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Hercule Poirot's Christmas

By Dorothy Baker,2014-11-04 16:55
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Review'You yearned for a "good violent murder with lots of blood". So this is your special story -- written for you.' Agatha Christie Product `desc`riptionAgatha Christie's seasonal mystery thriller, reissued with a striking new cover designed to appeal to the latest generation of Agatha Christie fans and book lovers. It is Christmas Eve. The Lee family reunion is shattered by a deafening crash of furniture, followed by a high-pitched wailing scream. Upstairs, the tyrannical Simeon Lee lies dead in a pool of blood, his throat slashed. But when Hercule Poirot, who is staying in the village with a friend for Christmas, offers to assist, he finds an atmosphere not of mourning but of mutual suspicion. It seems everyone had their own reason to hate the old man! Published by HarperCollins on 2001/09/01

    Hercule Poirot's Christmas

    Book Jacket

    SUMMARY:Christie, Poirot—and murder—are never out of season. A family get-together for theholidays begins with a game, and ends in cold-blooded murder. Who better to solve it thanPoirot, who "has solved some puzzling mysteries in his time but never has his mighty brainfunctioned more brilliantly than in Hercule Poirot's Christmas" (New York Times).

My dear James

    You have always been one of the most faithful and kindly of my readers, and I was therefore

    seriously perturbed when I received from you a word of criticism.

    You complained that my murders were getting too refined—anaemic, in fact. You yearned for a

    ‘good violent murder with lots of blood’. A murder where there was no doubt about its being

    murder!

    So this is your special story—written for you. I hope it may please.

    Your affectionate sister-in-law

    Agatha

    Contents About Agatha Christie

    The Agatha Christie Collection

    E-Book Extras

    Part 1 December 22nd

    Part 2 December 23rd

    Part 3 December 24th

    Part 4 December 25th

    Part 5 December 26th

    Part 6 December 27th

    Part 7 December 28th

    Copyright

    www.agathachristie.com About the Publisher Yet who would have thought the old man to have had so much blood in him? ? Macbeth

    Part 1

    December 22nd

    Stephen pulled up the collar of his coat as he walked briskly along the platform. Overhead adim fog clouded the station. Large engines hissed superbly, throwing off clouds of steam intothe cold raw air. Everything was dirty and smoke-grimed.

    Stephen thought with revulsion:

    ‘What a foul country—what a foul city!’

    His first excited reaction to London, its shops, its restaurants, its well-dressed, attractivewomen, had faded. He saw it now as a glittering rhinestone set in a dingy setting.

    Supposing he were back in South Africa now…He felt a quick pang of homesickness.Sunshine—blue skies—gardens of flowers—cool blue flowers—hedges of plumbago—blueconvolvulus clinging to every little shanty.

    And here—dirt, grime, and endless, incessant crowds—moving, hurrying—jostling. Busy antsrunning industriously about their ant-hill.

    For a moment he thought, ‘I wish I hadn’t come…’

    Then he remembered his purpose and his lips set back in a grim line. No, by hell, he’d go onwith it! He’d planned this for years. He’d always meant to do—what he was going to do. Yes,he’d go on with it!

    That momentary reluctance, that sudden questioning of himself: ‘Why? Is it worth it? Why dwellon the past? Why not wipe out the whole thing?’—all that was only weakness. He was not aboy—to be turned his this way and that by the whim of the moment. He was a man of forty,assured, purposeful. He would go on with it. He would do what he had come to England to do.

    He got on the train and passed along the corridor looking for a place. He had waved aside aporter and was carrying his own raw-hide suitcase. He looked into carriage after carriage. Thetrain was full. It was only three days before Christmas. Stephen Farr looked distastefully atthe crowded carriages.

    People! Incessant, innumerable people! And all so—so—what was the word—so drab-looking! So

    alike, so horribly alike! Those that hadn’t got faces like sheep had faces like rabbits, hethought. Some of them chattered and fussed. Some, heavily middle-aged men, grunted. More likepigs, those. Even the girls, slender, egg-faced, scarlet-lipped, were of a depressinguniformity.

    He thought with a sudden longing of open veldt, sun-baked and lonely…

    And then, suddenly, he caught his breath, looking into a carriage. This girl was different.Black hair, rich creamy pallor—eyes with the depth and darkness of night in them. The sadproud eyes of the South…It was all wrong that this girl should be sitting in this train amongthese dull, drab-looking people—all wrong that she should be going into the dreary midlands ofEngland. She should have been on a balcony, a rose between her lips, a piece of black lacedraping her proud head, and there should have been dust and heat and the smell of blood—thesmell of the bull-ring—in the air…She should be somewhere splendid, not squeezed into thecorner of a third-class carriage.

    He was an observant man. He did not fail to note the shabbiness of her little black coat andskirt, the cheap quality of her fabric gloves, the flimsy shoes and the defiant note of aflame-red handbag. Nevertheless splendour was the quality he associated with her. She was

    splendid, fine, exotic…

    What the hell was she doing in this country of fogs and chills and hurrying industrious ants?

    He thought, ‘I’ve got to know who she is and what she’s doing here…I’ve got to know…’

    II

    Pilar sat squeezed up against the window and thought how very odd the English smelt…It waswhat had struck her so far most forcibly about England—the difference of smell. There was nogarlic and no dust and very little perfume. In this carriage now there was a smell of coldstuffiness—the sulphur smell of the trains—the smell of soap and another very unpleasantsmell—it came, she thought, from the fur collar of the stout woman sitting beside her. Pilarsniffed delicately, imbibing the odour of mothballs reluctantly. It was a funny scent to chooseto put on yourself, she thought.

    A whistle blew, a stentorian voice cried out something and the train jerked slowly out of thestation. They had started. She was on her way…

    Her heart beat a little faster. Would it be all right? Would she be able to accomplish what shehad set out to do? Surely—surely—she had thought it all out so carefully…She was preparedfor every eventuality. Oh, yes, she would succeed—she must succeed…

    The curve of Pilar’s red mouth curved upwards. It was suddenly cruel, that mouth. Cruel andgreedy—like the mouth of a child or a kitten—a mouth that knew only its own desires and thatwas as yet unaware of pity.

    She looked round her with the frank curiosity of a child. All these people, seven of them—howfunny they were, the English! They all seemed so rich, so prosperous—their clothes—theirboots—Oh! undoubtedly England was a very rich country as she had always heard. But they werenot at all gay—no, decidedly not gay.

    That was a handsome man standing in the corridor…Pilar thought he was very handsome. She likedhis deeply bronzed face and his high-bridged nose and his square shoulders. More quickly thanany English girl, Pilar had seen that the man admired her. She had not looked at him oncedirectly, but she knew perfectly how often he had looked at her and exactly how he had looked.

    She registered the facts without much interest or emotion. She came from a country where menlooked at women as a matter of course and did not disguise the fact unduly. She wondered if hewas an Englishman and decided that he was not.

    ‘He is too alive, too real, to be English,’ Pilar decided. ‘And yet he is fair. He may beperhaps Americano.’ He was, she thought, rather like the actors she had seen in Wild Westfilms.

    An attendant pushed his way along the corridor.

    ‘First lunch, please. First lunch. Take your seats for first lunch.’

    The seven occupants of Pilar’s carriage all held tickets for the first lunch. They rose in abody and the carriage was suddenly deserted and peaceful.

    Pilar quickly pulled up the window which had been let down a couple of inches at the top by amilitant-looking, grey-haired lady in the opposite corner. Then she sprawled comfortably backon her seat and peered out of the window at the northern suburbs of London. She did not turnher head at the sound of the door sliding back. It was the man from the corridor, and Pilarknew, of course, that he had entered the carriage on purpose to talk to her.

    She continued to look pensively out of the window.

    Stephen Farr said:

    ‘Would you like the window down at all?’

    Pilar replied demurely:

    ‘On the contrary. I have just shut it.’

    She spoke English perfectly, but with a slight accent.

    During the pause that ensued, Stephen thought:

    ‘A delicious voice. It has the sun in it…It is warm like a summer night…’

    Pilar thought:

    ‘I like his voice. It is big and strong. He is attractive—yes, he is attractive.’

Stephen said: ‘The train is very full.’

    ‘Oh, yes, indeed. The people go away from London, I suppose, because it is so black there.’

    Pilar had not been brought up to believe that it was a crime to talk to strange men in trains.She could take care of herself as well as any girl, but she had no rigid taboos.

    If Stephen had been brought up in England he might have felt ill at ease at entering intoconversation with a young girl. But Stephen was a friendly soul who found it perfectly naturalto talk to anyone if he felt like it.

    He smiled without any self-consciousness and said:

    ‘London’s rather a terrible place, isn’t it?’

    ‘Oh, yes. I do not like it at all.’

    ‘No more do I.’

    Pilar said: ‘You are not English, no?’

    ‘I’m British, but I come from South Africa.’

    ‘Oh, I see, that explains it.’

    ‘Have you just come from abroad?’

    Pilar nodded. ‘I come from Spain.’

    Stephen was interested.

    ‘From Spain, do you? You’re Spanish, then?’

    ‘I am half Spanish. My mother was English. That is why I talk English so well.’

    ‘What about this war business?’ asked Stephen.

    ‘It is very terrible, yes—very sad. There has been damage done, quite a lot—yes.’

    ‘Which side are you on?’

    Pilar’s politics seemed to be rather vague. In the village where she came from, she explained,nobody had paid very much attention to the war. ‘It has not been near us, you understand. TheMayor, he is, of course, an officer of the Government, so he is for the Government, and thepriest is for General Franco—but most of the people are busy with the vines and the land, theyhave not time to go into these questions.’

    ‘So there wasn’t any fighting round you?’

    Pilar said that there had not been. ‘But then I drove in a car,’ she explained, ‘all acrossthe country and there was much destruction. And I saw a bomb drop and it blew up a car—yes,and another destroyed a house. It was very exciting!’

    Stephen Farr smiled a faintly twisted smile.

    ‘So that’s how it seemed to you?’

    ‘It was a nuisance, too,’ explained Pilar. ‘Because I wanted to get on, and the driver of mycar, he was killed.’

    Stephen said, watching her:

    ‘That didn’t upset you?’

    Pilar’s great dark eyes opened very wide.

    ‘Everyone must die! That is so, is it not? If it comes quickly from the sky—bouff—like that,it is as well as any other way. One is alive for a time—yes, and then one is dead. That iswhat happens in this world.’

    Stephen Farr laughed.

    ‘I don’t think you are a pacifist.’

    ‘You do not think I am what?’ Pilar seemed puzzled by a word which had not previously enteredher vocabulary.

‘Do you forgive your enemies, señorita?’

    Pilar shook her head.

    ‘I have no enemies. But if I had—’

    ‘Well?’

    He was watching her, fascinated anew by the sweet, cruel upward-curving mouth.

    Pilar said gravely:

    ‘If I had an enemy—if anyone hated me and I hated them—then I would cut my enemy’s throat

    …’like this

    She made a graphic gesture.

    It was so swift and so crude that Stephen Farr was momentarily taken aback. He said:

    ‘You are a bloodthirsty young woman!’

    Pilar asked in a matter-of-fact tone:

    ‘What would you do to your enemy?’

    He started—stared at her, then laughed aloud.

    ‘I wonder—’ he said. ‘I wonder!’

    Pilar said disapprovingly:

    ‘But surely—you know.’

    He checked his laughter, drew in his breath and said in a low voice:

    ‘Yes. I know…’

    Then with a rapid change of manner, he asked:

    ‘What made you come to England?’

    Pilar replied with a certain demureness.

    ‘I am going to stay with my relations—with my English relations.’

    ‘I see.’

    He leaned back in his seat, studying her—wondering what these English relations of whom shespoke were like—wondering what they would make of this Spanish stranger…trying to picture herin the midst of some sober British family at Christmas time.

    Pilar asked: ‘Is it nice, South Africa, yes?’

    He began to talk to her about South Africa. She listened with the pleased attention of a childhearing a story. He enjoyed her naïve but shrewd questions and amused himself by making a kindof exaggerated fairy story of it all.

    The return of the proper occupants of the carriage put an end to this diversion. He rose,smiled into her eyes, and made his way out again into the corridor.

    As he stood back for a minute in the doorway, to allow an elderly lady to come in, his eyesfell on the label of Pilar’s obviously foreign straw case. He read the name with interest—Miss Pilar Estravados—then as his eye caught the address it widened to incredulity and someother feeling—Gorston Hall, Longdale, Addlesfield.

    He half turned, staring at the girl with a new expression—puzzled, resentful, suspicious…Hewent out into the corridor and stood there smoking a cigarette and frowning to himself…

    III

    In the big blue and gold drawing-room at Gorston Hall Alfred Lee and Lydia, his wife, satdiscussing their plans for Christmas. Alfred was a squarely built man of middle age with agentle face and mild brown eyes. His voice when he spoke was quiet and precise with a veryclear enunciation. His head was sunk into his shoulders and he gave a curious impression ofinertia. Lydia, his wife, was an energetic, lean greyhound of a woman. She was amazingly thin,but all her movements had a swift, startled grace about them.

    There was no beauty in her careless, haggard face, but it had distinction. Her voice wascharming.

    Alfred said:

    ‘Father insists! There’s nothing else to it.’

    Lydia controlled a sudden impatient movement. She said:

    ‘Must you always give in to him?’

    ‘He’s a very old man, my dear—’

    ‘Oh, I know—I know!’

    ‘He expects to have his own way.’

    Lydia said dryly:

    ‘Naturally, since he has always had it! But some time or other, Alfred, you will have to makea stand.’

    ‘What do you mean, Lydia?’

    He stared at her, so palpably upset and startled, that for a moment she bit her lip and seemeddoubtful whether to go on.

    Alfred Lee repeated:

    ‘What do you mean, Lydia?’

    She shrugged her thin, graceful shoulders.

    She said, trying to choose her words cautiously:

    ‘Your father is—inclined to be—tyrannical—’

    ‘He’s old.’

    ‘And will grow older. And consequently more tyrannical. Where will it end? Already he dictatesour lives to us completely. We can’t make a plan of our own! If we do, it is always liable tobe upset.’

    Alfred said:

    ‘Father expects to come first. He is very good to us, remember.’

    ‘Oh! good to us!’

    Very good to us.’

    Alfred spoke with a trace of sternness.

    ‘Lydia said calmly:

    ‘You mean financially?’

    ‘Yes. His own wants are very simple. But he never grudges us money. You can spend what youlike on dress and on this house, and the bills are paid without a murmur. He gave us a new caronly last week.’

    ‘As far as money goes, your father is very generous, I admit,’ said Lydia. ‘But in return heexpects us to behave like slaves.’

    ‘Slaves?’

    ‘That’s the word I used. You are his slave, Alfred. If we have planned to go away and Fathersuddenly wishes us not to go, you cancel your arrangements and remain without a murmur! If thewhim takes him to send us away, we go…We have no lives of our own—no independence.’

    Her husband said distressfully:

    ‘I wish you wouldn’t talk like this, Lydia. It is very ungrateful. My father has doneeverything for us…’

    She bit off a retort that was on her lips. She shrugged those thin, graceful shoulders oncemore.

Alfred said:

    ‘You know, Lydia, the old man is very fond of you—’

    His wife said clearly and distinctly:

    ‘I am not at all fond of him.’

    ‘Lydia, it distresses me to hear you say things like that. It is so unkind—’

    ‘Perhaps. But sometimes a compulsion comes over one to speak the truth.’

    ‘If Father guessed—’

    ‘Your father knows perfectly well that I do not like him! It amuses him, I think.’

    ‘Really, Lydia, I am sure you are wrong there. He has often told me how charming your mannerto him is.’

    ‘Naturally I’ve always been polite. I always shall be. I’m just letting you know what myreal feelings are. I dislike your father, Alfred. I think he is a malicious and tyrannical oldman. He bullies you and presumes on your affection for him. You ought to have stood up to himyears ago.’

    Alfred said sharply:

    ‘That will do, Lydia. Please don’t say any more.’

    She sighed.

    ‘I’m sorry. Perhaps I was wrong…Let’s talk of our Christmas arrangements. Do you think yourbrother David will really come?’

    ‘Why not?’

    She shook her head doubtfully.

    ‘David is—queer. He’s not been inside the house for years, remember. He was so devoted toyour mother—he’s got some feeling about this place.’

    ‘David always got on Father’s nerves,’ said Alfred, ‘with his music and his dreamy ways.Father was, perhaps, a bit hard on him sometimes. But I think David and Hilda will come allright. Christmas time, you know.’

    ‘Peace and goodwill,’ said Lydia. Her delicate mouth curved ironically. ‘I wonder! Georgeand Magdalene are coming. They said they would probably arrive tomorrow. I’m afraid Magdalenewill be frightfully bored.’

    Alfred said with some slight annoyance:

    ‘Why my brother George ever married a girl twenty years younger than himself I can’t think!George was always a fool!’

    ‘He’s very successful in his career,’ said Lydia. ‘His constituents like him. I believeMagdalene works quite hard politically for him.’

    Alfred said slowly:

    ‘I don’t think I like her very much. She is very good-looking—but I sometimes think she islike one of those beautiful pears one gets—they have a rosy flush and a rather waxenappearance—’ He shook his head.

    ‘And they’re bad inside?’ said Lydia. ‘How funny you should say that, Alfred!’

    ‘Why funny?’

    She answered:

    ‘Because—usually—you are such a gentle soul. You hardly ever say an unkind thing aboutanyone. I get annoyed with you sometimes because you’re not sufficiently—oh, what shall Isay?—sufficiently suspicious—not worldly enough!’

    Her husband smiled.

‘The world, I always think, is as you yourself make it.’

    Lydia said sharply:

    You seem to have no consciousness of the‘No! Evil is not only in one’s mind. Evil exists!

    evil in the world. I have. I can feel it. I’ve always felt it—here in this house—’ She bither lip and turned away.

    Alfred said, ‘Lydia—’

    But she raised a quick admonitory hand, her eyes looking past him at something over hisshoulder. Alfred turned.

    A dark man with a smooth face was standing there deferentially.

    Lydia said sharply:

    ‘What is it, Horbury?’

    Horbury’s voice was low, a mere deferential murmur.

    ‘It’s Mr Lee, madam. He asked me to tell you that there would be two more guests arriving forChristmas, and would you have rooms prepared for them.’

    Lydia said, ‘Two more guests?’

    Horbury said smoothly, ‘Yes, madam, another gentleman and a young lady.’

    Alfred said wonderingly: ‘A young lady?’

    ‘That’s what Mr Lee said, sir.’

    Lydia said quickly:

    ‘I will go up and see him—’

    Horbury made one little step, it was a mere ghost of a movement but it stopped Lydia’s rapidprogress automatically.

    ‘Excuse me, madam, but Mr Lee is having his afternoon sleep. He asked specifically that heshould not be disturbed.’

    ‘I see,’ said Alfred. ‘Of course we won’t disturb him.’

    ‘Thank you, sir.’ Horbury withdrew.

    Lydia said vehemently:

    ‘How I dislike that man! He creeps about the house like a cat! One never hears him going orcoming.’

    ‘I don’t like him very much either. But he knows his job. It’s not so easy to get a goodmale nurse attendant. And Father likes him, that’s the main thing.’

    ‘Yes, that’s the main thing, as you say. Alfred, what is this about a young lady? What younglady?’

    Her husband shook his head.

    ‘I can’t imagine. I can’t even think of anyone it might be likely to be.’

    They stared at each other. Then Lydia said, with a sudden twist of her expressive mouth:

    ‘Do you know what I think, Alfred?’

    ‘What?’

    ‘I think your father has been bored lately. I think he is planning a little Christmasdiversion for himself.’

    ‘By introducing two strangers into a family gathering?’

    ‘Oh! I don’t know what the details are—but I do fancy that your father is preparingto—amuse himself.’

    ‘I hope he will get some pleasure out of it,’ said Alfred gravely. ‘Poor old chap, tied bythe leg, an invalid—after the adventurous life he has led.’

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