Double Sin and Other Stories by Agatha Christie
With great practicality Poirot inserted his feet into his outdoor shoes and pulled a fur-lined overcoat over his pyjamas.
“I come,” he said. “I come on the moment. You have aroused the house?”
“No. No, so far I haven’t told anyone but you. I thought it would be better. Grandfather and Gran aren’t up yet. They’re laying breakfast downstairs, but I didn’t say anything to Peverell. She—Bridget—she’s round the other side of the house, near the terrace and the library window.”
“I see. Lead the way. I will follow.”
Turning away to hide his delighted grin, Colin led the way downstairs. They went out through the side door. It was a clear morning with the sun not yet high over the horizon. It was not snowing now, but it had snowed heavily during the night and everywhere around was an unbroken carpet of thick snow. The world looked very pure and white and beautiful.
“There!” said Colin breathlessly. “I—it’s—there!” He pointed dramatically.
The scene was indeed dramatic enough. A few yards away Bridget lay in the snow. She was wearing scarlet pyjamas and a white wool wrap thrown round her shoulders. The white wool wrap was stained with crimson. Her head was turned aside and hidden by the mass of her outspread black hair. One arm was under her body, the other lay flung out, the fingers clenched, and standing up in the centre of the crimson stain was the hilt of a large curved Kurdish knife which Colonel Lacey had shown to his guests only the evening before.
“Mon Dieu!” ejaculated M. Poirot. “It is like something on the stage!”
There was a faint choking noise from Michael. Colin thrust himself quickly into the breach.
“I know,” he said. “It—it doesn’t seem real somehow, does it. Do you see those footprints—I suppose we mustn’t disturb them?”
“Ah yes, the footprints. No, we must be careful not to disturb those footprints.”
“That’s what I thought,” said Colin. “That’s why I wouldn’t let anyone go near her until we got you. I thought you’d know what to do.”
“All the same,” said Hercule Poirot briskly, “first, we must see if she is still alive? Is not that so?”
“Well—yes—of course,” said Michael, a little doubtfully, “but you see, we thought—I mean, we didn’t like—”
“Ah, you have the prudence! You have read the detective stories. It is most important that nothing should be touched and that the body should be left as it is. But we cannot be sure as yet if it is a body, can we? After all, though prudence is admirable, common humanity comes first. We must think of the doctor, must we not, before we think of the police?”
“Oh yes. Of course,” said Colin, still a little taken aback.
“We only thought—I mean—we thought we’d better get you before we did anything,” said Michael hastily.
“Then you will both remain here,” said Poirot. “I will approach from the other side so as not to disturb these footprints. Such excellent footprints, are they not—so very clear? The footprints of a man and a girl going out together to the place where she lies. And then the man’s footsteps come back but the girl’s—do not.”
“They must be the footprints of the murderer,” said Colin, with bated breath.
“Exactly,” said Poirot. “The footprints of the murderer. A long narrow foot with rather a peculiar type of shoe. Very interesting. Easy, I think, to recognize. Yes, those footprints will be very important.”
At that moment Desmond Lee-Wortley came out of the house with Sarah and joined them.
“What on earth are you all doing here?” he demanded in a somewhat theatrical manner. “I saw you from my bedroom window. What’s up? Good lord, what’s this? It—it looks like—”
“Exactly,” said Hercule Poirot. “It looks like murder, does it not?”
Sarah gave a gasp, then shot a quick suspicious glance at the two boys.
“You mean someone’s killed the girl—what’s-her-name—Bridget?” demanded Desmond. “Who on earth would want to kill her? It’s unbelievable!”
“There are many things that are unbelievable,” said Poirot. “Especially before breakfast, is it not? That is what one of your classics says. Six impossible things before breakfast.” He added: “Please wait here, all of you.”
Carefully making a circuit, he approached Bridget and bent for a moment down over the body. Colin and Michael were now both shaking with suppressed laughter. Sarah joined them, murmuring “What have you two been up to?”
“Good old Bridget,” whispered Colin. “Isn’t she wonderful? Not a twitch!”
“I’ve never seen anything look so dead as Bridget does,” whispered Michael.
Hercule Poirot straightened up again.
“This is a terrible thing,” he said. His voice held an emotion it had not held before.
Overcome by mirth, Michael and Colin both turned away. In a choked voice Michael said:
“What—what must we do?”
“There is only one thing to do,” said Poirot. “We must send for the police. Will one of you telephone or would you prefer me to do it?”
“I think,” said Colin, “I think—what about it, Michael?”
“Yes,” said Michael, “I think the jig’s up now.” He stepped forward. For the first time he seemed a little unsure of himself. “I’m awfully sorry,” he said, “I hope you won’t mind too much. It—er—it was a sort of joke for Christmas and all that, you know. We thought we’d—well, lay on a murder for you.”
“You thought you would lay on a murder for me? Then this—then this—”
“It’s just a show we put on,” explained. Colin, “to—to make you feel at home, you know.”
“Aha,” said Hercule Poirot. “I understand. You make of me the April fool, is that it? But today is not April the first, it is December the twenty-sixth.”
“I suppose we oughtn’t to have done it really,” said Colin, “but—but—you don’t mind very much, do you, M. Poirot? Come on, Bridget,” he called, “get up. You must be half frozen to death already.”
The figure in the snow, however, did not stir.
“It is odd,” said Hercule Poirot, “she does not seem to hear you.” He looked thoughtfully at them. “It is a joke, you say? You are sure this is a joke?”
“Why, yes.” Colin spoke uncomfortably. “We—we didn’t mean any harm.”
“But why then does Mademoiselle Bridget not get up?”
“I can’t imagine,” said Colin.
“Come on, Bridget,” said Sarah impatiently. “Don’t go on lying there playing the fool.”
“We really are very sorry, M. Poirot,” said Colin apprehensively. “We do really apologize.”
“You need not apologize,” said Poirot, in a peculiar tone.
“What do you mean?” Colin stared at him. He turned again. “Bridget! Bridget! What’s the matter? Why doesn’t she get up? Why does she go on lying there?”
Poirot beckoned to Desmond. “You, Mr. Lee-Wortley. Come here—”
Desmond joined him.
“Feel her pulse,” said Poirot.
Desmond Lee-Wortley bent down. He touched the arm—the wrist.
“There’s no pulse . . .” he stared at Poirot. “Her arm’s still. Good God, she really is dead!”
Poirot nodded. “Yes, she is dead,” he said. “Someone has turned the comedy into a tragedy.”
“There is a set of footprints going and returning. A set of footprints that bears a strong resemblance to the footprints you have just made, Mr. Lee-Wortley, coming from the path to this spot.”
Desmond Lee-Wortley wheeled round.
“What on earth—Are you accusing me? ME? You’re crazy! Why on earth should I want to kill the girl?”
“Ah—why? I wonder . . . Let us see. . . .”
He bent down and very gently prised open the stiff fingers of the girl’s clenched hand.
Desmond drew a sharp breath. He gazed down unbelievingly. In the palm of the dead gi
“It’s that damn thing out of the pudding!” he cried.
“Is it?” said Poirot. “Are you sure?”
“Of course it is.”
With a swift movement Desmond bent down and plucked the red stone out of Bridget’s hand.
“You should not do that,” said Poirot reproachfully. “Nothing should have been disturbed.”
“I haven’t disturbed the body, have I? But this thing might—might get lost and it’s evidence. The great thing is to get the police here as soon as possible. I’ll go at once and telephone.”
He wheeled round and ran sharply towards the house. Sarah came swiftly to Poirot’s side.
“I don’t understand,” she whispered. Her face was dead white. “I don’t understand.” She caught at Poirot’s arm. “What did you mean about—about the footprints?”
“Look for yourself, Mademoiselle.”
The footprints that led to the body and back again were the same as the ones just made accompanying Poirot to the girl’s body and back.
“You mean—that it was Desmond? Nonsense!”
Suddenly the noise of a car came through the clear air. They wheeled round. They saw the car clearly enough driving at a furious pace down the drive and Sarah recognized what car it was.
“It’s Desmond,” she said. “It’s Desmond’s car. He—he must have gone to fetch the police instead of telephoning.”
Diana Middleton came running out of the house to join them.
“What’s happened?” she cried in a breathless voice. “Desmond just came rushing into the house. He said something about Bridget being killed and then he rattled the telephone but it was dead. He couldn’t get an answer. He said the wires must have been cut. He said the only thing was to take a car and go for the police. Why the police? . . .”
Poirot made a gesture.
“Bridget?” Diana stared at him. “But surely—isn’t it a joke of some kind? I heard something—something last night. I thought that they were going to play a joke on you, M. Poirot?”
“Yes,” said Poirot, “that was the idea—to play a joke on me. But now come into the house, all of you. We shall catch our deaths of cold here and there is nothing to be done until Mr. Lee-Wortley returns with the police.”
“But look here,” said Colin, “we can’t—we can’t leave Bridget here alone.”
“You can do her no good by remaining,” said Poirot gently. “Come, it is a sad, a very sad tragedy, but there is nothing we can do anymore to help Mademoiselle Bridget. So let us come in and get warm and have perhaps a cup of tea or of coffee.”
They followed him obediently into the house. Peverell was just about to strike the gong. If he thought it extraordinary for most of the household to be outside and for Poirot to make an appearance in pyjamas and an overcoat, he displayed no sign of it. Peverell in his old age was still the perfect butler. He noticed nothing that he was not asked to notice. They went into the dining room and sat down. When they all had a cup of coffee in front of them and were sipping it, Poirot spoke.
“I have to recount to you,” he said, “a little history. I cannot tell you all the details, no. But I can give you the main outline. It concerns a young princeling who came to this country. He brought with him a famous jewel which he was to have reset for the lady he was going to marry, but unfortunately before that he made friends with a very pretty young lady. This pretty young lady did not care very much for the man, but she did care for his jewel—so much so that one day she disappeared with this historic possession which had belonged to his house for generations. So the poor young man, he is in a quandary, you see. Above all he cannot have a scandal. Impossible to go to the police. Therefore he comes to me, to Hercule Poirot. ‘Recover for me,’ he says, ‘my historic ruby.’ Eh bien, this young lady, she has a friend, and the friend, he has put through several very questionable transactions. He has been concerned with blackmail and he has been concerned with the sale of jewellery abroad. Always he has been very clever. He is suspected, yes, but nothing can be proved. It comes to my knowledge that this very clever gentleman, he is spending Christmas here in this house. It is important that the pretty young lady, once she has acquired the jewel, should disappear for a while from circulation, so that no pressure can be put upon her, no questions can be asked her. It is arranged, therefore, that she comes here to Kings Lacey, ostensibly as the sister of the clever gentleman—”
Sarah drew a sharp breath.
“Oh, no. Oh, no, not here! Not with me here!”
“But so it is,” said Poirot. “And by a little manipulation I, too, become a guest here for Christmas. This young lady, she is supposed to have just come out of hospital. She is much better when she arrives here. But then comes the news that I, too, arrive, a detective—a well-known detective. At once she has what you call the windup. She hides the ruby in the first place she can think of, and then very quickly she has a relapse and takes to her bed again. She does not want that I should see her, for doubtless I have a photograph and I shall recognize her. It is very boring for her, yes, but she has to stay in her room and her brother, he brings her up the trays.”
“And the ruby?” demanded Michael.
“I think,” said Poirot, “that at the moment it is mentioned I arrive, the young lady was in the kitchen with the rest of you, all laughing and talking and stirring the Christmas puddings. The Christmas puddings are put into bowls and the young lady she hides the ruby, pressing it down into one of the pudding bowls. Not the one that we are going to have on Christmas Day. Oh no, that one she knows is in a special mould. She put it in the other one, the one that is destined to be eaten on New Year’s Day. Before then she will be ready to leave, and when she leaves no doubt that Christmas pudding will go with her. But see how fate takes a hand. On the very morning of Christmas Day there is an accident. The Christmas pudding in its fancy mould is dropped on the stone floor and the mould is shattered to pieces. So what can be done? The good Mrs. Ross, she takes the other pudding and sends it in.”
“Good lord,” said Colin, “do you mean that on Christmas Day when Grandfather was eating his pudding that that was a real ruby he’d got in his mouth?”
“Precisely,” said Poirot, “and you can imagine the emotions of Mr. Desmond Lee-Wortley when he saw that. Eh bien, what happens next? The ruby is passed round. I examine it and I manage unobtrusively to slip it in my pocket. In a careless way as though I were not interested. But one person at least observes what I have done. When I lie in bed that person searches my room. He searches me. He does not find the ruby. Why?”
“Because,” said Michael breathlessly, “you had given it to Bridget. That’s what you mean. And so that’s why—but I don’t understand quite—I mean—Look here, what did happen?”
Poirot smiled at him.
“Come now into the library,” he said, “and look out of the window and I will show you something that may explain the mystery.”
He led the way and they followed him.
“Consider once again,” said Poirot, “the scene of the crime.”
He pointed out of the window. A simultaneous gasp broke from the lips of all of them. There was no body lying on the snow, no trace of the tragedy seemed to remain except a mass of scuffled snow.
“It wasn’t all a dream, was it?” said Colin faintly. “I—has someone taken the body away?”
“Ah,” said Poirot. “You see? The Mystery of the Disappearing Body.” He nodded his head and his eyes twinkled gently.
“Good lord,” cried Michael. “M. Poirot, you are—you haven’t—oh, look here, he’s been having us on all this time!”
Poirot twinkled more than ever.
“It is true, my children, I also have had my little joke. I knew about your little plot, you see, and so I arranged a counterplot of my own. Ah, voilà Mademoiselle Bridget. None the worse, I hope, for your exposure in the snow? Never should I forgive myself if you attrapped une fluxion de poitrine.”
Bridget had just come into the room. She was wearing a thick skirt and a woollen sweater. She was laughing.
“I sent a tisane to your room,” said Poirot severely. “You have drunk it?”
“One sip was enough!” said Bridget. “I’m all right. Did I do it well, M. Poirot? Goodness, my arm hurts still after that tourniquet you made me put on it.”
“You were splendid, my child,” said Poirot. “Splendid. But see, all the others are still in the fog. Last night I went to Mademoiselle Bridget. I told her that I knew about your little complot and I asked her if she would act a part for me. She did it very cleverly. She made the footprints with a pair of Mr. Lee-Wortley’s shoes.”
Sarah said in a harsh voice:
“But what’s the point of it all, M. Poirot? What’s the point of sending Desmond off to fetch the police? They’ll be very angry when they find out it’s nothing but a hoax.”
Poirot shook his head gently.
“But I do not think for one moment, Mademoiselle, that Mr. Lee-Wortley went to fetch the police,” he said. “Murder is a thing in which Mr. Lee-Wortley does not want to be mixed up. He lost his nerve badly. All he could see was his chance to get the ruby. He snatched that, he pretended the telephone was out of order and he rushed off in a car on the pretence of fetching the police. I think myself it is the last you will see of him for some time. He has, I understand, his own ways of getting out of England. He has his own plane, has he not, Mademoiselle?”
Sarah nodded. “Yes,” she said. “We were thinking of—” She stopped.
“He wanted you to elope with him that way, did he not? Eh bien, that is a very good way of smuggling a jewel out of the country. When you are eloping with a girl, and that fact is publicized, then you will not be suspected of also smuggling a historic jewel out of the country. Oh yes, that would have made a very good camouflage.”
“I don’t believe it,” said Sarah. “I don’t believe a word of it!”
“Then ask his sister,” said Poirot, gently nodding his head over her shoulder. Sarah turned her head sharply.
A platinum blonde stood in the doorway. She wore a fur coat and was scowling. She was clearly in a furious temper.
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