Endless Night
Author:Agatha Christie

Chapter 4
I hadn't forgotten my plan of going to the auction.

There was three weeks to go. I'd had two more trips to the Continent, one to France and the other to Germany. It was when I was in Hamburg that things came to a crisis.

For one thing I took a violent dislike to the man and his wife I was driving. They represented everything I disliked most. They were rude, inconsiderate, unpleasant to look at, and I suppose they developed in me a feeling of being unable to stand this life of sycophancy any longer. I was careful, mind you. I thought I couldn't stand them another day but I didn't tell them so. No good running yourself in bad with the firm that employs you. So I telephoned up their hotel, said I was ill and I wired London saying the same thing. I said I might be in quarantine and it would be advisable it they sent out a driver to replace me. Nobody could blame me for that. They wouldn't care enough about me to make further inquiries and they'd merely think that I was too feverish to send them any more news. Later, I'd turn up in London again, spinning them a yarn of how ill I'd been! But I didn't think I should do that. I was fed up with the driving racket.

That rebellion of mine was an important turning point in my life. Because of that and of other things, I turned up at the auction rooms on the appointed date.

'Unless sold before by private treaty' had been pasted across the original board. But it was still there, so it hadn't been sold by private treaty. I was so excited I hardly knew what I was doing.

As I say, I had never been to a public auction of property before. I was imbued with the idea that it would be exciting but it wasn't exciting. Not in the least. It was one of the most moribund performances I have ever attended. It took place in a semi-gloomy atmosphere and there were only about six or seven people there. The auctioneer was quite different from those auctioneers that I had seen presiding at furniture sales or things of that kind; men with facetious voices and very hearty and full of jokes. This one, in a dead and alive voice, praised the property and described the acreage and a few things like that and then he went half-heartedly into the bidding. Somebody made a bid of 5,000.

The auctioneer gave a tired smile rather as one who hears a joke that isn't really funny. He made a few remarks and there were a few more bids. They were mostly country types standing around. Someone who looked like a farmer, someone who I guessed to be

one of the competitive builders, a couple of lawyers, I think, one a man who looked as though he was a stranger from London, well dressed and professional looking. I don't know if he made an actual bid, he may have done. If so it was very quietly and done more by gesture.

Anyway the bidding petered to an end, the auctioneer announced in a melancholy voice that the reserve price had not been reached and the thing broke up.

"That was a dull business," I said to one of the country-looking fellows whom I was next to as I went out.

"Much the same usual," he said. "Been to many of these?"

"No," I said, "actually it's the first."

"Come out of curiosity did you? I didn't notice you doing any bidding."

"No fear," I said. "I just wanted to see how it would go."

"Well, it's the way it runs very often. They just want to see who's interested, you know."

I looked at him inquiringly.

"Only three of 'em in it, I should say," said my friend. "Whetherby from Helminster. He's the builder, you know. Then Dakham and Coombe, bidding on behalf of some Liverpool firm, I understand, and a dark horse from London, too, I should say a lawyer. Of course there may be more in it than that, but those seemed the main ones to me. It'll go cheap. That's what everyone says."

"Because of the place's reputation?" I asked.

"Oh, you've heard about Gipsy's Acre, have you? That's only what the country people say. Rural council ought to have altered that road years ago - it's a death trap."

"But the place has got a bad reputation?"

"I tell you that's just superstition. Anyway, as I say, the real business'll happen now behind the scenes, you know. They'll go and make offers. I'd say the Liverpool people might get it. I don't think Whetherby'll go high enough. He likes buying cheap. Plenty of properties coming into the market nowadays for development. After all, it's not many people who could afford to buy the place, pull that ruined house down and put up another house there, could they?"

"Doesn't seem to happen very often nowadays," I said.

"Too difficult. What with taxation and one thing and another, and you can't get domestic help in the country. No, people would rather pay thousands for a luxury flat in a town nowadays up on the sixteenth floor of a modern building. Big unwieldy country houses are a drag in the market."

"But you could build a modern home," I argued.

"Labour saving."

"You could, but it's an expensive business and people aren't so fond of living lonely."

"Some people might be," I said.

He laughed and we parted. I walked along, frowning, puzzling to myself. My feet took me without my really noticing where I was going along the road between the trees and up, up to the curving road that led between the trees to the moorlands.

And so I came to the spot in the road where I first saw Ellie. As I said, she was standing just by a tall fir tree and she had the look, if I can so explain it, of someone who hadn't been there a moment before but had just materialized, as it were, out of the tree. She was wearing a sort of dark green tweed and her hair was the soft brown colour of an autumn leaf and there was something a bit unsubstantial about her. I saw her and I stopped. She was looking at me, her lips just parted, looking slightly startled. I suppose I looked startled too. I wanted to say something and I didn't quite know what to say. Then I said,

"Sorry. I - I didn't mean to startle you. I didn't know there was anyone here."

She said, and her voice was very soft and gentle, it might have been a little girl's voice but not quite. She said,

"It's quite all right. I mean, I didn't think anyone would be here either." She looked round her and said "It - it's a lonely spot." And she shivered just a little.

There was rather a chilly wind that afternoon. But perhaps it wasn't the wind. I don't know. I came a step or two nearer.

"It is a sort of scary place rather, isn't it?" I said. "I mean, the house being a ruin the way it is."

"The Towers," she said thoughtfully. "That was the name of it, wasn't it, only - I mean, there don't seem to have been any towers."

"I expect that was just a name," I said. "People call their houses names like The Towers to make them sound grander than they are."

She laughed just a little. "I suppose that was it," she said.

"This - perhaps you know, I'm not sure - this is the place that they're selling today or putting up for auction?"

"Yes," I said. "I've come from the auction now."

"Oh." She sounded startled. "Were you - are you - interested?"

"I'm not likely to buy a ruined house with a few hundred acres of woodland land," I said. "I'm not in that class."

"Was it sold?" she asked.

"No, it didn't come up to the reserve."

"Oh. I see." She sounded relieved.

"You didn't want to buy it either, did you?" I said.

"Oh no," she said, "of course not." She sounded nervous about it.

I hesitated and then I blurted out the words that came to my lips.

"I'm pretending," I said. "I can't buy it, of course, because I haven't got any money, but I'm interested. I'd like to buy it. I want to buy it. Open your mouth and laugh at me if you like but that's the way it is."

"But isn't it rather too decrepit, too?"

"Oh yes," I said. "I don't mean I want it like it is now. I want to pull this down, cart it all away. It's an ugly house and I think it must have been a sad house. But this place isn't sad or ugly. It's beautiful. Look here. Come a little this way, through the trees. Look out at the view that way where it goes to the hills and the moors. D'you see? Clear away a vista - and then you come this way

-"

I took her by the arm and led her to a second point of the compass. If we were behaving unconventionally she did not notice it. Anyway, it wasn't that kind of way I was holding her. I wanted to show her what I saw.

"Here," I said, "here you see where it sweeps down to the sea and where the rocks show out fire. There's a town between us and that but we can't see it because of the hills bulging out farther down the slope. And then you can look a third way, to a vague foresty valley. Do you see now if you cut down trees and make big vistas and clear this space round the house, do you see what a beautiful house you could have here? You wouldn't site it where the old one is. You'd go about fifty - a hundred yards to the right, here. This is where you could have a house, a wonderful house. A house built by an architect who's a genius."

"Do you know any architects who are geniuses?" She sounded doubtful.

"I know one," I said.

Then I started telling her about Santonix. We sat down side by side on a fallen tree and I talked. Yes, I talked to that slender woodland girl whom I'd never seen before and I put all I had into what I was telling her. I told her the dream that one could build up.

"It won't happen," I said, "I know that. It couldn't happen. But think. Think into it just like I'm thinking into it. There we'd cut the trees and there we'd open up, and we'd plant things,

rhododendrons and azaleas, and my friend Santonix would come. He'd cough a good deal because I think he's dying of consumption

or something but he could do it. He could do it before he died. He could build the most wonderful house. You don't know what his houses are like. He builds them for very rich people and they have to be people who want the right thing. I don't mean the right thing in the conventional sense. Things people who want a dream come

true want. Something wonderful."

"I'd want a house like that," said Ellie. "You make me see it, feel it... Yes, this would be a lovely place to live. Everything one has dreamed of come true. One could live here and be free, not hampered, not tied round by people pushing you into doing everything you don't want, keeping you from doing anything you do want. Oh, I am so sick of my life and the people who are round me and everything!"

That's the way it began, Ellie and I together. Me with my dreams and she with her revolt against her life. We stopped talking and looked at each other.

"What's your name?" she said.

"Mike Rogers," I said. "Michael Rogers," I amended. "What's yours?"

"Fenella." She hesitated and then said, "Fenella Goodman," looking at me with a rather troubled expression.

This didn't seem to take us much farther but we went on looking at each other. We both wanted to see each other again - but just for the moment we didn't know how to set about it.