Смерть на Ниле / Death on the Nile

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Chapter 11

Cornelia Robson stood inside the temple of Abu Simbel. It was the evening of the following day – a hot still evening. The Karnak was anchored once more at Abu Simbel to permit a second visit to be made to the temple, this time by artificial light. The difference this made was considerable, and Cornelia commented wonderingly on the fact to Mr Ferguson, who was standing by her side.

‘Why, you see it ever so much better now!’ she exclaimed. ‘All those enemies having their heads cut off by the King – they just stand right out. That’s a cute kind of castle there that I never noticed before. I wish Dr Bessner was here, he’d tell me what it was.’

‘How you can stand that old fool beats me,’ said Ferguson gloomily.

‘Why, he’s just one of the kindest men I’ve ever met.’

‘Pompous old bore.’

‘I don’t think you ought to speak that way.’

The young man gripped her suddenly by the arm. They were just emerging from the temple into the moonlight.

‘Why do you stick being bored by fat old men – and bullied and snubbed by a vicious old harridan?’

‘Why, Mr Ferguson!’

‘Haven’t you got any spirit? Don’t you know you’re just as good as she is?’

‘But I’m not!’ Cornelia spoke with honest conviction.

‘You’re not as rich; that’s all you mean.’

‘No, it isn’t. Cousin Marie’s very cultured, and-’

‘Cultured!’ The young man let go of her arm as suddenly as he had taken it. ‘That word makes me sick.’

Cornelia looked at him in alarm.

‘She doesn’t like you talking to me, does she?’ said the young man.

Cornelia blushed and looked embarrassed.

‘Why? Because she thinks I’m not her social equal! Pah! Doesn’t that make you see red?’

Cornelia faltered out:

‘I wish you wouldn’t get so mad about things.’

‘Don’t you realize – and you an American – that everyone is born free and equal?’

‘They’re not,’ said Cornelia with calm certainty.

‘My good girl, it’s part of your constitution!’

‘Cousin Marie says politicians aren’t gentlemen,’ said Cornelia. ‘And of course people aren’t equal. It doesn’t make sense. I know I’m kind of homely looking, and I used to feel mortified about it sometimes, but I’ve got over that. I’d like to have been born elegant and beautiful like Mrs Doyle, but I wasn’t, so I guess it’s no use worrying.’

‘Mrs Doyle!’ exclaimed Ferguson with deep contempt. ‘She’s the sort of woman who ought to be shot as an example.’

Cornelia looked at him anxiously.

‘I believe it’s your digestion,’ she said kindly. ‘I’ve got a special kind of pepsin that Cousin Marie tried once. Would you like to try it?’

Mr Ferguson said:

‘You’re impossible!’

He turned and strode away. Cornelia went on towards the boat. Just as she was crossing onto the gangway he caught her up once more.

‘You’re the nicest person on the boat,’ he said. ‘And mind you remember it.’

Blushing with pleasure Cornelia repaired to the observation saloon. Miss Van Schuyler was conversing with Dr Bessner – an agreeable conversation dealing with certain royal patients of his.

Cornelia said guiltily:

‘I do hope I haven’t been a long time, Cousin Marie.’

Glancing at her watch, the old lady snapped:

‘You haven’t exactly hurried, my dear. And what have you done with my velvet stole?’

Cornelia looked round.

‘Shall I see if it’s in the cabin, Cousin Marie?’

‘Of course it isn’t! I had it just after dinner in here, and I haven’t moved out of the place. It was on that chair.’

Cornelia made a desultory search.

‘I can’t see it anywhere, Cousin Marie.’

‘Nonsense,’ said Miss Van Schuyler. ‘Look about.’

It was an order such as one might give to a dog, and in her doglike fashion Cornelia obeyed. The quiet Mr Fanthorp, who was sitting at a table near by, rose and assisted her. But the stole could not be found.

The day had been such an unusually hot and sultry one that most people had retired early after going ashore to view the temple. The Doyles were playing bridge with Pennington and Race at a table in a corner. The only other occupant of the saloon was Hercule Poirot, who was yawning his head off at a small table near the door.

Miss Van Schuyler, making a Royal Progress bedward, with Cornelia and Miss Bowers in attendance, paused by his chair. He sprang politely to his feet, stifling a yawn of gargantuan dimensions.

Miss Van Schuyler said:

‘I have only just realized who you are, Monsieur Poirot. I may tell you that I have heard of you from my old friend Rufus Van Aldin. You must tell me about your cases sometime.’

Poirot, his eyes twinkling a little through their sleepiness, bowed in an exaggerated manner. With a kindly but condescending nod, Miss Van Schuyler passed on.

Then he yawned once more. He felt heavy and stupid with sleep and could hardly keep his eyes open. He glanced over at the bridge players, absorbed in their game, then at young Fanthorp, who was deep in a book. Apart from them the saloon was empty.

He passed through the swinging door out on to the deck. Jacqueline de Bellefort, coming precipitately along the deck, almost collided with him.

‘Pardon, Mademoiselle.’

She said: ‘You look sleepy, Monsieur Poirot.’

He admitted it frankly.

Mais oui – I am consumed with sleep. I can hardly keep my eyes open. It has been a day very close and oppressive.’

‘Yes.’ She seemed to brood over it. ‘It’s been the sort of day when things – snap! Break! When one can’t go on…’

Her voice was low and charged with passion. She looked not at him, but towards the sandy shore. Her hands were clenched, rigid…

Suddenly the tension relaxed. She said:

‘Good night, Monsieur Poirot.’

‘Good night, Mademoiselle.’

Her eyes met his, just for a swift moment. Thinking it over the next day, he came to the conclusion that there had been appeal in that glance. He was to remember it afterwards.

Then he passed on to his cabin and she went towards the saloon.

Cornelia, having dealt with Miss Van Schuyler’s many needs and fantasies, took some needlework with her back to the saloon. She herself did not feel in the least sleepy. On the contrary she felt wide awake and slightly excited.

The bridge four were still at it. In another chair the quiet Fanthorp read a book. Cornelia sat down to her needlework.

Suddenly the door opened and Jacqueline de Bellefort came in. She stood in the doorway, her head thrown back. Then she pressed a bell and sauntered across to Cornelia and sat down.

‘Been ashore?’ she asked.

‘Yes. I thought it was just fascinating in the moonlight.’

Jacqueline nodded.

‘Yes, lovely night… A real honeymoon night.’

Her eyes went to the bridge table – rested a moment on Linnet Doyle.

The servant came in answer to the bell. Jacqueline ordered a double gin. As she gave the order Simon Doyle shot a quick glance at her. A faint line of anxiety showed between his eyebrows.

His wife said:

‘Simon, we’re waiting for you to call.’

Jacqueline hummed a little tune to herself. When the drink came, she picked it up, said: ‘Well, here’s to crime,’ drank it off and ordered another.

Again Simon looked across from the bridge table. His calls became slightly absent-minded. His partner, Pennington, took him to task.

Jacqueline began to hum again, at first under her breath, then louder: ‘He was her man and he did her wrong …’

‘Sorry,’ said Simon to Pennington. ‘Stupid of me not to return your lead. That gives ’em rubber.’

Linnet rose to her feet.

‘I’m sleepy. I think I’ll go to bed.’

‘About time to turn in,’ said Colonel Race.

‘I’m with you,’ agreed Pennington.

‘Coming, Simon?’

Doyle said slowly:

‘Not just yet. I think I’ll have a drink first.’

Linnet nodded and went out. Race followed her. Pennington finished his drink and then followed suit.

Cornelia began to gather up her embroidery.

‘Don’t go to bed, Miss Robson,’ said Jacqueline. ‘Please don’t. I feel like making a night of it. Don’t desert me.’

Cornelia sat down again.

‘We girls must stick together,’ said Jacqueline.

She threw back her head and laughed – a shrill laugh without merriment.

The second drink came.

‘Have something,’ said Jacqueline.

‘No, thank you very much,’ replied Cornelia.

Jacqueline tilted back her chair. She hummed now loudly: ‘He was her man and he did her wrong…’

Mr Fanthorp turned a page of Europe from Within.

Simon Doyle picked up a magazine.

‘Really, I think I’ll go to bed,’ said Cornelia. ‘It’s getting very late.’

‘You can’t go to bed yet,’ Jacqueline declared. ‘I forbid you to. Tell me about yourself.’

‘Well – I don’t know – there isn’t much to tell,’ Cornelia faltered. ‘I’ve just lived at home and I haven’t been around much. This is my first trip to Europe. I’m just loving every minute of it.’

Jacqueline laughed.

‘You’re a happy sort of person, aren’t you? God, I’d like to be you.’

‘Oh, would you? But I mean – I’m sure-’

Cornelia felt flustered. Undoubtedly Miss de Bellefort was drinking too much. That wasn’t exactly a novelty to Cornelia. She had seen plenty of drunkenness during Prohibition years. But there was something else… Jacqueline de Bellefort was talking to her – was looking at her – and yet, Cornelia felt, it was as though, somehow, she was talking to someone else…

But there were only two other people in the room, Mr Fanthorp and Mr Doyle. Mr Fanthorp seemed quite absorbed in his book. Mr Doyle was looking rather odd – a queer sort of watchful look on his face.

Jacqueline said again:

 

‘Tell me all about yourself.’

Always obedient, Cornelia tried to comply. She talked, rather heavily, going into unnecessary small details about her daily life. She was so unused to being the talker. Her role was so constantly that of the listener. And yet Miss de Bellefort seemed to want to know. When Cornelia faltered to a standstill, the other girl was quick to prompt her.

‘Go on – tell me more.’

And so Cornelia went on (‘Of course, Mother’s very delicate – some days she touches nothing but cereals-’) unhappily conscious that all she said was supremely uninteresting, yet flattered by the other girl’s seeming interest. But was she interested? Wasn’t she, somehow, listening to something else – or, perhaps, for something else? She was looking at Cornelia, yes, but wasn’t there someone else, sitting in the room…?

‘And of course we get very good art classes, and last winter I had a course of-’

(How late was it? Surely very late. She had been talking and talking. If only something definite would happen…)

And immediately, as though in answer to the wish, something did happen. Only, at that moment, it seemed very natural.

Jacqueline turned her head and spoke to Simon Doyle.

‘Ring the bell, Simon. I want another drink.’

Simon Doyle looked up from his magazine and said quietly:

‘The stewards have gone to bed. It’s after midnight.’

‘I tell you I want another drink.’

Simon said: ‘You’ve had quite enough to drink, Jackie.’

She swung round at him.

‘What damned business is it of yours?’

He shrugged his shoulders.

‘None.’

She watched him for a minute or two. Then she said:

‘What’s the matter, Simon? Are you afraid?’

Simon did not answer. Rather elaborately he picked up his magazine again.

Cornelia murmured:

‘Oh, dear – as late as that – I-must-’

She began to fumble, dropped a thimble…

Jacqueline said: ‘Don’t go to bed. I’d like another woman here – to support me.’ She began to laugh again. ‘Do you know what Simon over there is afraid of? He’s afraid I’m going to tell you the story of my life.’

‘Oh – er-’ Cornelia spluttered a little.

Jacqueline said clearly:

‘You see, he and I were once engaged.’

‘Oh, really?’

Cornelia was the prey of conflicting emotions. She was deeply embarrassed but at the same time pleasurably thrilled. How – how black Simon Doyle was looking.

‘Yes, it’s a very sad story,’ said Jacqueline; her soft voice was low and mocking. ‘He treated me rather badly, didn’t you, Simon?’

Simon Doyle said brutally: ‘Go to bed, Jackie. You’re drunk.’

‘If you’re embarrassed, Simon dear, you’d better leave the room.’

Simon Doyle looked at her. The hand that held the magazine shook a little, but he spoke bluntly.

‘I’m staying,’ he said.

Cornelia murmured for the third time, ‘I really must – it’s so late-’

‘You’re not to go,’ said Jacqueline. Her hand shot out and held the other girl in her chair. ‘You’re to stay and hear what I’ve go to say.’

‘Jackie,’ said Simon sharply, ‘you’re making a fool of yourself! For God’s sake, go to bed.’

Jacqueline sat up suddenly in her chair. Words poured from her rapidly in a soft hissing stream.

‘You’re afraid of a scene, aren’t you? That’s because you’re so English – so reticent! You want me to behave “decently”, don’t you? But I don’t care whether I behave decently or not! You’d better get out of here quickly – because I’m going to talk – a lot.’

Jim Fanthorp carefully shut his book, yawned, glanced at his watch, got up and strolled out. It was a very British and utterly unconvincing performance.

Jacqueline swung round in her chair and glared at Simon.

‘You damned fool,’ she said thickly, ‘do you think you can treat me as you have done and get away with it?’

Simon Doyle opened his lips, then shut them again. He sat quite still as though he were hoping that her outburst would exhaust itself if he said nothing to provoke her further.

Jacqueline’s voice came thick and blurred. It fascinated Cornelia, totally unused to naked emotions of any kind.

‘I told you,’ said Jacqueline, ‘that I’d kill you sooner than see you go to another woman… You don’t think I meant that? You’re wrong. I’ve only been – waiting! You’re my man! Do you hear? You belong to me…’

Still half did not speak. Jacqueline’s hand fumbled a moment or two on her lap. She leant forward.

‘I told you I’d kill you and I meant it…’ Her hand came up suddenly with something in it that flashed and gleamed. ‘I’ll shoot you like a dog – like the dirty dog you are…’

Now at last Simon acted. He sprang to his feet, but at the same moment she pulled the trigger…

Simon half twisted – fell across a chair… Cornelia screamed and rushed to the door. Jim Fanthorp was on the deck leaning over the rail. She called to him.

‘Mr Fanthorp… Mr Fanthorp…’

He ran to her; she clutched at him incoherently…

‘She’s shot him – Oh! She’s shot him…’

Simon Doyle still lay as he had fallen half into and across a chair… Jacqueline stood as though paralysed. She was trembling violently, and her eyes, dilated and frightened, were staring at the crimson stain slowly soaking through Simon’s trouser leg just below the knee where he held a handkerchief close against the wound.

She stammered out:

‘I didn’t mean… Oh, my God, I didn’t really mean…’

The pistol dropped from her nervous fingers with a clatter on the floor. She kicked it away with her foot. It slid under one of the settees.

Simon, his voice faint, murmured:

‘Fanthorp, for heaven’s sake – there’s someone coming… Say it’s all right – an accident – something. There mustn’t be a scandal over this.’

Fanthorp nodded in quick comprehension. He wheeled round to the door where a startled face showed. He said:

‘All right – all right – just fun!’

The servant’s face looked doubtful, puzzled, then reassured. He nodded and went off. Fanthorp turned back.

‘That’s all right. Don’t think anybody else heard. Only sounded like a cork, you know. Now the next thing-’

He was startled. Jacqueline suddenly began to weep hysterically.

‘Oh, God, I wish I were dead… I’ll kill myself. I’ll be better dead… Oh, what have I done – what have I done?’

Cornelia hurried to her.

‘Hush, dear, hush.’

Simon, his brow wet, his face twisted with pain, said urgently:

‘Get her away. For God’s sake, get her out of here! Get her to her cabin, Fanthorp. Look here, Miss Robson, get that hospital nurse of yours.’ He looked appealingly from one to the other of them. ‘Don’t leave her. Make quite sure she’s safe with the nurse looking after her. Then get hold of old Bessner and bring him here. For God’s sake, don’t let any news of this get to my wife.’

Jim Fanthorp nodded comprehendingly. The quiet young man was cool and competent in an emergency.

Between them he and Cornelia got the weeping, struggling girl out of the saloon and along the deck to her cabin. There they had more trouble with her. She fought to free herself; her sobs redoubled.

‘I’ll drown myself… I’ll drown myself… I’m not fit to live… Oh, Simon – Simon!’

Fanthorp said to Cornelia:

‘Better get hold of Miss Bowers. I’ll stay while you get her.’

Cornelia nodded and hurried out.

As soon as she left, Jacqueline clutched Fanthorp.

‘His leg – it’s bleeding – broken… He may bleed to death. I must go to him… Oh, Simon – Simon – how could I?’

Her voice rose. Fanthorp said urgently:

‘Quietly – quietly… He’ll be all right.’

She began to struggle again.

‘Let me go! Let me throw myself overboard… Let me kill myself!’

Fanthorp, holding her by the shoulders, forced her back on to the bed.

‘You must stay here. Don’t make a fuss. Pull yourself together. It’s all right, I tell you.’

To his relief, the distraught girl did manage to control herself a little, but he was thankful when the curtains were pushed aside and the efficient Miss Bowers, neatly dressed in a hideous kimono, entered accompanied by Cornelia.

‘Now then,’ said Miss Bowers briskly, ‘what’s all this?’

She took charge without any sign of surprise and alarm.

Fanthorp thankfully left the overwrought girl in her capable hands and hurried along to the cabin occupied by Dr Bessner. He knocked and entered on top of the knock.

‘Dr Bessner?’

A terrific snore resolved itself, and a startled voice said:

‘So? What is it?’

By this time Fanthorp had switched the light on. The doctor blinked up at him, looking rather like a large owl.

‘It’s Doyle. He’s been shot. Miss de Bellefort shot him. He’s in the saloon. Can you come?’

The stout doctor reacted promptly. He asked a few curt questions, pulled on his bedroom slippers and a dressinggown, picked up a little case of necessaries and accompanied Fanthorp to the lounge.

Simon had managed to get the window beside him open. He was leaning his head against it, inhaling the air. His face was a ghastly colour.

Dr Bessner came over to him.

‘Ha? So? What have we here?’

A handkerchief sodden with blood lay on the carpet, and on the carpet itself was a dark stain.

The doctor’s examination was punctuated with grunts and exclamations.

‘Yes, it is bad this… The bone is fractured. And a big loss of blood. Herr Fanthorp, you and I must get him to my cabin. So – like this. He cannot walk. We must carry him, thus.’

As they lifted him Cornelia appeared in the doorway. Catching sight of her, the doctor uttered a grunt of satisfaction.

‘Ach, it is you? Goot. Come with us. I have need of assistance. You will be better than my friend here. He looks a little pale already.’

Fanthorp emitted a rather sickly smile.

‘Shall I get Miss Bowers?’ he asked.

Dr Bessner threw a considering glance over Cornelia.

‘You will do very well, young lady,’ he announced. ‘You will not faint or be foolish, hein?’

‘I can do what you tell me,’ said Cornelia eagerly.

Bessner nodded in a satisfied fashion.

The procession passed along the deck.

The next ten minutes were purely surgical and Mr Jim Fanthorp did not enjoy it at all. He felt secretly ashamed of the superior fortitude exhibited by Cornelia.

‘So, that is the best I can do,’ announced Dr Bessner at last. ‘You have been a hero, my friend.’ He patted Simon approvingly on the shoulder. Then he rolled up his sleeve and produced a hypodermic needle. ‘And now I will give you something to make you sleep. Your wife, what about her?’

Simon said weakly:

‘She needn’t know till the morning…’ He went on: ‘I – you mustn’t blame Jackie… It’s been all my fault. I treated her disgracefully… poor kid – she didn’t know what she was doing…’

Dr Bessner nodded comprehendingly.

‘Yes, yes – I understand…’

‘My fault-’ Simon urged. His eyes went to Cornelia. ‘Someone – ought to stay with her. She might – hurt herself-’

Dr Bessner injected the needle. Cornelia said, with quiet competence:

‘It’s all right, Mr Doyle. Miss Bowers is going to stay with her all night…’

A grateful look flashed over Simon’s face. His body relaxed. His eyes closed. Suddenly he jerked them open.

‘Fanthorp?’

‘Yes, Doyle.’

‘The pistol… Ought not to leave it… lying about… The servents will find it in the morning…’

Fanthorp nodded.

‘Quite right. I’ll go and get hold of it now.’

He went out of the cabin and along the deck. Miss Bowers appeared at the door of Jacqueline’s cabin.

‘She’ll be all right now,’ she announced. ‘I’ve given her a morphine injection.’

‘But you’ll stay with her?’

‘Oh, yes. Morphia excites some people. I shall stay all night.’

Fanthorp went on to the lounge.

Some three minutes later there was a tap on Bessner’s cabin door.

‘Dr Bessner?’

‘Yes?’ The stout man appeared.

Fanthorp beckoned him out on the deck.

‘Look here – I can’t find that pistol…’

‘What is that?’

‘The pistol. It dropped out of the girl’s hand. She kicked it away and it went under a settee. It isn’t under that settee now.’

They stared at each other.

‘But who can have taken it?’

Fanthorp shrugged his shoulders.

Bessner said:

‘It is curious, that. But I do not see what we can do about it.’

Puzzled and vaguely alarmed, the two men separated.

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