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 Peril at End House Ending: The End of the Story

‘You want me to explain?’

Poirot looked around with a gratified smile and the air of mock humility I knew so well.

We had moved into the drawing room and our numbers had lessened. The domestics had withdrawn tactfully, and the Crofts had been asked to accompany the police. Frederica, Lazarus, Challenger, Vyse, and I remained.

‘Eh bien-I confess it-I was fooled-fooled completely and absolutely. The little Nick, she had me where she wanted me, as your idiom so well expresses it. Ah! Madame, when you said that your friend was a clever little liar-how right you were! How right!’

‘Nick always told lies,’ said Frederica, composedly. ‘That’s why I didn’t really believe in these marvelous escapes of hers.’

‘And I-imbecile that I was-did!’

‘Didn’t they really happen?’ I asked. I was, I admit, still hopelessly confused.

‘They were invented-very cleverly-to give just the impression they did.’ ‘What was that?’ ‘They gave the impression that Mademoiselle Nick’s life was in danger. But I will begin earlier than that. I will tell you the story as I have pieced it out-not as it came to me imperfectly and in flashes.’

‘At the beginning of the business then, we have this girl, this Nick Buckley, young and beautiful, unscrupulous, and passionately and fanatically devoted to her home.’

Charles Vyse nodded.

‘I told you that.’

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‘And you were right. Mademoiselle Nick loved End House. But she had no money. The house was mortgaged. With an intense desire for money, she was consumed by the thought of it but could not seem to attain it. During her time at Le Touquet, she crossed paths with a young man named Seton who found himself drawn to her. Aware that Seton was likely the heir to his wealthy uncle’s millions, she saw an opportunity in him.

Good, her star is in the ascendant, she thinks. But he is not really seriously attracted. He thinks her good fun, that is all. They meet at Scarborough, he takes her up in his machine and then the catastrophe occurs. He meets Maggie and falls in love with her at first sight.’

‘Mademoiselle Nick is dumbfounded. Her cousin Maggie whom she has never considered pretty! But to young Seton, she is “different”. The one girl in the world for him. They become secretly engaged. Only one person knows-has to know. That person is Mademoiselle Nick. The poor Maggie-she is glad that there is one person she can talk to. Doubtless, she reads to her cousin parts of her fiancé’s letters. So it is that Mademoiselle gets to hear of the will. She pays no attention to it at the time. But it remains in her mind.’

‘Then comes the sudden and unexpected death of Sir Matthew Seton, and hard upon that the rumors of Michael Seton’s being missing. And straightaway an outrageous plan comes into our young lady’s head. Seton does not know that her name is Magdala also. He only knows her as Nick. His will is clearly quite informal-a mere mention of a name. But in the eyes of the world, Seton is her friend! It is with her that his name has been coupled. If she were to claim to be engaged to him, no one would be surprised. But to do that successfully Maggie must be out of the way.’

‘Time is short. She arranges for Maggie to come and stay in a few days’ time. Then she has her escape from death. The picture whose cord she cuts through. The brake of the car that she tampers with. The boulder-that perhaps was natural and she merely invented the story of being underneath on the path.’

‘And then-she sees my name in the paper. (I told you, Hastings, everyone knew Hercule Poirot!) and she has the audacity to make me an accomplice! The bullet through the hat falls at my feet. Oh! It the pretty comedy. And I am taken in! I believe in the peril that menaces her! Bon! She has got a valuable witness on her side. I play into her hands by asking her to send for a friend.’

‘She seizes the chance and sends for Maggie to come a day earlier.’

‘How easy the crime is actually! She leaves us at the dinner table and after hearing on the wireless that Seton’s death is a fact, she starts to put her plan into action. She has plenty of time, then, to take Seton’s letters to Maggie-look through them and select the few that will answer her purpose. These she places in her own room. Then, later, she and Maggie leave the fireworks and go back to the house.

She tells her cousin to put on her shawl. Then stealing out after her, she shoots her. Quick, into the house, the pistol concealed in the secret panel (of whose existence she thinks nobody knows). Then upstairs. There she waits till voices are heard. The body is discovered. It is her cue.’

‘Down she rushes and out through the window.’

‘How well she played her part! Magnificently! Oh, yes, she staged a fine drama here. The maid, Ellen, said this was an evil house. I am inclined to agree with her. It was from the house that Mademoiselle Nick took her inspiration.’

‘But those poisoned sweets,’ said Frederica. ‘I still don’t understand that.’

‘It was all part of the same scheme. Do you not see that if Nick’s life was attempted after Maggie was dead that absolutely settled the question that Maggie’s death had been a mistake.’

‘When she thought the time was ripe she rang up Madame Rice and asked her to get her a box of chocolates.’

‘Then it was her voice?’

‘But, yes! How often the simple explanation is the true one? N’est ce pas? She made her voice sound a little different-that was all. So that you might be in doubt when questioned. Then, when the box arrived-again how simple. She fills three of the chocolates with cocaine (she had cocaine with her, cleverly concealed), eats one of them, and is ill but not too ill. She knows very well how much cocaine to take and just what symptoms to exaggerate.’

‘And the card-my card! Ah! Sapristi -she has a nerve! It was my card-the one I sent with the flowers. Simple, was it not? Yes, but it had to be thought of…’

There was a pause and then Frederica asked: ‘Why did she put the pistol in my coat?’

‘I thought you would ask me that, Madame. It was bound to occur to you in time. Tell me-had it ever entered your head that Mademoiselle Nick no longer liked you? Did you ever feel that she might hate you?’

‘It’s difficult to say,’ said Frederica, slowly. ‘We lived an insincere life. She used to be fond of me.’

‘Tell me, M. Lazarus-it is not a time for false modesty, you understand-was there ever anything between you and her?’

‘No.’ Lazarus shook his head. ‘I was attracted to her at one time. And then I don’t know why I went off her.’

‘Ah!’ said Poirot, nodding his head sagely. ‘That was her tragedy. She attracted people-and then they “went off her”. Instead of liking her better and better you fell in love with her friend. She began to hate Madame Madame who had a rich friend behind her. Last winter when she made a will, she was fond of Madame. Later it was different.’

‘She remembered that will. She did not know that Croft had suppressed it-that it had never reached its destination. Madame (or so the world would say) had got a motive for desiring her death. So it was Madame she telephoned asking her to get the chocolates. Tonight, the will would have been read, naming Madame her residuary legatee-and then the pistol would be found in her coat-the pistol with which Maggie Buckley was shot. If Madame found it, she might incriminate herself by trying to get rid of it.’

‘She must have hated me,’ murmured Frederica.

‘Yes, Madame. You had what she had not the knack of winning love, and keeping it.’

‘I’m rather dense,’ said Challenger, ‘but I haven’t quite fathomed the will business yet.’

‘No? That’s a different business altogether-a very simple one. The Crofts are lying low down here. Mademoiselle Nick has to have an operation. She has made no will. The Crofts see a chance. They persuade her to make one and take charge of it for the post. Then, if anything happens to her-if she dies-they producing a cleverly forged will-leaving the money to Mrs. Croft with a reference to Australia and Philip Buckley whom they know once visited the country.’

‘But Mademoiselle Nick has her appendix removed quite satisfactorily so the forged will is no good. For the moment, that is. Then the attempts on her life begin. The Crofts are hopeful once more. Finally, I announce her death. The chance is too good to be missed. The forged will is immediately posted to M. Vyse. Of course, to begin with, they naturally thought her much richer than she is. They knew nothing about the mortgage.’

‘What I really want to know, M. Poirot,’ said Lazarus, ‘is how you actually got wise to all this. When did you begin to suspect?’

‘Ah! There I am ashamed. I was so long-so long. There were things that worried me-yes. Things that seemed not quite right. Discrepancies between what Mademoiselle Nick told me and what other people told me. Unfortunately, I always believed Mademoiselle Nick.’

‘And then, suddenly, I got a revelation. Mademoiselle Nick made one mistake. She was too clever. When I urged her to send for a friend she promised to do so and suppressed the fact that she had already sent for Mademoiselle Maggie. It seemed to her less suspicious-but it was a mistake.’

‘For Maggie Buckley wrote a letter home immediately on arrival, and in it she used one innocent phrase that puzzled me: “I don’t see why Nick should have telegraphed for me the way she did. Tuesday would have done just as well.” What did that mention of Tuesday mean? It could only mean one thing. Maggie had been coming to stay on Tuesday anyway. But in that case, Mademoiselle Nick had lied-or had at any rate suppressed the truth.’

‘And for the first time, I looked at her in a different light. I criticized her statements. Instead of believing them, I said, “Suppose this was not true.” I remembered the discrepancies. “How would it be if every time it was Mademoiselle Nick who was lying and not the other person?”‘

‘I said to myself: “Let us be simple. What has really happened?”‘

‘And I saw that what had really happened was that Maggie Buckley had been killed. Just that! But who could want Maggie Buckley dead?’

‘And then I thought of something else-a few foolish remarks that Hastings had made not five minutes before. He had said that there were plenty of abbreviations for Margaret-Maggie, Margot, etc. And it suddenly occurred to me to wonder what was Mademoiselle Maggie’s real name?’

‘Then, tout dun coup, it came to me! Supposing her name was Magdala! It was a Buckley name, Mademoiselle Nick had told me so. Two Magadala Buckleys. Supposing…’

‘In my mind, I ran over the letters of Michael Seton’s that I had read. Yes-there was nothing impossible. There was a mention of Scarborough-but Maggie had been in Scarborough with Nick-her mother had told me so.’

‘And it explained one thing which had worried me. Why were there so few letters? If a girl keeps her love letters at all, she keeps all of them. Why these select few? Was there any peculiarity about them?’

‘And I remembered that there was no name mentioned in them. They all began differently-but they began with a term of endearment. Nowhere in them was there the name Nick.

‘And there was something else, something that I ought to have seen at once-that cried the truth aloud.’

‘What was that?’

‘Why-this. Mademoiselle Nick underwent an operation for appendicitis on February 27th last. There is a letter of Michael Seton’s dated March 2nd, and no mention of anxiety, of illness or anything unusual. That ought to have shown me that the letters were written to a different person altogether.’

‘Then I went through a list of questions that I had made. And I answered them in the light of my new idea.’

‘In all but a few isolated questions the result was simple and convincing. And I answered, too, another question that I had asked myself earlier. Why did Mademoiselle Nick buy a black dress? The answer was that she and her cousin had to be dressed alike, with the scarlet shawl as an additional touch. That was the true and convincing answer, not the other. A girl would not buy mourning before she knew her lover was dead. She would be unreal-unnatural.’

‘And so I, in turn, staged my little drama. And the thing I hoped for happened! Nick Buckley had been very vehement about the question of a secret panel. She had declared there was no such thing. But if there were and I did not see why Ellen should have invented it-Nick must know of it. Why was she so vehement? Was it possible that she had hidden the pistol there? With the secret intention of using it to throw suspicion on somebody later?’

‘I let her see that appearances were very black against Madame. That was as she had planned. As I foresaw, she was unable to resist the crowning proof. Besides it was safer for herself. That secret panel might be found by Ellen and the pistol in it!’

‘We are all safely in here. She is waiting outside for her cue. It is absolutely safe, she thinks, to take the pistol from its hiding place and put it in Madame’s coat…’

‘And so-at the last-she failed…’

Frederica shivered.

‘All the same,’ she said. ‘I’m glad I gave her my watch.’

‘Yes, Madame.’

She looked up at him quickly.

‘You know about that too?’

‘What about Ellen?’ I asked, breaking in. ‘Did she know or suspect anything?’

‘No. I asked her. She told me that she decided to stay in the house that night because in her own phrase she “thought something was up”. Apparently, Nick urged her to see the fireworks rather too decisively. Nick’s aversion towards Madame was something that she had understood well. She confided in me, expressing her intuition that “something was going to happen”, although she believed it would be directed towards Madame instead. With her knowledge of Miss Nick’s temperament, she claimed that the latter was a peculiar little girl.’

‘Yes,’ murmured Frederica. ‘Yes, let us think of her like that. A queer little girl. A queer little girl who couldn’t help herself… I shall-anyway.’

Poirot took her hand and raised it gently to his lips.

Charles Vyse stirred uneasily.

‘It’s going to be a very unpleasant business,’ he said, quietly. ‘I must see about some kind of defense for her, I suppose.’

‘There will be no need, I think,’ said Poirot, gently. ‘Not if I am correct in my assumptions.’

He turned suddenly on Challenger.

‘That’s where you put the stuff, isn’t it?’ he said. ‘In those wrist-watches.’

‘I-I-‘ The sailor stammered-at a loss.

‘Do not try and deceive me with your hearty good-fellow manner. It has deceived Hastings-but it does not deceive me. You make a good thing out of it, do you not-the traffic in drugs-you and your uncle in Harley Street.’

‘M. Poirot.’

Challenger rose to his feet.

My little friend blinked up at him placidly.

‘You are the useful “boyfriend”. Deny it, if you like. But I advise you if you do not want the facts put in the hands of the police-to go.’

And to my utter amazement, Challenger did go. He went from the room in a flash. I stared after him open-mouthed.

Poirot laughed.

‘I told you so, mon ami. Your instincts are always wrong. C’est épatant!’

‘Cocaine was in the wristwatch-‘ I began.

‘Yes, yes. That is how Mademoiselle Nick had it with her so conveniently at the nursing home. And having finished her supply in the chocolate box she asked Madame just now for hers which was full.’

‘You mean she can’t do without it?’

‘Non, non. Mademoiselle Nick is not an addict. Sometimes-for fun-that is all. But tonight she needed it for a different purpose. It will be a full dose this time.’

‘You mean-?’ I gasped.

‘It is the best way. Better than the hangman’s rope. But pst! We must not say so before M. Vyse who is all for law and order. Officially I know nothing. The contents of the wrist-watch-it are the merest guess on my part.’

‘Your guesses are always right, M. Poirot,’ said Frederica.

‘I must be going,’ said Charles Vyse, cold disapproval in his attitude as he left the room.

Poirot looked from Frederica to Lazarus.

‘You are going to get married-eh?’

‘As soon as we can.’

‘And indeed, M. Poirot,’ said Frederica.

“I’m not the drug user you assume me to be. I’ve reduced my intake to a minimal dose. Now, with the prospect of happiness before me, I feel I won’t require a wristwatch anymore,” she shared.

“Madame, I sincerely wish you find the happiness you seek,” Poirot responded with a kind tone.

“You’ve been through a lot. But even after all you’ve endured, you still possess the quality of mercy in your heart…”

‘I will look after her,’ said Lazarus. ‘My business is in a bad way, but I believe I shall pull through. And if I don’t-well, Frederica does not mind being poor with me.’

She shook her head, smiling.

‘It is late,’ said Poirot, looking at the clock.

We all rose.

‘We have spent a strange night in this strange house,’ Poirot went on. ‘It is, I think, as Ellen says, an evil house…’

He looked up at the picture of old Sir Nicholas.

Then, with a sudden gesture, he drew Lazarus aside.

‘I ask your pardon, but, of all my questions, there is one still unanswered. Tell me, why did you offer fifty pounds for that picture? It would give me much pleasure to know-so as you comprehend, to leave nothing unanswered.’

Lazarus looked at him with an impassive face for a minute or two. Then he smiled.

‘You see, M. Poirot,’ he said. ‘I am a dealer.’


‘That picture is not worth a penny more than twenty pounds. I knew that if I offered Nick fifty, she would immediately suspect it was worth more and would get it valued elsewhere. Then she would find that I had offered her far more than it was worth. The next time I offered to buy a picture she would not have got it valued.’

‘Yes, and then?’

‘The picture on the far wall is worth at least five thousand pounds,’ said Lazarus drily.

‘Ah!’ Poirot drew a long breath.

‘Now I know everything,’ he said happily.

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