Hercule Poirot’s Christmas
My dear James
You have always been one of the most faithful and kindly of my readers and I was seriously pertubed when I received from you a word of criticism.
You complained that my murders were getting too refined – anaemic, in fact. You yearned for a ‘good violent murder with lots of blood’. A murder where there was no doubt about its being murder!
So this is your special story – written for you. I hope it may please.
Your affectionate sister-in-law
Yet who would have thought the old man to have had so much blood in him?
Part 1. December 22nd
Stephen pulled up the collar of his coat as he walked briskly along the platform. Overhead a dim fog clouded the station. Large engines hissed superbly, throwing off clouds of steam into the cold raw air. Everything was dirty and smoke-grimed.
Stephen thought with revulsion:
‘What a foul country – what a foul city!’
His first excited reaction to London, its shops, its restaurants, its well-dressed, attractive women, had faded. He saw it now as a glittering rhinestone set in a dingy setting.
Supposing he were back in South Africa now…He felt a quick pang of homesickness. Sunshine – blue skies – gardens of flowers – cool blue flowers – hedges of plumbago – blue convolvulus clinging to every little shanty.
And here – dirt, grime, and endless, incessant crowds – moving, hurrying – jostling. Busy ants running industriously about their ant-hill.
For a moment he thought, ‘I wish I hadn’t come…’
Then he remembered his purpose and his lips set back in a grim line. No, by hell, he’d go on with it! He’d planned this for years. He’d always meant to do – what he was going to do. Yes, he’d go on with it!
That momentary reluctance, that sudden questioning of himself: ‘Why? Is it worth it? Why dwell on the past? Why not wipe out the whole thing?’ – all that was only weakness. He was not a boy – to be turned his this way and that by the whim of the moment. He was a man of forty, assured, purposeful. He would go on with it. He would do what he had come to England to do.
He got on the train and passed along the corridor looking for a place. He had waved aside a porter and was carrying his own raw-hide suitcase. He looked into carriage after carriage. The train was full. It was only three days before Christmas. Stephen Farr looked distastefully at the crowded carriages.
People! Incessant, innumerable people! And all so – so – what was the word – so drab-looking! So alike, so horribly alike! Those that hadn’t got faces like sheep had faces like rabbits, he thought. Some of them chattered and fussed. Some, heavily middle-aged men, grunted. More like pigs, those. Even the girls, slender, egg-faced, scarlet-lipped, were of a depressing uniformity.
He thought with a sudden longing of open veldt, sun-baked and lonely…
And then, suddenly, he caught his breath, looking into a carriage. This girl was different. Black hair, rich creamy pallor – eyes with the depth and darkness of night in them. The sad proud eyes of the South…It was all wrong that this girl should be sitting in this train among these dull, drab-looking people – all wrong that she should be going into the dreary midlands of England.