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Three Act Tragedy
Агата Кристи


‘The great merit of being a doctor,’ said Sir Bartholomew, ‘is that you are not obliged to follow your own advice.’

Sir Charles laughed. He was still unconsciously playing his part—the bluff breezy Naval man. He was an extraordinarily good-looking man, beautifully-proportioned, with a lean humorous face, and the touch of grey at his temples gave him a kind of added distinction. He looked what he was—a gentleman first and an actor second.

‘Did you go alone?’ asked the doctor.

‘No,’ Sir Charles turned to take his drink from a smart parlourmaid who was holding a tray. ‘I had a “hand”. The girl Egg, to be exact.’

There was something, some faint trace of self-consciousness in his voice which made Mr Satterthwaite look up sharply.

‘Miss Lytton Gore? She knows something about sailing, doesn’t she?’

Sir Charles laughed rather ruefully.

‘She succeeds in making me feel a complete land-lubber; but I’m coming on—thanks to her.’

Thoughts slipped quickly in and out of Mr Satterthwaite’s mind.

‘I wonder—Egg Lytton Gore—perhaps that’s why he hasn’t tired—the age—a dangerous age—it’s always a young girl at that time of life …’

Sir Charles went on: ‘The sea—there’s nothing like it—sun and wind and sea—and a simple shanty to come home to.’

And he looked with pleasure at the white building behind him, equipped with three bathrooms, hot and cold water in all the bedrooms, the latest system of central heating, the newest electrical fittings and a staff of parlourmaid, housemaid, chef, and kitchen-maid. Sir Charles’s interpretation of simple living was, perhaps, a trifle exaggerated.

A tall and exceedingly ugly woman issued from the house and bore down upon them.

‘Good morning, Miss Milray.’

‘Good morning, Sir Charles. Good morning.’ (A slight inclination of the head towards the other two). ‘This is the menu for dinner. I don’t know whether you would like it altered in any way?’

Sir Charles took it and murmured:

‘Let’s see. Melon Cantaloupe, Bortsch Soup, Fresh Mackerel, Grouse, Soufflé Surprise, Canapé Diane … No, I think that will do excellently, Miss Milray. Everyone is coming by the four-thirty train.’

‘I have already given Holgate his orders. By the way, Sir Charles, if you will excuse me, it would be better if I dined with you tonight.’

Sir Charles looked startled, but said courteously:

‘Delighted, I am sure, Miss Milray—but—er—’

Miss Milray proceeded calmly to explain.

‘Otherwise, Sir Charles, it would make thirteen at table; and so many people are superstitious.’

From her tone it could be gathered that Miss Milray would have sat down thirteen to dinner every night of her life without the slightest qualm. She went on:

‘I think everything is arranged. I have told Holgate the car is to fetch Lady Mary and the Babbingtons. Is that right?’

‘Absolutely. Just what I was going to ask you to do.’

With a slightly superior smile on her rugged countenance, Miss Milray withdrew.

‘That,’ said Sir Charles reverently, ‘is a very remarkable woman. I’m always afraid she’ll come and brush my teeth for me.’

‘Efficiency personified,’ said Strange.

‘She’s been with me for six years,’ said Sir Charles. ‘First as my secretary in London, and here, I suppose, she’s a kind of glorified housekeeper. Runs this place like clockwork. And now, if you please, she’s going to leave.’

‘Why?’

‘She says’—Sir Charles rubbed his nose dubiously—‘she says she’s got an invalid mother. Personally I don’t believe it. That kind of woman never had a mother at all. Spontaneously generated from a dynamo. No, there’s something else.’

‘Quite probably,’ said Sir Bartholomew, ‘people have been talking.’

‘Talking?’ The actor stared. ‘Talking—what about?’

‘My dear Charles. You know what talking means.’

‘You mean talking about her—and me? With that face? And at her age?’

‘She’s probably under fifty.’

‘I suppose she is.’ Sir Charles considered the matter. ‘But seriously, Tollie, have you noticed her face? It’s got two eyes, a nose and a mouth, but it’s not what you would call a face—not a female face. The most scandal-loving old cat in the neighbourhood couldn’t seriously connect sexual passion with a face like that.’

‘You underrate the imagination of the British spinster.’

Sir Charles shook his head.

‘I don’t believe it. There’s a kind of hideous respectability about Miss Milray that even a British spinster must recognize. She is virtue and respectability personified—and a damned useful woman. I always choose my secretaries plain as sin.’

‘Wise man.’

Sir Charles remained deep in thought for some minutes. To distract him, Sir Bartholomew asked: ‘Who’s coming this afternoon?’

‘Angie, for one.’

‘Angela Sutcliffe? That’s good.’

Mr Satterthwaite leaned forward interestedly, keen to know the composition of the house-party. Angela Sutcliffe was a well-known actress, no longer young, but with a strong hold on the public and celebrated for her wit and charm. She was sometimes spoken of as Ellen Terry’s successor.

‘Then there are the Dacres.’

Again Mr Satterthwaite nodded to himself. Mrs Dacres was Ambrosine, Ltd, that successful dressmaking establishment. You saw it on programmes—‘Miss Blank’s dresses in the first act by Ambrosine Ltd, Brook Street.’ Her husband, Captain Dacres, was a dark horse in his own racing parlance. He spent a lot of time on race courses—had ridden himself in the Grand National in years gone by. There had been some trouble—nobody knew exactly—though rumours had been spread about. There had been no inquiry—nothing overt, but somehow at mention of Freddie Dacres people’s eyebrows went up a little.

‘Then there’s Anthony Astor, the playwright.’

‘Of course,’ said Mr Satterthwaite. ‘She wrote One-Way Traffic. I saw it twice. It made a great hit.’

He rather enjoyed showing that he knew that Anthony Astor was a woman.
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