A classic Agatha Christie short story, available individually for the first time as an ebook.Boredom sets in on the rather less exciting than expected trip across the desert to Baghdad. Mr. Parker Pyne, with a nose for trouble, soon sets his sights on the case of the missing Mr. Long, the famed defaulting financier who, as the papers would have it is in South America, as entertainment. What with the chaos of everyone trying to sleep during the long journey, an important event goes unnoticed. Captain Smethurst is dead, but there is no visible wound. At a loss the company turn to Mr. Pyne to piece together scraps of overheard conversation from back at Damascus. Marooned and nervous the company decide that the truth must out.
The Gate of Baghdad
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: 9780007452132
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The Gate of Baghdad
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‘The Gate of Baghdad’ was first published as ‘At the Gate of Baghdad’ in Nash’s Pall Mall, June 1933.
‘Four great gates has the city of Damascus …’
Mr Parker Pyne repeated Flecker’s lines softly to himself.
‘Postern of Fate, the Desert Gate, Disaster’s Cavern, Fort of Fear, The Portal of Baghdad am I, the Doorway of Diarbekir.’
He was standing in the streets of Damascus and drawn up outside the Oriental Hotel he saw one of the huge six-wheeled Pullmans that was to transport him and eleven other people across the desert to Baghdad on the morrow.
‘Pass not beneath, O Caravan, or pass not singing. Have you heard That silence where the birds are dead yet something pipeth like a bird? Pass out beneath, O Caravan, Doom’s Caravan, Death’s Caravan!’
Something of a contrast now. Formerly the Gate of Baghdad had been the gate of Death. Four hundred miles of desert to traverse by caravan. Long weary months of travel. Now the ubiquitous petrol-fed monsters did the journey in thirty-six hours.
‘What were you saying, Mr Parker Pyne?’
It was the eager voice of Miss Netta Pryce, youngest and most charming of the tourist race. Though encumbered by a stern aunt with the suspicion of a beard and a thirst for Biblical knowledge, Netta managed to enjoy herself in many frivolous ways of which the elder Miss Pryce might possibly have not approved.
Mr Parker Pyne repeated Flecker’s lines to her.
‘How thrilling,’ said Netta.
Three men in Air Force uniform were standing near and one of them, an admirer of Netta’s, struck in.
‘There are still thrills to be got out of the journey,’ he said. ‘Even nowadays the convoy is occasionally shot up by bandits. Then there’s losing yourself – that happens sometimes. And we are sent out to find you. One fellow was lost for five days in the desert. Luckily he had plenty of water with him. Then there are the bumps. Some bumps! One man was killed. It’s the truth I’m telling you! He was asleep and his head struck the top of the car and it killed him.’
‘In the six-wheeler, Mr O’Rourke?’ demanded the elder Miss Pryce.
‘No – not in the six-wheeler,’ admitted the young man.
‘But we must do some sight-seeing,’ cried Netta.
Her aunt drew out a guide book.
Netta edged away.
‘I know she’ll want me to go to some place where St Paul was lowered out of a window,’ she whispered. ‘And I do so want to see the bazaars.’
O’Rourke responded promptly.
‘Come with me. We’ll start down the Street called Straight –’
They drifted off.
Mr Parker Pyne turned to a quiet man standing beside him, Hensley by name. He belonged to the public works department of Baghdad.
‘Damascus is a little disappointing when one sees it for the first time,’ he said apologetically. ‘A little civilized. Trams and modern houses and shops.’
Hensley nodded. He was a man of few words.
‘Not got – back of beyond – when you think you have,’ he jerked out.
Another man drifted up, a fair young man wearing an old Etonian tie. He had an amiable but slightly vacant face which at the moment looked worried. He and Hensley were in the same department.
‘Hello, Smethurst,’ said his friend. ‘Lost anything?’
Captain Smethurst shook his head. He was a young man of somewhat slow intellect.
‘Just looking round,’ he said vaguely. Then he seemed to rouse himself. ‘Ought to have a beano tonight. What?’
The two friends went off together. Mr Parker Pyne bought a local paper printed in French.