"The only joy in the world is to begin...." Cesare Pavese

"The only joy in the world is to begin...." Cesare Pavese

Tuesday, October 18, 2022

An avatar of the great god Pan? Strange shadings in Agatha Christie's Hallowe'en Party (1969)

           "It's beautiful," said Miranda, looking round her.

     Kilterbury Ring was a local beauty spot though its remains were not particularly famous. They had been dismantled many hundreds of years ago. Yet here and there a tall megalithic stone still stood, upright, telling of a long past ritual worship. Miranda asked questions.

     "Why did they have all these stones here?"

     "For ritual. Ritual worship. Ritual sacrifice. You understand about sacrifice, don't you, Miranda?"

     "I think so."

     "It has to be, you see. It's important."

     "You mean, it's not a sort of punishment? It's something else?"

     "Yes, it's something else. You die so that others should live. You die so that beauty should live. Should come into being. That's the important thing."

     "I thought perhaps—"

     "Yes, Miranda?"

     "I thought perhaps you ought to die because what you've done has killed someone else."

     "What put that into your head?"

     "I was thinking of Joyce. If I hadn't told her about something, she wouldn't have died, would she?"

     "Perhaps not."

     "I've felt worried since Joyce died. I needn't have told her, need I? I told her because I wanted to have something worth while telling her. She'd been to India and she kept talking about it—about the tigers and about the elephants and their gold hangings and decorations and their trappings. And I think, too—suddenly I wanted somebody else to know, because you see I hadn't really thought about it before." She added: "Was—was that a sacrifice, too?"

     "In a way."

     Miranda remained contemplative, then she said, "Isn't it time yet?"

     "The sun is not quite right yet. Another five minutes, perhaps, and then it will fall directly on the stone."

     Again they sat silent, beside the car.

     "Now, I think," said Miranda's companion, looking up at the sky where the sun was dipping towards the horizon. "Now is a wonderful moment. No one here. Nobody comes up at this time of day and walks up to the top of Kilterbury Down to see Kilterbury Ring. Too cold in November and the blackberries are over. I'll show you the double axe first. The double axe on the stone. Carved there when they came from Mycenae or from Crete hundreds of years ago. It's wonderful, Miranda, isn't it?"

     "Yes, it's very wonderful," said Miranda. "Show it me."

     They walked up to the topmost stone. Beside it lay a fallen one and a little farther down the slope a slightly inclined one leant as though bent with the weariness of years.

     "Are you happy, Miranda?"

     "Yes, I'm very happy."

     "There's the sign here."

     "Is that really the double axe?"

     "Yes, it's worn with time but that's it. That's the symbol. Put your hand on it. And now—now we will drink to the past and the future and to beauty."

     "Oh, how lovely," said Miranda.

     A golden cup was put into her hand, and from a flask her companion poured a golden liquid into it.

     "It tastes of fruit, of peaches. Drink it, Miranda, and you will be happier still."

     Miranda took the gilt cup. She sniffed at it.

     "Yes. Yes, it does smell of peaches. Oh look, there's the sun. Really red gold—looking as though it was lying on the edge of the world."

     He turned her towards it.

     "Hold the cup and drink."

Readers unfamiliar with Hallowe'en Party may prefer to read these notes only after reading the novel.

*   *   *

Hallowe'en Party (1969) by Agatha Christie is a novel about cupidity's murderous consequences. It is a late-1960s novel, and Christie takes the opportunity to note changes in social psychology relating to the causes of crime, the punishment of crime, and the end of the death penalty's use in the UK. The parents in her novel fear for the safety of their children, whom they see passing beyond their control and enthusiastically ignoring their advice. And for the first time, parents also entertain the possibility that children neglected and abused might make a case exonerating themselves for any crimes they might commit. 

Hallowe'en Party takes place in Woodleigh Common, a London bedroom community. Christie describes it as an unstable world where the old strictures and mores are quickly dissolving.

As local cleaning woman Mrs. Goodbody tells Poirot:

[....]Make me die of laughing, some of it does. See those boys sticking hair all over their faces and photographing each other. And what they dress up in! I saw Master Desmond the other day, and what he was wearing you'd hardly believe. Rose-coloured coat and fawn breeches. Beat the girls hollow, they do. All the girls can think of is to push their skirts higher and higher, and that's not much good to them because they've got to put on more underneath. I mean what with the things they call body stockings and tights, which used to be for chorus girls in my day and none other—they spend all their money on that. But the boys—my word, they look like kingfishers and peacocks or birds of paradise....

Poirot has previously observed to himself:

[....] The sexy girls didn't want Orpheus with his lute, they wanted a pop singer with a raucous voice, expressive eyes and large masses of unruly hair.

(I assume Christie is here thinking of Mick Jagger, that deadly effective solvent of social conventions).

Dr. Ferguson, the local G.P. interviewed by Poirot, registers the changing petty-bourgeois "barometric pressure" this way:

"[....] Mentally disturbed seems the usual answer nowadays. At any rate, it does always in the Magistrates' courts. Nobody gained by her death, nobody hated her. But it seems to me with children nowadays you don't need to look for the reason. The reason's in another place. The reason's in the killer's mind. His disturbed mind or his evil mind or his kinky mind. Any kind of mind you like to call it. I'm not a psychiatrist. There are times when I get tired of hearing those words: 'Remanded for a psychiatrist's report,' after a lad has broken in somewhere, smashed the looking glasses, pinched the bottles of whisky, stolen the silver, knocked an old woman on the head. Doesn't matter much what it is now. Remand them for the psychiatrist's report."

     "And who would you favour, in this case, to remand for a psychiatrist's report?"

As with all Christie's novels, motive for crime is not found in broken homes, broken minds, dysphoria, or addictions. The cupidity that remains once capitalist class relations have eroded social solidarity is more than sufficient.

*   *   *

In Hallowe'en Party's first chapter, thirteen-year-old Joyce Reynolds unwittingly brings herself to the attention of a murderer during afternoon set-up. 

     "I read one of your books," said Ann to Mrs. [Ariadne] Oliver. "The Dying Goldfish. It was quite good," she said kindly.

     "I didn't like that one," said Joyce. "There wasn't enough blood in it. I like murders to have lots of blood."

     "A bit messy," said Mrs. Oliver, "don't you think?"

     "But exciting," said Joyce.

     "Not necessarily," said Mrs. Oliver.

     "I saw a murder once," said Joyce.

     "Don't be silly, Joyce," said Miss Whittaker, the schoolteacher.

     "I did," said Joyce.

     "Did you really?" asked Cathie, gazing at Joyce with wide eyes, "really and truly see a murder?"

     "Of course she didn't," said Mrs. Drake. "Don't say silly things, Joyce."

     "I did see a murder," said Joyce. "I did. I did. I did."

     A seventeen-year-old boy poised on a ladder looked down interestedly.

     "What kind of a murder?" he asked.

     "I don't believe it," said Beatrice.

     "Of course not," said Cathie's mother. "She's just making it up."

     "I'm not. I saw it."

     "Why didn't you go to the police about it?" asked Cathie.

     "Because I didn't know it was a murder when I saw it. It wasn't really till a long time afterwards, I mean, that I began to know that it was a murder. Something that somebody said only about a month or two ago suddenly made me think: Of course, that was a murder I saw."

At the end of the party that same evening Joyce is discovered, drowned in a galvanized bucket  used for apple-bobbing. 

Everyone Poirot interviews about the murder is happy to distance themselves from the enormity by dismissing Joyce as a boaster and a liar.

     "There's to be an inquest," said Mrs. Oliver.


     "Tomorrow or the next day."

     "This girl, Joyce, how old was she?"

     "I don't know exactly. I should think perhaps twelve or thirteen."

     "Small for her age?"

     "No, no, I should think rather mature, perhaps. Lumpy," said Mrs. Oliver.

     "Well-developed? You mean sexy-looking?"

     "Yes, that is what I mean. But I don't think that was the kind of crime it was—I mean that would have been more simple, wouldn't it?"

     "It is the kind of crime," said Poirot, "of which one reads every day in the paper. A girl who is attacked, a school child who is assaulted—yes, every day. This happened in a private house which makes it different, but perhaps not so different as all that...."

*   *   *

Hallowe'en Party is a novel illustrating Christie's theme of "murder in retrospect." Something only clicks in the mind of the witness afterward: about two years, in the case of Hallowe'en Party. The old act initially misunderstood as an accident must be brought to light again, this time as crime. The justice then invoked is not the rough justice or vigilantism of crime fiction today, but justice meted out by the bourgeois state itself.

[Poirot] was a man who thought first always of justice. He was suspicious, had always been suspicious, of mercy—too much mercy, that is to say. Too much mercy, as he knew from former experience both in Belgium and this country, often resulted in further crimes which were fatal to innocent victims who need not have been victims if justice had been put first and mercy second.

*   *   *

My purpose now is to note Christie's use of elements from the horror mode in literature in creating the Woodleigh Common background to Hallowe'en Party.

Let us begin with Chapter Eleven. From start to finish, this twenty-one page chapter, unlike the rest of the novel, is thick with close and specific topographic and horticultural observation highlighted with a number of classical allusions. Until the last chapters of Hallowe'en Party, this chapter seems like a break in the narrative, simply a chance for Poirot to indulge himself in an unusually digressive reverie.

It begins in the woods.

[....]He asked about the Quarry Woods and was told that they were open to the public without charge. The entrance was about five minutes' walk along the road. He would see a notice board on an iron gate.

     He found his way there easily enough, and passing through the gate began to descend a path that led downwards through trees and shrubs.

[....]A young artist who had come here professionally to make out of an abandoned quarry of rough stone a garden, a sunk garden. Here again, Poirot looked round him and nodded his head with approval of the phrase. A Quarry Garden was an ugly term. It suggested the noise of blasting rock, the carrying away by lorries of vast masses of stone for road making. It had behind it industrial demand. But a Sunk Garden—that was different. It brought with it vague remembrances in his own mind. So Mrs. Llewellyn-Smythe had gone on a National Trust tour of gardens in Ireland. He himself, he remembered, had been in Ireland five or six years ago. He had gone there to investigate a robbery of old family silver. There had been some interesting points about the case which had aroused his curiosity, and having (as usual)—Poirot added this bracket to his thoughts—solved his mission with full success, he had put in a few days travelling around and seeing the sights.

     He could not remember now the particular garden he had been to see. Somewhere, he thought, not very far from Cork. Killarney? No, not Killarney. Somewhere not far from Bantry Bay. And he remembered it because it had been a garden quite different from the gardens which he had so far acclaimed as the great successes of this age, the gardens of the Châteaux in France, the formal beauty of Versailles.

[....][What] stirred Mrs. Llewellyn-Smythe to possess such a garden of her own, to have the pleasure of taking an unkempt quarry set in this smug, tidy, elementary and essentially conventional countryside of that part of England.

     And so she had looked about for the proper kind of well-paid slave to do her bidding. And she had found the professionally qualified young man called Michael Garfield and had brought him here and had paid him no doubt a large fee, and had in due course built a house for him. Michael Garfield, thought Poirot, had not failed her.

     He went and sat down on a bench, a bench which had been strategically placed. He pictured to himself what the sunken quarry would look like in the spring. There were young beech trees and birches with their white shivering barks. Bushes of thorn and white rose, little juniper trees. But now it was autumn, and autumn had been catered for also. The gold and red of acers, a parrotia or two, a path that led along a winding way to fresh delights. There were flowering bushes of gorse or Spanish broom—Poirot was not famous for knowing the names of either flowers or shrubs—only roses and tulips could he approve and recognize.

     But everything that grew here had the appearance of having grown by its own will. It had not been arranged or forced into submission. And yet, thought Poirot, that is not really so. All has been arranged, all has been planned to this tiny little plant that grows here and to that large towering bush that rises up so fiercely with its golden and red leaves. Oh yes. All has been planned here and arranged. What is more, I would say that it had obeyed.

     He wondered then whom it had obeyed. Mrs. Llewellyn-Smythe or Michael Garfield? It makes a difference, said Poirot to himself, yes, it makes a difference. Mrs. Llewellyn-Smythe was knowledgeable, he felt sure. She had gardened for many years, she was no doubt a Fellow of the Royal Horticultural Society, she went to shows, she consulted catalogues, she visited gardens. She took journeys abroad, no doubt, for botanical reasons. She would know what she wanted, she would say what she wanted. Was that enough? Poirot thought it was not quite enough. She could have given orders to gardeners and made sure her orders were carried out. But did she know—really know—see in her mind's eye exactly what her orders would look like when they had been carried out? Not in the first year of their planting, not even the second, but things that she would see two years later, three years later, perhaps, even six or seven years later. Michael Garfield, thought Poirot, Michael Garfield knows what she wants because she has told him what she wants, and he knows how to make this bare quarry of stone and rock blossom as a desert can blossom. He planned and he brought it about; he had no doubt the intense pleasure that comes to an artist who is commissioned by a client with plenty of money. Here was his conception of a fairy-land tucked away in a conventional and rather dull hillside, and here it would grow up. Expensive shrubs for which large cheques would have to be written, and rare plants that perhaps would only be obtainable through the goodwill of a friend, and here, too, the humble things that were needed and which cost next to nothing at all. In spring on the bank just to his left there would be primroses, their modest green leaves all bunched together up the side of it told him that.

     "In England," said Poirot, "people show you their herbaceous borders and they take you to see their roses and they talk at inordinate length about their iris gardens, and to show they appreciate one of the great beauties of England, they take you on a day when the sun shines and the beech trees are in leaf, and underneath them are all the bluebells. Yes, it is a very beautiful sight, but I have been shown it, I think, once too often. I prefer—" the thought broke off in his mind as he thought back to what he had preferred. A drive through Devon lanes. A winding road with great banks up each side of it, and on those banks a great carpet and showing of primroses. So pale, so subtly and timidly yellow, and coming from them that sweet, faint, elusive smell that the primrose has in large quantities, which is the smell of spring almost more than any other smell. And so it would not be all rare shrubs here. There would be spring and autumn, there would be little wild cyclamen and there would be autumn crocus here too. It was a beautiful place.

[....] Poirot thought to himself, I'd like to see this Michael Garfield. He made a good thing of this. He knew his job, he was a good planner and he got experienced people to carry his plans out, and he managed, I think, to get his patron's plans so arranged that she would think that the whole planning had been hers. But I don't think it was only hers. It was mostly his. Yes, I'd like to see him. If he's still in the cottage—or the bungalow—that was built for him, I suppose—his thought broke off.

     He stared. Stared across a hollow that lay at his feet where the path ran round the other side of it. Stared at one particular golden red branching shrub which framed something that Poirot did not know for a moment was really there or was a mere effect of shadow and sunshine and leaves.

     What am I seeing? thought Poirot. Is this the result of enchantment? It could be. In this place here, it could be. Is it a human being I see, or is it—what could it be? His mind reverted to some adventures of his many years ago which he had christened "The Labours of Hercules." Somehow, he thought, this was not an English garden in which he was sitting. There was an atmosphere here. He tried to pin it down. It had qualities of magic, of enchantment, certainly of beauty, bashful beauty, yet wild. Here, if you were staging a scene in the theatre, you would have your nymphs, your fauns, you would have Greek beauty, you would have fear too. Yes, he thought, in this sunk garden there is fear. What did Spence's sister say? Something about a murder that took place in the original quarry years ago? Blood had stained the rock there, and afterwards, death had been forgotten, all had been covered over, Michael Garfield had come, had planned and had created a garden of great beauty, and an elderly woman who had not many more years to live had paid out money for it.

     He saw now it was a young man who stood on the other side of the hollow, framed by golden red leaves, and a young man, so Poirot now recognized, of an unusual beauty. One didn't think of young men that way nowadays. You said of a young man that he was sexy or madly attractive, and these evidences of praise are often quite justly made. A man with a craggy face, a man with wild greasy hair and whose features were far from regular. You didn't say a young man was beautiful. If you did say it, you said it apologetically as though you were praising some quality that had been long dead. The sexy girls didn't want Orpheus with his lute, they wanted a pop singer with a raucous voice, expressive eyes and large masses of unruly hair.

     Poirot got up and walked round the path. As he got to the other side of the steep descent, the young man came out from the trees to meet him. His youth seemed the most characteristic thing about him, yet, as Poirot saw, he was not really young. He was past thirty, perhaps nearer forty. The smile on his face was very, very faint. It was not quite a welcoming smile, it was just a smile of quiet recognition. He was tall, slender, with features of great perfection such as a classical sculptor might have produced. His eyes were dark, his hair was black and fitted him as a woven chain mail helmet or cap might have done. For a moment Poirot wondered whether he and this young man might not be meeting in the course of some pageant that was being rehearsed. If so, thought Poirot, looking down at his galoshes, I, alas, shall have to go to the wardrobe mistress to get myself better equipped. He said:

     "I am perhaps trespassing here. If so, I must apologize. I am a stranger in this part of the world. I only arrived yesterday."

     "I don't think one could call it trespassing." The voice was very quiet; it was polite yet in a curious way uninterested, as if this man's thoughts were really somewhere quite far away. "It's not exactly open to the public, but people do walk round here. Old Colonel Weston and his wife don't mind. They would mind if there was any damage done, but that's not really very likely."

     "No vandalism," said Poirot, looking round him. "No litter that is noticeable. Not even a little basket. That is very unusual, is it not? And it seems deserted—strange. Here you would think," he went on, "there would be lovers walking."

     "Lovers don't come here," said the young man. "It's supposed to be unlucky for some reason."

     "Are you, I wonder, the architect? But perhaps I'm guessing wrong."

     "My name is Michael Garfield," said the young man.

     "I thought it might be," said Poirot. He gesticulated with a hand around him. "You made this?"

     "Yes," said Michael Garfield.

     "It is beautiful," said Poirot. "Somehow one feels it is always rather unusual when something beautiful is made in—well, frankly, what is a dull part of the English landscape.

     "I congratulate you," he said. "You must be satisfied with what you have done here."

     "Is one ever satisfied? I wonder."

     "You made it, I think, for a Mrs. Llewellyn-Smythe. No longer alive, I believe. There is a Colonel and Mrs. Weston, I believe? Do they own it now?"

     "Yes. They got it cheap. It's a big, ungainly house—not easy to run—not what most people want. She left it in her Will to me."

     "And you sold it."

     "I sold the house."

     "And not the Quarry Garden?"

     "Oh yes. The Quarry Garden went with it, practically thrown in, as one might say."

     "Now why?" said Poirot. "It is interesting, that. You do not mind if I am perhaps a little curious?"

     "Your questions are not quite the usual ones," said Michael Garfield.

     "I ask not so much for facts as for reasons. Why did A do so and so? Why did B do something else? Why was C's behaviour quite different from that of A and B?"

     "You should be talking to a scientist," said Michael. "It is a matter—or so we are told nowadays—of genes or chromosomes. The arrangement, the pattern, and so on."

     "You said just now you were not entirely satisfied because no one ever was. Was your employer, your patron, whatever you like to call her—was she satisfied? With this thing of beauty?"

     "Up to a point," said Michael. "I saw to that. She was easy to satisfy."

     "That seems most unlikely," said Hercule Poirot. "She was, I have learned, over sixty. Sixty-five at least. Are people of that age often satisfied?"

     "She was assured by me that what I had carried out was the exact carrying out of her instructions and imagination and ideas."

     "And was it?"

     "Do you ask me that seriously?"

     "No," said Poirot. "No. Frankly I do not."

     "For success in life," said Michael Garfield, "one has to pursue the career one wants, one has to satisfy such artistic leanings as one has got, but one has as well to be a tradesman. You have to sell your wares. Otherwise you are tied to carrying out other people's ideas in a way which will not accord with one's own. I carried out mainly my own ideas and I sold them, marketed them perhaps is a better word, to the client who employed me, as a direct carrying out of her plans and schemes. It is not a very difficult art to learn. There is no more to it than selling a child brown eggs rather than white ones. The customer has to be assured they are the best ones, the right ones. The essence of the countryside. Shall we say, the hen's own preference? Brown, farm, country eggs. One does not sell them if one says 'they are just eggs. There is only one difference in eggs. They are new laid or they are not.'"

     "You are an unusual young man," said Poirot. "Arrogant," he said thoughtfully."


     "You have made here something very beautiful. You have added vision and planning to the rough material of stone hollowed out in the pursuit of industry, with no thought of beauty in that hacking out. You have added imagination, a result seen in the mind's eye, that you have managed to raise the money to fulfil. I congratulate you. I pay my tribute. The tribute of an old man who is approaching a time when the end of his own work is come."

     "But at the moment you are still carrying it on?"

     "You know who I am, then?"

     Poirot was pleased indubitably. He liked people to know who he was. Nowadays, he feared, most people did not.

     "You follow the trail of blood…It is already known here…."

*   *   *

Michael Garfield is portrayed in this first meeting with Poirot in a way similar to Frank Halton in E. F. Benson's short story "The Man Who Went Too Far" ( in The Room in the Tower and Other Stories [1912]). Garfield's physical beauty, set in the faux wildness of the quarry garden, suggests he might be taken as an avatar or acolyte of Pan. 

After leaving the faun-like artist Garfield, Poirot meets another character he interprets with mythological associations: twelve year old "dryad" or "wood nymph" Miranda Butler.

     He went on down, following the path and picking his way carefully. He was glad that for once he was not wearing his tight patent leather shoes.

     Michael Garfield was not the only person he was to meet in the sunk garden that day. As he reached the bottom he noted that three paths led from here in slightly different directions. At the entrance of the middle path, sitting on a fallen trunk of a tree, a child was awaiting him. She made this clear at once.

     "I expect you are Mr. Hercule Poirot, aren't you?" she said.

     Her voice was clear, almost bell-like in tone. She was a fragile creature. Something about her matched the sunk garden. A dryad or some elf-like being.

     "That is my name," said Poirot.

     "I came to meet you," said the child. "You are coming to tea with us, aren't you?"

     "With Mrs. Butler and Mrs. Oliver? Yes."

     "That's right. That's Mummy and Aunt Ariadne." She added with a note of censure: "You're rather late."

     "I am sorry. I stopped to speak to someone."

     "Yes, I saw you. You were talking to Michael, weren't you?"

     "You know him?"

     "Of course. We've lived here quite a long time. I know everybody."

     Poirot wondered how old she was. He asked her. She said,

     "I'm twelve years old. I'm going to boarding school next year."

     "Will you be sorry or glad?"

     "I don't really know till I get there. I don't think I like this place very much, not as much as I did." She added, "I think you'd better come with me now, please."

     "But certainly. But certainly. I apologize for being late."

     "Oh, it doesn't really matter."

     "What's your name?"


     "I think it suits you," said Poirot.

     "Are you thinking of Shakespeare?"

     "Yes. Do you have it in lessons?"

     "Yes. Miss Emlyn read us some of it. I asked Mummy to read some more. I liked it. It has a wonderful sound. A brave new world. There isn't anything really like that, is there?"

     "You don't believe in it?"

     "Do you?"

     "There is always a brave new world," said Poirot, "but only, you know, for very special people. The lucky ones. The ones who carry the making of that world within themselves."

     "Oh, I see," said Miranda, with an air of apparently seeing with the utmost ease, though what she saw Poirot rather wondered.

     She turned, started along the path and said,

     "We go this way. It's not very far. You can go through the hedge of our garden."

     Then she looked back over her shoulder and pointed, saying:

     "In the middle there, that's where the fountain was."

     "A fountain?"

     "Oh, years ago. I suppose it's still there, underneath the shrubs and the azaleas and the other things. It was all broken up, you see. People took bits of it away but nobody has put a new one there."

     "It seems a pity."

     "I don't know. I'm not sure. Do you like fountains very much?"

     "Ca dépend," said Poirot.

     "I know some French," said Miranda. "That's it depends, isn't it?"

     "You are quite right. You seem very well-educated."

     "Everyone says Miss Emlyn is a very fine teacher. She's our headmistress. She's awfully strict and a bit stern, but she's terribly interesting sometimes in the things she tells us."

     "Then she is certainly a good teacher," said Hercule Poirot. "You know this place very well—you seem to know all the paths. Do you come here often?"

     "Oh yes, it's one of my favourite walks. Nobody knows where I am, you see, when I come here. I sit in trees—on the branches, and watch things. I like that. Watching things happen."

     "What sort of things?"

     "Mostly birds and squirrels. Birds are very quarrelsome, aren't they? Not like in the bit of poetry that says 'birds in their little nests agree.' They don't really, do they? And I watch squirrels."

     "And you watch people?"

     "Sometimes. But there aren't many people who come here."

     "Why not, I wonder?"

     "I suppose they are afraid."

     "Why should they be afraid?"

     "Because someone was killed here long ago. Before it was a garden, I mean. It was a quarry once and then there was a gravel pile or a sand pile and that's where they found her. In that. Do you think the old saying is true—about you're born to be hanged or born to be drowned?"

     "Nobody is born to be hanged nowadays. You do not hang people any longer in this country."

     "But they hang them in some other countries. They hang them in the streets. I've read it in the papers."

     "Ah. Do you think that is a good thing or a bad thing?"

     Miranda's response was not strictly in answer to the question, but Poirot felt that it was perhaps meant to be.

     "Joyce was drowned," she said. "Mummy didn't want to tell me, but that was rather silly, I think, don't you? I mean, I'm twelve years old."

     "Was Joyce a friend of yours?"

     "Yes. She was a great friend in a way. She told me very interesting things sometimes. All about elephants and rajahs. She'd been to India once. I wish I'd been to India. Joyce and I used to tell each other all our secrets. I haven't so much to tell as Mummy. Mummy's been to Greece, you know. That's where she met Aunt Ariadne, but she didn't take me."

     "Who told you about Joyce?"

     "Mrs. Perring. That's our cook. She was talking to Mrs. Minden who comes and cleans. Someone held her head down in a bucket of water."

     "Have you any idea who that someone was?"

     "I shouldn't think so. They didn't seem to know, but then they're both rather stupid really."

     "Do you know, Miranda?"

     "I wasn't there. I had a sore throat and a temperature so Mummy wouldn't take me to the party. But I think I could know. Because she was drowned. That's why I asked if you thought people were born to be drowned. We go through the hedge here. Be careful of your clothes."

     Poirot followed her lead. The entrance through the hedge from the Quarry Garden was more suited to the build of his childish guide with her elfin slimness—it was practically a highway to her. She was solicitous for Poirot, however, warning him of adjacent thorn bushes and holding back the more prickly components of the hedge. They emerged at a spot in the garden adjacent to a compost heap and turned a corner by a derelict cucumber frame to where two dustbins stood. From there on a small neat garden mostly planted with roses gave easy access to the small bungalow house. Miranda led the way through an open french window, announcing with the modest pride of a collector who has just secured a sample of a rare beetle:

     "I've got him all right."

     "Miranda, you didn't bring him through the hedge, did you? You ought to have gone round by the path at the side gate."

     "This is a better way," said Miranda. "Quicker and shorter."

     "And much more painful, I suspect."

     "I forget," said Mrs. Oliver—"I did introduce you, didn't I, to my friend Mrs. Butler?"

     "Of course. In the post office."

     The introduction in question had been a matter of a few moments while there had been a queue in front of the counter. Poirot was better able now to study Mrs. Oliver's friend at close quarters. Before it had been a matter of a slim woman in a disguising headscarf and a mackintosh. Judith Butler was a woman of about thirty-five, and whilst her daughter resembled a dryad or a wood nymph, Judith had more the attributes of a water-spirit. She could have been a Rhine maiden. Her long blonde hair hung limply on her shoulders, she was delicately made with a rather long face and faintly hollow cheeks, whilst above them were big sea-green eyes fringed with long eyelashes.

Late in Hallowe'en Party, Poirot meets Michael and Miranda again in the quarry garden, where Michael is sketching.

     He turned a corner of the pathway feeling for the moment that his feet were much more important than his speculations. Was he taking a short cut to Superintendent Spence's dwelling or was he not? As the crow flies, perhaps, but the main road might have been more good to his feet. This path was not a grassy or mossy one, it had the quarry hardness of stone. Then he paused.

     In front of him were two figures. Sitting on an outcrop of rock was Michael Garfield. He had a sketching block on his knees and he was drawing, his attention fully on what he was doing. A little way away from him, standing close beside a minute but musical stream that flowed down from above, Miranda Butler was standing. Hercule Poirot forgot his feet, forgot the pains and ills of the human body, and concentrated again on the beauty that human beings could attain. There was no doubt that Michael Garfield was a very beautiful young man. He found it difficult to know whether he himself liked Michael Garfield or not. It is always difficult to know if you like anyone beautiful. You like beauty to look at, at the same time you dislike beauty almost on principle. Women could be beautiful, but Hercule Poirot was not at all sure that he liked beauty in men. He would not have liked to be a beautiful young man himself, not that there had ever been the least chance of that. There was only one thing about his own appearance which really pleased Hercule Poirot, and that was the profusion of his moustaches, and the way they responded to grooming and treatment and trimming. They were magnificent. He knew of nobody else who had any moustache half as good. He had never been handsome or good-looking. Certainly never beautiful.

     And Miranda? He thought again, as he had thought before, that it was her gravity that was so attractive. He wondered what passed through her mind. It was the sort of thing one would never know. She would not say what she was thinking easily. He doubted if she would tell you what she was thinking, if you asked her. She had an original mind, he thought, a reflective mind. He thought too she was vulnerable. Very vulnerable. There were other things about her that he knew, or thought he knew. It was only thinking so far, but yet he was almost sure.

     Michael Garfield looked up and said,

     "Ha! Señor Moustachios. A very good afternoon to you, sir."

     "Can I look at what you are doing or would it incommode you? I do not want to be intrusive."

     "You can look," said Michael Garfield, "it makes no difference to me." He added gently, "I'm enjoying myself very much."

     Poirot came to stand behind his shoulder. He nodded. It was a very delicate pencil drawing, the lines almost invisible. The man could draw, Poirot thought. Not only design gardens. He said, almost under his breath:


     "I think so too," said Michael Garfield.

     He let it be left doubtful whether he referred to the drawing he was making, or to the sitter.

     "Why?" asked Poirot.

     "Why am I doing it? Do you think I have a reason?"

     "You might have."

     "You're quite right. If I go away from here, there are one or two things I want to remember. Miranda is one of them."

     "Would you forget her easily?"

     "Very easily. I am like that. But to have forgotten something or someone, to be unable to bring a face, a turn of a shoulder, a gesture, a tree, a flower, a contour of landscape, to know what it was like to see it but not to be able to bring that image in front of one's eyes, that sometimes causes—what shall I say—almost agony. You see, you record—and it all passes away."

     "Not the Quarry Garden or park. That has not passed away."

     "Don't you think so? It soon will. It soon will if no one is here. Nature takes over, you know. It needs love and attention and care and skill. If a Council takes it over—and that's what happens very often nowadays—then it will be what they call 'kept up.' The latest sort of shrubs may be put in, extra paths will be made, seats will be put at certain distances. Litter bins even may be erected. Oh, they are so careful, so kind at preserving. You can't preserve this. It's wild. To keep something wild is far more difficult than to preserve it."

     "Monsieur Poirot." Miranda's voice came across the stream.

     Poirot moved forward, so that he came within earshot of her.

     "So I find you here. So you came to sit for your portrait, did you?"

     She shook her head.

     "I didn't come for that. That just happened."

     "Yes," said Michael Garfield, "yes, it just happened. A piece of luck sometimes comes one's way."

     "You were just walking in your favourite garden?"

     "I was looking for the well, really," said Miranda.

     "A well?"

     "There was a wishing well once in this wood."

     "In a former quarry? I didn't know they kept wells in quarries."

     "There was always a wood round the quarry. Well, there were always trees here. Michael knows where the well is but he won't tell me."

     "It will be much more fun for you," said Michael Garfield, "to go on looking for it. Especially when you're not at all sure it really exists."

     "Old Mrs. Goodbody knows all about it."

     And added:

     "She's a witch."

     "Quite right," said Michael. "She's the local witch, Monsieur Poirot. There's always a local witch, you know, in most places. They don't always call themselves witches, but everyone knows. They tell a fortune or put a spell on your begonias or shrivel up your peonies or stop a farmer's cow from giving milk and probably give love potions as well."

     "It was a wishing well," said Miranda. "People used to come here and wish. They had to go round it three times backwards and it was on the side of the hill, so it wasn't always very easy to do."

     She looked past Poirot at Michael Garfield. "I shall find it one day," she said, "even if you won't tell me. It's here somewhere, but it was sealed up, Mrs. Goodbody said. Oh! years ago. Sealed up because it was said to be dangerous. A child fell into it years ago—Kitty Somebody. Someone else might have fallen into it."

     "Well, go on thinking so," said Michael Garfield. "It's a good local story, but there is a wishing well over at Little Belling."

     "Of course," said Miranda. "I know all about that one. It's a very common one," she said. "Everybody knows about it, and it's very silly. People throw pennies into it and there's not any water in it any more so there's not even a splash."

This sketch will be recalled at the end of the novel, after Miranda and her mother have "come through the fire."

     "You suspected her because of the water clue," said Mrs. Oliver. "How did you come to suspect Michael Garfield?"

     "He fitted," said Poirot simply. "And then—the last time I spoke to Michael Garfield, I was sure. He said to me, laughing—'Get thee beyond me, Satan. Go and join your police friends.' And I knew then, quite certainly. It was the other way round. I said to myself: 'I am leaving you behind me, Satan.' A Satan so young and beautiful as Lucifer can appear to mortals…."

     There was another woman in the room—until now she had not spoken, but now she stirred in her chair.

     "Lucifer," she said. "Yes, I see now. He was always that."

     "He was very beautiful," said Poirot, "and he loved beauty. The beauty that he made with his brain and his imagination and his hands. To it he would sacrifice everything. In his own way, I think, he loved the child Miranda—but he was ready to sacrifice her—to save himself. He planned her death very carefully—he made of it a ritual and, as one might put it, indoctrinated her with the idea. She was to let him know if she were leaving Woodleigh Common—he instructed her to meet him at the Inn where you and Mrs. Oliver lunched. She was to have been found on Kilterbury Ring—there by the sign of the double axe, with a golden goblet by her side—a ritual sacrifice."

     "Mad," said Judith Butler. "He must have been mad."

     "Madame, your daughter is safe—but there is something I would like to know very much."

     "I think you deserve to know anything I can tell you, Monsieur Poirot."

     "She is your daughter—was she also Michael Garfield's daughter?"

     Judith was silent for a moment, and then she said, "Yes."

     "But she doesn't know that?"

     "No. She has no idea. Meeting him here was a pure coincidence. I knew him when I was a young girl. I fell wildly in love with him and then—and then I got afraid."


     "Yes. I don't know why. Not of anything he would do or that sort of thing, just afraid of his nature. His gentleness, but behind it, a coldness and a ruthlessness. I was even afraid of his passion for beauty and for creation in his work. I didn't tell him I was going to have a child. I left him—I went away and the baby was born. I invented the story of a pilot husband who had had a crash. I moved about rather restlessly. I came to Woodleigh Common more or less by chance. I had got contacts in Medchester where I could find secretarial work.

     "And then one day Michael Garfield came here to work in the Quarry Wood. I don't think I minded. Nor did he. All that was over long ago, but later, although I didn't realize how often Miranda went there to the Wood, I did worry—"

     "Yes," said Poirot, "there was a bond between them. A natural affinity. I saw the likeness between them—only Michael Garfield, the follower of Lucifer the beautiful, was evil, and your daughter has innocence and wisdom, and there is no evil in her."

     He went over to his desk and brought back an envelope. Out of it he drew a delicate pencil drawing.

     "Your daughter," he said.

     Judith looked at it. It was signed "Michael Garfield."

     "He was drawing her by the stream," said Poirot, "in the Quarry Wood. He drew it, he said, so that he should not forget. He was afraid of forgetting. It wouldn't have stopped him killing her, though."

     Then he pointed to a pencilled word across the top left hand corner.

     "Can you read that?"

     She spelt it out slowly.


     "Yes," said Poirot, "Iphigenia. Agamemnon sacrificed his daughter, so that he should get a wind to take his ships to Troy. Michael would have sacrificed his daughter so that he should have a new Garden of Eden."

     "He knew what he was doing," said Judith. "I wonder—if he would ever have had regrets?"

     Poirot did not answer. A picture was forming in his mind of a young man of singular beauty lying by the megalithic stone marked with a double axe, and still clasping in his dead fingers the golden goblet he had seized and drained when retribution had come suddenly to save his victim and to deliver him to justice.

     It was so that Michael Garfield had died—a fitting death, Poirot thought—but, alas, there would be no garden blossoming on an island in the Grecian Seas….

     Instead there would be Miranda—alive and young and beautiful.

     He raised Judith's hand and kissed it.

     "Goodbye, Madame, and remember me to your daughter."

*   *   *

It is not my purpose to argue that Hallowe'en Party is a horror novel, any more than it is a satire or a comedy of manners. However, Christie does employ elements from these three different modes of fiction. With her genius for shaping material, she modulates the elements to the register of the perfectly clued fair-play mystery novel.

Christie gives the final, deflecting word to her own avatar:

"That's right," said Mrs. Oliver in an exasperated voice, "blame it all on me as usual!"


17 October 2022

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