Hallowe’en Party
Агата Кристи

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‘It could be and it could not,’ said Poirot. ‘A lot depends. You must tell me more, you know. The police, I presume, are in charge. A doctor was, no doubt, called. What did he say?’

‘There’s to be an inquest,’ said Mrs Oliver.

‘Naturally.’

‘Tomorrow or the next day.’

‘This girl, Joyce, how old was she?’

‘I don’t know exactly. I should think perhaps twelve or thirteen.’

‘Small for her age?’

‘No, no, I should think rather mature, perhaps. Lumpy,’ said Mrs Oliver.

‘Well developed? You mean sexy-looking?’

‘Yes, that is what I mean. But I don’t think that was the kind of crime it was—I mean that would have been more simple, wouldn’t it?’

‘It is the kind of crime,’ said Poirot, ‘of which one reads every day in the paper. A girl who is attacked, a school child who is assaulted—yes, every day. This happened in a private house which makes it different, but perhaps not so different as all that. But all the same, I’m not sure yet that you’ve told me everything.’

‘No, I don’t suppose I have,’ said Mrs Oliver. ‘I haven’t told you the reason, I mean, why I came to you.’

‘You knew this Joyce, you knew her well?’

‘I didn’t know her at all. I’d better explain to you, I think, just how I came to be there.’

‘There is where?’

‘Oh, a place called Woodleigh Common.’

‘Woodleigh Common,’ said Poirot thoughtfully. ‘Now where lately—’ he broke off.

‘It’s not very far from London. About—oh, thirty to forty miles, I think. It’s near Medchester. It’s one of those places where there are a few nice houses, but where a certain amount of new building has been done. Residential. A good school nearby, and people can commute from there to London or into Medchester. It’s quite an ordinary sort of place where people with what you might call everyday reasonable incomes live.’

‘Woodleigh Common,’ said Poirot again, thoughtfully.

‘I was staying with a friend there. Judith Butler. She’s a widow. I went on a Hellenic cruise this year and Judith was on the cruise and we became friends. She’s got a daughter. A girl called Miranda who is twelve or thirteen. Anyway, she asked me to come and stay and she said friends of hers were giving this party for children, and it was to be a Hallowe’en party. She said perhaps I had some interesting ideas.’

‘Ah,’ said Poirot, ‘she did not suggest this time that you should arrange a murder hunt or anything of that kind?’

‘Good gracious, no,’ said Mrs Oliver. ‘Do you think I should ever consider such a thing again?’

‘I should think it unlikely.’

‘But it happened, that’s what’s so awful,’ said Mrs Oliver. ‘I mean, it couldn’t have happened just because I was there, could it?’

‘I do not think so. At least—Did any of the people at the party know who you were?’

‘Yes,’ said Mrs Oliver. ‘One of the children said something about my writing books and that they liked murders. That’s how it—well—that’s what led to the thing—I mean to the thing that made me come to you.’

‘Which you still haven’t told me.’

‘Well, you see, at first I didn’t think of it. Not straight away. I mean, children do queer things sometimes. I mean there are queer children about, children who—well, once I suppose they would have been in mental homes and things, but they send them home now and tell them to lead ordinary lives or something, and then they go and do something like this.’

‘There were some young adolescents there?’

‘There were two boys, or youths as they always seem to call them in police reports. About sixteen to eighteen.’

‘I suppose one of them might have done it. Is that what the police think?’

‘They don’t say what they think,’ said Mrs Oliver, ‘but they looked as though they might think so.’

‘Was this Joyce an attractive girl?’

‘I don’t think so,’ said Mrs Oliver. ‘You mean attractive to boys, do you?’

‘No,’ said Poirot, ‘I think I meant—well, just the plain simple meaning of the word.’

‘I don’t think she was a very nice girl,’ said Mrs Oliver, ‘not one you’d want to talk to much. She was the sort of girl who shows off and boasts. It’s a rather tiresome age, I think. It sounds unkind what I’m saying, but—’

‘It is not unkind in murder to say what the victim was like,’ said Poirot. ‘It is very, very necessary. The personality of the victim is the cause of many a murder. How many people were there in the house at the time?’

‘You mean for the party and so on? Well, I suppose there were five or six women, some mothers, a school-teacher, a doctor’s wife, or sister, I think, a couple of middle-aged married people, the two boys of sixteen to eighteen, a girl of fifteen, two or three of eleven or twelve—well that sort of thing. About twenty-five or thirty in all, perhaps.’

‘Any strangers?’

‘They all knew each other, I think. Some better than others. I think the girls were mostly in the same school. There were a couple of women who had come in to help with the food and the supper and things like that. When the party ended, most of the mothers went home with their children. I stayed behind with Judith and a couple of others to help Rowena Drake, the woman who gave the party, to clear up a bit, so the cleaning women who came in the morning wouldn’t have so much mess to deal with. You know, there was a lot of flour about, and paper caps out of crackers and different things. So we swept up a bit, and we got to the library last of all. And that’s when—when we found her. And then I remembered what she’d said.’

‘What who had said?’

‘Joyce.’

‘What did she say? We are coming to it now, are we not? We are coming to the reason why you are here?’

‘Yes. I thought it wouldn’t mean anything to—oh, to a doctor or the police or anyone, but I thought it might mean something to you.’

‘Eh bien,’ said Poirot, ‘tell me. Was this something Joyce said at the party?’

‘No—earlier in the day. That afternoon when we were fixing things up. It was after they’d talked about my writing murder stories and Joyce said “I saw a murder once” and her mother or somebody said “Don’t be silly, Joyce, saying things like that” and one of the older girls said “You’re just making it up” and Joyce said “I did. I saw it I tell you. I did. I saw someone do a murder,” but no one believed her. They just laughed and she got very angry.’

‘Did you believe her?’

‘No, of course not.’

‘I see,’ said Poirot, ‘yes, I see.’ He was silent for some moments, tapping a finger on the table. Then he said:

‘I wonder—she gave no details—no names?’
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