Double Sin and Other Stories by Agatha Christie

“What do you mean, M. Poirot?”

  “I mean,” said Poirot, and his voice had a new note in it, “that a man may conceal his hate till the proper time comes.”

  “Hate?” Harrison shook his head and laughed.

  “The English are very stupid,” said Poirot. “They think that they can deceive anyone but that no one can deceive them. The sportsman—the good fellow—never will they believe evil of him. And because they are brave, but stupid, sometimes they die when they need not die.”

  “You are warning me,” said Harrison in a low voice. “I see it now—what has puzzled me all along. You are warning me against Claude Langton. You came here today to warn me. . . .”

  Poirot nodded. Harrison sprang up suddenly. “But you are mad, Monsieur Poirot. This is England. Things don’t happen like that here. Disappointed suitors don’t go about stabbing people in the back and poisoning them. And you’re wrong about Langton. That chap wouldn’t hurt a fly.”

  “The lives of flies are not my concern,” said Poirot placidly. “And although you say Monsieur Langton would not take the life of one, yet you forget that he is even now preparing to take the lives of several thousand wasps.”

  Harrison did not at once reply. The little detective in his turn sprang to his feet. He advanced to his friend and laid a hand on his shoulder. So agitated was he that he almost shook the big man, and, as he did so, he hissed into his ear: “Rouse yourself, my friend, rouse yourself. And look—look where I am pointing. There on the bank, close by that tree root. See you, the wasps returning home, placid at the end of the day? In a little hour, there will be destruction, and they know it not. There is no one to tell them. They have not, it seems, a Hercule Poirot. I tell you, Monsieur Harrison, I am down here on business. Murder is my business. And it is my business before it has happened as well as afterwards. At what time does Monsieur Langton come to take this wasps’ nest?”

  “Langton would never. . . .”

  “At what time?”

  “At nine o’clock. But I tell you, you’re all wrong. Langton would never. . . .”

  “These English!” cried Poirot in a passion. He caught up his hat and stick and moved down the path, pausing to speak over his shoulder. “I do not stay to argue with you. I should only enrage myself. But you understand, I return at nine o’clock?”

  Harrison opened his mouth to speak, but Poirot did not give him the chance. “I know what you would say: ‘Langton would never,’ et cetera. Ah, Langton would never! But all the same I return at nine o’clock. But, yes, it will amuse me—put it like that—it will amuse me to see the taking of a wasps’ nest. Another of your English sports!”

  He waited for no reply but passed rapidly down the path and out through the door that creaked. Once outside on the road, his pace slackened. His vivacity died down, his face became grave and troubled. Once he drew his watch from his pocket and consulted it. The hands pointed to ten minutes past eight. “Over three quarters of an hour,” he murmured. “I wonder if I should have waited.”

  His footsteps slackened; he almost seemed on the point of returning. Some vague foreboding seemed to assail him. He shook it off resolutely, however, and continued to walk in the direction of the village. But his face was still troubled, and once or twice he shook his head like a man only partly satisfied.

  It was still some minutes off nine when he once more approached the garden door. It was a clear, still evening; hardly a breeze stirred the leaves. There was, perhaps, something a little sinister in the stillness, like the lull before a storm.

  Poirot’s footsteps quickened ever so slightly. He was suddenly alarmed—and uncertain. He feared he knew not what.

  And at that moment the garden door opened and Claude Langton stepped quickly out into the road. He started when he saw Poirot.

  “Oh—er—good evening.”

  “Good evening, Monsieur Langton. You are early.”

  Langton stared at him. “I don’t know what you mean.”

  “You have taken the wasps’ nest?”

  “As a matter of fact, I didn’t.”

  “Oh,” said Poirot softly. “So you did not take the wasps’ nest. What did you do then?”

  “Oh, just sat and yarned a bit with old Harrison. I really must hurry along now, Monsieur Poirot. I’d no idea you were remaining in this part of the world.”

  “I had business here, you see.”

  “Oh! Well, you’ll find Harrison on the terrace. Sorry I can’t stop.”

  He hurried away. Poirot looked after him. A nervous young fellow, good-looking with a weak mouth!

  “So I shall find Harrison on the terrace,” murmured Poirot. “I wonder.” He went in through the garden door and up the path. Harrison was sitting in a chair by the table. He sat motionless and did not even turn his head as Poirot came up to him.

  “Ah! Mon ami,” said Poirot. “You are all right, eh?”

  There was a long pause and then Harrison said in a queer, dazed voice, “What did you say?”

  “I said—are you all right?”

  “All right? Yes, I’m all right. Why not?”

  “You feel no ill effects? That is good.”

  “Ill effects? From what?”

  “Washing soda.”

  Harrison roused himself suddenly. “Washing soda? What do you mean?”

  Poirot made an apologetic gesture. “I infinitely regret the necessity, but I put some in your pocket.”

  “You put some in my pocket? What on earth for?”

  Harrison stared at him. Poirot spoke quietly and impersonally like a lecturer coming down to the level of a small child.

  “You see, one of the advantages, or disadvantages, of being a detective is that it brings you into contact with the criminal classes. And the criminal classes, they can teach you some very interesting and curious things. There was a pickpocket once—I interested myself in him because for once in a way he had not done what they say he has done—and so I get him off. And because he is grateful he pays me in the only way he can think of—which is to show me the tricks of his trade.

  “And so it happens that I can pick a man’s pocket if I choose without his ever suspecting the fact. I lay one hand on his shoulder, I excite myself, and he feels nothing. But all the same I have managed to transfer what is in his pocket to my pocket and leave washing soda in its place.

  “You see,” continued Poirot dreamily, “if a man wants to get at some poison quickly to put in a glass, unobserved, he positively must keep it in his right-hand coat pocket; there is nowhere else. I knew it would be there.”

  He dropped his hand into his pocket and brought out a few white, lumpy crystals. “Exceedingly dangerous,” he murmured, “to carry it like that—loose.”

  Calmly and without hurrying himself, he took from another pocket a wide-mouthed bottle. He slipped in the crystals, stepped to the table and filled up the bottle with plain water. Then carefully corking it, he shook it until all the crystals were dissolved. Harrison watched him as though fascinated.

  Satisfied with his solution, Poirot stepped across to the nest. He uncorked the bottle, turned his head aside, and poured the solution into the wasps’ nest, then stood back a pace or two watching.

  Some wasps that were returning alighted, quivered a little and then lay still. Other wasps crawled out of the hole only to die. Poirot watched for a minute or two and then nodded his head and came back to the veranda.

  “A quick death,” he said. “A very quick death.”

  Harrison found his voice. “How much do you know?”

  Poirot looked straight ahead. “As I told you, I saw Claude Langton’s name in the book. What I did not tell you was that almost immediately afterwards, I happened to meet him. He told me he had been buying cyanide of potassium at your request—to take a wasps’ nest. That struck me as a little odd, my friend, because I remember that at that dinner of which you spoke, you held forth on the superior merits of petrol and denounced the buying of cyanide as dangerous and unnecessary.”
br />   “Go on.”

  “I knew something else. I had seen Claude Langton and Molly Deane together when they thought no one saw them. I do not know what lovers’ quarrel it was that originally parted them and drove her into your arms, but I realized that misunderstandings were over and that Miss Deane was drifting back to her love.”

  “Go on.”

  “I knew something more, my friend. I was in Harley Street the other day, and I saw you come out of a certain doctor’s house. I know the doctor and for what disease one consults him, and I read the expression on your face. I have seen it only once or twice in my lifetime, but it is not easily mistaken. It was the face of a man under sentence of death. I am right, am I not?”

  “Quite right. He gave me two months.”

  “You did not see me, my friend, for you had other things to think about. I saw something else on your face—the thing that I told you this afternoon men try to conceal. I saw hate there, my friend. You did not trouble to conceal it, because you thought there were none to observe.”

  “Go on,” said Harrison.

  “There is not much more to say. I came down here, saw Langton’s name by accident in the poison book as I tell you, met him, and came here to you. I laid traps for you. You denied having asked Langton to get cyanide, or rather you expressed surprise at his having done so. You were taken aback at first at my appearance, but presently you saw how well it would fit in and you encouraged my suspicions. I knew from Langton himself that he was coming at half past eight. You told me nine o’clock, thinking I should come and find everything over. And so I knew everything.”

  “Why did you come?” cried Harrison. “If only you hadn’t come!”

  Poirot drew himself up. “I told you,” he said, “murder is my business.”

  “Murder? Suicide, you mean.”

  “No.” Poirot’s voice rang out sharply and clearly. “I mean murder. Your death was to be quick and easy, but the death you planned for Langton was the worst death any man can die. He bought the poison; he comes to see you, and he is alone with you. You die suddenly, and the cyanide is found in your glass, and Claude Langton hangs. That was your plan.”

  Again Harrison moaned.

  “Why did you come? Why did you come?”

  “I have told you, but there is another reason. I liked you. Listen, mon ami, you are a dying man; you have lost the girl you loved, but there is one thing that you are not; you are not a murderer. Tell me now: are you glad or sorry that I came?”

  There was a moment’s pause and Harrison drew himself up. There was a new dignity in his face—the look of a man who has conquered his own baser self. He stretched out his hand across the table.

  “Thank goodness you came,” he cried. “Oh, thank goodness you came.”



  “The Theft of the Royal Ruby” was first published as “The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding” in The Sketch, 12 December 1923. This is an expanded version of the story.

  I regret exceedingly—” said M. Hercule Poirot.

  He was interrupted. Not rudely interrupted. The interruption was suave, dexterous, persuasive rather than contradictory.

  “Please don’t refuse offhand, M. Poirot. There are grave issues of State. Your cooperation will be appreciated in the highest quarters.”

  “You are too kind,” Hercule Poirot waved a hand, “but I really cannot undertake to do as you ask. At this season of the year—”

  Again Mr. Jesmond interrupted. “Christmastime,” he said, persuasively. “An old-fashioned Christmas in the English countryside.”

  Hercule Poirot shivered. The thought of the English countryside at this season of the year did not attract him.

  “A good old-fashioned Christmas!” Mr. Jesmond stressed it.

  “Me—I am not an Englishman,” said Hercule Poirot. “In my country, Christmas, it is for the children. The New Year, that is what we celebrate.”

  “Ah,” said Mr. Jesmond, “but Christmas in England is a great institution and I assure you at Kings Lacey you would see it at its best. It’s a wonderful old house, you know. Why, one wing of it dates from the fourteenth century.”

  Again Poirot shivered. The thought of a fourteenth-century English manor house filled him with apprehension. He had suffered too often in the historic country houses of England. He looked round appreciatively at his comfortable modern flat with its radiators and the latest patent devices for excluding any kind of draught.

  “In the winter,” he said firmly, “I do not leave London.”

  “I don’t think you quite appreciate, M. Poirot, what a very serious matter this is.” Mr. Jesmond glanced at his companion and then back at Poirot.

  Poirot’s second visitor had up to now said nothing but a polite and formal “How do you do.” He sat now, gazing down at his well-polished shoes, with an air of the utmost dejection on his coffee-coloured face. He was a young man, not more than twenty-three, and he was clearly in a state of complete misery.

  “Yes, yes,” said Hercule Poirot. “Of course the matter is serious. I do appreciate that. His Highness has my heartfelt sympathy.”

  “The position is one of the utmost delicacy,” said Mr. Jesmond.

  Poirot transferred his gaze from the young man to his older companion. If one wanted to sum up Mr. Jesmond in a word, the word would have been discretion. Everything about Mr. Jesmond was discreet. His well-cut but inconspicuous clothes, his pleasant, well-bred voice which rarely soared out of an agreeable monotone, his light-brown hair just thinning a little at the temples, his pale serious face. It seemed to Hercule Poirot that he had known not one Mr. Jesmond but a dozen Mr. Jesmonds in his time, all using sooner or later the same phrase—“a position of the utmost delicacy.”

  “The police,” said Hercule Poirot, “can be very discreet, you know.”

  Mr. Jesmond shook his head firmly.

  “Not the police,” he said. “To recover the—er—what we want to recover will almost inevitably invoke taking proceedings in the law courts and we know so little. We suspect, but we do not know.”

  “You have my sympathy,” said Hercule Poirot again.

  If he imagined that his sympathy was going to mean anything to his two visitors, he was wrong. They did not want sympathy, they wanted practical help. Mr. Jesmond began once more to talk about the delights of an English Christmas.

  “It’s dying out, you know,” he said, “the real old-fashioned type of Christmas. People spend it at hotels nowadays. But an English Christmas with all the family gathered round, the children and their stockings, the Christmas tree, the turkey and plum pudding, the crackers. The snowman outside the window—”

  In the interests of exactitude, Hercule Poirot intervened.

  “To make a snowman one has to have the snow,” he remarked severely. “And one cannot have snow to order, even for an English Christmas.”

  “I was talking to a friend of mine in the meteorological office only today,” said Mr. Jesmond, “and he tells me that it is highly probable there will be snow this Christmas.”

  It was the wrong thing to have said. Hercule Poirot shuddered more forcefully than ever.

  “Snow in the country!” he said. “That would be still more abominable. A large, cold, stone manor house.”

  “Not at all,” said Mr. Jesmond. “Things have changed very much in the last ten years or so. Oil-fired central heating.”

  “They have oil-fired central heating at Kings Lacey?” asked Poirot. For the first time he seemed to waver.

  Mr. Jesmond seized his opportunity. “Yes, indeed,” he said, “and a splendid hot water system. Radiators in every bedroom. I assure you, my dear M. Poirot, Kings Lacey is comfort itself in the wintertime. You might even find the house too warm.”

  “That is most unlikely,” said Hercule Poirot.

  With practised dexterity Mr. Jesmond shifted his ground a little.

  “You can appreciate the terrible dilemma we are in,” he said, i
n a confidential manner.

  Hercule Poirot nodded. The problem was, indeed, not a happy one. A young potentate-to-be, the only son of the ruler of a rich and important native State had arrived in London a few weeks ago. His country had been passing through a period of restlessness and discontent. Though loyal to the father whose way of life had remained persistently Eastern, popular opinion was somewhat dubious of the younger generation. His follies had been Western ones and as such looked upon with disapproval.

  Recently, however, his betrothal had been announced. He was to marry a cousin of the same blood, a young woman who, though educated at Cambridge, was careful to display no Western influence in her own country. The wedding day was announced and the young prince had made a journey to England, bringing with him some of the famous jewels of his house to be reset in appropriate modern settings by Cartier. These had included a very famous ruby which had been removed from its cumbersome old-fashioned necklace and had been given a new look by the famous jewellers. So far so good, but after this came the snag. It was not to be supposed that a young man possessed of much wealth and convivial tastes, should not commit a few follies of the pleasanter type. As to that there would have been no censure. Young princes were supposed to amuse themselves in this fashion. For the prince to take the girlfriend of the moment for a walk down Bond Street and bestow upon her an emerald bracelet or a diamond clip as a reward for the pleasure she had afforded him would have been regarded as quite natural and suitable, corresponding in fact to the Cadillac cars which his father invariably presented to his favourite dancing girl of the moment.

  But the prince had been far more indiscreet than that. Flattered by the lady’s interest, he had displayed to her the famous ruby in its new setting, and had finally been so unwise as to accede to her request to be allowed to wear it—just for one evening!

  The sequel was short and sad. The lady had retired from their supper table to powder her nose. Time passed. She did not return. She had left the establishment by another door and since then had disappeared into space. The important and distressing thing was that the ruby in its new setting had disappeared with her.

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