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Показать все книги автора/авторов: Christie Agatha

«Hickory Dickory Dock», Agatha Christie

Hercule Poirot Frowned.

"Miss Lemon," he said.

"Yes, Mr. Poirot?"

"There are three mistakes in this letter." His voice held incredulity. For Miss Lemon, that hideous and efficient woman, never made mistakes. She was never ill, never tired, never upset, never inaccurate. For all practical purposes, that is to say, she was not a woman at all. She was a machine-the perfect secretary. She knew everything, she coped with everything. She ran Hercule Poirot's life for him, so that it, too, functioned like a machine. Order and method had been Hercule Poirot's watchwords from many years ago. With George, his perfect manservant, and Miss Lemon, his perfect secretary, order and method ruled supreme in his life. Now that crumpers were baked square as well as round, he had nothing about which to complain.

And yet, this morning Miss Lemon had made three mistakes in typing a perfectly simple letter, and moreover, had not even noticed those mistakes. The stars stood still in their courses!

Hercule Poirot held out the offending document.

He was not annoyed, he was merely bewildered.

This was one of the things that could not happen-but it had happened!

Miss Lemon took the letter. She looked at it. For the first time in his life, Poirot saw her blush; a deep ugly unbecoming flush that dyed her face right up to the roots of her strong grizzled hair.

"Oh, dear," she said. "I can't think how-at least, I can. It's because of my sister." "Your sister?" Another shock. Poirot had never conceived of Miss Lemon's having a sister. Or, for that matter, having a father, mother or even grandparents.

Miss Lemon, somehow, was so completely machine made-a precision instrument, so to speak-that to think of her having affections, or anxieties, or family worries, seemed quite ludicrous. It was well known that the whole of Miss Lemon's heart and mind was given, when she was not on duty, to the perfection of a new filing system which was to be patented and bear her name.

"Your sister?" Hercule Poirot repeated, therefore, with an incredulous note in his voice.

Miss Lemon nodded a vigorous assent.

"Yes," she said. "I don't think I've ever mentioned her to you. Practically all her life has been spent in Singapore. Her husband was in the rubber business there." Hercule Poirot nodded understandingly. It seemed to him appropriate that Miss Lemon's sister should have spent most of her life in Singapore. That was what places like Singapore were for. The sisters of women like Miss Lemon married men in business in Singapore, so that the Miss Lemons of this world could devote themselves with machine-like efficiency to their employers" affairs (and of course to the invention of filing systems in their moments of relaxation).

"I comprehend," he said. "Proceed." Miss Lemon proceeded.

"She was left a widow four years ago. No children.

I managed to get her fixed up in a very nice little flat at quite a reasonable rent-was (of course Miss Lemon would manage to do just that almost impossible thing.) "She is reasonably off-Sough money doesn't go as far as it did, but her tastes aren't expensive and she has enough to be quite comfortable if she is careful." Miss Lemon paused and then continued: "But the truth is, of course, she was lonely. She had never lived in England and she'd got no old friends or cronies and of course she had a lot of time on her hands. Anyway, she told me about six months ago that she was thinking of taking up this job." "Job?, "Warden, I think they call it-or Matron of a Hostel for Students. It was owned by a woman who was partly Greek and she wanted someone to run it for her.

Manage the catering and see that things went smoothly.

It's an old fashioned roomy house-in Hickory Road, if you know where that is" Poirot did not. "It used to be quite a superior neighbourhood once, and the houses are well built. My sister was to have very nice accommodation, bedroom and sitting room and a tiny bath kitchenette of her own" Miss Lemon paused. Poirot made an encouraging noise. So far this did not seem at all like a tale of disaster.

"I wasn't any too sure about it myself, but I saw the force of my sister's arguments. She's never been one to sit with her hands crossed all day long and she's a very practical woman and good at running things-and of course it wasn't as though she were thinking of putting money into it or anything like that. It was formerly a salaried position with a high salary, but she didn't need that, and there was no hard physical work. She's always been fond of young people and good with comthem, and having lived in the East so long she understands racial differences and people's susceptibilities. Because these students at the Hostel were of all nationalities; mostly English, but some of them actually are black, I believe." "Naturally," said Hercule Poirot.

"Half the nurses in our hospitals seem to be black nowadays," said Miss Lemon, doubtfully, "and I understand much pleasanter and more attentive than the English ones. But that's neither here nor there. We talked the scheme over and finally my sister moved in. Neither she nor I cared very much for the proprietress, Mrs. Nicoletis, a woman of very uncertain temper, sometimes charming and sometimes, I'm sorry to say, quite the reverse-and both cheese-paring and impractical. Still, naturally, if she'd been a thoroughly competent woman, she wouldn't have needed any assistance. My sister is not one to let people's tantrums and vagaries worry her.

She can hold her own with anyone and she never stands any nonsense." Poirot nodded. He felt a vague resemblance to Miss Lemon showing in this account of Miss Lemon's sister coma Miss Lemon softened as it were, by marriage and the climate of Singapore, but a woman with the same hard core of sense.

"So your sister took the job?" he asked.

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