The Unexpected Guest – Agatha Christie
It was shortly before midnight on a chilly November evening, and swirls of mist obscured parts of the dark, narrow, tree-lined country road in South Wales, not far from the Bristol Channel whence a foghorn sounded its melancholy boom automatically every few moments. Occasionally, the distant barking of a dog could be heard, and the melancholy call of a night-bird. What few houses there were along the road, which was little better than a lane, were about a half-mile apart. On one of its darkest stretches the road turned, passing a handsome, three-storey house standing well back from its spacious garden, and it was at this spot that a car sat, its front wheels caught in the ditch at the side of the road. After two or three attempts to accelerate out of the ditch, the driver of the car must have decided it was no use persevering, and the engine fell silent.
A minute or two passed before the driver emerged from the vehicle, slamming the door behind him. He was a somewhat thick-set, sandy-haired man of about thirty-five, with an outdoor look about him, dressed in a rough tweed suit and dark overcoat and wearing a hat. Using a torch to find his way, he began to walk cautiously across the lawn towards the house, stopping halfway to survey the eighteenth-century building’s elegant facade. The house appeared to be in total darkness as he approached the french windows on that side of the edifice which faced him. After turning to look back at the lawn he had crossed, and the road beyond it, he walked right up to the french windows, ran his hands over the glass, and peered in. Unable to discern any movement within, he knocked on the window. There was no response, and after a pause he knocked again much louder. When he realized that his knocking was not having any effect, he tried the handle. Immediately, the window opened and he stumbled into a room that was in darkness.
Inside the room, he paused again, as though attempting to discern any sound or movement. Then, ‘Hello,’ he called. ‘Is anyone there?’ Flashing his torch around the room which revealed itself to be a well-furnished study, its walls lined with books, he saw in the centre of the room a handsome middle-aged man sitting in a wheelchair facing the french windows, with a rug over his knees. The man appeared to have fallen asleep in his chair. ‘Oh, hello,’ said the intruder. ‘I didn’t mean to startle you. So sorry. It’s this confounded fog. I’ve just run my car off the road into a ditch, and I haven’t the faintest idea where I am. Oh, and I’ve left the window open. I’m so sorry.’ Continuing to speak apologetically as he moved, he turned back to the french windows, shut them, and closed the curtains. ‘Must have run off the main road somewhere,’ he explained. ‘I’ve been driving round these topsy-turvy lanes for an hour or more.’
There was no reply. ‘Are you asleep?’ the intruder asked, as he faced the man in the wheelchair again. Still receiving no answer, he shone his torch on the face of the chair’s occupant, and then stopped abruptly. The man in the chair neither opened his eyes nor moved. As the intruder bent over him, touching his shoulder as though to awaken him, the man’s body slumped down into a huddled position in the chair. ‘Good God!’ the man holding the torch exclaimed. He paused momentarily, as though undecided what to do next, and then, shining his torch about the room, found a light switch by a door, and crossed the room to switch it on.
The light on a desk came on. The intruder put his torch on the desk and, looking intently at the man in the wheelchair, circled around him. Noticing another door with a light switch by it, he went across and flicked the switch, thus turning on the lamps on two occasional tables strategically placed around the room. Then, taking a step towards the man in the wheelchair, he gave a start as he suddenly noticed for the first time an attractive, fair-haired woman of about thirty, wearing a cocktail dress and matching jacket, standing by a book-lined recess on the opposite side of the room. With her arms hanging limply by her sides, she neither moved nor spoke. It seemed as though she was trying not even to breathe. There was a moment’s silence while they stared at each other. Then the man spoke. ‘He – he’s dead!’ he exclaimed.
Completely without expression, the woman answered him. ‘Yes.’
‘You already knew?’ asked the man.
Cautiously approaching the body in the wheelchair, the man said, ‘He’s been shot. Through the head. Who – ?’
He paused as the woman slowly brought her right hand up from where it had been hidden by the folds of her dress. In her hand was a revolver. The man drew in his breath sharply. When it seemed that she was not threatening him with it, he approached her, and gently took the gun from her. ‘You shot him?’ he asked.
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