The Harlequin Tea Set and Other Stories
SUMMARY:A priceless treasure for collectors and fans, "The Harlequin Tea Set" brings togethernine brilliant Christie stories that have remained long out of print—until now. Featuringbeloved Christie detectives such as Hercule Poirot and Mr. Harley Quin, as well as newcharacters, these stories will charm and fascinate the millions of Christie fans around theworld.
THE HARLEQUIN TEA SET AND OTHER STORIES (1997)
While the Light Lasts
The House of Dreams
The Lonely God
Within a Wall
The Mystery of the Spanish Chest
The Harlequin Tea Set
Clare Halliwell walked down the short path that led from her cottage door to the gate. On herarm was a basket, and in the basket was a bottle of soup, some home-made jelly, and a fewgrapes. There were not many poor people in the small village of Daymer's End, but such as therewere were assiduously looked after, and Clare was one of the most efficient of the parishworkers.
Clare Halliwell was thirty-two. She had an upright carriage, a healthy color, and nice browneyes. She was not beautiful, but she looked fresh and pleasant and very English. Everybodyliked her and said she was a good sort. Since her mother's death, two years ago, she had livedalone in the cottage with her dog, Rover. She kept poultry and was fond of animals and of ahealthy outdoor life.
As she unlatched the gate, a two-seater car swept past, and the driver, a girl in a red hat,waved a greeting. Clare responded, but for a moment her lips tightened. She felt that pang ather heart which always came when she saw Vivien Lee, Gerald's wife!
Medenham Grange, which lay just a mile outside the village, had belonged to the Lees for manygenerations. Sir Gerald Lee, the present owner of the Grange, was a man old for his years andconsidered by many stiff in manner. His pomposity really covered a good deal of shyness. He andClare had played together as children. Later they had been friends, and a closer and dearer tiehad been confidently expected by many - including, it may be said, Clare herself. There was nohurry, of course - but someday - She left it so in her own mind. Someday.
And then, just a year ago, the village had been startled by the news of Sir Gerald's marriageto a Miss Harper - a girl nobody had ever heard of!
The new Lady Lee had not been popular in the village. She took not the faintest interest inparochial matters, was bored by hunting, and loathed the country and outdoor sports. Many ofthe wiseacres shook their heads and wondered how it would end. It was easy to see where SirGerald's infatuation had come in. Vivien was a beauty. From head to foot she was a completecontrast to Clare Halliwell - small, elfin, dainty, with golden-red hair that curledenchantingly over her pretty ears, and big violet eyes that could shoot a sideways glance ofprovocation to the manner born.
Gerald Lee, in his simple man's way, had been anxious that his wife and Clare should be greatfriends. Clare was often asked to dine at the Grange, and Vivien made a pretty pretence ofaffectionate intimacy whenever they met. Hence that gay salutation of hers this morning.
Clare walked on and did her errand. The vicar was also visiting the old woman in question, andhe and Clare walked a few yards together afterwards before their ways parted. They stood stillfor a minute discussing parish affairs.
"Jones has broken out again, I'm afraid," said the vicar. "And I had such hopes after he hadvolunteered, of his own accord, to take the pledge."
"Disgusting," said Clare crisply.
"It seems so to us," said Mr. Wilmot, "but we must remember that it is very hard to putourselves in his place and realize his temptation. The desire for drink is unaccountable to us,
but we all have our own temptations, and thus we can understand."
"I suppose we have," said Clare uncertainly.
The vicar glanced at her.
"Some of us have the good fortune to be very little tempted," he said gently. "But even tothose people their hour comes. Watch and pray, remember, that ye enter not into temptation."
Then bidding her good-bye, he walked briskly away. Clare went on thoughtfully, and presentlyshe almost bumped into Sir Gerald Lee.
"Hullo, Clare. I was hoping to run across you. You look jolly fit. What a color you've got."
The color had not been there a minute before. Lee went on:
"As I say, I was hoping to run across you. Vivien's got to go off to Bournemouth for theweekend. Her mother's not well. Can you dine with us Tuesday instead of tonight?"
"Oh, yes! Tuesday will suit me just as well."
"That's all right, then. Splendid. I must hurry along."
Clare went home to find her one faithful domestic standing on the doorstep looking out forher.
"There you are, miss. Such a to-do. They've brought Rover home. He went off on his own thismorning, and a car ran clean over him."
Clare hurried to the dog's side. She adored animals, and Rover was her especial darling. Shefelt his legs one by one, and then ran her hands over his body. He groaned once or twice andlicked her hand.
"If there's any serious injury, it's internal," she said at last. "No bones seem to bebroken."
"Shall we get the vet to see him, Miss?"
Clare shook her head. She had little faith in the local vet.
"We'll wait until tomorrow. He doesn't seem to be in great pain, and his gums are a goodcolor, so there can't be much internal bleeding. Tomorrow, if I don't like the look of him,I'll take him over to Skippington in the car and let Reeves have a look at him. He's far andaway the best man."
On the following day, Rover seemed weaker, and Clare duly carried out her project. The smalltown of Skippington was about forty miles away, a long run, but Reeves, the vet there, wascelebrated for many miles around.
He diagnosed certain internal injuries but held out good hopes of recovery, and Clare wentaway quite content to leave Rover in his charge.
There was only one hotel of any pretensions in Skippington, the County Arms. It was mainlyfrequented by commercial travelers, for there was no good hunting country near Skippington, andit was off the track of the main roads for motorists.
Lunch was not served till one o'clock, and as it wanted a few minutes of that hour, Clareamused herself by glancing over the entries in the open visitors' book.
Suddenly she gave a stifled exclamation. Surely she knew that handwriting, with its loops andwhirls and flourishes? She had always considered it unmistakable. Even now she could have sworn- but of course it was clearly impossible. Vivien Lee was at Bournemouth. The entry itselfshowed it to be impossible:
Mr. and Mrs. Cyril Brown, London.
But in spite of herself her eyes strayed back again and again to that curly writing, and on animpulse she could not quite define she asked abruptly of the woman in the office:
"Mrs. Cyril Brown? I wonder if that is the same one I know?"
"A small lady? Reddish hair? Very pretty. She came in a red two-seater car, madam. A Peugeot,I believe."
Then it was! A coincidence would be too remarkable. As if in a dream, she heard the woman goon:
"They were here just over a month ago for a weekend, and liked it so much that they have comeagain. Newly married, I should fancy."
Clare heard herself saying: "Thank you. I don't think that could be my friend."
Her voice sounded different, as though it belonged to someone else. Presently she was sittingin the dining room, quietly eating cold roast beef, her mind a maze of conflicting thought andemotions.
She had no doubts whatever. She had summed Vivien up pretty correctly on their first meeting.Vivien was that kind. She wondered vaguely who the man was. Someone Vivien had known before hermarriage? Very likely - it didn't matter - nothing mattered but Gerald.
What was she - Clare - to do about Gerald? He ought to know - surely he ought to know. It wasclearly her duty to tell him. She had discovered Vivien's secret by accident, but she must loseno time in acquainting Gerald with the facts. She was Gerald's friend, not Vivien's.
But somehow or other she felt uncomfortable. Her conscience was not satisfied. On the face ofit, her reasoning was good, but duty and inclination jumped suspiciously together. She admittedto herself that she disliked Vivien. Besides, if Gerald Lee were to divorce his wife - andClare had no doubts at all that that was exactly what he would do, he was a man with an almostfanatical view of his own honor - then - well, the way would lie open for Gerald to come toher. Put like that, she shrank back fastidiously. Her own proposed action seemed naked andugly.
The personal element entered in too much. She could not be sure of her own motives. Clare wasessentially a high-minded, conscientious woman. She strove now very earnestly to see where her