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The A B C Murders / Убийство по алфавиту. Книга для чтения на английском языке

The A B C Murders / Убийство по алфавиту. Книга для чтения на английском языке
The A B C Murders / Убийство по алфавиту. Книга для чтения на английском языке Agatha Christie Чтение в оригинале (Каро)Detective story Мастер классического детектива предлагает читателям новую загадку – убийства по железнодорожному справочнику, которые берется распутывать Эркюль Пуаро. Следить за развитием событий читателю помогут подробные комментарии и словарь, данный в конце книги. Agatha Christie / Агата Кристи The A B C Murders / Убийство по алфавиту. Книга для чтения на английском языке To James Watts     One of my most sympathetic readers      The A B C Murders © 1936 Agatha Christie Limited. All rights reserved. AGATHA CHRISTIE© POIROT and the Agatha Christie Signature are registered trade marks of Agatha Christie Limited in the UK and elsewhere. © КАРО, 2019 Foreword by Captain Arthur Hastings, О. В. E.[1 - O.B.E. = Officer of the Order of the British Empire – офицер ордена Британской империи (рыцарский орден, созданный Георгом V в 1917 г.; самый младший в британской наградной системе)] In this narrative of mine I have departed from my usual practice of relating only those incidents and scenes at which I myself was present[2 - I myself was present – я лично присутствовал]. Certain chapters, therefore, were written in the third person. Wish to assure my readers that I can vouch for the occurrences related in these chapters. If I have taken a certain poetic licence in describing the thoughts and feelings of various persons, it is because I believe I have set them down with a reasonable amount of accuracy. I may add that they have been “vetted” by my friend Hercule Poirot himself. In conclusion, I will say that if I have described at too great length some of the secondary personal relationships which arose as a consequence of this strange series of crimes, it is because the human and personal element can never be ignored. Hercule Poirot once taught me in a very dramatic manner that romance can be a by-product of crime. As to the solving of the ABC mystery, I can only say that in my opinion Poirot showed real genius in the way he tackled a problem entirely unlike any which had previously come his way. Chapter 1 The Letter It was in June of 1935 that I came home from my ranch[3 - ranch (амер.) – ранчо (скотоводческое хозяйство)] in South America for a stay of about six months. It had been a difficult time for us out there. Like everyone else, we had suffered from world depression[4 - world depression = the Great Depression – Великая депрессия (мировой экономический кризис 1929–1939 гг.)]. I had various affairs to see to in England that I felt could only be successful if a personal touch was introduced. My wife remained to manage the ranch. I need hardly say that one of my first actions on reaching England was to look up my old friend, Hercule Poirot. I found him installed in one of the newest type of service flats[5 - service flat – квартира с гостиничным обслуживанием] in London. I accused him (and he admitted the fact) of having chosen this particular building entirely on account of its strictly geometrical appearance and proportions. ‘But yes, my friend, it is of a most pleasing symmetry, do you not find it so?’ I said that I thought there could be too much squareness and, alluding to an old joke, I asked if in this super-modern hostelry they managed to induce hens to lay square eggs. Poirot laughed heartily. ‘Ah, you remember that? Alas! no—science has not yet induced the hens to conform to modern tastes, they still lay eggs of different sizes and colours!’ I examined my old friend with an affectionate eye. He was looking wonderfully well—hardly a day older than when I had last seen him. ‘You’re looking in fine fettle[6 - You’re looking in fine fettle – Вы прекрасно выглядите], Poirot,’ I said. ‘You’ve hardly aged at all. In fact, if it were possible, I should say that you had fewer grey hairs than when I saw you last.’ Poirot beamed on me. ‘And why is that not possible? It is quite true.’ ‘Do you mean your hair is turning from grey to black instead of from black to grey?’ ‘Precisely.’ ‘But surely that’s a scientific impossibility!’ ‘Not at all.’ ‘But that’s very extraordinary. It seems against nature.’ ‘As usual, Hastings, you have the beautiful and unsuspicious mind. Years do not change that in you! You perceive a fact and mention the solution of it in the same breath without noticing that you are doing so!’ I stared at him, puzzled. Without a word he walked into his bedroom and returned with a bottle in his hand which he handed to me. I took it, for the moment uncomprehending. It bore the words: Revivit.—To bring back the natural tone of the hair. Revivit is not a dye. In five shades, Ash, Chestnut, Titian, Brown, Black. ‘Poirot,’ I cried. ‘You have dyed your hair!’ ‘Ah, the comprehension comes to you!’ ‘So that’s why your hair looks so much blacker than it did last time I was back.’ ‘Exactly.’ ‘Dear me[7 - Dear me – Боже мой],’ I said, recovering from the shock. ‘I suppose next time I come home I shall find you wearing false moustaches—or are you doing so now?’ Poirot winced. His moustaches had always been his sensitive point. He was inordinately proud of them. My words touched him on the raw[8 - to touch smb. on the raw – задеть за живое]. ‘No, no, indeed, mon ami[9 - mon ami (фр.) – мой друг]. That day, I pray the good God, is still far off. The false moustache! Quelle horreur![10 - Quelle horreur! (фр.) – Какой ужас!]‘ He tugged at them vigorously to assure me of their genuine character. ‘Well, they are very luxuriant still,’ I said. ‘N’est ce pas?[11 - N’est ce pas? (фр.) – Не правда ли?] Never, in the whole of London, have I seen a pair of moustaches to equal mine.’ A good job too, I thought privately. But I would not for the world have hurt Poirot’s feelings by saying so. Instead I asked if he still practised his profession on occasion. ‘I know,’ I said, ‘that you actually retired years ago—’ ‘C’est vrai.[12 - C’est vrai. (фр.) – Это правда.] To grow the vegetable marrows[13 - vegetable marrow – кабачок; тыква]! And immediately a murder occurs—and I send the vegetable marrows to promenade themselves to the devil. And since then—I know very well what you will say—I am like the prima donna who makes positively the farewell performance! That farewell performance, it repeats itself an indefinite number of times!’ I laughed. ‘In truth, it has been very like that. Each time I say: this is the end. But no, something else arises! And I will admit it, my friend, the retirement I care for it not at all. If the little grey cells are not exercised, they grow the rust.’ ‘I see,’ I said. ‘You exercise them in moderation.’ ‘Precisely. I pick and choose. For Hercule Poirot nowadays only the cream of crime.’ ‘Has there been much cream about?’ ‘Pas mal[14 - Pas mal (фр.) – Порядочно]. Not long ago I had a narrow escape[15 - to have a narrow escape – чудом избежать чего-то].’ ‘Of failure?’ ‘No, no.’ Poirot looked shocked. ‘But I—I, Hercule Poirot, was nearly exterminated.’ I whistled. ‘An enterprising murderer!’ ‘Not so much enterprising as careless,’ said Poirot. ‘Precisely that—careless. But let us not talk of it. You know, Hastings, in many ways I regard you as my mascot.’ ‘Indeed?’ I said. ‘In what ways?’ Poirot did not answer my question directly. He went on: ‘As soon as I heard you were coming over I said to myself: something will arise. As in former days we will hunt together, we two. But if so it must be no common affair. It must be something’—he waved his hands excitedly—‘something recherché—delicate—fine…’ He gave the last untranslatable word its full flavour. ‘Upon my word[16 - Upon my word – Честное слово], Poirot,’ I said. ‘Anyone would think you were ordering a dinner at the Ritz[17 - the Ritz – пятизвездочный отель в Лондоне].’ ‘Whereas one cannot command a crime to order? Very true.’ He sighed. ‘But I believe in luck—in destiny, if you will. It is your destiny to stand beside me and prevent me from committing the unforgivable error.’ What do you call the unforgivable error?’ ‘Overlooking the obvious.’ I turned this over in my mind without quite seeing the point. ‘Well,’ I said presently, smiling, ‘has this super crime turned up yet?’ ‘Pas encore[18 - Pas encore (фр.) – Еще нет]. At least—that is —’ He paused. A frown of perplexity creased his forehead. His hands automatically straightened an object or two that I had inadvertently pushed awry[19 - I had inadvertently pushed awry – я ненароком задел]. ‘I am not sure,’ he said slowly. There was something so odd about his tone that I looked at him in surprise. The frown still lingered. Suddenly with a brief decisive nod of the head he crossed the room to a desk near the window. Its contents, I need hardly say, were all neatly docketed and pigeon-holed[20 - docketed and pigeon-holed – промаркировано и разложено по ящикам] so that he was able at once to lay his hand upon the paper he wanted. He came slowly across to me, an open letter in his hand. He read it through himself, then passed it to me. ‘Tell me, mon ami,’ he said. What do you make of this?’ I took it from him with some interest. It was written on thickish white notepaper in printed characters: Mr Hercule Poirot,—You fancy yourself, don’t you, at solving mysteries that are too difficult for our poor thickheaded British police? Let us see, Mr Clever Poirot, just how clever you can be. Perhaps you’ll find this nut too hard to crack. Look out for Andover[21 - Andover – город в Юго-Восточной Англии, графство Гэмпшир], on the 21st of the month.     Yours, etc.,     A B С. I glanced at the envelope. That also was printed. ‘Postmarked WC1[22 - WC1 = Western Central – почтовый индекс центрального района Лондона],’ said Poirot as I turned my attention to the postmark. ‘Well, what is your opinion?’ I shrugged my shoulders as I handed it back to him. ‘Some madman or other, I suppose.’ ‘That is all you have to say?’ ‘Well—doesn’t it sound like a madman to you?’ ‘Yes, my friend, it does.’ His tone was grave. I looked at him curiously. ‘You take this very seriously, Poirot.’ ‘A madman, mon ami, is to be taken seriously. A madman is a very dangerous thing.’ ‘Yes, of course, that is true… I hadn’t considered that point… But what I meant was, it sounds more like a rather idiotic kind of hoax. Perhaps some convivial idiot who had had one over the eight[23 - some convivial idiot who had had one over the eight – какой-нибудь идиот навеселе хватил лишнего].’ ‘Comment? Nine? Nine what?’ ‘Nothing—just an expression. I meant a fellow who was tight[24 - to be tight (сленг) – быть навеселе]. No, damn it, a fellow who had had a spot too much to drink.’ ‘Merci, Hastings—the expression “tight” I am acquainted with it. As you say, there may be nothing more to it than that…’ ‘But you think there is?’ I asked, struck by the dissatisfaction of his tone. Poirot shook his head doubtfully, but he did not speak. ‘What have you done about it?’ I inquired. ‘What can one do? I showed it to Japp. He was of the same opinion as you—a stupid hoax—that was the expression he used. They get these things every day at Scotland Yard. I, too, have had my share…’ ‘But you take this one seriously?’ Poirot replied slowly. ‘There is something about that letter, Hastings, that I do not like…’ In spite of myself, his tone impressed me. ‘You think—what?’ He shook his head, and picking up the letter, put it away again in the desk. ‘If you really take it seriously, can’t you do something?’ I asked. ‘As always, the man of action! But what is there to do? The county police have seen the letter but they, too, do not take it seriously. There are no fingerprints on it. There are no local clues as to the possible writer.’ ‘In fact there is only your own instinct?’ ‘Not instinct, Hastings. Instinct is a bad word. It is my knowledge—my experience—that tells me that something about that letter is wrong —’ He gesticulated as words failed him, then shook his head again. ‘I may be making the mountain out of the anthill[25 - to make a mountain out of an anthill – делать из мухи слона (букв. делать гору из муравейника)]. In any case there is nothing to be done but wait.’ ‘Well, the 21st is Friday. If a whacking great robbery takes place near Andover then —’ ‘Ah, what a comfort that would be —!’ ‘A comfort?’ I stared. The word seemed to be a very extraordinary one to use. ‘A robbery may be a thrill but it can hardly be a comfort!’ I protested. Poirot shook his head energetically. ‘You are in error, my friend. You do not understand my meaning. A robbery would be a relief since it would dispossess my mind of the fear of something else.’ ‘Of what?’ ‘Murder,’ said Hercule Poirot. Chapter 2 (Not from Captain Hastings’ Personal Narrative) Mr Alexander Bonaparte Cust rose from his seat and peered near-sightedly round the shabby bedroom. His back was stiff from sitting in a cramped position and as he stretched himself to his full height an onlooker would have realized that he was, in reality, quite a tall man. His stoop and his near-sighted peering gave a delusive impression. Going to a well-worn overcoat hanging on the back of the door, he took from the pocket a packet of cheap cigarettes and some matches. He lit a cigarette and then returned to the table at which he had been sitting. He picked up a railway guide and consulted it, then he returned to the consideration of a typewritten list of names. With a pen, he made a tick against one of the first names on the list. It was Thursday, June 20th. Chapter 3 Andover I had been impressed at the time by Poirot’s forebodings about the anonymous letter he had received, but I must admit that the matter had passed from my mind when the 21st actually arrived and the first reminder of it came with a visit paid to my friend by Chief Inspector Japp of Scotland Yard[26 - Scotland Yard – штаб-квартира полиции в Англии]. The CID[27 - CID = Criminal Investigation Department – управление по расследованию уголовных дел] inspector had been known to us for many years and he gave me a hearty welcome. ‘Well, I never[28 - Well, I never – Не может быть],’ he exclaimed. ‘If it isn’t Captain Hastings back from the wilds of the what do you call it! Quite like old days seeing you here with Monsieur Poirot. You’re looking well, too. Just a little bit thin on top, eh? Well, that’s what we’re all coming to. I’m the same.’ I winced slightly. I was under the impression that owing to the careful way I brushed my hair across the top of my head the thinness referred to by Japp was quite unnoticeable. However, Japp had never been remarkable for tact where I was concerned, so I put a good face upon it and agreed that we were none of us getting any younger. ‘Except Monsieur Poirot here,’ said Japp. ‘Quite a good advertisement for a hair tonic, he’d be. Face fungus sprouting finer than ever. Coming out into the limelight[29 - to come out into limelight – привлекать внимание общества], too, in his old age. Mixed up in all the celebrated cases of the day. Train mysteries, air mysteries, high society deaths—oh, he’s here, there and everywhere. Never been so celebrated as since he retired.’ ‘I have already told Hastings that I am like the prima donna who makes always one more appearance,’ said Poirot, smiling. ‘I shouldn’t wonder if you ended by detecting your own death,’ said Japp, laughing heartily. ‘That’s an idea, that is. Ought to be put in a book.’ ‘It will be Hastings who will have to do that,’ said Poirot, twinkling at me. ‘Ha ha! That would be a joke, that would,’ laughed Japp. I failed to see why the idea was so extremely amusing, and in any case I thought the joke was in poor taste. Poirot, poor old chap, is getting on. Jokes about his approaching demise can hardly be agreeable to him. Perhaps my manner showed my feelings, for Japp changed the subject. ‘Have you heard about Monsieur Poirot’s anonymous letter?’ ‘I showed it to Hastings the other day,’ said my friend. ‘Of course,’ I exclaimed. ‘It had quite slipped my memory. Let me see, what was the date mentioned?’ ‘The 21st,’ said Japp. ‘That’s what I dropped in about. Yesterday was the 21st and just out of curiosity I rang up Andover last night. It was a hoax all right. Nothing doing. One broken shop window—kid throwing stones—and a couple of drunk and disorderlies. So just for once our Belgian friend was barking up the wrong tree[30 - to bark up the wrong tree – ошибиться (букв. лаять не на то дерево)].’ ‘I am relieved, I must confess,’ acknowledged Poirot. ‘You’d quite got the wind up[31 - to get the wind up – испугаться] about it, hadn’t you?’ said Japp affectionately. ‘Bless you, we get dozens of letters like that coming in every day! People with nothing better to do and a bit weak in the top storey[32 - the top storey (шутл.) – мозги] sit down and write ‘em[33 - ‘em = them]. They don’t mean any harm! Just a kind of excitement.’ ‘I have indeed been foolish to take the matter so seriously,’ said Poirot. ‘It is the nest of the horse that I put my nose into there.’ ‘You’re mixing up mares and wasps[34 - mare – кобыла; = nightmare (mare’s nest — иллюзия, обман) wasp – оса (wasps’ nest — осиное гнездо; скопище врагов)],’ said Japp. ‘Pardon?’ ‘Just a couple of proverbs. Well, I must be off. Got a little business in the next street to see to—receiving stolen jewellery. I thought I’d just drop in on my way and put your mind at rest. Pity to let those grey cells function unnecessarily.’ With which words and a hearty laugh, Japp departed. ‘He does not change much, the good Japp, eh?’ asked Poirot. ‘He looks much older,’ I said. ‘Getting as grey as a badger,’ I added vindictively. Poirot coughed and said: ‘You know, Hastings, there is a little device—my hairdresser is a man of great ingenuity—one attaches it to the scalp and brushes one’s own hair over it—it is not a wig, you comprehend—but —’ ‘Poirot,’ I roared. ‘Once and for all[35 - Once and for all – Раз и навсегда] I will have nothing to do with the beastly inventions of your confounded hairdresser. What’s the matter with the top of my head?’ ‘Nothing—nothing at all.’ ‘It’s not as though I were going bald.’ ‘Of course not! Of course not!’ ‘The hot summers out there naturally cause the hair to fall out a bit. I shall take back a really good hair tonic.’ ‘Précisément.[36 - Précisément. (фр.) – Правильно.]’ ‘And, anyway, what business is it of Japp’s? He always was an offensive kind of devil. And no sense of humour. The kind of man who laughs when a chair is pulled away just as a man is about to sit down.’ ‘A great many people would laugh at that.’ ‘It’s utterly senseless.’ ‘From the point of view of the man about to sit, certainly it is.’ ‘Well,’ I said, slightly recovering my temper. (I admit that I am touchy about the thinness of my hair.) ‘I’m sorry that anonymous letter business came to nothing.’ ‘I have indeed been in the wrong[37 - to be in the wrong – ошибаться] over that. About that letter, there was, I thought, the odour of the fish. Instead a mere stupidity. Alas, I grow old and suspicious like the blind watch-dog who growls when there is nothing there.’ ‘If I’m going to co-operate with you, we must look about for some other “creamy” crime,’ I said with a laugh. ‘You remember your remark of the other day? If you could order a crime as one orders a dinner, what would you choose?’ I fell in with[38 - to fall in with – поддержать, присоединиться] his humour. ‘Let me see now. Let’s review the menu. Robbery? Forgery? No, I think not. Rather too vegetarian. It must be murder—red-blooded murder—with trimmings, of course.’ ‘Naturally. The hors-d’œuvres[39 - hors-d’œuvres (фр.) – закуски].’ ‘Who shall the victim be—man or woman? Man, I think. Some big-wig. American millionaire. Prime Minister. Newspaper proprietor. Scene of the crime—well, what’s wrong with the good old library? Nothing like it for atmosphere. As for the weapon—well, it might be a curiously twisted dagger—or some blunt instrument—a carved stone idol —’ Poirot sighed. ‘Or, of course,’ I said, ‘there’s poison—but that’s always so technical. Or a revolver shot echoing in the night. Then there must be a beautiful girl or two —’ ‘With auburn hair,’ murmured my friend. ‘Your same old joke. One of the beautiful girls, of course, must be unjustly suspected—and there’s some misunderstanding between her and the young man. And then, of course, there must be some other suspects—an older woman—dark, dangerous type—and some friend or rival of the dead man’s—and a quiet secretary—dark horse—and a hearty man with a bluff manner—and a couple of discharged servants or gamekeepers or somethings—and a damn fool of a detective rather like Japp—and well—that’s about all.’ ‘That is your idea of the cream, eh?’ ‘I gather you don’t agree.’ Poirot looked at me sadly. ‘You have made there a very pretty resume of nearly all the detective stories that have ever been written.’ ‘Well,’ I said. ‘What would you order?’ Poirot closed his eyes and leaned back in his chair. His voice came purringly from between his lips. ‘A very simple crime. A crime with no complications. A crime of quiet domestic life… very unimpassioned —very intime.’ ‘How can a crime be intime?’ ‘Supposing,’ murmured Poirot, ‘that four people sit down to play bridge[40 - bridge – бридж (карточная командная или парная игра; в данном случае речь идет о робберном бридже, где соревнуются двое на двое)] and one, the odd man out[41 - the odd man out – лишний], sits in a chair by the fire. At the end of the evening the man by the fire is found dead. One of the four, while he is dummy[42 - dummy – болван (в бридже партнер разыгрывающего; после первого хода противника болван выкладывает свои карты открытыми на стол и в дальнейшем не принимает участия в розыгрыше)], has gone over and killed him, and intent on the play of the hand[43 - intent on the play of the hand – сосредоточен на игре разыгрывающего], the other three have not noticed. Ah, there would be a crime for you! Which of the four was it?’ ‘Well,’ I said. ‘I can’t see any excitement in that!’ Poirot threw me a glance of reproof. ‘No, because there are no curiously twisted daggers, no blackmail, no emerald that is the stolen eye of a god, no untraceable Eastern poisons. You have the melodramatic soul, Hastings. You would like, not one murder, but a series of murders.’ ‘I admit,’ I said, ‘that a second murder in a book often cheers things up. If the murder happens in the first chapter, and you have to follow up everybody’s alibi until the last page but one—well, it does get a bit tedious.’ The telephone rang and Poirot rose to answer. ‘’Allo[44 - ‘Allo = Hallo = Hello],’ he said. ‘’Allo. Yes, it is Hercule Poirot speaking.’ He listened for a minute or two and then I saw his face change. His own side of the conversation was short and disjointed. ‘Mais oui[45 - Mais oui (фр.) – Но да]…’ ‘Yes, of course…’ ‘But yes, we will come…’ ‘Naturally…’ ‘It may be as you say…’ ‘Yes, I will bring it. À tout à l’heure[46 - À tout à l’heure (фр.) – До встречи] then.’ He replaced the receiver and came across the room to me. ‘That was Japp speaking, Hastings.’ ‘Yes?’ ‘He had just got back to the Yard. There was a message from Andover…’ ‘Andover?’ I cried excitedly. Poirot said slowly: ‘An old woman of the name of Ascher who keeps a little tobacco and newspaper shop has been found murdered.’ I think I felt ever so slightly damped. My interest, quickened by the sound of Andover, suffered a faint check. I had expected something fantastic—out of the way[47 - out of the way – необычный]! The murder of an old woman who kept a little tobacco shop seemed, somehow, sordid and uninteresting. Poirot continued in the same slow, grave voice: ‘The Andover police believe they can put their hand on the man who did it —’ I felt a second throb of disappointment. ‘It seems the woman was on bad terms[48 - to be on bad terms – быть в плохих отношениях] with her husband. He drinks and is by way of being[49 - to be by way of being (smb.) – считаться (кем-либо)] rather a nasty customer. He’s threatened to take her life more than once. ‘Nevertheless,’ continued Poirot, ‘in view of what has happened, the police there would like to have another look at the anonymous letter I received. I have said that you and I will go down to Andover at once.’ My spirits revived a little. After all, sordid as this crime seemed to be, it was a crime, and it was a long time since I had had any association with crime and criminals. I hardly listened to the next words Poirot said. But they were to come back to me with significance later. ‘This is the beginning,’ said Hercule Poirot. Chapter 4 Mrs Ascher We were received at Andover by Inspector Glen, a tall fair-haired man with a pleasant smile. For the sake of conciseness[50 - For the sake of conciseness – Для краткости] I think I had better give a brief résumé of the bare facts of the case. The crime was discovered by Police Constable Dover at 1 a.m. on the morning of the 22nd. When on his round he tried the door of the shop and found it unfastened, he entered and at first thought the place was empty. Directing his torch over the counter, however, he caught sight of the huddled-up body of the old woman. When the police surgeon[51 - police surgeon – судмедэксперт] arrived on the spot it was elicited that the woman had been struck down by a heavy blow on the back of the head, probably while she was reaching down a packet of cigarettes from the shelf behind the counter. Death must have occurred about nine to seven hours previously. ‘But we’ve been able to get it down[52 - to get it down – разузнать] a bit nearer than that,’ explained the inspector. ‘We’ve found a man who went in and bought some tobacco at 5.30. And a second man went in and found the shop empty, as he thought, at five minutes past six. That puts the time at between 5.30 and 6.50. So far I haven’t been able to find anyone who saw this man Ascher in the neighbourhood, but, of course, it’s early as yet. He was in the Three Crowns at nine o’clock pretty far gone in drink. When we get hold of him he’ll be detained on suspicion.’ ‘Not a very desirable character, inspector?’ asked Poirot. ‘Unpleasant bit of goods[53 - bit of goods (разг.) – тип].’ ‘He didn’t live with his wife?’ ‘No, they separated some years ago. Ascher’s a German. He was a waiter at one time, but he took to drink and gradually became unemployable. His wife went into service for a bit. Her last place was as cook-housekeeper to an old lady, Miss Rose. She allowed her husband so much out of her wages to keep himself, but he was always getting drunk and coming round and making scenes at the places where she was employed. That’s why she took the post with Miss Rose at The Grange. It’s three miles out of Andover, dead in the country. He couldn’t get at her there so well. When Miss Rose died, she left Mrs Ascher a small legacy, and the woman started this tobacco and newsagent business—quite a tiny place—just cheap cigarettes and a few newspapers—that sort of thing. She just about managed to keep going[54 - to keep going – сводить концы с концами]. Ascher used to come round and abuse her now and again and she used to give him a bit to get rid of[55 - to get rid of – отделаться] him. She allowed him fifteen shillings a week regular.’ ‘Had they any children?’ asked Poirot. ‘No. There’s a niece. She’s in service near Overton. Very superior, steady young woman.’ ‘And you say this man Ascher used to threaten his wife?’ ‘That’s right. He was a terror when he was in drink—cursing and swearing that he’d bash her head in. She had a hard time, did Mrs Ascher.’ ‘What age of woman was she?’ ‘Close on sixty—respectable and hard-working.’ Poirot said gravely: ‘It is your opinion, inspector, that this man Ascher committed the crime?’ The inspector coughed cautiously. ‘It’s a bit early to say that, Mr Poirot, but I’d like to hear Franz Ascher’s own account of how he spent yesterday evening. If he can give a satisfactory account of himself, well and good—if not —’ His pause was a pregnant one. ‘Nothing was missing from the shop?’ ‘Nothing. Money in the till quite undisturbed. No signs of robbery.’ ‘You think that this man Ascher came into the shop drunk, started abusing his wife and finally struck her down?’ ‘It seems the most likely solution. But I must confess, sir, I’d like to have another look at that very odd letter you received. I was wondering if it was just possible that it came from this man Ascher.’ Poirot handed over the letter and the inspector read it with a frown. ‘It doesn’t read like Ascher,’ he said at last. ‘I doubt if Ascher would use the term “our” British police—not unless he was trying to be extra cunning—and I doubt if he’s got the wits for that. Then the man’s a wreck—all to pieces. His hand’s too shaky to print letters clearly like this. It’s good quality notepaper and ink, too. It’s odd that the letter should mention the 21st of the month. Of course it might be coincidence.’ ‘That is possible—yes.’ ‘But I don’t like this kind of coincidence, Mr Poirot. It’s a bit too pat.’ He was silent for a minute or two—a frown creasing his forehead. ‘А В C. Who the devil could А В C be? We’ll see if Mary Drower (that’s the niece) can give us any help. It’s an odd business. But for this letter I’d have put my money on Franz Ascher for a certainty.’ ‘Do you know anything of Mrs Ascher’s past?’ ‘She’s a Hampshire woman[56 - a Hampshire woman – родом из графства Гэмпшир]. Went into service as a girl up in London—that’s where she met Ascher and married him. Things must have been difficult for them during the war. She actually left him for good[57 - for good – окончательно] in 1922. They were in London then. She came back here to get away from him, but he got wind[58 - to get wind – разузнать] of where she was and followed her down here, pestering her for money —’ A constable came in. ‘Yes, Briggs, what is it?’ ‘It’s the man Ascher, sir. We’ve brought him in.’ ‘Right. Bring him in here. Where was he?’ ‘Hiding in a truck on the railway siding.’ ‘He was, was he? Bring him along.’ Franz Ascher was indeed a miserable and unprepossessing specimen. He was blubbering and cringing and blustering alternately[59 - He was blubbering and cringing and blustering alternately – Он громко выл и то лебезил, то угрожал]. His bleary eyes moved shiftily from one face to another. ‘What do you want with me? I have not done nothing. It is a shame and a scandal to bring me here! You are swine, how dare you?’ His manner changed suddenly. ‘No, no, I do not mean that—you would not hurt a poor old man—not be hard on[60 - to be hard on (smb.) – быть суровым с кем-либо] him. Everyone is hard on poor old Franz. Poor old Franz.’ Mr Ascher started to weep. ‘That’ll do[61 - That’ll do – Довольно], Ascher,’ said the inspector. ‘Pull yourself together. I’m not charging you with anything—yet. And you’re not bound to make a statement unless you like. On the other hand, if you’re not concerned in the murder of your wife —’ Ascher interrupted him—his voice rising to a scream. ‘I did not kill her! I did not kill her! It is all lies! You are goddamned English pigs—all against me. I never kill her—never.’ ‘You threatened to often enough, Ascher.’ ‘No, no. You do not understand. That was just a joke—a good joke between me and Alice. She understood.’ ‘Funny kind of joke! Do you care to say where you were yesterday evening, Ascher?’ ‘Yes, yes—I tell you everything. I did not go near Alice. I am with friends—good friends. We are at the Seven Stars—and then we are at the Red Dog —’ He hurried on, his words stumbling over each other. ‘Dick Willows—he was with me—and old Curdie—and George—and Platt and lots of the boys. I tell you I do not never go near Alice. Ach Gott[62 - Ach Gott = Ah God], it is the truth I am telling you.’ His voice rose to a scream. The inspector nodded to his underling. ‘Take him away. Detained on suspicion.’ ‘I don’t know what to think,’ he said as the unpleasant, shaking old man with the malevolent, mouthing jaw was removed. ‘If it wasn’t for the letter[63 - If it wasn’t for the letter – Если бы не письмо], I’d say he did it.’ ‘What about the men he mentions?’ ‘A bad crowd—not one of them would stick at perjury. I’ve no doubt he was with them the greater part of the evening. A lot depends on whether any one saw him near the shop between half-past five and six.’ Poirot shook his head thoughtfully. ‘You are sure nothing was taken from the shop?’ The inspector shrugged his shoulders. ‘That depends. A packet or two of cigarettes might have been taken—but you’d hardly commit murder for that.’ ‘And there was nothing—how shall I put it—introduced into the shop? Nothing that was odd there—incongruous?’ ‘There was a railway guide,’ said the inspector. ‘A railway guide?’ ‘Yes. It was open and turned face downward on the counter. Looked as though someone had been looking up the trains from Andover. Either the old woman or a customer.’ ‘Did she sell that type of thing?’ The inspector shook his head. ‘She sold penny time-tables. This was a big one—kind of thing only Smith’s or a big stationer would keep.’ A light came into Poirot’s eyes. He leant forward. A light came into the inspector’s eye also. ‘A railway guide, you say. A Bradshaw—or an ABC[64 - A Bradshaw – железнодорожный справочник Брэдшоу (серия расписаний и справочников, выпускалась с 1839 по 1961 гг.); an ABC – алфавитный справочник]? ‘By the Lord[65 - By the Lord – Боже милостивый],’ he said. ‘It was an A B C.’ Chapter 5 Mary Drower I think that I can date my interest in the case from that first mention of the ABC railway guide. Up till then I had not been able to raise much enthusiasm. This sordid murder of an old woman in a back-street shop was so like the usual type of crime reported in the newspapers that it failed to strike a significant note[66 - to strike a (kind of) note – произвести определенное впечатление]. In my own mind I had put down the anonymous letter with its mention of the 21st as a mere coincidence. Mrs Ascher, I felt reasonably sure, had been the victim of her drunken brute of a husband. But now the mention of the railway guide (so familiarly known by its abbreviation of А В C, listing as it did all railway stations in their alphabetical order) sent a quiver of excitement through me. Surely—surely this could not be a second coincidence? The sordid crime took on a new aspect. Who was the mysterious individual who had killed Mrs Ascher and left an А В C railway guide behind him? When we left the police station our first visit was to the mortuary to see the body of the dead woman. A strange feeling came over me as I gazed down on that wrinkled old face with the scanty grey hair drawn back tightly from the temples. It looked so peaceful, so incredibly remote from violence. ‘Never knew who or what struck her,’ observed the sergeant. ‘That’s what Dr Kerr says. I’m glad it was that way, poor old soul. A decent woman she was.’ ‘She must have been beautiful once,’ said Poirot. ‘Really?’ I murmured incredulously. ‘But yes, look at the line of the jaw, the bones, the moulding of the head.’ He sighed as he replaced the sheet and we left the mortuary. Our next move was a brief interview with the police surgeon. Dr Kerr was a competent-looking middle-aged man. He spoke briskly and with decision. ‘The weapon wasn’t found,’ he said. ‘Impossible to say what it may have been. A weighted stick, a club, a form of sandbag—any of those would fit the case.’ ‘Would much force be needed to strike such a blow?’ The doctor shot a keen glance at Poirot. ‘Meaning, I suppose, could a shaky old man of seventy do it? Oh, yes, it’s perfectly possible—given sufficient weight in the head of the weapon, quite a feeble person could achieve the desired result.’ ‘Then the murderer could just as well be a woman as a man?’ The suggestion took the doctor somewhat aback[67 - to take aback – ошеломить]. ‘A woman, eh? Well, I confess it never occurred to me to connect a woman with this type of crime. But of course it’s possible—perfectly possible. Only, psychologically speaking, I shouldn’t say this was a woman’s crime.’ Poirot nodded his head in eager agreement. ‘Perfectly, perfectly. On the face of it, highly improbable. But one must take all possibilities into account[68 - to take into account – принимать во внимание]. The body was lying—how?’ The doctor gave us a careful description of the position of the victim. It was his opinion that she had been standing with her back to the counter (and therefore to her assailant) when the blow had been struck. She had slipped down in a heap behind the counter quite out of sight of anyone entering the shop casually. When we had thanked Dr Kerr and taken our leave, Poirot said: ‘You perceive, Hastings, that we have already one further point in favour of Ascher’s innocence. If he had been abusing his wife and threatening her, she would have been facing him over the counter. Instead she had her back to her assailant—obviously she is reaching down tobacco or cigarettes for a customer.’ I gave a little shiver. ‘Pretty gruesome.’ Poirot shook his head gravely. ‘Pauvre femme[69 - Pauvre femme (фр.) – Бедная женщина],’ he murmured. Then he glanced at his watch. ‘Overton is not, I think, many miles from here. Shall we run over there and have an interview with the niece of the dead woman?’ ‘Surely you will go first to the shop where the crime took place?’ ‘I prefer to do that later. I have a reason.’ He did not explain further, and a few minutes later we were driving on the London road in the direction of Overton. The address which the inspector had given us was that of a good-sized house about a mile on the London side of the village. Our ring at the bell was answered by a pretty dark-haired girl whose eyes were red with recent weeping. Poirot said gently: ‘Ah! I think it is you who are Miss Mary Drower, the parlourmaid here?’ ‘Yes, sir, that’s right. I’m Mary, sir.’ ‘Then perhaps I can talk to you for a few minutes if your mistress will not object. It is about your aunt, Mrs Ascher.’ ‘The mistress is out, sir. She wouldn’t mind, I’m sure, if you came in here.’ She opened the door of a small morning-room[70 - morning-room – маленькая столовая, примыкающая к кухне]. We entered and Poirot, seating himself on a chair by the window, looked up keenly into the girl’s face. ‘You have heard of your aunt’s death, of course?’ The girl nodded, tears coming once more into her eyes. ‘This morning, sir. The police came over. Oh! It’s terrible! Poor auntie! Such a hard life as she’d had, too. And now this—it’s too awful.’ ‘The police did not suggest your returning to Andover?’ ‘They said I must come to the inquest—that’s on Monday, sir. But I’ve nowhere to go there—I couldn’t fancy being over the shop—now—and what with the housemaid being away, I didn’t want to put the mistress out more than may be.’ ‘You were fond of your aunt, Mary?’ said Poirot gently. ‘Indeed I was, sir. Very good she’s been to me always, auntie has. I went to her in London when I was eleven years old, after mother died. I started in service when I was sixteen, but I usually went along to auntie’s on my day out[71 - day out – свободный день прислуги]. A lot of trouble she went through with that German fellow. “My old devil,” she used to call him. He’d never let her be in peace anywhere. Sponging, cadging old beast.’ The girl spoke with vehemence. ‘Your aunt never thought of freeing herself by legal means from this persecution?’ ‘Well, you see, he was her husband, sir, you couldn’t get away from that.’ The girl spoke simply but with finality[72 - to speak with finality – говорить тоном, не допускающим дальнейшего обсуждения]. ‘Tell me, Mary, he threatened her, did he not?’ ‘Oh, yes, sir, it was awful the things he used to say. That he’d cut her throat, and such like. Cursing and swearing too—both in German and in English. And yet auntie says he was a fine handsome figure of a man when she married him. It’s dreadful to think, sir, what people come to.’ ‘Yes, indeed. And so, I suppose, Mary, having actually heard these threats, you were not so very surprised when you learnt what had happened?’ ‘Oh, but I was, sir. You see, sir, I never thought for one moment that he meant it. I thought it was just nasty talk and nothing more to it. And it isn’t as though auntie was afraid of him. Why, I’ve seen him slink away like a dog with its tail between its legs when she turned on him[73 - to turn on smb. – накинуться на кого-либо]. He was afraid of her if you like.’ ‘And yet she gave him money?’ ‘Well, he was her husband, you see, sir.’ ‘Yes, so you said before.’ He paused for a minute or two. Then he said: ‘Suppose that, after all, he did not kill her.’ ‘Didn’t kill her?’ She stared. ‘That is what I said. Supposing someone else killed her… Have you any idea who that someone else could be?’ She stared at him with even more amazement. ‘I’ve no idea, sir. It doesn’t seem likely, though, does it?’ ‘There was no one your aunt was afraid of?’ Mary shook her head. ‘Auntie wasn’t afraid of people. She’d a sharp tongue and she’d stand up to anybody[74 - to stand up to smb. – противостоять кому-либо].’ ‘You never heard her mention anyone who had a grudge against her[75 - to have a grudge against smb. – иметь зуб против кого-либо; враждовать]?’ ‘No, indeed, sir.’ ‘Did she ever get anonymous letters?’ ‘What kind of letters did you say, sir?’ ‘Letters that weren’t signed—or only signed by something like ABC.’ He watched her narrowly, but plainly she was at a loss[76 - to be at a loss – быть в замешательстве]. She shook her head wonderingly. ‘Has your aunt any relations except you?’ ‘Not now, sir. One of ten she was, but only three lived to grow up. My Uncle Tom was killed in the war, and my Uncle Harry went to South America and no one’s heard of him since, and mother’s dead, of course, so there’s only me.’ ‘Had your aunt any savings? Any money put by?’ ‘She’d a little in the Savings Bank, sir—enough to bury her proper, that’s what she always said. Otherwise she didn’t more than just make ends meet[77 - to make ends meet – сводить концы с концами]—what with her old devil and all.’ Poirot nodded thoughtfully. He said—perhaps more to himself than to her: ‘At present one is in the dark—there is no direction—if things get clearer —’ He got up. ‘If I want you at any time, Mary, I will write to you here.’ ‘As a matter of fact, sir, I’m giving in my notice[78 - to give in one’s notice – подавать заявление об увольнении]. I don’t like the country. I stayed here because I fancied it was a comfort to auntie to have me near by. But now’—again the tears rose in her eyes—‘there’s no reason I should stay, and so I’ll go back to London. It’s gayer for a girl there.’ ‘I wish that, when you do go, you would give me your address. Here is my card.’ He handed it to her. She looked at it with a puzzled frown. ‘Then you’re not—anything to do with the police, sir?’ ‘I am a private detective.’ She stood there looking at him for some moments in silence. She said at last: ‘Is there anything—queer going on, sir?’ ‘Yes, my child. There is—something queer going on. Later you may be able to help me.’ ‘I—I’ll do anything, sir. It—it wasn’t right, sir, auntie being killed.’ A strange way of putting it—but deeply moving. A few seconds later we were driving back to Andover. Chapter 6 The Scene of the Crime The street in which the tragedy had occurred was a turning off the main street. Mrs Ascher’s shop was situated about halfway down it on the right-hand side. As we turned into the street Poirot glanced at his watch and I realized why he had delayed his visit to the scene of the crime until now. It was just on half-past five. He had wished to reproduce yesterday’s atmosphere as closely as possible. But if that had been his purpose it was defeated. Certainly at this moment the road bore very little likeness to its appearance on the previous evening. There were a certain number of small shops interspersed between private houses of the poorer class. I judged that ordinarily there would be a fair number of people passing up and down—mostly people of the poorer classes, with a good sprinkling of children playing on the pavements and in the road. At this moment there was a solid mass of people standing staring at one particular house or shop and it took little perspicuity to guess which that was. What we saw was a mass of average human beings looking with intense interest at the spot where another human being had been done to death. As we drew nearer this proved to be indeed the case. In front of a small dingy-looking shop with its shutters now closed stood a harassed-looking young policeman who was stolidly adjuring the crowd to ‘pass along there.’ By the help of a colleague, displacements took place—a certain number of people grudgingly sighed and betook themselves to their ordinary vocations, and almost immediately other persons came along and took up their stand to gaze their fill on the spot where murder had been committed. Poirot stopped a little distance from the main body of the crowd. From where we stood the legend painted over the door could be read plainly enough. Poirot repeated it under his breath[79 - under one’s breath – тихим голосом; шепотом]. ‘A. Ascher. Oui, c’est peut-être là[80 - Oui, c’est peut-être là (фр.) – Да, возможно, здесь]—’ He broke off. ‘Come, let us go inside, Hastings.’ I was only too ready. We made our way through the crowd and accosted the young policeman. Poirot produced the credentials which the inspector had given him. The constable nodded, and unlocked the door to let us pass within. We did so and entered to the intense interest of the lookers-on. Inside it was very dark owing to the shutters being closed. The constable found and switched on the electric light. The bulb was a low-powered one so that the interior was still dimly lit. I looked about me. A dingy little place. A few cheap magazines strewn about, and yesterday’s newspapers—all with a day’s dust on them. Behind the counter a row of shelves reaching to the ceiling and packed with tobacco and packets of cigarettes. There were also a couple of jars of peppermint humbugs and barley sugar. A commonplace little shop, one of many thousand such others. The constable in his slow Hampshire voice was explaining the mise en scène[81 - mise en scène (фр.) – мизансцена; окружающая обстановка]. ‘Down in a heap behind the counter, that’s where she was. Doctor says as how she never knew what hit her. Must have been reaching up to one of the shelves.’ ‘There was nothing in her hand?’ ‘No, sir, but there was a packet of Player’s[82 - Player’s = “Player’s Navy Cut” – марка сигарет, популярная в Британии и Германии в конце XIX – начале XX вв.] down beside her.’ Poirot nodded. His eyes swept round the small space observing—noting. ‘And the railway guide was—where?’ ‘Here, sir.’ The constable pointed out the spot on the counter. ‘It was open at the right page for Andover and lying face down. Seems as though he must have been looking up the trains to London. If so, it mightn’t have been an Andover man at all. But then, of course, the railway guide might have belonged to someone else what had nothing to do with the murder at all, but just forgot it here.’ ‘Fingerprints?’ I suggested. The man shook his head. ‘The whole place was examined straight away, sir. There weren’t none.’ ‘Not on the counter itself?’asked Poirot. ‘A long sight too many, sir! All confused and jumbled up.’ ‘Any of Ascher’s among them?’ ‘Too soon to say, sir.’ Poirot nodded, then asked if the dead woman lived over the shop. ‘Yes, sir, you go through that door at the back, sir. You’ll excuse me not coming with you, but I’ve got to stay —’ Poirot passed through the door in question and I followed him. Behind the shop was a microscopic sort of parlour and kitchen combined—it was neat and clean but very dreary looking and scantily furnished. On the mantelpiece were a few photographs. I went up and looked at them and Poirot joined me. The photographs were three in all. One was a cheap portrait of the girl we had been with that afternoon, Mary Drower. She was obviously wearing her best clothes and had the self-conscious, wooden smile on her face that so often disfigures the expression in posed photography, and makes a snapshot preferable. The second was a more expensive type of picture—an artistically blurred reproduction of an elderly woman with white hair. A high fur collar stood up round the neck. I guessed that this was probably the Miss Rose who had left Mrs Ascher the small legacy which had enabled her to start in business. The third photograph was a very old one, now faded and yellow. It represented a young man and woman in somewhat old-fashioned clothes standing arm in arm[83 - arm in arm – под руку]. The man had a button-hole and there was an air of bygone festivity about the whole pose. ‘Probably a wedding picture,’ said Poirot. ‘Regard, Hastings, did I not tell you that she had been a beautiful woman?’ He was right. Disfigured by old-fashioned hairdressing and weird clothes, there was no disguising the handsomeness of the girl in the picture with her clear-cut features and spirited bearing. I looked closely at the second figure. It was almost impossible to recognise the seedy Ascher in this smart young man with the military bearing. I recalled the leering drunken old man, and the toil-worn face of the dead woman—and I shivered a little at the remorselessness of time… From the parlour a stair led to two upstairs rooms. One was empty and unfurnished, the other had evidently been the dead woman’s bedroom. After being searched by the police it had been left as it was. A couple of old worn blankets on the bed—a little stock of well-darned underwear in a drawer—cookery recipes in another—a paper-backed novel entitled The Green Oasis—a pair of new stockings—pathetic in their cheap shininess—a couple of china ornaments—a Dresden shepherd[84 - Dresden shepherd – фарфоровая фигурка пастушка, произведенная в городе Дрезден] much broken, and a blue and yellow spotted dog—a black raincoat and a woolly jumper hanging on pegs—such were the worldly possessions of the late Alice Ascher. If there had been any personal papers, the police had taken them. ‘Pauvre femme,’ murmured Poirot. ‘Come, Hastings, there is nothing for us here.’ When we were once more in the street, he hesitated for a minute or two, then crossed the road. Almost exactly opposite Mrs Ascher’s was a greengrocer’s shop—of the type that has most of its stock outside rather than inside. In a low voice Poirot gave me certain instructions. Then he himself entered the shop. After waiting a minute or two I followed him in. He was at the moment negotiating for a lettuce. I myself bought a pound of strawberries. Poirot was talking animatedly to the stout lady who was serving him. ‘It was just opposite you, was it not, that this murder occurred? What an affair! What a sensation it must have caused you!’ The stout lady was obviously tired of talking about the murder. She must have had a long day of it. She observed: ‘It would be as well if some of that gaping crowd cleared off. What is there to look at, I’d like to know?’ ‘It must have been very different last night,’ said Poirot. ‘Possibly you even observed the murderer enter the shop—a tall, fair man with a beard, was he not? A Russian, so I have heard.’ ‘What’s that?’ The woman looked up sharply. ‘A Russian did it, you say?’ ‘I understand that the police have arrested him.’ ‘Did you ever know?’ The woman was excited, voluble. ‘A foreigner.’ ‘Mais oui[85 - Mais oui (фр.) – Ну да]. I thought perhaps you might have noticed him last night?’ ‘Well, I don’t get much chance of noticing, and that’s a fact. The evening’s our busy time and there’s always a fair few passing along and getting home after their work. A tall, fair man with a beard—no, I can’t say I saw anyone of that description anywhere about.’ I broke in on my cue[86 - on my cue – в подходящий момент]. ‘Excuse me, sir,’ I said to Poirot. ‘I think you have been misinformed. A short dark man I was told.’ An interested discussion intervened in which the stout lady, her lank husband and a hoarse-voiced shop-boy all participated. No less than four short dark men had been observed, and the hoarse boy had seen a tall fair one, ‘but he hadn’t got no beard,’ he added regretfully. Finally, our purchases made, we left the establishment, leaving our falsehoods uncorrected. ‘And what was the point of all that, Poirot?’ I demanded somewhat reproachfully. ‘Parbleu[87 - Parbleu (фр.) – Ей-богу], I wanted to estimate the chances of a stranger being noticed entering the shop opposite.’ ‘Couldn’t you simply have asked—without all that tissue of lies[88 - tissue of lies – паутина лжи]?’ ‘No, mon ami. If I had “simply asked”, as you put it, I should have got no answer at all to my questions. You yourself are English and yet you do not seem to appreciate the quality of the English reaction to a direct question. It is invariably one of suspicion and the natural result is reticence. If I had asked those people for information they would have shut up like oysters. But by making a statement (and a somewhat out of the way and preposterous one) and by your contradiction of it, tongues are immediately loosened. We know also that that particular time was a “busy time”—that is, that everyone would be intent on their own concerns and that there would be a fair number of people passing along the pavements. Our murderer chose his time well, Hastings.’ He paused and then added on a deep note of reproach: ‘Is it that you have not in any degree the common sense[89 - common sense – здравый смысл], Hastings? I say to you: “Make a purchase quelconque[90 - quelconque (фр.) – какой-нибудь]”—and you deliberately choose the strawberries! Already they commence to creep through their bag and endanger your good suit.’ With some dismay, I perceived that this was indeed the case. I hastily presented the strawberries to a small boy who seemed highly astonished and faintly suspicious. Poirot added the lettuce, thus setting the seal on[91 - to set the seal on smth – закреплять] the child’s bewilderment. He continued to drive the moral home. ‘At a cheap greengrocer’s—not strawberries. A strawberry, unless fresh picked, is bound to exude juice. A banana—some apples—even a cabbage—but strawberries —’ ‘It was the first thing I thought of,’ I explained by way of excuse. ‘That is unworthy of your imagination,’ returned Poirot sternly. He paused on the sidewalk. The house and shop on the right of Mrs Ascher’s was empty. A ‘To Let’[92 - ‘To Let’ – «Аренда»] sign appeared in the windows. On the other side was a house with somewhat grimy muslin curtains. To this house Poirot betook himself and, there being no bell, executed a series of sharp flourishes with the knocker. The door was opened after some delay by a very dirty child with a nose that needed attention. ‘Good evening,’ said Poirot. ‘Is your mother within?’ ‘Ay?’ said the child. It stared at us with disfavour and deep suspicion. ‘Your mother,’ said Poirot. This took some twelve seconds to sink in, then the child turned and, bawling up the stairs ‘Mum, you’re wanted,’ retreated to some fastness in the dim interior. A sharp-faced woman looked over the balusters and began to descend. ‘No good[93 - No good – бесполезно] you wasting your time —’ she began, but Poirot interrupted her. He took off his hat and bowed magnificently. ‘Good evening, madame. I am on the staff of the Evening Flicker. I want to persuade you to accept a fee of five pounds and let us have an article on your late neighbour, Mrs Ascher.’ The irate words arrested on her lips, the woman came down the stairs smoothing her hair and hitching at her skirt. ‘Come inside, please—on the left there. Won’t you sit down, sir.’ The tiny room was heavily over-crowded with a massive pseudo-Jacobean suite[94 - pseudo-Jacobean suite – мебельный гарнитур в псевдо-Якобинском стиле (стиль назван в честь короля Якова I Английского (1566–1625); для стиля характерно использование ярких цветов и флористического декора)], but we managed to squeeze ourselves in and on to a hard-seated sofa. ‘You must excuse me,’ the woman was saying. ‘I am sure I’m sorry I spoke so sharp just now, but you’d hardly believe the worry one has to put up with—fellows coming along selling this, that and the other—vacuum cleaners, stockings, lavender bags[95 - lavender bag – мешочек с сушеной лавандой] and such-like foolery—and all so plausible and civil spoken. Got your name, too, pat they have. It’s Mrs Fowler this, that and the other.’ Seizing adroitly on the name, Poirot said: ‘Well, Mrs Fowler, I hope you’re going to do what I ask.’ ‘I don’t know, I’m sure.’ The five pounds hung alluringly before Mrs Fowler’s eyes. ‘I knew Mrs Ascher, of course, but as to writing anything.’ Hastily Poirot reassured her. No labour on her part was required. He would elicit the facts from her and the interview would be written up. Thus encouraged, Mrs Fowler plunged willingly into reminiscence, conjecture and hearsay. Kept herself to herself[96 - to keep oneself to oneself – быть замкнутым], Mrs Ascher had. Not what you’d call really friendly, but there, she’d had a lot of trouble, poor soul, everyone knew that. And by rights Franz Ascher ought to have been locked up years ago. Not that Mrs Ascher had been afraid of him—real tartar she could be when roused! Give as good as she got any day. But there it was—the pitcher could go to the well once too often[97 - the pitcher could go to the well once too often – имеется в виду английская пословица The pitcher goes so often to the well that it is broken at last (букв. кувшин так часто ходит к колодцу, что однажды разбивается) – период везения когда-нибудь закончится]. Again and again, she, Mrs Fowler, had said to her: ‘One of these days that man will do for you[98 - to do for smb. – погубить кого-либо]. Mark my words.’ And he had done, hadn’t he? And there had she, Mrs Fowler, been right next door and never heard a sound. In a pause Poirot managed to insert a question. Had Mrs Ascher ever received any peculiar letters—letters without a proper signature—just something like ABC? Regretfully, Mrs Fowler returned a negative answer. ‘I know the kind of thing you mean—anonymous letters they call them—mostly full of words you’d blush to say out loud. Well, I don’t know, I’m sure, if Franz Ascher ever took to writing those. Mrs Ascher never let on to me if he did. What’s that? A railway guide, an А В C? No, I never saw such a thing about—and I’m sure if Mrs Ascher had been sent one I’d have heard about it. I declare you could have knocked me down with a feather[99 - to knock down with a feather – ошеломить (букв. сбить с ног перышком)] when I heard about this whole business. It was my girl Edie what came to me. “Mum,” she says, “there’s ever so many policemen next door.” Gave me quite a turn[100 - to give a turn – сильно взволновать], it did. “Well,” I said, when I heard about it, “it does show that she ought never to have been alone in the house—that niece of hers ought to have been with her. A man in drink can be like a ravening wolf,” I said, “and in my opinion a wild beast is neither more nor less than what that old devil of a husband of hers is. I’ve warned her,” I said, “many times and now my words have come true. He’ll do for you,” I said. And he has done for her! You can’t rightly estimate what a man will do when he’s in drink and this murder’s a proof of it.’ She wound up with a deep gasp. ‘Nobody saw this man Ascher go into the shop, I believe?’ said Poirot. Mrs Fowler sniffed scornfully. ‘Naturally he wasn’t going to show himself,’ she said. How Mr Ascher had got there without showing himself she did not deign to explain. She agreed that there was no back way into the house and that Ascher was quite well known by sight in the district. ‘But he didn’t want to swing for it and he kept himself well hid.’ Poirot kept the conversational ball rolling some little time longer, but when it seemed certain that Mrs Fowler had told all that she knew not once but many times over, he terminated the interview, first paying out the promised sum. ‘Rather a dear five pounds’ worth, Poirot,’ I ventured to remark when we were once more in the street. ‘So far, yes.’ ‘You think she knows more than she has told?’ ‘My friend, we are in the peculiar position of not knowing what questions to ask. We are like little children playing cache-cache[101 - cache-cache (фр.) – прятки] in the dark. We stretch out our hands and grope about. Mrs Fowler has told us all that she thinks she knows—and has thrown in several conjectures for good measure! In the future, however, her evidence may be useful. It is for the future that I have invested that sum of five pounds.’ I did not quite understand the point, but at this moment we ran into[102 - to run into – натолкнуться] Inspector Glen. Chapter 7 Mr Partridge and Mr Riddell Inspector Glen was looking rather gloomy. He had, I gathered, spent the afternoon trying to get a complete list of persons who had been noticed entering the tobacco shop. ‘And nobody has seen anyone?’ Poirot inquired. ‘Oh, yes, they have. Three tall men with furtive expressions—four short men with black moustaches—two beards—three fat men—all strangers—and all, if I’m to believe witnesses, with sinister expressions! I wonder somebody didn’t see a gang of masked men with revolvers while they were about it!’ Poirot smiled sympathetically. ‘Does anybody claim to have seen the man Ascher?’ ‘No, they don’t. And that’s another point in his favour. I’ve just told the Chief Constable that I think this is a job for Scotland Yard. I don’t believe it’s a local crime.’ Poirot said gravely: ‘I agree with you.’ The inspector said: ‘You know, Monsieur Poirot, it’s a nasty business—a nasty business… I don’t like it…’ We had two more interviews before returning to London. The first was with Mr James Partridge. Mr Partridge was the last person known to have seen Mrs Ascher alive. He had made a purchase from her at 5.30. Mr Partridge was a small man, a bank clerk by profession. He wore pince-nez, was very dry and spare-looking and extremely precise in all his utterances. He lived in a small house as neat and trim as himself. ‘Mr—er—Poirot,’ he said, glancing at the card my friend had handed to him. ‘From Inspector Glen? What can I do for you, Mr Poirot?’ ‘I understand, Mr Partridge, that you were the last person to see Mrs Ascher alive.’ Mr Partridge placed his finger-tips together and looked at Poirot as though he were a doubtful cheque. ‘That is a very debatable point, Mr Poirot,’ he said. ‘Many people may have made purchases from Mrs Ascher after I did so.’ ‘If so, they have not come forward to say so.’ Mr Partridge coughed. ‘Some people, Mr Poirot, have no sense of public duty.’ He looked at us owlishly through his spectacles. ‘Exceedingly true,’ murmured Poirot. ‘You, I understand, went to the police of your own accord[103 - of own accord – добровольно]?’ ‘Certainly I did. As soon as I heard of the shocking occurrence I perceived that my statement might be helpful and came forward accordingly.’ ‘A very proper spirit,’ said Poirot solemnly. ‘Perhaps you will be so kind as to repeat your story to me.’ ‘By all means[104 - By all means – непременно]. I was returning to this house and at 5.30 precisely —’ ‘Pardon, how was it that you knew the time so accurately?’ Mr Partridge looked a little annoyed at being interrupted. ‘The church clock chimed. I looked at my watch and found I was a minute slow. That was just before I entered Mrs Ascher’s shop.’ ‘Were you in the habit of making purchases there?’ ‘Fairly frequently. It was on my way home. About once or twice a week I was in the habit of purchasing two ounces of John Cotton[105 - John Cotton – название марки нюхательного табака] mild.’ ‘Did you know Mrs Ascher at all? Anything of her circumstances or her history?’ ‘Nothing whatever. Beyond my purchase and an occasional remark as to the state of the weather, I had never spoken to her.’ ‘Did you know she had a drunken husband who was in the habit of threatening her life?’ ‘No, I knew nothing whatever about her.’ ‘You knew her by sight, however. Did anything about her appearance strike you as unusual yesterday evening? Did she appear flurried or put out[106 - appear flurried or put out – казаться взволнованным или расстроенным] in any way?’ Mr Partridge considered. ‘As far as I noticed, she seemed exactly as usual,’ he said. Poirot rose. ‘Thank you, Mr Partridge, for answering these questions. Have you, by any chance, an А В C in the house? I want to look up my return train to London.’ ‘On the shelf just behind you,’ said Mr Partridge. On the shelf in question were an А В C, a Bradshaw, the Stock Exchange Year Book, Kelly’s Directory, a Who’s Who[107 - the Stock Exchange Year Book – ежегодник фондовой биржи; Kelly’s Directory – справочник по фирмам; a Who’s Who – ежегодный биографический справочник] and a local directory. Poirot took down the ABC, pretended to look up a train, then thanked Mr Partridge and took his leave. Our next interview was with Mr Albert Riddell and was of a highly different character. Mr Albert Riddell was a platelayer and our conversation took place to the accompaniment of the clattering of plates and dishes by Mr Riddell’s obviously nervous wife, the growling of Mr Riddell’s dog and the undisguised hostility of Mr Riddell himself. He was a big clumsy giant of a man with a broad face and small suspicious eyes. He was in the act of eating meat-pie, washed down by exceedingly black tea. He peered at us angrily over the rim of his cup. ‘Told all I’ve got to tell once, haven’t I?’ he growled. ‘What’s it to do with me, anyway? Told it to the blasted police, I ‘ave[108 - ‘ave = have], and now I’ve got to spit it all out again to a couple of blasted foreigners.’ Poirot gave a quick, amused glance in my direction and then said: ‘In truth I sympathize with you, but what will you? It is a question of murder, is it not? One has to be very, very careful.’ ‘Best tell the gentleman what he wants, Bert,’ said the woman nervously. ‘You shut your blasted mouth,’ roared the giant. ‘You did not, I think, go to the police of your own accord.’ Poirot slipped the remark in neatly. ‘Why the hell should I? It were no business of mine.’ ‘A matter of opinion,’ said Poirot indifferently. ‘There has been a murder—the police want to know who has been in the shop—I myself think it would have—what shall I say?—looked more natural if you had come forward.’ ‘I’ve got my work to do. Don’t say I shouldn’t have come forward in my own time —’ ‘But as it was, the police were given your name as that of a person seen to go into Mrs Ascher’s and they had to come to you. Were they satisfied with your account?’ ‘Why shouldn’t they be?’ demanded Bert truculently. Poirot merely shrugged his shoulders. ‘What are you getting at, mister? Nobody’s got anything against me? Everyone knows who did the old girl in[109 - to do in – прикончить], that b— of a husband of hers.’ ‘But he was not in the street that evening and you were.’ ‘Trying to fasten it on me, are you? Well, you won’t succeed. What reason had I got to do a thing like that? Think I wanted to pinch a tin of her bloody tobacco? Think I’m a bloody homicidal maniac[110 - homicidal maniac – маньяк-убийца] as they call it? Think I—?’ He rose threateningly from his seat. His wife bleated out: ‘Bert, Bert—don’t say such things. Bert—they’ll think —’ ‘Calm yourself, monsieur,’ said Poirot. ‘I demand only your account of your visit. That you refuse it seems to me—what shall we say—a little odd?’ ‘Who said I refused anything?’ Mr Riddell sank back again into his seat. ‘I don’t mind.’ ‘It was six o’clock when you entered the shop?’ ‘That’s right—a minute or two after, as a matter of fact. Wanted a packet of Gold Flake[111 - Gold Flake – марка сигарет]. I pushed open the door —’ ‘It was closed, then?’ ‘That’s right. I thought shop was shut, maybe. But it wasn’t. I went in, there wasn’t anyone about. I hammered on the counter and waited a bit. Nobody came, so I went out again. That’s all, and you can put it in your pipe and smoke it.’ ‘You didn’t see the body fallen down behind the counter?’ ‘No, no more would you have done—unless you was looking for it, maybe.’ ‘Was there a railway guide lying about?’ ‘Yes, there was—face downwards. It crossed my mind like that the old woman might have had to go off sudden by train and forgot to lock shop up.’ ‘Perhaps you picked up the railway guide or moved it along the counter?’ ‘Didn’t touch the b— thing. I did just what I said.’ ‘And you did not see anyone leaving the shop before you yourself got there?’ ‘Didn’t see any such thing. What I say is, why pitch on me[112 - why pitch on me – что вы привязались] —?’ Poirot rose. ‘Nobody is pitching upon you—yet. Bonsoir[113 - Bonsoir (фр.) – До свидания], monsieur.’ He left the man with his mouth open and I followed him. In the street he consulted his watch. ‘With great haste, my friend, we might manage to catch the 7.02. Let us despatch ourselves quickly.’ Chapter 8 The Second Letter ‘Well?’ I demanded eagerly. We were seated in a first-class carriage which we had to ourselves. The train, an express, had just drawn out of Andover. ‘The crime,’ said Poirot, ‘was committed by a man of medium height with red hair and a cast in the left eye. He limps slightly on the right foot and has a mole just below the shoulder-blade.’ ‘Poirot?’ I cried. For the moment I was completely taken in. Then the twinkle in my friend’s eye undeceived me. ‘Poirot!’ I said again, this time in reproach. ‘Mon ami, what will you? You fix upon me a look of doglike devotion and demand of me a pronouncement a la Sherlock Holmes! Now for the truth—I do not know what the murderer looks like, nor where he lives, nor how to set hands upon him.’ ‘If only he had left some clue,’ I murmured. ‘Yes, the clue—it is always the clue that attracts you. Alas that he did not smoke the cigarette and leave the ash, and then step in it with a shoe that has nails of a curious pattern. No—he is not so obliging. But at least, my friend, you have the railway guide. The ABC, that is a clue for you!’ ‘Do you think he left it by mistake then?’ ‘Of course not. He left it on purpose. The fingerprints tell us that.’ ‘But there weren’t any on it.’ ‘That is what I mean. What was yesterday evening? A warm June night. Does a man stroll about on such an evening in gloves? Such a man would certainly have attracted attention. Therefore since there are no fingerprints on the A В C, it must have been carefully wiped. An innocent man would have left prints—a guilty man would not. So our murderer left it there for a purpose—but for all that it is none the less a clue. That ABC was bought by someone—it was carried by someone—there is a possibility there.’ ‘You think we may learn something that way?’ ‘Frankly, Hastings, I am not particularly hopeful. This man, this unknown X, obviously prides himself on his abilities[114 - to pride oneself on smth. – гордиться чем-то]. He is not likely to blaze a trail[115 - to blaze a trail – оставлять след] that can be followed straight away.’ ‘So that really the ABC isn’t helpful at all.’ ‘Not in the sense you mean.’ ‘In any sense?’ Poirot did not answer at once. Then he said slowly: ‘The answer to that is yes. We are confronted here by an unknown personage. He is in the dark and seeks to remain in the dark. But in the very nature of things be cannot help throwing light upon himself. In one sense we know nothing about him—in another sense we know already a good deal. I see his figure dimly taking shape—a man who prints clearly and well—who buys good-quality paper—who is at great needs to express his personality. I see him as a child possibly ignored and passed over[116 - passed over – оставленный без внимания]—I see him growing up with an inward sense of inferiority—warring with a sense of injustice… I see that inner urge—to assert himself—to focus attention on himself ever becoming stronger, and events, circumstances—crushing it down—heaping, perhaps, more humiliations on him. And inwardly the match is set to the powder train…’ ‘That’s all pure conjecture,’ I objected. ‘It doesn’t give you any practical help.’ ‘You prefer the match end, the cigarette ash, the nailed boots! You always have. But at least we can ask ourselves some practical questions. Why the ABC? Why Mrs Ascher? Why Andover?’ ‘The woman’s past life seems simple enough,’ I mused. ‘The interviews with those two men were disappointing. They couldn’t tell us anything more than we knew already.’ ‘To tell the truth, I did not expect much in that line. But we could not neglect two possible candidates for the murder.’ ‘Surely you don’t think —’ ‘There is at least a possibility that the murderer lives in or near Andover. That is a possible answer to our question: “Why Andover?” Well, here were two men known to have been in the shop at the requisite time of day. Either of them might be the murderer. And there is nothing as yet to show that one or other of them is not the murderer.’ ‘That great hulking brute, Riddell, perhaps,’ I admitted. ц ‘Oh, I am inclined to acquit Riddell off-hand. He was nervous, blustering, obviously uneasy —’ ‘But surely that just shows —’ ‘A nature diametrically opposed to that which penned the ABC letter. Conceit and self-confidence are the characteristics that we must look for.’ ‘Someone who throws his weight about[117 - to throw weight about – держаться заносчиво]?’ ‘Possibly. But some people, under a nervous and self-effacing manner, conceal a great deal of vanity and self-satisfaction.’ ‘You don’t think that little Mr Partridge —’ ‘He is more le type. One cannot say more than that. He acts as the writer of the letter would act—goes at once to the police—pushes himself to the fore—enjoys his position.’ ‘Do you really think —?’ ‘No, Hastings. Personally I believe that the murderer came from outside Andover, but we must neglect no avenue of research. And although I say “he” all the time, we must not exclude the possibility of a woman being concerned.’ ‘Surely not!’ ‘The method of attack is that of a man, I agree. But anonymous letters are written by women rather than by men. We must bear that in mind.’ I was silent for a few minutes, then I said: ‘What do we do next?’ ‘My energetic Hastings,’ Poirot said and smiled at me. ‘No, but what do we do?’ ‘Nothing.’ ‘Nothing?’ My disappointment rang out clearly. ‘Am I the magician? The sorcerer? What would you have me do?’ Turning the matter over in my mind I found it difficult to give an answer. Nevertheless I felt convinced that something ought to be done and that we should not allow the grass to grow under our feet[118 - to let/allow grass grow under feet – терять время попусту]. I said: ‘There is the А В C—and the notepaper and envelope —’ ‘Naturally everything is being done in that line. The police have all the means at their disposal for that kind of inquiry. If anything is to be discovered on those lines have no fear but that they will discover it.’ With that I was forced to rest content. In the days that followed I found Poirot curiously disinclined to discuss the case. When I tried to reopen the subject he waved it aside with an impatient hand. In my own mind I was afraid that I fathomed his motive. Over the murder of Mrs Ascher, Poirot had sustained a defeat. ABC had challenged him—and ABC had won. My friend, accustomed to an unbroken line of successes, was sensitive to his failure—so much so that he could not even endure discussion of the subject. It was, perhaps, a sign of pettiness in so great a man, but even the most sober of us is liable to have his head turned by success. In Poirot’s case the head-turning process had been going on for years. Small wonder if its effects became noticeable at long last. Understanding, I respected my friend’s weakness and I made no further reference to the case. I read in the paper the account of the inquest. It was very brief, no mention was made of the ABC letter, and a verdict was returned of murder by some person or persons unknown. The crime attracted very little attention in the press. It had no popular or spectacular features. The murder of an old woman in a side street was soon passed over in the press for more thrilling topics. Truth to tell, the affair was fading from my mind also, partly, I think, because I disliked to think of Poirot as being in any way associated with a failure, when on July 25th it was suddenly revived. I had not seen Poirot for a couple of days as I had been away in Yorkshire for the weekend. I arrived back on Monday afternoon and the letter came by the six o’clock post. I remember the sudden, sharp intake of breath that Poirot gave as he slit open that particular envelope. ‘It has come,’ he said. I stared at him—not understanding. ‘What has come?’ ‘The second chapter of the ABC business.’ For a minute I looked at him uncomprehendingly. The matter had really passed from my memory. ‘Read,’ said Poirot and passed me over the letter. As before, it was printed on good-quality paper. Dear Mr Poirot,—Well, what about it? First game to me, I think. The Andover business went with a swing[119 - to go with a swing – успешно проходить], didn’t it? But the fun’s only just beginning. Let me draw your attention to Bexhill-on-Sea. Date, the 25th inst.[120 - inst. = instant – текущего месяца] What a merry time we are having! Yours etc.     A B C ‘Good God, Poirot,’ I cried. ‘Does this mean that this fiend is going to attempt another crime?’ ‘Naturally, Hastings. What else did you expect? Did you think that the Andover business was an isolated case? Do you not remember my saying: “This is the beginning”?’ ‘But this is horrible!’ ‘Yes, it is horrible.’ ‘We’re up against a homicidal maniac.’ ‘Yes.’ His quietness was more impressive than any heroics could have been. I handed back the letter with a shudder. The following morning saw us at a conference of powers. The Chief Constable of Sussex, the Assistant Commissioner[121 - Assistant Commissioner – заместитель комиссара] of the CID, Inspector Glen from Andover, Superintendent Carter of the Sussex police, Japp and a younger inspector called Crome, and Dr Thompson, the famous alienist, were all assembled together. The postmark on this letter was Hampstead, but in Poirot’s opinion little importance could be attached to this fact. The matter was discussed fully. Dr Thompson was a pleasant middle-aged man who, in spite of his learning, contented himself with homely language, avoiding the technicalities of his profession. ‘There’s no doubt,’ said the Assistant Commissioner, ‘that the two letters are in the same hand. Both were written by the same person.’ ‘And we can fairly assume that that person was responsible for the Andover murder.’ ‘Quite. We’ve now got definite warning of a second crime scheduled to take place on the 25th—the day after tomorrow—at Bexhill. What steps can be taken?’ The Sussex Chief Constable looked at his superintendent. ‘Well, Carter, what about it?’ The superintendent shook his head gravely. ‘It’s difficult, sir. There’s not the least clue towards whom the victim may be. Speaking fair and square[122 - fair and square – честно и справедливо], what steps can we take?’ ‘A suggestion,’ murmured Poirot. Their faces turned to him. ‘I think it possible that the surname of the intended victim will begin with the letter B.’ ‘That would be something,’ said the superintendent doubtfully. ‘An alphabetical complex,’ said Dr Thompson thoughtfully. ‘I suggest it as a possibility—no more. It came into my mind when I saw the name Ascher clearly written over the shop door of the unfortunate woman who was murdered last month. When I got the letter naming Bexhill it occurred to me as a possibility that the victim as well as the place might be selected by an alphabetical system.’ ‘It’s possible,’ said the doctor. ‘On the other hand, it may be that the name Ascher was a coincidence—that the victim this time, no matter what her name is, will again be an old woman who keeps a shop. We’re dealing, remember, with a madman. So far he hasn’t given us any clue as to motive.’ ‘Has a madman any motive, sir?’ asked the superintendent sceptically. ‘Of course he has, man. A deadly logic is one of the special characteristics of acute mania. A man may believe himself divinely appointed to kill clergymen—or doctors—or old women in tobacco shops—and there’s always some perfectly coherent reason behind it. We mustn’t let the alphabetical business run away with[123 - to run away with – увлечься мыслью] us. Bexhill succeeding to Andover may be a mere coincidence.’ ‘We can at least take certain precautions, Carter, and make a special note of the B’s, especially small shopkeepers, and keep a watch on all small tobacconists and newsagents looked after by a single person. I don’t think there’s anything more we can do than that. Naturally, keep tabs on[124 - to keep tabs on – следить за] all strangers as far as possible.’ The superintendent uttered a groan. ‘With the schools breaking up and the holidays beginning? People are fairly flooding into the place this week.’ ‘We must do what we can,’ the Chief Constable said sharply. Inspector Glen spoke in his turn. ‘I’ll have a watch kept on anyone connected with the Ascher business. Those two witnesses, Partridge and Riddell, and of course Ascher himself. If they show any sign of leaving Andover they’ll be followed.’ The conference broke up after a few more suggestions and a little desultory conversation. ‘Poirot,’ I said as we walked along by the river. ‘Surely this crime can be prevented?’ He turned a haggard face to me. ‘The sanity of a city full of men against the insanity of one man? I fear, Hastings—I very much fear. Remember the long-continued successes of Jack the Ripper[125 - Jack the Ripper – Джек-потрошитель (прозвище неустановленного серийного убийцы, орудовавшего в Лондоне во второй половине 1888 года)].’ ‘It’s horrible,’ I said. ‘Madness, Hastings, is a terrible thing… I am afraid… I am very much afraid…’ Chapter 9 The Bexhill-on-Sea Murder I still remember my awakening on the morning of the 25th of July. It must have been about seven-thirty. Poirot was standing by my bedside gently shaking me by the shoulder. One glance at his face brought me from semi-consciousness into the full possession of my faculties. ‘What is it?’ I demanded, sitting up rapidly. His answer came quite simply, but a wealth of emotion lay behind the three words he uttered. ‘It has happened.’ ‘What?’ I cried. ‘You mean—but today is the 25th.’ ‘It took place last night—or rather in the early hours of this morning.’ As I sprang from bed and made a rapid toilet, he recounted briefly what he had just learnt over the telephone. ‘The body of a young girl has been found on the beach at Bexhill. She has been identified as Elizabeth Barnard, a waitress in one of the cafés, who lived with her parents in a little recently built bungalow. Medical evidence gave the time of death as between 11.30 and 1 am.’ ‘They’re quite sure that this is the crime?’ I asked, as I hastily lathered my face. ‘An ABC open at the trains to Bexhill was found actually under the body.’ I shivered. ‘This is horrible!’ ‘Faites attention[126 - Faites attention (фр.) – Осторожнее], Hastings. I do not want a second tragedy in my rooms!’ I wiped the blood from my chin rather ruefully. ‘What is our plan of campaign?’ I asked. ‘The car will call for us in a few moments’ time. I will bring you a cup of coffee here so that there will be no delay in starting.’ Twenty minutes later we were in a fast police car crossing the Thames[127 - the Thames – Темза (река в Лондоне)] on our way out of London. With us was Inspector Crome, who had been present at the conference the other day, and who was officially in charge of the case. Crome was a very different type of officer from Japp. A much younger man, he was the silent, superior type. Well educated and well read, he was, for my taste, several shades too pleased with himself. He had lately gained kudos over a series of child murders, having patiently tracked down the criminal who was now in Broadmoor[128 - Broadmoor = Broadmoor Hospital – психиатрическая лечебница строгого режима]. He was obviously a suitable person to undertake the present case, but I thought that he was just a little too aware of the fact himself. His manner to Poirot was a shade patronising. He deferred to him as a younger man to an older one—in a rather self-conscious, ‘public school’ way. ‘I’ve had a good long talk with Dr Thompson,’ he said. ‘He’s very interested in the “chain” or “series” type of murder. It’s the product of a particular distorted type of mentality. As a layman one can’t, of course, appreciate the finer points as they present themselves to a medical point of view.’ He coughed. ‘As a matter of fact—my last case—I don’t know whether you read about it—the Mabel Homer case, the Muswell Hill schoolgirl, you know—that man Capper was extraordinary. Amazingly difficult to pin the crime on to him—it was his third, too! Looked as sane as you or I. But there are various tests—verbal traps, you know—quite modern, of course, there was nothing of that kind in your day. Once you can induce a man to give himself away, you’ve got him! He knows that you know and his nerve goes. He starts giving himself away right and left.’ ‘Even in my day that happened sometimes,’ said Poirot. Inspector Crome looked at him and murmured conversationally: ‘Oh, yes?’ There was silence between us for some time. As we passed New Cross Station, Crome said: ‘If there’s anything you want to ask me about the case, pray do so.’ ‘You have not, I presume, a description of the dead girl?’ ‘She was twenty-three years of age, engaged as a waitress at the Ginger Cat café—’ ‘Pas ça[129 - Pas ça (фр.) – Я не об этом]. I wondered—if she were pretty?’ ‘As to that I’ve no information,’ said Inspector Crome with a hint of withdrawal. His manner said: ‘Really—these foreigners! All the same!’ A faint look of amusement came into Poirot’s eyes. ‘It does not seem to you important, that? Yet, pour une femme[130 - pour une femme (фр.) – для женщины], it is of the first importance. Often it decides her destiny!’ Another silence fell. It was not until we were nearing Sevenoaks that Poirot opened the conversation again. ‘Were you informed, by any chance, how and with what the girl was strangled?’ Inspector Crome replied briefly. ‘Strangled with her own belt—a thick, knitted affair, I gather.’ Poirot’s eyes opened very wide. ‘Aha,’ he said. ‘At last we have a piece of information that is very definite. That tells one something, does it not?’ ‘I haven’t seen it yet,’ said Inspector Crome coldly. I felt impatient with the man’s caution and lack of imagination. ‘It gives us the hallmark of the murderer,’ I said. ‘The girl’s own belt. It shows the particular beastliness of his mind!’ Poirot shot me a glance I could not fathom. On the face of it[131 - On the face of it – На первый взгляд] it conveyed humorous impatience. I thought that perhaps it was a warning not to be too outspoken in front of the inspector. I relapsed into silence. At Bexhill we were greeted by Superintendent Carter. He had with him a pleasant-faced, intelligent-looking young inspector called Kelsey. The latter was detailed to work in with Crome over the case. ‘You’ll want to make your own inquiries, Crome,’ said the superintendent. ‘So I’ll just give you the main heads of the matter and then you can get busy right away.’ ‘Thank you, sir,’ said Crome. ‘We’ve broken the news to her father and mother,’ said the superintendent. ‘Terrible shock to them, of course. I left them to recover a bit before questioning them, so you can start from the beginning there.’ ‘There are other members of the family—yes?’ asked Poirot. ‘There’s a sister—a typist in London. She’s been communicated with. And there’s a young man—in fact, the girl was supposed to be out with him last night, I gather.’ ‘Any help from the ABC guide?’ asked Crome. ‘It’s there,’ the superintendent nodded towards the table. ‘No fingerprints. Open at the page for Bexhill. A new copy, I should say—doesn’t seem to have been opened much. Not bought anywhere round here. I’ve tried all the likely stationers.’ ‘Who discovered the body, sir?’ ‘One of these fresh-air, early-morning colonels. Colonel Jerome. He was out with his dog about 6 am. Went along the front in the direction of Cooden, and down on to the beach. Dog went off and sniffed at something. Colonel called it. Dog didn’t come. Colonel had a look and thought something queer was up. Went over and looked. Behaved very properly. Didn’t touch her at all and rang us up immediately.’ ‘And the time of death was round about midnight last night?’ ‘Between midnight and 1 am—that’s pretty certain. Our homicidal joker is a man of his word. If he says the 25th, it is the 25th—though it may have been only by a few minutes.’ Crome nodded. ‘Yes, that’s his mentality all right. There’s nothing else? Nobody saw anything helpful?’ ‘Not as far as we know. But it’s early yet. Everyone who saw a girl in white walking with a man last night will be along to tell us about it soon, and as I imagine there were about four or five hundred girls in white walking with young men last night, it ought to be a nice business.’ ‘Well, sir, I’d better get down to it,’ said Crome. ‘There’s the café and there’s the girl’s home. I’d better go to both of them. Kelsey can come with me.’ ‘And Mr Poirot?’ asked the superintendent. ‘I will accompany you,’ said Poirot to Crome with a little bow. Crome, I thought, looked slightly annoyed. Kelsey, who had not seen Poirot before, grinned broadly. It was an unfortunate circumstance that the first time people saw my friend they were always disposed to consider him as a joke of the first water[132 - first water – чистейшей воды]. ‘What about this belt she was strangled with?’ asked Crome. ‘Mr Poirot is inclined to think it’s a valuable clue. I expect he’d like to see it.’ ‘Du tout[133 - Du tout – Вовсе нет],’ said Poirot quickly. ‘You misunderstood me.’ ‘You’ll get nothing from that,’ said Carter. ‘It wasn’t a leather belt—might have got fingerprints if it had been. Just a thick sort of knitted silk—ideal for the purpose.’ I gave a shiver. ‘Well,’ said Crome, ‘we’d better be getting along.’ We set out forthwith. Our first visit was to the Ginger Cat. Situated on the sea front, this was the usual type of small tearoom. It had little tables covered with orange-checked cloths and basket-work chairs[134 - basket-worked chairs – плетеные стулья] of exceeding discomfort with orange cushions on them. It was the kind of place that specialized in morning coffee, five different kinds of teas (Devonshire, Farmhouse, Fruit, Carlton and Plain), and a few sparing lunch dishes for females such as scrambled eggs and shrimps and macaroni au gratin[135 - macaroni au gratin – макароны, запеченные под сыром]. The morning coffees were just getting under way[136 - to get under way – начинаться]. The manageress ushered us hastily into a very untidy back sanctum. ‘Miss—eh—Merrion?’ inquired Crome. Miss Merrion bleated out in a high, distressed-gentle-woman voice: ‘That is my name. This is a most distressing business. Most distressing. How it will affect our business I really cannot think!’ Miss Merrion was a very thin woman of forty with wispy orange hair (indeed she was astonishingly like a ginger cat herself). She played nervously with various fichus and frills that were part of her official costume. ‘You’ll have a boom,’ said Inspector Kelsey encouragingly. ‘You’ll see! You won’t be able to serve teas fast enough!’ ‘Disgusting,’ said Miss Merrion. ‘Truly disgusting. It makes one despair of human nature.’ But her eyes brightened nevertheless. ‘What can you tell me about the dead girl, Miss Merrion?’ ‘Nothing,’ said Miss Merrion positively. ‘Absolutely nothing!’ ‘How long had she been working here?’ ‘This was the second summer.’ ‘You were satisfied with her?’ ‘She was a good waitress—quick and obliging.’ ‘She was pretty, yes?’ inquired Poirot. Miss Merrion, in her turn, gave him an ‘Oh, these foreigners’ look. ‘She was a nice, clean-looking girl,’ she said distantly. ‘What time did she go off duty last night?’ asked Crome. ‘Eight o’clock. We close at eight. We do not serve dinners. There is no demand for them. Scrambled eggs and tea (Poirot shuddered) people come in for up to seven o’clock and sometimes after, but our rush is over by 6.30.’ ‘Did she mention to you how she proposed to spend her evening?’ ‘Certainly not,’ said Miss Merrion emphatically. ‘We were not on those terms[137 - to be on (a kind of) terms – быть в каких-либо отношениях].’ ‘No one came in and called for her? Anything like that?’ ‘No.’ ‘Did she seem quite her ordinary self? Not excited or depressed?’ ‘Really I could not say,’ said Miss Merrion aloofly. ‘How many waitresses do you employ?’ ‘Two normally, and an extra two after the 20th July until the end of August.’ ‘But Elizabeth Barnard was not one of the extras?’ ‘Miss Barnard was one of the regulars.’ ‘What about the other one?’ ‘Miss Higley? She is a very nice young lady.’ ‘Were she and Miss Barnard friends?’ ‘Really I could not say.’ ‘Perhaps we’d better have a word with her.’ ‘Now?’ ‘If you please.’ ‘I will send her to you,’ said Miss Merrion, rising. ‘Please keep her as short a time as possible. This is the morning coffee rush hour.’ The feline and gingery Miss Merrion left the room. ‘Very refined,’ remarked Inspector Kelsey. He mimicked the lady’s mincing tone. ‘Really I could not say.’ A plump girl, slightly out of breath, with dark hair, rosy cheeks and dark eyes goggling with excitement, bounced in. ‘Miss Merrion sent me,’ she announced breathlessly. ‘Miss Higley?’ ‘Yes, that’s me.’ ‘You knew Elizabeth Barnard?’ ‘Oh, yes, I knew Betty. Isn’t it awful? It’s just too awful! I can’t believe it’s true. I’ve been saying to the girls all the morning I just can’t believe it! “You know, girls,” I said, “it just doesn’t seem real. Betty! I mean, Betty Barnard, who’s been here all along, murdered! I just can’t believe it,” I said. Five or six times I’ve pinched myself just to see if I wouldn’t wake up. Betty murdered… It’s—well, you know what I mean—it doesn’t seem real.’ ‘You knew the dead girl well?’ asked Crome. ‘Well, she’s worked here longer than I have. I only came this March. She was here last year. She was rather quiet, if you know what I mean. She wasn’t one to joke or laugh a lot. I don’t mean that she was exactly quiet—she’d plenty of fun in her and all that—but she didn’t—well, she was quiet and she wasn’t quiet, if you know what I mean.’ I will say for Inspector Crome that he was exceedingly patient. As a witness the buxom Miss Higley was persistently maddening. Every statement she made was repeated and qualified half a dozen times. The net result[138 - the net result – конечный результат] Конец ознакомительного фрагмента. Текст предоставлен ООО «ЛитРес». Прочитайте эту книгу целиком, купив полную легальную версию (https://www.litres.ru/pages/biblio_book/?art=48506871&lfrom=334617187) на ЛитРес. Безопасно оплатить книгу можно банковской картой Visa, MasterCard, Maestro, со счета мобильного телефона, с платежного терминала, в салоне МТС или Связной, через PayPal, WebMoney, Яндекс.Деньги, QIWI Кошелек, бонусными картами или другим удобным Вам способом. notes Примечания 1 O.B.E. = Officer of the Order of the British Empire – офицер ордена Британской империи (рыцарский орден, созданный Георгом V в 1917 г.; самый младший в британской наградной системе) 2 I myself was present – я лично присутствовал 3 ranch (амер.) – ранчо (скотоводческое хозяйство) 4 world depression = the Great Depression – Великая депрессия (мировой экономический кризис 1929–1939 гг.) 5 service flat – квартира с гостиничным обслуживанием 6 You’re looking in fine fettle – Вы прекрасно выглядите 7 Dear me – Боже мой 8 to touch smb. on the raw – задеть за живое 9 mon ami (фр.) – мой друг 10 Quelle horreur! (фр.) – Какой ужас! 11 N’est ce pas? (фр.) – Не правда ли? 12 C’est vrai. (фр.) – Это правда. 13 vegetable marrow – кабачок; тыква 14 Pas mal (фр.) – Порядочно 15 to have a narrow escape – чудом избежать чего-то 16 Upon my word – Честное слово 17 the Ritz – пятизвездочный отель в Лондоне 18 Pas encore (фр.) – Еще нет 19 I had inadvertently pushed awry – я ненароком задел 20 docketed and pigeon-holed – промаркировано и разложено по ящикам 21 Andover – город в Юго-Восточной Англии, графство Гэмпшир 22 WC1 = Western Central – почтовый индекс центрального района Лондона 23 some convivial idiot who had had one over the eight – какой-нибудь идиот навеселе хватил лишнего 24 to be tight (сленг) – быть навеселе 25 to make a mountain out of an anthill – делать из мухи слона (букв. делать гору из муравейника) 26 Scotland Yard – штаб-квартира полиции в Англии 27 CID = Criminal Investigation Department – управление по расследованию уголовных дел 28 Well, I never – Не может быть 29 to come out into limelight – привлекать внимание общества 30 to bark up the wrong tree – ошибиться (букв. лаять не на то дерево) 31 to get the wind up – испугаться 32 the top storey (шутл.) – мозги 33 ‘em = them 34 mare – кобыла; = nightmare (mare’s nest — иллюзия, обман) wasp – оса (wasps’ nest — осиное гнездо; скопище врагов) 35 Once and for all – Раз и навсегда 36 Précisément. (фр.) – Правильно. 37 to be in the wrong – ошибаться 38 to fall in with – поддержать, присоединиться 39 hors-d’œuvres (фр.) – закуски 40 bridge – бридж (карточная командная или парная игра; в данном случае речь идет о робберном бридже, где соревнуются двое на двое) 41 the odd man out – лишний 42 dummy – болван (в бридже партнер разыгрывающего; после первого хода противника болван выкладывает свои карты открытыми на стол и в дальнейшем не принимает участия в розыгрыше) 43 intent on the play of the hand – сосредоточен на игре разыгрывающего 44 ‘Allo = Hallo = Hello 45 Mais oui (фр.) – Но да 46 À tout à l’heure (фр.) – До встречи 47 out of the way – необычный 48 to be on bad terms – быть в плохих отношениях 49 to be by way of being (smb.) – считаться (кем-либо) 50 For the sake of conciseness – Для краткости 51 police surgeon – судмедэксперт 52 to get it down – разузнать 53 bit of goods (разг.) – тип 54 to keep going – сводить концы с концами 55 to get rid of – отделаться 56 a Hampshire woman – родом из графства Гэмпшир 57 for good – окончательно 58 to get wind – разузнать 59 He was blubbering and cringing and blustering alternately – Он громко выл и то лебезил, то угрожал 60 to be hard on (smb.) – быть суровым с кем-либо 61 That’ll do – Довольно 62 Ach Gott = Ah God 63 If it wasn’t for the letter – Если бы не письмо 64 A Bradshaw – железнодорожный справочник Брэдшоу (серия расписаний и справочников, выпускалась с 1839 по 1961 гг.); an ABC – алфавитный справочник 65 By the Lord – Боже милостивый 66 to strike a (kind of) note – произвести определенное впечатление 67 to take aback – ошеломить 68 to take into account – принимать во внимание 69 Pauvre femme (фр.) – Бедная женщина 70 morning-room – маленькая столовая, примыкающая к кухне 71 day out – свободный день прислуги 72 to speak with finality – говорить тоном, не допускающим дальнейшего обсуждения 73 to turn on smb. – накинуться на кого-либо 74 to stand up to smb. – противостоять кому-либо 75 to have a grudge against smb. – иметь зуб против кого-либо; враждовать 76 to be at a loss – быть в замешательстве 77 to make ends meet – сводить концы с концами 78 to give in one’s notice – подавать заявление об увольнении 79 under one’s breath – тихим голосом; шепотом 80 Oui, c’est peut-être là (фр.) – Да, возможно, здесь 81 mise en scène (фр.) – мизансцена; окружающая обстановка 82 Player’s = “Player’s Navy Cut” – марка сигарет, популярная в Британии и Германии в конце XIX – начале XX вв. 83 arm in arm – под руку 84 Dresden shepherd – фарфоровая фигурка пастушка, произведенная в городе Дрезден 85 Mais oui (фр.) – Ну да 86 on my cue – в подходящий момент 87 Parbleu (фр.) – Ей-богу 88 tissue of lies – паутина лжи 89 common sense – здравый смысл 90 quelconque (фр.) – какой-нибудь 91 to set the seal on smth – закреплять 92 ‘To Let’ – «Аренда» 93 No good – бесполезно 94 pseudo-Jacobean suite – мебельный гарнитур в псевдо-Якобинском стиле (стиль назван в честь короля Якова I Английского (1566–1625); для стиля характерно использование ярких цветов и флористического декора) 95 lavender bag – мешочек с сушеной лавандой 96 to keep oneself to oneself – быть замкнутым 97 the pitcher could go to the well once too often – имеется в виду английская пословица The pitcher goes so often to the well that it is broken at last (букв. кувшин так часто ходит к колодцу, что однажды разбивается) – период везения когда-нибудь закончится 98 to do for smb. – погубить кого-либо 99 to knock down with a feather – ошеломить (букв. сбить с ног перышком) 100 to give a turn – сильно взволновать 101 cache-cache (фр.) – прятки 102 to run into – натолкнуться 103 of own accord – добровольно 104 By all means – непременно 105 John Cotton – название марки нюхательного табака 106 appear flurried or put out – казаться взволнованным или расстроенным 107 the Stock Exchange Year Book – ежегодник фондовой биржи; Kelly’s Directory – справочник по фирмам; a Who’s Who – ежегодный биографический справочник 108 ‘ave = have 109 to do in – прикончить 110 homicidal maniac – маньяк-убийца 111 Gold Flake – марка сигарет 112 why pitch on me – что вы привязались 113 Bonsoir (фр.) – До свидания 114 to pride oneself on smth. – гордиться чем-то 115 to blaze a trail – оставлять след 116 passed over – оставленный без внимания 117 to throw weight about – держаться заносчиво 118 to let/allow grass grow under feet – терять время попусту 119 to go with a swing – успешно проходить 120 inst. = instant – текущего месяца 121 Assistant Commissioner – заместитель комиссара 122 fair and square – честно и справедливо 123 to run away with – увлечься мыслью 124 to keep tabs on – следить за 125 Jack the Ripper – Джек-потрошитель (прозвище неустановленного серийного убийцы, орудовавшего в Лондоне во второй половине 1888 года) 126 Faites attention (фр.) – Осторожнее 127 the Thames – Темза (река в Лондоне) 128 Broadmoor = Broadmoor Hospital – психиатрическая лечебница строгого режима 129 Pas ça (фр.) – Я не об этом 130 pour une femme (фр.) – для женщины 131 On the face of it – На первый взгляд 132 first water – чистейшей воды 133 Du tout – Вовсе нет 134 basket-worked chairs – плетеные стулья 135 macaroni au gratin – макароны, запеченные под сыром 136 to get under way – начинаться 137 to be on (a kind of) terms – быть в каких-либо отношениях 138 the net result – конечный результат
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