Double Sin and Other Stories by Agatha Christie

  Christmas dinner took place at 2 p.m. and was a feast indeed. Enormous logs crackled merrily in the wide fireplace and above their crackling rose the babel of many tongues talking together. Oyster soup had been consumed, two enormous turkeys had come and gone, mere carcasses of their former selves. Now, the supreme moment, the Christmas pudding was brought in, in state! Old Peverell, his hands and his knees shaking with the weakness of eighty years, permitted no one but himself to bear it in. Mrs. Lacey sat, her hands pressed together in nervous apprehension. One Christmas, she felt sure, Peverell would fall down dead. Having either to take the risk of letting him fall down dead or of hurting his feelings to such an extent that he would probably prefer to be dead than alive, she had so far chosen the former alternative. On a silver dish the Christmas pudding reposed in its glory. A large football of a pudding, a piece of holly stuck in it like a triumphant flag and glorious flames of blue and red rising round it. There was a cheer and cries of “Ooh-ah.”

  One thing Mrs. Lacey had done: prevailed upon Peverell to place the pudding in front of her so that she could help it rather than hand it in turn round the table. She breathed a sigh of relief as it was deposited safely in front of her. Rapidly the plates were passed round, flames still licking the portions.

  “Wish, M. Poirot,” cried Bridget. “Wish before the flame goes. Quick, Gran darling, quick.”

  Mrs. Lacey leant back with a sigh of satisfaction. Operation Pudding had been a success. In front of everyone was a helping with flames still licking it. There was a momentary silence all round the table as everyone wished hard.

  There was nobody to notice the rather curious expression on the face of M. Poirot as he surveyed the portion of pudding on his plate. “Don’t eat none of the plum pudding.” What on earth did that sinister warning mean? There could be nothing different about his portion of plum pudding from that of everyone else! Sighing as he admitted himself baffled—and Hercule Poirot never liked to admit himself baffled—he picked up his spoon and fork.

  “Hard sauce, M. Poirot?”

  Poirot helped himself appreciatively to hard sauce.

  “Swiped my best brandy again, eh Em?” said the colonel good-humouredly from the other end of the table. Mrs. Lacey twinkled at him.

  “Mrs. Ross insists on having the best brandy, dear,” she said. “She says it makes all the difference.”

  “Well, well,” said Colonel Lacey, “Christmas comes but once a year and Mrs. Ross is a great woman. A great woman and a great cook.”

  “She is indeed,” said Colin. “Smashing plum pudding, this. Mmmm.” He filled an appreciative mouth.

  Gently, almost gingerly, Hercule Poirot attacked his portion of pudding. He ate a mouthful. It was delicious! He ate another. Something tinkled faintly on his plate. He investigated with a fork. Bridget, on his left, came to his aid.

  “You’ve got something, M. Poirot,” she said. “I wonder what it is.”

  Poirot detached a little silver object from the surrounding raisins that clung to it.

  “Oooh,” said Bridget, “it’s the bachelor’s button! M. Poirot’s got the bachelor’s button!”

  Hercule Poirot dipped the small silver button into the finger-glass of water that stood by his plate, and washed it clear of pudding crumbs.

  “It is very pretty,” he observed.

  “That means you’re going to be a bachelor, M. Poirot,” explained Colin helpfully.

  “That is to be expected,” said Poirot gravely. “I have been a bachelor for many long years and it is unlikely that I shall change that status now.”

  “Oh, never say die,” said Michael. “I saw in the paper that someone of ninety-five married a girl of twenty-two the other day.”

  “You encourage me,” said Hercule Poirot.

  Colonel Lacey uttered a sudden exclamation. His face became purple and his hand went to his mouth.

  “Confound it, Emmeline,” he roared, “why on earth do you let the cook put glass in the pudding?”

  “Glass!” cried Mrs. Lacey, astonished.

  Colonel Lacey withdrew the offending substance from his mouth. “Might have broken a tooth,” he grumbled. “Or swallowed the damn thing and had appendicitis.”

  He dropped the piece of glass into the finger bowl, rinsed it and held it up.

  “God bless my soul,” he ejaculated. “It’s a red stone out of one of the cracker brooches.” He held it aloft.

  “You permit?”

  Very deftly M. Poirot stretched across his neighbour, took it from Colonel Lacey’s fingers and examined it attentively. As the squire had said, it was an enormous red stone the colour of a ruby. The light gleamed from its facets as he turned it about. Somewhere around the table a chair was pushed sharply back and then drawn in again.

  “Phew!” cried Michael. “How wizard it would be if it was real.”

  “Perhaps it is real,” said Bridget hopefully.

  “Oh, don’t be an ass, Bridget. Why a ruby of that size would be worth thousands and thousands and thousands of pounds. Wouldn’t it, M. Poirot?”

  “It would indeed,” said Poirot.

  “But what I can’t understand,” said Mrs. Lacey, “is how it got into the pudding.”

  “Oooh,” said Colin, diverted by his last mouthful, “I’ve got the pig. It isn’t fair.”

  Bridget chanted immediately, “Colin’s got the pig! Colin’s got the pig! Colin is the greedy guzzling pig!”

  “I’ve got the ring,” said Diana in a clear, high voice.

  “Good for you, Diana. You’ll be married first, of us all.”

  “I’ve got the thimble,” wailed Bridget.

  “Bridget’s going to be an old maid,” chanted the two boys. “Yah, Bridget’s going to be an old maid.”

  “Who’s got the money?” demanded David. “There’s a real ten shilling piece, gold, in this pudding. I know. Mrs. Ross told me so.”

  “I think I’m the lucky one,” said Desmond Lee-Wortley.

  Colonel Lacey’s two next door neighbours heard him mutter. “Yes, you would be.”

  “I’ve got a ring, too,” said David. He looked across at Diana. “Quite a coincidence, isn’t it?”

  The laughter went on. Nobody noticed that M. Poirot carelessly, as though thinking of something else, had dropped the red stone into his pocket.

  Mince pies and Christmas dessert followed the pudding. The older members of the party then retired for a welcome siesta before the teatime ceremony of the lighting of the Christmas tree. Hercule Poirot, however, did not take a siesta. Instead, he made his way to the enormous old-fashioned kitchen.

  “It is permitted,” he asked, looking round and beaming, “that I congratulate the cook on this marvellous meal that I have just eaten?”

  There was a moment’s pause and then Mrs. Ross came forward in a stately manner to meet him. She was a large woman, nobly built with all the dignity of a stage duchess. Two lean grey-haired women were beyond in the scullery washing up and a tow-haired girl was moving to and fro between the scullery and the kitchen. But these were obviously mere myrmidons. Mrs. Ross was the queen of the kitchen quarters.

  “I am glad to hear you enjoyed it, sir,” she said graciously.

  “Enjoyed it!” cried Hercule Poirot. With an extravagant foreign gesture he raised his hand to his lips, kissed it, and wafted the kiss to the ceiling. “But you are a genius, Mrs. Ross! A genius! Never have I tasted such a wonderful meal. The oyster soup—” he made an expressive noise with his lips “—and the stuffing. The chestnut stuffing in the turkey, that was quite unique in my experience.”

  “Well, it’s funny that you should say that, sir,” said Mrs. Ross graciously. “It’s a very special recipe, that stuffing. It was given me by an Austrian chef that I worked with many years ago. But all the rest,” she added, “is just good, plain English cooking.”

  “And is there anything better?” demanded Hercule Poirot.

  “Well, it’s nice of you to say so, sir. Of course, you being a fore
ign gentleman might have preferred the continental style. Not but what I can’t manage continental dishes too.”

  “I am sure, Mrs. Ross, you could manage anything! But you must know that English cooking—good English cooking, not the cooking one gets in the second-class hotels or the restaurants—is much appreciated by gourmets on the continent, and I believe I am correct in saying that a special expedition was made to London in the early eighteen hundreds, and a report sent back to France of the wonders of the English puddings. ‘We have nothing like that in France,’ they wrote. ‘It is worth making a journey to London just to taste the varieties and excellencies of the English puddings.’ And above all puddings,” continued Poirot, well launched now on a kind of rhapsody, “is the Christmas plum pudding, such as we have eaten today. That was a homemade pudding, was it not? Not a bought one?”

  “Yes, indeed, sir. Of my own making and my own recipe such as I’ve made for many years. When I came here Mrs. Lacey said that she’d ordered a pudding from a London store to save me the trouble. But no, Madam, I said, that may be kind of you but no bought pudding from a store can equal a homemade Christmas one. Mind you,” said Mrs. Ross, warming to her subject like the artist she was, “it was made too soon before the day. A good Christmas pudding should be made some weeks before and allowed to wait. The longer they’re kept, within reason, the better they are. I mind now that when I was a child and we went to church every Sunday, we’d start listening for the collect that begins ‘Stir up O Lord we beseech thee’ because that collect was the signal, as it were, that the puddings should be made that week. And so they always were. We had the collect on the Sunday, and that week sure enough my mother would make the Christmas puddings. And so it should have been here this year. As it was, that pudding was only made three days ago, the day before you arrived, sir. However, I kept to the old custom. Everyone in the house had to come out into the kitchen and have a stir and make a wish. That’s an old custom, sir, and I’ve always held to it.”

  “Most interesting,” said Hercule Poirot. “Most interesting. And so everyone came out into the kitchen?”

  “Yes, sir. The young gentlemen, Miss Bridget and the London gentleman who’s staying here, and his sister and Mr. David and Miss Diana—Mrs. Middleton, I should say—All had a stir, they did.”

  “How many puddings did you make? Is this the only one?”

  “No, sir, I made four. Two large ones and two smaller ones. The other large one I planned to serve on New Year’s Day and the smaller ones were for Colonel and Mrs. Lacey when they’re alone like and not so many in the family.”

  “I see, I see,” said Poirot.

  “As a matter of fact, sir,” said Mrs. Ross, “it was the wrong pudding you had for lunch today.”

  “The wrong pudding?” Poirot frowned. “How is that?”

  “Well, sir, we have a big Christmas mould. A china mould with a pattern of holly and mistletoe on top and we always have the Christmas Day pudding boiled in that. But there was a most unfortunate accident. This morning, when Annie was getting it down from the shelf in the larder, she slipped and dropped it and it broke. Well, sir, naturally I couldn’t serve that, could I? There might have been splinters in it. So we had to use the other one—the New Year’s Day one, which was in a plain bowl. It makes a nice round but it’s not so decorative as the Christmas mould. Really, where we’ll get another mould like that I don’t know. They don’t make things in that size nowadays. All tiddly bits of things. Why, you can’t even buy a breakfast dish that’ll take a proper eight to ten eggs and bacon. Ah, things aren’t what they were.”

  “No, indeed,” said Poirot. “But today that is not so. This Christmas Day has been like the Christmas Days of old, is that not true?”

  Mrs. Ross sighed. “Well, I’m glad you say so, sir, but of course I haven’t the help now that I used to have. Not skilled help, that is. The girls nowadays—” she lowered her voice slightly, “—they mean very well and they’re very willing but they’ve not been trained, sir, if you understand what I mean.”

  “Times change, yes,” said Hercule Poirot. “I too find it sad sometimes.”

  “This house, sir,” said Mrs. Ross, “it’s too large, you know, for the mistress and the colonel. The mistress, she knows that. Living in a corner of it as they do, it’s not the same thing at all. It only comes alive, as you might say, at Christmas time when all the family come.”

  “It is the first time, I think, that Mr. Lee-Wortley and his sister have been here?”

  “Yes, sir.” A note of slight reserve crept into Mrs. Ross’s voice. “A very nice gentleman he is but, well—it seems a funny friend for Miss Sarah to have, according to our ideas. But there—London ways are different! It’s sad that his sister’s so poorly. Had an operation, she had. She seemed all right the first day she was here, but that very day, after we’d been stirring the puddings, she was took bad again and she’s been in bed ever since. Got up too soon after her operation, I expect. Ah, doctors nowadays, they have you out of hospital before you can hardly stand on your feet. Why, my very own nephew’s wife . . .” And Mrs. Ross went into a long and spirited tale of hospital treatment as accorded to her relations, comparing it unfavourably with the consideration that had been lavished upon them in older times.

  Poirot duly commiserated with her. “It remains,” he said, “to thank you for this exquisite and sumptuous meal. You permit a little acknowledgement of my appreciation?” A crisp five pound note passed from his hand into that of Mrs. Ross who said perfunctorily:

  “You really shouldn’t do that, sir.”

  “I insist. I insist.”

  “Well, it’s very kind of you indeed, sir.” Mrs. Ross accepted the tribute as no more than her due. “And I wish you, sir, a very happy Christmas and a prosperous New Year.”

  The end of Christmas Day was like the end of most Christmas Days. The tree was lighted, a splendid Christmas cake came in for tea, was greeted with approval but was partaken of only moderately. There was cold supper.

  Both Poirot and his host and hostess went to bed early.

  “Good night, M. Poirot,” said Mrs. Lacey. “I hope you’ve enjoyed yourself.”

  “It has been a wonderful day, Madame, wonderful.”

  “You’re looking very thoughtful,” said Mrs. Lacey.

  “It is the English pudding that I consider.”

  “You found it a little heavy, perhaps?” asked Mrs. Lacey delicately.

  “No, no, I do not speak gastronomically. I consider its significance.”

  “It’s traditional, of course,” said Mrs. Lacey. “Well, good night, M. Poirot, and don’t dream too much of Christmas puddings and mince pies.”

  “Yes,” murmured Poirot to himself as he undressed. “It is a problem certainly, that Christmas plum pudding. There is here something that I do not understand at all.” He shook his head in a vexed manner. “Well—we shall see.”

  After making certain preparations, Poirot went to bed, but not to sleep.

  It was some two hours later that his patience was rewarded. The door of his bedroom opened very gently. He smiled to himself. It was as he had thought it would be. His mind went back fleetingly to the cup of coffee so politely handed him by Desmond Lee-Wortley. A little later, when Desmond’s back was turned, he had laid the cup down for a few moments on a table. He had then apparently picked it up again and Desmond had had the satisfaction, if satisfaction it was, of seeing him drink the coffee to the last drop. But a little smile lifted Poirot’s moustache as he reflected that it was not he but someone else who was sleeping a good sound sleep tonight. “That pleasant young David,” said Poirot to himself, “he is worried, unhappy. It will do him no harm to have a night’s really sound sleep. And now, let us see what will happen?”

  He lay quite still, breathing in an even manner with occasionally a suggestion, but the very faintest suggestion, of a snore.

  Someone came up to the bed and bent over him. Then, satisfied, that someone turned away and went to t
he dressing table. By the light of a tiny torch the visitor was examining Poirot’s belongings neatly arranged on top of the dressing table. Fingers explored the wallet, gently pulled open the drawers of the dressing table, then extended the search to the pockets of Poirot’s clothes. Finally the visitor approached the bed and with great caution slid his hand under the pillow. Withdrawing his hand, he stood for a moment or two as though uncertain what to do next. He walked round the room looking inside ornaments, went into the adjoining bathroom from whence he presently returned. Then, with a faint exclamation of disgust, he went out of the room.

  “Ah,” said Poirot, under his breath. “You have a disappointment. Yes, yes, a serious disappointment. Bah! To imagine, even, that Hercule Poirot would hide something where you could find it!” Then, turning over on his other side, he went peacefully to sleep.

  He was aroused next morning by an urgent soft tapping on his door.

  “Qui est là? Come in, come in.”

  The door opened. Breathless, red-faced, Colin stood upon the threshold. Behind him stood Michael.

  “Monsieur Poirot, Monsieur Poirot.”

  “But yes?” Poirot sat up in bed. “It is the early tea? But no. It is you, Colin. What has occurred?”

  Colin was, for a moment, speechless. He seemed to be under the grip of some strong emotion. In actual fact it was the sight of the nightcap that Hercule Poirot wore that affected for the moment his organs of speech. Presently he controlled himself and spoke.

  “I think—M. Poirot, could you help us? Something rather awful has happened.”

  “Something has happened? But what?”

  “It’s—it’s Bridget. She’s out there in the snow. I think—she doesn’t move or speak and—oh, you’d better come and look for yourself. I’m terribly afraid—she may be dead.”

  “What?” Poirot cast aside his bed covers. “Mademoiselle Bridget—dead!”

  “I think—I think somebody’s killed her. There’s—there’s blood and—oh do come!”

  “But certainly. But certainly. I come on the instant.”

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