Browne was frowning into the middle distance as he thought about Rosemary Barton. A damned fool he had been ever to get mixed up with her. Though a man might be excused for that! Certainly she was easy upon the eyes. That evening at the Dorchester he’d been able to look at nothing else. As beautiful as a houri—and probably just about as intelligent! Still he’d fallen for her rather badly. Used up a lot of energy trying to find someone who would introduce him. Quite unforgivable really when he ought to have been attending strictly to business. After all, he wasn’t idling his days away at Claridge’s for pleasure. But Rosemary Barton was lovely enough in all conscience to excuse any momentary lapse from duty. All very well to kick himself now and wonder why he’d been such a fool. Fortunately there was nothing to regret. Almost as soon as he spoke to her the charm had faded a little. Things resumed their normal proportions. This wasn’t love—nor yet infatuation. A good time was to be had by all, no more, no less. Well, he’d enjoyed it. And Rosemary had enjoyed it too. She danced like an angel and wherever he took her men turned round to stare at her. It gave a fellow a pleasant feeling. So long as you didn’t expect her to talk. He thanked his stars he wasn’t married to her. Once you got used to all that perfection of face and form where would you be? She couldn’t even listen intelligently. The sort of girl who would expect you to tell her every morning at the breakfast table that you loved her passionately! Oh, all very well to think those things now. He’d fallen for her all right, hadn’t he? Danced attendance on her. Rung her up, taken her out, danced with her, kissed her in the taxi. Been in a fair way to making rather a fool of himself over her until that startling, that incredible day. He could remember just how she had looked, the piece of chestnut hair that had fallen loose over one ear, the lowered lashes and the gleam of her dark blue eyes through them. The pout of the soft red lips. ‘Anthony Browne. It’s a nice name!’ He said lightly: ‘Eminently well established and respectable. There was a chamberlain to Henry the Eighth called Anthony Browne.’ ‘An ancestor, I suppose?’ ‘I wouldn’t swear to that.’ ‘You’d better not!’ He raised his eyebrows. ‘I’m the Colonial branch.’ ‘Not the Italian one?’ ‘Oh,’ he laughed. ‘My olive complexion? I had a Spanish mother.’ ‘That explains it.’ ‘Explains what?’ ‘A great deal, Mr Anthony Browne.’ ‘You’re very fond of my name.’ ‘I said so. It’s a nice name.’ And then quickly like a bolt from the blue: ‘Nicer than Tony Morelli.’ For a moment he could hardly believe his ears! It was incredible! Impossible! He caught her by the arm. In the harshness of his grip she winced away. ‘Oh, you’re hurting me!’ ‘Where did you get hold of that name?’ His voice was harsh, menacing. She laughed, delighted with the effect she had produced. The incredible little fool! ‘Who told you?’ ‘Someone who recognized you.’ ‘Who was it? This is serious, Rosemary. I’ve got to know.’ She shot a sideways glance at him. ‘A disreputable cousin of mine, Victor Drake.’ ‘I’ve never met anyone of that name.’ ‘I imagine he wasn’t using that name at the time you knew him. Saving the family feelings.’ Anthony said slowly. ‘I see. It was—in prison?’ ‘Yes. I was reading Victor the riot act—telling him he was a disgrace to us all. He didn’t care, of course. Then he grinned and said, “You aren’t always so particular yourself, sweetheart. I saw you the other night dancing with an ex-gaol-bird—one of your best boy friends, in fact. Calls himself Anthony Browne, I hear, but in stir he was Tony Morelli.”’ Anthony said in a light voice: ‘I must renew my acquaintance with this friend of my youth. We old prison ties must stick together.’ Rosemary shook her head. ‘Too late. He’s been shipped off to South America. He sailed yesterday.’ ‘I see.’ Anthony drew a deep breath. ‘So you’re the only person who knows my guilty secret?’ She nodded. ‘I won’t tell on you.’ ‘You’d better not.’ His voice grew stern. ‘Look here, Rosemary, this is dangerous. You don’t want your lovely face carved up, do you? There are people who don’t stick at a little thing like ruining a girl’s beauty. And there’s such a thing as being bumped off. It doesn’t only happen in books and films. It happens in real life, too.’ ‘Are you threatening me, Tony?’ ‘Warning you.’ Would she take the warning? Did she realize that he was in deadly earnest? Silly little fool. No sense in that lovely empty head. You couldn’t rely on her to keep her mouth shut. All the same he’d have to try and ram his meaning home. ‘Forget you ever heard the name of Tony Morelli, do you understand?’ ‘But I don’t mind a bit, Tony. I’m quite broad-minded. It’s quite a thrill for me to meet a criminal. You needn’t feel ashamed of it.’ The absurd little idiot. He looked at her coldly. He wondered in that moment how he could ever have fancied he cared. He’d never been able to suffer fools gladly—not even fools with pretty faces. ‘Forget about Tony Morelli,’ he said grimly. ‘I mean it. Never mention that name again.’ He’d have to get out. That was the only thing to do. There was no relying on this girl’s silence. She’d talk whenever she felt inclined. She was smiling at him—an enchanting smile, but it left him unmoved. ‘Don’t be so fierce. Take me to the Jarrows’ dance next week.’ ‘I shan’t be here. I’m going away.’ ‘Not before my birthday party. You can’t let me down. I’m counting on you. Now don’t say no. I’ve been miserably ill with that horrid ’flu and I’m still feeling terribly weak. I musn’t be crossed. You’ve got to come.’ He might have stood firm. He might have chucked it all—gone right away. Instead, through an open door, he saw Iris coming down the stairs. Iris, very straight and slim, with her pale face and black hair and grey eyes. Iris with much less than Rosemary’s beauty and with all the character that Rosemary would never have. In that moment he hated himself for having fallen a victim, in however small a degree, to Rosemary’s facile charm. He felt as Romeo felt remembering Rosaline when he had first seen Juliet. Anthony Browne changed his mind. In the flash of a second he committed himself to a totally different course of action. CHAPTER 4 (#ulink_bb914c9c-8627-56fe-84b3-b71252d07812) Stephen Farraday (#ulink_bb914c9c-8627-56fe-84b3-b71252d07812) Stephen Farraday was thinking of Rosemary—thinking of her with that incredulous amazement that her image always aroused in him. Usually he banished all thoughts of her from his mind as promptly as they arose—but there were times when, persistent in death as she had been in life, she refused to be thus arbitrarily dismissed. His first reaction was always the same, a quick irresponsible shudder as he remembered the scene in the restaurant. At least he need not think again of that. His thoughts turned further back, to Rosemary alive, Rosemary smiling, breathing, gazing into his eyes … What a fool—what an incredible fool he had been! And amazement held him, sheer bewildered amazement. How had it all come about? He simply could not understand it. It was as though his life were divided into two parts, one, the larger part, a sane well-balanced orderly progression, the other a brief uncharacteristic madness. The two parts simply did not fit. For with all his ability and his clever, shrewd intellect, Stephen had not the inner perception to see that actually they fitted only too well. Sometimes he looked back over his life, appraising it coldly and without undue emotion, but with a certain priggish self-congratulation. From a very early age he had been determined to succeed in life, and in spite of difficulties and certain initial disadvantages he had succeeded. He had always had a certain simplicity of belief and outlook. He believed in the Will. What a man willed, that he could do! Little Stephen Farraday had steadfastly cultivated his Will. He could look for little help in life save that which he got by his own efforts. A small pale boy of seven, with a good forehead and a determined chin, he meant to rise—and rise high. His parents, he already knew, would be of no use to him. His mother had married beneath her station in life—and regretted it. His father, a small builder, shrewd, cunning and cheese-paring, was despised by his wife and also by his son … For his mother, vague, aimless, and given to extraordinary variations of mood, Stephen felt only a puzzled incomprehension until the day he found her slumped down on the corner of a table with an empty eau-de-Cologne bottle fallen from her hand. He had never thought of drink as an explanation of his mother’s moods. She never drank spirits or beer, and he had never realized that her passion for eau-de-Cologne had had any other origin than her vague explanation of headaches. He realized in that moment that he had little affection for his parents. He suspected shrewdly that they had not much for him. He was small for his age, quiet, with a tendency to stammer. Namby-pamby his father called him. A well-behaved child, little trouble in the house. His father would have preferred a more rumbustious type. ‘Always getting into mischief I was, at his age.’ Sometimes, looking at Stephen, he felt uneasily his own social inferiority to his wife. Stephen took after her folk. Quietly, with growing determination, Stephen mapped out his own life. He was going to succeed. As a first test of will, he determined to master his stammer. He practised speaking slowly, with a slight hesitation between every word. And in time his efforts were crowned with success. He no longer stammered. In school he applied himself to his lessons. He intended to have education. Education got you somewhere. Soon his teachers became interested, encouraged him. He won a scholarship. His parents were approached by the educational authorities—the boy had promise. Mr Farraday, doing well out of a row of jerry-built houses, was persuaded to invest money in his son’s education. At twenty-two Stephen came down from Oxford with a good degree, a reputation as a good and witty speaker, and a knack of writing articles. He had also made some useful friends. Politics were what attracted him. He had learnt to overcome his natural shyness and to cultivate an admirable social manner—modest, friendly, and with that touch of brilliance that led people to say, ‘That young man will go far.’ Though by predilection a Liberal, Stephen realized that for the moment, at least, the Liberal Party was dead. He joined the ranks of the Labour Party. His name soon became known as that of a ‘coming’ young man. But the Labour Party did not satisfy Stephen. He found it less open to new ideas, more hidebound by tradition than its great and powerful rival. The Conservatives, on the other hand, were on the look-out for promising young talent. They approved of Stephen Farraday—he was just the type they wanted. He contested a fairly solid Labour constituency and won it by a very narrow majority. It was with a feeling of triumph that Stephen took his seat in the House of Commons. His career had begun and this was the right career he had chosen. Into this he could put all his ability, all his ambition. He felt in him the ability to govern, and to govern well. He had a talent for handling people, for knowing when to flatter and when to oppose. One day, he swore it, he would be in the Cabinet. Nevertheless, once the excitement of actually being in the House had subsided, he experienced swift disillusionment. The hardly fought election had put him in the limelight, now he was down in the rut, a mere insignificant unit of the rank and file, subservient to the party whips, and kept in his place. It was not easy here to rise out of obscurity. Youth here was looked upon with suspicion. One needed something above ability. One needed influence. There were certain interests. Certain families. You had to be sponsored. He considered marriage. Up to now he had thought very little about the subject. He had a dim picture in the back of his mind of some handsome creature who would stand hand in hand with him sharing his life and his ambitions; who would give him children and to whom he could unburden his thoughts and perplexities. Some woman who felt as he did and who would be eager for his success and proud of him when he achieved it. Then one day he went to one of the big receptions at Kidderminster House. The Kidderminster connection was the most powerful in England. They were, and always had been, a great political family. Lord Kidderminster, with his little Imperial, his tall, distinguished figure, was known by sight everywhere. Lady Kidderminster’s large rocking-horse face was familiar on public platforms and on committees all over England. They had five daughters, three of them beautiful, and one son still at Eton. The Kidderminsters made a point of encouraging likely young members of the Party. Hence Farraday’s invitation. He did not know many people there and he was standing alone near a window about twenty minutes after his arrival. The crowd by the tea table was thinning out and passing into the other rooms when Stephen noticed a tall girl in black standing alone by the table looking for a moment slightly at a loss. Stephen Farraday had a very good eye for faces. He had picked up that very morning in the Tube a Home Gossip discarded by a woman traveller and glanced over it with slight amusement. There had been a rather smudgy reproduction of Lady Alexandra Hayle, third daughter of the Earl of Kidderminster, and below a gossipy little extract about her—‘… always been of a shy and retiring disposition—devoted to animals—Lady Alexandra has taken a course in Domestic Science as Lady Kidderminster believes in her daughters being thoroughly grounded in all domestic subjects.’ That was Lady Alexandra Hayle standing there, and with the unerring perception of a shy person, Stephen knew that she, too, was shy. The plainest of the five daughters, Alexandra had always suffered under a sense of inferiority. Given the same education and upbringing as her sisters, she had never quite attained their savoir faire, which annoyed her mother considerably. Sandra must make an effort—it was absurd to appear so awkward, so gauche. Stephen did not know that, but he knew that the girl was ill at ease and unhappy. And suddenly a rush of conviction came to him. This was his chance! ‘Take it, you fool, take it! It’s now or never!’ He crossed the room to the long buffet. Standing beside the girl he picked up a sandwich. Then, turning, and speaking nervously and with an effort (no acting, that—he was nervous!) he said: ‘I say, do you mind if I speak to you? I don’t know many people here and I can see you don’t either. Don’t snub me. As a matter of fact I’m awfully s-s-shy’ (his stammer of years ago came back at a most opportune moment) ‘and—and I think you’re s-s-shy too, aren’t you?’ The girl flushed—her mouth opened. But as he had guessed, she could not say it. Too difficult to find words to say ‘I’m the daughter of the house.’ Instead she admitted quietly: ‘As a matter of fact, I—I am shy. I always have been.’ Stephen went on quickly: ‘It’s a horrible feeling. I don’t know whether one ever gets over it. Sometimes I feel absolutely tongue-tied.’ ‘So do I.’ He went on—talking rather quickly, stammering a little—his manner was boyish, appealing. It was a manner that had been natural to him a few years ago and which was now consciously retained and cultivated. It was young, naïve, disarming. He led the conversation soon to the subject of plays, mentioned one that was running which had attracted a good deal of interest. Sandra had seen it. They discussed it. It had dealt with some point of the social services and they were soon deep in a discussion of these measures. Stephen did not overdo things. He saw Lady Kidderminster entering the room, her eyes in search of her daughter. It was no part of his plan to be introduced now. He murmured a goodbye. ‘I have enjoyed talking to you. I was simply hating the whole show till I found you. Thank you.’ He left Kidderminster House with a feeling of exhilaration. He had taken his chance. Now to consolidate what he had started. For several days after that he haunted the neighbourhood of Kidderminster House. Once Sandra came out with one of her sisters. Once she left the house alone, but with a hurried step. He shook his head. That would not do, she was obviously en route to some particular appointment. Then, about a week after the party, his patience was rewarded. She came out one morning with a small black Scottie dog and she turned with a leisurely step in the direction of the park. Five minutes later, a young man walking rapidly in the opposite direction pulled up short and stopped in front of Sandra. He exclaimed blithely: ‘I say, what luck! I wondered if I’d ever see you again.’ His tone was so delighted that she blushed just a little. He stooped to the dog. ‘What a jolly little fellow. What’s his name?’ ‘MacTavish.’ ‘Oh, very Scotch.’ They talked dog for some moments. Then Stephen said, with a trace of embarrassment: ‘I never told you my name the other day. It’s Farraday. Stephen Farraday. I’m an obscure MP.’ He looked inquiringly and saw the colour come up in her cheeks again as she said: ‘I’m Alexandra Hayle.’ He responded to that very well. He might have been back in the OUDS. Surprise, recognition, dismay, embarrassment! ‘Oh, you’re—you’re Lady Alexandra Hayle—you—my goodness! What a stupid fool you must have thought me the other day!’ Her answering move was inevitable. She was bound both by her breeding and her natural kindliness to do all she could to put him at his ease, to reassure him. Конец ознакомительного фрагмента. Текст предоставлен ООО «ЛитРес». Прочитайте эту книгу целиком, купив полную легальную версию (https://www.litres.ru/agata-kristi/sparkling-cyanide/?lfrom=334617187) на ЛитРес. 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