One two buckle my shoe, p.1
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       One, Two, Buckle My Shoe, p.1

         Part #23 of Hercule Poirot series by Agatha Christie
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One, Two, Buckle My Shoe


  Agatha Christie

  One, Two, Buckle My Shoe

  A Hercule Poirot Mystery

  To Dorothy North who likes detective stories and cream, in the hope it may make up to her for the absence of the latter!

  Contents

  Cover

  Title Page

  Dedication

  One, two, buckle my shoe,

  Three, four, shut the door,

  Five, six, picking up sticks,

  Seven, eight, lay them straight,

  Nine, ten, a good fat hen,

  Eleven, twelve, men must delve,

  Thirteen, fourteen, maids are courting,

  Fifteen, sixteen, maids in the kitchen,

  Seventeen, eighteen, maids in waiting,

  About the Author

  Other Books by Agatha Christie

  Credits

  Copyright

  About the Publisher

  ONE, TWO, BUCKLE MY SHOE

  I

  Mr. Morley was not in the best of tempers at breakfast. He complained of the bacon, wondered why the coffee had to have the appearance of liquid mud, and remarked that breakfast cereals were each one worse than the last.

  Mr. Morley was a small man with a decided jaw and a pugnacious chin. His sister, who kept house for him, was a large woman rather like a female grenadier. She eyed her brother thoughtfully and asked whether the bath water had been cold again.

  Rather grudgingly, Mr. Morley said it had not.

  He glanced at the paper and remarked that the Government seemed to be passing from a state of incompetence to one of positive imbecility!

  Miss Morley said in a deep bass voice that it was Disgraceful!

  As a mere woman she had always found whatever Government happened to be in power distinctly useful. She urged her brother on to explain why the Government’s present policy was inconclusive, idiotic, imbecile and frankly suicidal!

  When Mr. Morley had expressed himself fully on these points, he had a second cup of the despised coffee and unburdened himself of his true grievance.

  “These girls,” he said, “are all the same! Unreliable, self-centred—not to be depended on in any way.”

  Miss Morley said interrogatively:

  “Gladys?”

  “I’ve just had the message. Her aunt’s had a stroke and she’s had to go down to Somerset.”

  Miss Morley said:

  “Very trying, dear, but after all hardly the girl’s fault.”

  Mr. Morley shook his head gloomily.

  “How do I know the aunt has had a stroke? How do I know the whole thing hasn’t been arranged between the girl and that very unsuitable young fellow she goes about with? That young man is a wrong ’un if I ever saw one! They’ve probably planned some outing together for today.”

  “Oh, no, dear, I don’t think Gladys would do a thing like that. You know, you’ve always found her very conscientious.”

  “Yes, yes.”

  “An intelligent girl and really keen on her work, you said.”

  “Yes, yes, Georgina, but that was before this undesirable young man came along. She’s been quite different lately—quite different—absentminded—upset—nervy.”

  The Grenadier produced a deep sigh. She said:

  “After all, Henry, girls do fall in love. It can’t be helped.”

  Mr. Morley snapped:

  “She oughtn’t to let it affect her efficiency as my secretary. And today, in particular, I’m extremely busy! Several very important patients. It is most trying!”

  “I’m sure it must be extremely vexing, Henry. How is the new boy shaping, by the way?”

  Henry Morley said gloomily:

  “He’s the worst I’ve had yet! Can’t get a single name right and has the most uncouth manners. If he doesn’t improve I shall sack him and try again. I don’t know what’s the good of our education nowadays. It seems to turn out a collection of nitwits who can’t understand a single thing you say to them, let alone remember it.”

  He glanced at his watch.

  “I must be getting along. A full morning, and that Sainsbury Seale woman to fit in somewhere as she is in pain. I suggested that she should see Reilly, but she wouldn’t hear of it.”

  “Of course not,” said Georgina loyally.

  “Reilly’s very able—very able indeed. First-class diplomas. Thoroughly up-to-date in his work.”

  “His hand shakes,” said Miss Morley. “In my opinion he drinks.”

  Her brother laughed, his good temper restored. He said:

  “I’ll be up for a sandwich at half past one as usual.”

  II

  At the Savoy Hotel Mr. Amberiotis was picking his teeth with a toothpick and grinning to himself.

  Everything was going very nicely.

  He had had his usual luck. Fancy those few kind words of his to that idiotic hen of a woman being so richly repaid. Oh! well—cast your bread upon the waters. He had always been a kindhearted man. And generous! In the future he would be able to be even more generous. Benevolent visions floated before his eyes. Little Dimitri … And the good Constantopopolus struggling with his little restaurant … What pleasant surprises for them….

  The toothpick probed unguardedly and Mr. Amberiotis winced. Rosy visions of the future faded and gave way to apprehensions of the immediate future. He explored tenderly with his tongue. He took out his notebook. Twelve o’clock. 58, Queen Charlotte Street.

  He tried to recapture his former exultant mood. But in vain. The horizon had shrunk to six bare words:

  “58, Queen Charlotte Street. Twelve o’clock.”

  III

  At the Glengowrie Court Hotel, South Kensington, breakfast was over. In the lounge, Miss Sainsbury Seale was sitting talking to Mrs. Bolitho. They occupied adjacent tables in the dining room and had made friends the day after Miss Sainsbury Seale’s arrival a week ago.

  Miss Sainsbury Seale said:

  “You know, dear, it really has stopped aching! Not a twinge! I think perhaps I’ll ring up—”

  Mrs. Bolitho interrupted her.

  “Now don’t be foolish, my dear. You go to the dentist and get it over.”

  Mrs. Bolitho was a tall, commanding female with a deep voice. Miss Sainsbury Seale was a woman of forty odd with indecisively bleached hair rolled up in untidy curls. Her clothes were shapeless and rather artistic, and her pince-nez were always dropping off. She was a great talker.

  She said now wistfully:

  “But really, you know, it doesn’t ache at all.”

  “Nonsense, you told me you hardly slept a wink last night.”

  “No, I didn’t—no, indeed—but perhaps, now, the nerve has actually died.”

  “All the more reason to go to the dentist,” said Mrs. Bolitho firmly. “We all like to put it off, but that’s just cowardice. Better make up one’s mind and get it over!”

  Something hovered on Miss Sainsbury Seale’s lips. Was it the rebellious murmur of: “Yes, but it’s not your tooth!”

  All she actually said, however, was:

  “I expect you’re right. And Mr. Morley is such a careful man and really never hurts one at all.”

  IV

  The meeting of the Board of Directors was over. It had passed off smoothly. The report was good. There should have been no discordant note. Yet to the sensitive Mr. Samuel Rotherstein there had been something, some nuance in the chairman’s manner.

  There had been, once or twice, a shortness, an acerbity, in his tone—quite uncalled for by the proceedings.

  Some secret worry, perhaps? But somehow Rotherstein could not connect a secret worry with Alistair Blunt. He was such an unemotional man. He was so very normal. So essentially British.

  There was, of cours
e, always liver … Mr. Rotherstein’s liver gave him a bit of trouble from time to time. But he’d never known Alistair to complain of his liver. Alistair’s health was as sound as his brain and his grasp of finance. It was not annoying heartiness—just quiet well-being.

  And yet—there was something—once or twice the chairman’s hand had wandered to his face. He had sat supporting his chin. Not his normal attitude. And once or twice he had seemed actually—yes, distrait.

  They came out of the boardroom and passed down the stairs.

  Rotherstein said:

  “Can’t give you a lift, I suppose?”

  Alistair Blunt smiled and shook his head.

  “My car’s waiting.” He glanced at his watch. “I’m not going back to the city.” He paused. “As a matter of fact I’ve got an appointment with the dentist.”

  The mystery was solved.

  V

  Hercule Poirot descended from his taxi, paid the man and rang the bell of 58, Queen Charlotte Street.

  After a little delay it was opened by a boy in page boy’s uniform with a freckled face, red hair, and an earnest manner.

  Hercule Poirot said:

  “Mr. Morley?”

  There was in his heart a ridiculous hope that Mr. Morley might have been called away, might be indisposed, might not be seeing patients today … All in vain. The page boy drew back, Hercule Poirot stepped inside, and the door closed behind him with the quiet remorselessness of unalterable doom.

  The boy said: “Name, please?”

  Poirot gave it to him, a door on the right of the hall was thrown open and he stepped into the waiting room.

  It was a room furnished in quiet good taste and, to Hercule Poirot, indescribably gloomy. On the polished (reproduction) Sheraton table were carefully arranged papers and periodicals. The (reproduction) Hepplewhite sideboard held two Sheffield plated candlesticks and an épergne. The mantelpiece held a bronze clock and two bronze vases. The windows were shrouded by curtains of blue velvet. The chairs were upholstered in a Jacobean design of red birds and flowers.

  In one of them sat a military-looking gentleman with a fierce moustache and a yellow complexion. He looked at Poirot with an air of one considering some noxious insect. It was not so much his gun he looked as though he wished he had with him, as his Flit spray. Poirot, eyeing him with distaste, said to himself, “In verity, there are some Englishmen who are altogether so unpleasing and ridiculous that they should have been put out of their misery at birth.”

  The military gentleman, after a prolonged glare, snatched up The Times, turned his chair so as to avoid seeing Poirot, and settled down to read it.

  Poirot picked up Punch.

  He went through it meticulously, but failed to find any of the jokes funny.

  The page boy came in and said, “Colonel Arrow-Bumby?”—and the military gentleman was led away.

  Poirot was speculating on the probabilities of there really being such a name, when the door opened to admit a young man of about thirty.

  As the young man stood by the table, restlessly flicking over the covers of magazines, Poirot looked at him sideways. An unpleasant and dangerous looking young man, he thought, and not impossibly a murderer. At any rate he looked far more like a murderer than any of the murderers Hercule Poirot had arrested in the course of his career.

  The page boy opened the door and said to midair:

  “Mr. Peerer.”

  Rightly construing this as a summons to himself, Poirot rose. The boy led him to the back of the hall and round the corner to a small lift in which he took him up to the second floor. Here he led him along a passage, opened a door which led into a little anteroom, tapped at a second door; and without waiting for a reply opened it and stood back for Poirot to enter.

  Poirot entered to a sound of running water and came round the back of the door to discover Mr. Morley washing his hands with professional gusto at a basin on the wall.

  VI

  There are certain humiliating moments in the lives of the greatest of men. It has been said that no man is a hero to his valet. To that may be added that few men are heroes to themselves at the moment of visiting their dentist.

  Hercule Poirot was morbidly conscious of this fact.

  He was a man who was accustomed to have a good opinion of himself. He was Hercule Poirot, superior in most ways to other men. But in this moment he was unable to feel superior in any way whatever. His morale was down to zero. He was just that ordinary, craven figure, a man afraid of the dentist’s chair.

  Mr. Morley had finished his professional ablutions. He was speaking now in his encouraging professional manner.

  “Hardly as warm as it should be, is it, for the time of year?”

  Gently he led the way to the appointed spot—to The Chair! Deftly he played with its head rest, running it up and down.

  Hercule Poirot took a deep breath, stepped up, sat down and relaxed his head to Mr. Morley’s professional fiddlings.

  “There,” said Mr. Morley with hideous cheerfulness. “That quite comfortable? Sure?”

  In sepulchral tones Poirot said that it was quite comfortable.

  Mr. Morley swung his little table nearer, picked up his little mirror, seized an instrument and prepared to get on with the job.

  Hercule Poirot grasped the arms of the chair, shut his eyes and opened his mouth.

  “Any special trouble?” Mr. Morley inquired.

  Slightly indistinctly, owing to the difficulty of forming consonants while keeping the mouth open, Hercule Poirot was understood to say that there was no special trouble. This was, indeed, the twice yearly overhaul that his sense of order and neatness demanded. It was, of course, possible that there might be nothing to do … Mr. Morley might, perhaps, overlook that second tooth from the back from which those twinges had come … He might—but it was unlikely—for Mr. Morley was a very good dentist.

  Mr. Morley passed slowly from tooth to tooth, tapping and probing, murmuring little comments as he did so.

  “That filling is wearing down a little—nothing serious, though. Gums are in pretty good condition, I’m glad to see.” A pause at a suspect, a twist of the probe—no, on again, false alarm. He passed to the lower side. One, two—on to three?—No—“The dog,” Hercule Poirot thought in confused idiom, “has seen the rabbit!”

  “A little trouble here. Not been giving you any pain? Hm, I’m surprised.” The probe went on.

  Finally Mr. Morley drew back, satisfied.

  “Nothing very serious. Just a couple of fillings—and a trace of decay on that upper molar. We can get it all done, I think, this morning.”

  He turned on a switch and there was a hum. Mr. Morley un-hooked the drill and fitted a needle to it with loving care.

  “Guide me,” he said briefly, and started the dread work.

  It was not necessary for Poirot to avail himself of this permission, to raise a hand, to wince, or even to yell. At exactly the right moment, Mr. Morley stopped the drill, gave the brief command “Rinse,” applied a little dressing, selected a new needle and continued. The ordeal of the drill was terror rather than pain.

  Presently, while Mr. Morley was preparing the filling, conversation was resumed.

  “Have to do this myself this morning,” he explained. “Miss Nevill has been called away. You remember Miss Nevill?”

  Poirot untruthfully assented.

  “Called away to the country by the illness of a relative. Sort of thing that does happen on a busy day. I’m behindhand already this morning. The patient before you was late. Very vexing when that happens. It throws the whole morning out. Then I have to fit in an extra patient because she is in pain. I always allow a quarter of an hour in the morning in case that happens. Still, it adds to the rush.”

  Mr. Morley peered into his little mortar as he ground. Then he resumed his discourse.

  “I’ll tell you something that I’ve always noticed, M. Poirot. The big people—the important people—they’re always on time—never keep you
waiting. Royalty, for instance. Most punctilious. And these big City men are the same. Now this morning I’ve got a most important man coming—Alistair Blunt!”

  Mr. Morley spoke the name in a voice of triumph.

  Poirot, prohibited from speech by several rolls of cotton wool and a glass tube that gurgled under his tongue, made an indeterminate noise.

  Alistair Blunt! Those were the names that thrilled nowadays. Not Dukes, not Earls, not Prime Ministers. No, plain Mr. Alistair Blunt. A man whose face was almost unknown to the general public—a man who only figured in an occasional quiet paragraph. Not a spectacular person.

  Just a quiet nondescript Englishman who was the head of the greatest banking firm in England. A man of vast wealth. A man who said Yes and No to Governments. A man who lived a quiet, unobtrusive life and never appeared on a public platform or made speeches. Yet a man in whose hands lay supreme power.

  Mr. Morley’s voice still held a reverent tone as he stood over Poirot ramming the filling home.

  “Always comes to his appointments absolutely on time. Often sends his car away and walks back to his office. Nice, quiet, unassuming fellow. Fond of golf and keen on his garden. You’d never dream he could buy up half Europe! Just like you and me.”

  A momentary resentment rose in Poirot at this offhand coupling of names. Mr. Morley was a good dentist, yes, but there were other good dentists in London. There was only one Hercule Poirot.

  “Rinse, please,” said Mr. Morley.

  “It’s the answer, you know, to their Hitlers and Mussolinis and all the rest of them,” went on Mr. Morley, as he proceeded to tooth number two. “We don’t make a fuss over here. Look how democratic our King and Queen are. Of course, a Frenchman like you, accustomed to the Republican idea—”

  “I ah nah a Frahah—I ah—ah a Benyon.”

  “Tchut—tchut—” said Mr. Morley sadly. “We must have the cavity completely dry.” He puffed hot air relentlessly on it.

 
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