On the Monday morning various expressions of delight and appreciation were heard on the deck of the Karnak. The steamer was moored to the bank and a few hundred yards away, the morning sun just striking it, was a great temple carved out of the face of the rock. Four colossal figures, hewn out of the cliff, look out eternally over the Nile and face the rising sun.
Cornelia Robson said incoherently:
‘Oh, Monsieur Poirot, isn’t it wonderful? I mean they’re so big and peaceful – and looking at them makes one feel that one’s so small – and rather like an insect – and that nothing matters very much really, does it?’
Mr Fanthorp, who was standing near by, murmured,
‘Very – er – impressive.’
‘Grand, isn’t it?’ said Simon Doyle, strolling up. He went on confidentially to Poirot: ‘You know, I’m not much of a fellow for temples and sightseeing and all that, but a place like this sort of gets you, if you know what I mean. Those old Pharaohs must have been wonderful fellows.’
The other had drifted away. Simon lowered his voice.
‘I’m no end glad we came on this trip. It’s – well, it’s cleared things up. Amazing why it should – but there it is. Linnet’s got her nerve back. She says it’s because she’s actually faced the business at last.’
‘I think that is very probable,’ said Poirot.
‘She says that when she actually saw Jackie on the boat she felt terrible – and then, suddenly, it didn’t matter any more. We’re both agreed that we won’t try to dodge her any more. We’ll just meet her on her own ground and show her that this ridiculous stunt of hers doesn’t worry us a bit. It’s just damned bad form – that’s all. She thought she’d got us badly rattled – but now, well, we just aren’t rattled any more. That ought to show her.’
‘Yes,’ said Poirot thoughtfully.
‘So that’s splendid, isn’t it?’
‘Oh, yes, yes.’
Linnet came along the deck. She was dressed in a soft shade of apricot linen. She was smiling. She greeted Poirot with no particular enthusiasm, just gave him a cool nod and then drew her husband away.
Poirot realized with a momentary flicker of amusement that he had not made himself popular by his critical attitude. Linnet was used to unqualified admiration of all she was or did. Hercule Poirot had sinned noticeably against this creed.
Mrs Allerton, joining him, murmured:
‘What a difference in that girl! She looked worried and not very happy at Aswan. Today she looks so happy that one might almost be afraid she was fey.’
Before Poirot could respond as he meant, the party was called to order. The official dragoman took charge and the party was led ashore to visit Abu Simbel.
Poirot himself fell into step with Andrew Pennington.
‘It is your first visit to Egypt – yes?’ he asked.
‘Why, no, I was here in 1923. That is to say, I was in Cairo. I’ve never been this trip up the Nile before.’
‘You came over on the Carmanic, I believe – at least so Madame Doyle was telling me.’
Pennington shot a shrewd glance in his direction.
‘Why, yes, that is so,’ he admitted.
‘I wondered if you had happened to come across some friends of mine who were aboard – the Rushington Smiths.’
‘I can’t recall anyone of that name. The boat was full and we had bad weather. A lot of passengers hardly appeared, and in any case the voyage is so short one doesn’t get to know who is on board and who isn’t.’
‘Yes, that is very true. What a pleasant surprise your running into Madame Doyle and her husband. You had no idea they were married?’
‘No. Mrs Doyle had written me, but the letter was forwarded on and I only received it some days after our unexpected meeting in Cairo.’
‘You have known her for many years, I understand?’
‘Why, I should say I have, Monsieur Poirot. I’ve known Linnet Ridgeway since she was just a cute little thing so high-’ He made an illustrating gesture. ‘Her father and I were lifelong friends. A very remarkable man, Melhuish Ridgeway – and a very successful one.’
‘His daughter comes into a considerable fortune, I understand… Ah, pardon – perhaps it is not delicate what I say there.’
Andrew Pennington seemed slightly amused.
‘Oh, that’s pretty common knowledge. Yes, Linnet’s a wealthy woman.’
‘I suppose, though, that the recent slump is bound to affect any stocks, however sound they may be?’
Pennington took a moment or two to answer. He said at last:
‘That, of course, is true to a certain extent. The position is very difficult in these days.’
Poirot murmured: ‘I should imagine, however, that Madame Doyle has a keen business head.’
‘That is so. Yes, that is so. Linnet is a clever practical girl.’
They came to a halt. The guide proceeded to instruct them on the subject of the temple built by the great Rameses. The four colossi of Rameses himself, one pair on each side of the entrance, hewn out of the living rock, looked down on the straggling little party of tourists.
Signor Richetti, disdaining the remarks of the dragoman, was busy examining the reliefs of African and Syrian captives on the bases of the colossi on either side of the entrance.
When the party entered the temple, a sense of dimness and peace came over them. The still vividly coloured reliefs on some of the inner walls were pointed out, but the party tended to break up into groups.
Dr Bessner read sonorously in German from a Baedeker, pausing every now and then to translate for the benefit of Cornelia, who walked in a docile manner beside him. This was not to continue, however. Miss Van Schuyler, entering on the arm of the phlegmatic Miss Bowers, uttered a commanding, ‘Cornelia, come here,’ and the instruction had perforce to cease. Dr Bessner beamed after her vaguely through his thick lenses.
‘A very nice maiden, that,’ he announced to Poirot. ‘She does not look so starved as some of these young women – no, she has the nice curves. She listens too very intelligently; it is a pleasure to instruct her.’
It fleeted across Poirot’s mind that it seemed to be Cornelia’s fate either to be bullied or instructed. In any case she was always the listener, never the talker.
Miss Bowers, momentarily released by the peremptory summons of Cornelia, was standing in the middle of the temple, looking about her with her cool, incurious gaze. Her reaction to the wonders of the past was succinct.
‘The guide says the name of one of these gods or goddesses was Mut. Can you beat it?’
There was an inner sanctuary where sat four figures eternally presiding, stangely dignified in their dim aloofness.
Before them stood Linnet and her husband. Her arm was in his, her face lifted – a typical face of the new civilization, intelligent, curious, untouched by the past.
Simon said suddenly: ‘Let’s get out of here. I don’t like these four fellows – especially the one in the high hat.’
‘That’s Amon, I suppose. And that one is Rameses. Why don’t you like them? I think they’re very impressive.’
‘They’re a damned sight too impressive – there’s something uncanny about them. Come out into the sunlight.’
Linnet laughed, but yielded.
They came out of the temple into the sunshine with the sand yellow and warm about their feet. Linnet began to laugh. At their feet in a row, presenting a momentarily gruesome appearance as though sawn from their bodies, were the heads of half a dozen boys. The eyes rolled, the heads moved rhythmically from side to side, the lips chanted a new invocation:
‘Hip, hip hurray! Hip, hip hurray! Very good, very nice. Thank you very much.’
‘How absurd! How do they do it? Are they really buried very deep?’
Simon produced some small change.
‘Very good, very nice, very expensive,’ he mimicked.
Two small boys in charge of the ‘show’ picked up the coins neatly.
Linnet and Simon passed on. They had no wish to return to the boat, and they were weary of sightseeing. They settled themselves with their backs to the cliff and let the warm sun bake them through.
‘How lovely the sun is,’ thought Linnet. ‘How warm – how safe… How lovely it is to be happy… How lovely to be me – me – me – Linnet-’
Her eyes closed. She was half asleep, half awake, drifting in the midst of thought that was like the sand drifting and blowing.
Simon’s eyes were open. They too held contentment. What a fool he’d been to be rattled that first night… There was nothing to be rattled about… Everything was all right… After all, one could trust Jackie-
There was a shout – people running towards him waving their arms – shouting…
Simon stared stupidly for a moment. Then he sprang to his feet and dragged Linnet with him.
Not a minute too soon. A big boulder hurtling down the cliff crashed past them. If Linnet had remained where she was she would have been crushed to atoms.
White-faced they clung together. Hercule Poirot and Tim Allerton ran up to them.
‘Ma foi, Madame, that was a near thing.’
All four instinctively looked up at the cliff. There was nothing to be seen. But there was a path along the top. Poirot remembered seeing some locals walking along there when they had first come ashore.
He looked at the husband and wife. Linnet looked dazed still – bewildered. Simon, however, was inarticulate with rage.
‘God damn her!’ he ejaculated. He checked himself with a quick glance at Tim Allerton.
The latter said:
‘Phew, that was near! Did some fool bowl that thing over, or did it get detached on its own?’
Linnet was very pale. She said with difficulty:
‘I think – some fool must have done it.’
‘Might have crushed you like an eggshell. Sure you haven’t got an enemy, Linnet?’
Linnet swallowed twice and found difficulty in answering the light-hearted raillery.
Poirot said quickly: ‘Come back to the boat, Madame. You must have a restorative.’
They walked quickly, Simon still full of pent-up rage, Tim trying to talk cheerfully and distract Linnet’s mind from the danger she had run, Poirot with a grave face.
And then, just as they reached the gangplank, Simon stopped dead. A look of amazement spread over his face.
Jacqueline de Bellefort was just coming ashore. Dressed in blue gingham, she looked childish this morning.
‘Good God!’ said Simon under his breath. ‘So it was an accident, after all.’
The anger went out of his face. An overwhelming relief showed so plainly that Jacqueline noticed something amiss.
‘Good morning,’ she said. ‘I’m afraid I’m a little on the late side.’
She gave them all a nod and stepped ashore and proceeded in the direction of the temple.
Simon clutched Poirot’s arm. The other two had gone on.
‘My God, that’s a relief. I thought – I thought-’
‘Yes, yes, I know what you thought.’ But he himself still looked grave and preoccupied. He turned his head and noted carefully what had become of the rest of the party from the ship.
Miss Van Schuyler was slowly returning on the arm of Miss Bowers.
A little farther away Mrs Allerton was standing laughing at the little row of heads. Mrs Otterbourne was with her.
The others were nowhere in sight.
Poirot shook his head as he followed Simon slowly onto the boat.
‘Will you explain to me, Madame, the meaning of the word “fey”?’
Mrs Allerton looked slightly surprised. She and Poirot were toiling slowly up to the rock overlooking the Second Cataract. Most of the others had gone up on camels, but Poirot had felt that the motion of the camel was slightly reminiscent of that of a ship. Mrs Allerton had put it on the grounds of personal indignity.
They had arrived at Wadi Halfa the night before. This morning two launches had conveyed all the party to the Second Cataract, with the exception of Signor Richetti, who had insisted on making an excursion of his own to a remote spot called Semna, which he explained was of paramount interest as being the gateway of Nubia in the time of Amenemhet III. Everything had been done to discourage this example of individuality, but with no avail. Signor Richetti was determined and had waved aside each objection: (1) that the expedition was not worth making, (2) that the expedition could not be made, owing to the impossibility of getting a car there, (3) that no car could be obtained to do the trip, (4) that a car would be a prohibitive price. Having scoffed at (1), expressed incredulity at (2), offered to find a car himself to (3), and bargained fluently in Arabic for (4), Signor Richetti had at last departed – his departure being arranged in a secret and furtive manner in case some of the other tourists should take it into their heads to stray from the appointed paths of sightseeing.
‘Fey?’ Mrs Allerton put her head on one side as she considered her reply. ‘Well, it’s a Scottish word, really. It means the kind of exalted happiness that comes before disaster. You know – it’s too good to be true.’
She enlarged on the theme. Poirot listened attentively.
‘I thank you, Madame. I understand now. It is odd that you should have said that yesterday – when Madame Doyle was to escape death so shortly afterwards.’
Mrs Allerton gave a little shiver.
‘It must have been a very near escape. Do you think some of these little wretches rolled it over for fun? It’s the sort of thing boys might do all over the world – not perhaps really meaning any harm.’
Poirot shrugged his shoulders.
‘It may be, Madame.’
He changed the subject, talking of Majorca and asking various practical questions from the point of view of a possible visit.
Mrs Allerton had grown to like the little man very much – partly perhaps out of a contradictory spirit. Tim, she felt, was always trying to make her less friendly to Hercule Poirot, whom he had summarized firmly as ‘the worst kind of bounder’. But she herself did not call him a bounder; she supposed it was his somewhat foreign exotic clothing which roused her son’s prejudices. She herself found him an intelligent and stimulating companion. He was also extremely sympathetic. She found herself suddenly confiding in him her dislike of Joanna Southwood. It eased her to talk of the matter. And after all, why not? He did not know Joanna – would probably never meet her. Why should she not ease herself of that constantly borne burden of jealous thought?
At the same moment Tim and Rosalie Otterbourne were talking of her. Tim had just been half-jestingly abusing his luck. His rotten health, never bad enough to be really interesting, yet not good enough for him to have led the life he would have chosen. Very little money, no congenial occupation.
‘A thoroughly lukewarm, tame existence,’ he finished discontentedly.
Rosalie said abruptly: ‘You’ve got something heaps of people would envy you.’
Tim was surprised and pleased.
‘Mother? Yes, of course she is quite unique. It’s nice of you to see it.’
‘I think she’s marvellous. She looks so lovely – so composed and calm – as though nothing could ever touch her, and yet – and yet somehow she’s always ready to be funny about things too…’
Rosalie was stammering slightly in her earnestness.
Tim felt a rising warmth towards the girl. He wished he could return the compliment, but lamentably Mrs Otterbourne was his idea of the world’s greatest menace. The inability to respond in kind made him embarrassed.
Miss Van Schuyler had stayed in the launch. She could not risk the ascent either on a camel or on her legs. She had said snappily:
‘I’m sorry to have to ask you to stay with me, Miss Bowers. I intended you to go and Cornelia to stay, but girls are so selfish. She rushed off without a word to me. And I actually saw her talking to that very unpleasant and ill-bred young man, Ferguson. Cornelia has disappointed me sadly. She has absolutely no social sense.’
Miss Bowers replied in her usual matter-of-fact fashion:
‘That’s quite all right, Miss Van Schuyler. It would have been a hot walk up there, and I don’t fancy the look of those saddles on the camels. Fleas, as likely as not.’ She adjusted her glasses, screwed up her eyes to look at the party descending the hill and remarked: ‘Miss Robson isn’t with that young man any more. She’s with Dr Bessner.’
Miss Van Schuyler grunted.
Since she had discovered that Dr Bessner had a large clinic in Czechoslovakia and a European reputation as a fashionable physician, she was disposed to be gracious to him. Besides, she might need his professional services before the journey was over.
When the party returned to the Karnak, Linnet gave a cry of surprise.
‘A telegram for me.’ She snatched it off the board and tore it open. ‘Why – I don’t understand – potatoes, beetroots – what does it mean, Simon?’
Simon was just coming to look over her shoulder when a furious voice said:
‘Excuse me, that telegram is for me. And Signor Richetti snatched it rudely from her hand, fixing her with a furious glare as he did so.
Linnet stared in surprise for a moment, then turned over the envelope.
‘Oh, Simon, what a fool I am! It’s Richetti – not Ridgeway – and anyway of course my name isn’t Ridgeway now. I must apologize.’
She followed the little archaeologist up to the stern of the boat.
‘I am so sorry, Signor Richetti. You see my name was Ridgeway before I married, and I haven’t been married very long, and so…’
She paused, her face dimpled with smiles, inviting him to smile upon a young bride’s faux pas.
But Richetti was obviously ‘not amused’. Queen Victoria at her most disapproving could not have looked more grim.
‘Names should be read carefully. It is inexcusable to be careless in these matters.’
Linnet bit her lip and her colour rose. She was not accustomed to have her apologies received in this fashion. She turned away and, rejoining Simon, said angrily,
‘These Italians are really insupportable.’
‘Never mind, darling; let’s go and look at that big ivory crocodile you liked.’
They went ashore together.
Poirot, watching them walk up the landing stage, heard a sharp indrawn breath. He turned to see Jacqueline de Bellefort at his side. Her hands were clenched on the rail. The expression on her face as she turned it towards him quite startled him. It was no longer gay or malicious. She looked devoured by some inner consuming fire.
‘They don’t care any more.’ The words came low and fast. ‘They’ve got beyond me. I can’t reach them… They don’t mind if I’m here or not… I can’t – I can’t hurt them any more…’
er hands on the rail trembled.
She broke in: ‘Oh, it’s too late now – too late for warnings… You were right. I ought not to have come. Not on this journey. What did you call it? A journey of the soul? I can’t go back – I’ve got to go on. And I’m going on. They shan’t be happy together – they shan’t. I’d kill him sooner…’
She turned abruptly away. Poirot, staring after her, felt a hand on his shoulder.
‘Your girl friend seems a trifle upset, Monsieur Poirot.’
Poirot turned. He stared in surprise, seeing an old acquaintance.
The tall bronzed man smiled.
‘Bit of a surprise, eh?’
Hercule Poirot had come across Colonel Race a year previously in London. They had been fellow guests at a very strange dinner party – a dinner party that had ended in death for that strange man, their host.
Poirot knew that Race was a man of unadvertised goings and comings. He was usually to be found in one of the outposts of Empire where trouble was brewing.
‘So you are here at Wadi Halfa,’ Poirot marked thoughtfully.
‘I am here on this boat.’
‘That I am making the return journey with you to Shellal.’
Hercule Poirot’s eyebrows rose.
‘That is very interesting. Shall we, perhaps, have a little drink?’
They went into the observation saloon, now quite empty. Poirot ordered a whisky for the Colonel and a double orangeade full of sugar for himself.
‘So you make the return journey with us,’ said Poirot as he sipped. ‘You would go faster, would you not, on the Government steamer, which travels by night as well as day?’
Colonel Race’s face creased appreciatively.
‘You’re right on the spot as usual, Monsieur Poirot,’ he said pleasantly.
‘It is, then, the passengers?’
‘One of the passengers.’
‘Now which one, I wonder?’ Hercule Poirot asked of the ornate ceiling.
‘Unfortunately I don’t know myself,’ said Race ruefully.
Poirot looked interested. Race said:
‘There’s no need to be mysterious to you. We’ve had a good deal of trouble out here – one way and another. It isn’t the people who ostensibly lead the rioters that we’re after. It’s the men who very cleverly put the match to the gunpowder. There were three of them. One’s dead. One’s in prison. I want the third man – a man with five or six cold-blooded murders to his credit. He’s one of the cleverest paid agitators that ever existed… He’s on this boat. I know that from a passage in a letter that passed through our hands. Decoded it said: “X will be on the Karnak trip February seventh to thirteenth.” It didn’t say under what name X would be passing.’
‘Have you any description of him?’
‘No. American, Irish, and French descent. That doesn’t help us much. Have you got any ideas?’
‘An idea – it is all very well,’ said Poirot meditatively.
Such was the understanding between them that Race pressed him no further. He knew Hercule Poirot did not ever speak unless he was sure.
Poirot rubbed his nose and said unhappily:
‘There passes itself something on this boat that causes me much inquietude.’
Race looked at him inquiringly.
‘Figure to yourself,’ said Poirot, ‘a person A who has grievously wronged a person B. The person B desires the revenge. The person B makes the threats.’
‘A and B being both on this boat?’
‘And B, I gather, being a woman?’
Race lit a cigarette.
‘I shouldn’t worry. People who go about talking of what they are going to do don’t usually do it.’
‘And particularly is that the case with les femmes, you would say!
‘Yes, that is true.’
But he still did not look happy.
‘Anything else?’ asked Race.
‘Yes, there is something. Yesterday the person A had a very near escape from death. The kind of death that might very conveniently be called an accident.’
‘Engineered by B?’
‘No, that is just the point. B could have had nothing to do with it.’
‘Then it was an accident.’
‘I suppose so – but I do not like such accidents.’
‘You’re quite sure B could have had no hand in it?’
‘Oh, well, coincidences do happen. Who is A, by the way? A particularly disagreeable person?’
‘On the contrary. A is a charming, rich, and beautiful young lady.’
‘Sounds quite like a novelette.’
‘Peut-être. But I tell you, I am not happy, my friend. If I am right, and after all I am constantly in the habit of being right’-Race smiled into his moustache at this typical utterance-‘then there is matter for grave inquietude. And now, you come to add yet another complication. You tell me that there is a man on the Karnak who kills.’
‘He doesn’t usually kill charming young ladies.’
Poirot shook his head in a dissatisfied manner.
‘I am afraid, my friend,’ he said. ‘I am afraid… Today, I advised this lady, Madame Doyle, to go with her husband to Khartoum, not to return on this boat. But they would not agree. I pray to Heaven that we may arrive at Shellal without catastrophe.’
‘Aren’t you taking rather a gloomy view?’
Poirot shook his head.
‘I am afraid,’ he said simply. ‘Yes, I, Hercule Poirot, am afraid…’