British author Agatha Christie’s mystery novel Peril at End House was first made available in the US in February 1932 by Dodd, Mead and Company and in the UK in March of that same year by the Collins Crime Club.
Chapter 1: The Majestic Hotel
I believe that Saint Loo is the most attractive seaside town in the south of England. The Queen of Watering Places lives up to its moniker and strongly conjures up images of the Riviera. In my opinion, the Cornish shore is just as fascinating as the southern French coast.
That’s what I told my pal Hercule Poirot. “That’s what it said on our menu yesterday in the restaurant car, mon ami.” Your statement is not unique.
‘But don’t you agree?’
He was smiling to himself and did not at once answer my question. I repeated it.
‘A thousand pardons, Hastings. My thoughts were wandering. Wandering indeed to that part of the world you mentioned just now.’
‘The south of France?’
‘Yes. I was thinking of that last winter that I spent there and of the events which occurred.’
I could recall. On the Blue Train, a murder had taken place, and Poirot had used his customary unerring insight to solve the mystery—a difficult and perplexing one.
‘How I wish I had been with you,’ I said with deep regret.
‘I too,’ said Poirot. ‘Your experience would have been invaluable to me.’
I gave him a sidelong glance. I don’t trust his compliments because of a longstanding tendency, yet he seemed completely sincere. Why not, after all? I am well familiar with the techniques he uses.
‘What I particularly missed was your vivid imagination, Hastings,’ he went on dreamily. ‘One needs a certain amount of light relief. My valet, Georges, a 3admirable man with whom I sometimes permitted myself to discuss a point, has no imagination whatever.’ This remark seemed to me quite irrelevant.
‘Tell me, Poirot,’ I said. ‘Are you never tempted to renew your activities? This passive life-‘
‘Suits me admirably, my friend. To sit in the sun-what could be more charming? To step from your pedestal at the zenith of your fame-what could be a grander gesture? They say of me: “That is Hercule Poirot!-The great-the unique!-There was never anyone like him, and there never will be!” Eh, bien-I am satisfied ‘I will stop here’. I am humbled.
I made a mistake by calling myself humble. It seemed to me that my little friend’s egotism had certainly not declined with his years. He leaned back in his chair, caressing his moustache and almost purring with self-satisfaction.
We were sitting on one of the terraces of the Majestic Hotel. It is the biggest hotel in St Loo and stands on its own grounds on a headland overlooking the sea. The gardens of the hotel lay below us freely interspersed with palm trees. The sea was of a deep and lovely blue, the sky clear and the sun shining with all the single-hearted fervour an August sun should (but in England so often does not) have. There was a vigorous humming of bees, a pleasant sound-and altogether nothing could have been more ideal.
On a patio of the Majestic Hotel, we were seated. It is the largest hotel in St. Loo and is situated on a cliff with a view of the sea in its own grounds.
Below us, the hotel’s gardens were spread out and dotted with palm trees. The sky was bright, the sea was a deep and gorgeous blue, and the sun shone with all the unwavering fervour that the August sun ought to (but so frequently lacks in England). Nothing could have been more ideal overall because of the loud, cheerful humming of the bees.
We had only arrived last night, and this was the first morning of what we proposed should be a week’s stay. If only these weather conditions continued, we should indeed have a perfect holiday.
I picked up the morning paper which had fallen from my hand and resumed my perusal of the morning’s news. The political situation seemed unsatisfactory but uninteresting, there was trouble in China, and there was a long account of a rumoured City swindle, but on the whole, there was no news of a very thrilling
‘Curious thing this parrot disease,’ I remarked, as I turned the sheet.
‘Two more deaths at Leeds, I see.’
I turned a page.
There is still no word about Seton, the pilot, and his round-the-world journey. These guys have some grit. He must have made a fantastic innovation with his amphibious vehicle, the Albatross. It’s unfortunate if he moved west. They haven’t given up hope yet, either.
He might have built a Pacific island.
‘The Solomon islanders are still cannibals, are they not?’ inquired Poirot pleasantly.
‘Must be a fine fellow. That sort of thing makes one feel it’s a good thing to be an Englishman after all.’
‘It consoles for the defeats at Wimbledon,’ said Poirot.
‘I-I didn’t mean,’ I began.
My friend waved my attempted apology aside gracefully.
‘Me,’ he announced. ‘I am not amphibian, like the machine of the poor Captain Seton, but I am cosmopolitan. And for the English, I have always had, as you know, a great admiration. The thorough way, for instance, in which they read the daily paper.’
My attention had strayed to political news.
‘They seem to be giving the Home Secretary a pretty bad time of it,’ I remarked with a chuckle.
‘The poor man. He has his troubles, that one. Ah! yes. So much so that he seeks help in the most improbable quarters.’
I stared at him.
With a slight smile, Poirot drew from his pocket his morning’s correspondence, neatly secured by a rubber band. From this, he selected one letter which he tossed across to me.
‘It must have missed us yesterday,’ he said.
I read the letter with a pleasurable feeling of excitement.
‘But, Poirot,’ I cried. ‘This is most flattering!’
‘You think so, my friend?’
‘He speaks in the warmest terms of your ability.’
‘He is right,’ said Poirot, modestly averting his eyes.
As a favour to you, he asks you to look into this situation for him.
Exactly so. I don’t need you to tell me everything again. You comprehend, Hastings, my darling. I have read the letter myself.’
‘It is too bad,’ I cried. ‘This will put an end to our holiday.’
‘No, no, calmed vous -there is no question of that.’
‘But the Home Secretary says the matter is urgent.’
He might be correct, or he might not. These politicians get excited very quickly. In the Paris Chamber des Députés, I have seen myself.
“Yes, yes, but Poirot, don’t you think we should be making plans?” The direct to London has left; it departs at noon. The following was, “Calm down, Hastings, I beg of you! There is perpetual commotion and agitation. Neither today nor tomorrow is we travelling to London.
However, the summons-
‘Does not concern me. I do not belong to your police force, Hastings. As a private eye, I am requested to take on a case. I decline.’
‘Certainly. I write with perfect politeness, tender my regrets, my apologies, explain that I am completely desolated-but what will you? I have retired-I am finished.’
‘You are not finished,’ I exclaimed warmly.
Poirot patted my knee.
“There,” says the dependable dog, who is a loyal friend. Additionally, you have caused. The order and method are still present in the grey cells and continue operating. However, when I retire, my buddy, I retire! It’s done now! I am not a stage favourite who says a dozen farewells to the world. I implore you to give the young men an opportunity with all generosity. They might perform a commendable act. Though I doubt it, they might. They’ll manage just fine for the Home Secretary’s undoubtedly tedious endeavour.
‘But, Poirot, the compliment!’
‘Me, I am above compliments. The Home Secretary, being a man of sense, realizes that if he can only obtain my services all will be successful. What will you do? He is unlucky. Hercule Poirot has solved his last case.’
I looked at him. In my heart of hearts, I deplored his obstinacy. The solving of such a case as was indicated might add still further lustre to his already worldwide reputation. Nevertheless, I could not but admire his unyielding attitude.
Suddenly a thought struck me and I smiled.
‘I wonder,’ I said, ‘that you are not afraid. Such an emphatic pronouncement will surely tempt the gods.’
‘Impossible,’ he replied, ‘that anyone should shake the decision of Hercule Poirot.’
You’re correct, mon ami; such a term shouldn’t be used. Eh, ma foi, I didn’t say I wouldn’t look into it if a bullet were to hit the wall near my head! After all, one is mortal.
I grinned. A small pebble had just landed on the patio next to us, and Poirot’s imaginative analogy from it caught my attention. As he continued, he knelt down and scooped up the pebble.
One is human, yes. The first is the sleeping canine, which is fine but can be roused. Your language has a proverb that states as much.
In fact, I added, “Let the criminal who placed the dagger by your pillow tomorrow morning beware!”
However, his gesture was rather careless.
He abruptly stood up and descended the few stairs that connected the terrace with the garden, much to my surprise. He saw a female hurrying towards us as he was doing this.
I had just registered the impression that she was a decidedly pretty girl when my attention was drawn to Poirot who, not looking where he was going, had stumbled over a root and fallen heavily. He was just abreast of the girl at the time and she and I between us helped him to his feet. My attention was naturally on my friend, but I was conscious of an impression of dark hair, an impish face and big dark-blue eyes.
Poirot stumbled, “A thousand pardons.” “Mademoiselle, you are very generous.” My foot is giving me a lot of pain, which I lament greatly. No, it’s nothing at all—just the ankle being rotated. Everything will be fine in a short while. However, if you could lend a hand, Hastings—you and Mademoiselle together, if she would be so kind. I feel bad asking her for it.
We quickly managed to get Poirot seated on the patio with the girl and me on opposite sides of him. My buddy immediately rejected my next suggestion to go get a doctor.
‘It is nothing, I tell you. The ankle turned, that is all. Painful for the moment, but soon over.’ He made a grimace. ‘See, in a little minute I shall have forgotten. Mademoiselle, I thank you a thousand times. You were most kind. Sit down, I beg of you.’
The girl took a chair.
‘It’s nothing,’ she said. ‘But I wish you would let it be seen to.
”Mademoiselle, I assure you, it is a bagatelle! In the pleasure of your society, the pain passes already.’
The girl laughed.
‘What about a cocktail?’ I suggested. ‘It’s just about the time.’
‘Well-‘ She hesitated. ‘Thanks very much.’
‘Yes, please-dry Martini.’
I went off. On my return, after having ordered the drinks, I found Poirot and the girl engaged in animated conversation.
‘Imagine, Hastings,’ he said, ‘that house there-the one on the point-that we have admired so much, it belongs to Mademoiselle here.’
‘Indeed?’ I said, though I was unable to recall having expressed any admiration.In fact I had hardly noticed the house. ‘It looks rather eerie and imposing standing there by itself far from anything.’
‘It’s called End House,’ said the girl. ‘I love it-but it’s a tumble-down old place. Going to rack and ruin.’
‘You are the last of an old family, Mademoiselle?’
‘Oh! we’re nothing important. But there have been Buckleys here for two or three hundred years. My brother died three years ago, so I’m the last of the family.’
‘That is sad. You live there alone, Mademoiselle?’
‘Oh! I’m away a good deal and when I’m at home there’s usually a cheery crowd coming and going.’
‘That is so modern. Me, I was picturing you in a dark mysterious mansion, haunted by a family curse.’
‘How marvellous! What a picturesque imagination you must have. No, it’s not haunted. Or if so, the ghost is a beneficent one. I’ve had three escapes from sudden death in as many days, so I must bear a charmed life.’
Poirot sat up alertly.
‘Escapes from death? That sounds interesting, Mademoiselle.’
‘Oh! they weren’t very thrilling. Just accidents you know.’ She jerked her head sharply as a wasp flew past. ‘Curse these wasps. There must be a nest of them round here.’
‘The bees and the wasps-you do not like them, Mademoiselle? You have been stung-yes?’ ‘No-but I hate the way they come right past your face.’
‘The bee in the bonnet,’ said Poirot. ‘Your English phrase.’
At that moment the cocktails arrived. We all held up our glasses and made the usual inane observations.
‘I’m due in the hotel for cocktails, really,’ said Miss Buckley. ‘I expect they’re wondering what has become of me.’
Poirot cleared his throat and set down his glass.
‘Ah! for a cup of good rich chocolate,’ he murmured. ‘But in England, they make it not. Still, in England, you have some very pleasing customs. The young girls, their hats come on and off-so prettily-so easily-‘
The girl stared at him.’
‘What do you mean? Why shouldn’t they?’
‘You ask that because you are young-so young, Mademoiselle. But to me, the natural thing seems to have a coiffure high and rigid-so-and the hat attached with many hat pins-là-là-là-et là.’
He executed four vicious jabs in the air.
‘But how frightfully uncomfortable!
‘Ah! I should think so,’ said Poirot. No martyred lady could have spoken with more feeling. ‘When the wind blew it was the agony-it gave you the migraine.’
Miss Buckley dragged off the simple wide-brimmed felt she was wearing and cast it down beside her.
‘And now we do this,’ she laughed.
‘Which is sensible and charming,’ said Poirot, with a little bow.
I looked at her with interest. Her dark hair was ruffled and gave her an elfin look.There was something elfin about her altogether. The small, vivid face, pansy shaped, the enormous dark-blue eyes, and something else-something haunting and arresting. Was it a hint of recklessness? There were dark shadows under the eyes.
The terrace on which we were sitting was a little-used one. The main terrace where most people sat was just round the corner at a point where the cliff shelved directly down to the sea.
From round this corner now there appeared a man, a red-faced man with arolling carriage who carried his hands half clenched by his side. There was something breezy and carefree about him-a typical sailor.
‘I can’t think where the girl’s got to,’ he was saying in tones that easily carried to
where we sat. ‘Nick-Nick.’
Miss Buckley rose.
‘I knew they’d be getting in a state. Attaboy-George-here I am.’
‘Freddie’s frantic for a drink. Come on, girl.’
He cast a glance of frank curiosity at Poirot, who must have differed considerably from most of Nick’s friends.
The girl performed a wave of introduction.
‘This is Commander Challenger-er-‘
But to my surprise, Poirot did not supply the name for which she was waiting. Instead, he rose, bowed very ceremoniously and murmured: ‘Of the English Navy. I have great regard for the English Navy.’
This type of remark is not one that an Englishman acclaims most readily. Commander Challenger flushed and Nick Buckley took command of the situation.
‘Come on, George. Don’t gape. Let’s find Freddie and Jim.’
She smiled at Poirot.
‘Thanks for the cocktail. I hope the ankle will be all right.’
With a nod to me, she slipped her hand through the sailor’s arm and they disappeared round the corner together.
‘So that is one of Mademoiselle’s friends,’ murmured Poirot thoughtfully. ‘One of
her cheery crowd. What about him? Give me your expert judgement, Hastings. Is
he what you call a good fellow-yes?’
Pausing for a moment to try and decide exactly what Poirot thought I should mean by a ‘good fellow’, I gave a doubtful assent.
‘He seems all right-yes,’ I said. ‘So far as one can tell by a cursory glance.’
‘I wonder,’ said Poirot.
The girl had left her hat behind. Poirot stooped to pick it up and twirled it round
absent-mindedly on his finger.
‘Has he atendresse for her? What do you think, Hastings?’
‘My dear Poirot! How can I tell? Here-give me that hat. The lady will want it. I’ll take it to her.’
Poirot paid no attention to my request. He continued to revolve the hat slowly on his finger.
‘Pas encore. Ça m’amuse.’
‘Yes, my friend, I grow old and childish, do I not?’
This was so exactly what I was feeling I was somewhat disconcerted to have it put into words. Poirot gave a little chuckle, then leaning forward he laid a finger against the side of his nose.
‘But no-I am not so completely imbecile as you think! We will return the hat-but assuredly-but later! We will return it to End House and thus we shall have the opportunity of seeing the charming Miss Nick again.’
‘Poirot,’ I said. ‘I believe you have fallen in love.’
‘She is a pretty girl-eh?’
‘Well-you saw for yourself. Why ask me?’
‘Because, alas! I cannot judge. To me, nowadays, anything young is beautiful. Jeunesse-jeunesse. It is the tragedy of my years. But you-I appeal to you! Your judgement is not up-to-date, naturally, having lived in Argentine so long. You admire the figure of five years ago, but you are at any rate more modern than I am. Is she pretty-yes? She has the appeal to the sexes?’
‘One sex is sufficient, Poirot. The answer, I should say, is very much in the affirmative. Why are you so interested in the lady?’
‘Am I interested?’
‘Well-look at what you’ve just been saying.’
‘You are under a misapprehension, mon ami. I may be interested in the lady-yes- but I am much more interested in her hat.’
I stared at him, but he appeared perfectly serious.
He nodded his head at me.
‘Yes, Hastings, this very hat.’ He held it towards me. ‘You see the reason for my interest?’
‘It’s a nice hat,’ I said, bewildered. ‘But quite an ordinary hat. Lots of girls have
hats like it.’
‘Not like this one.’
I looked at it more closely.
‘You see, Hastings?’
‘A perfectly plain fawn felt. Good style-‘
‘I did not ask you to describe the hat. It is plain that you do not see. Almost incredible, my poor Hastings, how you hardly ever do see! It amazes me every time anew! But regard, my dear old imbecile-it is not necessary to employ the grey cells-the eyes will do. Regard-regard-‘
And then at last I saw to what he had been trying to draw my attention to. The slowly turning hat was revolving on his finger, and that finger was stuck neatly through a hole in the brim of the hat. When he saw that I had realized his meaning, he drew his finger out and held the hat towards me. It was a small neat hole, quite round, and I could not imagine its purpose if purpose it had.
‘Did you observe the way Mademoiselle Nick flinched when a bee flew past? The bee in the bonnet-the hole in the hat.’
‘But a bee couldn’t make a hole like that.’
‘Exactly, Hastings! What acumen! It could not. But a bullet could, mon cher!’
‘Mai oui! A bullet like this.’
He held out his hand with a small object in the palm of it.
‘A spent bullet, mon ami. It was that which hit the terrace just now when we were talking. A spent bullet!’
‘I mean that one inch of a difference and that hole would not be through the hat but through the head. Now do you see why I am interested, Hastings? You were right, my friend when you told me not to use the word “impossible”. Yes-one is human! Ah! but he made a grave mistake, that would-be murderer when he shot at his victim within a dozen yards of Hercule Poirot! For him, it is indeed la mauvaise chance. But you see now why we must make our entry into End House and get into touch with Mademoiselle? Three near escapes from death in three days. That is what she said. We must act quickly, Hastings. The peril is very close at hand.’