The Dream
by Agatha Christie — (narrated by Hugh Fraser)

 

“Any fingermarks on the revolver?”

“Yes, his own.”

“And the revolver itself?”

The inspector took up the tale.

“Was one which he kept in the second right-hand drawer of his desk, just as he told you. Mrs. Farley has identified it positively. Moreover, you understand, there is only one entrance to the room, the door giving on to the landing. The two reporters were sitting exactly opposite that door and they swear that no one entered the room from the time Mr. Farley spoke to them, until Mr. Cornworthy entered it at a little after four o’clock.”

“So that there is every reason to suppose that Mr. Farley committed suicide.”

Inspector Barnett smiled a little.

“There would have been no doubt at all but for one point.”

“And that?”

“The letter written to you.”

Poirot smiled too.

“I see! Where Hercule Poirot is concerned—immediately the suspicion of murder arises!”

“Precisely,” said the inspector dryly. “However, after your clearing up of the situation—”

Poirot interrupted him. “One little minute.” He turned to Mrs. Farley. “Had your husband ever been hypnotized?”

“Never.”

“Had he studied the question of hypnotism? Was he interested in the subject?”

She shook her head. “I don’t think so.”

Suddenly her self-control seemed to break down. “That horrible dream! It’s uncanny! That he should have dreamed that—night after night—and then—it’s as though he were—hounded to death!”

Poirot remembered Benedict Farley saying—“I proceed to do that which I really wish to do. I put an end to myself.”

He said, “Had it ever occurred to you that your husband might be tempted to do away with himself?”

“No—at least—sometimes he was very queer. . . .”

Joanna Farley’s voice broke in clear and scornful. “Father would never have killed himself. He was far too careful of himself.”

Dr. Stillingfleet said, “It isn’t the people who threaten to commit suicide who usually do it, you know, Miss Farley. That’s why suicides sometimes seem unaccountable.”

Poirot rose to his feet. “Is it permitted,” he asked, “that I see the room where the tragedy occurred?”

“Certainly. Dr. Stillingfleet—”

The doctor accompanied Poirot upstairs.

Benedict Farley’s room was a much larger one than the secretary’s next door. It was luxuriously furnished with deep leather-covered armchairs, a thick pile carpet, and a superb outsize writing desk.

Poirot passed behind the latter to where a dark stain on the carpet showed just before the window. He remembered the millionaire saying, “At twenty-eight minutes past three I open the second drawer on the right of my desk, take out the revolver that I keep there, load it, and walk over to the window. And then—and then I shoot myself.”

He nodded slowly. Then he said:

“The window was open like this?”

“Yes. But nobody could have got in that way.”

Poirot put his head out. There was no sill or parapet and no pipes near. Not even a cat could have gained access that way. Opposite rose the blank wall of the factory, a dead wall with no windows in it.

Stillingfleet said, “Funny room for a rich man to choose as his own sanctum, with that outlook. It’s like looking out on to a prison wall.”

“Yes,” said Poirot. He drew his head in and stared at the expanse of solid brick. “I think,” he said, “that that wall is important.”

Stillingfleet looked at him curiously. “You mean—psychologically?”

Poirot had moved to the desk. Idly, or so it seemed, he picked up a pair of what are usually called lazy-tongs. He pressed the handles; the tongs shot out to their full length. Delicately, Poirot picked up a burnt match stump with them from beside a chair some feet away and conveyed it carefully to the wastepaper basket.

“When you’ve finished playing with those things . . .” said Stillingfleet irritably.

Hercule Poirot murmured, “An ingenious invention,” and replaced the tongs neatly on the writing table. Then he asked:

“Where were Mrs. Farley and Miss Farley at the time of the—death?”

“Mrs. Farley was resting in her room on the floor above this. Miss Farley was painting in her studio at the top of the house.”

Hercule Poirot drummed idly with his fingers on the table for a minute or two. Then he said:

“I should like to see Miss Farley. Do you think you could ask her to come here for a minute or two?”

“If you like.”

Stillingfleet glanced at him curiously, then left the room. In another minute or two the door opened and Joanna Farley came in.

“You do not mind, Mademoiselle, if I ask you a few questions?”

She returned his glance coolly. “Please ask anything you choose.”

“Did you know that your father kept a revolver in his desk?”

“No.”

“Where were you and your mother—that is to say your stepmother—that is right?”

“Yes, Louise is my father’s second wife. She is only eight years older than I am. You were about to say—?”

“Where were you and she on Thursday of last week? That is to say, on Thursday night.”

She reflected for a minute or two.

“Thursday? Let me see. Oh, yes, we had gone to the theatre. To see Little Dog Laughed.”

“Your father did not suggest accompanying you?”

“He never went out to theatres.”

“What did he usually do in the evenings?”

“He sat in here and read.”

“He was not a very sociable man?”

The girl looked at him directly. “My father,” she said, “had a singularly unpleasant personality. No one who lived in close association with him could possibly be fond of him.”

“That, Mademoiselle, is a very candid statement.”

“I am saving you time, M. Poirot. I realize quite well what you are getting at. My stepmother married my father for his money. I live here because I have no money to live elsewhere. There is a man I wish to marry—a poor man; my father saw to it that he lost his job. He wanted me, you see, to marry well—an easy matter since I was to be his heiress!”

“Your father’s fortune passes to you?”

“Yes. That is, he left Louise, my stepmother, a quarter of a million free of tax, and there are other legacies, but the residue goes to me.” She smiled suddenly. “So you see, M. Poirot, I had every reason to desire my father’s death!”

“I see, Mademoiselle, that you have inherited your father’s intelligence.”

She said thoughtfully, “Father was clever . . . One felt that with him—that he had force—driving power—but it had all turned sour—bitter—there was no humanity left. . . .”

Hercule Poirot said softly, “Grand Dieu, but what an imbecile I am. . . .”

Joanna Farley turned towards the door. “Is there anything more?”

“Two little questions. These tongs here,” he picked up the lazy-tongs, “were they always on the table?”

“Yes. Father used them for picking up things. He didn’t like stooping.”

“One other question. Was your father’s eyesight good?”

She stared at him.

“Oh, no—he couldn’t see at all—I mean he couldn’t see without his glasses. His sight had always been bad from a boy.”

“But with his glasses?”

“Oh, he could see all right then, of course.”

“He could read newspapers and fine print?”

“Oh, yes.”

“That is all, Mademoiselle.”

She went out of the room.

Poirot murmured, “I was stupid. It was there, all the time, under my nose. And because it was so near I could not see it.”

He leaned out of the window once more. Down below, in the narrow way between the house and the factory, he saw a small dark object.

Hercule Poirot nodded, satisfied, and went downstairs again.

The others were still in the library. Poirot addressed himself to the secretary:

“I want you, Mr. Cornworthy, to recount to me in detail the exact circumstances of Mr. Farley’s summons to me. When, for instance, did Mr. Farley dictate that letter?”

“On Wednesday afternoon—at five thirty, as far as I can remember.”

“Were there any special directions about posting it?”

“He told me to post it myself.”

“And you did so?”

“Yes.”

“Did he give any special instructions to the butler about admitting me?”

“Yes. He told me to tell Holmes (Holmes is the butler) that a gentleman would be calling at nine thirty. He was to ask the gentleman’s name. He was also to ask to see the letter.”

“Rather peculiar precaution to take, don’t you think?”

Cornworthy shrugged his shoulders.

“Mr. Farley,” he said carefully, “was rather a peculiar man.”

“Any other instructions?”

“Yes. He told me to take the evening off.”

“Did you do so?”

“Yes, immediately after dinner I went to the cinema.”

“When did you return?”

“I let myself in about a quarter past eleven.”

“Did you see Mr. Farley again that evening?”

“No.”

“And he did not mention the matter the next morning?”

“No.”

Poirot paused a moment, then resumed, “When I arrived I was not shown into Mr. Farley’s own room.”

“No. He told me that I was to tell Holmes to show you into my room.”

“Why was that? Do you know?”

Cornworthy shook his head. “I never questioned any of Mr. Farley’s orders,” he said dryly. “He would have resented it if I had.”

“Did he usually receive visitors in his own room?”

“Usually, but not always. Sometimes he saw them in my room.”

“Was there any reason for that?”

Hugo Cornworthy considered.

“No—I hardly think so—I’ve never really thought about it.”

Turning to Mrs. Farley, Poirot asked:

“You permit that I ring for your butler?”

“Certainly, M. Poirot.”

Very correct, very urbane, Holmes answered the bell.

“You rang, madam?”

Mrs. Farley indicated Poirot with a gesture. Holmes turned politely. “Yes, sir?”

“What were your instructions, Holmes, on the Thursday night when I came here?”

Holmes cleared his throat, then said:

“After dinner Mr. Cornworthy told me that Mr. Farley expected a Mr. Hercule Poirot at nine thirty. I was to ascertain the gentleman’s name, and I was to verify the information by glancing at a letter. Then I was to show him up to Mr. Cornworthy’s room.”

“Were you also told to knock on the door?”

An expression of distaste crossed the butler’s countenance.

“That was one of Mr. Farley’s orders. I was always to knock when introducing visitors—business visitors, that is,” he added.

“Ah, that puzzled me! Were you given any other instructions concerning me?”

“No, sir. When Mr. Cornworthy had told me what I have just repeated to you he went out.”

“What time was that?”

“Ten minutes to nine, sir.”

“Did you see Mr. Farley after that?”

“Yes, sir, I took him up a glass of hot water as usual at nine o’clock.”

“Was he then in his own room or in Mr. Cornworthy’s?”

“He was in his own room, sir.”

“You noticed nothing unusual about that room?”

“Unusual? No, sir.”

“Where were Mrs. Farley and Miss Farley?”

“They had gone to the theatre, sir.”

“Thank you, Holmes, that will do.”

Holmes bowed and left the room. Poirot turned to the millionaire’s widow.

“One more question, Mrs. Farley. Had your husband good sight?”

“No. Not without his glasses.”

“He was very shortsighted?”

“Oh, yes, he was quite helpless without his spectacles.”

“He had several pairs of glasses?”

“Yes.”

“Ah,” said Poirot. He leaned back. “I think that that concludes the case. . . .”

There was silence in the room. They were all looking at the little man who sat there complacently stroking his moustache. On the inspector’s face was perplexity, Dr. Stillingfleet was frowning, Cornworthy merely stared uncomprehendingly, Mrs. Farley gazed in blank astonishment, Joanna Farley looked eager.

Mrs. Farley broke the silence.

“I don’t understand, M. Poirot.” Her voice was fretful. “The dream—”

“Yes,” said Poirot. “That dream was very important.”

Mrs. Farley shivered. She said:

“I’ve never believed in anything supernatural before—but now—to dream it night after night beforehand—”

“It’s extraordinary,” said Stillingfleet. “Extraordinary! If we hadn’t got your word for it, Poirot, and if you hadn’t had it straight from the horse’s mouth—” he coughed in embarrassment, and readopting his professional manner, “I beg your pardon, Mrs. Farley. If Mr. Farley himself had not told that story—”

“Exactly,” said Poirot. His eyes, which had been half-closed, opened suddenly. They were very green. “If Benedict Farley hadn’t told me—”

He paused a minute, looking around at a circle of blank faces.

“There are certain things, you comprehend, that happened that evening which I was quite at a loss to explain. First, why make such a point of my bringing that letter with me?”

“Identification,” suggested Cornworthy.

“No, no, my dear young man. Really that idea is too ridiculous. There must be some much more valid reason. For not only did Mr. Farley require to see that letter produced, but he definitely demanded that I should leave it behind me. And moreover even then he did not destroy it! It was found among his papers this afternoon. Why did he keep it?”

Joanna Farley’s voice broke in. “He wanted, in case anything happened to him, that the facts of his strange dream should be made known.”

Poirot nodded approvingly.

“You are astute, Mademoiselle. That must be—that can only be—the point of the keeping of the letter. When Mr. Farley was dead, the story of that strange dream was to be told! That dream was very important. That dream, Mademoiselle, was vital!

“I will come now,” he went on, “to the second point. After hearing his story I ask Mr. Farley to show me the desk and the revolver. He seems about to get up to do so, then suddenly refuses. Why did he refuse?”

This time no one advanced an answer.

“I will put that question differently. What was there in that next room that Mr. Farley did not want me to see?”

There was still silence.

“Yes,” said Poirot, “it is difficult, that. And yet there was some reason—some urgent reason why Mr. Farley received me in his secretary’s room and refused point blank to take me into his own room. There was something in that room he could not afford to have me see.

“And now I come to the third inexplicable thing that happened on that evening. Mr. Farley, just as I was leaving, requested me to hand him the letter I had received. By inadvertence I handed him a communication from my laundress. He glanced at it and laid it down beside him. Just before I left the room I discovered my error—and rectified it! After that I left the house and—I admit it—I was completely at sea! The whole affair and especially that last incident seemed to me quite inexplicable.”

He looked round from one to the other.

“You do not see?”

Stillingfleet said, “I don’t really see how your laundress comes into it, Poirot.”

“My laundress,” said Poirot, “was very important. That miserable woman who ruins my collars, was, for the first time in her life, useful to somebody. Surely you see—it is so obvious. Mr. Farley glanced at that communication—one glance would have told him that it was the wrong letter—and yet he knew nothing. Why? Because he could not see it properly!”

Inspector Barnett said sharply, “Didn’t he have his glasses on?”

Hercule Poirot smiled. “Yes,” he said. “He had his glasses on. That is what makes it so very interesting.”

He leaned forward.

“Mr. Farley’s dream was very important. He dreamed, you see, that he committed suicide. And a little later on, he did commit suicide. That is to say he was alone in a room and was found there with a revolver by him, and no one entered or left the room at the time that he was shot. What does that mean? It means, does it not, that it must be suicide!”

“Yes,” said Stillingfleet.

Hercule Poirot shook his head.

“On the contrary,” he said. “It was murder. An unusual and a very cleverly planned murder.”

Again he leaned forward, tapping the table, his eyes green and shining.

“Why did Mr. Farley not allow me to go into his own room that evening? What was there in there that I must not be allowed to see? I think, my friends, that there was—Benedict Farley himself!”

He smiled at the blank faces.

“Yes, yes, it is not nonsense what I say. Why could the Mr. Farley to whom I had been talking not realize the difference between two totally dissimilar letters? Because, mes amis, he was a man of normal sight wearing a pair of very powerful glasses. Those glasses would render a man of normal eyesight practically blind. Isn’t that so, Doctor?”

Stillingfleet murmured, “That’s so—of course.”

“Why did I feel that in talking to Mr. Farley I was talking to a mountebank, to an actor playing a part! Consider the setting. The dim room, the greenshaded light turned blindingly away from the figure in the chair. What did I see—the famous patchwork dressing gown, the beaked nose (faked with that useful substance, nose putty), the white crest of hair, the powerful lenses concealing the eyes. What evidence is there that Mr. Farley ever had a dream? Only the story I was told and the evidence of Mrs. Farley. What evidence is there that Benedict Farley kept a revolver in his desk? Again only the story told me and the word of Mrs. Farley. Two people carried this fraud through—Mrs. Farley and Hugo Cornworthy. Cornworthy wrote the letter to me, gave instructions to the butler, went out ostensibly to the cinema, but let himself in again immediately with a key, went to his room, made himself up, and played the part of Benedict Farley.

“And so we come to this afternoon. The opportunity for which Mr. Cornworthy has been waiting arrives. There are two witnesses on the landing to swear that no one goes in or out of Benedict Farley’s room. Cornworthy waits until a particularly heavy batch of traffic is about to pass. Then he leans out of his window, and with the lazy-tongs which he has purloined from the desk next door he holds an object against the window of that room. Benedict Farley comes to the window. Cornworthy snatches back the tongs and as Farley leans out, and the lorries are passing outside, Cornworthy shoots him with the revolver that he has ready. There is a blank wall opposite, remember. There can be no witness of the crime. Cornworthy waits for over half an hour, then gathers up some papers, conceals the lazy-tongs and the revolver between them and goes out on to the landing and into the next room. He replaces the tongs on the desk, lays down the revolver after pressing the dead man’s fingers on it, and hurries out with the news of Mr. Farley’s ‘suicide.’

“He arranges that the letter to me shall be found and that I shall arrive with my story—the story I heard from Mr. Farley’s own lips—of his extraordinary ‘dream’—the strange compulsion he felt to kill himself! A few credulous people will discuss the hypnotism theory—but the main result will be to confirm without a doubt that the actual hand that held the revolver was Benedict Farley’s own.”

Hercule Poirot’s eyes went to the widow’s face—he noted with satisfaction the dismay—the ashy pallor—the blind fear. . . .

“And in due course,” he finished gently, “the happy ending would have been achieved. A quarter of a million and two hearts that beat as one. . . .”

John Stillingfleet, MD, and Hercule Poirot walked along the side of Northway House. On their right was the towering wall of the factory. Above them, on their left, were the windows of Benedict Farley’s and Hugo Cornworthy’s rooms. Hercule Poirot stopped and picked up a small object—a black stuffed cat.

“Voilà,” he said. “That is what Cornworthy held in the lazy-tongs against Farley’s window. You remember, he hated cats? Naturally he rushed to the window.”

“Why on earth didn’t Cornworthy come out and pick it up after he’d dropped it?”

“How could he? To do so would have been definitely suspicious. After all, if this object were found what would anyone think—that some child had wandered round here and dropped it.”

“Yes,” said Stillingfleet with a sigh. “That’s probably what the ordinary person would have thought. But not good old Hercule! D’you know, old horse, up to the very last minute I thought you were leading up to some subtle theory of highfalutin’ psychological ‘suggested’ murder? I bet those two thought so too! Nasty bit of goods, the Farley. Goodness, how she cracked! Cornworthy might have got away with it if she hadn’t had hysterics and tried to spoil your beauty by going for you with her nails. I only got her off you just in time.”

He paused a minute and then said:

“I rather like the girl. Grit, you know, and brains. I suppose I’d be thought to be a fortune hunter if I had a shot at her . . . ?”

“You are too late, my friend. There is already someone sur le tapis. Her father’s death has opened the way to happiness.”

“Take it all round, she had a pretty good motive for bumping off the unpleasant parent.”

“Motive and opportunity are not enough,” said Poirot. “There must also be the criminal temperament!”

“I wonder if you’ll ever commit a crime, Poirot?” said Stillingfleet. “I bet you could get away with it all right. As a matter of fact, it would be too easy for you — I mean the thing would be off as definitely too unsporting.”

“That,” said Poirot, “is a typical English idea.”