Ordeal by Innocence
Author:Agatha Christie

Chapter 1
It was dusk when he came to the ferry.

He could have been there much earlier. The truth was, he had put it off as long as he could.

First his luncheon with friends in Redquay; the light desultory conversation, the interchange of gossip about mutual friends - all that had meant only that he was inwardly shrinking from what he had to do. His friends had invited him to stay on for tea and he had accepted. But at last the time had come when he knew that he could put things off no longer.

The car he had hired was waiting. He said goodbye and left to drive the seven miles along the crowded coast road and then inland down the wooded lane that ended at the little stone quay on the river.

There was a large bell there which his driver rang vigorously to summon the ferry from the far side.

"You won't be wanting me to wait, sir?"

"No," said Arthur Calgary. "I've ordered a car to meet me over there in an hour's time - to take me to Drymouth."

The man received his fare and tip. He said, peering across the river in the gloom: "Ferry's coming now, sir."

With a soft-spoken good night he reversed the car and drove away up

the hill. Arthur Calgary was left alone waiting on the quayside. Alone with his thoughts and his apprehension of what was in front of him. How wild the scenery was here, he thought. One could fancy oneself on a Scottish loch, far from anywhere. And yet, only a few miles away, were the hotels, the shops, the cocktail bars and the crowds of Redquay. He reflected, not for the first time, on the extraordinary contrasts of the English landscape.

He heard the soft splash of the oars as the ferry boat drew in to the side of the little quay. Arthur Calgary walked down the sloping ramp and got into the boat as the ferryman steadied it with a boathook. He was an old man and gave Calgary the fanciful impression that he and his boat belonged together, were one and indivisible.

A little cold wind came rustling up from the sea as they pushed off.

"Tis chilly this evening," said the ferryman.

Calgary replied suitably.

He further agreed that it was colder than yesterday.

He was conscious, or thought he was conscious, of a veiled curiosity in the ferryman's eyes. Here was a stranger. And a stranger after the close of the tourist season proper. Moreover, this stranger was crossing at an unusual hour -too late for tea at the cafe by the pier. He had no luggage so he could not be coming to stay. (Why, Calgary wondered, had he come so late in the day? Was it really because, subconsciously, he had been putting this moment off? Leaving as late as possible, the thing that had to be done?) Crossing the Rubicon - the river... the river... his mind went back to that other river - the Thames.

He had stared at it unseeingly (was it only yesterday?) then turned to look again at the man facing him across the table. Those thoughtful eyes with something in them that he had not quite been able to understand. A reserve, something that was being thought but not expressed...

"I suppose," he thought, "they learn never to show what they are thinking."

The whole thing was pretty frightful when one came right down to it. He must do what had to be done - and after that -

He frowned as he remembered the conversation yesterday. That pleasant, quiet, non-committal voice, saying: "You're quite determined on your course of action, Dr. Calgary?"

He had answered, hotly: "What else can I do? Surely you see that? You must agree? It's a thing I can't possibly shirk."

But he hadn't understood the look in those withdrawn grey eyes, and had been faintly perplexed by the answer.

"One has to look all around a subject - consider it from all aspects."

"Surely there can be only one aspect from the point of view of justice?"

He had spoken hotly, thinking for a moment that this was an ignoble suggestion of "hushing up" the matter.

"In a way, yes. But there's more to it than that, you know. More than - shall we say - justice?"

"I don't agree. There's the family to consider."

And the other had said quickly: "Quite - oh, yes - quite. I was thinking of them."

Which seemed to Calgary nonsense! Because if one were thinking of them -

But immediately the other man had said, his pleasant voice

unchanged: "It's entirely up to you, Dr. Calgary. You must, of course, do exactly as you feel you have to do."

The boat grounded on the beach. He had crossed the Rubicon.

The ferryman's soft West Country voice said: "That will be four-pence, sir, or do you want a return?"

"No," Calgary said. "There will be no return." (How fateful the words sounded!) He paid. Then he asked: "Do you know a house called Sunny Point?"

Immediately the curiosity ceased to be veiled. The interest in the old man's eyes leaped up avidly.

"Why, surely. 'Tis there, up along to your right - you can just see it through them trees. You go up the hill and along the road to the right, and then take the new road through the building estate. 'Tis the last house at the very end."

"Thank you."

"You did say Sunny Point, sir? Where Mrs. Argyle -"

"Yes, yes," Calgary cut him short. He didn't want to discuss the matter.

"Sunny Point."

A slow and rather peculiar smile twisted the ferryman's lips. He looked suddenly like an ancient sly faun.

"It was her called the house that - in the war. It were a new house, of course, only just been built - hadn't got a name. But the ground 'tis built on - that wooded spot - Viper's Point, that is! But Viper's Point wouldn't do for her - not

for the name of her house. Called it Sunny Point, she did. But Viper's Point's what we all us call it."

Calgary thanked him brusquely, said good evening, and started up the hill. Everyone seemed to be inside their houses, but he had the fancy that unseen eyes were peering through the windows of the cottages; all watching him with the knowledge of where he was going.

Saying to each other, "He's going to Viper's Point..." Viper's point. What a horribly apposite name that must have seemed...

For sharper than a serpent's tooth...

He checked his thoughts brusquely. He must pull himself together and make up his mind exactly what he was going to say...

Calgary came to the end of the nice new road with the nice new houses on either side of it, each with its eighth of an acre of garden; rock plants, chrysanthemums, roses, salvias, geraniums, each owner

displaying his or her individual garden taste. At the end of the road was a gate with Sunny Point in Gothic letters on it. He opened the gate, passed through, and went along a short drive. The house was there ahead of him, a well-built, characterless modern house, gabled and porched. It might have stood on any good-class suburban site, or a new development anywhere. It was unworthy, in Calgary's opinion, of its view. For the view was magnificent. The river here curved sharply round the point almost turning back on itself. Wooded hills rose opposite; up-stream to the left was a further bend of the river with meadows and orchards in the distance.

Calgary looked for a moment up and down the river.

One should have built a castle here, he thought, an impossible, ridiculous, fairy tale castle! The sort of castle that might be made of gingerbread or of frosted sugar.

Instead there was good taste, restraint, moderation, plenty of money and absolutely no imagination. For that, naturally, one did not blame the Argyles. They had only bought the house, not built it. Still, they, or one of them (Mrs. Argyle?) had chosen it...

He said to himself: "You can't put it off any longer -" and pressed the electric bell beside the door.

He stood there, waiting. After a decent interval he pressed the bell again.

He heard no footsteps inside but, without warning, the door swung suddenly open.

He moved back a step, startled. To his already overstimulated imagination, it seemed as though Tragedy herself stood there barring his way. It was a young face; indeed it was in the poignancy of its youth that tragedy had its very essence. The Tragic Mask, he thought, should always be a mask of youth Helpless, foreordained, with doom approaching... from the future...

Rallying himself, he thought, rationalizing: "Irish type."

The deep blue of the eyes, the dark shadow round them, the up- springing black hair, the mournful beauty of the bones of the skull and cheekbones -

The girl stood there, young, watchful and hostile. She said: "Yes? What do you want?"

He replied conventionally. "Is Mr. Argyle in?"

"Yes. But he doesn't see people. I mean, people he doesn't know. He doesn't know you, does he?"

"No. He doesn't know me, but -"

She began to close the door.

"Then you'd better write..."

"I'm sorry, but I particularly want to see him. Are you - Miss Argyle?"

She admitted it grudgingly.

"I'm Hester Argyle, yes. But my father doesn't see people - not without an appointment. You'd better write."

"I've come a long way..." She was unmoved.

"They all say that. But I thought this kind of thing had stopped at last." She went

on accusingly, "You're a reporter, I suppose?"

"No, no, nothing of the sort."

She eyed him suspiciously as though she did not believe him.

"Well, what do you want then?" Behind her, some way back in the hall, he saw another face. A flat homely face. Describing it, he would have called it a face like a pancake, the face of a middle-aged woman, with frizzy yellowish grey hair plastered on top of her head. She seemed to hover, waiting, like a watchful dragon.

"It concerns your brother, Miss Argyle."

Hester Argyle drew in her breath sharply. She said, without belief,

"Michael?"

"No, your brother Jack."

She burst out: "I knew it! I knew you'd come about Jacko! Why can't you leave us in peace? It's all over and finished with. Why go on about it?"

"You can never really say that anything is finished."

"But this is finished! Jacko is dead. Why can't you let him be? All that's over. If you're not a journalist, I suppose you're a doctor, or a psychologist, or something. Please go away. My father can't be disturbed. He's busy."

She began to close the door. In a hurry, Calgary did what he ought to have done at first, pulled out the letter from his pocket and thrust it towards her.

"I have a letter here - from Mr. Marshall."

She was taken aback. Her fingers closed doubtfully on the envelope. She said uncertainly: "From Mr. Marshall - in London?"

She was joined now suddenly by the middle-aged woman who had been lurking in the recesses of the hall.

She peered at Calgary suspiciously and he was reminded of foreign convents. Of course, this should have been a nun's face. It demanded the crisp white coif or whatever you called it, framed tightly round the face, and the black habit and veil. It was the face, not of a contemplative, but of the lay sister who peers at you suspiciously through the little opening in the thick door, before grudgingly admitting you and taking you to the visiting parlour, or to Reverend Mother.

She said: "You come from Mr. Marshall?"

She made it almost an accusation.

Hester was staring down at the envelope in her hand.

Then, without a word, she turned and ran up the stair.

Calgary remained on the doorstep, sustaining the accusing and suspicious glance of the dragon-cumlay-sister. He cast about for something to say, but he could not think of anything. Prudently, therefore, he remained silent.

Presently Hester's voice, cool and aloof, floated down to them. "Father says he's to come up."

Somewhat unwillingly, his watchdog moved aside. Her expression of suspicion did not alter. He passed, her, laid his hat on a chair, and mounted the stairs to where Hester stood waiting for him.

The inside of the house struck him as vaguely hygienic. It could almost, he thought, have been an expensive nursing home.

Hester led him along a passage and down three steps. Then she threw

open a door and gestured to him to pass through it. She came in behind him, closing the door after her.

The room was a library, and Calgary raised his head with a sense of pleasure. The atmosphere of this room was quite different from the rest of the house. This was a room where a man lived, where he both worked and took his ease. The walls were lined with books, the chairs were large, rather shabby, but easeful. There was a pleasant disorder of papers on the desk, of books lying about on tables. He had a momentary glimpse of a young woman who was leaving the room by a

door at the far end, rather an attractive young woman. Then his attention was taken by the man who rose and came to greet him, the open letter in his hand.

Calgary's first impression of Leo Argyle was that he was so attenuated, so transparent, as hardly to be there at all. A wraith of a man! His voice when he spoke was pleasant, though lacking in resonance.

"Dr. Calgary?" he said. "Do sit down."

Calgary sat. He accepted a cigarette. His host sat down opposite him. All was done without hurry, as though in a world where time meant very little. There was a faint gentle smile on Leo Argyle's face as he spoke, tapping the letter gently with a bloodless finger as he did so.

"Mr. Marshall writes that you have an important communication to make to us, though he doesn't specify its nature." His smile deepened as he added: "Lawyers are always so careful not to commit themselves, aren't they?"

It occurred to Calgary with a faint shock of surprise, that this man confronting him was a happy man. Not buoyantly or zestfully happy, as is the normal way of happiness - but happy in some shadowy but satisfactory retreat of his own. This was a man on whom the outer world did not impinge and who was contented that this should be so. He did not know why he should be surprised by this - but he was.

Calgary said: "It is very kind of you to see me." The words were a mere mechanical introduction. "I thought it better to come in person than to write." He paused - then said in a sudden rush of agitation. "It is difficult - very difficult..."

"Do take your time."

Leo Argyle was still polite and remote.

He leaned forward; in his gentle way he was obviously trying to help.

Since you bring this letter from Marshall, I presume that your visit has to do with my unfortunate son Jacko - Jack, I mean - Jacko was our own name for him."

All Calgary's carefully prepared words and phrases had deserted him. He sat here, faced with the appalling reality of what he had to tell. He stammered again.

"It's so terribly difficult..."

There was a moment's silence, and then Leo said cautiously: "If it helps you -we're quite aware that Jacko was - hardly a normal personality. Nothing that you have to tell us will be likely to surprise us. Terrible as the tragedy was, I have been fully convinced all along that Jacko was not really responsible for his actions."

"Of course he wasn't." It was Hester, and Calgary started at the sound of her voice. He had momentarily forgotten about her. She had sat down on the arm of a chair just behind his left shoulder. As he turned his head, she leaned forward eagerly towards him.

"Jacko was always awful," she said confidentially. "He was just the same as a little boy - when he lost his temper, I mean. Just caught up anything he could find and - and went for you..."

"Hester - Hester - my dear." Argyle's voice was distressed.

Startled, the girl's hand flew to her lips. She flushed and spoke with the sudden awkwardness of youth.

"I'm sorry," she said. "I didn't mean -1 forgot -1 -1 oughtn't to have said a thing like that - not now that he's -1 mean, now that it's all over and... and..."

"Over and done with," said Argyle. "All of this is in the past. I try - we all try - to feel that the boy must be regarded as an invalid. One of Nature's misfits. That, I think, expresses it best." He looked at Calgary.

"You agree?"

"No," said Calgary.

There was a moment's silence. The sharp negative had taken both his

listeners aback. It had come out with almost explosive force. Trying to mitigate its effect, he said awkwardly: "I - I'm sorry. You see, you don't understand yet."

"Oh!" Argyle seemed to consider. Then he turned his head towards his daughter.

"Hester, I think perhaps you'd better leave us..."

"I'm not going away! I've got to hear - to know what it's all about."

"It may be unpleasant..."

Hester cried out impatiently: "What does it matter what other awful things Jacko may have done? That's all over."

Calgary spoke quickly.

"Please believe me - there is no question of anything that your brother has done - quite the opposite."

"I don't see-"

The door at the far end of the room opened and the young woman whom Calgary had just glimpsed earlier came back into the room. She

wore an outdoor coat now, and carried a small attache-case.

She spoke to Argyle.

"I'm going now. Is there anything else?"

There was a momentary hesitation on Argyle's part (he would always hesitate, Calgary thought) and then he laid a hand on her arm and drew her forward.

"Sit down, Gwenda," he said. "This is - er - Dr. Calgary. This is Miss Vaughan, who is - who is -"

Again he paused as though in doubt. "Who has been my secretary for some years now." He added: "Dr. Calgary has come to tell us something - or - ask us something - about Jacko -"

"To tell you something," Calgary interrupted. "And although you don't realise it, every moment you are making it more difficult for me."

They all looked at him in some surprise, but in Gwenda Vaughan's eyes he saw a flicker of something that looked like comprehension. It was as though he and she were momentarily in alliance, as though she had said: "Yes -1 know how difficult the Argyles can be."

She was an attractive young woman, he thought, though not so very young -perhaps thirty-seven or eight. A well-rounded figure, dark hair and eyes, a general air of vitality and good health. She gave the impression of being both competent and intelligent.

Argyle said with a frosty touch in his manner: "I am not at all aware of making things difficult for you, Dr. Calgary. Such was certainly not my intention. If you will come to the point -"

"Yes, I know. Forgive me for saying what I did. But it is the persistence with which you - and your daughter - are continually underlining that things are over - done with - finished. They are not over. Who is it who said: 'Nothing is ever settled until -'"

'"Until it is settled right,'" Miss Vaughan finished for him. "Kipling."

She nodded at him encouragingly. He felt grateful to her.

"But I'll come to the point," Calgary went on. "When you've heard what I have to say, you'll understand my - my reluctance. More, my distress. To begin with, I must mention a few things about myself. I am a geophysicist, and have recently formed part of an Antarctic

expedition. I only returned to England a few weeks ago."

"The Hayes Bentley Expedition?" asked Gwenda. He turned towards her gratefully.

"Yes. It was the Hayes Bentley Expedition. I tell you this to explain my background, and also to explain that I have been out of touch for about two years with - with current events."

She went on helping him: "You mean - with such things as murder trials

-" "Yes, Miss Vaughan, that is exactly what I mean." He turned to Argyle.

"Please forgive me if this is painful, but I must just check over with you certain times and dates. On November 9th, the year before last, at about six o'clock in the evening, your son, Jack Argyle (Jacko to you), called here and had an interview with his mother, Mrs. Argyle."

"My wife, yes."

"He told her that he was in trouble and demanded money. This had happened before -"

"Many times," said Leo with a sigh.

"Mrs. Argyle refused. He became abusive, threatening. Finally he flung away and left, shouting out that he was coming back and that she had

'jolly well got to stump up.' He said, 'You don't want me to go to prison, do you?' and she replied, 'I am beginning to believe that it may be the best thing for you.'"

Leo Argyle moved uneasily.

"My wife and I had talked it over together. We were - very unhappy about the boy. Again and again we had come to his rescue, tried to give him a fresh start. It had seemed to us that perhaps the shock of a prison sentence - the training -" His voice died away. "But please go on."

Calgary went on: "Later that evening, your wife was killed. Attacked with a poker and struck down. Your son's fingerprints were on the poker, and a large sum of money was gone from the bureau drawer where your wife had placed it earlier. The police picked up your son in Drymouth. The money was found on him, most of it was in five-pound notes, one of which had a name and address written on it which enabled it to be identified by the bank as one that had been paid out to Mrs. Argyle that morning. He was charged and stood his trial." Calgary paused. "The verdict was wilful murder."

It was out - the fateful word. Murder... not an echoing word; a stifled word, a word that got absorbed into the hangings, the books, the pile carpet... The word could be stifled - but not the act...

"I have been given to understand by Mr. Marshall, the solicitor for the defence, that your son protested his innocence when arrested, in a cheery, not to say cocksure manner. He insisted that he had a perfect alibi for the time of the murder which was placed by the police at between seven and seven-thirty. At that time, Jack Argyle said, he was hitch-hiking into Drymouth, having been picked up by a car on the main road from Redmyn to Drymouth about a mile from here just before seven. He didn't know the make of the car (it was dark by then) but it was a black or dark blue saloon driven by a middle-aged man. Every effort was made to trace this car and the man who drove it, but no confirmation of his statement could be obtained, and the lawyers themselves were quite convinced that it was a story hastily fabricated by the boy and not very cleverly fabricated at that...

"At the trial the main line of defence was the evidence of psychologists who sought to prove that Jack Argyle had always been mentally unstable. The judge was somewhat scathing in his comments on this evidence and summed up dead against the prisoner. Jack Argyle was

sentenced to imprisonment for life. He died of pneumonia in prison six months after he began to serve his sentence."

Calgary stopped. Three pairs of eyes were fastened on him. Interest and close attention in Gwenda Vaughan's, suspicion still in Hester's. Leo Argyle's seemed blank.

Calgary said, "You will confirm that I have stated the facts correctly?"

"You are perfectly correct," said Leo, "though I do not yet see why it has been necessary to go over painful facts which we are all trying to forget."

"Forgive me. I had to do so. You do not, I gather, dissent from the verdict?"

"I admit that the facts were as stated - that is, if you do not go behind the facts, it was, crudely, murder. But if you do go behind the facts, there is much to be said in mitigation. The boy was mentally unstable, though unfortunately not in the legal sense of the term.

The McNaughten rules are narrow and unsatisfactory. I assure you, Dr. Calgary, that Rachel herself, my late wife, I mean - would have been the first to forgive and excuse that unfortunate boy for his rash act. She was a most advanced and humane thinker and had a profound

knowledge of psychological factors. She would not have condemned."

"She knew just how violent Jacko could be," said Hester. "He always was - he just didn't seem able to help it."

"So you all," said Calgary slowly, "had no doubts? No doubts of his guilt, I mean."

Hester stared.

"How could we? Of course he was guilty."

"Not really guilty," Leo dissented. "I don't like that word."

"It isn't a true word, either." Calgary took a deep breath. "Jack Argyle was -innocent!"