Double Sin and Other Stories by Agatha Christie
“Sister my foot!” she said, with a short unpleasant laugh. “That swine’s no brother of mine! So he’s beaten it, has he, and left me to carry the can? The whole thing was his idea! He put me up to it! Said it was money for jam. They’d never prosecute because of the scandal. I could always threaten to say that Ali had given me his historic jewel. Des and I were to have shared the swag in Paris—and now the swine runs out on me! I’d like to murder him!” She switched abruptly. “The sooner I get out of here—Can someone telephone for a taxi?”
“A car is waiting at the front door to take you to the station, Mademoiselle,” said Poirot.
“Think of everything, don’t you?”
“Most things,” said Poirot complacently.
But Poirot was not to get off so easily. When he returned to the dining room after assisting the spurious Miss Lee-Wortley into the waiting car, Colin was waiting for him.
There was a frown on his boyish face.
“But look here, M. Poirot. What about the ruby? Do you mean to say you’ve let him get away with it?”
Poirot’s face fell. He twirled his moustaches. He seemed ill at ease.
“I shall recover it yet,” he said weakly. “There are other ways. I shall still—”
“Well, I do think!” said Michael. “To let that swine get away with the ruby!”
Bridget was sharper.
“He’s having us on again,” she cried. “You are, aren’t you, M. Poirot?”
“Shall we do a final conjuring trick, Mademoiselle? Feel in my left-hand pocket.”
Bridget thrust her hand in. She drew it out again with a scream of triumph and held aloft a large ruby blinking in crimson splendour.
“You comprehend,” explained Poirot, “the one that was clasped in your hand was a paste replica. I brought it from London in case it was possible to make a substitute. You understand? We do not want the scandal. Monsieur Desmond will try and dispose of that ruby in Paris or in Belgium or wherever it is that he has his contacts, and then it will be discovered that the stone is not real! What could be more excellent? All finishes happily. The scandal is avoided, my princeling receives his ruby back again, he returns to his country and makes a sober and we hope a happy marriage. All ends well.”
“Except for me,” murmured Sarah under her breath.
She spoke so low that no one heard her but Poirot. He shook his head gently.
“You are in error, Mademoiselle Sarah, in what you say there. You have gained experience. All experience is valuable. Ahead of you I prophesy there lies happiness.”
“That’s what you say,” said Sarah.
“But look here, M. Poirot,” Colin was frowning. “How did you know about the show we were going to put on for you?”
“It is my business to know things,” said Hercule Poirot. He twirled his moustache.
“Yes, but I don’t see how you could have managed it. Did someone split—did someone come and tell you?”
“No, no, not that.”
“Then how? Tell us how?”
They all chorused, “Yes, tell us how.”
“But no,” Poirot protested. “But no. If I tell you how I deduced that, you will think nothing of it. It is like the conjurer who shows how his tricks are done!”
“Tell us, M. Poirot! Go on. Tell us, tell us!”
“You really wish that I should solve for you this last mystery?”
“Yes, go on. Tell us.”
“Ah, I do not think I can. You will be so disappointed.”
“Now, come on, M. Poirot, tell us. How did you know?”
“Well, you see, I was sitting in the library by the window in a chair after tea the other day and I was reposing myself. I had been asleep and when I awoke you were discussing your plans just outside the window close to me, and the window was open at the top.”
“Is that all?” cried Colin, disgusted. “How simple!”
“Is it not?” said Hercule Poirot, smiling. “You see? You are disappointed!”
“Oh well,” said Michael, “at any rate we know everything now.”
“Do we?” murmured Hercule Poirot to himself. “I do not. I, whose business it is to know things.”
He walked out into the hall, shaking his head a little. For perhaps the twentieth time he drew from his pocket a rather dirty piece of paper. “don’t eat none of the plum pudding. one as wishes you well.”
Hercule Poirot shook his head reflectively. He who could explain everything could not explain this! Humiliating. Who had written it? Why had it been written? Until he found that out he would never know a moment’s peace. Suddenly he came out of his reverie to be aware of a peculiar gasping noise. He looked sharply down. On the floor, busy with a dustpan and brush was a tow-headed creature in a flowered overall. She was staring at the paper in his hand with large round eyes.
“Oh sir,” said this apparition. “Oh, sir. Please, sir.”
“And who may you be, mon enfant?” inquired M. Poirot genially.
“Annie Bates, sir, please, sir. I come here to help Mrs. Ross. I didn’t mean, sir, I didn’t mean to—to do anything what I shouldn’t do. I did mean it well, sir. For your good, I mean.”
Enlightenment came to Poirot. He held out the dirty piece of paper.
“Did you write that, Annie?”
“I didn’t mean any harm, sir. Really I didn’t.”
“Of course you didn’t, Annie.” He smiled at her. “But tell me about it. Why did you write this?”
“Well, it was them two, sir. Mr. Lee-Wortley and his sister. Not that she was his sister, I’m sure. None of us thought so! And she wasn’t ill a bit. We could all tell that. We thought—we all thought—something queer was going on. I’ll tell you straight, sir. I was in her bathroom taking in the clean towels, and I listened at the door. He was in her room and they were talking together. I heard what they said plain as plain. ‘This detective,’ he was saying. ‘This fellow Poirot who’s coming here. We’ve got to do something about it. We’ve got to get him out of the way as soon as possible.’ And then he says to her in a nasty, sinister sort of way, lowering his voice, ‘Where did you put it?’ And she answered him, ‘In the pudding.’ Oh, sir, my heart gave such a leap I thought it would stop beating. I thought they meant to poison you in the Christmas pudding. I didn’t know what to do! Mrs. Ross, she wouldn’t listen to the likes of me. Then the idea came to me as I’d write you a warning. And I did and I put it on your pillow where you’d find it when you went to bed.” Annie paused breathlessly.
Poirot surveyed her gravely for some minutes.
“You see too many sensational films, I think, Annie,” he said at last, “or perhaps it is the television that affects you? But the important thing is that you have the good heart and a certain amount of ingenuity. When I return to London I will send you a present.”
“Oh thank you, sir. Thank you very much, sir.”
“What would you like, Annie, as a present?”
“Anything I like, sir? Could I have anything I like?”
“Within reason,” said Hercule Poirot prudently, “yes.”
“Oh sir, could I have a vanity box? A real posh slap-up vanity box like the one Mr. Lee-Wortley’s sister, wot wasn’t his sister, had?”
“Yes,” said Poirot, “yes, I think that could be managed.
“It is interesting,” he mused. “I was in a museum the other day observing some antiquities from Babylon or one of those places, thousands of years old—and among them were cosmetic boxes. The heart of woman does not change.”
“Beg your pardon, sir?” said Annie.
“It is nothing,” said Poirot. “I reflect. You shall have your vanity box, child.”
“Oh thank you, sir. Oh thank you very much indeed, sir.”
Annie departed ecstatically. Poirot looked after her, nodding his head in satisfaction.
“Ah,” he said to himself. “And now—I go. There is nothing more to be done here.”
A pair of arms slipped round his shoulder
“If you will stand just under the mistletoe—” said Bridget.
Hercule Poirot enjoyed it. He enjoyed it very much. He said to himself that he had had a very good Christmas.
The original version of this story, “Christmas Adventure,” can be found in the volume While the Light Lasts and Other Stories.
THE DRESSMAKER’S DOLL
“The Dressmaker’s Doll” was first published in Woman’s Journal, December 1958.
The doll lay in the big velvet-covered chair. There was not much light in the room; the London skies were dark. In the gentle, greyish-green gloom, the sage-green coverings and the curtains and the rugs all blended with each other. The doll blended, too. She lay long and limp and sprawled in her green-velvet clothes and her velvet cap and the painted mask of her face. She was the Puppet Doll, the whim of Rich Women, the doll who lolls beside the telephone, or among the cushions of the divan. She sprawled there, eternally limp and yet strangely alive. She looked a decadent product of the twentieth century.
Sybil Fox, hurrying in with some patterns and a sketch, looked at the doll with a faint feeling of surprise and bewilderment. She wondered—but whatever she wondered did not get to the front of her mind. Instead, she thought to herself, “Now, what’s happened to the pattern of the blue velvet? Wherever have I put it? I’m sure I had it here just now.” She went out on the landing and called up to the workroom.
“Elspeth, Elspeth, have you the blue pattern up there? Mrs. Fellows-Brown will be here any minute now.”
She went in again, switching on the lights. Again she glanced at the doll. “Now where on earth—ah, there it is.” She picked the pattern up from where it had fallen from her hand. There was the usual creak outside on the landing as the elevator came to a halt and in a minute or two Mrs. Fellows-Brown, accompanied by her Pekinese, came puffing into the room rather like a fussy local train arriving at a wayside station.
“It’s going to pour,” she said, “simply pour!”
She threw off her gloves and a fur. Alicia Coombe came in. She didn’t always come in nowadays, only when special customers arrived, and Mrs. Fellows-Brown was such a customer.
Elspeth, the forewoman of the workroom, came down with the frock and Sybil pulled it over Mrs. Fellows-Brown’s head.
“There,” she said, “I think it’s good. Yes, it’s definitely a success.”
Mrs. Fellows-Brown turned sideways and looked in the mirror.
“I must say,” she said, “your clothes do do something to my behind.”
“You’re much thinner than you were three months ago,” Sybil assured her.
“I’m really not,” said Mrs. Fellows-Brown, “though I must say I look it in this. There’s something about the way you cut, it really does minimize my behind. I almost look as though I hadn’t got one—I mean only the usual kind that most people have.” She sighed and gingerly smoothed the troublesome portion of her anatomy. “It’s always been a bit of a trial to me,” she said. “Of course, for years I could pull it in, you know, by sticking out my front. Well, I can’t do that any longer because I’ve got a stomach now as well as a behind. And I mean—well, you can’t pull it in both ways, can you?”
Alicia Coombe said, “You should see some of my customers!”
Mrs. Fellows-Brown experimented to and fro.
“A stomach is worse than a behind,” she said. “It shows more. Or perhaps you think it does, because, I mean, when you’re talking to people you’re facing them and that’s the moment they can’t see your behind but they can notice your stomach. Anyway, I’ve made it a rule to pull in my stomach and let my behind look after itself.” She craned her neck round still farther, then said suddenly, “Oh, that doll of yours! She gives me the creeps. How long have you had her?”
Sybil glanced uncertainly at Alicia Coombe, who looked puzzled but vaguely distressed.
“I don’t know exactly . . . some time I think—I never can remember things. It’s awful nowadays—I simply cannot remember. Sybil, how long have we had her?”
Sybil said shortly, “I don’t know.”
“Well,” said Mrs. Fellows-Brown, “she gives me the creeps. Uncanny! She looks, you know, as though she was watching us all, and perhaps laughing in that velvet sleeve of hers. I’d get rid of her if I were you.” She gave a little shiver, then she plunged once more into dressmaking details. Should she or should she not have the sleeves an inch shorter? And what about the length? When all these important points were settled satisfactorily, Mrs. Fellows-Brown resumed her own garments and prepared to leave. As she passed the doll, she turned her head again.
“No,” she said, “I don’t like that doll. She looks too much as though she belonged here. It isn’t healthy.”
“Now what did she mean by that?” demanded Sybil, as Mrs. Fellows-Brown departed down the stairs.
Before Alicia Coombe could answer, Mrs. Fellows-Brown returned, poking her head round the door.
“Good gracious, I forgot all about Fou-Ling. Where are you, ducksie? Well, I never!”
She stared and the other two women stared, too. The Pekinese was sitting by the green-velvet chair, staring up at the limp doll sprawled on it. There was no expression, either of pleasure or resentment, on his small, pop-eyed face. He was merely looking.
“Come along, mum’s darling,” said Mrs. Fellows-Brown.
Mum’s darling paid no attention whatever.
“He gets more disobedient every day,” said Mrs. Fellows-Brown, with the air of one cataloguing a virtue. “Come on, Fou-Ling. Dindins. Luffly liver.”
Fou-Ling turned his head about an inch and a half towards his mistress, then with disdain resumed his appraisal of the doll.
“She’s certainly made an impression on him,” said Mrs. Fellows-Brown. “I don’t think he’s ever noticed her before. I haven’t either. Was she here last time I came?”
The other two women looked at each other. Sybil now had a frown on her face, and Alicia Coombe said, wrinkling up her forehead, “I told you—I simply can’t remember anything nowadays. How long have we had her, Sybil?”
“Where did she come from?” demanded Mrs. Fellows-Brown. “Did you buy her?”
“Oh no.” Somehow Alicia Coombe was shocked at the idea. “Oh no. I suppose—I suppose someone gave her to me.” She shook her head. “Maddening!” she exclaimed. “Absolutely maddening, when everything goes out of your head the very moment after it’s happened.”
“Now don’t be stupid, Fou-Ling,” said Mrs. Fellows-Brown sharply. “Come on. I’ll have to pick you up.”
She picked him up. Fou-Ling uttered a short bark of agonized protest. They went out of the room with Fou-Ling’s pop-eyed face turned over his fluffy shoulder, still staring with enormous attention at the doll on the chair. . . .
“That there doll,” said Mrs. Groves, “fair gives me the creeps, it does.”
Mrs. Groves was the cleaner. She had just finished a crablike progress backwards along the floor. Now she was standing up and working slowly round the room with a duster.
“Funny thing,” said Mrs. Groves, “never noticed it really until yesterday. And then it hit me all of a sudden, as you might say.”
“You don’t like it?” asked Sybil.
“I tell you, Mrs. Fox, it gives me the creeps,” said the cleaning woman. “It ain’t natural, if you know what I mean. All those long hanging legs and the way she’s slouched down there and the cunning look she has in her eye. It doesn’t look healthy, that’s what I say.”
“You’ve never said anything about her before,” said Sybil.
“I tell you, I never noticed her—not till this morning . . . Of course I know she’s been here some time but—” She stopped and a puzzled expression flitted across her face. “Sort of thing you might dream of at night,” she said, and gathering up various cleaning implements she departed from the fitting room and walked across the landing to the room on the other side.
“Miss Coombe, how long have you had this creature?”
“What, the doll? My dear, you know I can’t remember things. Yesterday—why, it’s too silly!—I was going out to that lecture and I hadn’t gone halfway down the street when I suddenly found I couldn’t remember where I was going. I thought and I thought. Finally I told myself it must be Fortnums. I knew there was something I wanted to get at Fortnums. Well, you won’t believe me, it wasn’t till I actually got home and was having some tea that I remembered about the lecture. Of course, I’ve always heard that people go gaga as they get on in life, but it’s happening to me much too fast. I’ve forgotten now where I’ve put my handbag—and my spectacles, too. Where did I put those spectacles? I had them just now—I was reading something in The Times.”
“The spectacles are on the mantelpiece here,” said Sybil, handing them to her. “How did you get the doll? Who gave her to you?”
“That’s a blank, too,” said Alicia Coombe. “Somebody gave her to me or sent her to me, I suppose . . . However, she does seem to match the room very well, doesn’t she?”
“Rather too well, I think,” said Sybil. “Funny thing is, I can’t remember when I first noticed her here.”
“Now don’t you get the same way as I am,” Alicia Coombe admonished her. “After all, you’re young still.”
“But really, Miss Coombe, I don’t remember. I mean, I looked at her yesterday and thought there was something—well, Mrs. Groves is quite right—something creepy about her. And then I thought I’d already thought so, and then I tried to remember when I first thought so, and—well, I just couldn’t remember anything! In a way, it was as if I’d never seen her before—only it didn’t feel like that. It felt as though she’d been here a long time but I’d only just noticed her.”
“Perhaps she flew in through the window one day on a broomstick,” said Alicia Coombe. “Anyway, she belongs here now all right.” She looked round. “You could hardly imagine the room without her, could you?”
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