Double Sin and Other Stories by Agatha Christie
“Well, I don’t want it any more. I’ve got a very nice bedroom. I can make a bed-sitting room out of that, can’t I?”
“Do you mean you’re really not going into that fitting room ever again?” said Sybil incredulously.
“That’s exactly what I mean.”
“But—what about cleaning? It’ll get in a terrible state.”
“Let it!” said Alicia Coombe. “If this place is suffering from some kind of possession by a doll, all right—let her keep possession. And clean the room herself.” And she added, “She hates us, you know.”
“What do you mean?” said Sybil. “The doll hates us?”
“Yes,” said Alicia. “Didn’t you know? You must have known. You must have seen it when you looked at her.”
“Yes,” said Sybil thoughtfully, “I suppose I did. I suppose I felt that all along—that she hated us and wanted to get us out of there.”
“She’s a malicious little thing,” said Alicia Coombe. “Anyway, she ought to be satisfied now.”
Things went on rather more peacefully after that. Alicia Coombe announced to her staff that she was giving up the use of the fitting room for the present—it made too many rooms to dust and clean, she explained.
But it hardly helped her to overhear one of the work girls saying to another on the evening of the same day, “She really is batty, Miss Coombe is now. I always thought she was a bit queer—the way she lost things and forgot things. But it’s really beyond anything now, isn’t it? She’s got a sort of thing about that doll downstairs.”
“Ooo, you don’t think she’ll go really bats, do you?” said the other girl. “That she might knife us or something?”
They passed, chattering, and Alicia sat up indignantly in her chair. Going bats indeed! Then she added ruefully, to herself, “I suppose, if it wasn’t for Sybil, I should think myself that I was going bats. But with me and Sybil and Mrs. Groves too, well, it does look as though there was something in it. But what I don’t see is, how is it going to end?”
Three weeks later, Sybil said to Alicia Coombe, “We’ve got to go into that room sometimes.”
“Well, I mean, it must be in a filthy state. Moths will be getting into things, and all that. We ought just to dust and sweep it and then lock it up again.”
“I’d much rather keep it shut up and not go back in there,” said Alicia Coombe.
Sybil said, “Really, you know, you’re even more superstitious than I am.”
“I suppose I am,” said Alicia Coombe. “I was much more ready to believe in all this than you were, but to begin with, you know—I—well, I found it exciting in an odd sort of way. I don’t know. I’m just scared, and I’d rather not go into that room again.”
“Well, I want to,” said Sybil, “and I’m going to.”
“You know what’s the matter with you?” said Alicia Coombe. “You’re simply curious, that’s all.”
“All right, then I’m curious. I want to see what the doll’s done.”
“I still think it’s much better to leave her alone,” said Alicia. “Now we’ve got out of that room, she’s satisfied. You’d better leave her satisfied.” She gave an exasperated sigh. “What nonsense we are talking!”
“Yes. I know we’re talking nonsense, but if you tell me of any way of not talking nonsense—come on, now, give me the key.”
“All right, all right.”
“I believe you’re afraid I’ll let her out or something. I should think she was the kind that could pass through doors or windows.”
Sybil unlocked the door and went in.
“How terribly odd,” she said.
“What’s odd?” said Alicia Coombe, peering over her shoulder.
“The room hardly seems dusty at all, does it? You’d think, after being shut up all this time—”
“Yes, it is odd.”
“There she is,” said Sybil.
The doll was on the sofa. She was not lying in her usual limp position. She was sitting upright, a cushion behind her back. She had the air of the mistress of the house, waiting to receive people.
“Well,” said Alicia Coombe, “she seems at home all right, doesn’t she? I almost feel I ought to apologize for coming in.”
“Let’s go,” said Sybil.
She backed out; pulling the door to, and locked it again.
The two women gazed at each other.
“I wish I knew,” said Alicia Coombe, “why it scares us so much. . . .”
“My goodness, who wouldn’t be scared?”
“Well, I mean, what happens, after all? It’s nothing really—just a kind of puppet that gets moved around the room. I expect it isn’t the puppet itself—it’s a poltergeist.”
“Now that is a good idea.”
“Yes, but I don’t really believe it. I think it’s—it’s that doll.”
“Are you sure you don’t know where she really came from?”
“I haven’t the faintest idea,” said Alicia. “And the more I think of it the more I’m perfectly certain that I didn’t buy her, and that nobody gave her to me. I think she—well, she just came.”
“Do you think she’ll—ever go?”
“Really,” said Alicia, “I don’t see why she should . . . She’s got all she wants.”
But it seemed that the doll had not got all she wanted. The next day, when Sybil went into the showroom, she drew in her breath with a sudden gasp. Then she called up the stairs.
“Miss Coombe, Miss Coombe, come down here.”
“What’s the matter?”
Alicia Coombe, who had got up late, came down the stairs, hobbling a little precariously for she had rheumatism in her right knee.
“What is the matter with you, Sybil?”
“Look. Look what’s happened now.”
They stood in the doorway of the showroom. Sitting on a sofa, sprawled easily over the arm of it, was the doll.
“She’s got out,” said Sybil, “She’s got out of that room! She wants this room as well.”
Alicia Coombe sat down by the door. “In the end,” she said, “I suppose she’ll want the whole shop.”
“She might,” said Sybil.
“You nasty, sly, malicious brute,” said Alicia, addressing the doll. “Why do you want to come and pester us so? We don’t want you.”
It seemed to her, and to Sybil too, that the doll moved very slightly. It was as though its limbs relaxed still further. A long limp arm was lying on the arm of the sofa and the half-hidden face looked as if it were peering from under the arm. And it was a sly, malicious look.
“Horrible creature,” said Alicia. “I can’t bear it! I can’t bear it any longer.”
Suddenly, taking Sybil completely by surprise, she dashed across the room, picked up the doll, ran to the window, opened it, and flung the doll out into the street. There was a gasp and a half cry of fear from Sybil.
“Oh, Alicia, you shouldn’t have done that! I’m sure you shouldn’t have done that!”
“I had to do something,” said Alicia Coombe. “I just couldn’t stand it any more.”
Sybil joined her at the window. Down below on the pavement the doll lay, loose limbed, face down.
“You’ve killed her,” said Sybil.
“Don’t be absurd . . . How can I kill something that’s made of velvet and silk, bits and pieces. It’s not real.”
“It’s horribly real,” said Sybil.
Alicia caught her breath.
“Good heavens. That child—”
A small ragged girl was standing over the doll on the pavement. She looked up and down the street—a street that was not unduly crowded at this time of the morning though there was some automobile traffic; then, as though satisfied, the child bent, picked up the doll, and ran across the street.
“Stop, stop!” called Alicia.
She turned to Sybil.
“That child mustn’t take the doll. She mustn’t! That doll is dangerous—it’s evil. We’ve got
It was not they who stopped her. It was the traffic. At that moment three taxis came down one way and two tradesmen’s vans in the other direction. The child was marooned on an island in the middle of the road. Sybil rushed down the stairs, Alicia Coombe following her. Dodging between a tradesman’s van and a private car, Sybil, with Alicia Coombe directly behind her, arrived on the island before the child could get through the traffic on the opposite side.
“You can’t take that doll,” said Alicia Coombe. “Give her back to me.”
The child looked at her. She was a skinny little girl about eight years old, with a slight squint. Her face was defiant.
“Why should I give ’er to you?” she said. “Pitched her out of the window, you did—I saw you. If you pushed her out of the window you don’t want her, so now she’s mine.”
“I’ll buy you another doll,” said Alicia frantically. “We’ll go to a toy shop—anywhere you like—and I’ll buy you the best doll we can find. But give me back this one.”
“Shan’t,” said the child.
Her arms went protectingly round the velvet doll.
“You must give her back,” said Sybil. “She isn’t yours.”
She stretched out to take the doll from the child and at that moment the child stamped her foot, turned, and screamed at them.
“Shan’t! Shan’t! Shan’t! She’s my very own. I love her. You don’t love her. You hate her. If you didn’t hate her you wouldn’t have pushed her out of the window. I love her, I tell you, and that’s what she wants. She wants to be loved.”
And then like an eel, sliding through the vehicles, the child ran across the street, down an alleyway, and out of sight before the two older women could decide to dodge the cars and follow.
“She’s gone,” said Alicia.
“She said the doll wanted to be loved,” said Sybil.
“Perhaps,” said Alicia, “perhaps that’s what she wanted all along . . . to be loved. . . .”
In the middle of the London traffic the two frightened women stared at each other.
The two men rounded the corner of the shrubbery.
“Well, there you are,” said Raymond West. “That’s it.”
Horace Bindler took a deep, appreciative breath.
“But my dear,” he cried, “how wonderful.” His voice rose in a high screech of ’sthetic delight, then deepened in reverent awe. “It’s unbelievable. Out of this world! A period piece of the best.”
“I thought you’d like it,” said Raymond West, complacently.
“Like it? My dear—” Words failed Horace. He unbuckled the strap of his camera and got busy. “This will be one of the gems of my collection,” he said happily. “I do think, don’t you, that it’s rather amusing to have a collection of monstrosities? The idea came to me one night seven years ago in my bath. My last real gem was in the Campo Santo at Genoa, but I really think this beats it. What’s it called?”
“I haven’t the least idea,” said Raymond.
“I suppose it’s got a name?”
“It must have. But the fact is that it’s never referred to round here as anything but Greenshaw’s Folly.”
“Greenshaw being the man who built it?”
“Yes. In eighteen-sixty or seventy or thereabouts. The local success story of the time. Barefoot boy who had risen to immense prosperity. Local opinion is divided as to why he built this house, whether it was sheer exuberance of wealth or whether it was done to impress his creditors. If the latter, it didn’t impress them. He either went bankrupt or the next thing to it. Hence the name, Greenshaw’s Folly.”
Horace’s camera clicked. “There,” he said in a satisfied voice. “Remind me to show you No. 310 in my collection. A really incredible marble mantelpiece in the Italian manner.” He added, looking at the house, “I can’t conceive of how Mr. Greenshaw thought of it all.”
“Rather obvious in some ways,” said Raymond. “He had visited the châteaux of the Loire, don’t you think? Those turrets. And then, rather unfortunately, he seems to have travelled in the Orient. The influence of the Taj Mahal is unmistakable. I rather like the Moorish wing,” he added, “and the traces of a Venetian palace.”
“One wonders how he ever got hold of an architect to carry out these ideas.”
Raymond shrugged his shoulders.
“No difficulty about that, I expect,” he said. “Probably the architect retired with a good income for life while poor old Greenshaw went bankrupt.”
“Could we look at it from the other side?” asked Horace, “or are we trespassing!”
“We’re trespassing all right,” said Raymond, “but I don’t think it will matter.”
He turned towards the corner of the house and Horace skipped after him.
“But who lives here, my dear? Orphans or holiday visitors? It can’t be a school. No playing fields or brisk efficiency.”
“Oh, a Greenshaw lives here still,” said Raymond over his shoulder. “The house itself didn’t go in the crash. Old Greenshaw’s son inherited it. He was a bit of a miser and lived here in a corner of it. Never spent a penny. Probably never had a penny to spend. His daughter lives here now. Old lady—very eccentric.”
As he spoke Raymond was congratulating himself on having thought of Greenshaw’s Folly as a means of entertaining his guest. These literary critics always professed themselves as longing for a weekend in the country, and were wont to find the country extremely boring when they got there. Tomorrow there would be the Sunday papers, and for today Raymond West congratulated himself on suggesting a visit to Greenshaw’s Folly to enrich Horace Bindler’s well-known collection of monstrosities.
They turned the corner of the house and came out on a neglected lawn. In one corner of it was a large artificial rockery, and bending over it was a figure at sight of which Horace clutched Raymond delightedly by the arm.
“My dear,” he exclaimed, “do you see what she’s got on? A sprigged print dress. Just like a housemaid—when there were housemaids. One of my most cherished memories is staying at a house in the country when I was quite a boy where a real housemaid called you in the morning, all crackling in a print dress and a cap. Yes, my boy, really—a cap. Muslin with streamers. No, perhaps it was the parlourmaid who had the streamers. But anyway she was a real housemaid and she brought in an enormous brass can of hot water. What an exciting day we’re having.”
The figure in the print dress had straightened up and had turned towards them, trowel in hand. She was a sufficiently startling figure. Unkempt locks of iron-grey fell wispily on her shoulders, a straw hat rather like the hats that horses wear in Italy was crammed down on her head. The coloured print dress she wore fell nearly to her ankles. Out of a weather-beaten, not-too-clean face, shrewd eyes surveyed them appraisingly.
“I must apologize for trespassing, Miss Greenshaw,” said Raymond West, as he advanced towards her, “but Mr. Horace Bindler who is staying with me—”
Horace bowed and removed his hat.
“—is most interested in—er—ancient history and—er—fine buildings.”
Raymond West spoke with the ease of a well-known author who knows that he is a celebrity, that he can venture where other people may not.
Miss Greenshaw looked up at the sprawling exuberance behind her.
“It is a fine house,” she said appreciatively. “My grandfather built it—before my time, of course. He is reported as having said that he wished to astonish the natives.”
“I’ll say he did that, ma’am,” said Horace Bindler.
“Mr. Bindler is the well-known literary critic,” said Raymond West.
Miss Greenshaw had clearly no reverence for literary critics. She remained unimpressed.
“I consider it,” said Miss Greenshaw, referring to the house, “as a monument to my grandfather’s genius. Silly fools come here, and ask me why I don’t sell it and go and live in a flat. What would I do in a flat
“Yes, Mrs. Cresswell, what is it?”
Approaching them from the house was a figure that, seen side by side with Miss Greenshaw, seemed ludicrously dissimilar. Mrs. Cresswell had a marvellously dressed head of well-blued hair towering upwards in meticulously arranged curls and rolls. It was as though she had dressed her head to go as a French marquise to a fancy-dress party. The rest of her middle-aged person was dressed in what ought to have been rustling black silk but was actually one of the shinier varieties of black rayon. Although she was not a large woman, she had a well-developed and sumptuous bust. Her voice when she spoke, was unexpectedly deep. She spoke with exquisite diction, only a slight hesitation over words beginning with “h” and the final pronunciation of them with an exaggerated aspirate gave rise to a suspicion that at some remote period in her youth she might have had trouble over dropping her h’s.
“The fish, madam,” said Mrs. Cresswell, “the slice of cod. It has not arrived. I have asked Alfred to go down for it and he refuses to do so.”
Rather unexpectedly, Miss Greenshaw gave a cackle of laughter.
“Refuses, does he?”
“Alfred, madam, has been most disobliging.”
Miss Greenshaw raised two earth-stained fingers to her lips, suddenly produced an earsplitting whistle and at the same time yelled:
“Alfred. Alfred, come here.”
Round the corner of the house a young man appeared in answer to the summons, carrying a spade in his hand. He had a bold, handsome face and as he drew near he cast an unmistakably malevolent glance towards Mrs. Cresswell.
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