A classic Agatha Christie short story, available individually for the first time as an ebook.Hercule Poirot is about to tuck into a very traditional English supper with his old friend Bonnington, when the habit and ritual of a lone diner sparks his interest more than the chestnut turkey. The lone diner has eaten there on Thursdays and Tuesdays for the last ten years like clockwork, but, no one at the restaurant even knows his name. However, ‘Old Father Time,’ as they have fondly nicknamed him, suddenly stops coming and Poirot believes that he might have picked up that one essential clue that could shed light on a man who no one really knows. Could what Old Father Time strangely ordered as his final meal prove to be the only thing that makes this suspicious?
A Short Story
by Agatha Christie
Published by HarperCollinsPublishers Ltd 1 London Bridge Street London SE1 9GF www.harpercollins.co.uk (http://www.harpercollins.co.uk)
Copyright © 2011 Agatha Christie Ltd.
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EPub Edition © 2011 ISBN: 9780007451999
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Four-And-Twenty Blackbirds (#ulink_e1d1b85d-06be-5cda-9df0-ffcf4ec36d9a)
‘Four-and-Twenty Blackbirds’ was first published in the USA as ‘Four and Twenty Blackbirds’ in Collier’s Magazine, 9 November 1940, then as ‘Poirot and the Regular Customer’ in The Strand, March 1941.
Hercule Poirot was dining with his friend, Henry Bonnington at the Gallant Endeavour in the King’s Road, Chelsea.
Mr Bonnington was fond of the Gallant Endeavour. He liked the leisurely atmosphere, he liked the food which was ‘plain’ and ‘English’ and ‘not a lot of made up messes.’ He liked to tell people who dined with him there just exactly where Augustus John had been wont to sit and draw their attention to the famous artists’ names in the visitors’ book. Mr Bonnington was himself the least artistic of men – but he took a certain pride in the artistic activities of others.
Molly, the sympathetic waitress, greeted Mr Bonnington as an old friend. She prided herself on remembering her customers’ likes and dislikes in the way of food.
‘Good evening, sir,’ she said, as the two men took their seats at a corner table. ‘You’re in luck today – turkey stuffed with chestnuts – that’s your favourite, isn’t it? And ever such a nice Stilton we’ve got! Will you have soup first or fish?’
Mr Bonnington deliberated the point. He said to Poirot warningly as the latter studied the menu:
‘None of your French kickshaws now. Good well-cooked English food.’
‘My friend,’ Hercule Poirot waved his hand, ‘I ask no better! I put myself in your hands unreservedly.’
‘Ah – hruup – er – hm,’ replied Mr Bonnington and gave careful attention to the matter.
These weighty matters, and the question of wine, settled, Mr Bonnington leaned back with a sigh and unfolded his napkin as Molly sped away.
‘Good girl, that,’ he said approvingly. ‘Was quite a beauty once – artists used to paint her. She knows about food, too – and that’s a great deal more important. Women are very unsound on food as a rule. There’s many a woman if she goes out with a fellow she fancies – won’t even notice what she eats. She’ll just order the first thing she sees.’
Hercule Poirot shook his head.
‘Men aren’t like that, thank God!’ said Mr Bonnington complacently.
‘Never?’ There was a twinkle in Hercule Poirot’s eye.
‘Well, perhaps when they’re very young,’ conceded Mr Bonnington. ‘Young puppies! Young fellows nowadays are all the same – no guts – no stamina. I’ve no use for the young – and they,’ he added with strict impartiality, ‘have no use for me. Perhaps they’re right! But to hear some of these young fellows talk you’d think no man had a right to be alive after sixty! From the way they go on, you’d wonder more of them didn’t help their elderly relations out of the world.’
‘It is possible,’ said Hercule Poirot, ‘that they do.’
‘Nice mind you’ve got, Poirot, I must say. All this police work saps your ideals.’
Hercule Poirot smiled.
‘Tout de même,’ he said. ‘It would be interesting to make a table of accidental deaths over the age of sixty. I assure you it would raise some curious speculations in your mind.’
‘The trouble with you is that you’ve started going to look for crime – instead of waiting for crime to come to you.’
‘I apologize,’ said Poirot. ‘I talk what you call “the shop”. Tell me, my friend, of your own affairs. How does the world go with you?’
‘Mess!’ said Mr Bonnington. ‘That’s what’s the matter with the world nowadays. Too much mess. And too much fine language. The fine language helps to conceal the mess. Like a highly-flavoured sauce concealing the fact that the fish underneath it is none of the best! Give me an honest fillet of sole and no messy sauce over it.’
It was given him at that moment by Molly and he grunted approval.
‘You know just what I like, my girl,’ he said.
‘Well, you come here pretty regular, don’t you, sir? I ought to know what you like.’
Hercule Poirot said:
‘Do people then always like the same things? Do not they like a change sometimes?’
‘Not gentlemen, sir. Ladies like variety – gentlemen always like the same thing.’
‘What did I tell you?’ grunted Bonnington. ‘Women are fundamentally unsound where food is concerned!’
He looked round the restaurant.