The Peril at End House is a classic detective novel written by Agatha Christie and first published in 1932. The novel is set in the picturesque seaside town of St. Loo in Cornwall, England, and features Christie’s famous detective, Hercule Poirot.
Peril at End House Chapter 2: End House
‘Poirot,’ I said. ‘I have been thinking.’
‘An admirable exercise, my friend. Continue it.’
We were sitting facing each other at lunch at a small table in the window.
‘This shot must have been fired quite close to us. And yet we did not hear it.’
‘And you think that in the peaceful stillness, with the rippling waves the only sound, we should have done so?’
‘Well, it’s odd.’
‘No, it is not odd. Some sounds-you get used to them so soon that you hardly notice they are there. All this morning, my friend, speedboats have been making trips in the bay. You complained at first-soon, you did not even notice. But, ma foi, you could fire a machine gun almost and not notice it when one of those boats is on the sea.’
‘Yes, that’s true.’
‘Ah! voilà,’ murmured Poirot. ‘Mademoiselle and her friends. They are to lunch here, it seems. And therefore I must return the hat. But no matter. The affair is sufficiently serious to warrant a visit all on its own.’
He leaped up nimbly from his seat, hurried across the room, and presented the
hat with a bow just as Miss Buckley and her companions were seating themselves at the table.
They were a party of four, Nick Buckley, Commander Challenger, another man, and another girl. From where we sat we had a very imperfect view of them. From time to time the naval man’s laugh boomed out. He seemed a simple, likable soul, and I had already taken a fancy to him.
My friend was silent and distrait during our meal. He crumbled his bread, made strange little ejaculations to himself, and straightened everything on the table. I tried to talk, but meeting with no encouragement soon gave up.
He continued to sit at the table long after he had finished his cheese. As soon as the other party had left the room, however, he too rose to his feet. They were just settling themselves at a table in the lounge when Poirot marched up to them in his most military fashion and addressed Nick directly.
‘Mademoiselle, may I crave one little word with you.’
The girl frowned. I realized her feelings were clear enough. She was afraid that this queer little foreigner was going to be a nuisance. I could not but sympathize with her, knowing how it must appear in her eyes. Rather unwillingly, she moved a few steps aside.
Almost immediately I saw an expression of surprise pass over her face at the low hurried words Poirot was uttering.
In the meantime, I was feeling rather awkward and ill at ease. Challenger with ready tact came to my rescue, offering me a cigarette and making some commonplace observations. We had taken each other’s measures and were inclined to be sympathetic to each other. I fancied that I was more his own kind than the man with whom he had been lunching. I now had the opportunity of
observing the latter. A tall, fair, rather exquisite young man, with a rather fleshy nose and over-emphasized good looks. He had a supercilious manner and a tired drawl. There was a sleekness about him that I especially disliked.
Then I turned to face the woman. She sat across from me in a large chair, having just taken off her hat. She was an unusual type, best described as a tired Madonna. Her hair was light and nearly colorless, parted in the middle and drawn straight down over her ears to a knot behind her neck. Discover the strangely appealing pale and emaciated face of hers. Her pupils were large, and she had light grey eyes. During our interaction, she had a peculiarly detached expression as she intently gazed at me before abruptly speaking, leaving me intrigued.
‘Sit down till your friend has finished with Nick.’
She had an affected voice, languid and artificial-yet which had a curious attraction-a kind of resonant lingering beauty. She impressed me, I think, as the most tired person I had ever met. Tired in mind, not in body, as though she had found everything in the world to be empty and valueless.
‘Miss Buckley very kindly helped my friend when he twisted his ankle this morning,’ I explained as I accepted her offer.
‘So Nick said.’ Her eyes considered me, still detachedly. ‘Nothing wrong with his ankle now, is there?’
I felt myself blushing.
‘Just a momentary sprain,’ I explained.
‘Oh! well-I’m glad to hear Nick didn’t invent the whole thing. She’s the most heaven-sent little liar that ever existed, you know. Amazing-it’s quite a gift.’
I hardly knew what to say. My discomfiture seemed to amuse her. ‘She’s one of my oldest friends,’ she said, ‘and I always think loyalty’s such a tiresome virtue, don’t you? Principally practiced by the Scots-like thrift and keeping the Sabbath. But Nick is a liar, isn’t she, Jim? That marvelous story about the brakes of the car-and Jim says there was nothing in it at all.’
The fair man said in a soft rich voice: ‘I know something about cars.’
He half turned his head. Outside amongst other cars was a long, red car. It seemed longer and redder than any car could be. It had a long gleaming bonnet of polished metal. A supercar! ‘Is that your car?’
I asked on a sudden impulse.
I had an insane desire to say, ‘It would be!’
Poirot rejoined us at that moment. I rose, he took me by the arm, gave a quick bow to the party, and drew me rapidly away.
‘It is arranged, my friend. We are to call on Mademoiselle at End House at half past six. She will be returned from the motoring by then. Yes, yes, surely she will have returned in safety.’
His face was anxious and his tone was worried.
‘What did you say to her?’
‘I asked her to accord me an interview as soon as possible. She was a little unwilling-naturally. She thinks-I can see the thoughts passing through her mind: ‘Who is he-this little man? Is he the bounder, the upstart, the Moving Picture director?’ If she could have refused she would-but it is difficult-asked like that on the spur of the moment it is easier to consent. She admits that she will be back by six-thirty. Ça y est!’
I remarked that that seemed to be all right then, but my remark met with little favor. Indeed Poirot was as jumpy as the proverbial cat. He walked about our sitting room all afternoon, murmuring to himself and ceaselessly rearranging and straightening the ornaments. When I spoke to him, he waved his hands and shook his head.
In the end, we started out from the hotel at barely six o’clock.
‘It seems incredible,’ I remarked, as we descended the steps of the terrace. ‘To attempt to shoot anyone in a hotel garden. Only a madman would do such a thing.’
‘I disagree with you. Given one condition, it would be quite a reasonably safe affair. To begin with, the garden is deserted. The people who come to hotels are like a flock of sheep. It is customary to sit on the terrace overlooking the bay-eh bien, so everyone sits on the terrace. Only, I who am an original, sit overlooking the garden. And even then, I saw nothing.
There is plenty of covers, you observe- trees, groups of palms, flowering shrubs. Anyone could hide comfortably and be unobserved whilst he waited for Mademoiselle to pass this way. And she 20 would come this way. To come round by the road from End House would be much longer. Mademoiselle Nick Buckley, she would be of those who are always late and taking the shortcut!’
‘All the same, the risk was enormous. He might have been seen and you can’t make the shooting look like an accident.’
‘Not like an accident -no.’
‘What do you mean?’
‘Nothing-a little idea. I may or may not be justified. Leaving it aside for a moment, there is what I mentioned just now-an essential condition.’
‘Surely you can tell me, Hastings.’
‘I wouldn’t like to deprive you of the pleasure of being clever at my expense!’
‘Oh! the sarcasm! The irony! Well, what leaps to the eye is this: the motive cannot be obvious. If it were -why, then, truly the risk would indeed be too great to be taken! People would say: “I wonder if it were So-and-So. Where was So- and-So when the shot was fired?” No, the murderer-the would-be murderer, I should say-cannot be obvious. And that, Hastings, is why I am afraid! Yes, at this minute I am afraid. I calm myself down. “There are four of them,” I say. “Nothing can happen when they’re all together,” I say. “It would be insane!” I say. And I’m terrified all the time. These “accidents”-I want to hear about them!’
He turned back abruptly.
‘It is still early. We will go the other way by the road. The garden has nothing to tell us. Let us inspect the orthodox approach to End House.’
Our way led out of the front gate of the hotel and up a sharp hill to the right. At the top of it was a small lane with a notice on the wall: ‘TO END HOUSE ONLY.’
We followed it and after a few hundred yards the lane gave an abrupt turn and ended in a pair of dilapidated entrance gates, which would have been the better for a coat of paint.
Inside the gates, to the right, was a small lodge. This lodge presented a piquant contrast to the gates and to the condition of the grass-grown drive. The small garden around it was spick and span, the window frames and sashes had been lately painted and there were clean bright curtains at the windows.
Bending over a flower bed was a man in a faded Norfolk jacket. He straightened up as the gate creaked and turned to look at us. He was a man of about sixty, six foot at least, with a powerful frame and a weather-beaten face. His head was almost completely bald. His eyes were a vivid blue and twinkled. He seemed a genial soul.
‘Good afternoon,’ he observed as we passed.
I responded in kind and as we went on up the drive I was conscious of those blue eyes raking our backs inquisitively.
‘I wonder,’ said Poirot, thoughtfully.
He left it at that without vouchsafing any explanation of what it was that he wondered.
The house itself was large and rather dreary looking. It was shut in by trees, the branches of which actually touched the roof. It was clearly in bad repair. Poirot swept it with an appraising glance before ringing the bell-an old-fashioned bell that needed a Herculean pull to produce any effect and which once started, echoed mournfully on and on.
The door was opened by a middle-aged woman-‘a decent woman in black’-so I felt she should be described. Very respectable, rather mournful, completely uninterested.
Miss Buckley, she said, had not yet returned. Poirot explained that we had an appointment. He had some little difficulty in gaining his point, she was the type that is apt to be suspicious of foreigners. Indeed I flatter myself that it was my appearance that turned the scale. We were admitted and ushered into the drawing room to await Miss Buckley’s return.
There was no mournful note here. The room gave on to the sea and was full of sunshine. It was shabby and betrayed conflicting styles-ultra modern of a cheap variety superimposed on solid Victorian. The curtains were of faded brocade, but the covers were new and gay and the cushions were positively hectic. On the walls were hung family portraits. Some of them, I thought, looked remarkably good. There was a gramophone and there were some records lying idly about. There were a portable wireless, practically no books, and one newspaper flung open on the end of the sofa. Poirot picked it up and then laid it down with a grimace. It was the St Loo Weekly Herald and Directory. Something impelled him to pick it up a second time, and he was glancing at a column when the door opened and Nick Buckley came into the room.
‘Bring the ice, Ellen,’ she called over her shoulder, then addressed herself to us.
‘Well, here I am and I’ve shaken off the others. I’m devoured with curiosity. Am I the long-lost heroine that is badly wanted for the Talkies? You were so very solemn’-she addressed herself to Poirot-‘that I feel it can’t be anything else. Do make me a handsome offer.’
‘Alas! Mademoiselle-‘ began Poirot.
‘Don’t say it’s the opposite,’ she begged him. ‘Don’t say you paint miniatures and want me to buy one. But no-with that mustache and staying at the Majestic, which has the nastiest food and the highest prices in England-no, it simply can’t be.’
The woman who had opened the door to us came into the room with ice and a tray of bottles. Nick mixed cocktails expertly, continuing to talk. I think at last Poirot’s silence (so unlike him) impressed itself upon her. She stopped in the very act of filling the glasses and said sharply: ‘Well?’
‘That is what I wish it to be well, Mademoiselle.’ He took the cocktail from her hand. ‘To your good health, Mademoiselle-to your continued good health.’
The girl was no fool. The significance of his tone was not lost on her.
‘Is anything the matter?’
‘Yes, Mademoiselle. This…’
He held out his hand to her with the bullet in the palm of it. She picked it up with a puzzled frown. ‘You know what that is?’
‘Yes, of course, I know. It’s a bullet.’
‘Exactly. Mademoiselle-it was not a wasp that flew past your face this morning-it was this bullet.’
‘Do you mean-was some criminal idiot shooting bullets in a hotel garden?’
‘It would seem so.’
‘Well, I’m damned,’ said Nick frankly. ‘I do seem to bear a charmed life. That’s number four.’
‘Yes,’ said Poirot. ‘That is number four. I want, Mademoiselle, to hear about the other three accidents.’ She stared at him.
‘I want to be very sure, Mademoiselle, that they were accidents.’
‘Why, of course! What else could they be?’
‘Mademoiselle, prepare yourself, I beg, for a great shock. What if someone is attempting your life?’
All Nick’s response to this was a burst of laughter. The idea seemed to amuse her hugely.
‘What a marvelous idea! My dear man, who on earth do you think would attempt my life? I’m not the beautiful young heiress whose death releases 24 million. I wish somebody was trying to kill me-that would be a thrill, if you like- but I’m afraid there’s not a hope!’
‘Will you tell me, Mademoiselle, about those accidents?’
‘Of course-but, there’s nothing in it. They were just stupid things. There’s a heavy picture hanging over my bed. It fell in the night. Just by pure chance I had happened to hear a door banging somewhere in the house and went down to find it and shut it-and so I escaped. It would probably have bashed my head in. That’s No. 1.’
Poirot did not smile.
‘Continue, Mademoiselle. Let us pass to No. 2.’
‘Oh, that’s weaker still. There’s a scrambly cliff path down to the sea. I go down that way to bathe. There’s a rock you can dive off. A boulder got dislodged somehow and came roaring down just missing me. The third thing was quite different. Something went wrong with the brakes of the car-I don’t know quite what the garage man explained, but I didn’t follow it. Anyway if I’d gone through the gate and down the hill, they wouldn’t have held and I suppose I’d have gone slap into the Town Hall and there would have been the devil of a smash. Slight defacement of the Town Hall, complete obliteration of me. But owing to my always leaving something behind, I turned back and merely ran into the laurel hedge.’
‘And you cannot tell me what the trouble was?’
‘You can go and ask them at Mott’s Garage. They’ll know. It was something quite simple and mechanical that had been unscrewed, I think. I wondered if Ellen’s boy (my stand-by who opened the door to you, has got a small boy) had tinkered with it. Boys do like messing about with cars. Of course, Ellen swore he’d never been near the car. I think something must just have worked loose in spite of what Mott said.’
‘Where is your garage, Mademoiselle?’
‘Round the other side of the house.’
‘Is it kept locked?’
Nick’s eyes widened in surprise.
‘Oh! no. Of course not.’
‘Anyone could tamper with the car unobserved?’
‘Well-yes-I suppose so. But it’s so silly.’
‘No, Mademoiselle. It is not silly. You do not understand. You are in danger-grave danger. I tell it you. I! And you do not know who I am?’
‘No.’ said Nick, breathlessly.
‘I am Hercule Poirot.’
‘Oh!’ said Nick, in rather a flat tone. ‘Oh, yes.’
‘You know my name, eh?’
She wriggled uncomfortably. A hunted look came into her eyes. Poirot observed her keenly.
‘You are not at ease. That means, I suppose, that you have not read my books.’
‘Well-no-not all of them. But I know the name, of course.’
‘Mademoiselle, you are a polite little liar.’ (I started, remembering the words spoken at the Majestic Hotel that day after lunch.) ‘I forget-you are only a child- you would not have heard. So quickly does fame pass. My friend there-he will tell you.’
Nick looked at me. I cleared my throat, somewhat embarrassed.
‘Monsieur Poirot is-er-was-a great detective,’ I explained.
‘Ah! my friend,’ cried Poirot. ‘Is that all you can find to say? Mais dis donc! Say then to Mademoiselle that I am a detective unique, unsurpassed, the greatest that ever lived!’
‘That is now unnecessary,’ I said coldly. ‘You have told her yourself.’
‘Ah, yes, but it is more agreeable to have been able to preserve the modesty. One should not sing one’s own praises.’
‘One should not keep a dog and have to bark oneself,’ agreed Nick, with mock sympathy. ‘Who is the dog, by the way? Dr. Watson, I presume.’
‘My name is Hastings,’ I said coldly.
‘Battle of-1066,’ said Nick. ‘Who said I wasn’t educated? Well, this is all too, too marvelous! Do you think someone really wants to do away with me? It would be thrilling. But, of course, that sort of thing doesn’t really happen. Only in books. I expect Monsieur Poirot is like a surgeon who’s invented an operation or a doctor who’s found an obscure disease and wants everyone to have it.’
‘Sacré tonnerre!’ thundered Poirot. ‘Will you be serious? You young people of today, will nothing make you serious? It would not have been a joke, Mademoiselle if you had been lying in the hotel garden a pretty little corpse with a nice little hole through your head instead of your hat. You would not have laughed then-eh?’
‘Unearthly laughter heard at a séance,’ said Nick. ‘But seriously, M. Poirot-it’s very kind of you and all that but the whole thing must be an accident.’
‘You are as obstinate as the devil!’
‘That’s where I got my name from. My grandfather was popularly supposed to have sold his soul to the devil. Everyone around here called him Old Nick. He was a wicked old man but great fun. I adored him. I went everywhere with him and so they called us Old Nick and Young Nick. My real name is Magdala.’
‘That is an uncommon name.’
‘Yes, it’s a kind of family one. There have been lots of Magdalas in the Buckley family. There’s one up there.’
She nodded at a picture on the wall.
‘Ah!’ said Poirot. Then looking at a portrait hanging over the mantelpiece, he said: ‘Is that your grandfather, Mademoiselle?’
‘Yes, rather an arresting portrait, isn’t it? Jim Lazarus offered to buy it, but I wouldn’t sell it. I’ve got an affection for Old Nick.’
‘Ah!’ Poirot was silent for a minute, then he said very earnestly: ‘Revenons à nos moutons. Listen, Mademoiselle. I implore you to be serious. You are in danger. Today, somebody shot at you with a Mauser pistol-‘
‘A Mauser pistol?-‘
For a moment she was startled.
‘Yes, why? Do you know of anyone who has a Mauser pistol?’
‘I’ve got one myself.’
‘Yes-it was Dad’s. He brought it back from the War. It’s been knocking around here ever since. I saw it only the other day in that drawer.’
She indicated an old-fashioned bureau. Now, as though suddenly struck by an idea, she crossed to it and pulled the drawer open. She turned rather blankly. Her voice held a new note.
‘Oh!’ she said. ‘It’s-it’s gone.’