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«Murder on the Links», Agatha Christie

Chapter 1. A Fellow Traveller

Chapter 1. A Fellow Traveller

I BELIEVE that a well-known anecdote exists to the effect that a young writer, determined to make the commencement of his story forcible and original enough to catch and rivet the attention of the most blase of editors, penned the following sentence:

'"Hell!" said the Duchess.'

Strangely enough, this tale of mine opens in much the same fashion. Only the lady who gave utterance to the exclamation was not a duchess.

It was a day in early June. I had been transacting some business in Paris and was returning by the morning service to London, where I was still sharing rooms with my old friend, the Belgian ex-detective, Hercule Poirot.

The Calais express was singularly empty-in fact, my own compartment held only one other traveller. I had made a somewhat hurried departure from the hotel and was busy assuring myself that I had duly collected all my traps, when the train started. Up till then I had hardly noticed my companion, but I was now violently recalled to the fact of her existence.

Jumping up from her seat, she let down the window and stuck her head out, withdrawing it a moment later with the brief and forcible ejaculation: 'Hell!'

Now I am old-fashioned. A woman, I consider, should be womanly. I have no patience with the modern neurotic girl who jazzes from morning till night, smokes like a chimney, and uses language which would make a Billingsgate fish-woman blush!

I looked up, frowning slightly, into a pretty, impudent face, surmounted by a rakish little red hat. A thick cluster of black curls hid each ear. I judged that she was little more than seventeen, but her face was covered with powder, and her lips were quite impossibly scarlet.

Nothing abashed, she returned my glance, and executed an expressive grimace.

'Dear me, we've shocked the kind gentleman!' she observed to an imaginary audience. 'I apologize for my language! Most unladylike, and all that, but, oh, Lord, there's reason enough for it! Do you know I've lost my only sister?'

'Really?' I said politely. 'How unfortunate.'

'He disapproves?' remarked the lady. 'He disapproves utterly-of me, and my sister-which last is unfair, because he hasn't seen her!'

I opened my mouth, but she forestalled me.

'Say no more! Nobody loves me! I shall go into the garden and eat worms! Boohoo. I am crushed!'

She buried herself behind a large comic French paper. In a minute or two I saw her eyes stealthily peeping at me over the top. In spite of myself I could not help smiling, and in a minute she had tossed the paper aside, and had burst into a merry peal of laughter.

'I knew you weren't such a mutt as you looked,' she cried.

Her laughter was so infectious that I could not help joining in, though I hardly cared for the word 'mutt'.

'There! Now we're friends!' declared the minx. 'Say you're sorry about my sister-'

'I am desolated!'

'That's a good boy!'

'Let me finish. I was going to add that, although I am desolated, I can manage to put up with her absence very well.' I made a little bow.

But this most unaccountable of damsels frowned and shook her head.

'Cut it out. I prefer the "dignified disapproval" stunt. Oh, your face! "Not one of us", it said. And you were right there-though, mind you it's pretty hard to tell nowadays. It's not everyone who can distinguish between a demi and a duchess. There now, I believe I've shocked you again!'

'You've been dug out of the backwoods, you have. Not that I mind that. We could do with a few more of your sort. I just hate a fellow who gets fresh. It makes me mad.'

She shook her head vigorously.

'What are you like when you're mad?' I inquired with a smile.

'A regular little devil! Don't care what I say, or what I do, either! I nearly did a chap in once. Yes, really. He'd have deserved it, too.'

'Well,' I begged, 'don't get mad with me.'

'I shan't. I like you-did the first moment I set eyes on you. But you looked so disapproving that I never thought we should make friends.'

'Well, we have. Tell me something about yourself.'

'I'm an actress. No-not the kind you're thinking of. I've been on the boards since I was a kid of six-tumbling.'

'I beg your pardon,' I said, puzzled.

'Haven't you ever seen child acrobats?'

'Oh, I understand!'

'I'm American-born, but I've spent most of my life in England. We've got a new show now-'

'We?'


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