Authors: Agatha Christie
Rosalind and Susan
the first two critics of this book
A Fellow Traveller
Witch without Broomstick
Luke Makes a Beginning
Visit to Miss Waynflete
Mrs. Pierce Talks
Domestic Life of Major Horton
Passage of Arms
Miss Waynflete Talks
Meditations of Luke
Improper Conduct of a Chauffeur
Lord Whitfield Talks
Conference in London
We're in ItâTogether
“O Why Do You Walk Through the Fields in Gloves?”
Mrs. Humbleby Speaks
England after many years!
How was he going to like it?
Luke Fitzwilliam asked himself that question as he walked down the gangplank to the dock. It was present at the back of his mind all through the wait in the Customs' shed. It came suddenly to the fore when he was finally seated in the boat train.
England on leave was one thing. Plenty of money to blue (to begin with anyway!), old friends to look up, meetings with other fellows home like himselfâa carefree atmosphere of “Well, it won't be long. Might as well enjoy myself! Soon be going back.”
But now there was no question of going back. No more of the hot stifling nights, no more blinding sun and tropical beauty of rich vegetation, no more lonely evenings reading and re-reading old copies of
Here he was, honourably retired on a pension, with some small
private means of his own, a gentleman of leisure, come home to England. What was he going to do with himself?
England! England on a June day, with a grey sky and a sharp biting wind. Nothing welcoming about her on a day like this! And the people! Heavens, the people! Crowds of them, all with grey faces like the skyâanxious worried faces. The houses too, springing up everywhere like mushrooms. Nasty little houses! Revolting little houses! Chicken coops in the grandiose manner all over the countryside!
With an effort Luke Fitzwilliam averted his eyes from the landscape outside the railway carriage window and settled down to a perusal of the papers he had just bought.
He started with the
was given over entirely to Epsom.
Luke thought: “A pity we didn't get in yesterday. Haven't seen the Derby run since I was nineteen.”
He had drawn a horse in the Club sweep and he looked now to see what the
's racing correspondent thought of its chance. He found it dismissed contemptuously in a sentence.
“Of the others, Jujube the II., Mark's Mile, Santony and Jerry Boy are hardly likely to qualify for a place. A likely outsider isâ”
But Luke paid no attention to the likely outsider. His eye had shifted to the betting. Jujube the II. was listed at a modest 40 to 1.
He glanced at his watch. A quarter to four. “Well,” he thought. “It's over now.” And he wished he'd had a bet on Clarigold who was the second favourite.
Then he opened
and became absorbed in more serious matters.
Not for long, however, for a fierce-looking colonel in the corner opposite was so incensed at what he himself had just read that he had to pass on his indignation to his fellow passenger. A full half hour passed before the colonel tired of saying what he thought about “these damned Communist agitators, sir.”
The colonel died down at last and finally dropped off to sleep with his mouth open. Shortly afterwards the train slowed down and finally stopped. Luke looked out of the window. They were in a large empty-looking station with many platforms. He caught sight of a bookstall some way up the platform with a placard:
Luke opened the door, jumped out, and ran towards the bookstall. A moment later he was staring with a broad grin at a few smudged lines in the stop press.
JUJUBE THE II.
Luke grinned broadly. A hundred pounds to blue! Good old Jujube the II., so scornfully dismissed by all the tipsters.
He folded the paper, still grinning to himself, and turned backâto face emptiness. In the excitement of Jujube the II.'s victory, his train had slipped out of the station unnoticed by him.
“When the devil did that train go out?” he demanded of a gloomy-looking porter.
The latter replied:
“What train? There hasn't been no train since the 3:14.”
“There was a train here just now. I got out of it. The boat express.”
The porter replied austerely:
“The boat express don't stop anywhere till London.”
“But it did,” Luke assured him. “I got out of it.”
“No stop anywhere till London,” repeated the porter immovably.
“It stopped at this very platform and I got out of it, I tell you.”
Faced by facts, the porter changed his ground.
“You didn't ought to have done,” he said reproachfully. “It don't stop here.”
“But it did.”
“That 'twas signal, that was. Signal against it. It didn't what you'd call âstop.'”
“I'm not so good at these fine distinctions as you are,” said Luke. “The point is, what do I do next?”
The porter, a man of slow ideas, repeated reproachfully: “You didn't ought to have got out.”
“We'll admit that,” said Luke. “The wrong is done, past all recallâweep we never so bitterly we can never bring back the dead pastâQuoth the raven âNevermore'âThe moving finger writes; and having writ moves on, etc., etc., and so on and so forth. What I'm trying to get at is, what do you, a man experienced in the service of the railway company, advise me to do now?”
“You're asking what you'd better do?”
“That,” said Luke, “is the idea. There are, I presume, trains that stop, really officially stop, here?”
“Reckon,” said the porter. “You'd best go on by the 4:25.”
“If the 4:25 goes to London,” said Luke, “the 4:25 is the train for me.”
Reassured on that point, Luke strolled up and down the platform. A large board informed him that he was at Fenny Clayton Junction for Wychwood-under-Ashe, and presently a train consisting of one carriage pushed backwards by an antiquated little engine came slowly puffing in and deposited itself in a modest bay. Six or seven people alighted, and crossing over a bridge, came to join Luke on his platform. The gloomy porter suddenly awoke to life and began pushing about a large truck of crates and baskets, another porter joined him and began to rattle milk cans. Fenny Clayton awoke to life.
At last, with immense importance the London train came in. The third-class carriages were crowded, and of firsts there were only three and each one contained a traveller or travellers. Luke scrutinized each compartment. The first, a smoker, contained a gentleman of military aspect smoking a cigar. Luke felt he had had enough of Anglo-Indian colonels today. He passed on to the next one, which contained a tired-looking genteel young woman, possibly a nursery governess, and an active-looking small boy of about three. Luke passed on quickly. The next door was open and the carriage contained one passenger, an elderly lady. She reminded Luke slightly of one of his aunts, his Aunt Mildred, who had courageously allowed him to keep a grass snake when he was ten years old. Aunt Mildred had been decidedly a good aunt as aunts go. Luke entered the carriage and sat down.
After some five minutes of intense activity on the part of milk vans, luggage trucks and other excitements, the train moved slowly out of the station. Luke unfolded his paper and turned to such items
of news as might interest a man who had already read his morning paper.
He did not hope to read it for long. Being a man of many aunts, he was fairly certain that the nice old lady in the corner did not propose to travel in silence to London.
He was rightâa window that needed adjusting, dropped umbrellaâand the way the old lady was telling him what a good train this was.
“Only an hour and ten minutes. That's very good, you know, very good indeed. Much better than the morning one. That takes an hour and forty minutes.”
She went on:
“Of course, nearly everyone goes by the morning one. I mean, when it is the cheap day it's silly to go up in the afternoon. I meant to go up this morning, but Wonky Pooh was missingâthat's my cat, a Persian, such a beauty only he's had a painful ear latelyâand of course I couldn't leave home till he was found!”
“Of course not,” and let his eyes drop ostentatiously to his paper. But it was of no avail. The flood went on.
“So I just made the best of a bad job and took the afternoon train instead, and of course it's a blessing in one way because it's not so crowdedânot that that matters when one is travelling first class. Of course, I don't usually do that. I mean, I should consider it an
what with taxes and one's dividends being less and servants' wages so much more and everythingâbut really I was so upset because you see, I'm going up on very important business, and I wanted to think out exactly what I was going to sayâjust quietly, you knowâ” Luke repressed a smile. “And
when there are people you know travelling up tooâwell, one can't be unfriendlyâso I thought just for once, the expense was
âthough I do think nowadays there is so much wasteâand nobody saves or thinks of the future. One is sorry the seconds were ever abolishedâit did make just that little difference.
“Of course,” she went on quickly, with a swift glance at Luke's bronzed face, “I know soldiers on leave have to travel first class. I mean, being officers, it's expected of themâ”
Luke sustained the inquisitive glance of a pair of bright twinkling eyes. He capitulated at once. It would come to it, he knew, in the end.
“I'm not a soldier,” he said.
“Oh, I'm sorry. I didn't meanâI just thoughtâyou were so brownâperhaps home from the East on leave.”
“I'm home from the East,” said Luke. “But not on leave.” He stalled off further researches with a bald statement. “I'm a policeman.”
“In the police? Now really, that's very interesting. A dear friend of mineâ
boy has just joined the Palestine police.”
“Mayang Straits,” said Luke, taking another shortcut.
“Oh, dearâvery interesting. Really, it's quite a coincidenceâI mean, that you should be travelling in this carriage. Because, you see, this business I'm going up to town aboutâwell, actually it is to Scotland Yard I'm going.”
“Really?” said Luke.
He thought to himself, “Will she run down soon like a clock or will this go on all the way to London?” But he did not really mind very much, because he had been very fond of his Aunt Mildred, and he remembered how she had once stumped up a fiver
in the nick of time. Besides, there was something very cosy and English about old ladies like this old lady and his Aunt Mildred. There was nothing at all like them in the Mayang Straits. They could be classed with plum pudding on Christmas Day and village cricket and open fireplaces with wood fires. The sort of things you appreciated a good deal when you hadn't got them and were on the other side of the world. (They were also the sort of thing you got very bored with when you had a good deal of them, but as has been already told, Luke had only landed in England three or four hours ago.)
The old lady was continuing happily:
“Yes, I meant to go up this morningâand then, as I told you, I was so worried about Wonky Pooh. But you don't think it will be too late, do you? I mean, there aren't any special office hours at Scotland Yard.”
“I don't think they close down at four or anything like that,” said Luke.
“No, of course, they couldn't, could they? I mean, somebody might want to report a serious crime at any minute, mightn't they?”
“Exactly,” said Luke.
For a moment the old lady relapsed into silence. She looked worried.
“I always think it's better to go right to the fountainhead,” she said at last. “John Reed is quite a nice fellowâthat's our constable in Wychwoodâa very civil-spoken, pleasant manâbut I don't feel, you knowâthat he would be quite the person to deal with anything serious. He's quite used to dealing with people who've drunk too much, or with exceeding the speed limit, or lighting-up timeâor people who haven't taken out a dog licenceâand perhaps
with burglary even. But I don't thinkâI'm quite sureâhe isn't the person to deal with
Luke's eyebrows rose.
The old lady nodded vigorously.
“Yes, murder. You're surprised, I can see. I was myself at firstâ¦I really couldn't believe it. I thought I must be imagining things.”
“Are you quite sure you weren't?” Luke asked gently.
“Oh, no.” She shook her head positively. “I might have been the first time, but not the second, or the third or the fourth. After that one
“Do you mean there have beenâerâseveral murders?”
The quiet gentle voice replied:
“A good many, I'm afraid.”
She went on:
“That's why I thought it would be best to go straight to Scotland Yard and tell them about it. Don't
think that's the best thing to do?”
Luke looked at her thoughtfully, then he said:
“Why, yesâI think you're quite right.”
He thought to himself:
“They'll know how to deal with her. Probably get half a dozen old ladies a week coming in burbling about the amount of murders committed in their nice quiet country villages! There may be a special department for dealing with the old dears.”
And he saw in imagination a fatherly superintendent, or a good-looking young inspector, tactfully murmuring:
“Thank you, ma'am, very grateful to you, I'm sure. Now just go back and leave it all in our hands and don't worry anymore about it.”
He smiled a little to himself at the picture. He thought:
“I wonder why they get these fancies? Deadly dull lives, I supposeâan unacknowledged craving for drama. Some old ladies, so I've heard, fancy everyone is poisoning their food.”