Hallowe’en Party
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‘No. She went on boasting and shouting a bit and being angry because most of the other girls were laughing at her. The mothers, I think, and the older people, were rather cross with her. But the girls and the younger boys just laughed at her! They said things like “Go on, Joyce, when was this? Why did you never tell us about it?” And Joyce said, “I’d forgotten all about it, it was so long ago”.’

‘Aha! Did she say how long ago?’

‘Years ago,’ she said. ‘You know, in rather a would-be grown-up way.’

‘“Why didn’t you go and tell the police then?” one of the girls said. Ann, I think, or Beatrice. Rather a smug, superior girl.’

‘Aha, and what did she say to that?’

‘She said: “Because I didn’t know at the time it was a murder”.’

‘A very interesting remark,’ said Poirot, sitting up rather straighter in his chair.

‘She’d got a bit mixed up by then, I think,’ said Mrs Oliver. ‘You know, trying to explain herself and getting angry because they were all teasing her.

‘They kept asking her why she hadn’t gone to the police, and she kept on saying “Because I didn’t know then that it was a murder. It wasn’t until afterwards that it came to me quite suddenly that that was what I had seen”.’

‘But nobody showed any signs of believing her—and you yourself did not believe her—but when you came across her dead you suddenly felt that she might have been speaking the truth?’

‘Yes, just that. I didn’t know what I ought to do, or what I could do. But then, later, I thought of you.’

Poirot bowed his head gravely in acknowledgement. He was silent for a moment or two, then he said:

‘I must pose to you a serious question, and reflect before you answer it. Do you think that this girl had really seen a murder? Or do you think that she merely believed that she had seen a murder?’

‘The first, I think,’ said Mrs Oliver. ‘I didn’t at the time. I just thought that she was vaguely remembering something she had once seen and was working it up to make it sound important and exciting. She became very vehement, saying, “I did see it, I tell you. I did see it happen”.’

‘And so.’

‘And so I’ve come along to you,’ said Mrs Oliver, ‘because the only way her death makes sense is that there really was a murder and that she was a witness to it.’

‘That would involve certain things. It would involve that one of the people who were at the party committed the murder, and that that same person must also have been there earlier that day and have heard what Joyce said.’

‘You don’t think I’m just imagining things, do you?’ said Mrs Oliver. ‘Do you think that it is all just my very far-fetched imagination?’

‘A girl was murdered,’ said Poirot. ‘Murdered by someone who had strength enough to hold her head down in a bucket of water. An ugly murder and a murder that was committed with what we might call, no time to lose. Somebody was threatened, and whoever it was struck as soon as it was humanly possible.’

‘Joyce could not have known who it was who did the murder she saw,’ said Mrs Oliver. ‘I mean she wouldn’t have said what she did if there was someone actually in the room who was concerned.’

‘No,’ said Poirot, ‘I think you are right there. She saw a murder, but she did not see the murderer’s face. We have to go beyond that.’

‘I don’t understand exactly what you mean.’

‘It could be that someone who was there earlier in the day and heard Joyce’s accusation knew about the murder, knew who committed the murder, perhaps was closely involved with that person. It may have been that someone thought he was the only person who knew what his wife had done, or his mother or his daughter or his son. Or it might have been a woman who knew what her husband or mother or daughter or son had done. Someone who thought that no one else knew. And then Joyce began talking…’

‘And so—’

‘Joyce had to die?’

‘Yes. What are you going to do?’

‘I have just remembered,’ said Hercule Poirot, ‘why the name of Woodleigh Common was familiar to me.’

CHAPTER 5 (#u7e53bd08-a18a-5977-a9af-7d44e346540a)

Hercule Poirot looked over the small gate which gave admission to Pine Crest. It was a modern, perky little house, nicely built. Hercule Poirot was slightly out of breath. The small, neat house in front of him was very suitably named. It was on a hill top, and the hill top was planted with a few sparse pines. It had a small neat garden and a large elderly man was trundling along a path a big tin galvanized waterer.

Superintendent Spence’s hair was now grey all over instead of having a neat touch of grey hair at the temples. He had not shrunk much in girth. He stopped trundling his can and looked at the visitor at the gate. Hercule Poirot stood there without moving.

‘God bless my soul,’ said Superintendent Spence. ‘It must be. It can’t be but it is. Yes, it must be. Hercule Poirot, as I live.’

‘Aha,’ said Hercule Poirot, ‘you know me. That is gratifying.’

‘May your moustaches never grow less,’ said Spence.

He abandoned the watering can and came down to the gate.

‘Diabolical weeds,’ he said. ‘And what brings you down here?’

‘What has brought me to many places in my time,’ said Hercule Poirot, ‘and what once a good many years ago brought you to see me. Murder.’

‘I’ve done with murder,’ said Spence, ‘except in the case of weeds. That’s what I’m doing now. Applying weed killer. Never so easy as you think, something’s always wrong, usually the weather. Mustn’t be too wet, mustn’t be too dry and all the rest of it. How did you know where to find me?’ he asked as he unlatched the gate and Poirot passed through.

‘You sent me a Christmas card. It had your new address notified on it.’

‘Ah yes, so I did. I’m old-fashioned, you know. I like to send round cards at Christmas time to a few old friends.’

‘I appreciate that,’ said Poirot.

Spence said, ‘I’m an old man now.’

‘We are both old men.’

‘Not much grey in your hair,’ said Spence.

‘I attend to that with a bottle,’ said Hercule Poirot. ‘There is no need to appear in public with grey hair unless you wish to do so.’

‘Well, I don’t think jet black would suit me,’ said Spence.

‘I agree,’ said Poirot. ‘You look most distinguished with grey hair.’

‘I should never think of myself as a distinguished man.’

‘I think of you as such. Why have you come to live in Woodleigh Common?’

‘As a matter of fact, I came here to join forces with a sister of mine. She lost her husband, her children are married and living abroad, one in Australia and the other in South Africa. So I moved in here. Pensions don’t go far nowadays, but we do pretty comfortably living together. Come and sit down.’

He led the way on to the small glazed-in verandah where there were chairs and a table or two. The autumn sun fell pleasantly upon this retreat.
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