A good book has no ending.

R.D. Cumming

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Ebook "A Caribbean Mystery"
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Tác giả: Agatha Christie
Thể loại: Trinh Thám
Biên tập: Yen
Language: English
Số chương: 37
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Cập nhật: 2015-01-24 12:31:11 +0700
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CHAPTER 2 - MISS MARPLE MAKES COMPARISONS
t was very gay that evening at the Golden Palm Hotel. Seated at her little corner table Miss Marple looked round her in an interested fashion. The dining room was a large room open on three sides to the soft warm scented air of the West Indies. There were small table lamps, all softly coloured. Most of the women were in evening dress; light cotton prints out of which bronzed shoulders and arms emerged. Miss Marple herself had been urged by her nephew's wife, Joan, in the sweetest way possible, to accept “a small cheque”.
“Because, Aunt Jane, it will be rather hot out there, and I don't expect you have any very thin clothes.”
Jane Marple had thanked her and had accepted the cheque. She came of the age when it was natural for the old to support and finance the young, but also for the middle-aged to look after the old. She could not, however, force herself to buy anything very thin. At her age she seldom felt more than pleasantly warm even in the hottest weather, and the temperature of St. Honorй was not really what is referred to as “tropical heat”. This evening she was attired in the best traditions of the provincial gentlewoman of England-grey lace.
Not that she was the only elderly person present. There were representatives of all ages in the room. There were elderly tycoons with young third or fourth wives. There were middle-aged couples from the North of England. There was a gay family from Caracas complete with children. The various countries of South America were well represented, all chattering loudly in Spanish or Portuguese. There was a solid English background of two clergymen, one doctor and one retired judge. There was even a family of Chinese. The dining room service was mainly done by women, tall black girls of proud carriage, dressed in crisp white, but there was an experienced Italian head waiter in charge, and a French wine waiter, and there was the attentive eye of Tim Kendal watching over everything, pausing here and there to have a social word with people at their tables. His wife seconded him ably. She was a good-looking girl. Her hair was a natural golden blonde and she had a wide generous mouth that laughed easily. It was very seldom that Molly Kendal was out of temper. Her staff worked for her enthusiastically, and she adapted her manner carefully to suit her different guests. With the elderly men she laughed and flirted, she congratulated the younger women on their clothes. “Oh what a smashing dress you've got on tonight, Mrs. Dyson. I'm so jealous I could tear it off your back.” But she looked very well in her own dress, or so Miss Marple thought, a white sheath, with a pale green embroidered silk shawl thrown over her shoulders. Lucky was fingering the shawl. “Lovely colour! I'd like one like it.” “You can get them at the shop here,” Molly told her and passed on. She did not pause by Miss Marple's table. Elderly ladies she usually left to her husband. “The old dears like a man much better,” she used to say.
Tim Kendal came and bent over Miss Marple. “Nothing special you want, is there?” he asked. “Because you've only got to tell me-and I could get it specially cooked for you. Hotel food, and semi-tropical at that, isn't quite what you're used to at home, I expect?”
Miss Marple smiled and said that that was one of the pleasures of coming abroad. “That's all right, then. But if there is anything-”
“Such as?”
“Well-” Tim Kendal looked a little doubtful. “Bread and butter pudding?” he hazarded.
Miss Marple smiled and said that she thought she could do without bread and butter pudding very nicely for the present. She picked up her spoon and began to eat her passion fruit sundae with cheerful appreciation.
Then the steel band began to play. The steel bands were one of the main attractions of the islands. Truth to tell Miss Marple could have done very well without them. She considered that they made a hideous noise, unnecessarily loud. The pleasure that everyone else took in them was undeniable, however, and Miss Marple, in the true spirit of her youth, decided that as they had to be, she must manage somehow to learn to like them. She could hardly request Tim Kendal to conjure up from somewhere the muted strains of the “Blue Danube”. (So graceful-waltzing.) Most peculiar, the way people danced nowadays. Flinging themselves about, seeming quite contorted. Oh well, young people must enjoy- Her thoughts were arrested. Because, now she came to think of it, very few of these people were young. Dancing, lights, the music of a band (even a steel band) all that surely was for youth. But where was youth? Studying, she supposed, at universities, or doing a job-with a fortnight's holiday a year. A place like this was too far away and too expensive. This gay and carefree life was all for the thirties and the forties-and the old men who were trying to live up (or down) to their young wives.
It seemed, somehow, a pity.
Miss Marple sighed for youth. There was Mrs. Kendal, of course. She wasn't more than twenty-two or three, probably, and she seemed to be enjoying herself-but even so, it was a job she was doing. At a table nearby Canon Prescott and his sister were sitting. They motioned to Miss Marple to join them for coffee and she did so. Miss Prescott was a thin severe-looking woman, the Canon was a round, rubicund man, breathing geniality. Coffee was brought, and chairs were pushed a little way away from the tables. Miss Prescott opened a workbag and took out some frankly hideous tablemats that she was hemming. She told Miss Marple all about the day's events. They had visited a new Girls' School in the morning. After an afternoon's rest, they had walked through a cane plantation to have tea at a pension where some friends of theirs were staying. Since the Prescotts had been at the Golden Palm longer than Miss Marple, they were able to enlighten her as to some of her fellow guests.
That very old man, Mr. Rafiel. He came every year. Fantastically rich! Owned an enormous chain of supermarkets in the North of England. The young woman with him was his secretary, Esther Walters-a widow. (Quite all right, of course. Nothing improper. After all, he was nearly eighty!) Miss Marple accepted the propriety of the relationship with an understanding nod and the Canon remarked: “A very nice young woman; her mother, I understand, is a widow and lives in Chichester.”
“Mr. Rafiel has a valet with him, too. Or rather a kind of Nurse Attendant-he's a qualified masseur, I believe. Jackson, his name is. Poor Mr. Rafiel is practically paralysed. So sad-with all that money, too.” “A generous and cheerful giver,” said Canon Prescott approvingly. People were regrouping themselves round about, some going farther from the steel band, others crowding up to it. Major Palgrave had joined the Hillingdon-Dyson quartet.
“Now those people-” said Miss Prescott, lowering her voice quite unnecessarily since the steel band easily drowned it. “Yes, I was going to ask you about them.”
“They were here last year. They spend three months every year in the West Indies, going round the different islands. The tall thin man is Colonel Hillingdon and the dark woman is his wife-they are botanists. The other two, Mr. and Mrs. Gregory Dyson-they're American. He writes on butterflies, I believe. And all of them are interested in birds.”
“So nice for people to have open-air hobbies,” said Canon Prescott genially. “I don't think they'd like to hear you call it hobbies, Jeremy,” said his sister. “They have articles printed in the National Geographic and the Royal Horticultural Journal. They take themselves very seriously.”
A loud outburst of laughter came from the table they had been observing. It was loud enough to overcome the steel band. Gregory Dyson was leaning back in his chair and thumping the table, his wife was protesting, and Major Palgrave emptied his glass and seemed to be applauding. They hardly qualified for the moment as people who took themselves seriously.
“Major Palgrave should not drink so much,” said Miss Prescott acidly. “He has blood pressure.”
A fresh supply of Planters Punches were brought to the table. “It's so nice to get people sorted out,” said Miss Marple. “When I met them this afternoon I wasn't sure which was married to which.”
There was a slight pause. Miss Prescott coughed a small dry cough, and said: “Well, as to that-”
“Joan,” said the Canon in an admonitory voice. “Perhaps it would be wise to say no more.”
“Really, Jeremy, I wasn't going to say anything. Only that last year, for some reason or other-I really don't know why-we got the idea that Mrs. Dyson was Mrs. Hillingdon until someone told us she wasn't.”
“It's odd how one gets impressions, isn't it?” said Miss Marple innocently. Her eyes met Miss Prescott's for a moment. A flash of womanly understanding passed between them. A more sensitive man than Canon Prescott might have felt that he was 'de trop'. Another signal passed between the women. It said as clearly as if the words had been spoken: “Some other time...”
“Mr. Dyson calls his wife 'Lucky'. Is that her real name or a nickname?” asked Miss Marple.
“It can hardly be her real name, I should think.”
“I happened to ask him,” said the Canon. “He said he called her Lucky because she was his good luck piece. If he lost her, he said, he'd lose his luck. Very nicely put, I thought.”
“He's very fond of joking,” said Miss Prescott. The Canon looked at his sister doubtfully.
The steel band outdid itself with a wild burst of cacophony and a troupe of dancers came racing on to the floor. Miss Marple and the others turned their chairs to watch. Miss Marple enjoyed the dancing better than the music, she liked the shuffling feet and the rhythmic sway of the bodies. It seemed, she thought, very real. It had a kind of power of understatement.
Tonight, for the first time, she began to feel slightly at home in her new environment... Up to now, she had missed what she usually found so easily, points of resemblance in the people she met, to various people known to her personally. She had, possibly, been dazzled by the gay clothes and the exotic colouring; but soon, she felt, she would be able to make some interesting comparisons.
Molly Kendal, for instance, was like that nice girl whose name she couldn't remember, but who was a conductress on the Market Basing bus. Helped you in, and never rang the bus on until she was sure you'd sat down safely. Tim Kendal was just a little like the head waiter at the Royal George in Medchester. Self-confident, and yet, at the same time, worried. (He had had an ulcer, she remembered.) As for Major Palgrave, he was indistinguishable from General Leroy, Captain Flemming, Admiral Wicklow and Commander Richardson. She went on to someone more interesting. Greg, for instance. Greg was difficult because he was American. A dash of Sir George Trollope, perhaps, always so full of jokes at the Civil Defence meetings-or perhaps Mr. Murdoch the butcher. Mr. Murdoch had had rather a bad reputation, but some people said it was just gossip, and that Mr. Murdoch himself liked to encourage the rumours! “Lucky” now? Well, that was easy-Marleen at the Three Crowns. Evelyn Hillingdon? She couldn't fit Evelyn in precisely. In appearance she fitted many roles-tall thin weather-beaten Englishwomen were plentiful. Lady Caroline Wolfe, Peter Wolfe's first wife, who had committed suicide? Or there was Leslie James-that quiet woman who seldom showed what she felt and who had sold up her house and left without ever telling anyone she was going. Colonel Hillingdon? No immediate clue there. She'd have to get to know him a little first. One of those quiet men with good manners. You never knew what they were thinking about. Sometimes they surprised you. Major Harper, she remembered, had quietly cut his throat one day. Nobody had ever known why. Miss Marple thought that she did know-but she'd never been quite sure... Her eyes strayed to Mr. Rafiel's table. The principal thing known about Mr. Rafiel was that he was incredibly rich, he came every year to the West Indies, he was semi-paralysed and looked like a wrinkled old bird of prey. His clothes hung loosely on his shrunken form. He might have been seventy or eighty, or even ninety. His eyes were shrewd and he was frequently rude, but people seldom took offence, partly because he was so rich, and partly because of his overwhelming personality which hypnotised you into feeling that somehow, Mr. Rafiel had the right to be rude if he wanted to.
With him sat his secretary, Mrs. Walters. She had corn-coloured hair, and a pleasant face. Mr. Rafiel was frequently very rude to her, but she never seemed to notice it. She was not so much subservient, as oblivious. She behaved like a well-trained hospital nurse. Possibly, thought Miss Marple, she had been a hospital nurse. A young man, tall and good-looking, in a white jacket, came to stand by Mr. Rafiel's chair. The old man looked up at him, nodded, then motioned him to a chair. The young man sat down as bidden. “Mr. Jackson, I presume,” said Miss Marple to herself. “His valet-attendant.”
She studied Mr. Jackson with some attention.
In the bar, Molly Kendal stretched her back, and slipped off her high-heeled shoes. Tim came in from the terrace to join her. They had the bar to themselves for the moment. “Tired, darling?” he asked.
“Just a bit. I seem to be feeling my feet tonight.”
“Not too much for you, is it? All this? I know it's hard work.” He looked at her anxiously.
She laughed. “Oh Tim, don't be ridiculous. I love it here. It's gorgeous. The kind of dream I've always had, come true.”
“Yes, it would be all right-if one was just a guest. But running the show-that's work.”
“Well, you can't have anything for nothing, can you?” said Molly Kendal reasonably. Tim Kendal frowned.
“You think it's going all right? A success? We're making a go of it?”
“Of course we are.”
“You don't think people are saying, 'It's not the same as when the Sandersons were here'.”
“Of course someone will be saying that-they always do! But only some old stick-in-the-mud. I'm sure that we're far better at the job than they were. We're more glamorous. You charm the old pussies and manage to look as though you'd like to make love to the desperate forties and fifties, and I ogle the old gentlemen and make them feel sexy dogs-or play the sweet little daughter the sentimental ones would love to have had. Oh, we've got it all taped splendidly.”
Tim's frown vanished.
“As long as you think so. I get scared. We've risked everything on making a job of this. I chucked my job-”
“And quite right to do so,” Molly put in quickly. “It was soul-destroying.”
He laughed and kissed the tip of her nose.
“I tell you we've got it taped,” she repeated. “Why do you always worry?”
“Made that way, I suppose. I'm always thinking-suppose something should go wrong.”
“What sort of thing-”
“Oh I don't know. Somebody might get drowned.”
“Not they. It's one of the safest of all the beaches. And we've got that hulking Swede always on guard.”
“I'm a fool,” said Tim Kendal. He hesitated-and then said, “You-haven't had any more of those dreams, have you?”
“That was shellfish,” said Molly, and laughed.
A Caribbean Mystery A Caribbean Mystery - Agatha Christie A Caribbean Mystery