Closed Casket: The New Hercule Poirot Mystery
‘I know now why we were invited here, you and I. It was not for our congenial company. Non, pas du tout. We are here to use our little grey cells. It is all part of Lady Playford’s plan.’
Before I had a chance to ask ‘What plan?’ Poirot added quietly, as if as an afterthought, ‘We are here in order to prevent a murder.’
CHAPTER 9 (#ulink_f4e1815a-f54a-561c-a317-2ff6a8952d00)
King John (#ulink_f4e1815a-f54a-561c-a317-2ff6a8952d00)
Hatton admitted us to the house. Predictably, he said nothing, though his bearing suggested that all three of us might benefit from the pretence that Poirot and I had not ventured outside and then needed to be let in again.
We went first to the dining room, which was empty, then to the drawing room. Here we found Harry, Dorro, Claudia and Randall Kimpton. A fire blazed in the grate, yet the room was still cold. All were seated and drinking what looked like brandy, apart from Kimpton. He had been fixing himself a drink, but after filling the glass he handed it to Poirot, who raised it to his nose. Whatever it was, it did not meet with his approval. He set it down on the nearest table without taking a sip. Kimpton was busy pouring a drink for me and so failed to notice.
‘Have you heard any news?’ Dorro asked, leaning forward. Her anxious eyes flitted from me to Poirot and back again.
‘News of what, madame?’
‘Joseph Scotcher’s proposal of marriage to Sophie Bourlet. We left them alone in the dining room—well, it seemed tactful—but we have not seen or heard from them since. I had assumed they would join us in here. I should like to know the outcome.’
‘How delightful that you care, Dorro,’ said Kimpton. He lit a cigarette. Harry Playford took a silver case out of his pocket and lit one of his own.
‘She said yes, naturally.’ Claudia yawned. ‘I don’t see how anyone can think it in doubt. They will certainly marry, assuming the grim reaper allows sufficient time. It’s terribly like The Mikado, isn’t it? Do you know it, Monsieur Poirot? The Gilbert and Sullivan operetta? Wonderful music—killingly funny, too. Nanki-Poo wants to marry Yum-Yum, but the only way he can is if he agrees to be beheaded by Ko-Ko, the Lord High Executioner, after exactly a month. He agrees, of course, because he adores Yum-Yum.’
‘Good chap,’ said Kimpton. ‘I should marry you even if it meant having my head chopped off in a month, dearest one.’
‘And then I should have a dilemma—whether to keep your head or your body,’ said Claudia. ‘I think, all things considered, the head.’
What an alarming and illogical remark, I thought. Kimpton, to whom it had been addressed, seemed charmed by it.
‘Why not keep both, my divine girl?’ he asked. ‘Is there a rule forbidding it?’
‘I think there must be, or else it’s no fun at all,’ said Claudia. ‘Yes! If I refuse to choose between lifeless head and bloodless body, both will be taken away and burned, and I will have neither. I choose the head!’
‘My mind is flattered, at the same time as sending signals to my extremities of great offence taken. I don’t mind telling you it’s a tricky balancing act, even for a brain as sophisticated as mine.’
Claudia threw back her head and laughed.
I found this entire exchange astonishing, and—if I am to be honest—rather repulsive.
Dorro seemed to agree with me. ‘Can you not stop?’ She covered her face with her hands. ‘Can the two of you never stop? A terrible thing has happened. This is no time to be frivolous.’
‘I disagree,’ said Kimpton. ‘Frivolity is free, after all. Heiresses and paupers may enjoy it alike.’
‘You are beastly, Randall.’ Dorro stared at him with loathing in her eyes. ‘Harry, have you nothing to say?’
‘We’ll all feel better after a snifter or two,’ said Harry matter-of-factly, looking down at the contents of his glass.
Kimpton took his drink and crossed the room to stand behind Claudia’s chair. He leaned down, kissed her forehead, and said, ‘“He is the half part of a blessed man/Left to be finished by such as she/And she a fair divided excellence, Whose fullness of perfection lies in him.”’
Claudia groaned. ‘Shakespeare’s infernal King John. It is endlessly tiresome. I prefer your ideas to Mr Shakespeare’s, darling—they are more original.’
‘Where are the others?’ asked Poirot.
‘All in bed, I expect,’ said Claudia. ‘Mr Gathercole and Mr Rolfe have said goodnight. I cannot think why they should wish to extricate themselves, when the Playford family fun has barely started.’
‘I heard Mr Rolfe say he was feeling unwell,’ said Dorro.
‘Poor Scotcher looked sick as a dog too,’ said Harry.
‘I’m sure Sophie has tucked him up in his nice warm deathbed,’ Claudia said.
‘Stop it! Stop it at once, I can’t bear it.’ Dorro’s voice shook.
‘I shall say what I like,’ Claudia told her. ‘Unlike you, Dorro, I know when there is a funny side and when there is none. Harry, how would you like to stuff Joseph’s corpse and stick him up on the wall?’
I saw Poirot recoil at this, and I could hardly blame him. Did Randall Kimpton, a doctor, seriously intend to marry a woman who thought a man’s tragic death was something to laugh about?
Dorro slammed her drink down on the table beside her. She folded her hands into fists, but couldn’t keep her fingers still; they wriggled like worms. ‘There is not a soul who cares about me,’ she cried. ‘Even you do not care, Harry.’
‘Hm?’ Her husband inspected her for a few seconds before saying, ‘Buck up, old girl. We’ll muddle along.’
‘You’re a fine one to be offended by a little deathbed joke, Dorro.’ Claudia narrowed her eyes at her sister-in-law. ‘Mother is sobbing in her room, I am sure, thanks to your harsh words. You accused her of trying to turn Joseph into Nicholas and make a substitute son of him. That is quite untrue.’
‘Don’t! I could tear out my tongue!’ Dorro crumpled. No longer puffed up with indignation, she began to cry. ‘I was beside myself, and it … it came out of me. I did not choose to say it.’
‘Yet say it you did,’ said Kimpton cheerfully. ‘“Stone-cold dead”, I believe it was.’