Смерть на Ниле / Death on the Nile

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Chapter 11

William Carmichael said to the thin, weedy youth who opened the door inquiringly:

‘Send Mr Jim to me, please.’

Jim Fanthorp entered the room and looked inquiringly at his uncle. The older man looked up with a nod and a grunt.

‘Humph, there you are.’

‘You asked for me?’

‘Just cast an eye over this.’

The young man sat down and drew the sheaf of papers towards him. The elder man watched him.

‘Well?’

The answer came promptly.

‘Looks fishy to me, sir.’

Again the senior partner of Carmichael, Grant amp; Carmichael uttered his characteristic grunt.

Jim Fanthorp reread the letter which had just arrived by air mail from Egypt:

…It seems wicked to be writing business letters on such a day. We have spent a week at Mena House and made an expedition to the Fayum. The day after tomorrow we are going up the Nile to Luxor and Aswan by steamer, and perhaps on to Khartoum. When we went into Cook’s this morning to see about our tickets who do you think was the first person I saw? – my American trustee, Andrew Pennington. I think you met him two years ago when he was over. I had no idea he was in Egypt and he had no idea that I was! Nor that I was married! My letter, telling him of my marriage, must just have missed him. He is actually going up the Nile on the same trip that we are. Isn’t it a coincidence? Thank you so much for all you have done in this busy time. I-

As the young man was about to turn the page, Mr Carmichael took the letter from him.

‘That’s all,’ he said. ‘The rest doesn’t matter. Well, what do you think?’

His nephew considered for a moment – then he said:

‘Well – I think – not a coincidence…’

The other nodded approval.

‘Like a trip to Egypt?’ he barked out.

‘You think that’s advisable?’

‘I think there’s no time to lose.’

‘But, why me?’

‘Use your brains, boy; use your brains. Linnet Ridgeway has never met you; no more has Pennington. If you go by air you may get there in time.’

‘I–I don’t like it, sir. What am I to do?’

‘Use your eyes. Use your ears. Use your brains – if you’ve got any. And if necessary – act.’

‘I–I don’t like it.’

‘Perhaps not – but you’ve got to do it.’

‘It’s – necessary?’

‘In my opinion,’ said Mr Carmichael, ‘it’s absolutely vital.’

Chapter 12

Mrs Otterbourne, readjusting the turban of local material that she wore draped round her head, said fretfully:

‘I really don’t see why we shouldn’t go on to Egypt. I’m sick and tired of Jerusalem.’

As her daughter made no reply, she said:

‘You might at least answer when you’re spoken to.’

Rosalie Otterbourne was looking at a newspaper reproduction of a face. Below it was printed:

Mrs Simon Doyle, who before her marriage was the well-known society beauty, Miss Linnet Ridgeway. Mr and Mrs Doyle are spending their honeymoon in Egypt.

Rosalie said, ‘You’d like to move on to Egypt, Mother?’

‘Yes, I would,’ Mrs Otterbourne snapped. ‘I consider they’ve treated us in a most cavalier fashion here. My being here is an advertisement – I ought to get a special reduction in terms. When I hinted as much, I consider they were most impertinent – most impertinent. I told them exactly what I thought of them.’

The girl sighed. She said:

‘One place is very like another. I wish we could get right away.’

‘And this morning,’ went on Mrs Otterbourne, ‘the manager actually had the impertinence to tell me that all the rooms had been booked in advance and that he would require ours in two days’ time.’

‘So we’ve got to go somewhere.’

‘Not at all. I’m quite prepared to fight for my rights.’

Rosalie murmured: ‘I suppose we might as well go on to Egypt. It doesn’t make any difference.’

‘It’s certainly not a matter of life or death,’ said Mrs Otterbourne.

But there she was quite wrong – for a matter of life and death was exactly what it was.

Part two
Egypt

Chapter 1

‘That’s Hercule Poirot, the detective,’ said Mrs Allerton.

She and her son were sitting in brightly painted scarlet basket chairs outside the Cataract Hotel in Aswan. They were watching the retreating figures of two people – a short man dressed in a white silk suit and a tall slim girl.

Tim Allerton sat up in an unusually alert fashion.

‘That funny little man?’ he asked incredulously.

‘That funny little man!’

‘What on earth’s he doing out here?’ Tim asked.

His mother laughed.

‘Darling, you sound quite excited. Why do men enjoy crime so much? I hate detective stories and never read them. But I don’t think Monsieur Poirot is here with any ulterior motive. He’s made a good deal of money and he’s seeing life, I fancy.’

‘Seems to have an eye for the best-looking girl in the place.’

Mrs Allerton tilted her head a little on one side as she considered the retreating backs of M. Poirot and his companion.

The girl by his side overtopped him by some three inches. She walked well, neither stiffly nor slouchingly.

‘I suppose she is quite good-looking,’ said Mrs Allerton.

She shot a little glance sideways at Tim. Somewhat to her amusement the fish rose at once.

‘She’s more than quite. Pity she looks so bad-tempered and sulky.’

‘Perhaps that’s just expression, dear.’

‘Unpleasant young devil, I think. But she’s pretty enough.’

The subject of these remarks was walking slowly by Poirot’s side. Rosalie Otterbourne was twirling an unopened parasol, and her expression certainly bore out what Tim had just said. She looked both sulky and bad-tempered. Her eyebrows were drawn together in a frown, and the scarlet line of her mouth was drawn downwards.

They turned to the left out of the hotel gate and entered the cool shade of the public gardens.

Hercule Poirot was prattling gently, his expression that of beatific good humour. He wore a white silk suit, carefully pressed, and a panama hat, and carried a highly ornamental fly whisk with a sham amber handle.

‘-it enchants me,’ he was saying. ‘The black rocks of Elephantine, and the sun, the little boats on the river. Yes, it is good to be alive.’ He paused and then added: ‘You do not find it so, Mademoiselle?’

Rosalie Otterbourne said shortly:

‘It’s all right, I suppose. I think Aswan’s a gloomy sort of place. The hotel’s half empty, and everyone’s about a hundred-’

She stopped – biting her lip.

Hercule Poirot’s eyes twinkled.

‘It is true, yes, I have one leg in the grave.’

‘I–I wasn’t thinking of you,’ said the girl. ‘I’m sorry. That sounded rude.’

‘Not at all. It is natural you should wish for young companions of your own age. Ah, well, there is one young man, at least.’

‘The one who sits with his mother all the time? I like her – but I think he looks dreadful – so conceited!’

Poirot smiled.

‘And I – am I conceited?’

‘Oh, I don’t think so.’

She was obviously uninterested – but the fact did not seem to annoy Poirot. He merely remarked with placid satisfaction:

‘My best friend says that I am very conceited.’

‘Oh, well,’ said Rosalie vaguely, ‘I suppose you have something to be conceited about. Unfortunately crime doesn’t interest me in the least.’

Poirot said solemnly:

‘I am delighted to learn that you have no guilty secret to hide.’

Just for a moment the sulky mask of her face was transformed as she shot him a swift questioning glance. Poirot did not seem to notice it as he went on.

‘Madame, your mother, was not at lunch today. She is not indisposed, I trust?’

‘This place doesn’t suit her,’ said Rosalie briefly. ‘I shall be glad when we leave.’

‘We are fellow passengers, are we not? We both make the excursion up to Wadi Halfa and the Second Cataract?’

‘Yes.’

They came out from the shade of the gardens on to a dusty stretch of road bordered by the river. Five watchful bead sellers, two vendors of postcards, three sellers of plaster scarabs, a couple of donkey boys and some detached but hopeful infantile riff-raff closed in upon them.

‘You want beads, sir? Very good, sir. Very cheap…’

‘Lady, you want scarab? Look – great queen – very lucky…’

‘You look, sir – real lapis. Very good, very cheap…’

‘You want ride donkey, sir? This very good donkey. This donkey Whiskey and Soda, sir…’

‘You want to go granite quarries, sir? This very good donkey. Other donkey very bad, sir, that donkey fall down…’

‘You want postcard – very cheap – very nice…’

‘Look, lady… Only ten piastres – very cheap – lapis – this ivory…’

‘This very good fly whisk – this all amber…’

‘You go out in boat, sir? I got very good boat, sir…’

‘You ride back to hotel, lady? This first-class donkey…’

Hercule Poirot made vague gestures to rid himself of this human cluster of flies. Rosalie stalked through them like a sleep walker.

‘It’s best to pretend to be deaf and blind,’ she remarked.

The infantile riff-raff ran alongside murmuring plaintively:

‘Bakshish? Bakshish? Hip hip hurrah – very good, very nice…’

Their gaily coloured rags trailed picturesquely, and the flies lay in clusters on their eyelids. They were the most persistent. The others fell back and launched a fresh attack on the next corner. Now Poirot and Rosalie only ran the gauntlet of the shops – suave, persuasive accents here…

‘You visit my shop today, sir?’

‘You want that ivory crocodile, sir?’

‘You not been in my shop yet, sir? I show you very beautiful things.’

They turned into the fifth shop and Rosalie handed over several rolls of film – the object of the walk.

 

Then they came out again and walked towards the river’s edge.

One of the Nile steamers was just mooring. Poirot and Rosalie looked interestedly at the passengers.

‘Quite a lot, aren’t there?’ commented Rosalie.

She turned her head as Tim Allerton came up and joined them. He was a little out of breath as though he had been walking fast. They stood there for a moment or two, and then Tim spoke.

‘An awful crowd as usual, I suppose,’ he remarked disparagingly, indicating the disembarking passengers.

‘They’re usually quite terrible,’ agreed Rosalie. All three wore the air of superiority assumed by people who are already in a place when studying new arrivals.

‘Hallo!’ exclaimed Tim, his voice suddenly excited. ‘I’m damned if that isn’t Linnet Ridgeway.’

If the information left Poirot unmoved, it stirred Rosalie’s interest. She leaned forward and her sulkiness quite dropped from her as she asked:

‘Where? That one in white?’

‘Yes, there with the tall man. They’re coming ashore now. He’s the new husband, I suppose. Can’t remember her name now.’

‘Doyle,’ said Rosalie. ‘Simon Doyle. It was in all the newspapers. She’s simply rolling, isn’t she?’

‘Only about the richest girl in England,’ said Tim cheerfully.

The three lookers-on were silent watching the passengers come ashore. Poirot gazed with interest at the subject of the remarks of his companions. He murmured:

‘She is beautiful.’

‘Some people have got everything,’ said Rosalie bitterly.

There was a queer grudging expression on her face as she watched the other girl come up the gangplank.

Linnet Doyle was looking as perfectly turned out as if she were stepping on to the centre of the stage in a revue. She had something too of the assurance of a famous actress. She was used to being looked at, to being admired, to being the centre of the stage wherever she went.

She was aware of the keen glances bent upon her – and at the same time almost unaware of them; such tributes were part of her life.

She came ashore playing a role, even though she played it unconsciously. The rich, beautiful society bride on her honeymoon. She turned, with a little smile and a light remark, to the tall man by her side. He answered, and the sound of his voice seemed to interest Hercule Poirot. His eyes lit up and he drew his brows together.

The couple passed close to him. He heard Simon Doyle say:

‘We’ll try and make time for it, darling. We can easily stay a week or two if you like it here.’

His face was turned towards her, eager, adoring, a little humble.

Poirot’s eyes ran over him thoughtfully – the square shoulders, the bronzed face, the dark blue eyes, the rather childlike simplicity of the smile.

‘Lucky devil,’ said Tim after they had passed. ‘Fancy finding an heiress who hasn’t got adenoids and flat feet!’

‘They look frightfully happy,’ said Rosalie with a note of envy in her voice. She said suddenly, but so low that Tim did not catch the words: ‘It isn’t fair.’

Poirot heard, however. He had been frowning somewhat perplexedly, but now he flashed a quick glance towards her.

Tim said:

‘I must collect some stuff for my mother now.’

He raised his hat and moved off. Poirot and Rosalie retraced their steps slowly in the direction of the hotel, waving aside fresh proffers of donkeys.

‘So it is not fair, Mademoiselle?’ asked Poirot gently.

The girl flushed angrily.

‘I don’t know what you mean.’

‘I am repeating what you said just now under your breath. Oh, yes, you did.’

Rosalie Otterbourne shrugged her shoulders.

‘It really seems a little too much for one person. Money, good looks, marvellous figure and-’

She paused and Poirot said:

‘And love? Eh? And love? But you do not know – she may have been married for her money!’

‘Didn’t you see the way he looked at her?’

‘Oh, yes, Mademoiselle. I saw all there was to see – indeed I saw something that you did not.’

‘What was that?’

Poirot said slowly:

‘I saw, Mademoiselle, dark lines below a woman’s eyes. I saw a hand that clutched a sunshade so tight that the knuckles were white…’

Rosalie was staring at him.

‘What do you mean?’

‘I mean that all is not the gold that glitters – I mean that though this lady is rich and beautiful and beloved, there is all the same something that is not right. And I know something else.’

‘Yes?’

‘I know,’ said Poirot, frowning, ‘that somewhere, at some time, I have heard that voice before – the voice of Monsieur Doyle – and I wish I could remember where.’

But Rosalie was not listening. She had stopped dead. With the point of her sunshade she was tracing patterns in the loose sand. Suddenly she broke out fiercely:

‘I’m odious. I’m quite odious. I’m just a beast through and through. I’d like to tear the clothes off her back and stamp on her lovely, arrogant, self-confident face. I’m just a jealous cat – but that’s what I feel like. She’s so horribly successful and poised and assured.’

Hercule Poirot looked a little astonished by the outburst. He took her by the arm and gave her a friendly little shake.

Tenez – you will feel better for having said that!’

‘I just hate her! I’ve never hated anyone so much at first sight.’

‘Magnificent!’

Rosalie looked at him doubtfully. Then her mouth twitched and she laughed.

Bien,’ said Poirot, and laughed too.

They proceeded amicably back to the hotel.

‘I must find Mother,’ said Rosalie, as they came into the cool dim hall.

Poirot passed out on the other side on to the terrace overlooking the Nile. Here were little tables set for tea, but it was early still. He stood for a few moments looking down on to the river, then strolled down through the gardens.

Some people were playing tennis in the hot sun. He paused to watch them for a while, then went on down the steep path. It was there, sitting on a bench overlooking the Nile, that he came upon the girl of Chez Ma Tante. He recognized her at once. Her face, as he had seen it that night, was securely etched upon his memory. The expression on it now was very different. She was paler, thinner, and there were lines that told of a great weariness and misery of spirit.

He drew back a little. She had not seen him, and he watched her for a while without her suspecting his presence. Her small foot tapped impatiently on the ground. Her eyes, dark with a kind of smouldering fire, had a queer kind of suffering dark triumph in them. She was looking out across the Nile where the white-sailed boats glided up and down the river.

A face – and a voice. He remembered them both. This girl’s face and the voice he had heard just now, the voice of a newly made bridegroom…

And even as he stood there considering the unconscious girl, the next scene in the drama was played.

Voices sounded above. The girl on the seat started to her feet. Linnet Doyle and her husband came down the path. Linnet’s voice was happy and confident. The look of strain and tenseness of muscle had quite disappeared, Linnet was happy.

The girl who was standing there took a step or two forward. The other two stopped dead.

‘Hallo, Linnet,’ said Jacqueline de Bellefort. ‘So here you are! We never seem to stop running into each other. Hallo, Simon, how are you?’

Linnet Doyle had shrunk back against the rock with a little cry. Simon Doyle’s good-looking face was suddenly convulsed with rage. He moved forward as though he would have liked to strike the slim girlish figure.

With a quick birdlike turn of her head she signalled her realization of a stranger’s presence. Simon turned his head and noticed Poirot.

He said awkwardly:

‘Hullo, Jacqueline; we didn’t expect to see you here.’

The words were unconvincing in the extreme. The girl flashed white teeth at them.

‘Quite a surprise?’ she asked. Then, with a little nod, she walked up the path.

Poirot moved delicately in the opposite direction. As he went, he heard Linnet Doyle say:

‘Simon – for God’s sake – Simon – what can we do?’

Chapter 2

Dinner was over. The terrace outside the Cataract Hotel was softly lit. Most of the guests staying at the hotel were there sitting at little tables.

Simon and Linnet Doyle came out, a tall distinguished looking grey-haired man with a keen clean-shaven American face beside them. As the little group hesitated for a moment in the doorway, Tim Allerton rose from his chair nearby and came forward.

‘You don’t remember me, I’m sure,’ he said pleasantly to Linnet, ‘but I’m Joanna Southwood’s cousin.’

‘Of course – how stupid of me. You’re Tim Allerton. This is my husband’-a faint tremor in the voice, pride, shyness? – ‘and this is my American trustee, Mr Pennington.’

Tim said:

‘You must meet my mother.’

A few minutes later they were sitting together in a party – Linnet in the corner, Tim and Pennington each side of her, both talking to her, vying for her attention. Mrs Allerton talked to Simon Doyle.

The swing doors revolved. A sudden tension came into the beautiful upright figure sitting in the corner between the two men. Then it relaxed as a small man came out and walked across the terrace.

Mrs Allerton said:

‘You’re not the only celebrity here, my dear. That funny little man is Hercule Poirot.’

She had spoken lightly, just out of instinctive social tact to bridge an awkward pause, but Linnet seemed struck by the information.

‘Hercule Poirot? Of course – I’ve heard of him…’

She seemed to sink into a fit of abstraction. The two men on either side of her were momentarily at a loss.

Poirot had strolled across to the edge of the terrace, but his attention was immediately solicited.

‘Sit down, Monsieur Poirot. What a lovely night!’

He obeyed.

Mais oui, Madame, it is indeed beautiful.’

He smiled politely at Mrs Otterbourne. What draperies of black ninon and that ridiculous turban effect! Mrs Otterbourne went on in her high complaining voice:

‘Quite a lot of notabilities here now, aren’t there? I expect we shall see a paragraph about it in the papers soon. Society beauties, famous novelists-’

She paused with a slight mock-modest laugh.

Poirot felt, rather than saw, the sulky frowning girl opposite him flinch and set her mouth in a sulkier line than before.

‘You have a novel on the way at present, Madame?’ he inquired.

Mrs Otterbourne gave her little self-conscious laugh again.

‘I’m being dreadfully lazy. I really must set to. My public is getting terribly impatient – and my publisher, poor man! Appeals by every post! Even cables!’

Again he felt the girl shift in the darkness.

‘I don’t mind telling you, Monsieur Poirot, I am partly here for local colour. Snow on the Desert’s Face – that is the title of my new book. Powerful – suggestive. Snow – on the desert – melted in the first flaming breath of passion.’

Rosalie got up, muttering something, and moved away down into the dark garden.

‘One must be emphasis,’ went on Mrs Otterbourne, wagging the turban emphatically. ‘emphasis meat – that is what my books are. Libraries may ban them – no matter! I speak the truth. Sex – ah! Monsieur Poirot – why is everyone so afraid of sex? The pivot of the universe! You have read my books?’

‘Alas, Madame! You comprehend, I do not read many novels. My work-’

Mrs Otterbourne said firmly:

‘I must give you a copy of Under the Fig Tree. I think you will find it significant. It is outspoken – but it is real!’

‘That is most kind of you, Madame. I will read it with pleasure.’

Mrs Otterbourne was silent a minute or two. She fidgeted with a long chain of beads that was wound twice round her neck. She looked swiftly from side to side.

‘Perhaps – I’ll just slip up and get it for you now.’

‘Oh, Madame, pray do not trouble yourself. Later-’

‘No, no. It’s no trouble.’ She rose. ‘I’d like to show you-’

‘What is it, Mother?’

Rosalie was suddenly at her side.

‘Nothing, dear. I was just going up to get a book for Monsieur Poirot.’

‘The Fig Tree? I’ll get it.’

‘You don’t know where it is, dear. I’ll go.’

‘Yes, I do.’

The girl went swiftly across the terrace and into the hotel.

‘Let me congratulate you, Madame, on a very lovely daughter,’ said Poirot, with a bow.

‘Rosalie? Yes, yes – she is good looking. But she’s very hard, Monsieur Poirot. And no sympathy with illness. She always thinks she knows best. She imagines she knows more about my health than I do myself-’

 

Poirot signalled to a passing waiter.

‘A liqueur, Madame? A chartreuse? A créme de menthe?’

Mrs Otterbourne shook her head vigorously.

‘No, no. I am practically a teetotaller. You may have noticed I never drink anything but water – or perhaps lemonade. I cannot bear the taste of spirits.’

‘Then may I order you a lemon squash, Madame?’

He gave the order – one lemon squash and one benedictine.

The swing door revolved. Rosalie passed through and came towards them, a book in her hand.

‘Here you are,’ she said. Her voice was quite expressionless – almost remarkably so.

‘Monsieur Poirot has just ordered me a lemon squash,’ said her mother.

‘And you, Mademoiselle, what will you take?’

‘Nothing.’ She added, suddenly conscious of the curtness: ‘Nothing, thank you.’

Poirot took the volume which Mrs Otterbourne held out to him. It still bore its original jacket, a gaily coloured affair representing a lady with smartly shingled hair and scarlet fingernails sitting on a tiger skin in the traditional costume of Eve. Above her was a tree with the leaves of an oak, bearing large and improbably coloured apples.

It was entitled Under the Fig Tree, by Salome Otterbourne. On the inside was a publisher’s blurb. It spoke enthusiastically of the superb courage and realism of this study of a modern woman’s love life. Fearless, unconventional, realistic were the adjectives used.

Poirot bowed and murmured:

‘I am honoured, Madame.’

As he raised his head, his eyes met those of the authoress’s daughter. Almost involuntarily he made a little movement. He was astonished and grieved at the eloquent pain they revealed.

It was at that moment that the drinks arrived and created a welcome diversion.

Poirot lifted his glass gallantly.

A votre santé, Madame – Mademoiselle.

Mrs Otterbourne, sipping her lemonade, murmured:

‘So refreshing – delicious.’

Silence fell on the three of them. They looked down to the shining black rocks in the Nile. There was something fantastic about them in the moonlight. They were like vast prehistoric monsters lying half out of the water. A little breeze came up suddenly and as suddenly died away. There was a feeling in the air of hush – of expectancy.

Hercule Poirot brought his gaze to the terrace and its occupants. Was he wrong, or was there the same hush of expectancy there? It was like a moment on the stage when one is waiting for the entrance of the leading lady.

And just at that moment the swing doors began to revolve once more. This time it seemed as though they did so with a special air of importance. Everyone had stopped talking and was looking towards them.

A dark slender girl in a wine-coloured evening frock came through. She paused for a minute, then walked deliberately across the terrace and sat down at an empty table. There was nothing flaunting, nothing out of the way about her demeanour, and yet it had somehow the studied effect of a stage entrance.

‘Well,’ said Mrs Otterbourne. She tossed her turbaned head. ‘She seems to think she is somebody, that girl!’

Poirot did not answer. He was watching. The girl had sat down in a place where she could look deliberately across at Linnet Doyle. Presently, Poirot noticed, Linnet Doyle leant forward and said something and a moment later got up and changed her seat. She was now sitting facing in the opposite direction.

Poirot nodded thoughtfully to himself.

It was about five minutes later that the other girl changed her seat to the opposite side of the terrace. She sat smoking and smiling quietly, the picture of contented ease. But always, as though unconsciously, her meditative gaze was on Simon Doyle’s wife.

After a quarter of an hour Linnet Doyle got up abruptly and went into the hotel. Her husband followed her almost immediately.

Jacqueline de Bellefort smiled and twisted her chair round. She lit a cigarette and stared out over the Nile. She went on smiling to herself.