Double Sin and Other Stories by Agatha Christie
“But the service, Madame?”
“Oh, well, that presents less difficulty than you might think. Of course, one cannot expect to be looked after and waited upon as one used to be. Different people come in from the village. Two women in the morning, another two to cook lunch and wash it up, and different ones again in the evening. There are plenty of people who want to come and work for a few hours a day. Of course for Christmas we are very lucky. My dear Mrs. Ross always comes in every Christmas. She is a wonderful cook, really first-class. She retired about ten years ago, but she comes in to help us in any emergency. Then there is dear Peverell.”
“Yes. He is pensioned off and lives in the little house near the lodge, but he is so devoted, and he insists on coming to wait on us at Christmas. Really, I’m terrified, M. Poirot, because he’s so old and so shaky that I feel certain that if he carries anything heavy he will drop it. It’s really an agony to watch him. And his heart is not good and I’m afraid of his doing too much. But it would hurt his feelings dreadfully if I did not let him come. He hems and hahs and makes disapproving noises when he sees the state our silver is in and within three days of being here, it is all wonderful again. Yes. He is a dear faithful friend.” She smiled at Poirot. “So you see, we are all set for a happy Christmas. A white Christmas, too,” she added as she looked out of the window. “See? It is beginning to snow. Ah, the children are coming in. You must meet them, M. Poirot.”
Poirot was introduced with due ceremony. First, to Colin and Michael, the schoolboy grandson and his friend, nice polite lads of fifteen, one dark, one fair. Then to their cousin, Bridget, a black-haired girl of about the same age with enormous vitality.
“And this is my granddaughter, Sarah,” said Mrs. Lacey.
Poirot looked with some interest at Sarah, an attractive girl with a mop of red hair, her manner seemed to him nervy and a trifle defiant, but she showed real affection for her grandmother.
“And this is Mr. Lee-Wortley.”
Mr. Lee-Wortley wore a fisherman’s jersey and tight black jeans; his hair was rather long and it seemed doubtful whether he had shaved that morning. In contrast to him was a young man introduced as David Welwyn, who was solid and quiet, with a pleasant smile, and rather obviously addicted to soap and water. There was one other member of the party, a handsome, rather intense-looking girl who was introduced as Diana Middleton.
Tea was brought in. A hearty meal of scones, crumpets, sandwiches and three kinds of cake. The younger members of the party appreciated the tea. Colonel Lacey came in last, remarking in a noncommittal voice:
“Hey, tea? Oh yes, tea.”
He received his cup of tea from his wife’s hand, helped himself to two scones, cast a look of aversion at Desmond Lee-Wortley and sat down as far away from him as he could. He was a big man with bushy eyebrows and a red, weather-beaten face. He might have been taken for a farmer rather than the lord of the manor.
“Started to snow,” he said. “It’s going to be a white Christmas all right.”
After tea the party dispersed.
“I expect they’ll go and play with their tape recorders now,” said Mrs. Lacey to Poirot. She looked indulgently after her grandson as he left the room. Her tone was that of one who says “The children are going to play with their toy soldiers.”
“They’re frightfully technical, of course,” she said, “and very grand about it all.”
The boys and Bridget, however, decided to go along to the lake and see if the ice on it was likely to make skating possible.
“I thought we could have skated on it this morning,” said Colin. “But old Hodgkins said no. He’s always so terribly careful.”
“Come for a walk, David,” said Diana Middleton, softly.
David hesitated for half a moment, his eyes on Sarah’s red head. She was standing by Desmond Lee-Wortley, her hand on his arm, looking up into his face.
“All right,” said David Welwyn, “yes, let’s.”
Diana slipped a quick hand through his arm and they turned towards the door into the garden. Sarah said:
“Shall we go, too, Desmond? It’s fearfully stuffy in the house.”
“Who wants to walk?” said Desmond. “I’ll get my car out. We’ll go along to the Speckled Boar and have a drink.”
Sarah hesitated for a moment before saying:
“Let’s go to Market Ledbury to the White Hart. It’s much more fun.”
Though for all the world she would not have put it into words, Sarah had an instinctive revulsion from going down to the local pub with Desmond. It was, somehow, not in the tradition of Kings Lacey. The women of Kings Lacey had never frequented the bar of the Speckled Boar. She had an obscure feeling that to go there would be to let old Colonel Lacey and his wife down. And why not? Desmond Lee-Wortley would have said. For a moment of exasperation Sarah felt that he ought to know why not! One didn’t upset such old darlings as Grandfather and dear old Em unless it was necessary. They’d been very sweet, really, letting her lead her own life, not understanding in the least why she wanted to live in Chelsea in the way she did, but accepting it. That was due to Em of course. Grandfather would have kicked up no end of a row.
Sarah had no illusions about her grandfather’s attitude. It was not his doing that Desmond had been asked to stay at Kings Lacey. That was Em, and Em was a darling and always had been.
When Desmond had gone to fetch his car, Sarah popped her head into the drawing room again.
“We’re going over to Market Ledbury,” she said. “We thought we’d have a drink there at the White Hart.”
There was a slight amount of defiance in her voice, but Mrs. Lacey did not seem to notice it.
“Well, dear,” she said. “I’m sure that will be very nice. David and Diana have gone for a walk, I see. I’m so glad. I really think it was a brainwave on my part to ask Diana here. So sad being left a widow so young—only twenty-two—I do hope she marries again soon.”
Sarah looked at her sharply. “What are you up to, Em?”
“It’s my little plan,” said Mrs. Lacey gleefully. “I think she’s just right for David. Of course I know he was terribly in love with you, Sarah dear, but you’d no use for him and I realize that he isn’t your type. But I don’t want him to go on being unhappy, and I think Diana will really suit him.”
“What a matchmaker you are, Em,” said Sarah.
“I know,” said Mrs. Lacey. “Old women always are. Diana’s quite keen on him already, I think. Don’t you think she’d be just right for him?”
“I shouldn’t say so,” said Sarah. “I think Diana’s far too—well, too intense, too serious. I should think David would find it terribly boring being married to her.”
“Well, we’ll see,” said Mrs. Lacey. “Anyway, you don’t want him, do you, dear?”
“No, indeed,” said Sarah, very quickly. She added, in a sudden rush, “You do like Desmond, don’t you, Em?”
“I’m sure he’s very nice indeed,” said Mrs. Lacey.
“Grandfather doesn’t like him,” said Sarah.
“Well, you could hardly expect him to, could you?” said Mrs. Lacey reasonably, “but I dare say he’ll come round when he gets used to the idea. You mustn’t rush him, Sarah dear. Old people are very slow to change their minds and your grandfather is rather obstinate.”
“I don’t care what Grandfather thinks or says,” said Sarah. “I shall get married to Desmond whenever I like!”
“I know, dear, I know. But do try and be realistic about it. Your grandfather could cause a lot of trouble, you know. You’re not of age yet. In another year you can do as you please. I expect Horace will have come round long before that.”
“You’re on my side aren’t you, darling?” said Sarah. She flung her arms round her grandmother’s neck and gave her an affectionate kiss.
“I want you to be happy,” said Mrs. Lacey. “Ah! there’s your young man bringing his car round. You know, I like these very tight tr
Yes, Sarah thought, Desmond had got knock knees, she had never noticed it before. . . .
“Go on, dear, enjoy yourself,” said Mrs. Lacey.
She watched her go out to the car, then, remembering her foreign guest, she went along to the library. Looking in, however, she saw that Hercule Poirot was taking a pleasant little nap, and smiling to herself, she went across the hall and out into the kitchen to have a conference with Mrs. Ross.
“Come on, beautiful,” said Desmond. “Your family cutting up rough because you’re coming out to a pub? Years behind the times here, aren’t they?”
“Of course they’re not making a fuss,” said Sarah, sharply as she got into the car.
“What’s the idea of having that foreign fellow down? He’s a detective, isn’t he? What needs detecting here?”
“Oh, he’s not here professionally,” said Sarah. “Edwina Morecombe, my grandmother, asked us to have him. I think he’s retired from professional work long ago.”
“Sounds like a broken-down old cab horse,” said Desmond.
“He wanted to see an old-fashioned English Christmas, I believe,” said Sarah vaguely.
Desmond laughed scornfully. “Such a lot of tripe, that sort of thing,” he said. “How you can stand it I don’t know.”
Sarah’s red hair was tossed back and her aggressive chin shot up.
“I enjoy it!” she said defiantly.
“You can’t, baby. Let’s cut the whole thing tomorrow. Go over to Scarborough or somewhere.”
“I couldn’t possibly do that.”
“Oh, it would hurt their feelings.”
“Oh, bilge! You know you don’t enjoy this childish sentimental bosh.”
“Well, not really perhaps but—” Sarah broke off. She realized with a feeling of guilt that she was looking forward a good deal to the Christmas celebration. She enjoyed the whole thing, but she was ashamed to admit that to Desmond. It was not the thing to enjoy Christmas and family life. Just for a moment she wished that Desmond had not come down here at Christmastime. In fact, she almost wished that Desmond had not come down here at all. It was much more fun seeing Desmond in London than here at home.
In the meantime the boys and Bridget were walking back from the lake, still discussing earnestly the problems of skating. Flecks of snow had been falling, and looking up at the sky it could be prophesied that before long there was going to be a heavy snowfall.
“It’s going to snow all night,” said Colin. “Bet you by Christmas morning we have a couple of feet of snow.”
The prospect was a pleasurable one.
“Let’s make a snowman,” said Michael.
“Good lord,” said Colin, “I haven’t made a snowman since—well, since I was about four years old.”
“I don’t believe it’s a bit easy to do,” said Bridget. “I mean, you have to know how.”
“We might make an effigy of M. Poirot,” said Colin. “Give it a big black moustache. There is one in the dressing-up box.”
“I don’t see, you know,” said Michael thoughtfully, “how M. Poirot could ever have been a detective. I don’t see how he’d ever be able to disguise himself.”
“I know,” said Bridget, “and one can’t imagine him running about with a microscope and looking for clues or measuring footprints.”
“I’ve got an idea,” said Colin. “Let’s put on a show for him!”
“What do you mean, a show?” asked Bridget.
“Well, arrange a murder for him.”
“What a gorgeous idea,” said Bridget. “Do you mean a body in the snow—that sort of thing?”
“Yes. It would make him feel at home, wouldn’t it?”
“I don’t know that I’d go as far as that.”
“If it snows,” said Colin, “we’ll have the perfect setting. A body and footprints—we’ll have to think that out rather carefully and pinch one of Grandfather’s daggers and make some blood.”
They came to a halt and oblivious to the rapidly falling snow, entered into an excited discussion.
“There’s a paintbox in the old schoolroom. We could mix up some blood—crimson-lake, I should think.”
“Crimson-lake’s a bit too pink, I think,” said Bridget. “It ought to be a bit browner.”
“Who’s going to be the body?” asked Michael.
“I’ll be the body,” said Bridget quickly.
“Oh, look here,” said Colin, “I thought of it.”
“Oh, no, no,” said Bridget, “it must be me. It’s got to be a girl. It’s more exciting. Beautiful girl lying lifeless in the snow.”
“Beautiful girl! Ah‑ha,” said Michael in derision.
“I’ve got black hair, too,” said Bridget.
“What’s that got to do with it?”
“Well, it’ll show up so well on the snow and I shall wear my red pyjamas.”
“If you wear red pyjamas, they won’t show the bloodstains,” said Michael in a practical manner.
“But they’d look so effective against the snow,” said Bridget, “and they’ve got white facings, you know, so the blood could be on that. Oh, won’t it be gorgeous? Do you think he will really be taken in?”
“He will if we do it well enough,” said Michael. “We’ll have just your footprints in the snow and one other person’s going to the body and coming away from it—a man’s, of course. He won’t want to disturb them, so he won’t know that you’re not really dead. You don’t think,” Michael stopped, struck by a sudden idea. The others looked at him. “You don’t think he’ll be annoyed about it?”
“Oh, I shouldn’t think so,” said Bridget, with facile optimism. “I’m sure he’ll understand that we’ve just done it to entertain him. A sort of Christmas treat.”
“I don’t think we ought to do it on Christmas Day,” said Colin reflectively. “I don’t think Grandfather would like that very much.”
“Boxing Day then,” said Bridget.
“Boxing Day would be just right,” said Michael.
“And it’ll give us more time, too,” pursued Bridget. “After all, there are a lot of things to arrange. Let’s go and have a look at all the props.”
They hurried into the house.
The evening was a busy one. Holly and mistletoe had been brought in in large quantities and a Christmas tree had been set up at one end of the dining room. Everyone helped to decorate it, to put up the branches of holly behind pictures and to hang mistletoe in a convenient position in the hall.
“I had no idea anything so archaic still went on,” murmured Desmond to Sarah with a sneer.
“We’ve always done it,” said Sarah, defensively.
“What a reason!”
“Oh, don’t be tiresome, Desmond. I think it’s fun.”
“Sarah my sweet, you can’t!”
“Well, not—not really perhaps but—I do in a way.”
“Who’s going to brave the snow and go to midnight mass?” asked Mrs. Lacey at twenty minutes to twelve.
“Not me,” said Desmond. “Come on, Sarah.”
With a hand on her arm he guided her into the library and went over to the record case.
“There are limits, darling,” said Desmond. “Midnight mass!”
“Yes,” said Sarah. “Oh yes.”
With a good deal of laughter, donning of coats and stamping of feet, most of the others got off. The two boys, Bridget, David and Diana set out for the ten minutes’ walk to the church through the falling snow. Their laughter died away in the distance.
“Midnight mass!” said Colonel Lacey, snorting. “Never went to midnight mass in my young days. Mass, indeed! Popish, that is! Oh, I beg your pardon, M. Poirot.”
Poirot waved a hand. “It is quite all right. Do not mind me.”
“Matins is good enough for anybody, I should say,” said the colone
“Yes, dear,” said Mrs. Lacey. “That’s what we do. But the young ones enjoy the midnight service. And it’s nice, really, that they want to go.”
“Sarah and that fellow don’t want to go.”
“Well, there dear, I think you’re wrong,” said Mrs. Lacey. “Sarah, you know, did want to go, but she didn’t like to say so.”
“Beats me why she cares what that fellow’s opinion is.”
“She’s very young, really,” said Mrs. Lacey placidly. “Are you going to bed, M. Poirot? Good night. I hope you’ll sleep well.”
“And you, Madame? Are you not going to bed yet?”
“Not just yet,” said Mrs. Lacey. “I’ve got the stockings to fill, you see. Oh, I know they’re all practically grown up, but they do like their stockings. One puts jokes in them! Silly little things. But it all makes for a lot of fun.”
“You work very hard to make this a happy house at Christmas time,” said Poirot. “I honour you.”
He raised her hand to his lips in a courtly fashion.
“Hm,” grunted Colonel Lacey, as Poirot departed. “Flowery sort of fellow. Still—he appreciates you.”
Mrs. Lacey dimpled up at him. “Have you noticed, Horace, that I’m standing under the mistletoe?” she asked with the demureness of a girl of nineteen.
Hercule Poirot entered his bedroom. It was a large room well provided with radiators. As he went over towards the big four-poster bed he noticed an envelope lying on his pillow. He opened it and drew out a piece of paper. On it was a shakily printed message in capital letters.
DON’T EAT NONE OF THE PLUM PUDDING. ONE AS WISHES YOU WELL.
Hercule Poirot stared at it. His eyebrows rose. “Cryptic,” he murmured, “and most unexpected.”
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