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Three Act Tragedy
Агата Кристи

A handsome young fellow, twenty-five at a guess. Something, perhaps, a little sleek about his good looks. Something else—something—was it foreign? Something unEnglish about him.

Somebody else was watching Oliver Manders. A little man with an egg-shaped head and very foreign-looking moustaches. Mr Satterthwaite had recalled himself to M. Hercule Poirot’s memory. The little man had been very affable. Mr Satterthwaite suspected him of deliberately exaggerating his foreign mannerisms. His small twinkly eyes seemed to say, ‘You expect me to be the buffoon? To play the comedy for you? Bien—it shall be as you wish!’

But there was no twinkle now in Hercule Poirot’s eyes. He looked grave and a little sad.

The Rev. Stephen Babbington, rector of Loomouth, came and joined Lady Mary and Mr Satterthwaite. He was a man of sixty odd, with kind faded eyes and a disarming diffident manner. He said to Mr Satterthwaite:

‘We are very lucky to have Sir Charles living among us. He has been most kind—most generous. A very pleasant neighbour to have. Lady Mary agrees, I am sure.’

Lady Mary smiled.

‘I like him very much. His success hasn’t spoilt him. In many ways he is,’ her smile deepened, ‘a child still.’

The parlourmaid approached with the tray of cocktails as Mr Satterthwaite reflected how unendingly maternal women were. Being of the Victorian generation, he approved that trait.

‘You can have a cocktail, Mums,’ said Egg, flashing up to them, glass in hand. ‘Just one.’

‘Thank you, dear,’ said Lady Mary meekly.

‘I think,’ said Mr Babbington, ‘that my wife would allow me to have one.’

And he laughed a little gentle clerical laugh.

Mr Satterthwaite glanced over at Mrs Babbington, who was talking earnestly to Sir Charles on the subject of manure.

‘She’s got fine eyes,’ he thought.

Mrs Babbington was a big untidy woman. She looked full of energy and likely to be free from petty mindedness. As Charles Cartwright had said—a nice woman.

‘Tell me,’ Lady Mary leaned forward. ‘Who is the young woman you were talking to when we came in—the one in green?’

‘That’s the playwright—Anthony Astor.’

‘What? That—that anaemic-looking young woman? Oh!’ She caught herself up. ‘How dreadful of me. But it was a surprise. She doesn’t look—I mean she looks exactly like an inefficient nursery governess.’

It was such an apt description of Miss Wills’ appearance that Mr Satterthwaite laughed. Mr Babbington was peering across the room with amiable short-sighted eyes. He took a sip of his cocktail and choked a little. He was unused to cocktails, thought Mr Satterthwaite amusedly—probably they represented modernity to his mind—but he didn’t like them. Mr Babbington took another determined mouthful with a slightly wry face and said:

‘Is it the lady over there? Oh dear—’

His hand went to his throat.

Egg Lytton Gore’s voice rang out:

‘Oliver—you slippery Shylock—’

‘Of course,’ thought Mr Satterthwaite, ‘that’s it—not foreign—Jew!’

What a handsome pair they made. Both so young and good-looking … and quarrelling, too—always a healthy sign …

He was distracted by a sound at his side. Mr Babbington had risen to his feet and was swaying to and fro. His face was convulsed.

It was Egg’s clear voice that drew the attention of the room, though Lady Mary had risen and stretched out an anxious hand.

‘Look,’ said Egg’s voice. ‘Mr Babbington is ill.’

Sir Bartholomew Strange came forward hurriedly, supporting the stricken man and half lifting him to a couch at one side of the room. The others crowded round, anxious to help, but impotent …

Two minutes later Strange straightened himself and shook his head. He spoke bluntly, aware that it was no use to beat about the bush.

‘I’m sorry,’ he said. ‘He’s dead …’

CHAPTER 3 (#ulink_edc4e536-d1bc-5382-a73d-04861b45fda2)

Sir Charles Wonders (#ulink_edc4e536-d1bc-5382-a73d-04861b45fda2)

‘Come in here a minute, Satterthwaite, will you?’

Sir Charles poked his head out of the door.

An hour and a half had passed. To confusion had succeeded peace. Lady Mary had led the weeping Mrs Babbington out of the room and had finally gone home with her to the vicarage. Miss Milray had been efficient with the telephone. The local doctor had arrived and taken charge. A simplified dinner had been served, and by mutual consent the house-party had retired to their rooms after it. Mr Satterthwaite had been making his own retreat when Sir Charles had called to him from the door of the Ship-room where the death had taken place.

Mr Satterthwaite passed in, repressing a slight shiver as he did so. He was old enough not to like the sight of death … For soon, perhaps, he himself … But why think of that?

‘I’m good for another twenty years,’ said Mr Satterthwaite robustly to himself.

The only other occupant of the Ship-room was Bartholomew Strange. He nodded approval at the sight of Mr Satterthwaite.

‘Good man,’ he said. ‘We can do with Satterthwaite. He knows life.’

A little surprised, Mr Satterthwaite sat down in an armchair near the doctor. Sir Charles was pacing up and down. He had forgotten the semi-clenching of his hands and looked definitely less naval.

‘Charles doesn’t like it,’ said Sir Bartholomew. ‘Poor old Babbington’s death, I mean.’

Mr Satterthwaite thought the sentiment ill expressed. Surely nobody could be expected to ‘like’ what had occurred. He realized that Strange had quite another meaning from the bald one the words conveyed.

‘It was very distressing,’ said Mr Satterthwaite, cautiously feeling his way. ‘Very distressing indeed,’ he added with a reminiscent shiver.

‘H’m, yes, it was rather painful,’ said the physician, the professional accent creeping for a moment into his voice.

Cartwright paused in his pacing.

‘Ever see anyone die quite like that before, Tollie?’

‘No,’ said Sir Bartholomew thoughtfully. ‘I can’t say that I have.

‘But,’ he added in a moment or two, ‘I haven’t really seen as many deaths as you might suppose. A nerve specialist doesn’t kill off many of his patients. He keeps ’em alive and makes his income out of them. MacDougal has seen far more deceases than I have, I don’t doubt.’

Dr MacDougal was the principal doctor in Loomouth, whom Miss Milray had summoned.
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