Elephants Can Remember, стр. 1

Agatha Christie

Elephants Can Remember

Chapter I. A Literary Luncheon

Mrs. Oliver looked at herself in the glass. She gave a brief, sideways look towards the clock on the mantelpiece, which she had some idea was twenty minutes slow. Then she resumed her study of her coiffure. The trouble with Mrs.

Oliver was-and she admitted it freely-that her styles of hairdressing were always being changed. She had tried almost everything in turn. A severe pompadour at one time, then a wind-swept style where you brushed back your locks to display an intellectual brow, at least she hoped the brow was intellectual. She had tried tightly arranged curls, she had tried a kind of artistic disarray. She had to admit that it did not matter very much today what her type of hairdressing was, because today she was going to do what she very seldom did-wear a hat.

On the top shelf of Mrs. Oliver's wardrobe there reposed four hats. One was definitely allotted to weddings. When you went to a wedding, a hat was a "must." But even then Mrs.

Oliver kept two. One, in a round bandbox, was of feathers. It fitted closely to the head and stood up very well to sudden squalls of rain if they should overtake one unexpectedly as one passed from a car to the interior of the sacred edifice, or as so often nowadays, a registrar's office.

The other, and more elaborate, hat was definitely for attending a wedding held on a Saturday afternoon in summer. It had flowers and chiffon and a covering of yellow net attached with mimosa, The other two hats on the shelf were of a more all-purpose character. One was what Mrs. Oliver called her country house hat, made of tan felt suitable for wearing with tweeds of almost any pattern, with a becoming brim that you could turn up or turn down.

Mrs. Oliver had a cashmere pullover for warmth and a thin pullover for hot days, either of which was suitable in color to go with this. However, though the pullovers were frequently worn, the hat was practically never worn. Because, really, why put on a hat just to go to the country and have a meal with your friends?

The fourth hat was the most expensive of the lot and it had extraordinary advantages about it. Possibly, Mrs. Oliver sometimes thought, because it was so expensive. It consisted of a kind of turban of various layers of contrasting velvets, all of rather becoming pastel shades which would go with anything.

Mrs. Oliver paused in doubt and then called for assistance.

"Maria," she said, then louder, "Maria. Come here a minute." Maria came. She was used to being asked to give advice on what Mrs. Oliver was thinking of wearing.

"Going to wear your lovely smart hat, are you?" said Maria.

"Yes," said Mrs. Oliver. "I wanted to know whether you think it looks best this way or the other way round." Maria stood back and took a look.

"Well, that's back to front you're wearing it now, isn't it?" "Yes, I know," said Mrs. Oliver. "I know that quite well.

But I thought somehow it looked better that way." "Oh, why should it?" said Maria.

"Well, it's meant, I suppose. But it's got to be meant by me as well as the shop that sold it," said Mrs. Oliver.

"Why do you think it's better the wrong way round?" "Because you get that lovely shade of blue and the dark brown, and I think that looks better than the other way, which is green with the red and the chocolate color." At this point Mrs. Oliver removed the hat, put it on again and tried it wrong way round, right way round and sideways, which both she and Maria disapproved of.

"You can't have it the wide way. I mean, it's wrong for your face, isn't it? It'd be wrong for anyone's face." "No. That won't do. I think I'll have it the right way round, after all." "Well, I think it's safer always," said Maria.

Mrs. Oliver took off the hat. Maria assisted her to put on a well-cut, thin woolen dress of a delicate puce color, and helped her to adjust the hat.

"You look ever so smart," said Maria.

That was what Mrs. Oliver liked so much about Maria. If given the least excuse for saying so, she always approved and gave praise, "Going to make a speech at the luncheon, are you?" Maria asked.

"A speech!" Mrs. Oliver sounded horrified. "No, of course not. You know I never make speeches." "Well, I thought they always did at these here literary luncheons. That's what you're going to, isn't it? Famous writers of nineteen seventy-three-or wherever year it is we've got to now." "I don't need to make a speech," said Mrs. Oliver. "Several other people who like doing it will be making speeches, and they are much better at it than I would be." "I'm sure you'd make a lovely speech if you put your mind to it," said Maria, adjusting herself to the role of a tempter.

"No, I shouldn't," said Mrs. Oliver. "I know what I can do and I know what I can't. I can't make speeches. I get all worried and nervy and I should probably stammer or say the same thing twice. I should not only feel silly, I should probabiy look silly. Now it's all right with words. You can write words down or speak them into a machine or dictate them. I can do things with words so long as I know it's not a speech I'm making." "Oh, well. I hope everything'll go all right. But I'm sure it will. Quite a grand luncheon, isn't it?" "Yes," said Mrs. Oliver in a deeply depressed voice. "Quite a grand luncheon." And why, she thought, but did not say, why on earth am I going to it? She searched her mind for a bit because she always really liked knowing what she was doing instead of doing it first and wondering why she had done it afterwards.

"I suppose," she said, again to herself and not to Maria, who had had to return rather hurriedly to the kitchen, summoned by a smell of overflowing jam which she happened to have on the stove, "I wanted to see what it felt like. I'm always being asked to literary lunches or something like that and I never go." Mrs. Oliver arrived at the last course of the grand luncheon with a sigh of satisfaction as she toyed with the remains of the meringue on her plate. She was particularly fond of meringues and it was a delicious last course in a very delicious luncheon. Nevertheless, when one reached middle age, one had to be careful with meringues. One's teeth! They looked all right, they had the great advantage that they could not ache, they were white and quite agreeable-looking-just like the real thing. But it was true enough that they were not real teeth. And teeth that were not real teeth-or so Mrs. Oliver believed-were not really of high-class material. Dogs, she had always understood, had teeth of real ivory, but human beings had teeth merely of bone. Or, she supposed, if they were false teeth, of plastic. Anyway, the point was that you mustn't get involved in some rather shame-making appearance, which false teeth might lead you into. Lettuce was a difficulty, and salted almonds, and such things as chocolates with hard centers, clinging caramels and the delicious stickiness and adherence of meringues. With a sigh of satisfaction, she dealt with the final mouthful. It had been a good lunch, a very good lunch.

Mrs. Oliver was fond of her creature comforts. She had enjoyed the luncheon very much. She had enjoyed the company, too. The luncheon, which had been given to celebrated female writers, had fortunately not been confined to female writers only. There had been other writers, and critics, and those who read books as well as those who wrote them. Mrs. Oliver had sat between two very charming members of the male sex.

Edwin Aubyn, whose poetry she always enjoyed, an extremely entertaining person who had had various entertaining experiences in his tours abroad, and various literary and personal adventures. Also he was interested in restaurants and food and they had talked very happily about food, and left the subject of literature aside.