Unwillingly the couple fell apart. They looked at her in an aggrieved fashion. Mrs Oliver went in, banged the door and shot the bolt.
It was not a very close fitting door. The faint sound of words came to her from outside.
‘Isn’t that like people?’ one voice said in a somewhat uncertain tenor. ‘They might see we didn’t want to be disturbed.’
‘People are so selfish,’ piped a girl’s voice. ‘They never think of anyone but themselves.’
‘No consideration for others,’ said the boy’s voice.
CHAPTER 2 (#u7e53bd08-a18a-5977-a9af-7d44e346540a)
Preparations for a children’s party usually give far more trouble to the organizers than an entertainment devised for those of adult years. Food of good quality and suitable alcoholic refreshment—with lemonade on the side, that, to the right people, is quite enough to make a party go. It may cost more but the trouble is infinitely less. So Ariadne Oliver and her friend Judith Butler agreed together.
‘What about teenage parties?’ said Judith.
‘I don’t know much about them,’ said Mrs Oliver.
‘In one way,’ said Judith, ‘I think they’re probably least trouble of all. I mean, they just throw all of us adults out. And say they’ll do it all themselves.’
‘And do they?’
‘Well, not in our sense of the word,’ said Judith. ‘They forget to order some of the things, and order a lot of other things that nobody likes. Having turfed us out, then they say there were things we ought to have provided for them to find. They break a lot of glasses, and other things, and there’s always somebody undesirable or who brings an undesirable friend. You know the sort of thing. Peculiar drugs and—what do they call it?—Flower Pot or Purple Hemp or L.S.D., which I always have thought just meant money; but apparently it doesn’t.’
‘I suppose it costs it,’ suggested Ariadne Oliver.
‘It’s very unpleasant, and Hemp has a nasty smell.’
‘It all sounds very depressing,’ said Mrs Oliver.
‘Anyway, this party will go all right. Trust Rowena Drake for that. She’s a wonderful organizer. You’ll see.’
‘I don’t feel I even want to go to a party,’ sighed Mrs Oliver.
‘You go up and lie down for an hour or so. You’ll see. You’ll enjoy it when you get there. I wish Miranda hadn’t got a temperature—she’s so disappointed at not being able to go, poor child.’
The party came into being at half past seven. Ariadne Oliver had to admit that her friend was right. Arrivals were punctual. Everything went splendidly. It was well imagined, well run and ran like clockwork. There were red and blue lights on the stairs and yellow pumpkins in profusion. The girls and boys arrived holding decorated broomsticks for a competition. After greetings, Rowena Drake announced the programme for the evening. ‘First, judging of the broomstick competition,’ she said, ‘three prizes, first, second and third. Then comes cutting the flour cake. That’ll be in the small conservatory. Then bobbing for apples—there’s a list pinned upon the wall over there of the partners for that event—then there’ll be dancing. Every time the lights go out you change partners. Then girls to the small study where they’ll be given their mirrors. After that, supper, Snapdragon and then prize-giving.’
Like all parties, it went slightly stickily at first. The brooms were admired, they were very small miniature brooms, and on the whole the decorating of them had not reached a very high standard of merit, ‘which makes it easier,’ said Mrs Drake in an aside to one of her friends. ‘And it’s a very useful thing because I mean there are always one or two children one knows only too well won’t win a prize at anything else, so one can cheat a little over this.’
‘So unscrupulous, Rowena.’
‘I’m not really. I just arrange so that things should be fair and evenly divided. The whole point is that everyone wants to win something.’
‘What’s the Flour Game?’ asked Ariadne Oliver.
‘Oh yes, of course, you weren’t here when we were doing it. Well, you just fill a tumbler with flour, press it in well, then you turn it out in a tray and place a sixpence on top of it. Then everyone slices a slice off it very carefully so as not to tumble the sixpence off. As soon as someone tumbles the sixpence off, that person goes out. It’s a sort of elimination. The last one left in gets the sixpence of course. Now then, away we go.’
And away they went. Squeals of excitement were heard coming from the library where bobbing for apples went on, and competitors returned from there with wet locks and having disposed a good deal of water about their persons.
One of the most popular contests, at any rate among the girls, was the arrival of the Hallowe’en witch played by Mrs Goodbody, a local cleaning woman who, not only having the necessary hooked nose and chin which almost met, was admirably proficient in producing a semi-cooing voice which had definitely sinister undertones and also produced magical doggerel rhymes.
‘Now then, come along, Beatrice, is it? Ah, Beatrice. A very interesting name. Now you want to know what your husband is going to look like. Now, my dear, sit here. Yes, yes, under this light here. Sit here and hold this little mirror in your hand, and presently when the lights go out you’ll see him appear. You’ll see him looking over your shoulder. Now hold the mirror steady. Abracadabra, who shall see? The face of the man who will marry me. Beatrice, Beatrice, you shall find, the face of the man who shall please your mind.’
A sudden shaft of light shot across the room from a step-ladder, placed behind a screen. It hit the right spot in the room, which was reflected in the mirror grasped in Beatrice’s excited hand.
‘Oh!’ cried Beatrice. ‘I’ve seen him. I’ve seen him! I can see him in my mirror!’
The beam was shut off, the lights came on and a coloured photograph pasted on a card floated down from the ceiling. Beatrice danced about excitedly.
‘That was him! That was him! I saw him,’ she cried. ‘Oh, he’s got a lovely ginger beard.’
She rushed to Mrs Oliver, who was the nearest person.
‘Do look, do look. Don’t you think he’s rather wonderful? He’s like Eddie Presweight, the pop singer. Don’t you think so?’
Mrs Oliver did think he looked like one of the faces she daily deplored having to see in her morning paper. The beard, she thought, had been an after-thought of genius.
‘Where do all these things come from?’ she asked.
‘Oh, Rowena gets Nicky to make them. And his friend Desmond helps. He experiments a good deal with photography. He and a couple of pals of his made themselves up, with a great deal of hair or side-burns or beards and things. And then with the light on him and everything, of course it sends the girls wild with delight.’
‘I can’t help thinking,’ said Ariadne Oliver, ‘that girls are really very silly nowadays.’
‘Don’t you think they always were?’ asked Rowena Drake.
Mrs Oliver considered.
‘I suppose you’re right,’ she admitted.
‘Now then,’ cried Mrs Drake—‘supper.’
Supper went off well. Rich iced cakes, savouries, prawns, cheese and nut confections. The eleven-pluses stuffed themselves.
‘And now,’ said Rowena, ‘the last one for the evening. Snapdragon. Across there, through the pantry. That’s right. Now then. Prizes first.’
The prizes were presented, and then there was a wailing, banshee call. The children rushed across the hall back to the dining-room.
The food had been cleared away. A green baize cloth was laid across the table and here was borne a great dish of flaming raisins. Everybody shrieked, rushing forward, snatching the blazing raisins, with cries of ‘Ow, I’m burned! Isn’t it lovely?’ Little by little the Snapdragon flickered and died down. The lights went up. The party was over.
‘It’s been a great success,’ said Rowena.
‘So it should be with all the trouble you’ve taken.’
‘It was lovely,’ said Judith quietly. ‘Lovely.’
‘And now,’ she added ruefully, ‘we’ll have to clear up a bit. We can’t leave everything for those poor women tomorrow morning.’
CHAPTER 3 (#u7e53bd08-a18a-5977-a9af-7d44e346540a)