Double Sin and Other Stories by Agatha Christie
“You mean they were both in it?”
“Oh yes, I think so. Mother and son as likely as not.”
“But Miss Greenshaw’s sister died long ago.”
“Yes, but I’ve no doubt Mr. Fletcher married again. He sounds the sort of man who would, and I think it possible that the child died too, and that this so called nephew was the second wife’s child, and not really a relation at all. The woman got a post as housekeeper and spied out the land. Then he wrote as her nephew and proposed to call upon her—he may have made some joking reference to coming in his policeman’s uniform—or asked her over to see the play. But I think she suspected the truth and refused to see him. He would have been her heir if she had died without making a will—but of course once she had made a will in the housekeeper’s favour (as they thought) then it was clear sailing.”
“But why use an arrow?” objected Joan. “So very far-fetched.”
“Not far-fetched at all, dear. Alfred belonged to an archery club—Alfred was meant to take the blame. The fact that he was in the pub as early as twelve twenty was most unfortunate from their point of view. He always left a little before his proper time and that would have been just right—” she shook her head. “It really seems all wrong—morally, I mean, that Alfred’s laziness should have saved his life.”
The inspector cleared his throat.
“Well, madam, these suggestions of yours are very interesting. I shall have, of course, to investigate—”
Miss Marple and Raymond West stood by the rockery and looked down at that gardening basket full of dying vegetation.
Miss Marple murmured:
“Alyssum, saxifrage, cytisus, thimble campanula . . . Yes, that’s all the proof I need. Whoever was weeding here yesterday morning was no gardener—she pulled up plants as well as weeds. So now I know I’m right. Thank you, dear Raymond, for bringing me here. I wanted to see the place for myself.”
She and Raymond both looked up at the outrageous pile of Greenshaw’s Folly.
A cough made them turn. A handsome young man was also looking at the house.
“Plaguey big place,” he said. “Too big for nowadays—or so they say. I dunno about that. If I won a football pool and made a lot of money, that’s the kind of house I’d like to build.”
He smiled bashfully at them.
“Reckon I can say so now—that there house was built by my great-grandfather,” said Alfred Pollock. “And a fine house it is, for all they call it Greenshaw’s Folly!”
THE DOUBLE CLUE
“The Double Clue” was first published in The Sketch, 5 December 1923.
But above everything—no publicity,” said Mr. Marcus Hardman for perhaps the fourteenth time.
The word publicity occurred throughout his conversation with the regularity of a leitmotif. Mr. Hardman was a small man, delicately plump, with exquisitely manicured hands and a plaintive tenor voice. In his way, he was somewhat of a celebrity and the fashionable life was his profession. He was rich, but not remarkably so, and he spent his money zealously in the pursuit of social pleasure. His hobby was collecting. He had the collector’s soul. Old lace, old fans, antique jewellery—nothing crude or modern for Marcus Hardman.
Poirot and I, obeying an urgent summons, had arrived to find the little man writhing in an agony of indecision. Under the circumstances, to call in the police was abhorrent to him. On the other hand, not to call them in was to acquiesce in the loss of some of the gems of his collection. He hit upon Poirot as a compromise.
“My rubies, Monsieur Poirot, and the emerald necklace said to have belonged to Catherine de’ Medici. Oh, the emerald necklace!”
“If you will recount to me the circumstances of their disappearance?” suggested Poirot gently.
“I am endeavouring to do so. Yesterday afternoon I had a little tea party—quite an informal affair, some half a dozen people or so. I have given one or two of them during the season, and though perhaps I should not say so, they have been quite a success. Some good music—Nacora, the pianist, and Katherine Bird, the Australian contralto—in the big studio. Well, early in the afternoon, I was showing my guests my collection of medieval jewels. I keep them in the small wall safe over there. It is arranged like a cabinet inside, with coloured velvet background, to display the stones. Afterwards we inspected the fans—in the case on the wall. Then we all went to the studio for music. It was not until after everyone had gone that I discovered the safe rifled! I must have failed to shut it properly, and someone had seized the opportunity to denude it of its contents. The rubies, Monsieur Poirot, the emerald necklace—the collection of a lifetime! What would I not give to recover them! But there must be no publicity! You fully understand that, do you not, Monsieur Poirot? My own guests, my personal friends! It would be a horrible scandal!”
“Who was the last person to leave this room when you went to the studio?”
“Mr. Johnston. You may know him? The South African millionaire. He has just rented the Abbotburys’ house in Park Lane. He lingered behind a few moments, I remember. But surely, oh, surely it could not be he!”
“Did any of your guests return to this room during the afternoon on any pretext?”
“I was prepared for that question, Monsieur Poirot. Three of them did so. Countess Vera Rossakoff, Mr. Bernard Parker, and Lady Runcorn.”
“Let us hear about them.”
“The Countess Rossakoff is a very charming Russian lady, a member of the old régime. She has recently come to this country. She had bade me good-bye, and I was therefore somewhat surprised to find her in this room apparently gazing in rapture at my cabinet of fans. You know, Monsieur Poirot, the more I think of it, the more suspicious it seems to me. Don’t you agree?”
“Extremely suspicious; but let us hear about the others.”
“Well, Parker simply came here to fetch a case of miniatures that I was anxious to show to Lady Runcorn.”
“And Lady Runcorn herself?”
“As I daresay you know, Lady Runcorn is a middle-aged woman of considerable force of character who devotes most of her time to various charitable committees. She simply returned to fetch a handbag she had laid down somewhere.”
“Bien, monsieur. So we have four possible suspects. The Russian countess, the English grande dame, the South African millionaire, and Mr. Bernard Parker. Who is Mr. Parker, by the way?”
The question appeared to embarrass Mr. Hardman considerably.
“He is—er—he is a young fellow. Well, in fact, a young fellow I know.”
“I had already deduced as much,” replied Poirot gravely. “What does he do, this Mr. Parker?”
“He is a young man about town—not, perhaps, quite in the swim, if I may so express myself.”
“How did he come to be a friend of yours, may I ask?”
“Well—er—on one or two occasions he has—performed certain little commissions for me.”
“Continue, monsieur,” said Poirot.
Hardman looked piteously at him. Evidently the last thing he wanted to do was to continue. But as Poirot maintained an inexorable silence, he capitulated.
“You see, Monsieur Poirot—it is well-known that I am interested in antique jewels. Sometimes there is a family heirloom to be disposed of—which, mind you, would never be sold in the open market or to a dealer. But a private sale to me is a very different matter. Parker arranges the details of such things, he is in touch with both sides, and thus any little embarrassment is avoided. He brings anything of that kind to my notice. For instance, the Countess Rossakoff has brought some family jewels with her from Russia. She is anxious to sell them. Bernard Parker was to have arranged the transaction.”
“I see,” said Poirot thoughtfully. “And you trust him implicitly?”
“I have had no reason to do otherwise.”
“Mr. Hardman, of these four people, which do you yourself suspect?”
“Oh, Monsieur Poirot, what a question! They are my friends, as I told you
“I do not agree. You suspect one of those four. It is not Countess Rossakoff. It is not Mr. Parker. Is it Lady Runcorn or Mr. Johnston?”
“You drive me into a corner, Monsieur Poirot, you do indeed. I am most anxious to have no scandal. Lady Runcorn belongs to one of the oldest families in England; but it is true, it is most unfortunately true, that her aunt, Lady Caroline, suffered from a most melancholy affliction. It was understood, of course, by all her friends, and her maid returned the teaspoons, or whatever it was, as promptly as possible. You see my predicament!”
“So Lady Runcorn had an aunt who was a kleptomaniac? Very interesting. You permit that I examine the safe?”
Mr. Hardman assenting, Poirot pushed back the door of the safe and examined the interior. The empty velvet-lined shelves gaped at us.
“Even now the door does not shut properly,” murmured Poirot, as he swung it to and fro. “I wonder why? Ah, what have we here? A glove, caught in the hinge. A man’s glove.”
He held it out to Mr. Hardman.
“That’s not one of my gloves,” the latter declared.
“Aha! Something more!” Poirot bent deftly and picked up a small object from the floor of the safe. It was a flat cigarette case made of black moiré.
“My cigarette case!” cried Mr. Hardman.
“Yours? Surely not, monsieur. Those are not your initials.”
He pointed to an entwined monogram of two letters executed in platinum.
Hardman took it in his hand.
“You are right,” he declared. “It is very like mine, but the initials are different. A ‘B’ and a ‘P.’ Good heavens—Parker!”
“It would seem so,” said Poirot. “A somewhat careless young man—especially if the glove is his also. That would be a double clue, would it not?”
“Bernard Parker!” murmured Hardman. “What a relief! Well, Monsieur Poirot, I leave it to you to recover the jewels. Place the matter in the hands of the police if you think fit—that is, if you are quite sure that it is he who is guilty.”
“See you, my friend,” said Poirot to me, as we left the house together, “he has one law for the titled, and another law for the plain, this Mr. Hardman. Me, I have not yet been ennobled, so I am on the side of the plain. I have sympathy for this young man. The whole thing was a little curious, was it not? There was Hardman suspecting Lady Runcorn; there was I, suspecting the Countess and Johnston; and all the time, the obscure Mr. Parker was our man.”
“Why did you suspect the other two?”
“Parbleu! It is such a simple thing to be a Russian refugee or a South African millionaire. Any woman can call herself a Russian countess; anyone can buy a house in Park Lane and call himself a South African millionaire. Who is going to contradict them? But I observe that we are passing through Bury Street. Our careless young friend lives here. Let us, as you say, strike while the iron is in the fire.”
Mr. Bernard Parker was at home. We found him reclining on some cushions, clad in an amazing dressing gown of purple and orange. I have seldom taken a greater dislike to anyone than I did to this particular young man with his white, effeminate face and affected lisping speech.
“Good morning, monsieur,” said Poirot briskly. “I come from Mr. Hardman. Yesterday, at the party, somebody has stolen all his jewels. Permit me to ask you, monsieur—is this your glove?”
Mr. Parker’s mental processes did not seem very rapid. He stared at the glove, as though gathering his wits together.
“Where did you find it?” he asked at last.
“Is it your glove, monsieur?”
Mr. Parker appeared to make up his mind.
“No, it isn’t,” he declared.
“And this cigarette case, is that yours?”
“Certainly not. I always carry a silver one.”
“Very well, monsieur. I go to put matters in the hands of the police.”
“Oh, I say, I wouldn’t do that if I were you,” cried Mr. Parker in some concern. “Beastly unsympathetic people, the police. Wait a bit. I’ll go round and see old Hardman. Look here—oh, stop a minute.”
But Poirot beat a determined retreat.
“We have given him something to think about, have we not?” he chuckled. “Tomorrow we will observe what has occurred.”
But we were destined to have a reminder of the Hardman case that afternoon. Without the least warning the door flew open, and a whirlwind in human form invaded our privacy, bringing with her a swirl of sables (it was as cold as only an English June day can be) and a hat rampant with slaughtered ospreys. Countess Vera Rossakoff was a somewhat disturbing personality.
“You are Monsieur Poirot? What is this that you have done? You accuse that poor boy! It is infamous. It is scandalous. I know him. He is a chicken, a lamb—never would he steal. He has done everything for me. Will I stand by and see him martyred and butchered?”
“Tell me, madame, is this his cigarette case?” Poirot held out the black moiré case.
The Countess paused for a moment while she inspected it.
“Yes, it is his. I know it well. What of it? Did you find it in the room? We were all there; he dropped it then, I suppose. Ah, you policemen, you are worse than the Red Guards—”
“And is this his glove?”
“How should I know? One glove is like another. Do not try to stop me—he must be set free. His character must be cleared. You shall do it. I will sell my jewels and give you much money.”
“It is agreed, then? No, no, do not argue. The poor boy! He came to me, the tears in his eyes. ‘I will save you,’ I said. ‘I will go to this man—this ogre, this monster! Leave it to Vera.’ Now it is settled, I go.”
With as little ceremony as she had come, she swept from the room, leaving an overpowering perfume of an exotic nature behind her.
“What a woman!” I exclaimed. “And what furs!”
“Ah, yes, they were genuine enough. Could a spurious countess have real furs? My little joke, Hastings . . . No, she is truly Russian, I fancy. Well, well, so Master Bernard went bleating to her.”
“The cigarette case is his. I wonder if the glove is also—”
With a smile Poirot drew from his pocket a second glove and placed it by the first. There was no doubt of their being a pair.
“Where did you get the second one, Poirot?”
“It was thrown down with a stick on the table in the hall in Bury Street. Truly, a very careless young man, Monsieur Parker. Well, well, mon ami—we must be thorough. Just for the form of the thing, I will make a little visit to Park Lane.”
Needless to say, I accompanied my friend. Johnston was out, but we saw his private secretary. It transpired that Johnston had only recently arrived from South Africa. He had never been in England before.
“He is interested in precious stones, is he not?” hazarded Poirot.
“Gold mining is nearer the mark,” laughed the secretary.
Poirot came away from the interview thoughtful. Late that evening, to my utter surprise, I found him earnestly studying a Russian grammar.
“Good heavens, Poirot!” I cried. “Are you learning Russian in order to converse with the Countess in her own language?”
“She certainly would not listen to my English, my friend!”
“But surely, Poirot, well-born Russians invariably speak French?”
“You are a mine of information, Hastings! I will cease puzzling over the intricacies of the Russian alphabet.”
He threw the book from him with a dramatic gesture. I was not entirely satisfied. There was a twinkle in his eye which I knew of old. It was an invariable sign that Hercule Poirot was pleased with himself.
“Perhaps,” I said sapiently, “you doubt her being really a Russian. You are going to test her?”
“Ah, no, no, she is Russian all right.”
“If you really want to d
Then he laughed and would say no more. I picked up the book from the floor and dipped into it curiously, but could make neither head nor tail of Poirot’s remarks.
The following morning brought us no news of any kind, but that did not seem to worry my little friend. At breakfast, he announced his intention of calling upon Mr. Hardman early in the day. We found the elderly social butterfly at home, and seemingly a little calmer than on the previous day.
“Well, Monsieur Poirot, any news?” he demanded eagerly.
Poirot handed him a slip of paper.
“That is the person who took the jewels, monsieur. Shall I put matters in the hands of the police? Or would you prefer me to recover the jewels without bringing the police into the matter?”
Mr. Hardman was staring at the paper. At last he found his voice.
“Most astonishing. I should infinitely prefer to have no scandal in the matter. I give you carte blanche, Monsieur Poirot. I am sure you will be discreet.”
Our next procedure was to hail a taxi, which Poirot ordered to drive to the Carlton. There he inquired for Countess Rossakoff. In a few minutes we were ushered up into the lady’s suite. She came to meet us with outstretched hands, arrayed in a marvellous negligée of barbaric design.
“Monsieur Poirot!” she cried. “You have succeeded? You have cleared that poor infant?”
“Madame la Comtesse, your friend Mr. Parker is perfectly safe from arrest.”
“Ah, but you are the clever little man! Superb! And so quickly too.”
“On the other hand, I have promised Mr. Hardman that the jewels shall be returned to him today.”
“Therefore, madame, I should be extremely obliged if you would place them in my hands without delay. I am sorry to hurry you, but I am keeping a taxi—in case it should be necessary for me to go on to Scotland Yard; and we Belgians, madame, we practise the thrift.”
The Countess had lighted a cigarette. For some seconds she sat perfectly still, blowing smoke rings, and gazing steadily at Poirot. Then she burst into a laugh, and rose. She went across to the bureau, opened a drawer, and took out a black silk handbag. She tossed it lightly to Poirot. Her tone, when she spoke, was perfectly light and unmoved.
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