Nan Bobbsey grumbled under her breath. The frequent disappearing act by her younger siblings had been amusing when they were six. It was rapidly losing its appeal now that they were almost ten. She consoled herself with the fact that they couldn’t go outside anyway, not with the way the rain was pouring down. It did give her a bit of an excuse to roam through the interesting old house, now a luxury hotel.
It had been a pleasant vacation so far, on a private island off the coast of England. An old family friend had written her mother, inviting Mary Bobbsey to bring her family and come for a stay. Their family had jumped at the chance to travel on a trans-Atlantic liner, and see England. The colored couple who worked for their family, Sam and Dinah Johnson, had taken advantage of the Bobbseys’ absence to visit Dinah’s family.
They’d had several adventures on the way over, involving a missing brooch and a stowaway on board the ship, and even a thrilling lifeboat drill that had almost turned into an emergency of its own. (Freddie had disappeared during that as well, Nan reminded herself.) Their brief stay in London had been exciting, but this island hotel with its old-fashioned furnishings was definitely the best part, in Nan’s opinion.
But in the last two days, strange things had been happening. Nan and Bert, her twin brother, were sure that there was a real mystery going on, something more dangerous than the sort of mystery the twins usually ran into. This was bigger than missing items and secret passages. One of the guests of the hotel had been killed, and another one attacked. As if that was not bad enough, poor weather had them trapped on the island – the seas were rough enough that getting a boat through would be quite dangerous. Nan wasn’t even sure if they had been able to make contact with anyone on the mainland.
Their parents had strictly cautioned the four children to stay together, and not wander off alone. Nan had found herself looking over her shoulder a little more frequently, and the hallways seemed darker and longer somehow. Of course, Freddie and Flossie were not taking their parents’ warning seriously, any more than they usually did.
Nan refused to let herself think that her younger siblings had gotten themselves in any real trouble. She was sure that they would be found, and have one of their typical explanations.
She shook her head, as if to clear her thoughts, then went into the library. Flossie had been fascinated by the room – not that Nan could blame her, since she had never imagined so many books being in someone’s house. The room was also full of places to hide, places where a pair of blond twins might be curled up fast asleep, or reading a book, or playing with something they shouldn’t be playing with.
It took a moment for Nan to realize she wasn’t alone in the library. One of the other guests was there, building an impressive house of cards. He was a short man, with a rather egg-shaped head and a fancy moustache. Bert thought that he had looked a little fussy and silly in comparison with their father – the little man was always dressed to perfection, including a silver-headed cane, and he spoke English with a distinct accent – but Nan thought he was fascinating. He had been introduced as Monsieur Hercule Poirot, and he had smiled at Nan’s attempt to get his foreign name right when they were being introduced. He was supposed to be a very famous detective, she had learned, although Bert scoffed at the idea. Poirot didn’t fit his notion of a detective – where were his trench coat and gun, he had asked scornfully.
“Ah, the elder Mademoiselle Bobbsey,” Poirot said. “Are you searching for a new book to read?”
“No, Monsieur.” The word felt a little strange in her mouth, but she couldn’t conceive of calling this man Mr. Poirot. It seemed wrong. “I’m trying to find our younger brother and sister.”
He nodded. “I regret to say I have not seen them. Poirot, he has been in the library for several hours.”
“Have you been building that house of cards the whole time?” Nan stepped forward to get a better look, careful not to brush against the table. Calling it a house of cards seemed to fall short of how elaborate it was – it was more like a castle of cards, she thought.
“Poirot, he finds that it helps to clear the mind and permit the little grey cells to work. It can be very relaxing,” he said with a small smile. “It helps me to solve the mystery, you see.”
“Have you solved it?” Nan wasn’t exactly sure what the mystery was, but she knew it had all of the adults worried and whispering.
That smile again. “I know the identity of the murderer, yes. But it is not always sufficient to know, Mlle. Bobbsey. One must be able to prove, and that is not quite certain yet.”
There were so many things that Nan wanted to ask, but before she could open her mouth, the two of them heard a noise behind them. Nan watched in amazement as a panel swung open, and her brother Bert emerged with the two younger twins in tow.
“Nan! We found a secret passage from the dining room,” Flossie said importantly. She brushed away at a cobweb, then realized that Nan was not the only person in the room. “Moosier Perrot,” she said with an attempt at a curtsey.
“Good afternoon, ma petite mademoiselle,” Poirot replied with a slight bow. “Perhaps you and your brothers could show me this passage?”
“It’s very dirty,” Bert said uncertainly, but handed Poirot his flashlight. The four children watched the detective examine the entrance to the secret passage, although he did not go in it. Bert explained how he had found Freddie and Flossie just as they had found the secret passage. Poirot nodded, then returned to the house of cards for a moment, staring off into space.
Then he nodded, and looked at the four of them. “Your discovery is of the utmost importance. I must ask of you, not to tell anyone until after this evening.”
“What happens this evening?” Nan asked eagerly.
“This evening, Poirot will reveal all.” He smiled at her. “Everything will be, as you say, made clear.”
She could hardly wait.