Double Sin and Other Stories by Agatha Christie
“We Russians, on the contrary, practise prodigality,” she said. “And to do that, unfortunately, one must have money. You need not look inside. They are all there.”
“I congratulate you, madame, on your quick intelligence and your promptitude.”
“Ah! But since you were keeping your taxi waiting, what else could I do?”
“You are too amiable, madame. You are remaining long in London?”
“I am afraid no—owing to you.”
“Accept my apologies.”
“We shall meet again elsewhere, perhaps.”
“I hope so.”
“And I—do not!” exclaimed the Countess with a laugh. “It is a great compliment that I pay you there—there are very few men in the world whom I fear. Good-bye, Monsieur Poirot.”
“Good-bye, Madame la Comtesse. Ah—pardon me, I forgot! Allow me to return you your cigarette case.”
And with a bow he handed to her the little black moiré case we had found in the safe. She accepted it without any change of expression—just a lifted eyebrow and a murmured: “I see!”
“What a woman!” cried Poirot enthusiastically as we descended the stairs. “Mon Dieu, quelle femme! Not a word of argument—of protestation, of bluff! One quick glance, and she had sized up the position correctly. I tell you, Hastings, a woman who can accept defeat like that—with a careless smile—will go far! She is dangerous, she has the nerves of steel; she—” He tripped heavily.
“If you can manage to moderate your transports and look where you’re going, it might be as well,” I suggested. “When did you first suspect the Countess?”
“Mon ami, it was the glove and the cigarette case—the double clue, shall we say—that worried me. Bernard Parker might easily have dropped one or the other—but hardly both. Ah, no, that would have been too careless! In the same way, if someone else had placed them there to incriminate Parker, one would have been sufficient—the cigarette case or the glove—again not both. So I was forced to the conclusion that one of the two things did not belong to Parker. I imagined at first that the case was his, and that the glove was not. But when I discovered the fellow to the glove, I saw that it was the other way about. Whose, then, was the cigarette case? Clearly, it could not belong to Lady Runcorn. The initials were wrong. Mr. Johnston? Only if he were here under a false name. I interviewed his secretary, and it was apparent at once that everything was clear and above board. There was no reticence about Mr. Johnston’s past. The Countess, then? She was supposed to have brought jewels with her from Russia; she had only to take the stones from their settings, and it was extremely doubtful if they could ever be identified. What could be easier for her than to pick up one of Parker’s gloves from the hall that day and thrust it into the safe? But, bien sûr, she did not intend to drop her own cigarette case.”
“But if the case was hers, why did it have ‘B.P.’ on it? The Countess’s initials are V.R.”
Poirot smiled gently upon me.
“Exactly, mon ami; but in the Russian alphabet, B is V and P is R.”
“Well, you couldn’t expect me to guess that. I don’t know Russian.”
“Neither do I, Hastings. That is why I bought my little book—and urged it on your attention.”
“A remarkable woman. I have a feeling, my friend—a very decided feeling—I shall meet her again. Where, I wonder?”
THE LAST SÉANCE
“The Last Séance” was first published in the USA in Ghost Stories magazine, November 1926, and as “The Stolen Ghost” in The Sovereign Magazine, March 1927.
Raoul Daubreuil crossed the Seine humming a little tune to himself. He was a good-looking young Frenchman of about thirty-two, with a fresh-coloured face and a little black moustache. By profession he was an engineer. In due course he reached the Cardonet and turned in at the door of No. 17. The concierge looked out from her lair and gave him a grudging “Good morning,” to which he replied cheerfully. Then he mounted the stairs to the apartment on the third floor. As he stood there waiting for his ring at the bell to be answered he hummed once more his little tune. Raoul Daubreuil was feeling particularly cheerful this morning. The door was opened by an elderly Frenchwoman whose wrinkled face broke into smiles when she saw who the visitor was.
“Good morning, Monsieur.”
“Good morning, Elise,” said Raoul.
He passed into the vestibule, pulling off his gloves as he did so.
“Madame expects me, does she not?” he asked over his shoulder.
“Ah, yes, indeed, Monsieur.”
Elise shut the front door and turned towards him.
“If Monsieur will pass into the little salon Madame will be with him in a few minutes. At the moment she reposes herself.”
Raoul looked up sharply.
“Is she not well?”
Elise gave a snort. She passed in front of Raoul and opened the door of the little salon for him. He went in and she followed him.
“Well!” she continued. “How could she be well, poor lamb? Séances, séances, and always séances! It is not right—not natural, not what the good God intended for us. For me, I say straight out, it is trafficking with the devil.”
Raoul patted her on the shoulder reassuringly.
“There, there, Elise,” he said soothingly, “do not excite yourself, and do not be too ready to see the devil in everything you do not understand.”
Elise shook her head doubtingly.
“Ah, well,” she grumbled under her breath, “Monsieur may say what he pleases, I don’t like it. Look at Madame, every day she gets whiter and thinner, and the headaches!”
She held up her hands.
“Ah, no, it is not good, all this spirit business. Spirits indeed! All the good spirits are in Paradise, and the others are in Purgatory.”
“Your view of the life after death is refreshingly simple, Elise,” said Raoul as he dropped into the chair.
The old woman drew herself up.
“I am a good Catholic, Monsieur.”
She crossed herself, went towards the door, then paused, her hand on the handle.
“Afterwards when you are married, Monsieur,” she said pleadingly, “it will not continue—all this?”
Raoul smiled at her affectionately.
“You are a good faithful creature, Elise,” he said, “and devoted to your mistress. Have no fear, once she is my wife, all this ‘spirit business’ as you call it, will cease. For Madame Daubreuil there will be no more séances.”
Elise’s face broke into smiles.
“Is it true what you say?” she asked eagerly.
The other nodded gravely.
“Yes,” he said, speaking almost more to himself than to her. “Yes, all this must end. Simone has a wonderful gift and she has used it freely, but now she has done her part. As you have justly observed, Elise, day by day she gets whiter and thinner. The life of a medium is a particularly trying and arduous one, involving a terrible nervous strain. All the same, Elise, your mistress is the most wonderful medium in Paris—more, in France. People from all over the world come to her because they know that with her there is no trickery, no deceit.”
Elise gave a snort of contempt.
“Deceit! Ah, no, indeed. Madame could not deceive a newborn babe if she tried.”
“She is an angel,” said the young Frenchman with fervour. “And I—I shall do everything a man can to make her happy. You believe that?”
Elise drew herself up, and spoke with a certain simple dignity.
“I have served Madame for many years, Monsieur. With all respect I may say that I love her. If I did not believe that you adored her as she deserves to be adored—eh bien, Monsieur! I should be willing to tear you limb from limb.”
“Bravo, Elise! you are a faithful friend, and you must approve of me now that I have told you Madame is going to give up the
He expected the old woman to receive this pleasantry with a laugh, but somewhat to his surprise she remained grave.
“Supposing, Monsieur,” she said hesitatingly, “the spirits will not give her up?”
Raoul stared at her.
“Eh! What do you mean?”
“I said,” repeated Elise, “supposing the spirits will not give her up?”
“I thought you didn’t believe in the spirits, Elise?”
“No more I do,” said Elise stubbornly. “It is foolish to believe in them. All the same—”
“It is difficult for me to explain, Monsieur. You see, me, I always thought that these mediums, as they call themselves, were just clever cheats who imposed on the poor souls who had lost their dear ones. But Madame is not like that. Madame is good. Madame is honest and—”
She lowered her voice and spoke in a tone of awe.
“Things happen. It is no trickery, things happen, and that is why I am afraid. For I am sure of this, Monsieur, it is not right. It is against nature and le bon Dieu, and somebody will have to pay.”
Raoul got up from his chair and came and patted her on the shoulder.
“Calm yourself, my good Elise,” he said, smiling. “See, I will give you some good news. Today is the last of these séances; after today there will be no more.”
“There is one today then?” asked the old woman suspiciously.
“The last, Elise, the last.”
Elise shook her head disconsolately.
“Madame is not fit—” she began.
But her words were interrupted, the door opened and a tall, fair woman came in. She was slender and graceful, with the face of a Botticelli Madonna. Raoul’s face lighted up, and Elise withdrew quickly and discreetly.
He took both her long, white hands in his and kissed each in turn. She murmured his name very softly.
“Raoul, my dear one.”
Again he kissed her hands and then looked intently into her face.
“Simone, how pale you are! Elise told me you were resting; you are not ill, my well-beloved?”
“No, not ill—” she hesitated.
He led her over to the sofa and sat down on it beside her.
“But tell me then.”
The medium smiled faintly.
“You will think me foolish,” she murmured.
“I? Think you foolish? Never.”
Simone withdrew her hand from his grasp. She sat perfectly still for a moment or two gazing down at the carpet. Then she spoke in a low, hurried voice.
“I am afraid, Raoul.”
He waited for a minute or two expecting her to go on, but as she did not he said encouragingly:
“Yes, afraid of what?”
“Just afraid—that is all.”
He looked at her in perplexity, and she answered the look quickly.
“Yes, it is absurd, isn’t it, and yet I feel just that. Afraid, nothing more. I don’t know what of, or why, but all the time I am possessed with the idea that something terrible—terrible, is going to happen to me. . . .”
She stared out in front of her. Raoul put an arm gently round her.
“My dearest,” he said, “come, you must not give way. I know what it is, the strain, Simone, the strain of a medium’s life. All you need is rest—rest and quiet.”
She looked at him gratefully.
“Yes, Raoul, you are right. That is what I need, rest and quiet.”
She closed her eyes and leant back a little against his arm.
“And happiness,” murmured Raoul in her ear.
His arm drew her closer. Simone, her eyes still closed, drew a deep breath.
“Yes,” she murmured, “yes. When your arms are round me I feel safe. I forget my life—the terrible life—of a medium. You know much, Raoul, but even you do not know all it means.”
He felt her body grow rigid in his embrace. Her eyes opened again, staring in front of her.
“One sits in the cabinet in the darkness, waiting, and the darkness is terrible, Raoul, for it is the darkness of emptiness, of nothingness. Deliberately one gives oneself up to be lost in it. After that one knows nothing, one feels nothing, but at last there comes the slow, painful return, the awakening out of sleep, but so tired—so terribly tired.”
“I know,” murmured Raoul, “I know.”
“So tired,” murmured Simone again.
Her whole body seemed to droop as she repeated the words.
“But you are wonderful, Simone.”
He took her hands in his, trying to rouse her to share his enthusiasm.
“You are unique—the greatest medium the world has ever known.”
She shook her head, smiling a little at that.
“Yes, yes,” Raoul insisted.
He drew two letters from his pocket.
“See here, from Professor Roche of the Salpétrière, and this one from Dr. Genir at Nancy, both imploring that you will continue to sit for them occasionally.”
Simone sprang to her feet.
“I will not, I will not. It is to be all finished—all done with. You promised me, Raoul.”
Raoul stared at her in astonishment as she stood wavering, facing him almost like a creature at bay. He got up and took her hand.
“Yes, yes,” he said. “Certainly it is finished, that is understood. But I am so proud of you, Simone, that is why I mentioned those letters.”
She threw him a swift sideways glance of suspicion.
“It is not that you will ever want me to sit again?”
“No, no,” said Raoul, “unless perhaps you yourself would care to, just occasionally for these old friends—”
But she interrupted him, speaking excitedly.
“No, no, never again. There is a danger. I tell you, I can feel it, great danger.”
She clasped her hands on her forehead a minute, then walked across to the window.
“Promise me never again,” she said in a quieter voice over her shoulder.
Raoul followed her and put his arms round her shoulders.
“My dear one,” he said tenderly, “I promise you after today you shall never sit again.”
He felt the sudden start she gave.
“Today,” she murmured. “Ah, yes—I had forgotten Madame Exe.”
Raoul looked at his watch.
“She is due any minute now; but perhaps, Simone, if you do not feel well—”
Simone hardly seemed to be listening to him; she was following out her own train of thought.
“She is—a strange woman, Raoul, a very strange woman. Do you know I—I have almost a horror of her.”
There was reproach in his voice, and she was quick to feel it.
“Yes, yes, I know, you are like all Frenchmen, Raoul. To you a mother is sacred and it is unkind of me to feel like that about her when she grieves so for her lost child. But—I cannot explain it, she is so big and black, and her hands—have you ever noticed her hands, Raoul? Great big strong hands, as strong as a man’s. Ah!”
She gave a little shiver and closed her eyes. Raoul withdrew his arm and spoke almost coldly.
“I really cannot understand you, Simone. Surely you, a woman, should have nothing but sympathy for another woman, a mother bereft of her only child.”
Simone made a gesture of impatience.
“Ah, it is you who do not understand, my friend! One cannot help these things. The first moment I saw her I felt—”
She flung her hands out.
“Fear! You remember, it was a long time before I would consent to sit for her? I felt sure in some way she would bring me misfortune.”
Raoul shrugged his shoulders.
“Whereas, in actual fact, she brought you the exact opposite,” he said drily. “All the sittings have been attended with marked success. The spirit of the little Amelie was able to co
“Materializations,” said Simone in a low voice. “Tell me, Raoul (you know that I know nothing of what takes place while I am in the trance), are the materializations really so wonderful?”
He nodded enthusiastically.
“At the first few sittings the figure of the child was visible in a kind of nebulous haze,” he explained, “but at the last séance—”
He spoke very softly.
“Simone, the child that stood there was an actual living child of flesh and blood. I even touched her—but seeing that the touch was acutely painful to you, I would not permit Madame Exe to do the same. I was afraid that her self-control might break down, and that some harm to you might result.”
Simone turned away again towards the window.
“I was terribly exhausted when I woke,” she murmured. “Raoul, are you sure—are you really sure that all this is right? You know what dear old Elise thinks, that I am trafficking with the devil?”
She laughed rather uncertainly.
“You know what I believe,” said Raoul gravely. “In the handling of the unknown there must always be danger, but the cause is a noble one, for it is the cause of Science. All over the world there have been martyrs to Science, pioneers who have paid the price so that others may follow safely in their footsteps. For ten years now you have worked for Science at the cost of a terrific nervous strain. Now your part is done, from today onward you are free to be happy.”
She smiled at him affectionately, her calm restored. Then she glanced quickly up at the clock.
“Madame Exe is late,” she murmured. “She may not come.”
“I think she will,” said Raoul. “Your clock is a little fast, Simone.”
Simone moved about the room, rearranging an ornament here and there.
“I wonder who she is, this Madame Exe?” she observed. “Where she comes from, who her people are? It is strange that we know nothing about her.”
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