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Показать все книги автора/авторов: Christie Agatha
 

«A Caribbean Mystery», Agatha Christie

To my old friend,

John Cruikshank Rose,

with happy memories of my visit

to the West Indies.

 

1. Major Palgrave Tells a Story

"TAKE all this business about Kenya," said Major Palgrave. "Lots of chaps gabbing away who know nothing about the place! Now I spent fourteen years of my life there. Some of the best years of my life, too."

Old Miss Marple inclined her head. It was a gentle gesture of courtesy. Whilst Major Palgrave proceeded with the somewhat uninteresting recollections of a lifetime, Miss Marple peacefully pursued her own thoughts. It was a routine with which she was well acquainted. The locale varied. In the past, it had been predominantly India. Majors, Colonels, Lieutenant-Generals-and a familiar series of words: Simla. Bearers. Tigers. Chota Hazri-Tiffin. Khitmagars, and so on. With Major Palgrave the terms were slightly different. Safari. Kikuyu. Elephants. Swahili. But the pattern was essentially the same. An elderly man who needed a listener so that he could, in memory, relive days in which he had been happy. Days when his back had been straight, his eyesight keen, his hearing acute. Some of these talkers had been handsome soldierly old boys, some again had been regrettably unattractive, and Major Palgrave, purple of face, with a glass eye, and the general appearance of a stuffed frog, belonged in the latter category.

Miss Marple had bestowed on all of them the same gentle charity. She had sat attentively, inclining her head from time to time in gentle agreement, thinking her own thoughts and enjoying what there was to enjoy: in this case the deep blue of a Caribbean Sea.

So kind of dear Raymond-she was thinking gratefully-so really and truly kind… Why he should take so much trouble about his old aunt, she really did not know. Conscience, perhaps, family feelings? Or possibly he was truly fond of her… She thought, on the whole, that he was fond of her-he always had been-in a slightly exasperated and contemptuous way! Always trying to bring her up to date. Sending her books to read. Modern novels. So difficult-all about such unpleasant people, doing such very odd things and not, apparently, even enjoying them. "Sex" as a word had not been much mentioned in Miss Marple's young days; but there had been plenty of it-not talked about so much-but enjoyed far more than nowadays, or so it seemed to her. Though usually labelled Sin, she couldn't help feeling that that was preferable to what it seemed to be nowadays-a kind of Duty.

Her glance strayed for a moment to the book on her lap lying open at page twenty-three which was as far as she had got (and indeed as far as she felt like getting!). "Do you mean that you've had no sexual experience at ALL?" demanded the young man incredulously. "At nineteen? But you must. It's vital."

The girl hung her head unhappily, her straight greasy hair fell forward over her face. "I know," she muttered, "I know."

He looked at her, stained old jersey, the bare feet, the dirty toenails, the smell of rancid fat… He wondered why he found her so maddeningly attractive.

Miss Marple wondered too! And really! To have sex experience urged on you exactly as though it was an iron tonic! Poor young things…

"My dear Aunt Jane, why must you bury your head in the sand like a very delightful ostrich? All bound up in this idyllic rural life of yours. Real life-that's what matters." Thus Raymond-and his Aunt Jane had looked properly abashed-and said "Yes," she was afraid she was rather old-fashioned. Though really rural life was far from idyllic. People like Raymond were so ignorant. In the course of her duties in a country parish, Jane Marple had acquired quite a comprehensive knowledge of the facts of rural life. She had no urge to talk about them, far less to write about them-but she knew them. Plenty of sex, natural and unnatural. Rape, incest, perversions of all kinds. (Some kinds, indeed, that even the clever young men from Oxford who wrote books didn't seem to have heard about.)

Miss Marple came back to the Caribbean and took up the thread of what Major Palgrave was saying… "A very unusual experience," she said encouragingly. "Most interesting."

"I could tell you a lot more. Some of the things, of course, not fit for a lady's ears-"

With the ease of long practice Miss Marple dropped her eyelids in a fluttery fashion, and Major Palgrave continued his bowdlerised version of tribal customs whilst Miss Marple resumed her thoughts of her affectionate nephew. Raymond West was a very successful novelist and made a large income, and he conscientiously and kindly did all he could to alleviate the life of his elderly aunt. The preceding winter she had had a bad go of pneumonia, and medical opinion had advised sunshine. In lordly fashion Raymond had suggested a trip to the West Indies. Miss Marple had demurred-at the expense, the distance, the difficulties of travel, and at abandoning her house in St. Mary Mead. Raymond had dealt with everything. A friend who was writing a book wanted a quiet place in the country.

"He'll look after the house all right. He's very house proud. He's a queer. I mean-" He had paused, slightly embarrassed-but surely even dear old Aunt Jane must have heard of queers. He went on to deal with the next points. Travel was nothing nowadays. She would go by air-another friend, Diana Horrocks, was going out to Trinidad and would see Aunt Jane was all right as far as there, and at St. Honore she would stay at the Golden Palm Hotel which was run by the Sandersons. Nicest couple in the world. They'd see she was all right. He'd write to them straightaway. As it happened the Sandersons had returned to England. But their successors, the Kendals, had been very nice and friendly and had assured Raymond that he need have no qualms about his aunt. There was a very good doctor on the island in case of emergency and they themselves would keep an eye on her and see to her comfort.

They had been as good as their word, too. Molly Kendal was an ingenuous blonde of twenty odd, always apparently in good spirits. She had greeted the old lady warmly and did everything to make her comfortable. Tim Kendal, her husband, lean, dark and in his thirties, had also been kindness itself. So there she was, thought Miss Marple, far from the rigours of the English climate, with a nice little bungalow of her own, with friendly smiling West Indian girls to wait on her, Tim Kendal to meet her in the dining-room and crack a joke as he advised her about the day's menu, and an easy path from her bungalow to the seafront and the bathing beach where she could sit in a comfortable basket chair and watch the bathing. There were even a few elderly guests for company. Old Air Rafter, Dr. Graham, Canon Prescott and his sister, and her present cavalier Major Palgrave. What more could an elderly lady want? It is deeply to be regretted, and Miss Marple felt guilty even admitting it to herself, but she was not as satisfied as she ought to be.

Lovely and warm, yes-and so good for her rheumatism-and beautiful scenery, though perhaps-a trifle monotonous? So many palm trees. Everything the same every day-never anything happening. Not like St. Mary Mead where something was always happening. Her nephew had once compared life in St. Mary Mead to scum on a pond, and she had indignantly pointed out that smeared on a slide under the microscope there would be plenty of life to be observed. Yes, indeed, in St. Mary Mead, there was always something going on. Incident after incident flashed through Miss Marple's mind, the mistake in old Mrs. Linnett's cough mixture-that very odd behaviour of young Polegate-the time when Georgy Wood's mother had come down to see him-(but was she his mother?)-the real cause of the quarrel between Joe Arden and his wife. So many interesting human problems-giving rise to endless pleasurable hours of speculation. If only there were something here that she could-well-get her teeth into. With a start she realised that Major Palgrave had abandoned Kenya for the North West Frontier and was relating his experiences as a subaltern. Unfortunately he was asking her with great earnestness: "Now don't you agree?"

Long practice had made Miss Marple quite an adept at dealing with that one. "I don't really feel that I've got sufficient experience to judge. I'm afraid I've led rather a sheltered life."


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