Double Sin and Other Stories by Agatha Christie
He disappeared into the telephone box. He came out five minutes later looking very grave. “It is as I feared. A lady called upon Mr. Wood with the miniatures half an hour ago. She represented herself as coming from Miss Elizabeth Penn. He was delighted with the miniatures and paid for them forthwith.”
“Half an hour ago—before we arrived here.”
Poirot smiled rather enigmatically. “The Speedy cars are quite speedy, but a fast motor from, say, Monkhampton would get here a good hour ahead of them at least.”
“And what do we do now?”
“The good Hastings—always practical. We inform the police, do all we can for Miss Durrant, and—yes, I think decidedly, we have an interview with Mr. J. Baker Wood.”
We carried out this programme. Poor Mary Durrant was terribly upset, fearing her aunt would blame her.
“Which she probably will,” observed Poirot, as we set out for the Seaside Hotel where Mr. Wood was staying. “And with perfect justice. The idea of leaving five hundred pounds’ worth of valuables in a suitcase and going to lunch! All the same, mon ami, there are one or two curious points about the case. That despatch box, for instance, why was it forced?”
“To get out the miniatures.”
“But was not that a foolishness? Say our thief is tampering with the luggage at lunchtime under the pretext of getting out his own. Surely it is much simpler to open the suitcase, transfer the despatch case unopened to his own suitcase, and get away, than to waste the time forcing the lock?”
“He had to make sure the miniatures were inside.”
Poirot did not look convinced, but, as we were just being shown into Mr. Wood’s suite, we had no time for more discussion.
I took an immediate dislike to Mr. Baker Wood.
He was a large vulgar man, very much overdressed and wearing a diamond solitaire ring. He was blustering and noisy.
Of course, he’d not suspected anything amiss. Why should he? The woman said she had the miniatures all right. Very fine specimens, too! Had he the numbers of the notes? No, he hadn’t. And who was Mr.—er—Poirot, anyway, to come asking him all these questions?
“I will not ask you anything more, monsieur, except for one thing. A description of the woman who called upon you. Was she young and pretty?”
“No, sir, she was not. Most emphatically not. A tall woman, middle-aged, grey hair, blotchy complexion and a budding moustache. A siren? Not on your life.”
“Poirot,” I cried, as we took our departure. “A moustache. Did you hear?”
“I have the use of my ears, thank you, Hastings!”
“But what a very unpleasant man.”
“He has not the charming manner, no.”
“Well, we ought to get the thief all right,” I remarked. “We can identify him.”
“You are of such a naïve simplicity, Hastings. Do you not know that there is such a thing as an alibi?”
“You think he will have an alibi?”
Poirot replied unexpectedly: “I sincerely hope so.”
“The trouble with you is,” I said, “that you like a thing to be difficult.”
“Quite right, mon ami. I do not like—how do you say it—the bird who sits!”
Poirot’s prophecy was fully justified. Our travelling companion in the brown suit turned out to be a Mr. Norton Kane. He had gone straight to the George Hotel at Monkhampton and had been there during the afternoon. The only evidence against him was that of Miss Durrant who declared that she had seen him getting out his luggage from the car while we were at lunch.
“Which in itself is not a suspicious act,” said Poirot meditatively.
After that remark, he lapsed into silence and refused to discuss the matter any further, saying when I pressed him, that he was thinking of moustaches in general, and that I should be well advised to do the same.
I discovered, however, that he had asked Joseph Aarons—with whom he spent the evening—to give him every detail possible about Mr. Baker Wood. As both men were staying at the same hotel, there was a chance of gleaning some stray crumbs of information. Whatever Poirot learned, he kept to himself, however.
Mary Durrant, after various interviews with the police, had returned to Ebermouth by an early morning train. We lunched with Joseph Aarons, and after lunch, Poirot announced to me that he had settled the theatrical agent’s problem satisfactorily, and that we could return to Ebermouth as soon as we liked. “But not by road, mon ami; we go by rail this time.”
“Are you afraid of having your pocket picked, or of meeting another damsel in distress?”
“Both those affairs, Hastings, might happen to me on the train. No, I am in haste to be back in Ebermouth, because I want to proceed with our case.”
“But, yes, my friend. Mademoiselle Durrant appealed to me to help her. Because the matter is now in the hands of the police, it does not follow that I am free to wash my hands of it. I came here to oblige an old friend, but it shall never be said of Hercule Poirot that he deserted a stranger in need!” And he drew himself up grandiloquently.
“I think you were interested before that,” I said shrewdly. “In the office of cars, when you first caught sight of that young man, though what drew your attention to him I don’t know.”
“Don’t you, Hastings? You should. Well, well, that must remain my little secret.”
We had a short conversation with the police inspector in charge of the case before leaving. He had interviewed Mr. Norton Kane, and told Poirot in confidence that the young man’s manner had not impressed him favourably. He had blustered, denied, and contradicted himself.
“But just how the trick was done, I don’t know,” he confessed. “He could have handed the stuff to a confederate who pushed off at once in a fast car. But that’s just theory. We’ve got to find the car and the confederate and pin the thing down.”
Poirot nodded thoughtfully.
“Do you think that was how it was done?” I asked him, as we were seated in the train.
“No, my friend, that was not how it was done. It was cleverer than that.”
“Won’t you tell me?”
“Not yet. You know—it is my weakness—I like to keep my little secrets till the end.”
“Is the end going to be soon?”
“Very soon now.”
We arrived in Ebermouth a little after six and Poirot drove at once to the shop which bore the name “Elizabeth Penn.” The establishment was closed, but Poirot rang the bell, and presently Mary herself opened the door, and expressed surprise and delight at seeing us.
“Please come in and see my aunt,” she said.
She led us into a back room. An elderly lady came forward to meet us; she had white hair and looked rather like a miniature herself with her pink-and-white skin and her blue eyes. Round her rather bent shoulders she wore a cape of priceless old lace.
“Is this the great Monsieur Poirot?” she asked in a low charming voice. “Mary has been telling me. I could hardly believe it. And you will really help us in our trouble. You will advise us?”
Poirot looked at her for a moment, then bowed.
“Mademoiselle Penn—the effect is charming. But you should really grow a moustache.”
Miss Penn gave a gasp and drew back.
“You were absent from business yesterday, were you not?”
“I was here in the morning. Later I had a bad headache and went directly home.”
“Not home, mademoiselle. For your headache you tried the change of air, did you not? The air of Charlock Bay is very bracing, I believe.”
He took me by the arm and drew me towards the door. He paused there and spoke over his shoulder.
“You comprehend, I know everything. This little—farce—it must cease.”
There was a menace in his tone. Miss Penn, her face ghastly white, nodded mutely. Poirot turned to the girl.
“Mademoiselle,” he said gently, “you are young and charming. But participating in these little affa
Then he stepped out into the street and I followed him, bewildered.
“From the first, mon ami, I was interested. When that young man booked his place as far as Monkhampton only, I saw the girl’s attention suddenly riveted on him. Now why? He was not of the type to make a woman look at him for himself alone. When we started on the coach, I had a feeling that something would happen. Who saw the young man tampering with the luggage? Mademoiselle and mademoiselle only, and remember she chose that seat—a seat facing the window—a most unfeminine choice.
“And then she comes to us with the tale of robbery—the despatch box forced which makes not the common sense, as I told you at the time.
“And what is the result of it all? Mr. Baker Wood has paid over good money for stolen goods. The miniatures will be returned to Miss Penn. She will sell them and will have made a thousand pounds instead of five hundred. I make the discreet inquiries and learn that her business is in a bad state—touch and go. I say to myself—the aunt and niece are in this together.”
“Then you never suspected Norton Kane?”
“Mon ami! With that moustache? A criminal is either clean-shaven or he has a proper moustache that can be removed at will. But what an opportunity for the clever Miss Penn—a shrinking elderly lady with a pink-and-white complexion as we saw her. But if she holds herself erect, wears large boots, alters her complexion with a few unseemly blotches and—crowning touch—adds a few sparse hairs to her upper lip. What then? A masculine woman, says Mr. Wood and ‘a man in disguise’ say we at once.”
“She really went to Charlock yesterday?”
“Assuredly. The train, as you may remember telling me, left here at eleven and got to Charlock Bay at two o’clock. Then the return train is even quicker—the one we came by. It leaves Charlock at four-five and gets here at six-fifteen. Naturally, the miniatures were never in the despatch case at all. That was artistically forced before being packed. Mademoiselle Mary has only to find a couple of mugs who will be sympathetic to her charm and champion beauty in distress. But one of the mugs was no mug—he was Hercule Poirot!”
I hardly liked the inference. I said hurriedly: “Then when you said you were helping a stranger, you were wilfully deceiving me. That’s exactly what you were doing.”
“Never do I deceive you, Hastings. I only permit you to deceive yourself. I was referring to Mr. Baker Wood—a stranger to these shores.” His face darkened. “Ah! When I think of that imposition, that iniquitous overcharge, the same fare single to Charlock as return, my blood boils to protect the visitor! Not a pleasant man, Mr. Baker Wood, not, as you would say, sympathetic. But a visitor! And we visitors, Hastings, must stand together. Me, I am all for the visitors!”
“Wasps’ Nest” was first published as “The Wasps’ Nest” in the Daily Mail, 20 November 1928.
Out of the house came John Harrison and stood a moment on the terrace looking out over the garden. He was a big man with a lean, cadaverous face. His aspect was usually somewhat grim but when, as now, the rugged features softened into a smile, there was something very attractive about him.
John Harrison loved his garden, and it had never looked better than it did on this August evening, summery and languorous. The rambler roses were still beautiful; sweet peas scented the air.
A well-known creaking sound made Harrison turn his head sharply. Who was coming in through the garden gate? In another minute, an expression of utter astonishment came over his face, for the dandified figure coming up the path was the last he expected to see in this part of the world.
“By all that’s wonderful,” cried Harrison. “Monsieur Poirot!”
It was, indeed, the famous Hercule Poirot whose renown as a detective had spread over the whole world.
“Yes,” he said, “it is. You said to me once: ‘If you are ever in this part of the world, come and see me.’ I take you at your word. I arrive.”
“And I’m obliged,” said Harrison heartily. “Sit down and have a drink.”
With a hospitable hand, he indicated a table on the veranda bearing assorted bottles.
“I thank you,” said Poirot, sinking down into a basket chair. “You have, I suppose, no sirop? No, no. I thought not. A little plain soda water then—no whisky.” And he added in a feeling voice as the other placed the glass beside him: “Alas, my moustaches are limp. It is this heat!”
“And what brings you into this quiet spot?” asked Harrison as he dropped into another chair. “Pleasure?”
“No, mon ami, business.”
“Business? In this out-of-the-way place?”
Poirot nodded gravely. “But yes, my friend, all crimes are not committed in crowds, you know?”
The other laughed. “I suppose that was rather an idiotic remark of mine. But what particular crime are you investigating down here, or is that a thing I mustn’t ask?”
“You may ask,” said the detective. “Indeed, I would prefer that you asked.”
Harrison looked at him curiously. He sensed something a little unusual in the other’s manner. “You are investigating a crime, you say?” he advanced rather hesitatingly. “A serious crime?”
“A crime of the most serious there is.”
“You mean. . . .”
So gravely did Hercule Poirot say that word that Harrison was quite taken aback. The detective was looking straight at him and again there was something so unusual in his glance that Harrison hardly knew how to proceed. At last, he said: “But I have heard of no murder.”
“No,” said Poirot, “you would not have heard of it.”
“Who has been murdered?”
“As yet,” said Hercule Poirot, “nobody.”
“That is why I said you would not have heard of it. I am investigating a crime that has not yet taken place.”
“But look here, that is nonsense.”
“Not at all. If one can investigate a murder before it has happened, surely that is very much better than afterwards. One might even—a little idea—prevent it.”
Harrison stared at him. “You are not serious, Monsieur Poirot.”
“But yes, I am serious.”
“You really believe that a murder is going to be committed? Oh, it’s absurd!”
Hercule Poirot finished the first part of the sentence without taking any notice of the exclamation.
“Unless we can manage to prevent it. Yes, mon ami, that is what I mean.”
“I said we. I shall need your cooperation.”
“Is that why you came down here?”
Again Poirot looked at him, and again an indefinable something made Harrison uneasy.
“I came here, Monsieur Harrison, because I—well—like you.”
And then he added in an entirely different voice: “I see, Monsieur Harrison, that you have a wasps’ nest there. You should destroy it.”
The change of subject made Harrison frown in a puzzled way. He followed Poirot’s glance and said in a bewildered voice: “As a matter of fact, I’m going to. Or rather, young Langton is. You remember Claude Langton? He was at that same dinner where I met you. He’s coming over this evening to take the nest. Rather fancies himself at the job.”
“Ah,” said Poirot. “And how is he going to do it?”
“Petrol and the garden syringe. He’s bringing his own syringe over; it’s a more convenient size than mine.”
“There is another way, is there not?” asked Poirot. “With cyanide of potassium?”
Harrison looked a little surprised. “Yes, but that’s rather dangerous stuff. Always a risk having it about the place.”
Poirot nodded gravely. “Yes, it is deadly poison.” He waited a minute and then repeated in a grave voice, “Deadly poison.”
“Useful if you want to
But Hercule Poirot remained grave. “And you are quite sure, Monsieur Harrison, that it is with petrol that Monsieur Langton is going to destroy your wasps’ nest?”
“Quite sure. Why?”
“I wondered. I was at the chemist’s in Barchester this afternoon. For one of my purchases I had to sign the poison book. I saw the last entry. It was for cyanide of potassium and it was signed by Claude Langton.”
Harrison stared. “That’s odd,” he said. “Langton told me the other day that he’d never dream of using the stuff; in fact, he said it oughtn’t to be sold for the purpose.”
Poirot looked out over the garden. His voice was very quiet as he asked a question. “Do you like Langton?”
The other started. The question somehow seemed to find him quite unprepared. “I—I—well, I mean—of course, I like him. Why shouldn’t I?”
“I only wondered,” said Poirot placidly, “whether you did.”
And as the other did not answer, he went on. “I also wondered if he liked you?”
“What are you getting at, Monsieur Poirot? There’s something in your mind I can’t fathom.”
“I am going to be very frank. You are engaged to be married, Monsieur Harrison. I know Miss Molly Deane. She is a very charming, a very beautiful girl. Before she was engaged to you, she was engaged to Claude Langton. She threw him over for you.”
“I do not ask what her reasons were: she may have been justified. But I tell you this, it is not too much to suppose that Langton has not forgotten or forgiven.”
“You’re wrong, Monsieur Poirot. I swear you’re wrong. Langton’s been a sportsman; he’s taken things like a man. He’s been amazingly decent to me—gone out of his way to be friendly.”
“And that does not strike you as unusual? You use the word ‘amazingly,’ but you do not seem to be amazed.”
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