Peril at End House Pdf Chapter-10: Nick’s Secret It was daylight when I awoke.
Poirot was still sitting where he had been the night before. His attitude was the same, but in his face was a difference. His eyes were shining with that queer catlike green light that I knew so well.
I struggled to an upright position, feeling very stiff and uncomfortable. Sleeping in a chair is a proceeding not to be recommended at my time of life. Yet one thing at least resulted from it-I awoke not in that pleasant state of lazy somnolence but with a mind and brain as active as when I fell asleep.
‘Poirot,’ I cried. ‘You have thought of something.’
He nodded. He leaned forward, tapping the table in front of him.
‘Tell me, Hastings, the answer to these three questions. What could be the reason for Mademoiselle Nick’s recent sleepless nights? Why did she deviate from her usual style and purchase a black evening gown? And why did she make the concerning statement last night, ‘I have nothing left to live for’?”
I stared. The questions seemed beside the point.
‘Answer those questions, Hastings, answer them.’
‘Well-as to the first-she said she had been worried lately.’
‘Precisely. What has she been worried about?’
‘And the black dress-well, everybody wants a change sometimes.’
‘For a married man, you have very little appreciation of feminine psychology. If a woman thinks she does not look well in a color, she refuses to wear it.’
‘And the last-well, it was a natural thing to say after that awful shock.’
‘No, mon ami, it was not a natural thing to say. To be horror-struck by her cousin’s death, to reproach herself for it-yes, all that is natural enough. But the other, no. She spoke of life with weariness-as of a thing no longer dear to her. Never before had she displayed that attitude. She had been defiant-yes-she had snapped the fingers, yes-and then, when that broke down, she was afraid. Afraid, mark you, because life was sweet and she did not wish to die. But weary of life-no! That never! Even before dinner that was not so. We have there, Hastings, a psychological change. And that is interesting. What was it that caused her point of view to change?’
‘The shock of her cousin’s death.’
‘I wonder. It was the shock that loosed her tongue. But suppose the change was before that. Is there anything else that could account for it?’
‘I don’t know of anything.’
‘Think, Hastings. Use your little grey cells.’
‘What was the last moment we had the opportunity of observing her?’
‘Well, actually, I suppose, at dinner.’
‘Exactly. After that, we only saw her receiving guests, making them welcome purely a formal attitude. What happened at the end of dinner, Hastings?’
‘She went to the telephone,’ I said, slowly.
‘A la bonne heure. You have got there at last. She went to the telephone. And she was absent for a long time. Twenty minutes at least. That is a long time for a telephone call. Who spoke to her over the telephone? What did they say? Did she really telephone? We have to find out, Hastings, what happened in that twenty minutes. For there, or so I fully believe, we shall find the clue we seek.’
‘You really think so?’
‘Mais oui, mais oui! All along, Hastings, I have told you that Mademoiselle has been keeping something back. She doesn’t think it has any connection with the murder-but I, Hercule Poirot, know better! It must have a connection. For, all along, I have been conscious that there is a factor lacking. If there were not a factor lacking-why then, the whole thing would be plain to me! And as it is not plain to me-eh bien-then the missing factor is the keystone of the mystery! I know I am right, Hastings. I must know the answer to those three questions. And, then-and then-I shall begin to see…’
‘Well,’ I said, stretching my stiffened limbs, ‘I think a bath and a shave are indicated.’
By the time I had had a bath and changed into day clothing, I felt better. The stiffness and weariness of a night passed in uncomfortable conditions passed off. I arrived at the breakfast table feeling that one drink of hot coffee would restore me to my normal self.
I glanced at the paper, but there was little news in it beyond the fact that Michael Seton’s death was now definitely confirmed. The intrepid airman had perished. I wondered whether, tomorrow, new headlines would have sprung into being: ‘GIRL MURDERED DURING FIREWORK PARTY. MYSTERIOUS TRAGEDY.’ Something like that.
I had just finished breakfast when Frederica Rice came up to my table. She was wearing a plain little frock of black marocain with a little soft pleated white collar. Her fairness was more evident than ever.
‘I want to see M. Poirot, Captain Hastings. Is he up yet, do you know?’
‘I will take you up with me now,’ I said. ‘We shall find him in the sitting room.’
‘I hope,’ I said, as we left the dining room together, ‘that you didn’t sleep too badly?’
‘It was a shock,’ she said, in a meditative voice. ‘But, of course, I didn’t know the poor girl. It’s not as though it had been Nick.’
‘I suppose you’d never met this girl before?’
‘Once at Scarborough. She came over to lunch with Nick.’
‘It will be a terrible blow to her father and mother,’ I said.
But she said it very impersonally. She was, I fancied, an egoist. Nothing was very real to her that did not concern herself.
Poirot had finished his breakfast and was sitting reading the morning paper. He rose and greeted Frederica with all his customary Gallic politeness.
‘Madame,’ he said. ‘Enchanté!’
He drew forward a chair.
She thanked him with a very faint smile and sat down. Her two hands rested on the arms of the chair. She sat there very upright, looking straight in front of her. She did not rush into her speech. There was something a little frightening about her stillness and aloofness.
‘M. Poirot,’ she said at last. “Do you agree that last night’s unfortunate incident was undoubtedly connected to the same matter and that Nick was the true target?”
‘I should say, Madame, that there was no doubt at all.’
Frederica frowned a little.
‘Nick bears a charmed life,’ she said.
There was some curious undercurrent in her voice that I could not understand.
‘Luck, they say, goes in cycles,’ remarked Poirot.
‘Perhaps. It is certainly useless to fight against it.’
Now there was only weariness in her tone. After a moment or two, she went on.
‘I must beg your pardon, M. Poirot. Nick’s pardon, too. Up till last night, I did not believe it. I never dreamed that the danger was-serious.’
‘Is that so, Madame?’
‘I see now that everything will have to be gone into-carefully. And I imagine that Nick’s immediate circle of friends will not be immune from suspicion. Ridiculous, of course, but there it is. Am I right, M. Poirot?’
‘You are very intelligent, Madame.’
‘You asked me some questions about Tavistock the other day, M. Poirot. As you will find out sooner or later, I might as well tell you the truth now. I was not at Tavistock.’
‘I motored down to this part of the world with Mr. Lazarus early last week. We did not wish to arouse more comment than necessary. We stayed at a little place called Shellacombe.’
‘That is, I think, about seven miles from here, Madame?’
Still that quiet far-away weariness.
‘May I be impertinent, Madame?’
‘Is there such a thing these days?’
‘Perhaps you are right, Madame. How long have you and M. Lazarus been friends?’
‘I met him six months ago.’
‘And you care for him, Madame?’
Frederica shrugged her shoulders.
‘He is rich.’
‘Oh! Là là,’ cried Poirot. ‘That is an ugly thing to say.’
She seemed faintly amused.
‘Isn’t it better to say it myself than to have you say it for me?’
‘Well-there is always that, of course. May I repeat, Madame, that you are very intelligent?’
‘You will give me a diploma soon,’ said Frederica, and rose.
‘There is nothing more you wish to tell me, Madame?’
‘I do not think so-no. I am going to take some flowers round to Nick and see how she is.’
‘Ah, that is very amiable of you. Thank you, Madame, for your frankness.’
She glanced at him sharply, seemed about to speak, then thought better of it and went out of the room, smiling faintly at me as I held the door open for her.
‘She is intelligent,’ said Poirot. ‘Yes, but so is Hercule Poirot!’
‘What do you mean?’
‘That it is all very well and very pretty to force the richness of M. Lazarus down my throat-‘
‘I must say that rather disgusted me.’
‘Mon cher, always you have the right reaction in the wrong place. It is not, for the moment, a question of good taste or otherwise. If Madame Rice has a devoted friend who is rich and can give her all she needs-why then obviously Madame Rice would not need to murder her dearest friend for a mere pittance.’
‘Oh!’ I said.
‘Why didn’t you stop her from going to the nursing home?’
‘Why should I show my hand? Is it Hercule Poirot who prevents Mademoiselle Nick from seeing her friends? Quelle idée! It is the doctors and the nurses. Those tiresome nurses! So full of rules and regulations and “doctors’ orders”.’
‘You’re not afraid that they may let her in after all? Nick may insist.’
‘Nobody will be let in, my dear Hastings, but you and me. And for that matter, the sooner we make our way there, the better.’
The sitting-room door flew open and George Challenger barged in. His tanned face was alive with indignation.
‘Look here, M. Poirot,’ he said. ‘What’s the meaning of this? I rang up that damned nursing home where Nick is. Asked how she was and what time I could come round and see her. And they say the doctor won’t allow any visitors. I want to know the meaning of that. To put it plainly, is this your work? Or is Nick really ill from shock?’
‘I assure you, Monsieur, that I do not lay down rules for nursing homes. I would not dare. Why not ring up the good doctor-what was his name now?-Ah, yes, Graham.’
‘I have. He says she’s going on as well as could be expected-usual stuff. But I know all the tricks-my uncle’s a doctor. Harley Street. Nerve specialist. Psychoanalysis-all the rest of it. Putting relations and friends off with soothing words. I’ve heard about it all. I don’t believe Nick isn’t up to seeing anyone. I believe you’re at the bottom of this, M. Poirot.’
Poirot smiled at him in a very kindly fashion. Indeed, I have always observed that Poirot has a kind feelings for a lover.
‘Now listen to me, mon ami,’ he said. ‘If one guest is admitted, others cannot be kept out. Do you comprehend? It must be all or none. We want Mademoiselle’s safety, you and I, do we not? Exactly. Then, you understand-it must be none.’
‘I get you,’ said Challenger, slowly. ‘But then-‘
‘Chut! We will say no more. We will forget even what we have said. The prudence, the extreme prudence, is what is needed at present.’
‘I can hold my tongue,’ said the sailor quietly.
He turned away to the door, pausing as he went out to say: ‘No embargo on flowers, is there? So long as they are not white ones.’
‘And now,’ he said, as the door shut behind the impetuous Challenger, ‘whilst M. Challenger and Madame and perhaps M. Lazarus all encounter each other in the flower shop, you and I will drive quietly to our destination.’
‘And ask for the answer to the three questions?’ I said.
‘Yes. We will ask. Though, as a matter of fact, I know the answer.’
‘What?’ I exclaimed.
‘But when did you find out?’
‘Whilst I was eating my breakfast, Hastings. It stared me in the face.’
‘No, I will leave you to hear it from Mademoiselle.’
Then, as if to distract my mind, he pushed an open letter across to me.
It was a report by the expert Poirot had sent to examine the picture of old Nicholas Buckley. It stated definitely that the picture was worth at most twenty pounds.
‘So that is one matter cleared up,’ said Poirot.
‘No mouse in that mouse-hole,’ I said, remembering a metaphor of Poirot’s on one past occasion.
‘Ah! you remember that? No, as you say, no mouse in that mouse hole. Twenty pounds and M. Lazarus offered fifty. What an error of judgment for a seemingly astute young man. But there, there, we must start on our errand.’
The nursing home was set high on a hill overlooking the bay. A white-coated orderly received us. We have put into a little room downstairs and presently a brisk-looking nurse came to us.
One glance at Poirot seemed to be enough. She had clearly received her instructions from Dr. Graham together with a minute description of the little detective. She even concealed a smile.
‘Miss Buckley has passed a very fair night,’ she said. ‘Come up, will you?’
In a pleasant room with the sun streaming into it, we found Nick. In the narrow iron bed, she looked like a tired child. Her face was white and her eyes were suspiciously red, and she seemed listless and weary.
‘It’s good of you to come,’ she said in a flat voice.
Poirot took her hand in both of his.
‘Courage, Mademoiselle. There is always something to live for.’
The words startled her. She looked up into his face.
‘Oh!’ she said. ‘Oh!’
‘Will you not tell me now, Mademoiselle, what it was that has been worrying you lately? Or shall I guess? And may I offer you, Mademoiselle, my very deepest sympathy.’
Her face flushed.
‘So you know. Oh, well, it doesn’t matter who knows now. Now that it’s all over. Now that I shall never see him again.’
Her voice broke.
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