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Dead Man's Folly: A Hercule Poirot Mystery

By Shawn Morales,2014-11-04 16:55
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Dead Man's Folly: A Hercule Poirot Mystery

    Dead Man's Folly

    Dead Man's Folly

    Dead Man's Folly

    Dead Man's Folly

    Chapter 1

    It was Miss Lemon, Poirot's efficient secretary, who took the telephone call.

    Laying aside her shorthand notebook, she raised the receiver and said without emphasis,“Trafalgar 8137.”

    Hercule Poirot leaned back in his upright chair and closed his eyes. His fingers beat ameditative soft tattoo on the edge of the table. In his head he continued to compose thepolished periods of the letter he had been dictating.

    Placing her hand over the receiver, Miss Lemon asked in a low voice:

    “Will you accept a personal call from Nassecombe, Devon?”

    Poirot frowned. The place meant nothing to him.

    “The name of the caller?” he demanded cautiously.

    Miss Lemon spoke into the mouthpiece.

    “Air-raid?” she asked doubtingly. “Oh, yes - what was the last name again?”

    Once more she turned to Hercule Poirot.

    “Mrs Ariadne Oliver.”

    Hercule Poirot's eyebrows shot up. A memory rose in his mind: windswept grey hair... an eagleprofile...

    He rose and replaced Miss Lemon at the telephone.

    “Hercule Poirot speaks,” he announced grandiloquently.

    “Is that Mr Hercules Porrot speaking personally?” the suspicious voice of the telephoneoperator demanded.

    Poirot assured her that that was the case.

    “You're through to Mr Porrot,” said the voice.

    Its thin reedy accents were replaced by a magnificent booming contralto which caused Poirothastily to shift the receiver a couple of inches farther from his ear.

    “M. Poirot, is that really you?” demanded Mrs Oliver.

    “Myself in person, Madame.”

    “This is Mrs Oliver. I don't know if you'll remember me -”

    “But of course I remember you, Madame. Who could forget you?”

    “Well, people do sometimes,” said Mrs Oliver. “Quite often, in fact. I don't think that I'vegot a very distinctive personality. Or perhaps it's because I'm always doing different thingsto my hair. But all that's neither here nor there. I hope I'm not interrupting you when you'refrightfully busy?”

    “No, no, you do not derange me in the least.”

    “Good gracious - I'm sure I don't want to drive you out of your mind. The fact is, I needyou.”

    “Need me?”

    “Yes, at once. Can you take an aeroplane?”

    “I do not take aeroplanes. They make me sick.”

    “They do me, too. Anyway, I don't suppose it would be any quicker than the train really,because I think the only airport near here is Exeter which is miles away. So come by train.Twelve o'clock from Paddington to Nassecombe. You can do it nicely. You've got three-quartersof an hour if my watch is right - though it isn't usually.”

    “But where are you, Madame? What is all this about?”

“Nasse House, Nassecombe. A car or taxi will meet you at the station at Nassecombe.”

    “But why do you need me? What is all this about?” Poirot repeated frantically.

    “Telephones are in such awkward places,” said Mrs Oliver. “This one's in the hall... Peoplepassing through and talking... I can't really hear. But I'm expecting you. Everybody will be sothrilled. Good-bye.”

    There was a sharp click as the receiver was replaced. The line hummed gently.

    With a baffled air of bewilderment, Poirot put back the receiver and murmured something underhis breath. Miss Lemon sat with her pencil poised, incurious. She repeated in muted tones thefinal phrase of dictation before the interruption.

    “- allow me to assure you, my dear sir, that the hypothesis you have advanced...”

    Poirot waved aside the advancement of the hypothesis.

    “That was Mrs Oliver,” he said. “Ariadne Oliver, the detective novelist. You may haveread...” But he stopped, remembering that Miss Lemon only read improving books and regardedsuch frivolities as fictional crime with contempt. “She wants me to go down to Devonshiretoday, at once, in -” he glanced at the clock - “thirty-five minutes.”

    Miss Lemon raised disapproving eyebrows.

    “That will be running it rather fine,” she said. “For what reason?”

    “You may well ask! She did not tell me.”

    “How very peculiar. Why not?”

    “Because,” said Hercule Poirot thoughtfully, “she was afraid of being overheard. Yes, shemade that quite clear.”

    “Well, really,” said Miss Lemon, bristling in her employer's defence. “The things peopleexpect! Fancy thinking that you'd go rushing off on some wild goose chase like that! Animportant man like you! I have always noticed that these artists and writers are veryunbalanced - no sense of proportion. Shall I telephone through a telegram: Regret unable leaveLondon?”

    Her hand went out to the telephone. Poirot's voice arrested the gesture.

    “Du tout!” he said. “On the contrary. Be so kind as to summon a taxi immediately.” Heraised his voice. “Georges! A few necessities of toilet in my small valise. And quickly, veryquickly, I have a train to catch.”

    Dead Man's Folly

    II

    The train, having done one hundred and eighty-odd miles of its two hundred and twelve milesjourney at top speed, puffed gently and apologetically through the last thirty and drew intoNassecombe station. Only one person alighted, Hercule Poirot. He negotiated with care a yawninggap between the step of the train and the platform and looked round him. At the far end of thetrain a porter was busy inside a luggage compartment. Poirot picked up his valise and walkedback along the platform to the exit. He gave up his ticket and walked out through the booking-office.

    A large Humber saloon was drawn up outside and a chauffeur in uniform came forward.

    “Mr Hercule Poirot?” he inquired respectfully.

    He took Poirot's case from him and opened the door of the car. They drove away from the stationover the railway bridge and turned down a country lane which wound between high hedges oneither side. Presently the ground fell away on the right and disclosed a very beautiful riverview with hills of a misty blue in the distance. The chauffeur drew into the hedge and stopped.

“The River Helm, sir,” he said. “With Dartmoor in the distance.”

    It was clear that admiration was necessary. Poirot made the necessary noises, murmuringMagnifique! several times. Actually, Nature appealed to him very little. A well-cultivatedneatly arranged kitchen garden was far more likely to bring a murmur of admiration to Poirot'slips. Two girls passed the car, toiling slowly up the hill. They were carrying heavy rucksackson their backs and wore shorts, with bright coloured scarves tied over their heads.

    “There is a Youth Hostel next door to us, sir,” explained the chauffeur, who had clearlyconstituted himself Poirot's guide to Devon. “Hoodown Park. Mr Fletcher's place it used to be.This Youth Hostel Association bought it and it's fairly crammed in summer time. Take in over ahundred a night, they do. They're not allowed to stay longer than a couple of nights - thenthey've got to move on. Both sexes and mostly foreigners.”

    Poirot nodded absently. He was reflecting, not for the first time, that seen from the back,shorts were becoming to very few of the female sex. He shut his eyes in pain. Why, oh why, mustyoung women array themselves thus? Those scarlet thighs were singularly unattractive!

    “They seem heavily laden,” he murmured.

    “Yes, sir, and it's a long pull from the station or the bus stop. Best part of two miles toHoodown Park.” He hesitated. “If you don't object, sir, we could give them a lift?”

    “By all means, by all means,” said Poirot benignantly. There was he in luxury in an almostempty car and here were these two panting and perspiring young women weighed down with heavyrucksacks and without the least idea how to dress themselves so as to appear attractive to theother sex. The chauffeur started the car and came to a slow purring halt beside the two girls.Their flushed and perspiring faces were raised hopefully.

    Poirot opened the door and the girls climbed in.

    “It is most kind, please,” said one of them, a fair girl with a foreign accent. “It islonger way than I think, yes.”

    The other girl, who had a sunburnt and deeply flushed face with bronzed chestnut curls peepingout beneath her head-scarf, merely nodded her head several times, flashed her teeth, andmurmured, Grazie. The fair girl continued to talk vivaciously.

    “I to England come for two week holiday. I come from Holland. I like England very much. I havebeen Stratford Avon, Shakespeare Theatre and Warwick Castle. Then I have been Clovelly, now Ihave seen Exeter Cathedral and Torquay - very nice - I come to famous beauty spot here andtomorrow I cross river, go to Plymouth where discovery of New World was made from PlymouthHoe.”

    “And you, signorina?” Poirot turned to the other girl. But she only smiled and shook hercurls.

    “She does not much English speak,” said the Dutch girl kindly. “We both a little Frenchspeak - so we talk in train. She is coming from near Milan and has relative in England marriedto gentleman who keeps shop for much groceries. She has come with friend to Exeter yesterday,but friend has eat veal ham pie not good from shop in Exeter and has to stay there sick. It isnot good in hot weather, the veal ham pie.”

    At this point the chauffeur slowed down where the road forked. The girls got out, utteredthanks in two languages and proceeded up the left-hand road. The chauffeur laid aside for amoment his Olympian aloofness and said feelingly to Poirot:

    “It's not only veal and ham pie - you want to be careful of Cornish pasties too. Put anythingin a pasty they will, holiday time!”

    He restarted the car and drove down the right-hand road which shortly afterwards passed intothick woods. He proceeded to give a final verdict on the occupants of Hoodown Park YouthHostel.

    “Nice enough young women, some of 'em, at that hostel,” he said; “but it's hard to get themto understand about trespassing. Absolutely shocking the way they trespass. Don't seem to

    understand that a gentleman's place is private here. Always coming through our woods, they are,and pretending that they don't understand what you say to them.” He shook his head darkly.

    They went on, down a steep hill through woods, then through big iron gates, and along a drive,winding up finally in front of a big white Georgian house looking out over the river.

    The chauffeur opened the door of the car as a tall black-haired butler appeared on the steps.

    “Mr Hercule Poirot?” murmured the latter.

    “Yes.”

    “Mrs Oliver is expecting you, sir. You will find her down at the Battery. Allow me to show youthe way.”

    Poirot was directed to a winding path that led along the wood with glimpses of the river below.The path descended gradually until it came out at last on an open space, round in shape, with alow battlemented parapet. On the parapet Mrs Oliver was sitting.

    She rose to meet him and several apples fell from her lap and rolled in all directions. Applesseemed to be an inescapable motif of meeting Mrs Oliver.

    “I can't think why I always drop things,” said Mrs Oliver somewhat indistinctly, since hermouth was full of apple. “How are you, M. Poirot?”

    “Très bien, chère Madame,” replied Poirot politely. “And you?”

    Mrs Oliver was looking somewhat different from when Poirot had last seen her, and the reasonlay, as she had already hinted over the telephone, in the fact that she had once moreexperimented with her coiffure. The last time Poirot had seen her, she had been adopting awindswept effect. Today, her hair, richly blued, was piled upward in a multiplicity of ratherartificial little curls in a pseudo Marquise style. The Marquise effect ended at her neck, therest of her could have been definitely labelled “country practical,” consisting of a violentyolk-of-egg rough tweed coat and skirt and a rather bilious-looking mustard-coloured jumper.

    “I knew you'd come,” said Mrs Oliver cheerfully.

    “You could not possibly have known,” said Poirot severely.

    “Oh, yes, I did.”

    “I still ask myself why I am here.”

    “Well, I know the answer. Curiosity.”

    Poirot looked at her and his eyes twinkled a little. “Your famous woman's intuition,” hesaid, “has, perhaps, for once not led you too far astray.”

    “Now, don't laugh at my woman's intuition. Haven't I always spotted the murderer right away?”

    Poirot was gallantly silent. Otherwise he might have replied, “At the fifth attempt, perhaps,and not always then!”

    Instead he said, looking round him:

    “It is indeed a beautiful property that you have here.”

    “This? But it doesn't belong to me, M. Poirot. Did you think it did? Oh, no, it belongs tosome people called Stubbs.”

    “Who are they?”

    “Oh, nobody really,” said Mrs Oliver vaguely. “Just rich. No, I'm down here professionally,doing a job.”

    “Ah, you are getting local colour for one of your chefs-d'oeuvre?”

    “No, no. Just what I said. I'm doing a job. I've been engaged to arrange a murder.”

    Poirot stared at her.

    “Oh, not a real one,” said Mrs Oliver reassuringly. “There's a big fкte thing on tomorrow,and as a kind of novelty there's going to be a Murder Hunt. Arranged by me. Like a TreasureHunt, you see; only they've had a Treasure Hunt so often that they thought this would be a

    novelty. So they offered me a very substantial fee to come down and think it up. Quite fun,really - rather a change from the usual grim routine.”

    “How does it work?”

    “Well, there'll be a Victim, of course. And Clues. And Suspects. All rather conventional - youknow, the Vamp and the Blackmailer and the Young Lovers and the Sinister Butler and so on. Halfa crown to enter and you get shown the first Clue and you've got to find the Victim, and theWeapon and say Whodunnit and the Motive. And there are Prizes.”

    “Remarkable!” said Hercule Poirot.

    “Actually,” said Mrs Oliver ruefully, “it's all much harder to arrange than you'd think.Because you've got to allow for real people being quite intelligent, and in my books theyneedn't be.”

    “And it is to assist you in arranging this that you have sent for me?”

    Poirot did not try very hard to keep an outraged resentment out of his voice.

    “Oh, no,” said Mrs Oliver. “Of course not! I've done all that. Everything's all set fortomorrow. No, I wanted you for quite another reason.”

    “What reason?”

    Mrs Oliver's hands strayed upward to her head. She was just about to sweep them frenziedlythrough her hair in the old familiar gesture when she remembered the intricacy of her hair-do.Instead, she relieved her feelings by tugging at her ear lobes.

    “I dare say I'm a fool,” she said. “But I think there's something wrong.”

    Dead Man's Folly

    Chapter 2

    There was a moment's silence as Poirot stared at her. Then he asked sharply: “Something wrong?How?”

    “I don't know... That's what I want you to find out. But I've felt - more and more - that Iwas being - oh! - engineered... jockeyed along... Call me a fool if you like, but I can onlysay that if there was to be a real murder tomorrow instead of a fake one, I shouldn't besurprised!”

    Poirot stared at her and she looked back at him defiantly.

    “Very interesting,” said Poirot.

    “I suppose you think I'm a complete fool,” said Mrs Oliver defensively.

    “I have never thought you a fool,” said Poirot.

    “And I know what you always say - or look - about intuition.”

    “One calls things by different names,” said Poirot. “I am quite ready to believe that youhave noticed something, or heard something, that has definitely aroused in you anxiety. I thinkit possible that you yourself may not even know just what it is that you have seen or noticedor heard. You are aware only of the result. If I may so put it, you do not know what it is thatyou know. You may label that intuition if you like.”

    “It makes one feel such a fool,” said Mrs Oliver, ruefully, “not to be able to bedefinite.”

    “We shall arrive,” said Poirot encouragingly. “You say that you have had the feeling ofbeing - how did you put it - jockeyed along? Can you explain a little more clearly what youmean by that?”

    “Well, it's rather difficult... You see, this is my murder, so to speak. I've thought it outand planned it and it all fits in - dovetails. Well, if you know anything at all about writers,you'll know that they can't stand suggestions. People say 'Splendid, but wouldn't it be better

    if so and so did so and so?' or 'Wouldn't it be a wonderful idea if the victim was A instead ofB? Or the murderer turned out to be D instead of E?' I mean, one wants to say: 'All right then,write it yourself if you want it that way!'”

    Poirot nodded.

    “And that is what has been happening?”

    “Not quite... That sort of silly suggestion has been made, and then I've flared up, andthey've given in, but have just slipped in some quite minor trivial suggestion and because I'vemade a stand over the other, I've accepted the triviality without noticing much.”

    “I see,” said Poirot. “Yes - it is a method, that... Something rather crude and preposterousis put forward - but that is not really the point. The small minor alteration is really theobjective. Is that what you mean?”

    “That's exactly what I mean,” said Mrs Oliver. “And, of course, I may be imagining it, but Idon't think I am - and none of the things seem to matter anyway. But it's got me worried -that, and a sort of - well - atmosphere.”

    “Who has made these suggestions of alterations to you?”

    “Different people,” said Mrs Oliver. “If it was just one person I'd be more sure of myground. But it's not just one person - although I think it is really. I mean it's one personworking through other quite unsuspecting people.”

    “Have you an idea as to who that one person is?”

    Mrs Oliver shook her head.

    “It's somebody very clever and very careful,” she said. “It might be anybody.”

    “Who is there?” asked Poirot. “The cast of characters must be fairly limited?”

    “Well,” began Mrs Oliver. “There's Sir George Stubbs who owns this place. Rich and plebeianand frightfully stupid outside business, I should think, but probably dead sharp in it. Andthere's Lady Stubbs - Hattie - about twenty years younger than he is, rather beautiful, butdumb as a fish - in fact, I think she's definitely half-witted. Married him for his money, ofcourse, and doesn't think about anything but clothes and jewels. Then there's Michael Weyman -he's an architect, quite young, and good-looking in a craggy kind of artistic way. He'sdesigning a tennis pavilion for Sir George and repairing the Folly.”

    “Folly? What is that - a masquerade?”

    “No, it's architectural. One of those little sort of temple things, white, with columns.You've probably seen them at Kew. Then there's Miss Brewis, she's a sort of secretaryhousekeeper, who runs things and writes letters - very grim and efficient. And then there arethe people round about who come in and help. A young married couple who have taken a cottagedown by the river - Alec Legge and his wife Sally. And Captain Warburton, who's the Mastertons'agent. And the Mastertons, of course, and old Mrs Folliat who lives in what used to be thelodge. Her husband's people owned Nasse originally. But they've died out, or been killed inwars, and there were lots of death duties so the last heir sold the place.”

    Poirot considered this list of characters, but at the moment they were only names to him. Hereturned to the main issue.

    “Whose idea was the Murder Hunt?”

    “Mrs Masterton's, I think. She's the local M.P.'s wife, very good at organising. It was shewho persuaded Sir George to have the fкte here. You see the place has been empty for so manyyears that she thinks people will be keen to pay and come in to see it.”

    “That all seems straightforward enough,” said Poirot.

    “It all seems straightforward,” said Mrs Oliver obstinately; “but it isn't. I tell you, M.Poirot, there's something wrong.”

    Poirot looked at Mrs Oliver and Mrs Oliver looked back at Poirot.

“How have you accounted for my presence here? For your summons to me?” Poirot asked.

    “That was easy,” said Mrs Oliver. “You're to give away the prizes for the Murder Hunt.Everybody's awfully thrilled. I said I knew you, and could probably persuade you to come andthat I was sure your name would be a terrific draw - as, of course it will be,” Mrs Oliveradded tactfully.

    “And the suggestion was accepted - without demur?”

    “I tell you, everybody was thrilled.”

    Mrs Oliver thought it unnecessary to mention that amongst the younger generation one or two hadasked “Who is Hercule Poirot?”

    “Everybody? Nobody spoke against it?”

    Mrs Oliver shook her head.

    “That is a pity,” said Hercule Poirot.

    “You mean it might have given us a line?”

    “A would-be criminal could hardly be expected to welcome my presence.”

    “I suppose you think I've imagined the whole thing,” said Mrs Oliver ruefully. “I must admitthat until I started talking to you I hadn't realised how very little I've got to go upon.”

    “Calm yourself,” said Poirot kindly. “I am intrigued and interested. Where do we begin?”

    Mrs Oliver glanced at her watch.

    “It's just tea-time. We'll go back to the house and then you can meet everybody.”

    She took a different path from the one by which Poirot had come. This one seemed to lead in theopposite direction.

    “We pass by the boathouse this way,” Mrs Oliver explained.

    As she spoke the boathouse came into view. It jutted out on to the river and was a picturesquethatched affair.

    “That's where the Body's going to be,” said Mrs Oliver. “The body for the Murder Hunt, Imean.”

    “And who is going to be killed?”

    “Oh, a girl hiker, who is really the Yugoslavian first wife of a young Atom Scientist,” saidMrs Oliver glibly.

    Poirot blinked.

    “Of course it looks as though the Atom Scientist had killed her - but naturally it's not assimple as that.”

    “Naturally not - since you are concerned...”

    Mrs Oliver accepted the compliment with a wave of the hand.

    “Actually,” she said, “she's killed by the Country Squire - and the motive is really ratheringenious - I don't believe many people will get it - though there's a perfectly clear pointerin the fifth clue.”

    Poirot abandoned the subtleties of Mrs Oliver's plot to ask a practical question:

    “But how do you arrange for a suitable body?”

    “Girl Guide,” said Mrs Oliver. “Sally Legge was going to be it - but now they want her todress up in a turban and do the fortune telling. So it's a Girl Guide called Marlene Tucker.Rather dumb and sniffs,” she added in an explanatory manner. “It's quite easy - just peasantscarves and a rucksack - and all she has to do when she hears someone coming is to flop down onthe floor and arrange the cord round her neck. Rather dull for the poor kid - just stickinginside that boathouse until she's found, but I've arranged for her to have a nice bundle ofcomics - there's a clue to the murderer scribbled on one of them as a matter of fact - so itall works in.”

“Your ingenuity leaves me spellbound! The things you think of!”

    “It's never difficult to think of things,” said Mrs Oliver. “The trouble is that you thinkof too many, and then it all becomes too complicated, so you have to relinquish some of themand that is rather agony. We go up this way now.”

    They started up a steep zig-zagging path that led them back along the river at a higher level.At a twist through the trees they came out on a space surmounted by a small white pilasteredtemple. Standing back and frowning at it was a young man wearing dilapidated flannel trousersand a shirt of rather virulent green. He spun round towards them.

    “Mr Michael Weyman, M. Hercule Poirot,” said Mrs Oliver.

    The young man acknowledged the introduction with a careless nod.

    “Extraordinary,” he said bitterly, “the places people put things! This thing here, forinstance. Put up only about a year ago - quite nice of its kind and quite in keeping with theperiod of the house. But why here? These things were meant to be seen - 'situated on aneminence' - that's how they phrased it - with a nice grassy approach and daffodils, et cetera.But here's this poor little devil, stuck away in the midst of trees - not visible from anywhere- you'd have to cut down about twenty trees before you'd even see it from the river.”

    “Perhaps there wasn't any other place,” said Mrs Oliver.

    Michael Weyman snorted.

    “Top of that grassy bank by the house - perfect natural setting. But no, these tycoon fellowsare all the same - no artistic sense. Has a fancy for a 'Folly,' as he calls it, orders one.Looks round for somewhere to put it. Then, I understand, a big oak tree crashes down in a gale.Leaves a nasty scar. 'Oh, we'll tidy the place up by putting a Folly there,' says the sillyass. That's all they ever think about, these rich city fellows, tidying up! I wonder he hasn'tput beds of red geraniums and calceolarias all round the house! A man like that shouldn't beallowed to own a place like this!”

    He sounded heated.

    “This young man,” Poirot observed to himself, “assuredly does not like Sir George Stubbs.”

    “It's bedded down in concrete,” said Weyman. “And there's loose soil underneath - so it'ssubsided. Cracked all up here - it will be dangerous soon... Better pull the whole thing downand re-erect it on the top of the bank near the house. That's my advice, but the obstinate oldfool won't hear of it.”

    “What about the tennis pavilion?” asked Mrs Oliver.

    Gloom settled even more deeply on the young man.

    “He wants a kind of Chinese pagoda,” he said, with a groan. “Dragons if you please! Justbecause Lady Stubbs fancies herself in Chinese coolie hats. Who'd be an architect? Anyone whowants something decent built hasn't got the money, and those who have the money want somethingtoo utterly goddam awful!”

    “You have my commiserations,” said Poirot gravely.

    “George Stubbs,” said the architect scornfully. “Who does he think he is? Dug himself in tosome cushy Admiralty job in the safe depths of Wales during the war - and grows a beard tosuggest he saw active naval service on convoy duty - or that's what they say. Stinking withmoney - absolutely stinking!”

    “Well, you architects have got to have someone who's got money to spend, or you'd never have ajob,” Mrs Oliver pointed out reasonably enough. She moved on towards the house and Poirot andthe dispirited architect prepared to follow her.

    “These tycoons,” said the latter bitterly, “can't understand first principles.” Hedelivered a final kick to the lopsided Folly. “If the foundations are rotten - everything'srotten.”

“It is profound what you say there,” said Poirot. “Yes, it is profound.”

    The path they were following came out from the trees and the house showe white and beautifulbefore them in its setting of dark trees rising up behind it.

    “It is of a veritable beauty, yes,” murmured Poirot.

    “He wants to build a billiard room on,” said Mr Weyman venomously.

    On the bank below them a small elderly lady was busy with sécateurs on a clump of shrubs. Sheclimbed up to greet them, panting slightly.

    “Everything neglected for years,” she said. “And so difficult nowadays to get a man whounderstands shrubs. This hillside should be a blaze of colour in March and April, but verydisappointing this year - all this dead wood ought to have been cut away last autumn -”

    “M. Hercule Poirot, Mrs Folliat,” said Mrs Oliver.

    The elderly lady beamed.

    “So this is the great M. Poirot! It is kind of you to come and help us tomorrow. This cleverlady here has thought out a most puzzling problem - it will be such a novelty.”

    Poirot was faintly puzzled by the graciousness of the little lady's manner. She might, hethought, have been his hostess.

    He said politely:

    “Mrs Oliver is an old friend of mine. I was delighted to be able to respond to her request.This is indeed a beautiful spot, and what a superb and noble mansion.”

    Mrs Folliat nodded in a matter-of-fact manner.

    “Yes. It was built by my husband's great-gandfather in 1790. There was an Elizabethan housepreviously. It fell into disrepair and burned down in about 1700. Our family has lived heresince 1598.”

    Her voice was calm and matter of fact. Poirot looked at her with closer attention. He saw acery small and compact little person, dressed in shabby tweeds. The most noticeable featureabout her was her clear china-blue eyes. Her grey hair was closely confined by a hair-net.Though obviously careless of her appearance, she had that indefinable air of being someonewhich is so hard to explain.

    As they walked together towards the house, Poirot said diffidently, “It must be hard for youto have strangers living here.”

    There was a moment's pause before Mrs Folliat answered. Her voice was clear and precise andcuriously devoid of emotion.

    “So many things are hard, M. Poirot,” she said.

    Dead Man's Folly

    Chapter 3

    It was Mrs Folliat who led the way into the house and Poirot followed her. It was a gracioushouse, beautifully proportioned. Mrs Folliat went through a door on the left into a smalldaintily furnished sitting-room and on into the big drawing-room beyond, which was full ofpeople who all seemed, at the moment, to be talking at once.

    “George,” said Mrs Folliat. “This is M. Poirot who is so kind as to come and help us. SirGeorge Stubbs.”

    Sir George who had been talking in a loud voice, swung round. He was a big man with a ratherflorid red face and a slightly unexpected beard. It gave a rather disconcerting effect of anactor who had not quite made up his mind whether he was playing the part of a country squire,or of a “rough diamond” from the Dominions. It certainly did not suggest the navy, in spiteof Michael Weyman's remarks. His manner and voice were jovial, but his eyes were small and

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