Смерть на Ниле / Death on the Nile

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Chapter 3

‘Monsieur Poirot.’

Poirot got hastily to his feet. He had remained sitting out on the terrace alone after everyone else had left. Lost in meditation, he had been staring at the smooth shiny black rocks when the sound of his name recalled him to himself.

It was a well-bred, assured voice, a charming voice, although perhaps a trifle arrogant.

Hercule Poirot, rising quickly, looked into the commanding eyes of Linnet Doyle. She wore a wrap of rich purple velvet over her white satin gown and she looked more lovely and more regal than Poirot had imagined possible.

‘You are Monsieur Hercule Poirot?’ said Linnet.

It was hardly a question.

‘At your service, Madame.’

‘You know who I am, perhaps?’

‘Yes, Madame. I have heard your name. I know exactly who you are.’

Linnet nodded. That was only what she had expected. She went on, in her charming autocratic manner:

‘Will you come with me into the card room, Monsieur Poirot? I am very anxious to speak to you.’

‘Certainly, Madame.’

She led the way into the hotel. He followed. She led him into the deserted card room and motioned him to close the door. Then she sank down on a chair at one of the tables and he sat down opposite her.

She plunged straightaway into what she wanted to say. There were no hesitations. Her speech came flowingly.

‘I have heard a great deal about you, Monsieur Poirot, and I know that you are a very clever man. It happens that I am urgently in need of someone to help me – and I think very possibly that you are the man who could do it.’

Poirot inclined his head.

‘You are very amiable, Madame. But you see, I am on holiday, and when I am on holiday I do not take cases.’

‘That could be arranged.’

It was not offensively said – only with the quiet confidence of a young woman who had always been able to arrange matters to her satisfaction.

Linnet Doyle went on:

‘I am the subject, Monsieur Poirot, of an intolerable persecution. That persecution has got to stop! My own idea was to go to the police about it, but my – my husband seems to think that the police would be powerless to do anything.’

‘Perhaps – if you would explain a little further?’ murmured Poirot politely.

‘Oh, yes, I will do so. The matter is perfectly simple.’

There was still no hesitation – no faltering. Linnet Doyle had a clear-cut businesslike mind. She only paused a minute so as to present the facts as concisely as possible.

‘Before I met my husband, he was engaged to a Miss de Bellefort. She was also a friend of mine. My husband broke off his engagement to her – they were not suited in any way. She, I am sorry to say, took it rather hard… I – am very sorry about that – but these things cannot be helped. She made certain – well, threats – to which I paid very little attention, and which, I may say, she has not attempted to carry out. But instead she has adopted the extraordinary course of – of following us about wherever we go.’

Poirot raised his eyebrows.

‘Ah – rather an unusual – er – revenge.’

‘Very unusual – and very ridiculous! But also – annoying.’

She bit her lip.

Poirot nodded.

‘Yes, I can imagine that. You are, I understand, on your honeymoon?’

‘Yes. It happened – the first time – at Venice. She was there – at Danielli’s. I thought it was just coincidence. Rather embarrassing, but that was all. Then we found her on board the boat at Brindisi. We – we understood that she was going on to Palestine. We left her, as we thought, on the boat. But – but when we got to Mena House she was there – waiting for us.’

Poirot nodded.

‘And now?’

‘We came up the Nile by boat. I–I was half expecting to find her on board. When she wasn’t there I thought she had stopped being so – so childish. But when we got here – she – she was here – waiting.’

Poirot eyed her keenly for a moment. She was still perfectly composed, but the knuckles of the hand that was gripping the table were white with the force of her grip.

He said:

‘And you are afraid this state of things may continue?’

‘Yes.’ She paused. ‘Of course the whole thing is idiotic! Jacqueline is making herself utterly ridiculous. I am surprised she hasn’t got more pride – more dignity.’

Poirot made a slight gesture.

‘There are times, Madame, when pride and dignity – they go by the board! There are other – emphasiser emotions.’

‘Yes, possibly.’ Linnet spoke impatiently. ‘But what on earth can she hope to gain by all this?’

‘It is not always a question of gain, Madame.’

Something in his tone struck Linnet disagreeably. She flushed and said quickly:

‘You are right. A discussion of motives is beside the point. The crux of the matter is that this has got to be stopped.’

‘And how do you propose that that should be accomplished, Madame?’ Poirot asked.

‘Well – naturally – my husband and I cannot continue being subjected to this annoyance. There must be some kind of legal redress against such a thing.’

She spoke impatiently. Poirot looked at her thoughtfully as he asked:

‘Has she threatened you in actual words in public? Used insulting language? Attempted any bodily harm?’

‘No.’

‘Then, frankly, Madame, I do not see what you can do. If it is a young lady’s pleasure to travel in certain places, and those places are the same where you and your husband find yourselves – eh bien – what of it? The air is free to all! There is no question of her forcing herself upon your privacy? It is always in public that these encounters take place?’

‘You mean there is nothing that I can do about it?’ Linnet sounded incredulous.

Poirot said placidly:

‘Nothing at all, as far as I can see. Mademoiselle de Bellefort is within her rights.’

‘But – but it is maddening! It is intolerable that I should have to put up with this!’

Poirot said dryly:

‘I must sympathize with you, Madame – especially as I imagine that you have not often had to put up with things.’

Linnet was frowning.

‘There must be some way of stopping it,’ she murmured.

Poirot shrugged his shoulders.

‘You can always leave – move on somewhere else,’ he suggested.

‘Then she will follow!’

‘Very possibly – yes.’

‘It’s absurd!’

‘Precisely.’

‘Anyway, why should I – we – run away? As though – as though-’

She stopped.

‘Exactly, Madame. As though-! It is all there, is it not?’

Linnet lifted her head and stared at him.

‘What do you mean?’

Poirot altered his tone. He leant forward; his voice was confidential, appealing. He said very gently:

Why do you mind so much, Madame?

‘Why? But it’s maddening! Irritating to the last degree! I’ve told you why!’

Poirot shook his head.

‘Not altogether.’

Linnet said again: ‘What do you mean?’

Poirot leant back, folded his arms and spoke in a detached impersonal manner.

Ecoutez, Madame. I will recount to you a little history. It is that one day, a month or two ago, I am dining in a restaurant in London. At the table next to me are two people, a man and a girl. They are very happy, so it seems, very much in love. They talk with confidence of the future. It is not that I listen to what is not meant for me – they are quite oblivious of who hears them and who does not. The man’s back is to me, but I can watch the girl’s face. It is very intense. She is in love – heart, soul, and body – and she is not of those who love lightly and often. With her it is clearly the life and the death. They are engaged to be married, these two; that is what I gather; and they talk of where they shall pass the days of their honeymoon. They plan to go to Egypt.’

He paused.

Linnet said sharply:

‘Well?’

Poirot went on.

‘That is a month or two ago, but the girl’s face – I do not forget it. I know that I shall remember if I see it again. And I remember too the man’s voice. And I think you can guess, Madame, when it is I see the one and hear the other again. It is here in Egypt. The man is on his honeymoon, yes – but he is on his honeymoon with another woman.’

Linnet said sharply: ‘What of it? I had already mentioned the facts.’

‘The facts – yes.’

‘Well then?’

Poirot said slowly:

‘The girl in the restaurant mentioned a friend – a friend who she was very positive would not let her down. That friend, I think, was you, Madame.’

Linnet flushed.

‘Yes. I told you we had been friends.’

‘And she trusted you?’

‘Yes.’

She hesitated for a moment, biting her lip impatiently; then, as Poirot did not seem disposed to speak, she broke out:

‘Of course the whole thing was very unfortunate. But these things happen, Monsieur Poirot.’

‘Ah! yes, they happen, Madame.’ He paused. ‘You are of the Church of England, I presume?’

‘Yes.’ Linnet looked slightly bewildered.

‘Then you have heard portions of the Bible read aloud in church. You have heard of King David and of the rich man who had many flocks and herds and the poor man who had one ewe lamb – and of how the rich man took the poor man’s one ewe lamb. That was something that happened, Madame.’

Linnet sat up. Her eyes flashed angrily.

‘I see perfectly what you are driving at, Monsieur Poirot! You think, to put it vulgarly, that I stole my friend’s young man. Looking at the matter sentimentally – which is, I suppose, the way people of your generation cannot help looking at things – that is possibly true. But the real hard truth is different. I don’t deny that Jackie was passionately in love with Simon, but I don’t think you take into account that he may not have been equally devoted to her. He was very fond of her, but I think that even before he met me he was beginning to feel that he had made a mistake. Look at it clearly, Monsieur Poirot. Simon discovers that it is I he loves, not Jackie. What is he to do? Be heroically noble and marry a woman he does not care for – and thereby probably ruin three lives – for it is doubtful whether he could make Jackie happy under those circumstances? If he were actually married to her when he met me I agree that it might be his duty to stick to her – though I’m not really sure of that. If one person is unhappy the other suffers too. But an engagement is not really binding. If a mistake has been made, then surely it is better to face the fact before it is too late. I admit that it was very hard on Jackie, and I’m very sorry about it – but there it is. It was inevitable.’

 

‘I wonder.’

She stared at him.

‘What do you mean?’

‘It is very sensible, very logical – all that you say! But it does not explain one thing.’

‘What is that?’

‘Your own attitude, Madame. See you, this pursuit of you, you might take it in two ways. It might cause you annoyance – yes, or it might stir your pity – that your friend should have been so deeply hurt as to throw all regard for the conventions aside. But that is not the way you react. No, to you this persecution is intolerable – and why? It can be for one reason only – that you feel a sense of guilt.’

Linnet sprang to her feet.

‘How dare you? Really, Monsieur Poirot, this is going too far.’

‘But I do dare, Madame! I am going to speak to you quite frankly. I suggest to you that, although you may have endeavoured to gloss over the fact to yourself, you did deliberately set about taking your husband from your friend. I suggest that you felt emphasisly attracted to him at once. But I suggest that there was a moment when you hesitated, when you realized that there was a choice – that you could refrain or go on. I suggest that the initiative rested with you – not with Monsieur Doyle. You are beautiful, Madame, you are rich, you are clever, intelligent – and you have charm. You could have exercised that charm or you could have restrained it. You had everything, Madame, that life can offer. Your friend’s life was bound up in one person. You knew that – but though you hesitated, you did not hold your hand. You stretched it out and, like King David, you took the poor man’s one ewe lamb.’

There was a silence. Linnet controlled herself with an effort and said in a cold voice:

‘All this is quite beside the point!’

‘No, it is not beside the point. I am explaining to you just why the unexpected appearances of Mademoiselle de Bellefort have upset you so much. It is because though she may be unwomanly and undignified in what she is doing, you have the inner conviction that she has right on her side.’

‘That’s not true.’

Poirot shrugged his shoulders.

‘You refuse to be honest with yourself.’

‘Not at all.’

Poirot said gently:

‘I should say, Madame, that you have had a happy life, that you have been generous and kindly in your attitude towards others.’

‘I have tried to be,’ said Linnet. The impatient anger died out of her face. She spoke simply – almost forlornly.

‘And that is why the feeling that you have deliberately caused injury to someone upsets you so much, and why you are so reluctant to admit the fact. Pardon me if I have been impertinent, but the psychology, it is the most important factor in a case.’

Linnet said slowly: ‘Even supposing what you say were true – and I don’t admit it, mind – what can be done about it now? One can’t alter the past; one must deal with things as they are.’

Poirot nodded.

‘You have the clear brain. Yes, one cannot go back over the past. One must accept things as they are. And sometimes, Madame, that is all one can do – accept the consequences of one’s past deeds.’

‘You mean,’ said Linnet incredulously, ‘that I can do nothing – nothing?’

‘You must have courage, Madame; that is what it seems like to me.’

Linnet said slowly:

‘Couldn’t you – talk to Jackie – to Miss de Bellefort? Reason with her?’

‘Yes, I could do that. I will do that if you would like me to do so. But do not expect much result. I fancy that Mademoiselle de Bellefort is so much in the grip of a fixed idea that nothing will turn her from it.’

‘But surely we can do something to extricate ourselves?’

‘You could, of course, return to England and establish yourselves in your own house.’

‘Even then, I suppose, Jacqueline is capable of planting herself in the village, so that I should see her every time I went out of the grounds.’

‘True.’

‘Besides,’ said Linnet slowly, ‘I don’t think that Simon would agree to run away.’

‘What is his attitude in this?’

‘He’s furious – simply furious.’

Poirot nodded thoughtfully.

Linnet said appealingly:

‘You will – talk to her?’

‘Yes, I will do that. But it is my opinion that I shall not be able to accomplish anything.’

Linnet said violently: ‘Jackie is extraordinary! One can’t tell what she will do!’

‘You spoke just now of certain threats she had made. Would you tell me what those threats were?’

Linnet shrugged her shoulders.

‘She threatened to – well – kill us both. Jackie can be rather – hot-headed sometimes.’

‘I see.’ Poirot’s tone was grave.

Linnet turned to him appealingly.

‘You will act for me?’

‘No, Madame.’ His tone was firm. ‘I will not accept a commission from you. I will do what I can in the interests of humanity. That, yes. There is here a situation that is full of difficulty and danger. I will do what I can to clear it up – but I am not very sanguine as to my chance of success.’

Linnet Doyle said slowly:

‘But you will not act for me?’

‘No, Madame,’ said Hercule Poirot.

Chapter 4

Hercule Poirot found Jacqueline de Bellefort sitting on the rocks directly overlooking the Nile. He had felt fairly certain that she had not retired for the night and that he would find her somewhere about the grounds of the hotel.

She was sitting with her chin cupped in the palms of her hands, and she did not turn her head or look around at the sound of his approach.

‘Mademoiselle de Bellefort?’ asked Poirot. ‘You permit that I speak to you for a little moment?’

Jacqueline turned her head slightly. A faint smile played round her lips.

‘Certainly,’ she said. ‘You are Monsieur Hercule Poirot, I think? Shall I make a guess? You are acting for Mrs Doyle, who has promised you a large fee if you succeed in your mission.’

Poirot sat down on the bench near her.

‘Your assumption is partially correct,’ he said, smiling. ‘I have just come from Madame Doyle, but I am not accepting any fee from her and, strictly speaking, I am not acting for her.’

‘Oh!’ Jacqueline studied him attentively. ‘Then why have you come?’ she asked abruptly.

Hercule Poirot’s reply was in the form of another question.

‘Have you ever seen me before, Mademoiselle?’

She shook her head.

‘No, I do not think so.’

‘Yet I have seen you. I sat next to you once at Chez Ma Tante. You were there with Monsieur Simon Doyle.’

A strange masklike expression came over the girl’s face. She said,

‘I remember that evening…’

‘Since then,’ said Poirot, ‘many things have occurred.’

‘As you say, many things have occurred.’

Her voice was hard with an undertone of desperate bitterness.

‘Mademoiselle, I speak as a friend. Bury your dead!’

She looked startled.

‘What do you mean?’

‘Give up the past! Turn to the future! What is done is done. Bitterness will not undo it.’

‘I’m sure that that would suit dear Linnet admirably.’

Poirot made a gesture.

‘I am not thinking of her at this moment! I am thinking of you. You have suffered – yes – but what you are doing now will only prolong that suffering.’

She shook her head.

‘You’re wrong. There are times when I almost enjoy myself.’

‘And that, Mademoiselle, is the worst of all.’

She looked up swiftly.

‘You’re not stupid,’ she said. She added slowly, ‘I believe you mean to be kind.’

‘Go home, Mademoiselle. You are young, you have brains – the world is before you.’

Jacqueline shook her head slowly.

‘You don’t understand – or you won’t. Simon is my world.’

‘Love is not everything, Mademoiselle,’ Poirot said gently. ‘It is only when we are young that we think it is.’

But the girl still shook her head.

‘You don’t understand.’ She shot him a quick look. ‘You know all about it, of course? You’ve talked to Linnet? And you were in the restaurant that night… Simon and I loved each other.’

‘I know that you loved him.’

She was quick to perceive the inflection of his words. She repeated with emphasis:

We loved each other. And I loved Linnet… I trusted her. She was my best friend. All her life Linnet has been able to buy everything she wanted. She’s never denied herself anything. When she saw Simon she wanted him – and she just took him.’

‘And he allowed himself to be – bought?’

Jacqueline shook her dark head slowly.

‘No, it’s not quite like that. If it were, I shouldn’t be here now… You’re suggesting that Simon isn’t worth caring for… If he’d married Linnet for her money, that would be true. But he didn’t marry her for her money. It’s more complicated than that. There’s such a thing as glamour, Monsieur Poirot. And money helps that. Linnet had an “atmosphere”, you see. She was the queen of a kingdom – the young princess – luxurious to her fingertips. It was like a stage setting. She had the world at her feet, one of the richest and most sought-after peers in England wanting to marry her. And she stoops instead to the obscure Simon Doyle… Do you wonder it went to his head?’ She made a sudden gesture. ‘Look at the moon up there. You see her very plainly, don’t you? She’s very real. But if the sun were to shine you wouldn’t be able to see her at all. It was rather like that. I was the moon… When the sun came out, Simon couldn’t see me any more… He was dazzled. He couldn’t see anything but the sun – Linnet.’

She paused and then she went on:

‘So you see it was – glamour. She went to his head. And then there’s her complete assurance – her habit of command. She’s so sure of herself that she makes other people sure. Simon was – weak, perhaps, but then he’s a very simple person. He would have loved me and me only if Linnet hadn’t come along and snatched him up in her golden chariot. And I know – I know perfectly – that he wouldn’t ever have fallen in love with her if she hadn’t made him.’

‘That is what you think – yes.’

‘I know it. He loved me – he will always love me.’

Poirot said:

‘Even now?’

A quick answer seemed to rise to her lips, then be stifled. She looked at Poirot and a deep burning colour spread over her face. She looked away, her head dropped down. She said in a low stifled voice:

‘Yes, I know. He hates me now. Yes, hates me… He’d better be careful.’

With a quick gesture she fumbled in a little silk bag that lay on the seat. Then she held out her hand. On the palm of it was a small pearl-handled pistol – a dainty toy it looked.

‘Nice little thing, isn’t it? she said. ‘Looks too foolish to be real, but it is real! One of those bullets would kill a man or a woman. And I’m a good shot.’ She smiled a faraway, reminiscent smile. ‘When I went home as a child with my mother to South Carolina, my grandfather taught me to shoot. He was the old-fashioned kind that believes in shooting – especially where honour is concerned. My father, too, he fought several duels as a young man. He was a good swordsman. He killed a man once. That was over a woman. So you see, Monsieur Poirot’-she met his eyes squarely-‘I’ve hot blood in me! I bought this when it first happened. I meant to kill one or other of them – the trouble was I couldn’t decide which. Both of them would have been unsatisfactory. If I’d thought Linnet would have looked afraid – but she’s got plenty of physical courage. She can stand up to physical action. And then I thought I’d – wait! That appealed to me more and more. After all, I could do it any time; it would be more fun to wait and – think about it! And then this idea came to my mind – to follow them! Whenever they arrived at some faraway spot and were together and happy, they should see – me! And it worked! It got Linnet badly – in a way nothing else could have done! It got right under her skin… That was when I began to enjoy myself… And there’s nothing she can do about it! I’m always perfectly pleasant and polite! There’s not a word they can take hold of! It’s poisoning everything – everything – for them.’

 

Her laugh rang out, clear and silvery.

Poirot grasped her arm.

‘Be quiet. Quiet, I tell you.’

Jacqueline looked at him.

‘Well?’ she said. Her smile was definitely challenging.

‘Mademoiselle, I beseech you, do not do what you are doing.’

‘Leave dear Linnet alone, you mean!’

‘It is deeper than that. Do not open your heart to evil.’

Her lips fell apart; a look of bewilderment came into her eyes.

Poirot went on gravely:

‘Because – if you do – evil will come … Yes, very surely evil will come… It will enter in and make its home within you, and after a little while it will no longer be possible to drive it out.’

Jacqueline stared at him. Her glance seemed to waver, to flicker uncertainly.

She said: ‘I – don’t know-’ Then she cried out definitely: ‘You can’t stop me.’

‘No,’ said Hercule Poirot. ‘I cannot stop you.’ His voice was sad.

‘Even if I were to – kill her, you couldn’t stop me.’

‘No – not if you were willing – to pay the price.’

Jacqueline de Bellefort laughed.

‘Oh, I’m not afraid of death! What have I got to live for, after all? I suppose you believe it’s very wrong to kill a person who has injured you – even if they’ve taken away everything you had in the world?’

Poirot said steadily:

‘Yes, Mademoiselle. I believe it is the unforgivable offence – to kill.’

Jacqueline laughed again.

‘Then you ought to approve of my present scheme of revenge. Because, you see, as long as it works, I shan’t use that pistol… But I’m afraid – yes, afraid sometimes – it all goes red – I want to hurt her – to stick a knife into her, to put my dear little pistol close against her head and then – just press with my finger – Oh!’

The exclamation startled him.

‘What is it, Mademoiselle!’

She turned her head and was staring into the shadows.

‘Someone – standing over there. He’s gone now.’

Hercule Poirot looked round sharply. The place seemed quite deserted.

‘There seems no one here but ourselves, Mademoiselle.’ He got up. ‘In any case I have said all I came to say. I wish you good night.’

Jacqueline got up too. She said almost pleadingly:

‘You do understand – that I can’t do what you ask me to do?’

Poirot shook his head.

‘No – for you could do it! There is always a moment! Your friend Linnet – there was a moment, too, in which she could have held her hand… She let it pass by. And if one does that, then one is committed to the enterprise and there comes no second chance.’

‘No second chance…’ said Jacqueline de Bellefort.

She stood brooding for a moment, then she lifted her head defiantly.

‘Good night, Monsieur Poirot.’

He shook his head sadly and followed her up the path to the hotel.