Double Sin and Other Stories by Agatha Christie
Double Sin and
1 Double Sin
2 Wasps’ Nest
3 The Theft of the Royal Ruby
4 The Dressmaker’s Doll
5 Greenshaw’s Folly
6 The Double Clue
7 The Last Séance
About the Author
The Agatha Christie Collection
About the Publisher
“Double Sin” was first published as “By Road or Rail” in the Sunday Dispatch, 23 September 1928.
I had called in at my friend Poirot’s rooms to find him sadly overworked. So much had he become the rage that every rich woman who had mislaid a bracelet or lost a pet kitten rushed to secure the services of the great Hercule Poirot. My little friend was a strange mixture of Flemish thrift and artistic fervour. He accepted many cases in which he had little interest owing to the first instinct being predominant.
He also undertook cases in which there was a little or no monetary reward sheerly because the problem involved interested him. The result was that, as I say, he was overworking himself. He admitted as much himself, and I found little difficulty in persuading him to accompany me for a week’s holiday to that well-known South Coast resort, Ebermouth.
We had spent four very agreeable days when Poirot came to me, an open letter in his hand.
“Mon ami, you remember my friend Joseph Aarons, the theatrical agent?”
I assented after a moment’s thought. Poirot’s friends are so many and so varied, and range from dustmen to dukes.
“Eh bien, Hastings, Joseph Aarons finds himself at Charlock Bay. He is far from well, and there is a little affair that it seems is worrying him. He begs me to go over and see him. I think, mon ami, that I must accede to his request. He is a faithful friend, the good Joseph Aarons, and has done much to assist me in the past.”
“Certainly, if you think so,” I said. “I believe Charlock Bay is a beautiful spot, and as it happens I’ve never been there.”
“Then we combine business with pleasure,” said Poirot. “You will inquire the trains, yes?”
“It will probably mean a change or two,” I said with a grimace. “You know what these cross-country lines are. To go from the South Devon coast to the North Devon coast is sometimes a day’s journey.”
However, on inquiry, I found that the journey could be accomplished by only one change at Exeter and that the trains were good. I was hastening back to Poirot with the information when I happened to pass the offices of the Speedy cars and saw written up:
Tomorrow. All-day excursion to Charlock Bay. Starting 8:30 through some of the most beautiful scenery in Devon.
I inquired a few particulars and returned to the hotel full of enthusiasm. Unfortunately, I found it hard to make Poirot share my feelings.
“My friend, why this passion for the motor coach? The train, see you, it is true? The tyres, they do not burst; the accidents, they do not happen. One is not incommoded by too much air. The windows can be shut and no draughts admitted.”
I hinted delicately that the advantage of fresh air was what attracted me most to the motor-coach scheme.
“And if it rains? Your English climate is so uncertain.”
“There’s a hood and all that. Besides, if it rains badly, the excursion doesn’t take place.”
“Ah!” said Poirot. “Then let us hope that it rains.”
“Of course, if you feel like that and. . . .”
“No, no, mon ami. I see that you have set your heart on the trip. Fortunately, I have my greatcoat with me and two mufflers.” He sighed. “But shall we have sufficient time at Charlock Bay?”
“Well, I’m afraid it means staying the night there. You see, the tour goes round by Dartmoor. We have lunch at Monkhampton. We arrive at Charlock Bay about four o’clock, and the coach starts back at five, arriving here at ten o’clock.”
“So!” said Poirot. “And there are people who do this for pleasure! We shall, of course, get a reduction of the fare since we do not make the return journey?”
“I hardly think that’s likely.”
“You must insist.”
“Come now, Poirot, don’t be mean. You know you’re coining money.”
“My friend, it is not the meanness. It is the business sense. If I were a millionaire, I would pay only what was just and right.”
As I had foreseen, however, Poirot was doomed to fail in this respect. The gentleman who issued tickets at the Speedy office was calm and unimpassioned but adamant. His point was that we ought to return. He even implied that we ought to pay extra for the privilege of leaving the coach at Charlock Bay.
Defeated, Poirot paid over the required sum and left the office.
“The English, they have no sense of money,” he grumbled. “Did you observe a young man, Hastings, who paid over the full fare and yet mentioned his intention of leaving the coach at Monkhampton?”
“I don’t think I did. As a matter of fact. . . .”
“You were observing the pretty young lady who booked No. 5, the next seat to ours. Ah! Yes, my friend, I saw you. And that is why when I was on the point of taking seats No. 13 and 14—which are in the middle and as well sheltered as it is possible to be—you rudely pushed yourself forward and said that 3 and 4 would be better.”
“Really, Poirot,” I said, blushing.
“Auburn hair—always the auburn hair!”
“At any rate, she was more worth looking at than an odd young man.”
“That depends upon the point of view. To me, the young man was interesting.”
Something rather significant in Poirot’s tone made me look at him quickly. “Why? What do you mean?”
“Oh, do not excite yourself. Shall I say that he interested me because he was trying to grow a moustache and as yet the result is poor.” Poirot stroked his own magnificent moustache tenderly. “It is an art,” he murmured, “the growing of the moustache! I have sympathy for all who attempt it.”
It is always difficult with Poirot to know when he is serious and when he is merely amusing himself at one’s expense. I judged it safest to say no more.
The following morning dawned bright and sunny. A really glorious day! Poirot, however, was taking no chances. He wore a woolly waistcoat, a mackintosh, a heavy overcoat, and two mufflers, in addition to wearing his thickest suit. He also swallowed two tablets of “Anti-grippe” before starting and packed a further supply.
We took a couple of small suitcases with us. The pretty girl we had noticed the day before had a small suitcase, and so did the young man whom I gathered to have been the object of Poirot’s sympathy. Otherwise, there was no luggage. The four pieces were stowed away by the driver, and we all took our places.
Poirot, rather maliciously, I thought, assigned me the outside place as “I had the mania for the fresh air” and himself occupied the seat next to our fair neighbour. Presently, however, he made amends. The man in seat 6 was a noisy fellow, inclined to be facetious and boisterous, and Poirot asked the girl in a low voice if she would like to change seats with him. She agreed gratefully, and the change having been effected, she entered into conversation with us and we were soon all three chattering together merrily.
She was evidently quite young, not more than nineteen, and as ingenuous as a child. She soon confided to us the reason for her trip. She was going, it seemed, on business for her aunt who kept a most interesting antique shop in Ebermouth.
This aunt had been left in very reduced circumstances on the dea
Poirot nodded interest and approval to all this.
“Mademoiselle will be successful, I am sure,” he said gallantly. “But I will give her a little word of advice. Do not be too trusting, mademoiselle. Everywhere in the world there are rogues and vagabonds, even it may be on this very coach of ours. One should always be on the guard, suspicious!”
She stared at him openmouthed, and he nodded sapiently.
“But yes, it is as I say. Who knows? Even I who speak to you may be a malefactor of the worst description.”
And he twinkled more than ever at her surprised face.
We stopped for lunch at Monkhampton, and, after a few words with the waiter, Poirot managed to secure us a small table for three close by the window. Outside, in a big courtyard, about twenty char-a-bancs were parked—char-a-bancs which had come from all over the country. The hotel dining room was full, and the noise was rather considerable.
“One can have altogether too much of the holiday spirit,” I said with a grimace.
Mary Durrant agreed. “Ebermouth is quite spoiled in the summers nowadays. My aunt says it used to be quite different. Now one can hardly get along the pavements for the crowd.”
“But it is good for business, mademoiselle.”
“Not for ours particularly. We sell only rare and valuable things. We do not go in for cheap bric-a-brac. My aunt has clients all over England. If they want a particular period table or chair, or a certain piece of china, they write to her, and, sooner or later, she gets it for them. That is what has happened in this case.”
We looked interested and she went on to explain. A certain American gentleman, Mr. J. Baker Wood, was a connoisseur and collector of miniatures. A very valuable set of miniatures had recently come into the market, and Miss Elizabeth Penn—Mary’s aunt—had purchased them. She had written to Mr. Wood describing the miniatures and naming a price. He had replied at once, saying that he was prepared to purchase if the miniatures were as represented and asking that someone should be sent with them for him to see where he was staying at Charlock Bay. Miss Durrant had accordingly been despatched, acting as representative for the firm.
“They’re lovely things, of course,” she said. “But I can’t imagine anyone paying all that money for them. Five hundred pounds! Just think of it! They’re by Cosway. Is it Cosway I mean? I get so mixed up in these things.”
Poirot smiled. “You are not yet experienced, eh, mademoiselle?”
“I’ve had no training,” said Mary ruefully. “We weren’t brought up to know about old things. It’s a lot to learn.”
She sighed. Then suddenly, I saw her eyes widen in surprise. She was sitting facing the window, and her glance now was directed out of that window, into the courtyard. With a hurried word, she rose from her seat and almost ran out of the room. She returned in a few moments, breathless and apologetic.
“I’m so sorry rushing off like that. But I thought I saw a man taking my suitcase out of the coach. I went flying after him, and it turned out to be his own. It’s one almost exactly like mine. I felt like such a fool. It looked as though I were accusing him of stealing it.”
She laughed at the idea.
Poirot, however, did not laugh. “What man was it, mademoiselle? Describe him to me.”
“He had on a brown suit. A thin weedy young man with a very indeterminate moustache.”
“Aha,” said Poirot. “Our friend of yesterday, Hastings. You know this young man, mademoiselle? You have seen him before?”
“No, never. Why?”
“Nothing. It is rather curious—that is all.”
He relapsed into silence and took no further part in the conversation until something Mary Durrant said caught his attention.
“Eh, mademoiselle, what is that you say?”
“I said that on my return journey I should have to be careful of ‘malefactors’, as you call them. I believe Mr. Wood always pays for things in cash. If I have five hundred pounds in notes on me, I shall be worth some malefactor’s attention.”
She laughed but Poirot did not respond. Instead, he asked her what hotel she proposed to stay at in Charlock Bay.
“The Anchor Hotel. It is small and not expensive, but quite good.”
“So!” said Poirot. “The Anchor Hotel. Precisely where Hastings here has made up his mind to stay. How odd!”
He twinkled at me.
“You are staying long in Charlock Bay?” asked Mary.
“One night only. I have business there. You could not guess, I am sure, what my profession is, mademoiselle?”
I saw Mary consider several possibilities and reject them—probably from a feeling of caution. At last, she hazarded the suggestion that Poirot was a conjurer. He was vastly entertained.
“Ah! But it is an idea that! You think I take the rabbits out of the hat? No, mademoiselle. Me, I am the opposite of a conjurer. The conjurer, he makes things disappear. Me, I make things that have disappeared, reappear.” He leaned forward dramatically so as to give the words full effect. “It is a secret, mademoiselle, but I will tell you, I am a detective!”
He leaned back in his chair pleased with the effect he had created. Mary Durrant stared at him spellbound. But any further conversation was barred for the braying of various horns outside announced that the road monsters were ready to proceed.
As Poirot and I went out together I commented on the charm of our luncheon companion. Poirot agreed.
“Yes, she is charming. But, also rather silly?”
“Do not be outraged. A girl may be beautiful and have auburn hair and yet be silly. It is the height of foolishness to take two strangers into her confidence as she has done.”
“Well, she could see we were all right.”
“That is imbecile, what you say, my friend. Anyone who knows his job—naturally he will appear ‘all right.’ That little one she talked of being careful when she would have five hundred pounds in money with her. But she has five hundred pounds with her now.”
“Exactly. In miniatures. And between one and the other, there is no great difference, mon ami.”
“But no one knew about them except us.”
“And the waiter and the people at the next table. And, doubtless, several people in Ebermouth! Mademoiselle Durrant, she is charming, but, if I were Miss Elizabeth Penn, I would first of all instruct my new assistant in the common sense.” He paused and then said in a different voice: “You know, my friend, it would be the easiest thing in the world to remove a suitcase from one of those char-a-bancs while we were all at luncheon.”
“Oh, come, Poirot, somebody will be sure to see.”
“And what would they see? Somebody removing his luggage. It would be done in an open and aboveboard manner, and it would be nobody’s business to interfere.”
“Do you mean—Poirot, are you hinting—But that fellow in the brown suit—it was his own suitcase?”
Poirot frowned. “So it seems. All the same, it is curious, Hastings, that he should have not removed his suitcase before, when the car first arrived. He has not lunched here, you notice.”
“If Miss Durrant hadn’t been sitting opposite the window, she wouldn’t have seen him,” I said slowly.
“And since it was his own suitcase, that would not have mattered,” said Poirot. “So let us dismiss it from our thoughts, mon ami.”
Nevertheless, when we had resumed our places and were speeding along once more, he took the opportunity of giving Mary Durrant a further lecture on the dangers of indiscretion which she received meekly enough but with the air of thinking i
We arrived at Charlock Bay at four o’clock and were fortunate enough to be able to get rooms at the Anchor Hotel—a charming old-world inn in one of the side streets.
Poirot had just unpacked a few necessaries and was applying a little cosmetic to his moustache preparatory to going out to call upon Joseph Aarons when there came a frenzied knocking at the door. I called “Come in,” and, to my utter amazement, Mary Durrant appeared, her face white and large tears standing in her eyes.
“I do beg your pardon—but—but the most awful thing has happened. And you did say you were a detective?” This to Poirot.
“What has happened, mademoiselle?”
“I opened my suitcase. The miniatures were in a crocodile despatch case—locked, of course. Now, look!”
She held out a small square crocodile-covered case. The lid hung loose. Poirot took it from her. The case had been forced; great strength must have been used. The marks were plain enough. Poirot examined it and nodded.
“The miniatures?” he asked, though we both knew the answer well enough.
“Gone. They’ve been stolen. Oh, what shall I do?”
“Don’t worry,” I said. “My friend is Hercule Poirot. You must have heard of him. He’ll get them back for you if anyone can.”
“Monsieur Poirot. The great Monsieur Poirot.”
Poirot was vain enough to be pleased at the obvious reverence in her voice. “Yes, my child,” he said. “It is I, myself. And you can leave your little affair in my hands. I will do all that can be done. But I fear—I much fear—that it will be too late. Tell me, was the lock of your suitcase forced also?”
She shook her head.
“Let me see it, please.”
We went together to her room, and Poirot examined the suitcase closely. It had obviously been opened with a key.
“Which is simple enough. These suitcase locks are all much of the same pattern. Eh bien, we must ring up the police and we must also get in touch with Mr. Baker Wood as soon as possible. I will attend to that myself.”
I went with him and asked what he meant by saying it might be too late. “Mon cher, I said today that I was the opposite of the conjurer—that I make the disappearing things reappear—but suppose someone has been beforehand with me. You do not understand? You will in a minute.”