Agatha Christie: Endless Night

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Agatha Christie


Endless Night

"Every Night and every Morn
Some to Misery are born.
Every Morn and every Night
Some are born to Sweet Delight,
Some are born to Sweet Delight,
Some are born to Endless Night."

(Auguries of Innocence)

Book I 

Chapter 1

In my end is my beginning… That's a quotation I've often heard people say. It sounds all right, but what does it really mean?

Is there ever any particular spot where one can put one's finger and say: "It all began that day, at such a time and such a place, with such an incident?"

Did my story begin, perhaps, when I noticed the Sale Bill hanging on the wall of the George and Dragon, announcing Sale by Auction of that valuable property "The Towers," and giving particulars of the acreage, the miles and furlongs, and the highly idealised portrait of "The Towers" as it might have been perhaps in its prime, anything from eighty to a hundred years ago.

I was doing nothing particular, just strolling along the main street of Kingston Bishop, a place of no importance whatever, killing time. I noticed the Sale Bill. Why? Fate up to its dirty work? Or dealing out its golden hand-shake of good fortune? You can look at it either way.

Or you could say, perhaps, that it all had its beginnings when I met Santonix, during the talks I had with him; I can close my eyes and see: his flushed cheeks, the over-brilliant eyes, and the movement of the strong yet delicate hand that sketched and drew plans and elevations of homes. One house in particular, a beautiful house, a home that would be wonderful to own!

My longing for a home, a fine and beautiful home, such a house as I could never hope to have, flowered into life then. It was a happy fantasy shared between us, the house that Santonix would build for me – if he lasted long enough…

A house that in my dreams I would live in with the girl that I loved, a house in which just like a child's silly fairy story we should live together "happy ever afterwards." All pure fantasy, all nonsense, but it started that tide of longing in me. Longing for something I was never likely to have.

Or if this is a love story – and it's, a love story, I swear – then why not begin where I first caught sight of Ellie standing in the dark fir trees of Gipsy's Acre?

Gipsy's Acre. Yes, perhaps I'd better begin there, at the moment when I turned away from the Sale board with little shiver because a black cloud had come over the fun, and asked a question carelessly enough of one of the locals, who was clipping a hedge in a desultory fashion nearby.

"What's this house, The Towers, like?"

I can still see the queer face of the old man, as he looked at me sideways and said:

"That's not what us calls it here. What sort of a name is that?" He snorted disapproval. "It's many a year now since folks lived in it and called it The Towers." He snorted again.

I asked him then what he called it, and again his eyes shifted away from me in his old wrinkled face in that queer way country folk have of not speaking to you direct, looking over your shoulder or round the corner, as it were, as though they saw something you didn't; and he said:

"It's called hereabouts Gipsy's Acre."

"Why is it called that?" I asked.

"Some sort of a tale. I dunno rightly. One says one thing, one says another." And then he went on, "Anyway, it's where the accidents take place."

"Car accidents?"

"All kinds of accidents. Car accidents mainly nowadays. It's a nasty corner there, you see."

"Well," I said, "if it's nasty curve, I can well see there might be accidents."

"Rural Council put up a Danger sign, but it don't do no good, that don't. There are accidents just the same."

"Why Gipsy?" I asked him.

Again his eyes slipped past me and his answer was vague.

"Some tale or other. It was gipsies' land once, they say, and they were turned off, and they put a curse on it."

I laughed.

"Aye," he said, "you can laugh but there's places as's cursed. You smart-alecks in town don't know about them. But there's places as is cursed all right, and there's a curse on this place. People got killed here in the quarry when they got the stone out to build. Old Geordie he fell over the edge there one night and broke his neck."

"Drunk?" I suggested.

"He may have been. He liked his drop, he did. But there's many drunks as fall – nasty falls – but it don't do them no lasting harm. But Geordie, he got his neck broke. In there," he pointed up behind him to the pine covered hill, "in Gipsy's Acre."

Yes, I suppose that's how it began. Not that I paid much attention to it at the time. I just happened to remember it. That's all. I think – that is when I think properly – that I built it up a bit in my mind. I don't know if it was before or later that I asked if there were still any gipsies about there. He said there weren't many anywhere nowadays. The police were always moving them on, he said. I asked:

"Why doesn't anybody like gipsies?"

"They're a thieving lot," he said, disapprovingly. Then he peered more closely at me. "Happen you've got gipsy blood yourself?" he suggested, looking hard at me.

I said not that I knew of. It's true, I do look a bit like a gipsy, perhaps that's what fascinated me about the name of Gipsy's Acre. I thought to myself as I was standing there smiling back at him, amused by our conversation, that perhaps I had a bit of gipsy blood.

Gipsy's Acre. I went up the winding road that led out of the village and wound up through the dark trees and came at last to the top of the hill so that I could see out to sea and the ships. It was a marvellous view and I thought, just as one does think things: I wonder how it would be if Gipsy's Acre was my acre. Just like that. It was only a ridiculous thought.

When I passed my hedge clipper again, he said:

"If you want gipsies, there's old Mrs. Lee of course. The Major, he gives her a cottage to live in."

"Who's the Major?" I asked.

He said, in a shocked voice, "Major Phillpot, of course!"

He seemed quite upset that I should ask! I gathered that Major Phillpot was God locally. Mrs. Lee was some kind of dependant of his, I suppose, whom he'd provided for.

The Phillpots seemed to have lived there all their lives and more or less to have run the place.

As I wished my old boy good day and turned away he said, "She's got the last cottage at the end of the street. You'll see her outside, maybe. Doesn't like the inside of houses. Them as has got gipsy blood don't."

So there I was, wandering down the road, whistling and thinking about Gipsy's Acre. I'd almost forgotten what I'd been told when I saw a tall black-haired old woman staring at me over a garden hedge. I knew at once it must be Mrs. Lee. I stopped and spoke to her.

"I hear you can tell me all about Gipsy's Acre up there," I said.

She stared at me through a tangled fringe of black hair and she said:

"Don't have nought to do with it, young man. You listen to me. Forget about it. You're a good-looking lad. Nothing good comes out of Gipsy's Acre and never will."

"I see it's up for sale," I said.

"Aye, that's so, and more fool he who buys it."

"Who's likely to buy it?"

"There's a builder after it. More than one. It'll go cheap. You'll see."

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