ABC谋杀案 36
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During the next few days Poirot was very busy. He made mysterious absences, talked very little,frowned to himself, and consistently refused to satisfy my natural curiosity as to the brilliance Ihad, according to him, displayed in the past.
I was not invited to accompany him on his mysterious comings and goings—a fact which Isomewhat resented.
Towards the end of the week, however, he announced his intention of paying a visit to Bexhilland neighbourhood and suggested that I should come with him. Needless to say, I accepted withalacrity.
The invitation, I discovered, was not extended to me alone. The members of our Special Legionwere also invited.
They were as intrigued by Poirot as I was. Nevertheless, by the end of the day, I had at any ratean idea as to the direction in which Poirot’s thoughts were tending.
He first visited Mr. and Mrs. Barnard and got an exact account from her as to the hour at whichMr. Cust had called on her and exactly what he had said. He then went to the hotel at which Custhad put up and extracted a minute description of that gentleman’s departure. As far as I couldjudge, no new facts were elicited by his questions but he himself seemed quite satisfied.
Next he went to the beach—to the place where Betty Barnard’s body had been discovered. Herehe walked round in circles for some minutes studying the shingle attentively. I could see littlepoint in this, since the tide covered the spot twice a day.
However I have learnt by this time that Poirot’s actions are usually dictated by an idea—however meaningless they may seem.
He then walked from the beach to the nearest point at which a car could have been parked.
From there again he went to the place where the Eastbourne buses waited before leaving Bexhill.
Finally he took us all to the Ginger Cat café, where we had a somewhat stale tea served by theplump waitress, Milly Higley.
Her he complimented in a flowing Gallic style on the shape of her ankles.
“The legs of the English—always they are too thin! But you, mademoiselle, have the perfectleg. It has shape—it has an ankle!”
Milly Higley giggled a good deal and told him not to go on so. She knew what Frenchgentlemen were like.
Poirot did not trouble to contradict her mistake as to his nationality. He merely ogled her in sucha way that I was startled and almost shocked.
“Voilà,” said Poirot, “I have finished in Bexhill. Presently I go to Eastbourne. One little inquirythere—that is all. Unnecessary for you all to accompany me. In the meantime come back to thehotel and let us have a cocktail. That Carlton tea, it was abominable!”
As we were sipping our cocktails Franklin Clarke said curiously:
“I suppose we can guess what you are after? You’re out to break that alibi. But I can’t see whatyou’re so pleased about. You haven’t got a new fact of any kind.”
“No—that is true.”
“Well, then?”
“Patience. Everything arranges itself, given time.”
“You seem quite pleased with yourself anyway.”
“Nothing so far has contradicted my little idea—that is why.”
His face grew serious.
“My friend Hastings told me once that he had, as a young man, played a game called The Truth.
It was a game where everyone in turn was asked three questions—two of which must be answeredtruthfully. The third one could be barred. The questions, naturally, were of the most indiscreetkind. But to begin with everyone had to swear that they would indeed speak the truth, and nothingbut the truth.”
He paused.
“Well?” said Megan.
“Eh bien—me, I want to play that game. Only it is not necessary to have three questions. Onewill be enough. One question to each of you.”
“Of course,” said Clarke impatiently. “We’ll answer anything.”
“Ah, but I want it to be more serious than that. Do you all swear to speak the truth?”
He was so solemn about it that the others, puzzled, became solemn themselves. They all sworeas he demanded.
“Bon,” said Poirot briskly. “Let us begin—”
“I’m ready,” said Thora Grey.
“Ah, but ladies first—this time it would not be the politeness. We will start elsewhere.”
He turned to Franklin Clarke.
“What, mon cher M. Clarke, did you think of the hats the ladies wore at Ascot this year?”
Franklin Clarke stared at him.
“Is this a joke?”
“Certainly not.”
“Is that seriously your question?”
“It is.”
Clarke began to grin.
“Well, M. Poirot, I didn’t actually go to Ascot, but from what I could see of them driving incars, women’s hats for Ascot were an even bigger joke than the hats they wear ordinarily.”
“Quite fantastic.”
Poirot smiled and turned to Donald Fraser.
“When did you take your holiday this year, monsieur?”
It was Fraser’s turn to stare.
“My holiday? The first two weeks in August.”
His face quivered suddenly. I guessed that the question had brought the loss of the girl he lovedback to him.
Poirot, however, did not seem to pay much attention to the reply. He turned to Thora Grey and Iheard the slight difference in his voice. It had tightened up. His question came sharp and clear.
“Mademoiselle, in the event of Lady Clarke’s death, would you have married Sir Carmichael ifhe had asked you?”
The girl sprang up.
“How dare you ask me such a question. It’s—it’s insulting!”
“Perhaps. But you have sworn to speak the truth. Eh bien—Yes or no?”
“Sir Carmichael was wonderfully kind to me. He treated me almost like a daughter. And that’show I felt to him—just affectionate and grateful.”
“Pardon me, but that is not answering Yes or No, mademoiselle.”
She hesitated.
“The answer, of course, is no!”
He made no comment.
“Thank you, mademoiselle.”
He turned to Megan Barnard. The girl’s face was very pale. She was breathing hard as thoughbraced up for an ordeal.
Poirot’s voice came out like the crack of a whiplash.
“Mademoiselle, what do you hope will be the result of my investigations? Do you want me tofind out the truth—or not?”
Her head went back proudly. I was fairly sure of her answer. Megan, I knew, had a fanaticalpassion for truth.
Her answer came clearly—and it stupefied me.
We all jumped. Poirot leant forward studying her face.
“Mademoiselle Megan,” he said, “you may not want the truth but—ma foi—you can speak it!”
He turned towards the door, then, recollecting, went to Mary Drower.
“Tell me, mon enfant, have you a young man?”
Mary, who had been looking apprehensive, looked startled and blushed.
“Oh, Mr. Poirot. I—I—well, I’m not sure.”
He smiled.
“Alors c’est bien, mon enfant.”
He looked round for me.
“Come, Hastings, we must start for Eastbourne.”
The car was waiting and soon we were driving along the coast road that leads through Pevenseyto Eastbourne.
“Is it any use asking you anything, Poirot?”
“Not at this moment. Draw your own conclusions as to what I am doing.”
I relapsed into silence.
Poirot, who seemed pleased with himself, hummed a little tune. As we passed through Pevenseyhe suggested that we stop and have a look over the castle.
As we were returning towards the car, we paused a moment to watch a ring of children—Brownies, I guessed, by their get-up—who were singing a ditty in shrill, untuneful voices….
“What is it that they say, Hastings? I cannot catch the words.”
I listened—till I caught one refrain.
“—And catch a fox
And put him in a box
And never let him go.”
“And catch a fox and put him in a box and never let him go!” repeated Poirot.
His face had gone suddenly grave and stern.
“It is very terrible that, Hastings.” He was silent a minute. “You hunt the fox here?”
“I don’t. I’ve never been able to afford to hunt. And I don’t think there’s much hunting in thispart of the world.”
“I meant in England generally. A strange sport. The waiting at the covert side—then they soundthe tally-ho, do they not?—and the run begins—across the country—over the hedges and ditches—and the fox he runs—and sometimes he doubles back—but the dogs—”
“—hounds are on his trail, and at last they catch him and he dies—quickly and horribly.”
“I suppose it does sound cruel, but really—”
“The fox enjoys it? Do not say les bêtises, my friend. Tout de même—it is better that—thequick, cruel death—than what those children were singing….
“To be shut away—in a box—for ever…No, it is not good, that.”
He shook his head. Then he said, with a change of tone:
“Tomorrow, I am to visit the man Cust,” and he added to the chauffeur:
“Back to London.”
“Aren’t you going to Eastbourne?” I cried.
“What need? I know—quite enough for my purpose.”

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