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Authors: Kristel Thornell

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BOOK: On the Blue Train
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She vowed to leave it under his door very early the next morning.

She had just assembled a quantity of written lines without any terrible effort. The task had felt simple. It occurred to her that she might try a little work. Could she feel some
industriousness coming on? Was the silence finally crumbling? She
work. It would not be a wifely pastime. She'd need money if she were to be alone. Her hundred pounds a year wouldn't go far. But it was all right: she would become a successful working divorcée. (Don't give yourself time to wonder if he'll change his mind.) She felt burgeoning in herself a true professional's obstinacy. Yes, she'd work, scrambling over the white walls of pages till the Wretched Book was conquered. And she'd sold books, had she not? Quite a number of the one that had had people talking. She'd been taken advantage of as a young writer—and as a woman—with dishonourable contracts, but she'd a new publisher now and herself to rely on. She could force herself to write whether she felt like it or not, whether or not it came naturally. What was natural? There could be pleasure in subjugation, in being a little rough with oneself, an autocrat, pushing the spirit into a cage, closing it into a strongbox. Quietening it down. And sometimes a channel opened, leading down to a lower place. What you drew up could be fun and could rinse your spirit clean. Save you. The sleeping dreams.


A grey-eyed girl.

Intelligent, sensible, yet ravenous for adventure. Not everyone saw her subtle beauty. Those who did were captivated. Attired in a light grey
with a look of Paris about it, she sat in her train compartment.

She was the surviving kind. It was the other one who'd die on the
train bleu
. . .

Was the dream beginning to stir, to awaken? She had a swift certainty that if she went on mulishly visiting the scene, something thrilling and nasty would suggest itself. The insufferable looseness would tighten, her body firm with urgency, because everything negligible, everything pointless, had been sharpened to a point.

She had to believe that it would again be as it was on the rambling, never-ending afternoons in the garden at Ashfield. Grassy warmth. Regal gulls swinging aloofly over. Clean brightness, woodsy shadows. A soft rushing in her ears of sea winds through infinite leaves. The expanse of salt water just beyond sight.

And she there in that complete solitude, that deepest privacy, but also jumping free. Off, away.



On Wednesday morning, oblivious guests proceeded peacefully about invisible doings, lying abed, dripping egg yolk onto sheets (those not confining themselves to the slimming diet of grapefruit and split toast), dawdling over toilettes and cups of milky tea, awaiting the effects of the cure on their digestion, and reading chronically. Common runaways taking for granted their right to the dusky pleasures of privacy.

Meanwhile, an unnaturally quiet hubbub simmered in the Harrogate Hydropathic. All the telephones were engaged, the employees as self-conscious as new actors. The lounge was thick with shifty policemen and murmuring journalists. The mood in the public rooms was incredulous and rather histrionic, with something of the rowdy funeral, or the constrained party. Louder, more excitable voices could be heard from outside. A landaulette was parked at the front entrance,
journalists thrust indecently against it. Photographers adorned the bonnet and the wings, but the landaulette was a decoy.

The missing novelist who had been going by the name of Teresa Neele was no longer missing. Nor was she, strictly speaking, incognito anymore. And celebrity was after her.

A man returning from a stroll designed to ease the damage of a night of dazzling insomnia saw her at a side door. He recognised her black cloche hat with its pale pink stripe and the coat trimmed at the collar, cuffs and hem with reassuring fur. For further reinforcement, she had chosen double-stranded pearls, champagne-hued stockings and dark gloves. Her eyes were on far too short a leash for her to remark him. She had no long-distance vision at all.

She paused as she tucked what might have been a folded handkerchief into her sleeve, gathering herself, and then gave a little gallant toss of the head. It may have been a pose or one of those gestures made almost without thinking, for survival.

Harry thought Teresa did not seem the quarry they wanted her to be, nor the woman who'd arrived there eleven days before, a queen brought to her knees. He noticed the clandestine taxi that would remove her from him, a buttons boy already holding open the door, a competent and staunch-looking middle-aged woman—sister?—standing by. And now moving towards Teresa, though with something like unwillingness, like aversion, was the Colonel. Dapper in Norfolk jacket and plus fours, damn him to hell.

When she strode briskly onto the path, her reserved, august deportment was that of a reinstated monarch. It was as she stepped off the hotel's grounds, reaching for the footpath with her left foot clad in its black-strapped shoe, that the one astute photographer who'd not been fooled by the ruse of the landaulette, the
's man, captured her. Doing so, he decided her legs were shapely.

Also preserved in the photograph would be shoulders that were a little hunched, and a head a little too far forward. A face in profile, clear enough. Gazing dead ahead. Eyes shaded by the hat's brim. Long, imposing nose. An expression obdurately blithe, as bland as a spy's. There would appear to be no one residing behind it.

At nine fifteen Harry observed Teresa (he'd persevere in calling her by the name she'd entered his life with) climb into the taxi, followed by the Colonel. He was transfixed as the motor bound for the station started its glide along Swan Drive. Other motors were in pursuit. A sense of betrayal hovered, or sacrifice. His eyes followed only what interested him as she sailed by the Pump Room. No mist, that morning, the weather remaining temperate for the season.

He watched until there was nothing more to be seen. Then he pushed through the press of trumped men and ran up the stairs to a room in which a packed suitcase waited under the bed, and on the writing desk, a small sheaf of papers, with a letter. His mind leaned towards the Riviera.

Heaven only knew why Valeria had kept secret the money that would pay for his passage there, if he so desired it. To punish, or to challenge him? To punish herself? So he would have something to smooth his way, once she had left him? To care for him? He hardly bothered asking himself this question anymore. It seemed a mystery to which the solution was beside the point. Despite his losses, and his not knowing where, if anywhere, he belonged, he was amazed at what a rich man he was.

What sense did it make to try to penetrate the secrets of a loved one? To question her most intimate choices? A woman had the right to be a conundrum that no one could resolve, perhaps not even herself. As slow-witted as Harry had been, he had learned this, after all. He had not attempted to convince Teresa to leave the Colonel, once he had seen that her mind was made up. Some choices were made in darkness and should not be forced to face the light. But turning in on oneself did not have to be a cold turning away. It could be full of feeling, part of love's repertoire. It could be all one could do for the time being, silence the only translation, while waiting for the Muse.


This is very much a work of the imagination, mixing facts and fantasy, though it was sparked by Agatha Christie's ‘disappearance' and draws on the author's life and writings. A number of books and materials provided useful information and nourished my invention of a character, notably:
Agatha Christie: An Autobiography
by Agatha Christie;
Agatha Christie: A Biography
by Janet Morgan;
Agatha Christie: An English Mystery
by Laura Thompson;
The Grand Tour: Around the World with the Queen of Mystery
by Agatha Christie, edited by Mathew Prichard; and the Christie archive at the University of Exeter (to which Christine Faunch and Gemma Poulton facilitated my access). I have several times cited or paraphrased
The Times
and the
Daily Mail
from the days of the search for Christie. Christie's novels—especially
The Mystery of the Blue Train
, those written before it, and the Mary Westmacott
books—were presences at the edge of my work. The letter to Harry includes echoes of letters Christie received from Eden Phillpotts, and I borrowed ‘a little gallant toss of the head' from
The Secret of Chimneys

This novel was made possible by the invaluable Australia Council for the Arts. I am also extremely grateful for the assistance of Annette Barlow, Siobhán Cantrill, Ali Lavau, Clara Finlay and Emily O'Neill at Allen & Unwin; and of the staff at the British Library Newspapers at Collindale.

BOOK: On the Blue Train
5.94Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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