Novel Peril at End House Chapter-3: Agatha Christie’s classic detective novel The Peril at End House was first published in 1932. Christie’s famous detective, Hercule Poirot, appears in the novel, which is set in the picturesque seaside town of St. Loo in Cornwall, England.
The Peril at End House Novel Chapter-3: Accidents?
It was from that moment that the conversation took on a different tone. Up to now, Poirot and the girl had been at cross-purposes. They were separated by a gulf of years. His fame and reputation meant nothing to her-she was of the generation that knows only the great names of the immediate moment. She was, therefore, unimpressed by his warnings. He was to her only a rather comic elderly foreigner with an amusingly melodramatic mind.
And this attitude baffled Poirot. To begin with, his vanity suffered. It was his constant dictum that all the world knew Hercule Poirot. Here was someone who did not. Very good for him, I could not but feel-but not precisely helpful to the object in view!
With the discovery of the missing pistol, however, the affair took on a new phase. Nick ceased to treat it as a mildly amusing joke. She still treated the matter lightly, because it was her habit and her creed to treat all occurrences lightly, but there was a distinct difference in her manner.
She came back and sat down on the arm of a chair, frowning thoughtfully.
‘That’s odd,’ she said.
Poirot whirled around on me.
‘You remember, Hastings, the little idea I mentioned? Well, it was correct, my little idea! Supposing Mademoiselle had been found shot lying in the hotel garden? She might not have been found for some hours-few people pass that way. And beside her hand -just fallen from it-is her own pistol. Doubtless, the good Madame Ellen would identify it. There would be suggestions, no doubt, of worry or of sleeplessness-‘
Nick moved uneasily.
‘That’s true. I have been worried to death. Everybody’s been telling me I’m nervy. Yes-they’d say all that…’
‘And bring in a verdict of suicide. Mademoiselle’s fingerprints conveniently on the pistol and nobody else’s-but yes, it would be very simple and convincing.’
‘How terribly amusing!’ said Nick, but not, I was glad to note, as though she were terribly amused. Poirot accepted her words in the conventional sense in which they were uttered.
‘N’est ce pas? But you understand, Mademoiselle, there must be no more of this. Four failures-yes-but the fifth time there may be a success.’
‘Bring out your rubber-tired hearses,’ murmured Nick.
‘But we are here, my friend and I, to obviate all that!’ I felt grateful for the ‘we’. Poirot has a habit of sometimes ignoring my existence.
‘Yes,’ I put in. ‘You mustn’t be alarmed, Miss Buckley. We will protect you.’
‘How frightfully nice of you,’ said Nick. ‘I think the whole thing is perfectly marvelous. Too, too thrilling.’
She still preserved her airy detached manner, but her eyes, I thought, looked troubled.
‘And the first thing to do,’ said Poirot, ‘is to have the consultation.’
He sat down and beamed upon her in a friendly manner.
‘To begin with, Mademoiselle, a conventional question-but-have you any enemies?’
Nick shook her head rather regretfully.
I’m afraid not,’ she said apologetically.
‘Bon. We will dismiss that possibility then. And now we ask the question of the cinema, of the detective novel-Who profits by your death, Mademoiselle?’
‘I can’t imagine,’ said Nick. ‘That’s why it all seems such nonsense. There’s this beastly old barn, of course, but it’s mortgaged up to the hilt, the roof leaks and there can’t be a coal mine or anything exciting like that hidden in the cliff.’
‘It is mortgaged-Hein?’
‘Yes. I had to mortgage it. You see there were two lots of death duties quite soon after each other. First, my grandfather died just six years ago, and then my brother. That just about put the lid on the financial position.’
‘And your father?’
‘He was invalided home from the War, then got pneumonia and died in 1919. My mother died when I was a baby. I lived here with my grandfather. He and Dad didn’t get on (I don’t wonder), so Dad found it convenient to park me and go roaming the world on his own account. Gerald-that was my brother-didn’t get on with grandfather either. I dare say I shouldn’t have got on with him if I’d been a boy. Being a girl saved me.
Grandfather used to say I was a chip off the old block and had inherited his spirit.’ She laughed. ‘He was an awful old rip, I believe. But frightfully lucky. There was a saying around here that everything he touched turned to gold. He was a gambler, though, and gambled it away again. When he died he left hardly anything besides the house and land. I was sixteen when he died and Gerald was twenty-two. Gerald was killed in a motor accident just three years ago and the place came to me.’
‘And after you, Mademoiselle? Who is your nearest relation?’
‘My cousin, Charles. Charles Vyse. He’s a lawyer down here. Quite good and worthy but very dull. He gives me good advice and tries to restrain my extravagant tastes.’
‘He manages your affairs for you-eh?’
‘Well-yes, if you like to put it that way. I haven’t many affairs to manage. He arranged the mortgage for me and made me let the lodge.’
‘Ah!-the lodge. I was going to ask you about that. It is let?’
‘Yes-to some Australians. Croft their name is. Very hearty, you know-and all that sort of thing. Simply oppressively kind. Always bringing up sticks of celery and early peas and things like that. They’re shocked at the way I let the garden go. They’re rather a nuisance, really-at least he is. Too terribly friendly for words. She’s a cripple, poor thing, and lies on a sofa all day. Anyway, they pay the rent and that’s the great thing.’
‘How long have they been here?’
‘Oh! about six months.’
‘I see. Now, beyond this cousin of yours-on your father’s side or your mother’s, by the way?’
‘Mother’s. My mother was Amy Vyse.’
‘Bien! Now, beyond this cousin, as I was saying, have you any other relatives?’
‘Some very distant cousins in Yorkshire-Buckleys.’
‘No one else?’
‘That is lonely.’
Nick stared at him.
‘Lonely? What a funny idea. I’m not down here much, you know. I’m usually in London. Relations are too devastating as a rule. They fuss and interfere. It’s much more fun to be on one’s own.’
‘I will not waste the sympathy. You are modern, I see, Mademoiselle. Now-your household.’
‘How grand that sounds! Ellen’s the household. And her husband, who’s a sort of gardener-not a very good one. I pay them frightfully little because I let them have the child here. Ellen does for me when I’m down here and if I have a party we get in who and what we can to help. I’m giving a party on Monday. It’s Regatta week, you know.’
‘Monday-and today is Saturday. Yes. Yes. And now, Mademoiselle, your friends- the ones with whom you were lunching today, for instance?’
‘Well, Freddie Rice-the fair girl-is practically my greatest friend. She’s had a rotten life. Married to a beast-a man who drank and drugged and was altogether a queer of the worst description. She had to leave him a year or two ago. Since then she’s drifted around. I wish to goodness she’d get a divorce and marry Jim Lazarus.’
‘Lazarus? The art dealer in Bond Street?’
‘Yes. Jim’s the only son. Rolling in money, of course. Did you see that car of his? He’s a Jew, of course, but a frightfully decent one. And he’s devoted to Freddie. They go about everywhere together. They are staying at the Majestic over the weekend and are coming to me on Monday.’
‘And Mrs. Rice’s husband?’
‘The mess? Oh! he’s dropped out of everything. Nobody knows where he is. It makes it horribly awkward for Freddie. You can’t divorce a man when you don’t know where he is.’
‘Poor Freddie,’ said Nick, pensively. ‘She’s had rotten luck. The thing was all fixed once. She got hold of him and put it to him, and he said he was perfectly willing, but he simply hadn’t got the cash to take a woman to a hotel. So the end of it all was she forked out-and he took it and off he went and has never been heard of from that day to this. Pretty mean, I call it.’
‘Good heavens,’ I exclaimed.
‘My friend Hastings is shocked,’ remarked Poirot. ‘You must be more careful, Mademoiselle. He is out of date, you comprehend. He has just returned from those great clear open spaces, etc., and he has yet to learn the language of nowadays.’
‘Well, there’s nothing to get shocked about,’ said Nick, opening her eyes very wide. ‘I mean, everybody knows, don’t they, that there are such people. But I call it a low-down trick all the same. Poor old Freddie was so damned hard up at the time that she didn’t know where to turn.’
‘Yes, yes, not a very pretty affair. And your other friend, Mademoiselle. The good Commander Challenger?’
‘George? I’ve known George all my life-well, for the last five years anyway. He’s a good scout, George.’ ‘He wishes you to marry him-eh?’ ‘He does mention it now and again. In the small hours of the morning or after the second glass of port.’
‘But you remain hard-hearted.’
‘What would be the use of George and me marrying one another? We’ve neither of us got a bean. And one would get terribly bored with George. That “playing for one’s side,” “good old school” manner. After all, he’s forty if he’s a day.’
The remark made me wince slightly.
‘In fact, he has one foot in the grave,’ said Poirot. ‘Oh! do not mind me, Mademoiselle. I am a grandpapa-a nobody. And now tell me more about these accidents. The picture, for instance?’
‘It’s been hung up again on a new cord. You can come and see it if you like.’
She led the way out of the room and we followed her. The picture in question was an oil painting in a heavy frame. It hung directly over the bedhead.
With a murmured, ‘You permit, Mademoiselle,’ Poirot removed his shoes and mounted upon the bed. He examined the picture and the cord, and gingerly tested the weight of the painting. With an elegant grimace, he descended. 34’To have that descend on one’s head-no, it would not be pretty. The cord by which it was hung, Mademoiselle, was it, like this one, a wire cable?’
‘Yes, but not so thick. I got a thicker one this time.’
‘That is comprehensible. And you examined the break-the edges were frayed?’
‘I think so but I didn’t notice particularly. Why should I?’
‘Exactly. As you say, why should you? All the same, I should much like to look at that piece of wire. Is it about the house anywhere?’
‘It was still on the picture. I expect the man who put the new wire on just threw the old one away.’
‘A pity. I should like to have seen it.’
‘You don’t think it was just an accident after all? Surely it couldn’t have been anything else.’
‘It may have been an accident. It is impossible to say. But the damage to the brakes of your car was not an accident. And the stone that rolled down the cliff-I should like to see the spot where that accident occurred.’
Nick took us out in the garden and led us to the cliff edge. The sea glittered blue below us. A rough path led down the face of the rock. Nick described just where the accident occurred and Poirot nodded thoughtfully. Then he asked: ‘How many ways are there into your garden, Mademoiselle?’
‘There’s the front way past the lodge. And a tradesman’s entrance-a door in the wall halfway up that lane. Then there’s a gate just along here on the cliff edge. It leads out onto a zig-zag path that leads up from that beach to the Majestic Hotel. And then, of course, you can go straight through a gap in the hedge into the Majestic garden that’s the way I went this morning. To go through the Majestic garden is a shortcut to the town anyway.’
‘And your gardener-where does he usually work?’
‘Well, he usually potters around the kitchen garden, or else he sits in the potting- shed and pretends to be sharpening the shears.’
‘Round the other side of the house, that is to say?’
‘So that if anyone were to come in here and dislodge a boulder he would be very unlikely to be noticed.’ Nick gave a sudden little shiver.
‘Do you-do you really think that is what happened?’ she asked, ‘I can’t believe it somehow. It seems so perfectly futile.’
Poirot drew the bullet from his pocket again and looked at it.
‘That was not futile, Mademoiselle,’ he said gently.
‘It must have been some madman.’
‘Possibly. It is an interesting subject of after-dinner conversation-are all criminals really madmen? There may be a malformation in their little grey cells-yes, it is very likely. That, it is the affair of the doctor. For me-I have different work to perform. I have the innocent to think of, not the guilty-the victim, not the criminal. It is you I am considering now, Mademoiselle, not your unknown assailant. You are young and beautiful, and the sun shines and the world is pleasant, and there is life and love ahead of you. It is all that of which I think, Mademoiselle. Tell me, these friends of yours, Mrs. Rice and Mr. Lazarus-they have been down here, how long?’
‘Freddie came down on Wednesday to this part of the world. She stopped with some people near Tavistock for a couple of nights. She came on here yesterday. Jim has been touring roundabout, I believe.’
‘And Commander Challenger?’
‘He’s at Devonport. He comes over in his car whenever he can-week-ends mostly.’
Poirot nodded. We were walking back to the house. There was a silence, and then he said suddenly: ‘Have you a friend whom you can trust, Mademoiselle?’
‘Other than Mrs. Rice.’
‘Well, I don’t know. I suppose I have. Why?’
‘Because I want you to have a friend to stay with you immediately.’
Nick seemed rather taken aback. She was silent a moment or two, thinking. Then she said doubtfully: ‘There’s Maggie. I could get hold of her, I expect.’
‘Who is Maggie?’
‘One of my Yorkshire cousins. There’s a large family of them. He’s a clergyman, you know. Maggie’s about my age, and I usually have her stay sometime or other in the summer. She’s no fun, though one of those painfully pure girls, with the kind of hair that has just become fashionable by accident. I was hoping to get out of having her this year.’
‘Not at all. Your cousin, Mademoiselle, will do admirably. Just the type of person I had in mind.’
‘All right,’ said Nick, with a sigh. ‘I’ll wire her. I certainly don’t know who else I could get hold of just now. Everyone’s fixed up. But if it isn’t the Choirboys’ Outing or the Mothers’ Beanfeast she’ll come all right. Though what you expect her to do …’
‘Could you arrange for her to sleep in your room?’
‘I suppose so.’
‘She would not think that an odd request?’
‘Oh, no, Maggie never thinks. She just does -earnestly, you know. Christians work with faith and perseverance. All right, I’ll wire her to come on Monday.’
‘Why not tomorrow?’
‘With Sunday trains? She’ll think I’m dying if I suggest that. No, I’ll say Monday. Are you going to tell her about the awful fate hanging over me?’
‘Nous verrons. Do you still make a jest of it? You have courage, I am glad to see.’
‘It makes a diversion anyway,’ said Nick.
Something in her tone struck me and I glanced at her curiously. I had a feeling that there was something she had left untold. We re-entered the drawing- room. Poirot was fingering the newspaper on the sofa.
‘You read this, Mademoiselle?’ he asked, suddenly.
‘St Loo Herald? Not seriously. I opened it to see the tides. It gives them every week.’
‘I see. By the way, Mademoiselle, have you ever made a will?’
‘Yes, I did. About six months ago. Just before my op.’
‘Qu’est ce que vous dites? Your op?’
‘Operation. For appendicitis. Someone said I ought to make a will, so I did. It made me feel quite important.’
‘And the terms of that will?’
“I bequeathed End House to Charles as I didn’t have much else to leave, but whatever little possessions I had, I left them to Freddie. It is likely that the liabilities, or whatever you call them, exceeded the assets in value.”
Poirot nodded absently.
‘I will take my leave now. Au revoir, Mademoiselle. Be careful.’
‘What of?’ asked Nick.
‘You are intelligent. Yes, that is the weak point-in which direction are you to be careful in? Who can say? But have confidence, Mademoiselle. In a few days, I shall have discovered the truth.’
‘Until then beware of poison, bombs, revolver shots, motor accidents, and arrows dipped in the secret poison of the South American Indians,’ finished Nick glibly.
‘Do not mock yourself, Mademoiselle,’ said Poirot gravely.
He paused as he reached the door.
‘By the way,’ he said. ‘What price did M. Lazarus offer you for the portrait of your grandfather?’
‘Ah!’ said Poirot.
He looked earnestly back at the dark saturnine face above the mantelpiece.
‘But, as I told you, I don’t want to sell the old boy.’
‘No,’ said Poirot, thoughtfully. ‘No, I understand.’